There have been a lot of formats to prepare for in the last few weeks. Extended New Extended Standard New Standard M11 Draft and for those of us going to Columbus Legacy. Each of these formats is radically different and they make for an incredibly different play experience. Even something that ought to be as similar as pre-M11 Standard and New Standard actually feels like particularly as time passes a new world and all of this without even losing any sets.
Columbus was an exciting event for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest has to be the huge diversity of the format. I played against no less than twelve strategies there and basically played against representatives of nearly every major archetype. Prior to going into the event I had my eyes set on a number of different decks. Here are the three that I didn’t play.
Going into Columbus I knew that this was going to be largely a creature format. Columbus itself with the success of decks that were less cut out of that cloth may change that. But previous to Columbus my expectations were that I could expect the following decks to be most represented:
Of course with a format this diverse that is almost a laughable statement – in talking to some of the minds within the Legacy community and the Pros on their take on the format it almost feels as though fifteen archetypes is a conservative estimate on the amount of viable choices. Of course the more a format gets explored the more the diversity of the format is liable to take some degree of hits if only because certain decks won’t be able to compete as the best decks are better discovered.
Given the idea though of a creature format as well as a diverse format my thoughts went to an old favorite of mine: Stasis.
I actually spent a fair amount of time playtesting this deck main deck. One of the maxims that I definitely believe in is that in the absence of sufficient time to do all of the preparations you’d like “cheat” your preparations by leaning on archetypes that you have tested heavily in the past. My Stasis deck was an update on the old Masters deck that I gave to Tony Dobson and Magic Hall of Famer Gary Wise (which I’d updated from the Norwegian Stasis of Maher’s Pro Tour: Chicago). I’d updated it since then for old Extended doing very well with it but eventually losing to Lucas Duchow playing Miracle Grow in a heartbreaking final match. I knew that I could play it quickly enough and I was curious to see how Jace compared to Gush for the deck’s needs. It certainly accomplished some of the tasks I wanted it to but it also was clearly an amazing finisher. I was pretty pumped about the possibilities of the deck if only because 4 Propaganda seemed incredible for the format. My excitement was further increased as I talked to I@n DeGraff about the deck and expressed worries about needing certain cards to beat the people that knew how to play against it. His response was illuminating: “People that know how to play against Stasis Adrian? If 1000 people show up there will be about 4 people in the room that know what to do and you’ll be one of them.”
I posted it late last week hoping to get some insight from readers about what could be done to improve it but unfortunately I didn’t really see anything that seemed to understand what Stasis in the Norwegian sense means. This isn’t a deck that needs to get down a fast lock against nearly anything. With the sheer amount of counters in the deck you can expect to slow the game down a little and Propaganda slows the fast decks down all the more. Combo really struggles against the sheer amount of counters and control is usually doomed. Really the hardest matchups for you are the aggressive decks like Zoo that don’t care as much about Propaganda and have burn. Most peoples’ suggestions seemed to revolve around super-quickly finding a Stasis but that just isn’t something that you need to do here. There are so few cards that you actually care about you can be much more lackadaisical in getting a Stasis down.
I broke out the deck against Brian Kowal the night before the GP and I was pretty quickly dissuaded from playing it. I gave Kowal the Bertonici Merfolk list with some of the changes that Bertonici and I had discussed for the deck. Things were going incredibly well in one game when Kowal picked up the Propaganda. “Oh” he said and promptly just attacked Jace not paying for anything. Propaganda it seems doesn’t do a damned thing to protect a Planeswalker. I had overlooked it completely as had everyone else that I’d played it against and so I was basically done with the deck.
The only major change that had been made to the deck was dropping a Sovereign for another Kira. “Major.” I’d tried to incorporate other changes but none of them really stuck. Speaking to Bertonici I was amused to discover that he was considering the same one that I was. I tried brainstorming other possible moves that the deck should make including the idea of Llawan for the sideboard. In the end though I played enough games against Zoo and Goblins that I just wasn’t all that excited about Merfolk. Still I wasn’t particularly surprised when Merfolk ended up taking Columbus as I felt like the archetype at large was probably the best one. I just felt incredibly uncomfortable in the matchups against decks that would have creatures and Pyroblast.
