Eternal Europe – From Atlanta To Ghent

Carsten Kotter prepares for GP Ghent by looking at the decks that performed well in Atlanta and some less obvious ones that could be well positioned right now. See what decks you should consider for the SCG Legacy Open in St. Louis.

One Legacy GP is in the books, but the second one is right around the corner. This is the first time in a while that two Legacy GPs have happened so close together and without intervening changes to the B&R list. As a result, we get to enter this second GP with more exact information as to what the format looks like than we’ve ever had before.

What I’ll do today is give you a fast overview of what the big decks seem to have been for GP Atlanta—because presumably that will be similar for Ghent—and which decks performed well in Atlanta (or probably would have) that aren’t getting the press they deserve.

Atlanta Heroes

First, the four archetypes able to put ten or more players into Day 2 were Canadian Threshold aka RUG Delver—far ahead with 32 players in Day 2—Maverick, Reanimator, and Esper Stoneblade (now with between 25 and 100% less Lingering Souls). These four decks made up nineteen of the Top 32 decks and also delivered all but one of the Day 1 undefeated results (the lone exception being a U/W Terminator list after my own heart).

By far the best performing of the three—measured in Top 32 conversions after reaching Day 2*—was Esper Stoneblade. Of the ten players who reached Day 2 with the deck, a whopping six managed to make it into the Top 32 (60%)! That’s honestly absurd, especially compared to RUG Delver’s seven out of 32 (about 22%), Maverick’s three out of nineteen (circa 16%) and Reanimator’s three out of fourteen (also roughly 22%). The only decks beating out Esper Stoneblade’s conversion rate were the two with 100%: the Hatfield/Signorini Team America list (1 out of 1) and Belcher (2 out of 2), though having only one or two players even sporting these archetypes on Day 2 makes looking at their conversion rates rather pointless.

*Clearly this metric is flawed, especially because it doesn’t take Day 1 results into account and only looks at an already culled field. There are many weird decks out there in Legacy that are very powerful if you’re unprepared—think Enchantress—but that don’t see enough play to be worth preparing for. Removing most of those from the equation actually alters the format significantly. It still seems like a reasonable way to get a feel for overall archetype performance as long as a sufficiently big number actually made it into Day 2.

The overwhelming performance by Esper Stoneblade can likely be credited to the fact that the deck nearly disappeared from the format between the rise of RUG and Griselbrand decks, meaning people just assumed it was dead and were extremely unprepared for its return (even though the SCG Invitational should have served as a reminder of how good the deck actually still is). Far from being dead, the Esper Stoneblade shell seems very well positioned given a few adaptations to the metagame (such as running more countermagic and discard instead of grindy Lingering Souls). This definitely shows how looking for the underplayed/under-expected top tier deck will give you an edge.

As far as the other three are concerned, the performing Maverick lists look pretty standard, continuing the trend of running more Thalias and a Zenith-able Fauna Shaman while cutting down on the Stoneforge Mystic count we’ve seen manifesting for a while now. This switch seems like a solid choice with a strong combo presence in the metagame thanks to Griselbrand boosting Sneak and Show and Reanimator.

RUG, in the meantime, seems to have evolved into two sub-archetypes: one focuses on the classic Canadian Thresh tempo disruption game with Stifles, while the other type moves closer and closer to what feels a lot like a more resilient Zoo build by using Mental Note Thought Scour to turn on threshold for the Nimble Mongoose as soon as possible. Both versions are performing well, and which to run really seems to be a play style choice. One thing both approaches share is the move from the traditional playset of Spell Snares to at most a misers copy or two, something that feels like a solid choice in the current environment full of Show and Tells, one-drop only curves, and Knight of the Reliquarys (though it makes Goyf even better in the mirror).

Aggro RUG

Canadian Thresh

Reanimator also delivered solid results, and the list brought by the CFB crew sports some incredibly sweet tech between the double maindeck Karakas and a sideboard that contains multiple Vendilion Cliques and Jaces as well as Show and Tell plus City of Traitors, providing the ability to transform into a variety of configurations postboard.

Given the number of highly talented players showing up with the deck, though, I’m not particularly impressed with Reanimator’s overall performance. It seems the hate can actually keep this particular strategy in check reasonably well. Given that it didn’t put anybody in the Top 8 this time, though, it might turn out to be a good choice in Ghent should people decide to skimp on the hate—many players overvalue Top 8 results significantly, after all. For the same reason, they might also be right to do so; since Reanimator didn’t deliver in Atlanta, players might decide that there are better things to do in Ghent. 

Less Obvious Options

Now that we know what is big, the question becomes what to do with this knowledge. I think if you’re comfortable and/or experienced with any of the above four decks, they’re definitely good choices for Ghent. Reanimator may end up having issues with hate, admittedly, though the transformative SB plan looks like it should give you the ability to play around the hate at least to a certain extent. What if you want to hit the metagame from a less expected angle, though?

I generally don’t like metagaming against the top tier too much in Legacy, especially at a large tournament like a GP. There are just too many different decks that people will be playing that will be trouble for a pure metagame deck. Instead, I’d look at decks people are probably overlooking in their preparations because they simply aren’t present enough in the latest results.

The biggest player in this category has to be the multitude of different Show and Tell decks. Hyped up to the point that people were expecting a Show and Tell ban a few short weeks ago, only four players made it into Day 2 in Atlanta, and none of them made it into the Top 32. To be honest, it has become awfully silent where the original Griselbrand deck is concerned. People are looking at Reanimator as the bad guy right now, with Show and Tell decks pushed out by that even meaner bad guy. That sounds an awful lot like what people thought about Esper Stoneblade…

To make a long story short, I suspect people are going to undervalue the deck’s power now, which means a very broken top tier deck could turn out to be a sleeper option this time. In Atlanta people were very much ready for Show and Tell (Todd Anderson experience of a Show and Tell dropping Humility for his opponent speaks for itself—given that his opponent was playing Elves!), but with the deck not delivering in Atlanta, these kind of extreme occurrences should be rarer in Ghent. With the paranoia dying down, some of the pure Show and Tell hate will probably disappear to make room for other necessities like answers to Esper Stoneblade. A traditional Sneak and Show list (see below) or the Omniscience deck I wrote about in my last article seem like solid choices.

