The SCG Baltimore Open was this past weekend, and of course I found myself packed into a van on Friday afternoon making the excursion. Kali, now a proud member of the StarCityGames.com Event Staff, was working the event but taking a separate vehicle full of other employees. I made some new friends last week thanks to the help of Jason Reedy and thankfully had some companions to split costs with. If not for them, I probably wouldn't have been able to afford the trip, so thanks to everyone who made the trip possible.
The trip started off well, mostly with me buried in A Clash of Kings, the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (the sequel to Game of Thrones for those of you who are watching the television show). We made a few pit stops here and there, talking about our decklists and such along the way. A few of the members in the van were only there to play Standard, while others were bigger fans of Legacy (shocker) but stomached Standard because it was there, and they were going to be at the event anyway. The trip was full of back-and-forths about sideboard plans, matchups, as well as the occasional joke spouted by me and a hefty fellow named Jon (who would easily come to be my favorite person on the trip).
Upon our arrival, I met up with Kali and a few others from the SCG staff, and we hit up an Irish Pub. Now, if you are unfamiliar with the Baltimore area near their convention center, let me tell you that you are missing out. About two blocks from the convention center, there is a pier. On this pier there's a pirate ship (not full of Somalis but still cool), a wide area for legitimate street performers, and an outdoor mall full of nice restaurants. While we were eating dinner, our view consisted of a woman prancing on stilts, dancing in a contraption holding her up with (what looked like) scarves, and an open bay full of bustling lights. It was quite amazing to behold, and we left the pub feeling refreshed and satisfied.
Upon reentry into the hotel, Kali decided that going to bed was her best course of action, since they had to wake up at 5 am to set up the event hall. She had a free SCG room where she was supposed to sleep on a pullout couch, but she opted to climb into the bathtub with a couch cushion, blankets, and pillows to escape the massive amount of snoring and freezing cold environment thanks to Michael Mills and Riki Hayashi. She later said that she actually woke up feeling fine, which was a relief. A grumpy Kali is not something you want to have around you all day (love you, sweetheart).
The next day, I had most of my U/W Caw-Blade deck built but still needed a few "random" cards like Sword of Feast and Famine; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and Stoneforge Mystic. I ended up borrowing the cards from some ringers and some friends, getting everything I needed before the tournament fired. I won't bore you with the gory details of a Standard that is long gone, but I'll say that banning Stoneforge Mystic was definitely correct. I'm still not certain it was right to ban Jace too, but I can understand their reasoning. The last event should show you why, with eleven out of the Top 16 decks featuring Jace and Stoneforge Mystic.
I've been building my Legacy deck for the past few months, feeling like I'd be mostly unable to procure most of the cards due to their high cost. However, I've recently gotten into trading as a serious side project to playing Magic. In Nagoya, I went nuts trading over undercosted Japanese (and Chinese) foils and made out like a bandit. Suffice it to say that the foils I acquired have paid our rent for two months, and I am the proud owner of a sweet Natural Order deck. Here is the list I ended up playing at the Open this past weekend in Baltimore:
I lost my first round to Dredge, winning the first game with multiple counterspells on backup, but failing to draw Surgical Extractions after mulligans in the second and third games. I was a bit distraught, but I know that graveyard-based decks are somewhat of a problem for Natural Order. I'm still under the impression that Surgical Extraction is the card that the deck wants against graveyard-based decks, since it also just trumps Life from the Loam (which won the event). Surgical Extraction plays a vital role in allowing a deck like Natural Order to neuter an opposing strategy that your colors wouldn't normally allow you to do. Hitting Bridge from Below against Dredge is usually game over, since they'll be forced to race you with Ichorids and Narcomoebas, which look silly against Tarmogoyf and Progenitus.
The funny thing about Natural Order is that people still don't take it seriously. It won the Legacy Open in Indy; Reid Duke destroyed the Swiss at GP Providence with it; and even I manage to make Top 8 with the deck here and there. The deck is resilient to hate, has a ton of versatility, and people just don't know how to beat a 10/10 with protection from everything. In the cases where they can, you can always fetch up 18 power worth of Terastodon.
For whatever it's worth, Fire / Ice was quite awesome, but I'm not sure I'd still play it. While there were a lot of situations where it was amazing, it seems to me like it's the only really flexible slot in the entire deck. I would like a fourth Vendilion Clique, since it seems to get pitched to Force of Will quite often. Its disruption is key in quite a lot of matchups, and its ability to get rid of your Progenitus in hand makes him absurd. Even if you draw multiples, the first one will probably die. And if it doesn't, you can always use Brainstorm and the Clique's ability to throw extras back into the deck.
I may also want access to Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the maindeck. If the format is going to be as much of a grind as it is beginning to feel it is, then having a way to break back into the card advantage realm is something I really want. I wouldn't jam the full four or anything, but having access to a few would be quite powerful. I'm not sold by any means, but his ability also lets you shuffle away chaff since you have fetchlands and Green Sun's Zenith. You can even accelerate him out early, breaking open the game against an unprepared control opponent. He's also another blue card that can be pitched to Force of Will in a pinch.
Trygon Predator has been a card I've really missed from the Bant list. I could easily see him making his way into the sideboard again, but he is more of a luxury than a necessity. His strength lies in your opponent relying on certain strategies, which is not something you really want in the maindeck. Sure, he's part blue and part green, making him the prime candidate for Force of Will, Green Sun's Zenith, and Natural Order, but unless the metagame shifts heavily towards artifacts or enchantments, I wouldn't bother just yet. It would definitely just be a singleton slot in the sideboard at most.
Lightning Bolt was just bonkers all day, since everyone and their mother is relying on Stoneforge Mystic to put Batterskull into play or Dark Confidant to draw them out of a jam. I also used Lightning Bolt to finish off multiple opponents after Progenitus and Tarmogoyf had done a little work on their life total. Fire / Ice complements it well, acting as another way to destroy Dark Confidant, but also as a disruptive tool against control decks or a way to tap large nuisances. While the removal package in RUG isn't quite as powerful as Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt is an aggressive card that can steal multiple games when opponents don't see it coming. Vendilion Clique and Tarmogoyf can put quite a clock on someone, and having a Lightning Bolt to mop up when they finally deal with your creatures is oh-so-satisfying.
A card I'm just not impressed with is Daze, but I don't know if another card can really fill its role. The card itself is fine for decks that have access to Aether Vial, but I don't know if it really does what you need it to do in RUG. It did help me a few times on the day, but often it felt clunky and left me a bit behind on mana. Spell Pierce was my old standby, and I'll probably be doing some testing with both over the next few weeks to see which one I like best, or if I need another counterspell at all.
I trusted others instead of myself when I played only three Mental Missteps, but I can safely say that was a mistake. The card is just too good against everything to skimp on. While it doesn't protect your combo all that well, it does buy you an absurd amount of time to take control of the game. Against decks like Zoo and Dredge, you desperately need a Mental Misstep to keep them in check. Otherwise they'll just roll you while you twiddle your thumbs. Daze is cool and everything, but you can't Daze a spell if you don't have an Island in play, which is difficult to do on turn zero.
The sideboard was pretty awesome, and I can't recommend Submerge enough. Without Swords to Plowshares, you really need another way to deal with Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary while you set up your combo. Submerge allows you to stunt their growth for no cost, freeing up your mana to cast spells in the meanwhile. I wanted the full four, but just couldn't find room. If we try adding Jace to the sideboard as well, room will become even slimmer.
While I originally thought Verdant Catacombs was the best fetchland to play in the ninth fetchland slot, due to its ability to grab a Dryad Arbor, I've since changed my mind. There were multiple occasions this weekend where I really needed to get Volcanic Island, and Verdant Catacombs made things awkward. I still feel like being able to grab Dryad Arbor is relevant, but the strain on the mana base can be a bit much at times.
I wouldn't recommend cutting any copies of Red Elemental Blast or Pyroblast, since Hive Mind is almost unbeatable without them. They're also all-stars against Merfolk, which is almost always a popular deck. They're still fine against blue-based control decks as well, since they can protect your combo and stop a Jace. They were not as good during this Open as the last, but I also didn't play against Merfolk four times.
The Ancient Grudges in the board were okay, but nothing really exciting. They could have been Krosan Grips or Nature's Claim and been virtually the same. I do know that you need an answer to artifacts, but I'm just not sure which option is best, or if having access to a Terastodon is enough.
Ancient Grudge doesn't get hit by Mental Misstep, which is a nice bonus, but if those slots were more dedicated to cards against graveyard-based decks, I might be holding a trophy right now. Relic of Progenitus is a fine card to have access to, since it can slow down opposing Tarmogoyfs and Knights of the Reliquary, while also acting as a dagger to Dredge. A singleton Trygon Predator might also take the slot.
While I really like putting my full-art Progenitus into play, I really want to try sleeving up the U/W Stonestill deck made popular by Owen Turtenwald (in Providence) at the next Open. My friend John Winters made the finals with the deck, proving that Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull are really good in this format too. I really like the direction that Drew Levin and company went with the deck, playing Ancestral Vision instead of Standstill, since Standstill is not always reliable. With the format being such a grind, it isn't hard to survive for a few turns while you wait for Ancestral Vision to go off. However, if the opponent is ahead on board, it's very difficult to resolve Standstill profitably.
The coming months are sure to hold some promise for me and my family here in Roanoke, and I'm going to try my best to go to as many Opens as I possibly can. They are a blast, and hopefully our new friends around here will be as willing as I am to travel.
Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL