This past weekend, the gang and I attended the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Atlanta, and I have to say that we had an absolute blast. While there weren't a lot of shenanigans going on, there was a lot of Magic, and that's a bit refreshing considering the amount of trouble I've gotten myself into over the last few weeks. I'll be the first to make a joke at my own expense, but this weekend was just a reminder of how many people love to needle me. I know I deserve it, but give me a break, guys! On a more positive note, I had a lot of people come up to me this weekend and tell me how much they enjoyed my article from two weeks ago. It was truly inspiring, and I'm glad to have heard it from each and every one of you. Sincerely, thank you.
I've been testing for the Standard portion of the Series over the last few weeks, using Magic Online and various local tournaments here and there as a battleground to hammer out the best list, and I opted for Esper Blade (or whatever you want to call it), since it was the deck I'd had the most experience with. I felt like the deck gave me the best chance to win, and I knew how to pilot it fairly well, but the deck has some glaring weaknesses, namely Summoning Trap. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling and play what you know, even if it ends up being wrong. That's what I did, and even though I ended up doing poorly, I don't feel like I made any sort of mistake in my deck decision.
I played badly and was punished for it. A few play mistakes in the first round cost me the match, as did a sideboarding error in the fourth round against Valakut. I know I can blame lack of sleep and luck and all that jazz, but honestly I just punted. I didn't test much against Mono-Green Eldrazi and got destroyed by Tumble Magnet and Mystifying Maze. I wasn't prepared, and when combined with my mistakes, I paid for it.
I went on to drop after the fourth round and went on to make some sick trades that ended up making me some good money on the weekend after I sold some cards to the dealers. Paying for your trip even when you get knocked out of the tournament is quite satisfying. I'm just now getting into heavy trading, trying to grind my way into a decent-sized collection, but that dream is a little far off at the moment. For now, I'll settle with breaking even on trips and making gas money. The future could hold some good things, but I'm going to take it one step at a time and try to learn the ropes before I move onto anything more serious.
But back to Standard, U/W Caw-Blade ended up taking down the tournament in the hands of Edgar Flores without any sort of splash, which makes for an interesting discussion. Do you need another color? With U/W, you get access to the full four Tectonic Edges, which is incredibly useful against all control decks and also has the potential to make your Sun Titans just absurd.
Additionally, your mana base becomes much more consistent. Adding a third color will often have its repercussions, and this archetype is no different. The loss of Inquisition of Kozilek is quite substantial, but what you lose in power you gain in consistency. While I'm not certain which list is better, I do know that I've been testing both recently, and I'm starting to find that I like U/W more and more.
But enough about that. Standard isn't what I want to talk about this week. I'm slowly starting to believe that Legacy will end up being my favorite format, and for good reason. The diversity that the format brings is just unparalleled in any other tournament scene. While there are some decks that are a little overpowered, I don't think they're unbeatable, and people just need to learn how to prepare for them better. High Tide is clearly the new "deck to beat," but it contains so many powerful cards and effects that it's hard to combat all of them.
Pithing Needle on Candelabra of Tawnos doesn't stop them. Meddling Mage naming High Tide doesn't stop them, since they have Cunning Wish and an entire bounce package to help beat any other hate bear. Gaddock Teeg, while a bit more problematic, is still just another speed bump. What you need is a combination of pressure and formidable disruption, aka the key to beating any good combo deck. What High Tide lacks in speed, it makes up for in raw power. What this means for aggressive decks is that you can't keep hands without substantial early pressure because they'll just kill you on turn 3 or 4 if left unmolested. What you should be doing is trying to interact with them because that's the last thing they want to do with you.
Force of Will is a great start to helping beat this deck, but it isn't enough by itself. They have their own Forces and more free counters in the sideboard in the form of Pact of Negation. Cunning Wish can fetch them in game one, making your life even more difficult. I managed to win both game ones against Jesse Hatfield during the tournament, but things got considerably worse when he had extra free counters to help back things up.
If you're a red mage, you should be packing as many Pyroblast effects as possible. That card, along with a good clock, can really put a beating on that deck. With Merfolk around, the card just has so much value. Countering a High Tide or two is really what you should be trying to do, since things like Candelabra and Turnabout just don't work unless a High Tide resolves. It's the meat and potatoes of the deck, and everything else is just chaff without it. Once you realize this, the deck becomes considerably easier to play against.
While I'll agree that the deck is by no means overwhelmingly powerful, I'll say that neither Hatfield brother lost a match in the tournament until the Top 4, both playing the exact same 75 cards, leaving me to wonder if unbanning Time Spiral might have been a poor decision. It might seem fine to unban cards from time to time, but you need to remember why you banned them in the first place. High Tide has always been a degenerate enabler for combo decks, and the best "Untap X lands" spell from Urza's Block continues to be a problem when combined with the card. While I still feel that the format is healthy, I think this tournament shows just how good the deck is, and people should really start to pay attention.
