What would cause a man to play 21 basic Islands between both days at a StarCityGames.com Open Series? One might say lunacy but I'd probably say hope. Hope that Magic wasn't as different as it was ten years ago when I began playing.
Was I right? Continue on dear reader to find out...
Going into #SCGNY I knew I wanted to play Delver of Secrets. After my scrub out of Grand Prix Columbus I busted out my trusty notebook and went to town designing a U/R Delver deck based on Talrand Sky Summoner and backed up by the raw power of Bonfire of the Damned. The Sunday of the GP I played in an Elite Invitational Qualifier knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to finish the tournament as my car wanted to leave early.
However it was $20 well spent. I dropped at 4-1 while in the middle of my sixth match confident that I was onto something. After some tuning during the week this is where I arrived:
My single loss in the Swiss of the Elite IQ was to Zombies which seemed impossible. Then I realized that I never drew a Pillar of Flame which with Snapcaster Mage would have made all the difference. The matchup didn't seem that bad in theory but I added Augur of Bolas and Batterskull just to ensure that I would smash them.
Augur might not seem like it accomplishes much without Restoration Angel or equipment and that's definitely true. I'm just sick of Zombies sitting back on three removal spells while they nickel and dime me out with a single Diregraf Ghoul. It was time for Maritime Guard to shine!
I beat up on U/W Delver and G/W Elves (piloted by #SCGNY finalist Kurt Crane no less) and overall felt very confident. There were some theories rolling around in my head and they seemed to be correct in the small amount of practice I had.
My logic was that Talrand was the best "finisher" for Delver but the Mono-Blue lists weren't cutting it. With all the green decks devolving into "Bonfire you no Bonfire you" it seemed like Delver could take advantage of that as well. Sometimes they just explode with Birds into Borderland Ranger into Huntmaster of the Fells and you want something that plays cleanup.
Naturally this pushes you into a more controlling role so I had to adjust some things. First of all this isn't a deck that is going to pressure its opponent with heavy hitters turn after turn. Delver into Geist into Angel into Sword isn't possible in such a deck.
However you have more tools at your disposal. For example you have hard removal spells board sweepers and an excellent Grave Titan-esque finisher which traditional Delver doesn't have. Since you won't necessarily be pigeonholed into the aggressive role Vapor Snag becomes much worse.
Unsummon has mostly been a bad card and Vapor Snag isn't much different. The only reason Snag has seen plenty of play and Unsummon almost never did is because of how aggressive of a deck Delver is. Even though bounce spells are card disadvantage it doesn't matter in U/W Delver. They aren't an inevitability-wielding control deck seeking to win on the back of card advantage— all they want to do is clear away blockers and win the race.
If you die with four spells in your hand that you never had time to cast it's like you mulliganed to three. In that sense "Vapor Snag your four-drop" trades one-for-one at least in a highly aggressive deck. With U/R Delver the games are going to go longer and Vapor Snag IS going to be a functional mulligan since you give them the time to play out the rest of their hand.
I started with two went down to one then zero then back up to two. It's a card I would like to play zero of but you can't really afford that in today's green-filled metagame. There are big creatures that you need to deal with even if it's just for a turn or two. Dismember is great at that as well but you can't play too many. Combust out of the sideboard was fantastic for replacing Vapor Snag in the applicable matchups though.
Mutagenic Growth is a fine card in most matchups. Either you're saving your guy from Bonfire of the Damned / Gut Shot or attacking your Insectile Aberration into their Restoration Angel and you can't do much better than that for zero mana. Drawing multiples is kind of awkward but when your whole plan revolves around Talrand you need a way to protect him from Bonfire.
As for the tournament I did very poorly. I beat Esper Midrange and U/W Delver but lost to Mono-Green Aggro (which was kind of expected) and G/R Aggro (which wasn't). It was a shame that my match losses mostly came from mistakes I made. I would have liked to have still been in contention for Top 8 to play out real matches in order to get a better idea of how I could make the deck better.
For right now I'll just stick to playing U/W Delver. The power level is off the charts and with the help of your sideboard you have the tools to beat everyone. U/W has hard-to-deal-with threats like Geist of Saint Traft has diversity of threats with Restoration Angel and Hero of Bladehold a nightmare engine against control (equipment plus Moorland Haunt) and diverse sideboard cards like Timely Reinforcements Celestial Purge and Divine Offering.
Unless you are specifically trying to be outside the box just for the sake of it your Delver deck should probably be U/W. I don't want to hear any of the Quirion Dryad nonsense since we all know that's not beating Vapor Snag or Gut Shot anytime soon. Huntmaster of the Fells is equally ridiculous since everyone who Huntmaster would supposedly be good against has Bonfire of the Damned.
I like the look and feel of U/R and Mono-Blue but they aren't flexible or powerful enough. In the matches they are designed to beat they are stone kold killers. When you run into a maniac playing Dungrove Elder you're not going to be happy.
For Legacy I decided to play High Tide. In my opinion the format is slowing down a lot. Griselbrand is taking a breather Storm almost never shows up and the fastest creature deck goldfishes on turn 5 albeit with disruption.
High Tide was on my bucket list at one point but I've already played with it which many people didn't seem to know. At an SCG Legacy Open in Memphis I got annihilated by two solid players with Team America who Hymned me several times. The week after that I spent hours jamming sideboarded games against Drew Levin one of the players who beat me looking for an answer.
Thankfully no one plays Hymn to Tourach anymore! Although my Diverts and Mystic Remoras and Deep Analysises were fun to play with even I couldn't justify their inclusion. In the end I settled on this:
You can find my deck tech here.
Most of the people in the comments did not think my decklist was remarkable nor did they care about High Tide. Well guys that hurts my feelings and I hope you're happy. Here I thought I was doing pretty well—winning some matches getting some camera time even getting interviewed—and then you had to go and cut me down.
I hope you're pleased with yourselves.
Well they were right. My decklist wasn't very remarkable. That's not to say I didn't try to do some remarkable things like play Temporal Mastery and/or Repeal in my deck but those are probably examples of things that people would make fun of me for.
High Tide isn't an overly complicated deck to play. For the most part you want to live until turn 4 cast High Tide and then cast Time Spiral. Any shenanigans you can do in the meantime are highly encouraged but it's typically a two-card combo.
In between rounds I played several games against Josh Cho and what would end up being the tournament-winning Merfolk list and I was surprised to see how quickly he understood the matchup. Most of my opponents would Spell Pierce Daze or even Force of Will irrelevant spells. Ultimately all you have to fight are the High Tides.
For example say you're playing some tempo-based deck like RUG Delver or Merfolk. If you have Cursecatcher or Daze at your disposal it's often correct to just Force Spike the High Tide rather than aggressively attack their cantrips or Tutors. Tapping a land the turn I'm trying to go off with High Tide ends up more relevant than countering a Ponder.
Say I have five lands and use one of them to cast a High Tide. You start with Daze and I pay it. You let that resolve and then Spell Pierce it. What am I going to do with my four mana? Hopefully I can cast a Turnabout or some such but High Tide doesn't always have the perfect combo pieces.
Playing around Flusterstorm is also very important now that most lists play two or so maindeck. If I cast High Tide and you respond with Force of Will and I respond with another High Tide you don't really want to add another spell to the stack. Chances are I'm trying to set up a Flusterstorm that will allow all of my spells to resolve.
All the Cantrips
When I last played High Tide I only had two Preordains and quickly figured out they were actually better than Ponder. This time I did the correct thing and played the full twelve. Sometimes you are forced to try and go off on turn 3 because their clock is so fast but most of the time you just go off the turn before they're going to kill you which should be much later.
In the turns before that you want to use all of your mana finding the perfect combination of cards and you can't necessarily do that with only ten or eleven cantrips. Play the full twelve and you won't be disappointed.
This is a highly contested card. Some think it's completely unplayable in certain matchups but I like aggressively Meditating even if there's a chance I could lose. Either it's very tempting bait as it's hard not to go off with four extra cards but it's also tempting to let it resolve. However if they do that you can usually Force of Will whatever they're doing with reckless abandon.
Obviously it's a powerful setup card against slower decks like Stoneblade and U/W Control. Against Merfolk and RUG it's a gambit but it's usually fine to cast on turn 3 especially if you're on the play.
I have never whiffed on a Time Spiral. There were some close calls in Buffalo but I always got there. The reality is that most of your cards are live draws. Any cantrip or Tutor will likely turn into more cantrips and Tutors one of those will find a Brainstorm and suddenly your hand is all gas.
Don't be scared to give them seven cards because you'll probably kill them.
I strongly dislike this card. In a format where Grim Tutor and even Rhystic Tutor are legal and see little play makes me question the widespread inclusion of Cunning Wish. Still it's nice not to have to play win conditions maindeck and to be able to sideboard one-ofs like Rebuild that can hose an entire strategy. It's very slow though and while I never sided it out I truly wish that I could build the deck without it.
When you're Merchant Scrolling for a card drawer nothing is better than Meditate. Similarly when you need a counterspell to protect your combo you often want Pact of Negation. Force of Will eats up valuable resources that you often don't have. Flusterstorm is great because it protects your combo can catch people off guard and stops something like Empty the Warrens from ruining your day.
With Cunning Wish you want to be able to fetch a counterspell if they are trying to kill you but on turn 3 neither Flusterstorm nor Pact of Negation is any good. In addition to Force of Will not being that great to draw in multiples you want one to be Tutorable. If the format were faster you might not have time to wish for a Force but if the format were faster why would you be playing High Tide?
Some decks might try to lock you with Chalice of the Void or Trinisphere some might rely on Thalia Guardian of Thraben or Gaddock Teeg and some might try to outright kill you. For these we have Cunning Wish targets.
In an ideal world I'd have a Hurkyl's Recall Rebuild Echoing Truth Capsize Submerge and Snap in my sideboard as they are all good in different situations. However you don't have room for all that stuff so you have to take a guess at what you're going to face over the course of the day and hope you're right.
Against artifact-based decks I'd like to side in a Hurkyl's Recall and keep the Rebuild to Wish for. After all if they have Chalice on two you can Wish for Rebuild and if they have Chalice on three you can Scroll for Hurkyl's. Having both available to you is very important in metagames where those decks exist. I wasn't expecting many artifact decks so the Rebuild was all I wanted.
Capsize is a very important piece of technology that came courtesy of Eli Kassis. With four Islands a Candelabra of Tawnos and two High Tides you can generate infinite mana. It makes killing decks with Eldrazi much easier. Normally you would have to Brain Freeze them for a large amount and then Surgical their Emrakul or wait until they had nothing but Progenituses in their deck and then Blue Sun's Zenith them. Since High Tide can take a while to actually go through the motions of comboing this can save you a lot of time and counting.
Against RUG Merfolk and other blue decks especially those with Vendilion Clique I want to board in more Pact of Negations. Some people play Defense Grid in this slot and while I like Defense Grid I'd much rather have the hard counterspell on the turn I'm trying to go off than trade a Grid for a Daze or Spell Pierce on turn 2.
In a perfect world I would have multiple Submerges to board in against RUG and Maverick but there isn't the room in the sideboard nor do I have much that I would want to sideboard out.
As you might have heard I started off 5-0 only to lose my next two matches and fall short. As LSV put it "For you they are no longer 'win-and-ins' they are 'lose-and-outs.'"
Round 1: Affinity
Both games he came out of the gates kind of slow and I was able to kill him turn 4 twice.
Round 2: Kenny Castor RUG Delver
I was being put to the test as early as round 2! In the first game I was busy setting up while Kenny was trying to clock me with a Nimble Mongoose and then a Tarmogoyf. Against these decks I don't mind casting a Candelabra of Tawnos early but in this case I didn't want it to get Dazed because I could play around Daze and it would add another card type to the graveyard for his Tarmogoyf.
Instead I cast it on turn 3 which he Force of Willed. I was surprised but when he untapped and Thought Scoured himself to get exactly threshold I suddenly only had one more turn to live. Thankfully my cantrips had been kind to me and had found what I needed to break through his remaining defenses.
If he didn't Force the Candelabra the game would have been much different. Basically I would have had two extra turns to find additional protection against his Force of Will. I think I still would have won but I think Kenny's play was a move made out of panic and the fact that the math added up perfectly to a two-turn clock.
Against decks where I think they'll bring in Surgical Extraction I typically side out a High Tide so that I can Cunning Wish for one if they Extract them. If I think they are smart enough to go after my Wishes I'll just board in the Brain Freeze.
In game 2 he tried to Surgical me out but I had more than enough gas to stop all his efforts.
Kenny went on to make the finals.
Round 3: Maverick
This was a fake feature match. I killed him turn 4 in game 1 and he mulliganed to five in game 2. He had Noble Hierarch into Qasali Pridemage but no third mana source for a while. I could have gone off turn 4 but decided there was no reason to be hasty and that was a good idea. I found a counterspell just in case of Mindbreak Trap or something similar which ended up coming in handy when he attempted to Spell Pierce my High Tide.
Round 4: Dredge
This was a camera feature match.
After winning game 1 I felt pretty good. I went off through two Cabal Therapy because his clock was so slow. Dredge isn't supposed to be a great matchup but I put the pair of Surgical Extractions in my sideboard for just such a matchup. I never drew them though.
In game 2 I aggressively Force of Willed his turn 1 Careful Study. It buys me a turn at least and maybe several more if he doesn't have another discard outlet. Sure enough he was stuck saying 'Draw go' until he drew a Lion's Eye Diamond. I was able to do some digging and reassemble my combo for the next turn but his last card hit a Cabal Therapy which was all he needed.
In the third game he used the 'draw discard' strategy which is far too slow in my opinion. On turn 3 I had the option of using Cunning Wish for Ravenous Trap if I so desired but he didn't do anything threatening. Instead I used it to get a Turnabout in order to build mana and storm and I eventually killed him.
Round 5: Maverick
This was a fake feature match.
Game 1 he started with Mother of Runes into Thalia Guardian of Thraben. You might think that I was drawing dead but that wasn't quite the case. My initial plan was to Turnabout his creatures on his turn and eventually bounce it on my turn and go off. Since I was stuck on three lands for quite some time I didn't end up having that luxury. Instead I was forced to try and combo while Thalia was in play.
Once I found my fifth land (at one life) I managed to do just that. High Tide High Tide Turnabout Time Spiral is a helluva sequence. 70 mana and a Blue Sun's Zenith later and he was picking up his cards wondering what went wrong.
And Eli said I should play two Phantasmal Images for Thalia. Pfff.
The second game was much easier as he double mulliganed looking for hate but came up short.
Round 6: Sneak and Show
This was a camera feature match.
I won game 1 after stopping his attempt to combo (thanks Flusterstorm!) and then going off myself. Second game he shoved on turn 2 Show and Tell (I think he had no protection). While I had just Pondered a Flusterstorm to the top it did me no good. Griselbrand ended me.
The final game was kind of sweet. He went for Show and Tell on turn 3 but I had the Flusterstorm. With another Flusterstorm as backup I went for it but he had Force of Will and Pyroblast which left me hellbent. A couple turns later he had Sneak Attack plus Emrakul and I had a fairly low chance of winning.
In hindsight I could have potentially not countered his Show and Tell and saved the Flusterstorm for my own protection. However if he has Griselbrand instead of Emrakul I will almost certainly lose to his wall of countermagic. Rather than take a 50/50 chance I decided to go for it with "only" one counterspell and lost.
There was also another line I could have taken involving Turnabouting his Lotus Petal so that he couldn't have two counterspells but that would have left me with zero mana floating as I cast Time Spiral rendering my Flusterstorm useless. No matter what I did aside from waiting or not countering his Show and Tell I was going to lose.
Round 7: RUG Delver
Both games involved me missing land drops. Either game if I got to four lands I probably could have won. Game 1 was the first mulligan I had taken all tournament which might speak volumes as to how lucky I was getting but High Tide really is that consistent. It was also the first game 1 I lost.
Round 8: Reid Duke U/W Control
We intentionally drew into Top 32 good for 100 USD.
High Tide is fun powerful and consistent. With the relatively low power level in Legacy (at least what I've seen compared to other times in Legacy) High Tide is a wonderful choice. With two heartbreaking near misses in two different events with High Tide I think it's safe to say that it's still in my range. For #SCGDC this weekend I'm going to switch it up though. Depending on how my tournament goes this weekend I might just go back to playing mono-Islands!