Constructed Criticism – MOCS And Nationals

Todd Anderson lost in a heartbreaking finals match in the Legacy MOCS, losing a chance at a Worlds invite as well as thousands of dollars in prize. Picking himself up, he prepares for Nationals. What’s shakin’ in Legacy and Standard?

Have you ever felt that knot in your stomach tighten up? You know the feeling I’m talking about, when everything seems to be going wrong all at once, and after so much had just gone right. Everything you’ve worked for is at your fingertips, but you can’t help but feel as if you’re letting it all slip away. Your breathing becomes as rapid as your pulse, and your palms start to sweat. You know you’re about to lose, but you can’t give up. Except you’ve already given up. You lost the moment you started to doubt yourself, and you lost the moment you felt that rope start to wrap itself around your neck. You lost the moment you sat down, thinking that you had a bad matchup. You lost before the tournament even began, but you couldn’t have known that, could you?

Proper preparation is the key to winning any tournament, in whatever game you play. If you are more prepared than the opponent, you will likely give yourself enough of an advantage to come out on top. Sure, there will always be a difference in skill levels, variance, and a million other factors involved in the outcome, but being prepared is where you need to begin, and often what you need to look at when figuring out exactly what went wrong when you lose.

For those of you who don’t know, I lost in the finals of the Legacy MOCS this past weekend. Losing in a spot where there is such a disparity in prize is quite disheartening. First place receives an invite to Worlds, an invite to the Magic Online Championship, and at the bare minimum $4,000 in prize money.

What does this mean for me? It means I got 54 packs and a lot of heartache. Losing in the finals of an Open event, or even a Grand Prix, doesn’t mean nearly as much because the difference in prize is not nearly the same. Sure, there is always pride on the line, and usually a good chunk of money, but at that point you’ve already earned a decent sized purse, and you’re happy no matter what happens.

This isn’t the same. Instead of qualifying for a Pro Tour in the United States, and being guaranteed an enormous amount of money, I have to settle with about $150. One of my old friends used to tell me about how he would make the finals of almost every PTQ and lose, walking away with “a box and a beating.” The words could no more ring true for me than for anyone else.

A friend of mine, Brian Braun-Duin also experienced this kind of pain, losing in both PTQ finals in Richmond a few weeks ago. However, he went on to make the Top 4 of the Standard portion of the StarCityGames.com Open in Pittsburgh and even claimed a victory in one of the Draft Opens the very same day. The man knows how to play some Magic, and I’m really proud of him. I also can learn from his accomplishments and push through the pain. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Brian picked himself back up and crushed the next weekend. I know that I need to do the same.

Nationals is coming up this weekend, but let’s start things off with everyone’s favorite format: Legacy. Here’s the list I played in the Magic Online Championship Series.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I was planning on playing some form of combo deck. Hive Mind had just won an SCG Legacy Open in the hands of Ben Swartz, and most of you know how much I love playing some combo. But in testing, I learned a lot about the format, and a lot about the deck in the process.

On Magic Online, Force of Will costs more than $120 per card. What that means for the metagame (and the average player) is that there are a lot more Hymn to Tourach decks, and a lot fewer Force of Will decks running around. While the cream may always rise to the top, you can’t actively play a combo deck with so little protection from hand disruption. I found myself losing often to a well-timed discard spell backed with a little pressure. Wasteland was also a minor annoyance, but it is much easier to play around. With all of this in mind, I had to come up with a different deck to play.

An abundance of discard also means that pure control decks can prey on the Hymn to Tourach decks themselves, making U/W Control a really good choice for the Magic Online metagame. I also learned a lot about U/W Control leading up to the event, but it took a lot of time and testing. I began wanting to test out Spellstutter Sprite, which seemed really good in theory and was backed by a few Daily Event victories at the hands of _ShipItHolla, and also advocated by our own Drew Levin a few weeks ago. However, against a lot of decks it just didn’t do enough. It didn’t counter Knight of the Reliquary and rarely countered anything relevant if you were on the draw, which was a huge problem. If I was on the draw with the deck, I felt incredibly far behind, which is not something you can really afford with a control deck. You will lose the die roll often, and you need cards that are good on both the play and the draw.

Stifle was the first part of the equation. With Stifle and Spellstutter Sprite, the Hive Mind matchup became somewhat of a joke. Sure, they could still kill you sometimes, but having hard answers to their combo in the first game is usually too much for them to handle. However, I was still having problems answering Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary, even with Stifle on backup to stunt their mana development.

Then, out of nowhere, it hit me like a sack of potatoes. Wasteland and Stifle make Daze insane. While this is common knowledge to a lot of the more seasoned Legacy players, it was just something I never really thought of before, mostly because I’d never played the cards together in the same deck. Team America has put up some really good numbers with their mana denial package, but it never occurred to me that they were doing all that much with their Dazes, until I played a few games with the card.

