Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. Go back to Sunday. It’s Round 14. You just got a text from Gerry, telling you that you’re likely to
play Paulo next round. You saw his list online earlier, so you know that he has one fewer Counterspell and Spell Snare than you do and one more Jace
than you do. You also just talked with Paulo and know that he’s X-1 to your X-1-1. He’s looking to draw this round, and you know that when
you walk over to him, he’s going to offer. Do you accept?
These questions are never as easy as they look. Give me my shoes back, and I’ll tell you about how I got there.
When last we left off, I was trying to sort out my mental preparation for the Grand Prix. I was coming off of a bad weekend in Louisville and knew that
I’d be playing an update on U/W for the Grand Prix. I was trying to approach the Grand Prix as Just Another Tournament instead of being The
Tournament That I Need To Do Well At or I’m Worthless And Should Kill Myself. My mindset wasn’t quite that volatile at the beginning of the
week, but there was no shortage of nerves on Monday.
By the time my flight took off on Friday night, I was in a different place. My rating had dropped, due to my poor showing in Louisville, from 2016 to
1947. I’d have one bye. My flight was delayed by three hours, and I had to sweat out a coin-flip takeoff into a thunderstorm with no alternate
plans to get anywhere close to Providence in time for the Grand Prix—if this flight didn’t take off, I was just going to go home and stare
at the wall for the weekend. I had every reason to be jittery and freaked out. Instead, I was calm, collected, and thinking only of how I would
sideboard and re-board against any of two dozen different decks and sideboard strategies.
I could feel the narrative from Columbus following me to Rhode Island, yet I wanted no part of it. Columbus was a necessary learning experience, but I
feel like a completely different person from the child who said and did what I did last August. I wanted a fresh start, a real accomplishment, and a
trophy. To remind myself of the only thing I could control, I wrote a note to myself on my phone.
“Rule 76: No excuses. Play like a champion.”
My weapon of choice:
The deck concept is very similar to the mono-blue archetype that Gerry and I played in Orlando and Louisville. There are two major changes to the deck
that Gerry came up with for the Grand Prix.
Gerry has been trying to make Ancestral Vision happen in this format for about a year at this point. Whereas the format was too fast for Ancestral
prior to New Phyrexia, Mental Misstep has turned Legacy into a much grindier, card-advantage-based format. The deck trades one-for-one until it
resolves a game-breaking card-advantage spell and takes control long enough to stick and protect a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. From there, winning is
Patrick Chapin addressed Ancestral Vision’s tactical advantages in his article on Monday, but he
made several points that bear repeating. Mental Misstep slowed the format down, yes, but it also took out a lot of Ancestral’s
enemies—Counterbalance, Goblin Lackey, and Stifle, most notably. Without the presence of a deck with a reliable tempo shell, the format has
shifted to accommodate—and even favor—slower decks that can invest more heavily in cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Ancestral Vision.
Ancestral Vision is pretty much a strict upgrade on Standstill at this point. I joked with several friends that I wanted Ancestral instead because
Standstill isn’t an idiot test anymore. Thanks, AJ. Way to post an hour-long video on
how to play against one card. Really appreciate it. On the upside, though, I ended up with a draw engine that I don’t cut against Merfolk and
Dredge and the mirror.
Ancestral Vision is pure gasoline against aggressive decks, and it lets me play even more one-for-ones. This deck plays like an old-school U/W Control
deck, leaving mana up from turns 2 through 5 or 6 for countermagic, then wrenching the game away from an aggressive card-light opponent whose threats
are sitting in their graveyard. Against control, casting a draw-three with all of my mana untapped was predictably absurd and was the only reason I was
in my match with Paulo.
Since the deck doesn’t need to support Standstill any more, we cut back on Repeals. Gerry and I cut them from our Louisville deck, but
we’ll both tell you that that was our big mistake in the tournament. Having two Repeals was great for me all tournament, letting me get away from
such impressive cards as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Dark Confidant, and Germ.
It’s not as crucial of a card in this deck as it was in our Orlando deck since it’s a value slot instead of a removal slot, but it fills a
necessary game-one role against multiple decks.
