My adventures with CounterTop began at StarCityGames.com Open: Denver. While I didn't top 8 there I felt that I needed to keep learning the deck because I knew Canadian Threshold wasn't going to cut it much longer. The next time I took CounterTop to battle was at Kansas City. I went 5-2-1 but could have top 8ed if I hadn't made some errors in both playing and deckbuilding.
Before Kansas City I didn't realize how powerful Firespout really was. It kills so many of the aggressive creatures — and it costs three mana which is huge in matchups like Junk and also makes it difficult post-board where you'll want to keep a three-drop against Krosan Grip.
One of the changes I made after Kansas City was the mana base. The basic Plains was useless — but a basic Mountain would have been awesome. I also added two more fetchlands and dropped the number of each dual land I played from four to three. The added bonus was that I got more shuffle effects for my Sensei's Diving Tops Brainstorms and Jace the Mind Sculptor.
I noticed that GerryT didn't play Ponder in San Jose — and after thinking about my experience with them I realized they weren't needed. I was never thrilled to draw Ponder. I'm a big fan of not tapping mana in your main phase unless it is for a broken card; now I consider Firespout Counterbalance Sensei's Divining Top or Tarmogoyf all cards I'm willing to tap main phase mana for. And while Trinket Mage isn't absurd it always finds an answer or the missing Sensei's Divining Top.
I was also looking for something spicy to play that would be good against Merfolk while still having game against Zoo Goblins and Bant Aggro. I looked through a bunch of tournaments and didn't see anything of note. Repeal looked cute but wasn't what I wanted. Then I looked online at the Magic Online Legacy events — while they don't have every card the format is still similar. I saw that Bing Luke/prolepsis9 was playing CounterTop with Grim Lavamancer and I was sold. While I did board it out fairly frequently when it was useful it was awesome. It was mediocre in rounds three through seven — but in round 8 onward (including the finals) it helped win games that I could have lost if I couldn't burn creatures or throw fire at my opponent's face.
I got to the site and had to finalize my seventy-five. I had sixty-one cards in my maindeck — so I showed my deck to Drew hoping he'd give me advice on what to cut since he's another Legacy master. The card he told me to cut was Jace the Mind Sculptor #3 — which was the card I had been leaning towards but wasn't sure if it was right. Since he agreed with my instincts it was gone and my seventy-five was this:
The one thing I would change after playing it would be cutting the second Spell Pierce for a third Krosan Grip or possibly a second Engineered Explosives. Krosan Grip is awesome and hits about half the spells you want to Spell Pierce anyway. It's definitely worse against Storm Combo — but your matchup is already pretty good there and I don't think you need the Pierce.
Because I am Level 5 after the player meeting I did some combo Cube Drafting with Alex Bertocini the Louisville Crew and the Madison crew. I got to Grindstone and Chaotic Backlash some people out with the help of a Painter's Servant. During my second bye I went to get some food — and was then ready to battle when my tournament started in round 3.
Round 3 started and I saw Gerry walking around. He came by and said that he got deck-checked — which is brutal after two byes. I knew that I'd been waiting all morning to battle Legacy. (If it'd been Standard I probably wouldn't mind since I'm not the biggest on that format right now.) We actually talked about how back in 2004 someone rescinded their byes at a Grand Prix and we jokingly talked about not using ours for the Legacy portion in future StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens.
Round 3: Goblins
In game 1 I was able to get Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top down. Eventually a Tarmogoyf got through and I know I hit at least one Goblin Ringleader with a Jace that I was floating. (In case you don't know CounterTop terminology “floating” is where you keep the card of the converted mana cost your opponent is most likely to play on top of your deck. In my case my four-cost Jace trumped his four-cost Ringleader.)
He won game two pretty easily and then in game three I knew I was winning this tournament. I was on the play and led with Top; he followed with Goblin Lackey. I played Tarmogoyf as a blocker and he untapped to play Warren Weirding. I didn't have the Force of Will in my hand so I activated my Top to draw a card trying to hit the four-mana outer — and I hit.
The game still wound up close because he got a second Goblin Lackey — and while I ate one with my Tarmogoyf he was able to get in a Siege-gang Commander. I untapped and played Pithing Needle on Siege-Gang Commander. I wound up taking beats down to six where I got a Firespout off through a Rishadan Port. 'Goyf ends up finishing him off right as time is called.
Round 4: CounterTop Mirror
Here I played Josh A. Guibault who I beat in the top 4. We wound up going to three games and drew the third. I was probably going to win the game with an active Jace — but it wasn't locked up so he didn't scoop and we headed to the draw bracket.
Round 5: Junk
I knew my opponent was playing Junk because I saw him draw against Gerry earlier in the day.
I was able to get a Top down in game 1 to survive his discard and eventually I got a Counterbalance and locked him after Swording his threats.
Game 2 he kept a risky hand of Scrubland and Karakas. He wasn't able to play his Hymn to Tourachs any three-drops or Tarmogoyf… making it easy for me to stabilize with a Counterbalance lock. I didn't play a threat for quite awhile because I liked the top cards of my library which had a two- and three-drop floating.
Playing the Tarmogoyf in my hand would have forced me to crack a fetchland. (If I'd had a Brainstorm I would have been more willing to crack it because then I could put cards from my hand equal to the casting cost of his spell on the Top.) Eventually I got a Tropical Island into play but he Wastelands it — and then Extirpates me leaving me with just Jace and Trinket Mage left to win with.
Eventually with five minutes on the clock and him at around fourteen I decide to tap out for Trinket Mage and get my beatdown on. I finished him off right as time was called.