Daze is for real. Without Daze, Stifle is fairly mediocre, but the same can be said in the opposite direction. In tandem, the two make an excellent duo, and decks like Stoneforge Control and Team America can really take advantage of the disruption.

Daze is a strange card, but when backed with mana denial, it becomes a tempo powerhouse. There are plenty of games where you will draw it in the late game, and it will be useless, or just become fodder for Force of Will. The same can be said for a lot of situational answers, but that’s why you play cards like Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Card selection helps you hit the cards that you need at the time when you need them and allows you to shuffle them away when they’re chaff.

I saw a lot of lists running Ancestral Vision, which just seems incredibly slow to me. I can understand the appeal of running the card, but it just doesn’t do enough when Hive Mind is the most played combo deck, and you really need another counterspell in that slot to help against them. Ancestral Vision does make Hymn to Tourach much worse, but given the sluggishness of the card, I just couldn’t bring myself to play it. In the mirror, it is often atrocious when everyone is playing Spellstutter Sprite.

As far as the tournament goes, it was ten rounds of Swiss followed by the Top 8. I played a few close matches and made a monumental punt against a Hive Mind player, but I felt like the power to win the match was always within my grasp. Going forward, there are few things I would change about the deck, but it really just depends on what you expect to face. The Sword of Feast and Famine was awesome for me, but I could easily see playing Sword of Body and Mind instead. The ability to swing through Merfolk, Vendilion Clique, and having protection from Jace’s bounce ability are all relevant. Additionally, it gives you another alternate win condition against a deck that gains infinite life, but Jace himself is probably enough for that.

Sword of Fire and Ice is a pretty sweet card in general, but I don’t think you can safely play one in this deck. Merfolk has a tendency to make their creatures have more than two toughness, and Umezawa’s Jitte is much stronger in this regard. Playing Jitte will also give you an out to an opponent’s Jitte, which can really wreak some havoc in the mirror.

I really wanted a few more spot removal spells in the sideboard for decks like Merfolk and Zoo, but I had “the fear” and felt like I really needed the full four Meddling Mage. Meddling Mage is a neat card and can actually just dagger an unsuspecting opponent, but there are plenty of occasions where you will name the wrong card, or they will just have the answer and kill you anyway. Having access to Meddling Mage gives you another threat to their combo though, and if you can protect the Meddling Mage with countermagic, they will often be left with very few outs.

For the record, Show and Tell is usually the card I name against Hive Mind, since it forces them to have six mana to cast the Hive Mind. Even then, I will usually have Spell Pierce and Daze on backup, not to mention Force of Will, Stifle, etc. Against various other combo decks, Meddling Mage is just bananas. Just make sure you know exactly what your opponent is trying to do before you end game one; that way you have the greatest amount of knowledge about what to name with it.

I don’t think it is really a question anymore when it comes to anti-graveyard hate. Leyline of the Void is where you want to be, and especially so since everyone seems to be on the “Manaless Dredge” kick. The deck literally has no outs to the enchantment, and I would even recommend mulliganing to one in order to find the card. If you don’t find it, chances are you’re going to lose anyway. There are not a lot of games you can win against Dredge without the card, since their plan is to not interact with you.

Wrath of God is fairly legitimate at this point. All manner of Tarmogoyfs, Knights of the Reliquary, and Progenitus decks are popping up everywhere, giving you reason enough to want a reset button. Wrath of God gets the obvious nod over Day of Judgment, if only for Thrun, the Last Troll (which is an absolute beating against you). Day of Judgment is an inferior wrath effect, so don’t think you can squeak by on a budget with your Standard mock-ups. Wrath of God might deserve some number of maindeck slots, since very few decks will see it coming and will usually just walk right into it.

The singleton Manriki-Gusari was great in theory, but mediocre in practice. I never was able to cast and equip it, since everyone knows that you need to use your Swords to Plowshares almost immediately on the opponent’s Stoneforge Mystic in order to keep Batterskull off the table. The problem here is that you need a creature to equip the Manriki-Gusari to, and you also need that creature to not have summoning sickness. Wasteland keeps your Mishra’s Factories down, and Swords to Plowshares keeps the rest of your creatures in check for the better part of the early game. You would probably be better off sporting a few Disenchants, or even Seal of Cleansing (which isn’t on Magic Online yet).

The Spell Pierces come in handy against a plethora of archetypes, but are mostly to fight combo decks. While you won’t always counter something with Spell Pierce, you can often tap them out when they are trying to combo off and put a kink in their plans in the process. Spell Pierce was in the maindeck for a long time, but I found the mana denial package of Stifle, Daze, and Wasteland to be superior, and my mind was definitely made up after the MOCS this past weekend. Stifle and Daze are awesome together, even in a control shell with little other disruption.

Going forward, I would probably cut a Meddling Mage and the Manriki-Gusari for two Path to Exile, giving you a bit more removal against the decks where you need an early answer. Otherwise, it is likely that you will be overrun before you know what hits you.

Natural Order is a deck I like to talk about a lot, but I haven’t decided on the best list for it yet. I’m torn between the ability to have an honest-to-goodness removal spell in Swords to Plowshares for the white version, as well as having access to Knight of the Reliquary; and the prospect of having really good sideboard options against the majority of the field. Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast give you some much-needed breathing room against many combo decks, control decks, and even aggro decks like Merfolk. However, Knight of the Reliquary is a powerhouse on his own and allows you to play the Wasteland package in your deck to complement your Dazes, as mentioned earlier.

If I were playing Natural Order tomorrow, here is the list I would play:

Someone actually had to explain to me why Tower of the Magistrate is good, seeing as I’ve never played with the card. Basically, it gives any creature in play “protection from artifacts until the end of turn,” including the ability to give your opponent’s creatures the ability. Against Stoneforge Mystic decks, you can tutor up Tower of the Magistrate with Knight of the Reliquary to make Batterskull fall off the Germ token. Luckily, it also works against any creature carrying a Jitte, Sword, or whatever else people might throw at you. You also have the added benefit of having an infinite blocker against Affinity, which is cool but not really something you’re looking for.

I’ve seen a few lists similar to this playing more Wastelands and cutting Force of Will altogether. If you plan on doing this, be careful. Losing access to Force of Will makes you incredibly vulnerable to a lot of decks. However, if you’re playing Stifle on top of this, the plan could be legitimate and could spell out a recipe for disaster for your opponents and their mana bases.

Did you see that Gerry Thompson Team America deck had no basic lands in it? While his reasoning is sound, that doesn’t make Wasteland any less amazing against him. Sure, he has Stifle to keep you from blowing him out sometimes, but you have your own Mental Missteps for backup.

Having access to Swords to Plowshares in this deck is something that’s hard to really put into words. Knight of the Reliquary is such a beating against you, and having an answer to it outright is quite helpful. Lightning Bolt will rarely kill Tarmogoyf or Knight of the Reliquary, and Swords to Plowshares will kill them every single time, barring a counterspell of course.

White also gives you access to Angel’s Grace, which is a fine card against various combo decks, but mainly trumps Hive Mind. While some pilots might get fresh and go all-in on Show and Tell, that just makes them that much more vulnerable to your counterspells. If they are relying on their Progenitus or Emrakuls to get the job done, a well-timed Natural Order or Jace, the Mind Sculptor will be the end of them. They will still have their nut draws, and the matchup is probably still in their favor, but I’m sure you’ll get a free win or two on the back of an Angel’s Grace.

For those of you in the know, Gen Con and US Nationals are this coming weekend. Standard and draft will be the formats, and people can’t stop talking about Caw-Blade (yet again). I get it; the deck is good, and the people who play the deck are usually better, but I would love to see something interesting take down the tournament.

U/W Control is not nearly as good in Standard as it used to be, and even then some decks could give it a run for its money. Now, it seems as if everyone’s given up again just because the bannings didn’t completely erase the boogeyman from existence.

Splinter Twin is a real deck and easily Tier 1 in capable hands. Valakut is a strong deck as well, but you have to know where your strengths lie. Solemn Simulacrum is not good in the deck when you want him to be good. Aggro decks no longer rely on clunky guys to get the job done. They’re playing Vault Skirge and Goblin Guide and beating you to death before you can cast anything relevant. You might as well play a card in that slot that helps fight the control matchups, such as more Oracles of Mul Daya. Every time my opponent resolves an Oracle of Mul Daya against me, I feel like I fall behind quickly. I’m even afraid to counter it most of the time because a lot of lists still play Summoning Trap.

What I do know is that the Sad Robot is not the answer to the format, and aggro decks are going to have an uphill battle against Timely Reinforcements. Combo is the answer that you should be looking for. Both Valakut and Splinter Twin are combo decks of sorts, though Valakut has more raw power and much less finesse.

I don’t think playing aggro is very smart for Nationals, if only because of how popular Caw-Blade is going to be. If everyone is playing 2-3 Timely Reinforcements maindeck, you will find all of your hard work undone on the third turn and be facing down a squad of dorks that are looking to trade for a lot of value. Aside from playing some bad cards, there isn’t a lot you can do about it, so I think it best to just avoid aggro decks altogether.

Play combo or play U/W Control. Everything else is just a bad beat story waiting to happen. Good luck this weekend, and as always…


Thanks for reading

strong sad on MOL