Although Ancestral Vision was critical to the success of the deck, Fact or Fiction raised plenty of eyebrows.“Two Fact or Fiction and three Jace, the Mind Sculptors?” the haters would scoff. “That just can’t be right. Don’t you want to cut a Fact or Fiction for a fourth Jace?” I would simply reply,
“They’re different cards.” So why did I sleeve up Fact or Fiction? The explanation comes by way of a story.
In Louisville, Gerry and I both fell out of Standard Open contention by round six. We didn’t want to hang out and railbird people, so we resolved
to go figure out our Legacy deck for the following day. We holed up in a corner booth in Panera, far from the prying eyes of the world, and played blue
mirrors for hours. Gerry built a theoretical U/G deck with Accumulated Knowledge, Gaea’s Blessing, no removal beyond Powder Kegs, and a full set
of Fact or Fiction. The deck wouldn’t beat Merfolk without divine intervention, but it just crushed the mirror. The instant-speed card draw was
game-breaking, allowing Gerry to create mana and card advantage while also holding up counters for my Jace, the Mind Sculptors. Eventually, he’d
get far ahead on cards by end-stepping an Accumulated Knowledge for three or Fact or Fiction and untapping into a very well-protected Jace. From there,
it was mathematical.
Fact or Fiction, then, are my Jaces four and five. Yes, I understand that in the super long-game sense of “having five Jaces,” I only have
three, but that won’t matter against a lot of decks. Against the ones where having four actual copies of Jace does matter, I have a few different
game-one plans to compensate for that shortage. The fact remains, this four-mana instant is better in many situations where you’re behind on
board to the point where a Jace would likely die. It was obviously amazing against Anthony Eason, since drawing cards is always good against black
As I learned in my matches against Gerry, Fact or Fiction is a fantastic way to overload an opponent’s interactive mana on a given turn. That is,
if they’re on exactly Counterspell or a single Force of Will, are they supposed to let your Fact or Fiction resolve? Do you have a Jace? What
happens if you have Force but not Jace? Jace but not Force? What happens if either one shows up in the top five cards? How are they supposed to split
those piles? Since we cut Standstills, I still wanted some way for my opponents to play poorly against me beyond jamming their best threat into my
telegraphed Spell Snare. Fact or Fiction seemed like quite the way to emphasize a skill gap.
The countermagic is completely untouched, which makes sense because having fifteen counters was awesome for me all weekend. There were times where I
wanted a fourth Counterspell and other times where I wanted none. In the case of the former, I had to remind myself to budget my resources better. In
the case of the latter, I had to remind myself that I had an awesome sideboard. Speaking of which…
The sideboard was actually underwhelming. I know you guys are expecting me to tell you how many people I “got” with my Stoneforge Mystics,
but that’s not really what happened. I boarded them in against Storm, Merfolk, Dredge, Dredge, and my four-minute game two with Paulo.
Batterskull is insane against Merfolk, but this deck doesn’t have to care about that—it can just out-resource them with Ancestral Visions
and kill them with Jace’s fateseal. In my conversations with Tom Martell, he iterated that a full set of Path to Exile in the sideboard was very
good for him all weekend, so that’s likely worth a shot with a stack of Ancestrals on tap. Since we don’t have to care about their lands,
the drawback to Path is pretty negligible.
Would I cut the Mystics for the Invitational? I honestly don’t know. If I can shore up my Merfolk matchup, I would be inclined to cut them, as
they’re there primarily to beat the fish. Merfolk is clearly a poor choice for the post-Providence metagame without a good answer to Batterskull,
so it’s possible that I just won’t face it. The problem with Merfolk is that it has never been a good answer deck, so packing Stifle and
leaving a mana up for Stoneforge triggers or living weapon triggers seems fairly suspect as a strategy. Besides, how dilute can the deck afford to make
its threat base? It really wants Mental Misstep, Aether Vial, Daze, and Force of Will. It needs 21 land at the very least and 22 land in a more
realistic world. There just isn’t much give in current lists. To beat Batterskull, Merfolk decks will have to adapt or die.
Beyond the Merfolk matchup, the Mystic package is there to clock Dredge, Storm, and fringe strategies like Metalworker. Sword of Feast and Famine is
great against resource-based combo, although I also leaned on it as an answer to Thrun, the Last Troll. In retrospect, that was a poor plan, since
Thrun decks are very likely to bring in Krosan Grips to combat my Crucible and Vedalken Shackles, so hitting my Sword would be both incidental and a
complete blowout. Fortunately, both times my opponent had a Thrun in play, I had an Elspeth in play, so that went better than expected. Moving forward,
I’d be more interested in something like Wrath of God or Retribution of the Meek or another Elspeth, Knight-Errant.
The Submerges were a little narrow but were always complete blowouts when I got to cast them. I didn’t quite get to live the dream of burning a
land-light Bant player with Submerge + Wasteland on the play, but I did Submerge quite a few Noble Hierarchs. It’s very possible that these
should just be the extra Paths, as those are both more versatile and stronger in a lot of situations where you could cast either card.
The four one-ofs were all really good on the weekend, although I may have been out in front of Misdirection a bit. I thought that the ChannelFireball
team would be on Ancestral Vision more than they were—they were on Standstills instead—and that it would be a decent card to cover the
mirror while also combating Hymn to Tourach decks.
Engineered Explosives was high-impact and matchup-specific, which is exactly what I want in a sideboard card. I think that having exactly one is good,
since you can’t afford to be too tempo-negative, yet you need a way to catch back up. If Wrath of God makes its way to the sideboard, EE might
get the axe.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant was stellar for me. It won me several games that no other card in Magic could’ve won while also holding off two separate
Thruns that would’ve killed me through almost any other sideboard card. It was great in the mirror and against blue midrange decks, and I
don’t anticipate cutting it any time soon. If anything, as I said, I might want a second.
The Aura of Silence was my fifteenth card. When I brewed this sideboard with Steve Sadin, he suggested Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir (which Gerry and I
dismissed in Louisville) or a second Crucible of Worlds. I didn’t figure the slot out until I was flying from DC to Providence and realized that
I needed a slot against Painter, Metalworker, Storm, and Stoneforge Mystic decks. Given that requirement, Aura was the perfect card. In practice, it
won me several games that, again, no other card would have. On the whole, I was very happy with the non-Mystic half of my sideboard. Fortunately, the
starting sixty were insane enough that I didn’t need a fifteen-card sideboard.
So here are my shoes. It’s Round 14 again, and you’re walking to table two. Paulo asks you if you’d like to draw. Here is the
numerical reality of the situation:
- If you accept the draw, you will play for a 100% shot at Top 8 in Round 15. If you win Round
15, you’re in. If you lose Round 15, you will 100% miss Top 16 but make Top 32.
- If you decline the draw and win, you will 100% be able to draw into Top 8 in the final round.
If you decline and lose, you will 95% miss Top 8 but will play Round 15 for a 100% shot at Top 16. If you lose that, you are 50/50 to make Top 32.
- The money doesn’t matter. You aren’t here because GPs pay well. They don’t.
I can understand those of you who argue that drawing is the only sane line. I disagree, but I understand where you’re coming from. The problem is
that if I take this draw, it says a lot about where I see myself as a Magic player. It means that I’m willing to shy away from matches that will
teach me lessons, matches that will challenge my mental, emotional, and intellectual capacity, matches that I’ll remember for years. There are
hardly any pros on the SCG Open Series circuit. If I come to a GP and take a risky intentional draw with one of the best Magic players in the game, who
am I? What sort of reverence am I buying into with that draw? Yes, he’s better than my Round 15 opponent will be, without a doubt. But what
happens if I make it to the Pro Tour anyway? There, my first four opponents could be Kibler, Nassif, Ruel, and Budde. There won’t be any
intentional draws to be had there. Treating pros with any level of added deference will only come back to hurt me in the long run.
Besides, what happens if I win? I make Top 8 for sure, but it’s more than that—I would go in with a tremendous amount of emotional
momentum. Paulo, in that moment, is the best player left in Top 8 contention in the tournament. Beating him would provide a second wind that a Round 15
win wouldn’t be capable of approximating.
All that aside, I genuinely wanted to play the match. I love Legacy blue control mirrors. Besides, there are no Pro Tour Top 8s on anyone’s resume on
the StarCityGames.com Open Series circuit. The opportunities to play a sanctioned match of Magic against someone who would pilot a control deck
flawlessly are few and far between. The opportunity to do it in a high-stakes feature match is a chance that comes along so rarely that passing it up
would mean losing a great deal of value.
