“I need some help. How do you get out of your head and away from your emotions when you really need to?”
“I’m on a shorter time frame. Any chance there’s another way?”
“Look, do you remember what you told me in Providence?”
“Uh… well, I told you a lot of things in Providence.”
“You told me that you were so happy with your life right now that it couldn’t possibly get better. That you were beyond overjoyed with
everything about your life.”
“And now you lost some pieces of cardboard and paper, and THAT’S going to derail your happiness? Do you know how much more paper is going
to pass through your hands in your life? It’s not worth getting upset about, man. Don’t do that.”
Losing my Legacy deck felt like losing a part of myself. At some point in the last five months, while I was busy trying to present myself as an expert
on Legacy, I bought into my narrative. For better and worse, a part of me became The Legacy Guy. When I realized I didn’t have my deck, I felt
incomplete as a person. What kind of Legacy expert doesn’t own Tundras?
I’m sure everyone has been there before—that sinking, sickening feeling you get when you reach into your backpack and realize that not
everything is there. As with almost every other theft, it was one of opportunity—I propped a door open with my bag, walked around the corner to
smoke, came back, picked up my bag, and didn’t notice for a while. There’s no victim here, just another idiot who didn’t keep his
eyes on his bag.
I managed to unintentionally slowroll myself even further, somehow coming to the conclusion that I’d left it in Gerry, Ben, and Patrick’s
room. I texted them that night and alerted them to this “fact,” took their chiding, and went back to Chrandersen’s with a secure
I woke up to a text message from Gerry reading, “We don’t have it.” The bottom dropped out of my stomach as I went through the five
stages of Kubler-Ross in record time, walking from the couch to the car and settling into the seat perfectly serene, complacent, and complicit in my
ruined weekend. Everyone punts. Besides, at the end of the day, this was just another tournament weekend. There will be many, many more. I resigned
myself to dropping from the Invitational and briefly contemplated the value of just going back to the house and sleeping the day away, catching a
standby flight home in the afternoon and getting a good night’s sleep.
Fortunately, I have some kind friends out there. When I walked into the tournament hall and confirmed that my deck hadn’t been turned in, it was
8:57. Round 9 of the Invitational started at 9:00. I’d get a match loss at 9:10. Ryan Rolen and Eli Aden had a copy of my 75 out of their boxes
and into my spare sleeves by 9:07. What more could I possibly ask for?
“You need some real problems, man. Imagine life is something…like, a video game, let’s say. Well you, you have all
these skills that provide natural advantages at killing monsters, yet you’re in the castle library a solid 300 miles from the nearest monster
spawning point. You have never come even a little close to having a real problem in your entire life. Try flying to South Africa with just your
passport, the clothes you have on, and no money, and just hang out for a while. Actually, the passport is training wheels. You could probably make do
I didn’t win another match in the Invitational after getting my Legacy deck loaned to me. I dropped at 5-5, just in time to take advantage of the
last SCG Open where I would have two byes. The running joke of the tournament was that I would win all of my matches, not split the Top 8, and buy my
Legacy deck back. Of course, until the final standings were announced, a joke was all it was. I was trying to have fun in the Legacy Open and was
taking my day a match at a time. I felt that the day was a phenomenal success on an emotional level. My mental game during the Swiss rounds was exactly
where it needed to be, and I 5-0-2ed into the elimination rounds.
Once I got to the Top 8, though, distractions started creeping in. I had started my day by accepting that I was a few grand in the hole on the weekend,
and all of a sudden I was three matches away from getting it back. Just another eight-man for a (deck)box.
As soon as I started thinking about what was at stake, my capacity to bring all of my mental energy to bear on the match disappeared. Before I give you
my tournament-ending scenario, here’s what Gerry Thompson, Patrick Chapin, and I played in the Invitational and I played in the Legacy Open:
The changes from my Grand Prix list were:
-1 Vedalken Shackles
-1 Spell Snare
-1 Fact or Fiction
-1 Misty Rainforest
+2 Wrath of God
+1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
+1 Arid Mesa
+1 Volcanic Island
+1 Dust Bowl
I only kept 2 Path to Exile, 1 Misdirection, 1 Elspeth, and 1 Aura of Silence from my Grand Prix sideboard. Why change something that worked well,
especially given our poor track record of messing with good things in Louisville? Let me explain.
Gerry, Patrick, and I knew that the two big gainers from Providence would be the U/W Stoneforge deck and the BUG Landstill deck. The archetypes had
strong names behind them—Owen, Juza, PV, and LSV are thought leaders in deckbuilding, so it’s an easy call that people will play what they
played a week ago. So how do we beat those decks?
The decision to cut Stoneforge Mystics was the first one I made. Although they were good surprise value in the GP, they didn’t pull their weight
against green and red decks. I didn’t want to fight wars over my Equipment and get Vedalken Shackles and Crucible of Worlds caught in the
crossfire, and so in the end, I just cut all of the artifacts except for Crucible of Worlds. Amusingly enough, I played against the GP Providence
champion in Round 3 of the Open, and when I Vendilion Cliqued him on the penultimate turn of game 2, he showed me two Ancient Grudges and a Spell
Snare. I laughed, let him keep them, and killed him with Clique and Elspeth. If that isn’t a clear demonstration of how to stay on top of
week-to-week metagame sideboarding, I don’t know what is.
The next step was to play the correct number of Jaces, which is four. Try as I did to justify a 3/2 split on Jace/Fact or Fiction, the truth was very
clear—I just always wanted to have Jace. Besides, I drew so many cards over the course of a game that I came very close to decking myself several
times. I never wanted to cast the second FoF, whereas I would always want another Jace in the wings. That was an easy call.
Cutting Shackles was a little harder, but ultimately correct. If people don’t see something like Wrath of God in a decklist from the week prior,
they never ever play around a sweeper. Ever. It just doesn’t happen. I got a ton of value on my Wraths over the weekend, even in the U/W
pseudo-mirror. People jam all of their creatures every single time, and Shackles wasn’t high-impact enough for us. Besides, I was sick of Ancient
Grudge and Krosan Grip and Qasali Pridemage ruining my day. Although I never got to live the dream of Wrathing a Golgari Grave-Troll, Progenitus, or
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, I consistently got 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 value on my Wraths on Sunday.
The addition of red started out somewhat oddly. Gerry and I were talking about where to take the deck after Providence, and he said “well, what
about red? We can pay for Hive Mind’s Pact of the Titans!” While that’s definitely not the first reason I would think of to splash
red in my blue control deck, we eventually kept the Volcanic Island in so we could cast our pair of Red Elemental Blasts.
Gerry and Patrick played an Oblivion Ring and Pithing Needle over the third Path to Exile and the Aura of Silence. Maybe Aura is just a pet card for
me, but it was consistently awesome against everything I had it against. It doesn’t look good on paper, but it plays very well. If you’ve
been cutting it for narrower cards, I advise you to give it another look. I might come across as a little too Michael-Jacob-pushing-Twisted-Image here,
but you’re paying not a whole lot for a tremendous amount of versatility.
The second Elspeth was an important move to make in terms of the deck. Elspeth is strongest against BUG and U/W both pre-board and post-board, so
it’s unsurprising that it pulled a lot of weight this weekend. The BUG decks are mostly on Pernicious Deed as their three-drop kill spell of
choice, so Elspeth is safe from everything except Mishra’s Factory and Vendilion Clique.
Similarly, the U/W decks are moving toward a splash-red version
that has a bunch of Red Blasts in the board for the mirror. If your trump is Elspeth, though, their Red Blasts lose a lot of value. That’s not to
say they won’t be good—after all, a one-mana Counterspell/Vindicate is pretty sweet—just that they won’t dictate the pace
of the matchup. The next step may well be to play 4 Jace, 2 Elspeth as the maindeck four-slot and maindeck the trio of Vendilion Cliques.
Vendilion Clique is a three-of sideboard slot that I stole straight from Paulo. I saw it in his sideboard from the GP, realized how powerful the turn 3
Clique into turn 4 Jace could be, and wanted to do that. Along with Elspeth and Factories, Clique also provided a way to close games a little faster
once I had achieved control. It’s entirely possible that these deserve to be maindeck, as they are strong against almost every deck at the
moment. I do enjoy blanking all creature removal in game one situations, though, which is why I ended up leaving them in the sideboard this past
The mana base changes were necessary to accommodate the addition of Red Blasts. The Arid Mesa was added as a way to solidify our basic white, since
Mesa can get 4 Tundra, 1 Volcanic Island, and 1 Plains in this build. The Dust Bowl was very strong at fighting Factory wars without a Crucible.
It’s only really good in long, mirror-like matchups, so if you’re not expecting much of that where you play, the second Wasteland is
probably just better.
So that was the deck we played. Since I’ve been writing about U/W for a few weeks now, this will be the last article in a while to discuss the
Legacy archetype. Nick Spagnolo enjoyed a good deal of success in Denver with a very similar-looking list with some unorthodox card choices. For
reference, his deck:
Nick’s maindeck differs from my Indy list as follows:
-1 Fact or Fiction
+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Elspeth, Knight –Errant
-1 Dust Bowl
-1 blue fetchland
-1 Volcanic Island
The problem I have with Nick’s list is that he goes so far toward caring less about Aether Vial by playing Dismember and fewer Counterspells, but
then he follows it up with playing two Pithing Needles in his deck. I understand that Nick was influenced by AJ Sacher in his deck
design—one needs look no further than the solo Karakas and the two Pithing Needles in both of their lists to know that. But when you are much
softer to Merfolk as a deck, it’s worth knowing whether you’re attacking their Aether Vials or their creatures. It’s not enough to
try to do both, and no, a miser’s Pithing Needle is not worth the slot, especially against Merfolk.
The two decks are also doing very different things with their mana bases. AJ doesn’t need to cast Counterspell on turn 2; Nick does. If you want
to have Clique-Karakas for the mirror, that’s fine. I think there are better things to be doing in the mirror, but I can respect a plan. Still,
if that’s what you’re going for, why maindeck the Karakas? You’ll want an extra land for the mirror. You’re certainly not soft
to Emrakul. Besides, the sideboard for this deck is never that packed. Speaking of…
I don’t think that the deck needs graveyard hate. I understand that it goes long in almost every matchup, but wouldn’t you rather have
something like Forbid or just more Counterspells instead of Surgical Extractions? What are you Extracting, their Ichorids? I beat Ichorid all three
times I played it just by denying them their creatures every single time one came back. Those Extractions could be Path to Exiles if that’s what
you’re thinking of. If that’s the case, your Merfolk matchup also gets a ton better because you have multiple Wastelands and a ton of white
instants that kill their guys. Once you have Paths, you can cut those Needles, since that was never a great plan against Merfolk anyway.
In a deck that draws as many cards as this deck does, why not just play cards that are all worth at least a card? Just sideboard the rest of your
Counterspells or three more lands or a Jace Beleren, if you’re so inclined. Cards like Pithing Needle and Surgical Extraction are typically
overplayed, and this is a classic example. In a U/W Control deck like this, there’s almost nothing that can’t be answered with a better
sideboard card. Counters, removal, bounce, and planeswalkers are the core of the deck. What are you afraid of that those cards can’t handle?
In the end, Nick lost to the same deck I did—Hive Mind. Although it’s not a great matchup, having to board in Surgical Extraction with no
way of putting a Hive Mind in the graveyard seems like a rough time to me. Incidentally, congrats to Tom Ma for winning Denver. I know I was rooting
for him after he knocked me out of Indy, so it’s great to see him hoist a trophy.
To illustrate how complex the Hive Mind matchup can be, here’s how my Indianapolis tournament weekend ended:
It’s game two. I’m playing against Tom Ma.
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Show and Tell
- 3 Grim Monolith
- 4 Force of Will
- 4 Intuition
- 4 Pact of Negation
- 3 Pact of the Titan
- 2 Slaughter Pact
- 2 Summoner's Pact
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Hive Mind
My sideboarding strategy was -4 Swords to Plowshares, -2 Wrath of God, -2 Repeal, -1 Crucible of Worlds, -1 Spell Snare; +3 Vendilion Clique, +3
Meddling Mage, +2 Red Elemental Blast, +1 Misdirection, +1 Aura of Silence.
I expected Tom to board out Emrakuls for Mindbreak Traps, since he knows I have Jaces and doesn’t want to commit to an Emrakul line that I could
answer when he can just commit to a Pact line that I definitely cannot.
I mulligan to six, keep a one-land hand with a few counters, and have dug myself out of my hole on the back of Ancestral Vision. The game state is as
Tom has nine cards in hand, six mana on the table (all untapped), and a Hive Mind in play. He has two Hive Minds in his graveyard from a previous
Intuition. He has one Show and Tell in his graveyard.
I have eleven cards in hand, six lands in play, and a Jace on three counters. My hand is Force, Force, Force, Force, Brainstorm, Counterspell, Mental
Misstep, Red Elemental Blast, land, land, land. It’s my main phase. For the confused, an Ancestral Vision fired in my upkeep, and Tom copied it,
explaining our collective overabundance of cards.
So what do you do here? Red Elemental Blast is one of only three ways in the deck to break parity on Hive Mind. Force of Will and Counterspell
are both useless cards with Hive Mind in play. I will have to kill his Hive Mind at some point, since he has inevitability—he will eventually
draw Summoner’s Pact, which I have no answer for. Alternatively, he could draw Pact of the Titan + Slaughter Pact, which I also have no answer
The only real question is “When do you Blast Hive Mind?” The clear answer is “Definitely not when you did it.” See, I pulled
the trigger on my Red Blast pretty much as soon as I saw the card in my hand. I was sweating every single draw step of his, knowing that
Summoner’s Pact would end the game, the match, and my hopes of getting my deck back. I was putting myself under a ton of mental stress by
considering the circumstances of my match, short-circuiting my decision-making process and preventing me from considering the outcomes of every line of
I Red Elemental Blasted his Hive Mind in my precombat main phase before I even activated Jace. Tom copied the Red Blast, killed my Jace, and I played a
land and passed the turn. Tom Intuitioned in my end step. We fought a counter war covered here) that I won. He untapped and Show
and Telled his last Hive Mind, then drew Summoner’s Pact to kill me a turn later.