The deck sidesteps all the graveyard hate Reanimator has to deal with and is actually quite hard to disrupt meaningfully. Now that everybody is focused on that particular Griselbrand deck, it could be time for Sneak and Show to take the spotlight.

The Atlanta Top 32 also holds a hidden gem, though—the first Legacy deck I’ve seen in which Temporal Mastery isn’t a total dud. Combine the skills of Dan Signorini (one of the creators of Team America) and the Hatfields, and something good is bound to happen. This time what they came up with is a cantrip heavy Team America shell that incorporates the most hyped stepchild among the miracles. A cheap dragon like Tombstalker is exactly the kind of card you need to make Mastery awesome. 

Heavy disruption and a fast clock give you a lot of game against the unfair decks while Mastery-fueled Tombstalker attacks should give it a lot of game against the fairer decks in the format. The list looks sweet and is very fluid, not to mention it even has that beautiful Portent technology—what’s not to love?

Finally, there are two tribal decks other than the recently rediscovered Elves deck I’d definitely consider picking up. People are much more ready for combo in their maindecks than they’ve been for a while, opening up a hole for those creature-heavy strategies to shine as long as they don’t crash and burn against the combo decks. Given that Reanimator has been the most played combo deck and is itself very good at holding back the other combo decks, that actually seems doable.

The first of the two even scored a Top 8 in Atlanta (though I personally find the build quite wonky, what with the white splash just for Thalia and all—no testing behind this, so I might be wrong and J. Sawyer Lucy’s build is just insane because Thalia allows you to crush combo), but that result will likely be put down to variance by most players, as it has been the past few times. Yes, I’m talking about the grandfather of all Legacy tribal decks: Goblins.

Cavern of Souls has given the deck a huge boost by providing an essentially unstoppable mid- to late-game against blue decks, all coupled with the ability to win early when necessary and mana denial to trap the opponent in the early game. As a result, Goblins has had multiple high finishes on the SCG Open Series lately in addition to its Atlanta Top 8, but it is still being overlooked by almost everybody I can think of. Somehow the hype when Mental Misstep was printed has conditioned people to dismiss the deck. Seems like a good place to be. This is what I’d consider running (though keep in mind I’m not a Goblins player myself):

The plan is classic Goblins. If your opponent beats you down, you stall the board with small bodies, constantly threaten a lot of damage, and draw a ton of extra cards. After that, you just keep that up until they fall over. If you’re beating them down, you’re an aggro-combo deck that can win turn 3 to 4 while threatening significant mana denial.

The other tribe to look at is Merfolk. Yes, the deck fell into a hole for a while when everybody was playing U/W with four Swords to Plowshares, four Snapcaster Mages, and four Path to Exile (postboard), but it should be reasonably well positioned now (as evidenced by a pre-M13 version taking down the SCG Legacy Open in Seattle already) between a fast clock backed by disruption, a blue-heavy metagame, and, oh yeah, the new ability to run freaking eight Lord of Atlantis—thanks M13.

The list below is where I’d start, though the new and improved Spreading Seas plan against non-blue decks might be too cute and could instead be replaced with a black splash for three Perish (and another Jitte in the leftover slot).

As an additional suggestion, even though I wouldn’t ever think of going to a GP with such a gamble of a deck, there is another choice that has been performing surprisingly well in the recent past. If you don’t enjoy playing more than five to ten minutes per round or simply don’t feel familiar enough with the format, playing Belcher looks like it might be a good choice. Belcher lists have been placing reasonably well for the last month or so and even in a tournament as huge as Atlanta, the deck held up until it hit Top 8.

Playing Belcher comes with a few impressive advantages. The deck is easy to play and produces short rounds, meaning you likely won’t end up tiring out. It basically doesn’t interact with the opponent, so if you can figure out how your deck works, you don’t need to know much else about Legacy going in to be just fine. In addition, with the field as large as it is at a GP, people will likely not know that you’re on Belcher in game 1—that’s one less game where they can mulligan into Force of Will. Not to mention you get the obvious Belcher advantage: you crush everything that doesn’t run FoW.

Now, looking at my hand to see if I can count to seven every game wouldn’t be my idea of a sweet Grand Prix experience, but if your taste differs, it looks like for some reason the current format is actually soft to Belcher even while adapting to the Griselbrand combo decks. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think the results we’ve been seeing are a coincidence. If you really don’t know what Belcher looks like, here’s a list:

Get Ready to Travel

Obviously, all of this only scratches the surface of viable decks to bring to Ghent. Legacy is still huge, and there are hundreds of decks out there that nobody ever talks about. I mean, Sam Black made Top 8 in Atlanta with a sweet sacrifice guys for value homebrew (brilliant deck, but clearlya pet deck) nobody even took seriously before the weekend, and Fred Edelkamp successfully ported Standard Delver into Legacy (with four Vapor Snags no less), continuing the tradition of powerful U/W Standard decks migrating to Legacy. There is a clear metagame, but at the same time anything seems possible. As such, the best advice I can give you is to not be afraid to play what you know and enjoy.

Whatever deck you decide to go with, getting yourself to the GP is sure to be worth your time and money—huge events are just that much fun. I’ll get back to testing now; until next time: see you in Ghent!

Carsten Kotter