Round 6: Belcher
I knew my opponent was playing Belcher because I saw him get paired against Christian Valenti in Round 1. That's amusing because Christian normally plays Belcher but chose to play G/W Creatures this time around.
I won the die roll and saw the stone nuts of “Fetchland / fetchland / Sensei's Divining Top / Counterbalance / Force of Will / Jace the Mind Sculptor / Engineered Explosives.” I won this game with no effort on my part since it was the stones.
I was getting ready to board out Swords to Plowshares for game 2 and then remembered that earlier he'd said he was playing Christian's deck and that Christian had Xantid Swarm in his sideboard. I wound up leaving them in and boarding out some other do-nothings.
He tanks on his mulligan decision in game 2 which makes me think that he has a Xantid Swarm hand but not a turn 1 Empty the Warrens or Goblin Charbelcher. I decided to keep my hand with a Swords to Plowshares Counterspell Top and some lands.
He led with Swarm which I Sworded on his turn which was a mistake. I should have done it my main phase — because if he'd had Empty the Warrens I would have just given him two extra creatures. Fortunately he didn't have it and I got a Counterbalance lock down before he could do anything.
Late in the game he started hard-casting Simian Spirit Guides to get some damage in and I actually had to Swords one because I didn't have a three-mana card on top when he cast it. With ten minutes left in the round some Tarmogoyfs took him down.
Round 7: Landstill
This round I got an uncovered Feature Match with Jason Terry. He was playing Four-Color Landstill similar to what Jason Ford played in Columbus.
He then landed a Standstill — which is awkward for me in many many ways. He won game 1 so I need to win both this game and game 3 to win the match. A few turns went by with me fatesealing him off of more Factories and cards I care about.
Eventually he had a brain fart and cast Life from the Loam. I chose to respond by drawing three cards. He sorta went on tilt there and I was able to get the lock on the following turn with Top and Counterbalance.
We went to game 3 with about ten minutes left on the clock. I was able to get a quick draw including both of my Pithing Needles — one on Engineered Explosives and the other on Pernicious Deed. On turn 4 of extra turns my Tarmogoyfs finished him off.
Round 8: Show and Tell
Game one I made sure to play around Daze which is really the only card that can blow me out. I took some beats from Noble Hierarchs Counterspelled his first Natural Order and then proceeded to play the lock when I had plenty of mana up and had only taken Noble Hierarch beats down to twelve or so. He eventually died to my Tarmogoyfs.
Game 2 I misboarded by leaving in a bunch of Firespouts which aren't actually good against him. This game wound up being weird though because no one ended up attacking for more than one. He was attacking me for one with an exalted Birds of Paradise while I had the Counterbalance lock but no pressure. Eventually I Topped into Grim Lavamancer who burned away his creatures and got his attacks on. Eventually I got a Tarmogoyf in play and Josh went for it by hardcasting a Terastodon. I Forced it and that's game.
Round 9: Noodles and Company
I drew and got some food. Over half the top 8 ended up eating at Noodles and Company while the round was finishing up. I got back talked some on GGslive and learned that in the top 8 you receive your opponent's decklists.
I felt that was a huge edge for me; my list was fairly stock but I had no idea what was in Michael Bomholt's Forgemaster Combo deck. I knew it had Goblin Welder Metalworker and some big artifacts but no idea what was actually in it.
I had also heard the story floating around the site that someone had died on turn 2 when his opponent went “Turn 1 Ancient Tomb into Grim Monolith; turn 2 Lightning Greaves Voltaic Key Kuldotha Forgemaster play City of Traitors hook Forgemaster to Greaves then Tinker up a Blightsteel Colossus to poison his opponent out.” We told this story to Alex who was going to be his quarterfinals opponent and Alex went crazy. He was like “Oh no I can not get poisoned.” He thought that was bad — until he saw his opponent had four maindecked Wurmcoil Engines which he could never beat.
Before the top 8 I asked the Head Judge and TO if the top 8 was going to be timed or untimed. Happily for me it would be untimed. I am a fast player and I didn't finish a round that I played with more than ten minutes left on the clock. Also knowing that I was likely to play against two Counterbalance mirrors also meant that time was going to be critical because sudden death is bad for me… especially when both of my Counterbalance opponents had life gain in the form of either Rhox War Monk or Thopter Foundry.
The top 8 actually played out fairly quickly. The semi-finals took ninety minutes — but other than that my other matches lasted less than sixty minutes.
All my top 8 matches were covered and explained pretty well . I do think I got a bit lucky in my semi-finals match when my opponent blew up his Engineered Explosives on two when we both had Counterbalance but he had a Top. He should have waited till his hand was stronger because I couldn't really do anything at that point. I was actually debating playing a Tarmogoyf as bait for him to blow the Explosives because it was going to be hard for me to win through it — especially because I couldn't play my own Top. Luckily for me he blew the Explosives and I won the counterwar when he tried to play another Counterbalance — which let me resolve the lock and win the game.
I was so happy to finally take home a trophy! It was unbelievable. I was the last of the Level 5s to win one and I was due. Previously I had punted away the finals and lost twice in the top 4. Thankfully I played really well that weekend and could quite possibly have top 8s on Saturday with RUG if I hadn't out-thought myself when playing against Valakut.
I would recommend this deck for people trying to play control in Legacy. My biggest warning would be to Top fast and be prepared for no breaks all day. If you Top slow you'll end up getting multiple draws.
I'll see everyone at StarCityGames.com Open Weekend: Washington D.C. where I hope to take home another trophy.