Now that I’m travelling around so much for the StarCityGames.com Open Series, there are certain dates I circle on my calendar. Indy was the first show of the year, I grew up close to the New Jersey venue, the first Invitational in Charlotte feels like a milestone of sorts, and so on. Lost in the shuffle of all of this was Columbus, which was really stupid of me given how much I talk about history and nostalgia when it comes to Magic. The first real event I road tripped to was Origins back in 1999 or 2000, which was and still is held in Columbus.
Back then Origins was a huge Magic event, and it was one of the first times that Magic felt larger to me than just something I did at the store or my friend’s place. I’ve played in a Pro Tour there and cashed two Grand Prix. Outside of New Jersey and NYC, I’ve probably had more memorable Magic experiences in Columbus than anywhere else, and the city itself is charmingly self-aware and devoid of pretense in the way most Midwestern cities are. Shame on me for forgetting about Cow City (which I’m told is actually the nickname from Columbus’ own Reuben Bresler, origins unknown).
The tournament itself was a romp. In Ohio players always show up in droves for large events, and the Legacy Open took the early attendance record for the year. The Standard Open was won by a deck largely off the radar even though the same pilot posted a Top 8 finish in Indianapolis two weeks prior. And Reanimator, hot off the heels of a second-place finish in Orlando, took the whole thing down in Legacy. While many of the usual suspects filled out both tournaments, a lot of weirdoes made some noise as well.
The general perception going into the event was that Standard was solved. Innovators such as Brad Nelson and Chris VanMeter decided to run fairly stock Mono-Black Devotion lists, and our feature matches were filled with a bunch of Desecration Demons and Master of Waves duking it out. In the end, Michael Kenney, fresh off of a Top 8 in Indianapolis, won the nearly 700-person event with his innovative Big Boros deck.
- 4 Chandra's Phoenix
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Young Pyromancer
- 2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
- 2 Stormbreath Dragon
There are a lot of strange numbers in this list. Young Pyromancer without a ton of spells. Purphoros, God of the Forge without a lot of red mana symbols. An Elspeth hanging out. But after watching this deck in action, I can say there’s a method to the madness.
Against regular creature decks, Big Boros is chock full of removal—more removal than even a deck like Mono-Black Devotion brings to the table. In those matchups, Kenney can use those cards to buy time for his high-impact cards like Stormbreath Dragon and Boros Reckoner. We’ve seen this formula with various Burn strategies in the format before, and it’s a solid way of addressing decks such as Mono-Blue Devotion, white-based aggro, and the like.
So what sets this list apart? In my opinion, it’s the unconventional way it addresses the control matchups, a place where similar decks struggle. The deck has a variety of interlocking plans to invalidate opposing removal. Young Pyromancer can shut off Devour Flesh and in conjunction with Purphoros and burn spells can threaten a lot of damage. Chandra’s Phoenix adds an additional element of resilience.
And unlike many other Boros decks, Big Boros can go long with an opposing control deck with cards like Elspeth and Assemble the Legion (both of which happen to pair very nicely with Purphoros). In short, it can play beatdown and control effectively as appropriate, with a "removal into bombs" plan against faster decks and a "burn backed by attrition cards" against control and Assemble the Legion as a specific trump card against Mono-Black Devotion.
We are nearing the end of this Standard format as Born of the Gods approaches, so the shelf life for this specific iteration of the deck is pretty short. Still, given how successful Kenney has been in two large tournaments, this might be a deck to look for in the beginning of the new Standard format, when most people will likely be trying deviations of preexisting decks. Even if we don’t see much of this in the future, it’s cool to see something this outside of the box succeed in a format declared "solved" by so many. Who knows what else is still out there undiscovered?
Another big showing for Reanimator, this time in the hands of Thomas Graves. Again, this comes fresh off of a second-place finish in Orlando. Jund Depths finished in the Top 8. In related news, Deathrite Shaman is at its lowest representation in the Legacy Open metagame since I can remember. There’s very little in the way of BUG decks (a Legacy Open fixture the last year and change), Esper Stoneblade decks appear to be mostly eschewing it, and most conventional Jund lists lack enough game against these sorts of decks to have positive matchups even with the full playset of Deathrites. How far are we from something like Dredge making a run in an Open? For the time being, graveyard-centric strategies appear to be performing at a very high level relative to general expectations.
A bit further down the list we find some serious innovation. One of Stoneforge Mystic’s most faithful servants, Joe Bernal, finished in the Top 4 with this fresh take.
Seriously, Joe really wants to beat Delver decks. Three Supreme Verdicts in the main. Three Lingering Souls. Even though Back to Basics isn’t especially good against Delver, it does allow Joe to build a close to Wasteland proof mana base, and I’m sure Back to Basics still has some good spots against them (and plenty of other opponents as well). The big cost here is that Joe has to essentially remove black from the maindeck, only touching it for Lingering Souls Flashback and a third colored mana for a single Engineered Explosives.
All of these adaptations come at the cost of his combo matchups, which is why you see so much dedicated hate in his sideboard for decks like Sneak and Show and Ad Nauseam Tendrils. With that said, Joe has to have extremely positive matchups against most of the "normal" decks in Legacy, and if you think your metagame is combo light, this could be a great direction to take your Esper Stoneblade list in.
Continuing down the standings we see one of the Ghosts of Legacy’s Past, White Stax, posting a surprise finish in the Top 16 in the hands of Scott Muir.
This is a deck composed of nothing but Sleeper Holds, Boston Crabs, and Sharp Shooters. Nearly all of Legacy’s soft locks appear in here. Chalice of the Void. Moat. Trinisphere. Crucible / Wasteland. Armageddon / Tabernacle. And the list goes on and on. This deck presents so many hilarious cards to answer an opposing Show and Tell, as both Peacekeeper and Humility defeat most game 1 builds of Sneak and Show. Against tempo decks you can bust out a fast Chalice or Trinisphere and win the game at your leisure (it’s also worth noting that Chalice on one + Peacekeeper locks out most Delver decks). And most control decks will struggle to answer Armageddon or Smokestack.
Unfortunately, this deck can draw plenty of hands of pure nonsense or fold to a Force of Will / Thoughtseize on its one meaningful piece of action. If I were to build this deck, I would try to cram some Rishadan Ports in. In any case, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t want their opponent to take a game action, I would give this one a spin.
Jund Depths also placed in the Top 8, while SCG columnist Todd Anderson made a deep run with his own build of the deck, adding Exploration and a Reanimate package in the sideboard to cheat the combo matchups. Given how spell dense the deck is (relative to a deck like Lands), it really surprises me that there’s no room for cycling lands given how anemic Loaming can be without a way to utilize the additional lands you’re returning. Exploration tries to alleviate that, but it does open you up to bunch of dubious opening hands and draw steps, especially with Mox Diamond already in the deck. Whatever the specifics, I think it’s safe to say this deck is "for real" after another solid performance.
In mere days the Open Series hits the Mid-Atlantic for the first time in 2014 when we arrive in Baltimore. This tournament will be a sendoff to the current Standard format as we get ready for Born of the Gods. Even though the consensus is that Standard is fully explored, Michael Kenney’s win discredits that notion. Will something new crash the party in Standard? And will Legacy decks start adapting to graveyard-centric strategies like Reanimator and Jund Depths that have been putting up great results to start the year?