I@n for his part was an early advocate to me for this deck mostly because he liked the idea of me playing a deck with Force of Will. I on the other hand still had my mind going to Propaganda…
It made recrafting a Prison deck all the more appealing.
I had placed in the Top 32 of the last Grand Prix: Columbus with this deck despite making several match-punting errors which cost me Top 16 or even higher. I knew that the archetype was sound: Enlightened Tutor based control held up by the ridiculous Life from the Loam/Scroll Rack engine. The trick was getting the right Silver Bullets. I hated including an Oblivion Ring but Jace seemed real and Oblivion Ring was a good second choice to Pithing Needle if the Needle was stopped or Counterbalance/Top was going.
The thing is in playtesting the deck its utter power was abundantly obvious but what also was obvious was just how difficult the deck was to play and just how many decisions were going to be required of me every game. I haven’t played nearly enough Magic lately to feel comfortable trying to hope to be competitive with that many decisions going on.
Before the beginning of Day 2 Patrick Chapin and Brad Nelson were discussing some play that Chapin had made the day before and Chapin broke into something Brad was saying with this: “I only want to have to think about three or four things a game. Anything more than that just takes up too much energy and over the day it will just make me make mistakes that I wouldn’t have otherwise.” He and I got to talking about the difference of playing Magic now that we’re not teenagers or in our lower-20’s: the mental stamina that we used to have is simply not there; we have to conserve. It used to be that I could spend a whole night partying with ladies I knew find my way home in the wee hours of the morning and have just enough time to shower and put on fresh clothes before the car arrived to take me to the event and I’d just win the thing. Now I recognize that my brain and my body simply can’t do that any more. A deck like Gitmo wasn’t going to give me the respite I needed: every game was going to take a large amount of mental effort and every turn might actually involve a huge number of decisions. It would be different if I’d played the deck several thousand times or more but I definitely only had a few hundred games in me with the deck.
And so I turned to a deck that I did have a few thousand games if not tens of thousands: The Baron.
Long-time readers will undoubtedly recognize The Baron by its much much older name “Baron Harkonnen.” The Baron is a Blue-based control deck that runs Gaea’s Blessing recursion to make its late game inexorable. Essentially what this means is that as you get to the horizon of a game the only way an opponent could win is if the entire contents of your deck can’t answer something (Storm combo versus a Stifle-less Baron for example). In practice this only rarely happens because you can sculpt your main and board to deal with anything and as long as you choose correctly the end game of your deck fueled by Gaea’s Blessings tend to be unstoppable.
I’ve qualified for the Pro Tour with this deck numerous times and almost qualified for it a few more. The prospect of doing it with the Baron with Force of Will was almost to exciting to believe.
Here is my current list:
If you think this list looks a lot like the LandStill BUG control decks or Team America you’d be right; I certainly looked to those lists for the shell of what this deck wanted to be. Shortcuts are extremely important when you’re working on a short timeframe. I was shortcutting to the Baron only because I knew that the shell of the deck was great. I do know that this means that it is possible that there are things in the deck that could be better. Leaning on the other decks for inspiration is another way to shortcut things.
One of the first things people have asked me is why play this deck instead of the LandStill decks. My first answer is simple:
Yes I know that there were 4 in Saito’s list. A true aggro-control deck is the only home for the card and any time that I see the card in a control list as BK would say I feel a little bit of vomit in my mouth. The necessity of Standstill to actually have you ahead is huge particularly if the aggressive decks are so low on the curve and often have access to Aether Vial. Saito’s list is a reasonable home for the card. A control deck has to have too many things going right for it to matter. At that point you’d be better of with a card that can help out if things are going poorly.
The Baron deck is generally speaking the kind of control deck that tries to minimize ways of winning in favor of ways to gain advantage. Jace the Mind Sculptor seems like the most insane possible card for a deck like this. It is sad on the one hand to be losing Sylvan Library from the list but for what this deck wants to be doing Sylvan Library is just a Poor Man’s Jace anyway. The cards in the deck are basically there for the express purpose of adding Rock-like incremental advantages onto your column again and again and again until it is all over.
Gaea’s Blessing is one of those innocuous cards in a deck like this. While it occasionally has incidental advantages (I used it against a Dredge deck to remove all of their dredge cards on turn 2 stalling out their game by infinite turns) its purpose is very single-minded: jam the deck with ever more potent cards against your opponent. If I could have fit it I would have included three Gaea’s Blessing but unfortunately I just didn’t feel I had the room. If we think about a typical “average” card in a deck it has a value of say X. Every card you draw in any particular matchup before you draw it is going to get you X times the number of cards you are drawing in value. Gaea’s Blessing adds a small modifier of value to this average making it closer to 1.05 times X for every time that you cast a Blessing (1.05 is an arbitrary and ultimately unknowable number but it illustrates the point). Since you are planning on drawing out the games and sculpting your deck if you haven’t lost you will get to a point where your hand is something absurd like Counter Counter Force of Will Fact or Fiction Best Answer copy 1 Best Answer copy 2 Second-Best Answer and Random Great Card… hmm which do I discard?
The awesome thing about a Gaea’s Blessing package in The Baron is that it really can’t be attacked. If your opponent takes the effort to fight Gaea’s Blessing they are certainly cutting down on the strength of your deck at large but then you just become a “normal” control deck full of great cards against them. “Oh no!”
One of the ways that I justified the use of only two Gaea’s Blessings in a deck that really really does want to have three is that I was including Crucible of Worlds. I definitely blame Brian Kowal and I@n DeGraff for this one (and by “blame” I mean “I want to thank”). This card served the recursive purposes that the deck needed to have included in it that a Blessing would accomplish but was simply just that much more powerful. I resisted the urge to go to a second Crucible of Worlds partly because I felt like fitting it would require too much effort but also that partly because I felt like Crucible was largely a card advantage play against a lot of opponents and I simply didn’t have the need for more cards like that.
Some often try to make the case for Life from the Loam in those slots but the thing about Loam is that while it is a great card advantage engine it absolutely doesn’t do anything to make the super late game inexorable; you still have a finite number of your answers and your late game will have more cards certainly but not necessarily the right ones. If I want to include Loam I certainly need to consider cutting Blessing (the two don’t play well together) and that wasn’t something I wanted to be doing. Loam is more brute force powerful in other words but it doesn’t do much in the way of securing your late game like Blessing does and it isn’t as outright useful as Crucible.
Supplementing Blessing are the other library manipulation and card advantage cards:
1 Crucible of Worlds
3 Fact or Fiction
4 Jace the Mind Sculptor
2 Gaea’s Blessing
This allows us to play a fun game: find the card. With all of the library manipulation finding a card that you’re looking for is generally fairly trivial given time. On average you tend to find a one-of by slightly before turn 7 if you really need to find it. This will be slowed down of course by the necessities of responding to threats but the basic point is essentially unchanged: you will find what you need and even a singleton (say from the sideboard) is something that you can retrieve fairly quickly. From a developed game you can actually sculpt things incredibly quickly because you can Blessing in more card draw and make a Jace work the board. Brian Kowal came over during one match to watch me play it remarking to Gaudenis Vidugiris what he thought of the deck. Gaudenis a classic control player and a lover of games like chess grinned saying “Man I wish I was playing this.”
The cards that let you get to the point where you can start performing what is essentially deck masturbation are your board control cards:
4 Pernicious Deed
4 Innocent Blood
2 Ghastly Demise
2 Vedalken Shackles
The Shackles are the card that many people really raise their eyes at but they are also one of the cards that can just utterly lock out many decks. I had one opponent who thought he could grind out a long game against me on the strength of Vengevine but when I dropped Shackles that was just it. The nice thing about such a card game 1 is that you can just Brainstorm or Fact the card away if you don’t need those particular answers. The Bloods and Demises are there to get you to the point where you can take over with the slower portions of your deck.
Finishing goes much more quickly than you might think:
4 Jace the Mind Sculptor
1 Crucible of Worlds
4 Mishra’s Factory
1 Urza’s Factory
2 Vedalken Shackles
1 Lord of Extinction
One of the awesome things about this deck is that the ways that you end up finishing out games is entirely secondary to their first goal: getting you established. Jace can end up being a finisher but it is first and foremost a card advantage/library manipulation engine. Your lands are there to get you going and then can turn around and be aggressive (if they haven’t first held the fort). Shackles is there to hold the fort again even if it sometimes ends up being the way you kill someone.
Lord of Extinction of course is a card that opens up the eyes all boggley.
I cast Lord of Extinction only 9 times shuffling him away every other time that I saw him. In those games here is what happened:
Five times when I untapped and attacked they died.
One time they immediately answered him with a Diabolic Edict which I was okay with.
One time he played Moat/Abyss until they died.
One time against Zoo I was at low life and they held back their three attackers for fear that they would die. I attacked with him laid a Miren and gained 23 life. They didn’t win that game.
One time against Dredge he ate a few Zombies until I found Pernicious Deed and won the game.
The thing about a Lord of Extinction is that it is basically nearly always lethal. Getting him through in this format is fairly trivial most of the time and even when it isn’t he is such a monstrous threat that they will expend an incredible amount of resources dealing with him. If they do manage to do this unless it was Swordsed you can just Blessing him back or simply kill them with another threat. Your goals have been satisfied: you have gained more incremental (or often far more than that) advantages and you likely have sandbagged a ton of great cards for the next portion of the game.
The sideboard was not perfect by any means. Of the board cards that I thought were great I’d have to say these included Tarmogoyf Thoughtseize Extirpate and Krosan Grip all of which did a ton of work. I liked Putrefy as an extra potential answer to a Needle on Deed (something that I think the deck definitely needs) as well as a way to answer a random creature when you’ve cut your critter handling down. If I were to redo the sideboard it would probably look like this:
2 Krosan Grip
1 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Consuming Vapors
Those cards can shift around enormously though.
One of the big things that I wanted was a way to fight a Zoo deck’s plan of sticking some early damage and then burning me out. Tarmogoyf was incredible for this purpose. Casting an early Innocent Blood and following up with Tarmogoyf was just huge against all of the aggressive decks and against Zoo inevitably if they managed to kill Goyf they expended so many resources it was as though Goyf were just an awesome pair of Gerrard’s Verdicts. I almost wanted another Miren for the deck just to further the value of the Goyfs as life gain but ended up settling on Consuming Vapors as my “second” Miren. I’m certainly not married to Vapors but it’s still quite good for what it does.
Overall when it came to the performance of the deck I was incredibly happy with it. I lost four matches and drew one and three of these non-win results were directly as a result of the copious rust I’m running around with. The other two losses (one against actual factual Team America and one against Hypergenesis) were both great games of Magic that went to game 3. In both situations “Magic happened.” Hypergenesis got down one more threat than I had answers but probably would have lost if I’d had the answer. Team America stuck a Jace that I wasn’t able to answer. These things happen.
I still can’t believe what an incredibly great time I had playing the deck. Legacy is such a wide-open format it feels like and it was great fun playing the archetype that I invented about 14 years ago and finding it to be still incredibly potent. I wish that there were an endless supply of Legacy events; I thought the format was fabulous. Yes a lot of degenerate things are going on but the format still felt incredibly balanced. Hell Patrick Sullivan my brother from another mother played Burn; even though he played cards that generally aren’t considered in the same league as their competitors he made Top 32.
I’m hoping to chip enough of the rust off of me before Nationals to be able to put in a good showing there too. I finished near the bottom of Day 2 at Columbus and I only had my own mistakes to blame. For U.S. Nationals I have some thoughts in mind as to what I should play. Some of those thoughts include “Goblin Guide” and some “Mana Leak.” We’ll have to see which one of them wins out…
Until next week…