Black Magic – The SCG $10k Open Weekend

Read Sam Black every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Tuesday, December 15th – Sam Black had high hopes for the Standard portion of last weekend’s SCG $10K Open St. Louis. Unfortunately, his Turbo Fog deck never made it out of the starting blocks. On Sunday, however, his Legacy Fish deck came out fighting…

This weekend, I played in my first StarCityGames.com $5000 Open tournaments, and I have no complaints. The event was run smoothly. The side events, which were eight-man queues, were very reasonable and fired regularly on Saturday. Even the venue was pretty well chosen. I didn’t hear any complaints all weekend, so I highly recommend attending such an event in future.

As for the tournaments themselves… Saturday was pretty disappointing for me. I played Turbo Fog, which I’d been playing online for most of the previous week. My roommate, Justin Cohen (I no longer live with Gaudenis) lost playing for Top 8 of Wisconsin States with Turbo Fog, to Quest for Ancient Secrets, but overall he was very happy with the deck. I miss playing Gaea’s Blessing in Time Spiral Block Constructed, and I’m always looking for an opportunity to recreate the experience, as I really enjoy drawing more than 60 cards in a game. I suggested replacing Archive Trap with Quest for Ancient Secrets as the kill, and he thought it seemed reasonable, so we tried it out. It sounds like it slows the deck down a lot, but what you have to realize is that if you can activate a Quest for Ancient Secrets after playing two Time Warps with something like 11-15 cards in your graveyard, which happens pretty often, you’re substantially increasing your odds of drawing another Time Warp, which can eventually result in taking infinite turns by recycling quests and Time Warps while drawing more than seven cards a turn. Therefore, you can potentially reach the point in a game where your opponent doesn’t get to take an another turn faster than you would with Archive Trap. Even when it isn’t faster, it makes the deck much more resilient to hate, since you can just re-activate Jace infinitely to deck them even through their own Quest. This also happens to make game 1 of the mirror extremely favorable.

I was excited enough about the deck that I enjoyed playing it all week, and it was one of the most successful decks I’ve played online (unfortunately I wasn’t keeping good notes this time, partially because I never had any time between rounds when playing the deck). I was happy with my Jund matchup unless they had Duress in their sideboard, and I loved it if they weren’t playing Putrid Leech either – if they had both, admittedly, the matchup was pretty bad. The Mono Red match was interesting in that game 1 was pretty bad. Games 2 and 3 were very good, but you could still easily lose if something went wrong in one of them. Overall, it was very close. I couldn’t find a plan I was really happy with for Boros, and I’m not sure how Olivier managed to have such good results there. Vampires was pretty good unless they had Underworld Dreams, but even then they had to draw it, and I had two Celestial Purges and an Into the Roil to deal with it. Reading this paragraph it may sound pretty bad, but given the field as a whole, I think there are more Jund decks you’re good against than Jund decks that beat you, and there are a lot of other decks you can’t ever lose to, like Green and Grixis, or any other control deck. The end result was a win percentage that I was substantially happier with than I had been with anything else in this format. So I was excited about my deck going into the tournament.

I played:

I promise the sideboard isn’t as random as it looks.

In Round 1, I played against Jund. Of course, he drew Putrid Leech, sided in Duress, and, to make matters even worse than the worst I had previously imagined, he also sided in Pithing Needle.

In round 2 I mulled to 5, again against Jund, and got Blightning’d twice, then in game 3 I was one draw step of his from killing him when I hit an eight-card clump of no Fogs or Time Warps and died.

That’s the story of this format, I know… you build a deck that you think beats Jund, then lose to it twice and look like an idiot for not playing Jund. The problem is that I still don’t think this is particularly less likely to happen if you just play Jund yourself, so I don’t really feel bad about my deck choice. There were a lot of good matchups for me in the room, and Jund didn’t do particularly well anyway.

On Sunday, I played in the Legacy 5k, of course, and it was much smaller. I attended the weekend because I was excited about playing Standard for the first time in a long time. Legacy was an afterthought. I hadn’t worked on Legacy since Grand Prix: Chicago, when I built the Merfolk deck that Gaudenis played to an undefeated finish on Day 1. Since then, Riptide Laboratory has gotten dramatically worse thanks to the M10 rules changes, but it was still the only deck in the format I felt like I knew I could play. After that tournament, Gau told me Spellstutter Sprite was the card in the deck he liked least, so I cut it for Cosi’s Trickster, a card on which people have apparently been pretty down, but a card about which I’d been excited since it was spoiled. I’m not trying to get greedy or anything; I just felt like a merfolk Isamaru would be really good in that deck. My sideboard was thrown together pretty haphazardly, and I had some trouble finding everything I wanted right before the tournament. This resulted in one maindeck Vendilion Clique over one Wake Thrasher that I had wanted to try, but ultimately I was really glad it was a Vendilion Clique instead.

