Where to begin?
After writing weekly for almost two years I haven't written an article in almost four months. This is my first article for StarCityGames.com which feels a little weird. SCG has felt like my home for a long time now even more so since I moved to Roanoke Virginia in January and started working for the company.
Now it's almost April and I just lost in the finals of the SCG Invitational in Baltimore. Though losing in the finals always leaves a certain sting it's hard not to be happy with how well I did. Let me start at the beginning which was right before Grand Prix Indianapolis.
Once Kenny Castor and I found out that we were traveling to Indy we started jamming Legacy matches. Kenny immediately picked up the RUG Tempo deck while I tried a U/B Counterbalance/Top List with four Innocent Blood and six cards with a CMC of three. If I was playing a Counterbalance deck I wanted to be able to consistently counter Lingering Souls and Show and Tell. The problem was it didn't matter how many Innocent Bloods and Liliana of the Veil's I was playing; Stifle/Daze and Nimble Mongoose were consistently smashing my face in.
While I was back to the drawing board Kenny made the finals with the same 75 cutting the Chain Lightnings for Forked Bolts. I wanted to do well in the Invitational so I set Legacy aside for the most part (deciding that I would just play RUG) and started playing as much Standard as I possibly could on Magic Online.
I started with Finkel's Esper deck from Pro Tour Dark Ascension. Playing games I often felt like Lingering Souls was one of the slowest cards and I was consistently losing to W/u Humans. Thalia was a big problem as was Fiend Hunter and they were faster than me. To make things worse B/R Zombies was a big entity online and I couldn't beat them at all. I tried making a few changes one of which was adding a couple of copies of Go for the Throat in the maindeck as well as a Dismember. The deck was performing better but I still thought it was too slow in any game that didn't start with a turn 1 Delver of Secrets.
By no means am I claiming the invention of the archetype but I thought if one flying Wild Nacatl wasn't enough I wanted to add four copies of a one-mana 10/10 to my deck: Champion of the Parish. I went back to U/W without Lingering Souls and started cutting lands. As soon as my first opponent chump-blocked my Champion of the Parish with an Inferno Titan I was sold and didn't look back. I switched between playing and not playing Mental Misstep in my deck many times as the thing I wanted to do the most was play a one-drop then another one or a Phantasmal Image on turn 2. Champion into Gitaxian Probe-Snapcaster Mage was also one of the best plays the deck could make.
The deck I settled on:
- 1 Blade Splicer
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Delver of Secrets
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
The first thing I would change is to cut the Runechanter's Pike from the deck. While it's the best card in a number of lists (such as Yuuya's from GP Kuala Lumpur) this deck doesn't want to be spending mana or time on equipment. While I was very sold on 57 of the maindeck cards the last three slots changed a lot. The singleton Blade Splicer was a card Dave Shiels and others who played the deck played two of but I hardly wanted one so I couldn't justify a second. The Mikaeus was actually pretty good; it helped win token wars and even kept some Gathered Townsfolk out of range of Curse of Death's Hold once. Still the cards are probably not good enough and are definitely worse than all of the other cards in the deck. They should be the first cuts for whatever needs to be added.
The sideboard was good though the Jaces are probably reasonable to cut going forward. They were originally there for the U/B Control matchup and are still good but they're not a surprise anymore. Any good U/B player will have answers to Jace post-board and you're already pretty favored against them. The Negates are game breaking as U/B players want to board out Mana Leaks and it counters board sweepers at any point during the game. If anything I'd want another Negate in the board instead of a Jace anyway.
Some tricks I learned for playing against the removal and sweeper heavy control decks:
- If you have to you'd rather slightly overextend into their sweeper than play around it and cause the game to go on for several extra turns if they simply have a Tragic Slip or a Doom Blade.
- Remember that you're going to be drawing better than a 3:2 spell ratio on them. Not only do you have five-to-seven less lands in your deck they have to spend mana on cards like Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy. Focus on maximizing the amount of damage you deal to them and play Snapcaster Mage/Phantasmal Image as Silvergill Adept as often as you can.
As I said I was planning on playing RUG Tempo up to the night before the tournament. I was staying at Lewis Laskin's house with Megan Brewster William Cao and Kenny. Playing games with the RUG deck the night before…I couldn't figure out how to win a game. Maybe my play style just isn't well suited to playing a Stifle/Daze deck or maybe I got unlucky but I wasn't happy with Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf in Legacy at all. I knew the deck was good but it wasn't working for me.
So I did what I do before almost every Legacy tournament: brewed up a Jace the Mind Sculptor + Liliana of the Veil control deck. The last tournament I played in before the Invitational was actually SCG Open Series: Washington DC where I made Top 8 and promptly lost to Mono Red playing this:
Lewis took the deck updated it and came in 20th place at GP Indy playing this:
This is the list I settled on:
One of the biggest additions Lewis had was adding Ponder to the deck which was excellent. By adding two copies of Ponder you were able to cut a land which helps a lot as your primary goal is to trade one-for-ones as much as possible. Additionally a lot of game 1s you want either a lot of removal or a lot of countermagic and drawing the wrong mix can cost games.
Coming into the tournament I expected to beat all the RUG Esper and Maverick decks and have a good game against most combo decks though I knew Mono Red would be basically an auto-loss. I tried to hedge by playing the Blue Elemental Blasts in the sideboard but those were by far the worst cards in the 75 and wouldn't have been enough to change things in the Mono Red matchup anyway.
As it turns out I went 4-0 against RUG Tempo 3-0 against Esper Stoneblade and 0-3 against Maverick. If those Blue Elemental Blasts were basically anything else I might have come home with a trophy. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Thanks to being a Level 8 from last year I had two byes to start the Invitational.
Round 3: Jonathan Suarez
Paired against my friend and co-worker Suarez was playing my 75. Fortunately I won the die roll and the match can be summed up very quickly:
Game 1: I played a Delver and flipped it; he played a Delver and didn't flip it or have a Vapor Snag
Round 4: Ben Smith
Ben was playing Wolf Run Ramp and I'll just highlight the most interesting parts of the match.
After I win game 1 I drew a bunch of lands in game 2 though when he resolved his Primeval Titan I had double Phantasmal Image and an Act of Aggression in my hand. I made two copies of the Titan but Garruk Relentless made quick work of my Images and I never got a chance to cast Act of Aggression for lethal.
One thing happened during game 2 which I don't usually do but would like to talk about: the turn after he cast Primeval Titan he attacked with it and then paused and looked at me. I asked if I could go to blockers he said yes and I said "No blocks take 6" at which point he went to pick up his deck and I told him he missed his Primeval Titan trigger. Normally I feel really bad about situations like this and almost always just let them have it but if I'm not going to draw the line in the Invitational I don't know where else I can. As it was I went on to lose that game anyway.
In game 3 I cast a turn 1 Delver of Secrets on the play and on turn 2 I revealed Act of Aggression (which sat rotting in my hand in the previous game). The look on his face when I flipped it told me two things:
-First he didn't have an answer to the Delver in his hand.
-Second he had no way to win through an Act of Aggression
Round 5 – Todd Anderson + Round 8 – Brad Nelson
Both Todd and Brad were playing RUG Tempo and while one of the matches has written coverage both of them went pretty similarly. I didn't cast any spells but removal during the first five turns eventually stabilized got Life from the Loam going and won.
Round 6 – Ben Friedman
Ben was the only player with Esper Stoneblade that I battled against during the Swiss and our match was featured on camera. To sum up the games:
Game 1: I resolved a Night of Souls' Betrayal and he had no way to remove it or win through it.
Game 3: Here's the situation—he had a Dark Confidant in play and I had two copies of Inquisition of Kozilek a Jace and a Night of Souls' Betrayal in my hand. I debated between playing the Inquisitions first or just casting my enchantment. I knew that if the enchantment resolved the game looked good for me so I figured I should play it "safe" and just make sure the coast was clear first despite him drawing one more card off his Dark Confidant. I saw a Jace and a Snapcaster Mage took his Snapcaster and was forced to Wasteland him so he couldn't play a Jace.
As I Wastelanded him I needed to draw another land to cast my Night I but knew that if I didn't take that line and he played a Jace that I most likely would just lose. Luckily I drew the land on the following turn killed two Bobs with my Night of Souls' Betrayal and won the match many turns later after legend ruling our Jaces.
Round 7: Jibri Thomas
Jibri was on Maverick and I knew that me him and Gerry Thompson were the only remaining players undefeated. I kept a possibly loose hand of Innocent Blood Spell Snare and five lands including double Wasteland on the draw and promptly lost as my four draw steps yielded lands.
In Game 2 something really awkward happened.
Jibri had a Thalia Guardian of Thraben a Knight of the Reliquary and a Dryad Arbor in play to my six lands. I had a Darkblast an Innocent Blood and a Brainstorm. I was able to "go for it" in my upkeep.
I upkeep Darkblasted his Thalia paying the extra mana. Before my draw step Jibri used his Knight to fetch a Bojuka Bog attempting to remove my Darkblast. With the trigger on the stack I Brainstormed to dredge my Darkblast and put Pernicious Deed and Brainstorm back on the top of my library. I Darkblasted his Dryad Arbor Innocent Blooded his Knight and passed the turn. He drew another Knight cast it and passed the turn back.
I drew a Brainstorm for my turn and…wait. Oh god I forgot my own draw step the turn before. I should have had that Brainstorm in my hand and been drawing a Pernicious Deed this turn. I called a judge knowing that it was probably too late as two turns had passed. That was exactly what the judge said; I got a warning for a missed trigger and went on to lose the following turn.
Afterwards while talking with head judge Riki Hayashi I found out that for the draw step the trigger would immediately be put onto the stack so if I'd appealed I would've had a chance to go on to win. Lesson learned: always appeal even if you think the ruling is right.
Here's how the matches on Day 2 went.
Round 9 – Ryan McKinney
The last three times I've played Ryan he's been on Reanimator and I've been playing some Jace/Liliana deck. This time was no different.
After quickly losing game 1 games 2 and 3 went much better as I had four pieces of graveyard hate and many counterspells.
Round 10 – Drew Levin
Much like my previous matches against RUG I killed his creatures didn't cast any spells and eventually won when half his deck became blanks. I lost game 1 very quickly to a double Nimble Mongoose double Spell Pierce Thought Scour draw however.
Round 11 – Max Tietze
Against Max I won game 1 very easily as I had a "nut draw" for this BUG deck against non-blue decks. This is basically: removal spell into Liliana into Jace into Force of Will. That's usually enough to do it.
The following game I trade a lot of one-for-ones but failed to find a planeswalker and got overcome by dudes.
Something that I made a mental note of that hurt me when it came to the finals: his Punishing Fires didn't do anything against me in three games.
Round 12 – Javier Arevalo
We both spoke about this in our interviews but here it is again:
I got a game loss for showing up a minute late then won game 2 and in game 3 I stabilized with both planeswalkers and Force Brainstorm Brainstorm in my hand. I cast a copy of Brainstorm (looking for a land or a Life from the Loam to pitch to my Liliana) and two cards stuck together and I accidentally drew four. Of course this was another game loss at which point I was so mad at myself I could almost cry.
I showed him my hand asked if he would like to concede as he was very clearly locked out of the game and after a lot of deliberation he gave me the match. It's the type of thing I've done before in that situation and am obviously very happy that Javier paid it forward. If karma exists Javier knows it as he didn't lose a match again until the Top 4.
Round 13 – Joshua Ravitz
Back in Standard Josh was playing Finkel's Esper Spirits deck from the Pro Tour. Both games 1 and 2 I basically got crushed. Though at one point I had two copies of Phantasmal Image on his Drogskol Captain and another Spirit and a Gideon Jura in play and he had three copies of Drogskol Captain and a Spirit making his team 4/4s and mine 3/3s.
Round 14 – Shaheen Soorani
My feature match against Shaheen was over in minutes; he was on Esper control and I had a blind flipped Delver and a Negate both games to really show how unfair the deck is.
Round 15 – David Gearhart
David was also on Esper Control and our games were decidedly more prolonged.
The only really interesting situation came up during game 3. David played a Batterskull with a Ratchet Bomb in play. I flipped my Delver of Secrets revealing Negate and put David to two life. When he attacked with his Batterskull my last card in hand was Celestial Purge forcing him to blow up his Ratchet Bomb on zero to stay alive and I had the Negate he knew about to deal with his Batterskull on the way back down. Some three or four turns later he had a Sever the Bloodline in his graveyard and three cards in hand and I drew a Snapcaster Mage. I knew it was better for me to go for it now rather than later so I jammed my Snapcaster at end of turn and the Ambush Viper killed him.
Showing me his hand he had two copies of Day of Judgment and a land but nothing that could kill my Snapcaster at instant speed.
Round 16 – Caleb Durward
We drew in! Caleb was off of two Grand Prix top 8s a finals appearance in a PTQ and had basically finished in the top 5% or better of every tournament he had played in for the last five months. I wished him luck in the Top 8 and on actually queuing for the Pro Tour.
The Top 8
My quarterfinals and finals matches were on camera and my match against Shaheen was in written coverage so I won't really go over them here.
Against Max in the finals I sideboarded very poorly and lost to Punishing Fire because of it. As the card didn't do much against me in the Swiss I didn't expect it to do much in our rematch either but it singlehandedly won him the game. I got punished for not preparing myself for that angle he could win from.
If I was playing in another Legacy tournament tomorrow here's what I would play:
Thanks for reading and for the support at the Invitational. I'll leave you with a quote from Lewis Laskin in regards to my Top 8 match against Josh Ravitz:
"You should be fine his deck doesn't do anything. Which is different from your deck which actively does nothing: a much better plan!"