After the World Championship, I flew directly from Nice to Seattle for the Season Four Invitational of the Open Series. A lot of other pros went to Grand Prix Baltimore, but I'm always looking for an excuse to go to the Pacific Northwest, as I have a lot of friends in the area, so I decided to attend the Invitational instead of the Grand Prix just because it was in a better location for me.
During the weeks leading up to the World Championships, when I was putting off seeing friends to test on Magic Online, I told myself that I was going to focus entirely on preparing for the month before Worlds, and then take a vacation from working as intensely in Seattle for a couple weeks since there aren't any other events in December. I'd play in the Season Four Invitational because it was convenient, but I wasn't really going to take it too seriously.
Immediately after Worlds, I temporarily lost track of my perspective. The coverage team at Worlds told me that a lot of teams in the World Magic Cup had decided to use my Standard deck from Worlds (presumably largely because it's two colors and plays pretty well with other decks for unified Constructed). I worried that this meant my deck would suddenly be a target, and I feared that everyone would have Stormbreath Dragons and Peak Eruptions to blow up my Chained to the Rocks.
This was obviously delusional. My deck may have made a splash in the WMC, but the takeaway from Worlds was obviously that Whip of Erebos decks were everywhere, and no one would really care about my 2-2 finish in Standard. If people wanted to play Hordeling Outburst, they'd look to Yuuya's better performing and more exciting Jeskai Tokens deck.
I had a similar reaction after Pro Tour Theros. I imagined that the following GPs would just be full of Skylashers as far as the eye could see, but no one really adapted that way. I think this irrational fear dates back to the Standard format following Pro Tour Dark Ascension, when Spirit Delver did well, and then lots of people actually did sideboard Corrosive Gale. I need to internalize the fact that that's the exception rather than the rule.
Anyway, after a few days trying to find another Standard deck I liked, I gave up and came to my senses. My deck wasn't going to be a big deal, and no one would go out of their way to hate it. I didn't like any other decks, and I knew my deck really well, so I decided to just play it again. After all, I expected this field to look a lot more like the Magic Online field I'd originally prepared for than the Worlds field, and I still loved my deck against most of the non-Hornet Queen decks in the field. I didn't think my matchups against Hornet Queen decks were that bad.
I did make a few changes.
After Worlds, everyone who picked up the deck wanted to cut the Monastery Swiftspears. They usually wanted to add Goblin Rabblemaster in its place--I knew I wasn't interested in that--but Monastery Swiftspear had been the card I'd added last to the deck, and I wasn't super confident that it was right. Also, I added it largely because I thought having a lower, more aggressive curve would help against U/B Control; after U/B Control did badly in Nice, I didn't think that was really a concern.
I wanted to add a Dragon Mantle because I felt like the cost was incredibly low, and making my Heliod's Pilgrims better and more flexible was pretty significant. I wanted to add an Erase to my maindeck because Whip of Erebos was at the center of most of the decks I didn't want to play against, and I felt that every deck in Standard had enough targets that one Erase wouldn't be bad. At Worlds I'd been torn on playing two or three Erases in my sideboard, and I couldn't have been happier with the decision to have more of them. All I wanted was even more than that. Finally, I wanted to add the fourth Stoke the Flames, just to hedge in case Stormbreath Dragon was popular.
It's not that I was really looking to cut the Monastery Swiftspears, I just wanted to add those three cards and there wasn't anything else I wanted to cut. The result was that I played a single Monastery Swiftspear, which looks pretty odd, but I didn't see any reason to cut it for some random other card. After all, there's a lot of upside to having a theoretical ability to curve out rather than not.
I don't think it's particularly useful to struggle to remember what I played against every round, and I usually find round by round tournament reports pretty boring unless there's a specific purpose to talking about the matches (like when I did it as a way of demonstrating my sideboarding when discussing Worlds). I went 7-1 in Standard before the top 8, losing to W/U Heroic one of the three times I played against it. I know that I have a great matchup against W/U Heroic, as it was one of the decks I ran into most on MTGO while testing for Worlds, but no matchup is 100%, and one of them managed to get away.
I hadn't played the deck against Jeskai Tokens before, but I played against it twice in the Invitational and won both matches. I think both went to three games, but the matchup felt very good to me. They're not well-equipped to deal with Wingmate Roc, and I can generally keep their tokens under control, which stops them from really going off.
I had weird pairings in the tournament. I never played against a Hornet Queen deck, which is clearly unexpected over nine matches, and most of my other matches are so favorable that it was easy to feel absolutely great about my deck. Often, when I'm doing well in a tournament, I'll look back and realize that it makes sense that I'm doing well because my draws have been very good. When you never have to take a mulligan, you feel like it's because you built your deck right or something, but really, often you're just running well. In this tournament, I looked back and felt like I mulliganned several times every round, including five times just in round two, and I was winning anyway.
I lost in the top 8 to a deck without Hornet Queen. I'd beaten Dan Jessup in the Swiss, but he learned from that match and sideboarded better in the top 8, and the draws just didn't work out for me. He consistently had Sylvan Caryatid, which is extremely important in the matchup, and a lot of action, whereas I kept drawing relatively slow hands.
Moving forward, I definitely plan to play the deck again, but I do intend to change it. Ashcloud Phoenix was incredible for me. I started out not sideboarding it in against W/U Heroic but eventually decided to try it, and it was even outstanding there. I've had it in my sideboard for a long time and loved it, but I was too attached to Chandra, Pyromaster to find room for Ashcloud Phoenix in the main. At this point, I'm convinced that was a mistake. I haven't worked out exactly what I'm cutting, but I'm pretty sure I'll be playing for maindeck Ashcloud Phoenix in the future.
My decklist, which I realize I'd forgotten to mention, is beneath this deck tech I did:
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 1 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 4 Wingmate Roc
- 3 Eidolon of Countless Battles
In Legacy, I tried a deck I had very little experience with. One night in Nice, after Josh Utter-Leyton and Tom Martell had crushed me in Modern with Jeskai Ascendancy, I went out to dinner with them, and they talked about how they wanted to play the Legacy version of the deck in Grand Prix New Jersey, but they were worried about spoiling their Modern deck for Worlds. They both assured me that the Legacy version was great though, so I asked Josh for his list.
He told me to play roughly:
He didn't give me a sideboard, but he mentioned that he thought that the removal spells that he had in his maindeck in Modern weren't worth including in the maindeck in Legacy because there were too many decks where removal was bad. He implied that he'd want some removal in the board, and he wanted to take advantage of his Enlightened Tutors to have access to powerful sideboard cards.
I wanted to try playing his deck on Magic Online before playing it in Seattle, but I only had one Enlightened Tutor on Magic Online, and they're very expensive. Also, I always had the "top of the library" tutors, so I decided to see how the deck would work if I just played one tutor. Besides, that gave me room to try some other cards I was interested in. I only played a few matches, but I never drew the Enlightened Tutor and usually sided it out, and really didn't feel like I wanted it. Dig Through Time felt like a much better way to find Jeskai Ascendancy to me. I also thought the first Chome Mox would be pretty good. I knew drawing two would be bad, as you can't really give up that many cards, but the first lets you go a lot faster. I think I won the game on turn 2 the first time I drew it in my opening hand, so I decided to keep it.
I wanted a couple maindeck answers to opposing creatures just in case, but I felt like the scariest maindeck creatures were Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Phyrexian Revoker, and both of those die to Gut Shot. Gut Shot also has the advantage over other removal spells that it can create mana while I'm going off, which can make it a useful card when removal is bad rather than a dead card. Swords to Plowshares is more dangerous as a maindeck card than Lightning Bolt because it's harder to use it to cycle with Jeskai Ascendancy, but Gut Shot just felt like the best compromise between wanting some way to interact and to keep my deck purely focused on the combo.
This is the list I ended up playing in the Invitational:
Pact of Negation had felt pretty bad when I was playing online. I wasn't generally that worried about my opponent interacting with me; I was more concerned about them killing me or locking me out, and Pact of Negation didn't stop that. I didn't have enough experience, so I decided to just trust Josh on that one. Moving forward, I'd cut it for Spell Pierce if I felt like I needed more interaction, but I'd probably just play more cards that help me go off instead like Opt or Noxious Revival.
I almost couldn't find Wind Zendikons at the site, and thought I might have to play without them, but luckily, I ran into Greg Hatch, a man who never leaves home without a playset of Wind Zendikons just in case. I was going to play Young Pyromancer over Wind Zendikon if I couldn't find them, thinking that the purpose of Wind Zendikon was to have a way to win if I was somehow locked out of Fatestitcher, and Young Pyromancer could give me a solid backup plan. I was so glad I didn't have Young Pyromancer in my deck. I think that card is included in decklists as a hedge because people aren't sure if the deck is good enough to just do its thing. It is. I strongly believe that it's best to just build the deck to do what it does well, and that thing is easily good enough.
On a related note, a lot of people asked me if I thought the deck was really good in Legacy. This felt silly at the time, since it felt clearly great to me while playing it, but I understand where they're coming from. I tried a deck that I didn't have much previous experience with on faith in Legacy, and while I won my first few matches, it could easily feel like I just got lucky. Let me explain how I think about the deck.
I think it's the best Brainstorm deck because Thought Scour and Mental Note allow you to cast Brainstorm on turn 1 and then mill the cards you put back in your upkeep on turn 2. This lets you develop right away and avoid wasting mana while you wait to get a fetchland set up to "turn on" your Brainstorms. It also allows you to mill cards you don't want rather than shuffling them back in, which is actually a lot better when you're going through your deck a lot after that, to say nothing of the fact that you're both generically trying to fill your graveyard and trying to put specific cards in your graveyard.
I think it's the best Treasure Cruise deck for the same reason. In my first match with the deck, I cast Treasure Cruises on turns 2 and 3. Most decks can't do that. I think adding Sensei's Divining Top to the deck is a huge mistake, as it just wastes way too much mana without filling up your graveyard, absolutely crippling your early Treasure Cruises and radically slowing down your deck.
I think the fact that it's the best Treasure Cruise deck makes it the best Force of Will deck, as you can easily afford to spend the extra cards. This is particularly true because in addition to having better Treasure Cruises in the sense that they go off earlier, you have more Treasure Cruises because more of your deck just draws you into them (and you have Dig Through Time).
The deck is full of "air" (cards that just spend mana and replace themselves without impacting the board), which is generally a huge problem, but at the same time, a lot of these cards are among the best cards in the format. Decks generally can't afford to play much air because they need to do something. Jeskai Ascendancy and Fatestitcher being your combo takes advantage of all this air in a way that leads directly to a kill while requiring an extremely small number of "dead cards" (think Carrion Feeder in Flash Hulk--a card that is included in your combo deck because it's needed to let your deck win, but not a card you really want to use on its own).
The deck is great at playing an extremely low land count and great at using Lotus Petal. It's harder to hate than it first appears. It may seem like a combo that requires both a creature and an enchantment, and using the graveyard should be incredibly easy to disrupt along any axis. The reality is that you have a ton of play to find ways around hate because you're so good at finding whatever you need, and you can easily win without your graveyard using Wind Zendikon, which also beats Pithing Needle/Phyrexian Revoker, and removal rarely matters since you can go off in response. You have Force of Will and access to additional counterspells. You can easily play a fair game with removal and card advantage that incidentally has a combo kill, sideboarding into a shell that's much more reminiscent of the Modern version of the deck when that's called for, such as against Elves or Death and Taxes.
I believe this deck is very much the real deal. It just feels like it does everything you want to do in Legacy better than everyone else. My list wasn't perfect, but I definitely think you want to be extremely focused on the combo, and Lotus Petal is obviously the correct direction.
I heard that there was a lot of Storm at the Invitational and that it did particularly well, so I think it's worth commenting on that matchup specifically. I went 3-0 against Storm in the tournament (of seven matches I actually played in Legacy). The matches were fairly close, but I think I like Jeskai Ascendancy's positioning. You're a Force of Will deck, which means they have to respect that you can have it. This means they'll try to beat you with discard. Beating you with discard is a fairly terrible direction for them to have to go down, as it just leads to a longer game where you're more likely to win with Treasure Cruise. You can easily sideboard Pyroblasts and Flusterstorms to slow them down further, and it barely interacts with your ability to go off. Loading up on counterspells is a reasonably good plan against Storm, but it often loses because decks that do it give them plenty of time to sculpt a perfect hand. Against Jeskai Ascendancy, they don't have that kind of time--they have to go for it as soon as they can because you could win at any point. This specifically is a huge problem for them, because they generally want to track an opponent's clock and wait until the turn before an opponent might be able to actually deal lethal before going off. With Jeskai Ascendancy, it's very hard to know if they can survive another turn, which forces them to try to go off the first time they might be able to get there, rather than waiting until it's a sure thing. As a result, I won multiple games because my opponents fizzled.
All in all, I was very happy with both of my decks for the tournament, and I'd definitely recommend both of them moving forward, though each deck needs a few tweaks.