I played:

That sideboard is probably even more random than it looks.

Legacy is an interesting and highly diverse format. I played against 8 different decks in 8 rounds of play, and if I’d won my last round I’d have played against a 9th archetype. It’s really hard to figure out what to say about Legacy. I think it’s important to write about the format, because there’s relatively little written about it. Legacy is more relevant this year than it ever has been before, thanks to two Grand Prix tournaments and the SCG 10k Open series, but it’s just so hard to dive into because there are so many decks and cards available.

I could write about the deck I played, but honestly, I don’t think it’s that good anymore. Cosi’s Trickster was really bad, in that it was almost always a 1/1, but it was much better than most other cards that could have been in the slot since I really just wanted another cheap merfolk. It’s possible that the deck just has to splash for Sygg and Swords in the board, which would help a lot against Tarmogoyf, Tombstalker, Dark Confidant, and Grim Lavamancer, cards that are a lot of the deck’s biggest problems. I hate giving up on having a manabase without fetchlands and with so many basics, but I think that sacrifice just has to be made to avoid playing something you really don’t want to be playing. I think least obvious part of the deck, like so many other decks, is knowing how to sideboard, specifically what to take out, and it’s worth noting that for me, Aether Vial an Standstill are pretty high on the list of things to cut. I don’t like Vial that much when it’s not important to make my guys uncounterable. Force of Will is another card that’s pretty good to cut against fair decks, especially if you’re bringing in answers to creatures.

The following is an abridged tournament report, with a warning that almost every round can be summarized as, “I did something wrong or the matchup was pretty bad, but my opponent made some enormous blunder and I was able to capitalize on it and barely win.” People are generally playing with cards and interactions they’re not very familiar with in Legacy, and this can lead to some pretty big mistakes. Throughout the tournament, I heard far more stories about horrible plays than I have in any other tournament in a long time. Listening to people talk between rounds, you’d think, for example, that The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is about 50/50 to come with a free Wrath of God, as I heard at least three different stories of opponents moving straight to their draw step the turn after the land came into play. Anyway:

Round 1 I played against some combo deck. I think he had Ad Nauseam, Ill-Gotten Gains, and Maybe Tendrils of Agony, but I never saw any of them. In game 1 he went for the combo the turn before I could kill him. He led with Silence, and I Dazed it. For some reason he decided to Cabal Ritual in response. I figured he probably needed that mana if he couldn’t afford to pay for Daze, so I played Force of Will and he lost. If he had just played the other Silence he was planning to play to build storm count anyway, I would have lost. I cut some Standstills and Vials for Relics and Annul, which isn’t much better, but the cards I cut seemed really bad, and Relic can at least cycle. Next game he drew 3 Carpet of Flowers, but I lead with Mutavault, Aether Vial, and drew all 4 Wastelands and never played an Island. He lost without ever really having any mana.

Round 2 I beat some counterbalance deck. That matchup is still very good, but nowhere near as common as it was in GP: Chicago.

Round 3 I lost a feature match to Aggro Loam, which is a really bad matchup. I boarded in Relic, Annul, Submerge, and Blast, cutting Vials, Standstills, and Daze, I think, but I’m not sure if cutting Standstill is right against him. I didn’t love cutting Daze, but I need pressure because he has a much better long game than I do, and all those cards are really important. Maybe I needed to use the cards I brought in to play a long game and cut pressure, but Dark Confidant is really hard to beat that way. Both games he resolved Seismic Assault, and I lost. In game 2 he had a turn 1 Dark Confidant, so I felt like I couldn’t win a long game and just had to get a little lucky. I lead Cursecatcher into Lord of Atlantis, and then played a Reejerey rather than leaving up mana for Annul, particularly because he didn’t play Assault the previous turn when he could have because of Mox Diamond. He was playing around just Daze, and he had the Assault, so I lost.

Round 4 I got absurdly lucky and beat Goblins because he didn’t really do anything in games 1 and 3, and I drew a bunch of Blasts in game 3. That matchup is terrible for me, but we never really played a game. In game 2 I mulled a few times and never cast anything.

Round 5 I played against a Back to Basics Mono Blue deck, which is a very good matchup for me game 1. Game 2 I brought in Annuls, cutting a Jitte and some Tricksters, I think. He had Propaganda, which I was able to counter, but he killed me with Dreadnaught plus Stifle. Every game he had Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and I couldn’t find a Wasteland, which was really good for him. I think Tabernacle is one of the most underplayed cards in the history of the game. Game 3, when he had 4 Islands, he played a Counterbalance, then a Dreadnaught, then a Stifle, and lost when I activated my Cursecatcher… That was pretty bad. I couldn’t have won if he’d just played his spells in the other order.

Round 6 I played against a Junk deck with Bob, Goyf, Sinkhole, Hymn, Exalted Angel, Tombstalker, Top, etc. I don’t remember exactly how the games played out, but I won in extra turns because he used his Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author] instead of his basic Swamp to activate his Top and then he didn’t have mana to Swords my Lord of Atlantis, so my attack was lethal. His friends who were watching said he could have gotten a Tombstalker into play a few turns earlier if he had played differently, and I definitely couldn’t have beaten that. I don’t remember exactly how I boarded. I know I cut 3 Vials and brought in 3 Relics, and then drew the one Vial late in game 2 and died to his Tarmogoyf.

Round 7 I played against Mono Red Burn with Keldon Marauders, Grim Lavamancer, and Countryside Crusher. I won game 1 with Adept plus Riptide Lab, which was very good at dealing with his Marauder. Game 2 he played a Grim Lavamancer, but I Mind Harnessed it before it got active and had enough lands to keep it all game while still playing threats. Unfortunately he was able to use his 2 Fireblasts to win through my Daze, with no hand and no cards in play, by floating 4 mana before sacrificing all his lands. Game 3 I had a Reejerey and a couple of Mutavaults. I attacked him for 8 and he went down to 10, then he didn’t really do anything. I tried it again and he had Volcanic Fallout, so I lost 3/5s of my permanents, leaving me with two Islands, and figured I couldn’t win. I definitely should have realized that he had something there, and probably just played and equipped Jitte on Reejerey instead of getting greedy with damage. Next turn I played a Jitte and passed, and then he played a Lavamancer, so I needed to draw one of the two Blasts I had left in my deck (or my Mind Harness). I had Silvergill Adept and drew Cosi’s Trickster. I wanted to cycle the Adept because I had to find an answer as soon as possible, and once it was in play I figured I was unlikely to get a better window to play the Trickster, and maybe I could win if I just drew creatures every turn, since the Lavamancer wasn’t active yet. On his turn he Magma Jetted me down to 9, then Fireblasted me with one mana up. I Dazed it with the last card in my hand, which I had drawn off the Adept, and he paid for the Daze, then realized how awkward the board had just gotten for him. He didn’t have mana, so he couldn’t activate his Lavamancer, and I was at 5 so the last Fireblast in his hand couldn’t kill me. The only way he could stop my Jitte from getting active was to Fireblast the creature I equipped, but then he wouldn’t have any lands…

You may notice at this point that he had 4 lands in play, cast a Magma Jet, and somehow, my Daze tapped him out. Sorry, I don’t remember what happened to the last mana, but he didn’t have it. Maybe he sacrificed an untapped land. Anyway, from here the Jitte got active and he couldn’t win. I was losing that game if he did basically anything other than what he did.

In the Top 8 against Zoo, I mulliganed both games. I somehow managed to almost make a game out of the first game with Vendilion Clique, Umezawa’s Jitte, Riptide Laboratory, and Aether Vial, despite not having any Islands at the beginning of the game and coming out very slowly, because his start of Grim Lavamancers and Steppe Lynx started to stumble when he couldn’t find a fourth land. I made a really big mistake by animating a Mutavault when he had Forest and Plains untapped before realizing that I needed to put my Vendilion Clique, which I’d returned to my hand with Lab, back into play with Vial to make sure he didn’t have a Path to Exile. I still had to play the Clique before equipping the Jitte, to at least save two mana there, but animating the Mutavault first let him Path it to stop me from getting in a hit with the Jitte. I was probably losing anyway, since he was way ahead, but it was really bad. Game 2 he just crushed me. Fortunately, I knew the matchup was terrible for me, and I was still somehow able to be part of an eight-way split in the Top 8, so we were just playing for points.

I look forward to trying to expand my horizons in Legacy because it’s such an easy format in which to have an edge, given how unfamiliar players are with it, but it’s a difficult format to try to build something for, mostly because, at least around me, it’s pretty hard to get a chance to actually test the format. This is probably good for me, as it will force me to just play a good deck instead of trying to get clever.

The one Top 8 basically locks me for playing in the SCG Invitational at the end of the year, since, with six points under my belt, all I have to do is attend two more weekends and play in both events at each. I look forward to seeing a lot of other people there, at what is sure to me an awesome tournament.

Thanks for reading…