Sure, I might be marginally improving my chances of Top 8ing, but what about the opportunity for personal growth? Columbus taught me to never shy away
from opportunities to grow as a person and as a player. This was one such moment. While I knew that I was outmatched on skill, I felt that I had a good
approach to the matchup and a number of solid edges on cardboard.
The coverage can be found here.
All that mental game aside, I knew I was planning on decking him from turn 8. After he had Jace Brainstormed three times, I knew I wasn’t going
to stick a Jace. I also knew that he had Life from the Loam, so trying to clock him with Factories would just turn on his Edict, Dismember, Smother,
and Pernicious Deeds, letting him convert irrelevant resources into very relevant Stone Rains. Since I couldn’t Jace him, couldn’t attack
him, and couldn’t Shackles one of his guys, I had to deck him. I could’ve scooped on turn 8, but I felt that I was ahead, despite his
having a Jace in play and Brainstorming every turn. Why?
He had already used two Force of Wills by the time turn 8 rolled around. I knew that he would hardcast Force of Will on my second Visions. In addition,
he had removed a Counterspell to his first Force of Will. Instead of playing against all of his cards, I focused only on his countermagic. In that
sense, then, I was only playing against nine cards in his deck—four Mental Missteps, three Spell Snares, one Counterspell, and one Force. There
were more cards, sure, but those were the relevant ones. Once I knew that, my lines become much more understandable. I’m no longer playing
offense; I’m playing defense. If he goes for Jace’s ultimate, I only have to win a counter war over my Jace to legend-rule his, resetting
his entire advantage and adding more turns to the game.
There were four crucial mistakes that Paulo and I combined to make over the course of the game, all within the last fifteen turns.
The first major mistake was that Paulo fatesealed me and left an Ancestral Vision on top. At that point, it was the only copy left in my deck and
certainly was my only win condition. Unfortunately, my surprise at my good fortune led immediately into the second mistake:
I immediately suspended Ancestral Vision. As soon as the card hit the table, I internally winced. The game was no longer unwinnable, but it was a lot
worse for me. I should’ve held the Vision so that I would deck him with it instead of just using it to draw him three cards. I knew that he had
two Standstills left in his deck and that he would try to use those to kill me, so I had to play around those as well. Fortunately, I had Spell Snares
for those, and he didn’t have enough Missteps for my Snares plus Missteps.
The third mistake was the most critical. With Paulo’s third Jace on nine counters, I Repealed it for absolutely no reason. If you read the
coverage, you’ll notice that I play my own Jace to legend-rule his at nine counters. If I hadn’t Repealed his Jace, I would’ve legend-ruled his
Jace at thirteen counters, meaning that all I did was cycle a blue card—a deadly mistake to make in a game as close as this one. I had that Jace
for a while before that. The Repeal drew me a card I didn’t want to draw and, more importantly, got rid of a critical blue card that I
needed in my hand to pitch to Force of Will. Repeal put me behind by a card, which was also very untenable, since Paulo broke equilibrium each turn
before that. That is, we would both have seventeen cards, and then he would draw down to sixteen, and so on. Now, we’d both have fifteen, then
I’d draw down to fourteen.
The fourth mistake was a forced play that I knew was awful, yet I had no other options. I pitched a Spell Snare to a Force of Will to push through my
Ancestral Vision targeting Paulo. If I had that Spell Snare, I would’ve been able to counter both of his last Standstills and win by a card. As
it was, I had to rely on Paulo’s bottom card being a Standstill. It wasn’t; he had both in his hand, and that was the end of the 40-minute
I ended up winning my last round against friend and teammate Dave Price and finished, as expected, tenth on breakers. I was neither elated nor crushed
to hear my result. In truth, it didn’t affect me. The implications of my result—my first Pro Tour invite, my first Nationals invite, four
Pro Points—are certainly emotionally relevant, but the result is not. I controlled what I could control, I played as well as I knew how, and I
felt that I had a very strong deck built by a very capable designer. I certainly have no regrets about my weekend.
I am still hungry for a trophy, however. I hear they have one in Indianapolis this weekend…
See you in Indy.