So how did I misplay all of my decisions there? Well, the non-activation of Jace is easy. I should’ve fatesealed Tom, as my hand was as perfect
as it could get. As I learned after the match, the last Hive Mind was on top of his deck. Let’s assume it wasn’t, though, and that I saw a
land or a cantrip or something. I let him keep it, and I pass the turn. Let’s say I then Red Blast his Hive Mind, and he blows up my Jace. End
step, he Intuitions.
What am I afraid of? What can he even get here?
He can’t set up a pile that will kill me. If he had Emrakuls in his deck for this game, he would’ve Intuitioned for them earlier, when I
missed my second land drop for a turn. If I don’t have a second land, I definitely don’t have a third or fourth. Given that, he
could’ve just Showed me his Emrakul and not feared me Showing him a third land, untapping into a fourth land, and Wrathing/Jacing his Emrakul.
Since I know he doesn’t have Emrakul in his deck, that means he can’t Intuition for a Feldon’s Cane effect to rebuy his Hive Minds.
As a result, his pile is likely to be Slaughter Pact, Slaughter Pact, Summoner’s Pact to try and combo Pact of the Titan into Slaughter Pact and
kill me that way. He still needs to naturally draw the last Hive Mind in his deck, though. I let it resolve. He gets either three Pacts of Negation or
the mix of “kill Pacts” that I just discussed. I pass the turn and discard down to seven cards.
Let’s say he then draws his last Hive Mind and Show and Tells it. I can fight over that Show and Tell with four counters—Counterspell,
Force pitching Misstep, Force pitching Brainstorm, and Force pitching Force. He must have four of a combination of Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap, and
Pact of Negation to answer my counter wall. Regardless of who wins that counter war, his Hive Mind is likely to resolve on the following turn, except
at that point I have almost zero relevant cards left in my deck. Not a good end to the story.
So let’s take a different line. What if I realize the implications of my line, think through all of what I just wrote, and don’t Blast the
Hive Mind on my turn? I pass the turn; he Intuitions for three Pacts and untaps. He plays some combination of Pacts, perhaps in response to one
another. I respond by Red Blasting his Hive Mind. His non-Pact counters are useless, since I can just copy them and target their original. My Red Blast
resolves, and then I get to fight over my copy of Slaughter Pact (or Summoner’s Pact). If I win, I untap, pay for my Pact of the Titan with the
Volcanic Island I have in play, draw, and pass the turn. Tom won’t be able to pay for all of his Pacts and will die in his upkeep.
This seems like a judgment call, but it isn’t actually close at all. Why? Because I have no way of killing him with my first line. I
can’t attack with Mishra’s Factory ever, since the risk of opening myself up to a Slaughter Pact is too great. Jace is my only way to win,
and he’s currently on three loyalty.
Do I really think that he’s going to have no ways of killing me with the nine cards he has in hand and the Hive Mind he has in play? I have to
survive five turns without blowing up his Hive Mind with my Red Blast. Is that a realistic expectation? Probably not. So how can I play to win this
I have to induce him to go for a Pact victory, which he will almost certainly do at the first opportunity. My out is to win that counter war, which
seems far more likely than drawing to a two-outer (other REB + Aura of Silence) against his last Hive Mind. Since I didn’t think through my line
carefully enough, I lost.
My weekend slipped out of focus. No deck, no prize, no byes, flight at 6 am, where did my friends go, I wonder if I just got left here, let’s go
get a crew together and go see a movie.
Four hours later, it’s 2 am. I’m sitting on the foot of a hotel bed, trying to capture some perspective on my weekend.
“I don’t know how to be happy. Well, I don’t know when I’m happy. I enjoy everything in my life—my
friends, my two vocations, what I do and where I go, but I don’t know if I’m happy. Does that even make sense? I’m not sure if
there’s ever going to be enough to make me happy.”
“Your attachment to things makes you unhappy. Materialism is unhealthy, but you don’t have any bigger problems than losing a deck
that you can probably replace, so it becomes this big deal to you. Think about how mind-bogglingly lucky you are to have grown up in the circumstances
you’ve had, the family you’ve had, the life you’ve had. Your big problem is that you lost your deck? Thank god you lost your deck.
You didn’t get hit by a car, didn’t have your parents die in a car crash, didn’t get caught in the crossfire of a gang war and die on
the streets of an unfamiliar city. If your biggest problem right now is that you lost your deck, consider yourself a very lucky
I understand. I may not live it yet, but I understand. It is a difficult thing to have something valuable taken from you. The true value of that
experience, though, is in what you can take away from it.
I’ll see you in Kansas City.
@mtglegacy on Twitter