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Rhox War Monk
- 2 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Terravore
- 1 Trygon Predator
- 1 Progenitus
- 2 Dryad Arbor
As far as the Natural Order Bant deck I played, I want to make a few admissions. First of all, I didn't have enough time to finish my deck before the tournament started. I was actually building my sideboard during the player meeting and left out some key elements for matchups I'm not proud to have forgotten about. A singleton Gaddock Teeg would've won me multiple games throughout the tournament, and a Terastodon could've easily won me both matches I lost to Jesse Hatfield and his High Tide deck. I also beat a Dredge player without casting a single hate card, which is just unreal to me.
Suffice it to say that I got really lucky, or he made a lot of play mistakes (or both). If I had taken more time to prepare, I might have even ended up winning the whole shebang. With a deck featuring tutor packages, every sideboard card counts, and I felt laughably bad for not having Gaddock Teeg in the board after facing multiple combo decks on the day.
As far as my "combo" is concerned, I thought it was potent and probably the most consistent and hardest to disrupt. Throughout the entirety of the tournament, I felt like most people just had no real way to deal with Progenitus. I didn't play against a lot of crazy decks, but I felt like my disruption package on the back of Natural Order was enough to take down a lot of decks without much trouble. Certain cards in the deck looked good on paper but were just abysmal in-game. Fauna Shaman did literally nothing, as did a few of my sideboard cards (*cough* Avenger of Zendikar *cough*).
My only real sideboard cards were Submerge, Engineered Explosives, and Vendilion Clique. While some of the other cards had good reasons for being there, I didn't get to use them as much as I would have liked (or at all). The Quirion Ranger was a last-minute addition, meant to be a bad substitution for Scryb Ranger (which no dealer or player brought), performing neat tricks with Dryad Arbor and Noble Hierarch, but it just wasn't something I needed in the sideboard. Terravore was also mediocre, and I honestly wish it had just been Knight of the Reliquary. There were a few times where I really just needed the creature to be a bit bigger, and having Knight would have allowed for that to happen, while also giving me the potential to play a mini-package of a sideboard Wasteland or manland or something.
I feel there's very little reason for every single creature in the deck to be green. I understand that green creatures tend to work better with Natural Order and Green Sun's Zenith, but Vendilion Clique is just a great creature with an amazing ability. In the future, I'm looking to maindeck a few of them to complement the current disruption package, since there seems to be a lot of room for innovation within the archetype. With two Dryad Arbors and plenty of fetchlands and Green Sun's Zenith, I think you have enough green creatures for Natural Order.
One thing people don't realize about this deck is that you're a control deck at heart, but you happen to have an aggressive plan when paired up against other control or combo decks. Submerge fits right into this game plan, since you can switch to hardcore control mode after the first game, siding out a ton of random creatures against Zoo, Junk, or Bant. Spell Pierce is also mediocre in these matchups, so you can safely swap those out for more removal and blowout cards.
The pair of Trygon Predators was something of an experiment that didn't come to fruition, but I feel confident that playing at least one in the maindeck is worth it. Being blue, it pitches to Force of Will but also has insane value against Counterbalance and Affinity. I feel like Sower of Temptation has a place in the sideboard (or potentially maindeck if I move away from all green creatures), since it's so powerful in a format full of Tarmogoyf. AJ Sacher's sideboard was much different from mine, and I know his decisions had a much stronger reasoning behind them, so I'd start with his and work my way around. Hopefully, I'll be more prepared for the next Legacy tournament and just roll over people with the "perfect" decklist.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not experienced in the Legacy format by any means. Every comment I make about any deck or card is based strictly on a limited amount of observation or experience. With that said, I do like to think that I know a little something about Magic in general, and that gives me a little bit of leeway when making assumptions. In previous articles, I've made some sweeping generalizations about Legacy that people didn't agree with. I'll admit it when I'm wrong, and I was definitely hasty in making some broad statements on the last go-around. Lately I've been keeping up with Legacy coverage, the ascension of certain archetypes, and the evolution of the metagame in general. I'm really trying here, but I'm still new, and I don't have a lot of people to work with. With that said, here are some things about the format that I've discovered for myself, whether they are true or not for everyone else:
I won't play a deck in Legacy without Force of Will without a very good reason. The card is just too good but in a very costly way. Force of Will is always card disadvantage, but it's the glue that holds the format together. Without it, combo decks would be too out of control and have virtually no fear. With cards like Brainstorm in the format, hand disruption like Thoughtseize wouldn't be enough to keep them in check, and that's something for which I'm truly grateful. I've not had the opportunity to cast Force of Will much in my lifetime, but every time I do, it feels like cheating or like I'm keeping the other person from cheating, and to me, that feels like a card that everyone should have access to. Without it, the format would be much less fun.
I always want to be doing something that people have trouble dealing with. Combo decks are always my favorite type of deck to play, whether they are hardcore combo decks like ANT or Combo-Control decks like Dark Depths Thopter. Legacy is full of absurd interactions, so not taking advantage of one of them seems incorrect.
Decks like Fish and Goblins feel underpowered to me, though they continue to put up good numbers due to consistency in draws and the power level of some of their cards. Fish even has access to Force of Will, which gives you a solid way to interact with Combo decks, but I just refuse to play a deck that has trouble with Engineered Plague without a huge upside.
Natural Order is definitely my style of deck. I get access to a backup plan and tutor package with Green Sun's Zenith, disruption with Spell Pierce and Force of Will, card selection with Brainstorm and Ponder, and a combo-esque finisher via Progenitus. While there are certain cards like Perish that can wreck you, it's a much less popular sideboard option than Engineered Plague.
Never underestimate what your opponent can do. Even if you think you have a good matchup, or your sideboard plan is phenomenal, most Legacy decks are powerful enough to kill you through hate. If you feel like your Dredge matchup is simple once you get to board in your two Relic of Progenitus and two Tormod's Crypts, you're probably not thinking about the matchup correctly, and you're definitely not thinking enough outside the box.
Combo decks will cause you the most problems in this scenario when you begin to rely too much on a crutch hate card, so be prepared to lose more often than you would like if you go into a match with this mindset. Everyone has good and bad matchups, but no amount of preparation can help you when you mulligan to five searching for your phantom dagger and whiff. Oftentimes, people will be prepared with weapons of mass destruction but fail to draw them and just die. I see it all the time and especially so in decks like Zoo or Goblins that have no real card selection. Sure, you probably know the matchup backwards and forwards and what cards are most important, but they know all of that too. And if they're a good player, then they'll know how to beat those hate cards and beat you.
When you sit down for a match in Legacy, don't forget that most people tend to play whatever they want. With access to so many powerful cards, it's hard to pinpoint exactly which sideboard cards will be most effective because the diversity of the format is just so high. Come in with the mindset that anything can happen, and all you can do is prepare for so much, and the outliers will occasionally come back and bite you in the ass. Some people just can't escape their pet decks, and it's just something you're going to have to deal with in a format that's so open. This could be due to a variety of things, such as a cost barrier from switching decks, or even just the fact that "Johnny has been playing Ancient Tomb decks with Chalice of the Void forever." Either way, be prepared for anything and everything. "Legacy's like a bawks of choc-o-lates. Ya never know what yer gonna get."
Make good friends, or start to invest in the format now. I'm going to start trying to pick up a ton of Legacy cards over the next few weeks so that I don't always have to bum cards and decks from people. It just isn't good form to always come to a tournament unprepared. Sure, the cost barrier for the format is quite high, but it's a sacrifice you should be willing to make if you're really serious about the format. Most of the cards will maintain their value for quite some time to come and will only continue to rise in value as Grand Prix Providence approaches. If StarCityGames.com continues their support for the format, you can expect all the cards to increase in value over time or hold their current value for the time being. I know I'm not the best person to suggest going out to buy all the cards, as I can't financially afford to do it, but if you continue to be successful, try to turn some of that profit into cards you need to keep playing the game you love.
After all is said and done, we'll be able to look back at this point in time and be able to make an informed decision on whether or not Time Spiral was too powerful to unban. For the time being, I'm really hoping people just figure out how to beat it. I mean, the deck has been around for what seems like forever, in various iterations. It's resilient to hate, but most combo decks are.
I've always felt like the best decks in every format have been combo decks because they make the opponent react to what they are doing. They don't always have the right answer, and when they don't, they're just dead. Sometimes they're still dead even when they do have the answer because you have the answer for that answer. It's a delicate dance we play when everyone tries to one-up each other, and a lot of times the answers you thought you had just weren't good enough.
Throughout Magic's history, there have been plenty of combo decks where the hate for them just wasn't even close to being on par with the combo itself and ultimately resulted in bannings. Mystical Tutor and Survival of the Fittest were the most recent offenders, offering up the tools needed to push a few decks over the edge in consistency and power level, making them nearly unbeatable when piloted perfectly. I don't think High Tide or Time Spiral is even close to this level of strength, and the community as a whole is letting themselves down when they let a deck like this continue to dominate. Step up and don't be afraid to innovate! It comes with great rewards.
I'll be testing more Legacy over the next few weeks in order to prepare for my next StarCityGames.com Open Series Event, and I'll try to update you along the way. This weekend, I'll be in Dallas for the Standard Grand Prix, so wish me luck. In a sea of Stoneforge Mystics and Swords of Feast and Famine, I'm sure I'll need it.
Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL