Between the recent StarCityGames.com Open in Charlotte and the Invitational in Indianapolis, I hadn't touched a Magic card. Part of the reason was because of the shellacking I took in Charlotte; more specifically, I knew it was coming and did nothing to prevent it.
My Legacy deck was bad for the tournament. I knew it, and I played like it.
Doubts were creeping into my head. Were Edison and Los Angeles just luck and timing? Should I just skip Indianapolis altogether? What am I doing, flying around to spend my weekends playing Magic? It never got to the point where I thought about quitting, but I did question my plan to redouble my efforts in light of my relative success in the first couple of Opens.
On top of this, I never realized the impact of StarCityGames.com, SCGLive, GGsLive, and the other sources of Magic coverage until recently. Players (even ones that aren't especially good) are known in a way that wasn't the case, say, five years ago. Now that any Magic enthusiast can spend their weekends watching middling-to-good grinders slug it out on camera, public awareness of these players is at an all-time high. As the most middling of grinders, this has given me an unexpected windfall of attention, which is both cool and somewhat uncomfortable at the same time.
This was hammered home to me when I went to a card store I don't regularly frequent. I was in the neighborhood, and I needed to pick up some Shrines and Dismembers before Indy. It was a Saturday, and the store was packed with people playing in various tournaments. I walked in, and a ton of people who I didn't know certainly seemed to know me. Asking me about my red brews. Sarcastically asking if I was playing Caw-Blade. Handing me the Dismembers I needed out of their personal collection when the store was out of them. Had I been in better spirits, this whole thing would have been cool or, at the minimum, forgettable. But with my confidence at a low point, I could only think of a line from Jeff Cunningham's Portland report: “Insular and weird.”
I don't want this to sound like I'm complaining because I'm not. It's flattering that people like me, or my decks, or whatever. It's just that the narratives surrounding players nowadays are very powerful because people write a bunch and are on camera exponentially more than they used to be. And because the narratives surrounding me are so charming (always jam red, master with underpowered home brews, etc.), people often attribute a skill level to me that I don't think I have or consider me to be a much more influential deckbuilder than I actually am. I tend to think of myself as just another squirrel trying to get his nut, and I hope that, when things settle down a little bit with all this “King of Red” nonsense, people aren't too disappointed with me.
Still, Indianapolis happened, and there's some stuff to talk about.
Standard: The Scampi Sampler
Public Enemy #1 continued to be Caw-Blade with the release of New Phyrexia, in spite of people's hopes to the contrary. However, the deck changed significantly with the new Equipment, especially in terms of the mirror match, which is the most important consideration for the deck. I waited for the metagame to settle down a little bit, took a look at what the “stock” lists of Caw-Blade looked like, and then went to work building a deck.
The Red vs. Caw-Blade matchup also changed drastically with the release of the new set. With the removal of Mortarpod from most lists and with the inclusion of Batterskull as the primary Stoneforge target, the dynamics of the games were totally different. Before, the games were about slugging it out on the board, with the Caw-Blade player using a variety of tools (Mortarpod, Gideon, Day of Judgment, the threat of a Sword, etc.) to try to grind the game out. With Batterskull, the game plan became very different: find Batterskull, cast it, fin.
In the old world, Koth of the Hammer made a lot of sense. The Caw-Blade player had a variety of ways to control the board but very few ways to actually pressure you; playing Koth on a stable board was rather easy to do and difficult for them to get out of.
Batterskull makes Koth look like a complete joke; in addition, Into the Roil's “Flavor of the Month” status makes it even more challenging to make him go ultimate, and the lack of Day of Judgment reduces his value even further. With the new terms of engagement, speed is significantly more important than staying power because Batterskull makes taking that angle foolish.
Once Koth leaves the deck, it's easy to rationalize twenty lands. Once you go down that road, you want to make everything as cheap as possible. Both Kargan Dragonlord and Plated Geopede are idiotic with such a low land count, and Shrine of Burning Rage is a great replacement for your two-drop slot anyway. That takes us to the following list:
Naturally, after so much thought, I did not play against Caw-Blade once, if you can believe that. I did run into U/R Twin three times, losing once. I received another loss at the hands of Michael Jacob and his Twin/Stoneforge hybrid deck, and I beat Elves, Tezzeret, and non-combo RUG.
Things to consider:
It's possible Kiln Fiend should be in the deck over Ember Hauler. I nearly made that switch right before the tournament started but decided to stick to my guns instead. Given the prevalence of Twin and Caw-Blade, you can easily justify that change now. In a world where people are trying to stick a Sword of something or other on a 1/1 flier, Ember Hauler is an excellent card. Now, with speed being a high priority and very few decks playing spot removal game one, Kiln Fiend might be the man for the job.
The sideboard is loose as hell, but I couldn't think of a lot that I wanted. I know I wanted Dismember and Shatter; Kiln Fiend was thrown in on a lark and actually turned out to be excellent; the full playset of Vulshok Refugees was obviously idiotic and hilarious in retrospect. In my defense, I felt I was way behind in the mirror (lots of little dorks, no Koth, etc.), and I felt I needed something to cheat that matchup. If I were being honest, I would say that I was still tilted from losing a red mirror in Charlotte and wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. Unfortunately, there isn't really a card I desperately want in my sideboard anyway, so those guys might hang around in the sideboard for at least one more event.
Arc Trail was generally poor; it's only great in your good matchups and is bad against Twin, which is not a great one. You could try replacing this with Dismember to help the Twin matchup, but I'm not sold that's the right choice. Dismember doesn't trigger the Shrine, and using eight slots on “Terrors” instead of conventional burn can diminish a lot of your reach. Still, Arc Trail underperformed on the weekend.
Shrine of Burning Rage ran the full range on the weekend, from “the only way I could have won was having it in my opening hand” to “I certainly lost because I drew three.” It comes with some liabilities (it exposes you to Into the Roil and Divine Offering, which are close to dead otherwise) and is rough in multiples. Still, it is so good in your opening hand, nearly as good as Goblin Guide, that I wouldn't be comfortable cutting any. However, feel free to cut them on the draw against Twin because they're too slow to be productive there and because of the Into the Roil issues.
I knew I wanted to play Zoo instead of Burn because Mental Misstep basically invalidated Burn as a deck.
On that note, I'd like to give a shout-out to Wizards; I guess they figured Legacy was too much fun compared to Standard, so they printed Misstep to ensure both formats were each roughly as annoying and grindy as the other.
Anyhow, I figured a redundant Zoo list could overwhelm Misstep in a way that Burn couldn't. Plus, I wanted to play with Wasteland since the metagame was moving to these three-color control decks with untenable mana bases (Team America, I'm looking at you!). All of these objectives were easy enough to accomplish by playing with nineteen one-drops and no expensive dudes.
It's very hard to prepare for every deck in Legacy; in fact, I'd say it's impossible. So you've just got to pick your spots.
I feel like my build was very well-suited to beat the Ancestral Visions/Fact or Fiction blue-on-blue inbred action that was dominating the Open Series prior to the Invitational, but the less stable mana base did come back to haunt me in a couple of my matches.
I went 5-2 in the Swiss portion, defeating Team America, Mono Blue, Esper Stoneblade, and Merfolk and losing to Dredge and splitting two matches against B/W Stoneforge / Dark Confidant / Bitterblossom / etc.
Jim Davis then dispatched me in two lopsided games in the Top 8, now forever captured in time thanks to the magic of SCGLive.
Things to consider:
Steppe Lynx was absolutely, positively horrible. It was instantly sided out at every opportunity. I only had three cards I could justify bringing in against Jim Davis in our Top 8 match (the Jitte and two Paths). Naturally, I drew the one Cat left in the deck. I don't really want to play a Savannah because Fireblast demands as many Mountains as possible, but it's possible one Savannah and Loam Lions are what the doctor ordered. I would cut the fourth Wasteland for the twelfthfetchland or the first Savannah if you're feeling the Loam Lions.
The miser's Sylvan Library was the bee's knees, and there should be a second one in the sideboard for sure. It's especially good in my build because everything is so cheap, and it's devastating in any blue control matchup when paired with all the Red Elemental Blasts you can board in.
Don't sweat the Price of Progress / no basics thing. Yeah, it isn't pretty, but your life total isn't under any pressure in the appropriate matchups. It's possible that you want one basic Mountain so you have something to go get when you're hit with a Path, but you shouldn't go adding one of each basic because of your Prices or any other reason.
Gaddock Teeg kind of stinks, too. I can see it being good in decks like Junk, where you can back him up with hand disruption and stuff, but no combo deck is going to fold to Teeg with nothing else taxing their hand or mana. If you want something for combo, sideboard Orim's Chant / Silence or Mindbreak Trap or something along those lines. Better still, just ignore combo altogether. It's a pretty rough time to be playing Storm with all the aggro-control/Misstep/Daze/Force stuff floating around these days. Even Ari Lax, Storm master and generally unflappable guy, was walking around Day 2 looking like he had just witnessed a murder.
I think Volcanic Fallout could be good against Goblins, Merfolk, and the Esper Stoneblade decks. It's a little taxing on the mana, but it might be worth it. I was wishing I had some sort of sweep effect against these decks, and Fallout seems like the best option.
In the final analysis, I wouldn't say that I broke anything or that I obviously had the best deck in the room and got unlucky, or any of the other hubris that sometimes comes from the people who come up a little short. I do feel like my decks were solid B+ efforts, are a blast to play, and have room for a little bit of improvement. I believe the Standard deck, especially, has the tools to be an actual contender against the Caw-Blades and Twins of the world. I know that everyone says that about their deck and that no one is ever right, but it's my burden to believe these things.