This weekend was an interesting one in Louisville at the StarCityGames.com Open. Over the last week or so, there's been plenty for me to think about when it comes to Standard, let alone Legacy. I'm beginning to lean towards Legacy as my favorite format, if only because there isn't a single card strangling everything else out of contention (or is Mental Misstep just a subtle dominatrix?). Anyway, I've been itching to attach Splinter Twin to Deceiver Exarch ever since I saw the combo, so I figured battling it in the second week of its inception couldn't be too bad.
During the drive up, both Will Cruse and myself decided on Grixis Twin for the Standard portion, believing the new combo deck to be too good for people to handle. With so much disruption, I was inclined to agree. While the day started off great for us both, having a combined 11-1 record after six rounds of play, the wheels just fell off the tracks, and we ended up 11-6. Shockingly enough, the deck performed well when we drew mana and spells, but the opponents we faced deeper in the tournament knew what they were doing, and disrupting the combo did not seem all that difficult for them.
For reference, here is the list I played in Louisville:
While this list differs quite a bit from the list I presented last week, it is only because some testing proved a few things for us. For starters, having a Plan B in game one was honestly quite good. Some people just had too much hate for you to deal with, leaving you with either too little time to assemble the combo or too much garbage sitting in your hand once they picked your hand apart. Grave Titan fit the bill quite nicely, even leaving behind some friends if they could, in fact, deal with him.
He was the missing link. I wasn't sold on Consecrated Sphinx as a win condition because it was pretty easy to kill. Grave Titan, however, dodged almost all of the removal in the format. With Spellskite to protect him, things got even easier. Unfortunately, most Darkblade decks were packing Go for the Throat, which gets around Spellskite and kills Grave Titan, so it was quite difficult to beat them with our Plan B. That is what I faced in the last three rounds of the day, losing once to a topdeck and once to my own misplay.
For those of you interested in how the deck plays out, you'll need to practice it a bit. The combo itself is easy to assemble, but you often need to have patience and wait until you know the coast is clear. Occasionally you'll have to go for it without protection, and if they have the answer, you're just going to lose, but that situation didn't come up nearly as much as I thought it would. Most of the time, I would have an early discard spell and combo off with a counterspell in hand. If they had topdecked an answer, then so be it. Other times, they would tap out, and I would just flash them the combo and they would concede. And in other games still, Grave Titan would get the job done all by his lonesome.
Terramorphic Expanse was really what the deck needed to function smoothly. It acted as a way to shuffle away chaff with Jace, while also giving you multiple sources of all of your colors. While you're replacing a decent land in Halimar Depths, you really just need to have consistency in developing your mana base.
The Doom Blades seemed obvious to us because everyone was playing Spellskite against us. Go for the Throat couldn't kill it, and we needed a cheap, easy answer. What we forgot was that Creeping Tar Pit could smash Jace to bits, and having two fewer removal spells for it just seemed bad. In the future, I would recommend just maximizing the number of Dismembers. The tempo it can gain you is far more important than the little life lost when casting it for less mana. It can't kill Titans, but if they're tapping out on turn 6, you should probably just win the game.
The sideboard changed quite a bit, giving you a bit more room against tougher matchups since we cut all of the shroud creatures. They were cute but just not effective enough. The deck isn't packed with removal, so you can't just kill everything in your way and steamroll them. Every deck plays creatures, whether they're control, aggro, or combo, so a 1/4 with shroud just doesn't cut it. Sphinx of Jwar Isle, while large and hard to deal with, just didn't compare to the plethora of six-drops we could have played. One big change we would probably make, considering everyone is playing Go for the Throat, is Wurmcoil Engine. I think he would have been a fine replacement for Grave Titan, but he does tend to just get bounced by Jace without value, so that's a problem. Perhaps there is no real answer, but you can experiment and see for yourself.
With the best decks leaning on Go for the Throat over anything else, Spellskite might just be a sideboard card for the mirror. He doesn't protect you against the card you need protecting against, making him fairly useless most of the time. Sure, he can stop Into the Roil, but I'm not going to play 0/4s that do almost nothing in most matchups.
We decided to cut Twisted Image because we couldn't find any, and we didn't bring any, which was kind of awkward. However, I think they'd still be decent/good. AJ Sacher might have found the best way to go about abusing this card, playing Precursor Golem as his Plan B, while using Twisted Image as Ancestral Recall in addition to being able to kill Spellskite for value. Just some food for thought.
The deck is fine, but after playing the new Standard a bit, I don't know why anyone would battle without Stoneforge Mystic in their 75. Honestly, the guy is too good and gives you such an unfair advantage when you cast him against non-Stoneforge Mystic decks that I'm honestly shocked they haven't banned him yet. I think they should ban him, if only to create some diversity in such a stale environment. Jace is not the problem. He never was. With Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace to make things worse, even mirror matches have become uninteresting. I watched Alex Bertoncini get up to 60+ life in the mirror during the quarterfinals, only to have his opponent come back and beat him. These types of games do not make for fun Magic and do not make for happy players.
I honestly hate talking about Standard right now because there is nothing to talk about. Play Stoneforge Mystic and have enough sideboard cards to beat the mirror. I would honestly suggest Duress over Despise, if only to hit Batterskull and Swords out of their hand. Equipment define the mirror and will for some time to come until Standard rotates or Wizards of the Coast does something about it. When almost every decklist starts off with:
Something is wrong.
Often in the modern Magic era, information spreads at a blistering pace. Certain cards become worthless after a single tournament because they lose their surprise value, or people just figure out how to beat them once they're a known entity.
Splinter Twin is currently suffering from this problem in Standard, but you have to take these lessons in stride and learn from them. If I had to go back to Friday and choose a deck for Louisville, I would undoubtedly choose Darkblade because I've played with the deck a ton and know how to disrupt the Splinter Twin deck. The problem is that I wanted to play with the New Kid on the Block (The Right Stuff!) and got punished for it. Darkblade is the only thing in Standard and will be for some time to come.
As far as Legacy is concerned, some minor trends are showing up in a similar way. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, since Legacy has the tools to evolve around Mental Misstep. On the other hand, Standard has almost no way to evolve out of their current "funk." Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond into Dark Confidant on turn 1 is a great way to get around the strength of Mental Misstep and will leave most players in a bit of a pickle. There are plenty of strategies you can implement that aren't leaning on first-turn plays in order to be successful. Many more will develop over the next few months as people realize that beating Mental Misstep requires some actual thought.
After battling in my second Legacy Open this year and making my second consecutive Top 8 with Natural Order, my beliefs have only become more solidified. People don't take Natural Order seriously, and I just don't know why. The "ringers" advocate various blue control strategies, and they're probably correct in doing so, but Natural Order gives you so much diversity in your strategic plans of attack and defense. There are a lot of decks in Legacy that just lock you out of the game, giving you very little chance to win without something like a Terastodon to save you. Most other decks are just cold to a Progenitus. So, when you have plenty of protection in your deck already, what's wrong with playing a spell that can get you out of a jam or win the game outright?
This list is a bit different from the one I played this past weekend, but for good reasons. I noticed a few things while playing the deck and have made the changes accordingly. The deck feels powerful, and I can't figure out why no one plays it. You have disruption, a combo plan, a control plan, and an aggro plan. What's not to like? You can shift gears at pretty much any time, and you can threaten lethal with counter backup very early in the game. I honestly don't think you're an underdog to anyone, but what do I know? It almost feels like playing Faeries in Standard when Volcanic Fallout didn't exist.
What the deck does do, and well, is figure out ways to win. I lost a decent amount of game ones with the deck, but my sideboard was built well enough for me to morph into whatever deck gave my opponent the most trouble. Sometimes it was just good enough to board into a Canadian Threshold deck, countering and killing everything in my path while I killed them with Tarmogoyf and Vendilion Clique. Under a Standstill against Merfolk, I used Dryad Arbors to apply pressure and force him to break his own card. After that, I buried him under an avalanche of removal. The deck has so many angles of attack that you can basically choose whichever is best for whatever deck you're playing against and follow that path to victory.
While building the deck for this weekend, I came up with a few conclusions that changed my mind on some of the cards that were in the deck. For one, I don't think you want nor need four Green Sun's Zeniths when you don't have a tutor package. The card is great for ramping and for searching up Tarmogoyf but can often be lackluster in situations that call for neither. While it's still the best option for your deck, acting as additional threats or acceleration, drawing multiples often feels clunky, and you really just wish you had another counter or cantrip spell.
I also discovered that I wanted more green creatures to sacrifice to Natural Order. Since you were cutting things like Rhox War Monk from the deck in favor of Vendilion Clique, this led me to add the second Dryad Arbor back to the deck. Multiple Dryad Arbors can be incredibly valuable in a lot of matchups. When you have the Plan B of beating down, fetchlands can often become Llanowar Elves, which team up well with Noble Hierarch. You'll often get your first Dryad Arbor Wastelanded if you fetch it up with a Green Sun's Zenith, leaving your future fetchlands feeling worthless while you're sitting on a Natural Order. With access to a second Dryad Arbor, you give yourself a bit of breathing room when facing off against Merfolk and such, making their Wastelands a bit less devastating.
While I feel like Spell Pierce is a decent card in the format, I think Daze is probably better for protecting your combo and developing tempo. Spell Pierce is garbage against a lot of cards in the format, while Daze is a sickening surprise against a lot of decks. I wouldn't load up on Dazes because you don't have much room and you don't want to draw too many of them, but they can be very strong in the right situations. They allow you to tap out early for your spells and function as an easy way to beat Dark Confidant—something people won't necessarily expect from you. Spell Pierce is fine as early disruption, but you won't often have the luxury to wait until you have five mana to cast Natural Order with backup. The Spell Pierces in the board could become something else, but I'm just not sure what yet. They seem to fill a hole that few other Magic cards can, but I'm not sure they do enough to warrant sideboard slots.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a new addition that I want to try out. Some games really do come down to a grind, and you have to try to dig your way out of them. Jace is great for finding answers, threats, and recouping card disadvantage from Hymn to Tourach and Thoughtseize. He can even bounce an annoying creature and allow your Tarmogoyfs to get through, which can be devastating if you're all-in on Plan B. He even offers up another win condition that wasn't there before. The fact that you have more acceleration than most decks in the format gives you an advantage since you can cast him first. I'm only playing one in the maindeck and one in the sideboard, but if he tests well, I could see adding more.
I changed my mind about the mana base, as I don't think having four Tropical Islands is necessary. There were a few occasions where I was Wastelanded out of red mana, making my removal dead. With the addition of the second Dryad Arbor, you can get away with only three Tropical Islands. Other than that, I'd recommend playing only green fetchlands because you need any fetchland you draw to have the potential to be a Dryad Arbor for your Natural Order, but you also can't really afford to play more than nine because you don't want to run out of fetch targets. Don't play Scalding Tarn! It just isn't worth it.
The sideboard is a bit different, but I really wanted access to a recursive form of removal. Grim Lavamancer fills a void that the deck needed, and I'm considering moving it up to four, honestly. With so many cantrips and fetchlands, he's probably just insane. If you notice, I also moved the Terastodon to the sideboard, since I used Natural Order to go get him exactly zero times in the entire tournament. He's a great option to have, but against most decks, you just don't need him.
One option I wanted to try out was a Savannah instead of the third Volcanic Island, giving you the ability to maindeck a singleton Qasali Pridemage without much problem. With Zenith and Noble Hierarch, getting him into play shouldn't be that difficult anyway. On top of that, you could have access to a Gaddock Teeg in the sideboard for decks like Ad Nauseam, High Tide, and Charbelcher. I'm not sure it's a good idea just yet, but it can't be a bad one. After all, it's just one card and fairly unique. Viridian Zealot just costs too much and can't give your Tarmogoyf exalted in a pinch, making it a much less viable option. The addition of Gaddock Teeg could be quite strong, but there's just no way to know without trying it out first.
I can't go to Providence, though I really wish I could. Legacy is becoming somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me. I rarely get to play it, and when I do, I have to go really far out of my way to borrow cards from a variety of people, so you can see how this would be logistically impossible for anything other than large events. I'm in love with Natural Order because it lets me play all my favorite cards in Magic in one tight little package. People just don't know how to beat a card that says "Protection from everything," and that goes double in a format where no one plays Wrath of God.
Don't let someone sway your decision about a deck based on your matchups. People will always tell you what your good matchups and bad matchups are, often slinging wild accusations around because they read it somewhere else, and they love to mindlessly regurgitate information they've inhaled. Most people are really bad at Magic and don't know what they're talking about, including me most of the time.
A smart man once told me, "Don't believe everything you read on the internet." I hold this to be inherently true in today's Magic culture, and I know I'm personally wrong about a lot of stuff I talk about (let's be real here). You should use articles and tournament results to make your own decisions about future events and deck choices. If you really like a deck that did well in a previous tournament, ask how you can make it better. Talk to the people around you and gather as much data as you can on your own, making the best informed decision possible. If you hopelessly rely on others to do the work for you, you'll never get anywhere.
Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL