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Eternal Europe – Stop Whining Already, Or How To Beat The New Blue

For those who are complaining about Mental Misstep warping Legacy, fear not. You just need to learn how to beat blue decks! See what Carsten Kotter has to say about the format.

Why is it that Magic players can’t ever seem to stop complaining? More specifically, why is it always the aggro and midrange players? Ever heard a
control player moan how Aether Vial is the br0kenZ and needs to be banned because Legacy is basically unplayable with it legal? How about all
those combo players who call for the banning of Force of Will because it’s unbeatable? Don’t know any? Strange coincidence, me neither.

So why the hell is there a storm of people clamoring for the banning of some card or other whenever the metagame changes and non-creature decks get a
boost? Every. Single. Time.

Yeah, Mental Misstep is good. I get it.

Blue is good in Legacy, and people also love to play it, so it makes a ton of Top 8s. Big news.

You can’t beat countermagic when playing badly. Now here’s a surprise.

A deck that can’t do anything but turn guys sideways and kill other guys isn’t good enough to win every matchup in Legacy. Shocking, I know.

Stop whining! Really, just get over it. If you spent half the time you waste on crying about how broken [ add combo deck of your choice or the color blue here] is on actually trying to adapt to metagame changes, you sure as hell wouldn’t need to
try to ruin the fun for everybody else.

You—the people who claim you want to play “real Magic,” Magic the way it’s “meant to be”—are lying to yourselves.
You’re asking to play a one-dimensional, watered down, reduced version of a game with infinite possibilities. The reason you ask for bans is that you
just don’t understand what an Eternal format is about.

Magic is about more than turning creatures sideways and looking at the board state to figure out what is going to happen. There are about a million
other things the cards allow you to do and have from the very beginning of the game. The “older” formats simply are generally the only place where you
still get to do them, where you get to use the less obvious strategies. That’s a major part of their reason to exist and the draw they have for a large
number of players. The general attitude of people like you has pushed WotC to make them unavailable in Standard for years now* and there is no reason
to frustrate all those players who like things other than “I play a guy. Okay, turn this other guy sideways” by trying to make Eternal about the same
crap.

This is an Eternal format. If all you want to do is play creatures and turn them sideways, you have draft and Standard for that. Eternal formats are
about playing all the strategies that this sweet game enables, not just the most fundamental. If you don’t like strategies other than basic creature
beats against removal control, you’re in the wrong type of format.

*The success of Legacy seems to have made Wizards rethink their demographics a little, considering they actually brought true combo back to Standard
with Exarch Twin this year and Pyromancer Ascension last, if only for a few months. They also reprinted real countermagic in Mana Leak. Maybe there’s
still hope that Wizards will free itself from its self-prescribed shackles. Personally I expect this to be a recurring phenomenon. There will be no
viable combo deck while the first two sets of any block are released, but in either the last block set or the base set, a card is delivered that
enables combo when combined with something from the block that rotates. That way, combo exists, keeping those who love it happy, and is never around
for long enough to really take over the format, even if R&D should screw up.  

Bannings – Again

Now that I’ve gotten that rant of my chest, it’s time to admit that there’s a claim to be made that blue is present in more decks in Top 8s than the
other colors. I can’t deny that. What I disagree with, though, is that that is a problem.

First, this has been the case for years, and still everybody insists Legacy is the sweetest thing since sliced bread (almost everybody—Michael
Jacob seems to dislike the format if what I heard is correct). There have been claims that Legacy is the most skill-intensive format in existence. Most
matchups hover around the 50% mark, and play skill has to put you over the top. It’s also often touted as the most fun competitive format ever.

As a result, Legacy has been growing rapidly, gathering a following of immense proportions that is causing the price of staples to explode.* Even
people who started out hating Legacy
because they felt it was too non-interactive now consider it their favorite format because
it’s so varied and interactive. I’m not bashing Todd, by the way. He’s just the perfect example of how it takes time to realize how many levels of game
play there are in Eternal Magic when you’re used to the toned down version.

*I wish Wizards could disregard the reserved list, I really do. For what it’s worth, I have most of the expensive stuff on there. A full set of
original duals, a set of Power Nine, Mana Drains, Moats, and a lot of other stuff. Yeah, I’m glad I started playing Vintage back in 1996. I still want
them to get rid of the list, but they seem to be unwilling to break a promise they’ve made, as stupid as that promise might be. I can understand that
position, as much as I dislike the consequences.

Back to Legacy. There is another factor that plays into the seeming dominance of blue decks we’re seeing. A disproportionate number of Eternal players
simply enjoy playing blue decks while others are too afraid of combo to touch a deck not featuring Force of Will (note: hate helps and so does a strong
blue presence in the metagame, ironically). There is a reason why large numbers of people try to make blue control decks work even if the metagame is
less than favorable to them—just look at the Survival era a few months back. People want to play those decks anyway; how can you fault them for
doing so when they’re finally really well positioned?

Add to this the fact that those players often are experienced Eternal pilots, and the reason for the success of blue-based decks during the last few
weeks (are we really at a point where people give up and call for a ban after mere weeks? Man, what Legacy has come to…) becomes even more
understandable. If more than half the people bring blue because they want to either play it anyway or buy into the hype, how is it surprising that we
see Top 8s dominated by blue, even if those blue decks are merely very good? These Top 8s then perpetuate the effect because people will see those
results, conclude blue is insane, and switch to those decks, too. That’s the vicious circle we need to break out of. Once that’s done, blue will simply
drop back to its pre-Misstep levels as those players who don’t enjoy playing it stop.

It isn’t like blue is overrepresented in the format for the first time. The Legacy boom happened in a format in which blue was the best color; more
decks containing blue consistently made Top 8 than those not containing it (a very different situation from what it would mean in Standard, as
splashing is close to free in Legacy—outside the monetary realm, obviously), and at least half the people in any given tournament chose to play
some blue cards anyway. Why exactly is that very same situation suddenly a problem just because there’s a hyped up new toy out there? Don’t answer;
rhetorical question.

I mean, if Misstep did what some people have claimed, I could understand the complaints. If Zoo, Goblins, and all the other aggro decks under the sun
suddenly died, I’d agree that something was wrong. Like combo, aggro is a valuable part
of the metagame and the game experience of Eternal formats. Anything that completely removes it from the equation is a Bad Thing ┢. That doesn’t
mean 90% of the games have to be about jamming creatures into one another, though. Big difference.

I’ll let you in on a well-kept secret: Aggro is far from dead, on the contrary. People just haven’t realized it, for some reason. May I suggest that
the hype along the lines of “OMG, Mental Misstep. Goblins is dead! Zoo is dead! You can’t play one-drops anymore!” has driven people to
abandon these decks unnecessarily?

What the New Blue Doesn’t Like to See

As a blue mage, do you know what the opening is that I most hate seeing? Mountain, Aether Vial. Yes, even if I have the Misstep. There’s almost no deck
that is as good at beating up blue control (that hasn’t been specifically metagamed to beat it with bombs like Moat and Humility) as competently played
Goblins. Goblins crushes the new breed of blue control that relies on Jace as its only late-game bomb or hopes to crush them with Batterskull, Mental
Misstep, or no. Misstep helps control to survive their enablers, sure. As a result, Goblins has somewhat fewer games in which it goes turn 1 Vial; you
can’t solve it and just die. That doesn’t mean the blue matchup has gotten significantly worse for it, though. A well-built control deck rarely lost to
the enablers even before Misstep. It lost to Goblins in the late, late game, and that part has only gotten better for Goblins because the last
thing you want to hold against them on turn 20 is a Mental Misstep.

In testing DeedStill, I forced my Goblins opponent to crack two Standstills and managed to keep my Jace in play for four turns. I lost anyway. That’s
how powerful Goblins is if you give them the time to hardcast their cards. 2/2 haste Fact or Fictions and 1/1 Demonic Tutors are, uhm, pretty good, at
least against fair decks. And fair decks are the direction Mental Misstep pushes the metagame in.

Mind, testing was against a Goblins list that only “adapted” by making room for four Warren Instigators. How about doing something a little
more farfetched, like, I don’t know, Goblins running its own Mental Missteps? Because guess what? If Goblins has Missteps, it can suddenly stop Swords
to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, and similarly efficient removal from messing with its early game (not to mention opposing Missteps). It can even stop
Zoo from developing the tempo advantage that deck needs to win by countering the Wild Nacatl (out of a mono-red deck!). As to the “but, but, it
isn’t a Goblin”—true. However, Goblins regularly played Lightning Bolt or splashed for Swords to Plowshares before Warren Weirding was
printed, and those aren’t Goblins either. The deck still worked, so I suspect it’ll survive having a few Missteps, too.

Here is a spicy little number that Max Galensa, one of the regulars in our biweekly tournaments, placed second with in consecutive events (the
tournaments are Swiss only):


The sweetest thing about a list like this is that with some sideboard hate, combo suddenly isn’t an auto-loss anymore. Sure, you don’t want to play
against it, but now you at least have a chance to beat them. Admittedly, I haven’t tested his exact list, and there are a few things I find suspect
just looking at it (like no Tin Street Hooligan maindeck in an environment with a ton of Stoneforge Mystics and only two Incinerators), but his overall
record was a solid 9-2. He beat two bad matchups (Storm and Zoo) twice each and blue four times. Both his losses came from Bant, a deck that was
already hard to beat for Goblins pre-NPH thanks to the combination of Knight of the Reliquary, Tarmogoyf, and Stoneforge Mystic, but another two Bant
decks were crushed under the boots of little green men anyway.

He isn’t the only one to get good results out of Goblins, either. Nick Patnode (or is it Patronde? I heard rumors to the effect that his name was
misspelled?) went 10-0 to start off GP Providence while Jim Davis made it to the finals of the StarCityGames.com Invitational this last weekend. Pretty
solid results for a “dead” deck, I must say.

For reference:



The other deck supposedly doomed by the printing of Mental Misstep is Zoo—wait, what? Jesse Hatfield went 9-0 at Providence with his list; Zoo
made Top 8, and at least one other made top 16. The deck also claimed two (!) Top 8 spots in the SCG Invitational in two totally different forms:





Not only do we have four impressive performances for the deck, Jesse Hatfield decided to play Zoo at the GP. Now, if you know who Jesse is, that should
make you think. If you don’t, let me put it like this: The Hatfield brothers are two of the most devoted and knowledgeable Legacy players, period. If
they played Zoo (and it isn’t as if they couldn’t have played blue decks), there is a high probability they tested the
format with Misstep and decided Zoo gave them the best chance to win. If some of the best come to that conclusion, maybe less whining and more testing
would get those complaining a little closer to understanding the format similarly well?

As to the decklists, I love to see Thruns, and I think Jesse is right on the money with three maindeck Sylvan Libraries told ya so!). It’s
incredibly hard for any blue deck to win against Sylvan Library out of Zoo, and the card is awesome against most everything else also. Price of
Progress is another card that has incredible value and will kill decks like DeedStill out of nowhere.

Where the other players at least paid a token tribute to winning the late game, Patrick Sullivan list is laser focused on just killing ASAP while
time walking the opponent with Wastelands (an excellent addition to this style of Zoo). This serves the deck perfectly against combo and control decks
and makes it nearly immune to Mental Misstep—would you play a Shock that makes the opponent discard a card if you were just counting to
twenty?—even though it becomes a lot more vulnerable to other fair decks like Goblins (just watch the quarterfinals match from the Invitational)
that can survive the initial assault while killing you fast enough to negate the reach once they’ve taken care of your puny creatures.

Either way, it seems ridiculous to declare a deck that is doing this well dead—people should probably play it more now that Mental
Misstep is in the format and keeps the truly fast combo decks at bay, not less. But please, for the love of god, don’t just take the lists played
before Misstep came out. Adapt! Big Zoo is probably dead—at least until control has died down again. A slow midrange deck with a few burn spells
just isn’t where you want to be in a format with lots of control. Aggression is the name of the game, backed by green’s very own Ancestral Recall.

The modernized versions of Deadguy Ale that had already shown their potential in the hands of Caleb Durward and Joe Bernal at SCG Open: Louisville also
managed to crack both the Top 8 of the Invitational and the top 16 of the concurrent Legacy Open. Hymn to Tourach and Cabal Therapy are just incredible
tools against blue decks, and Bitterblossom is a threat that is very hard to deal with for opponents wielding Force of Will (even more so if they
decide FoW is unnecessary).

This direction is particularly viable to explore because the only combo decks that seem to make it through a field full of Missteps are two-card combo
decks instead of Storm (which can just deploy its artifact mana and wait to topdeck/cantrip into a win), meaning discard is actually highly efficient
at disrupting them, too.



The Future

These decks are only the tip of the iceberg. There is an incredible number of unexplored strategies that will allow non-blue decks to adapt to a meta
that has been revolutionized by Mental Misstep. Life from the Loam, heavy black disruption, resilient threats (we could see Vengevine rise again), and
many other answers are available and need to be tried out.

Yes, Misstep changes matchup dynamics and gameplay in major ways. That means it’s only natural that people will need time to adapt to it. When a card
as impactful as Misstep debuts, the decks that can just cut a few cards for it and be done will obviously do well until people have figured out what
the card really means for the metagame and have innovated to fit their decks to the new meta.

Just look at what happened to Counterbalance once it caught on if you want to see an example of how this evolutionary process pans out. It took players
more than a year to figure out and widely adapt the correct counterstrategies, but the soft lock isn’t dominating anything anymore and hasn’t been for
some time. The process will be similar for Mental Misstep, but maybe this time we can avoid the unnecessary whining for a ban on Sensei’s Divining Top
that surrounded the process last time and instead get right to work. 

For the moment, the hype surrounding Misstep has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy that has pushed other decks out of the metagame before they’ve
even been seriously tested or adapted to the new situation. There is so much room for the meta to grow that it’s really sad to see all that energy
wasted on useless calls for the ban hammer instead of being focused towards innovating. I mean, people are playing Ancestral Vision—do you know
how bad that card is against aggressive starts?

That’s it for today (though there is a bonus section for those who prefer sitting on the blue side of the table). Until next time, don’t whine. Just
figure out how to beat them.

Bonus Section: The Caw Cartel in Action

I’ve been running Caw Cartel in our local tournaments for the last three events, and the deck has been performing really well, though there are some
issues with the clock. Over the last three tournaments, I’m 10-1-3 with the deck, all draws being unintentional, and the one loss coming down to me
playing badly. This is what I’ve been running:


The deck has been performing brilliantly but has trouble closing in time. What I’m going to try out in the future to address this issue is:

Maindeck:

Moat

Path to Exile

+ Elspeth, Knight-Errant

+ Vendilion Clique

Sideboard

Peacekeeper

Oblivion Ring

+ Path to Exile

+ Moat

These changes will probably somewhat weaken the aggro matchups in the maindeck (I guess I have to hope nobody reads the first part of the article, I
guess) but solidify the control matchups (where you are most likely to time out) while speeding up the clock of the deck in general. I’ll let you know
how it goes.

Now to the actual bonus content, a short report of the tournament I played with the deck this Saturday. There are probably some mistakes in the
descriptions as I didn’t take any notes; it was hard enough to finish the games on time without added complications.

But first the traditional Q’n’D a la jpmeyer:

I don’t win a single die-roll throughout the day.


Round 1: Bye


Round 2: UW Stoneforge-Crusader

Game 1: Moat + Jace.

Game 2: Jace finds Moat.


Round 3: Aggro Loam

Game 1: Turn four Jace on an empty board.

Game 2: Jace > Life from the Loam


Round 4: Zoo

Game 1: Moat + Countermagic > Zoo

Game 2: Grip > Moat

Game 3: 2x Moat > 1 Grip


Round 5: Affinity

Game 1: Moat.

Game 2: Hawkcestral + removal = Clique-lock


Round 6: Bant Loam

Game 1: I mull to five and miss on Ponder.

Game 2: Jace > his deck

Game 3: B2B + Jace + Peacekeeper < Extraturns

With that out of the way, here is a somewhat more detailed version:

Round 1: I get the random bye. I’m actually kind of bummed because I plan on doing well and writing this bonus section, but free wins are tech anyway.
I learn an important fact though: it seems they changed the rules and you aren’t allowed to actually take notes while scouting any more. Is that
actually correct?


Round 2: UW Stoneforge Aggro Control

Game 1: I get a Moat down in short order. When I resolve Jace with Hawks already in hand, he deploys Elspeth but well-timed Swords and Hawk-chumps keep
her under control until I find an Oblivion Ring. Jace ramps him out.

Game 2: He resolves a Stoneforge, but I have a Clique eot, to which he responds with his own taking my countermagic. His two cards are Jace and Sword
of Fire and Ice. I have to take the latter as I can’t deal with it at this point, especially as he has a Mutavault out, too (he plays Spellstutter
Sprite). Lady luck shines on me and I draw into a Force on my drawstep, which allows me to stop his Jace. I resolve one of my own and start
Hawkcestraling, finding  ways to deal with his threats just in time for first another Stoneforge (this time the SoFI gets down but I have Oblivion
Ring) and an Elspeth (I find another ORing). I’m at one life at this point but Jace finally digs up a Moat and he concedes when Jace hits 13.


Round 3: Old school RGB AggroLoam

Round 1: He opens on Mox Diamond, land, Chalice at 1 but my hand has enough land, Jace and Oblivion Ring. He drops a Goyf and hits me twice before Jace
comes down to bounce it, followed by Moat and Oblivion Ring on Chalice. Clique and Hawks hit him to ten before he concedes.

Round 2: He has a Mox again and first turn Bob. I Swords it, he drops a Chalice. I’m not sure if he had that already but if that was the case, this
seems like a bad sequence of plays to make. He starts casting Loam and cycling but Jace and removal allow me to just tempo him out. Moat resolves at
some point and Hawks and Cliques go to work on his lifetotal while Jace ramps up. I get the double-kill.


Round 4: Big Zoo

Game 1: The game was quite long but it boils down to a resolved Moat and while I counter every Pridemage he finds. Much later Jace ultimates. 

Game 2: He’s screwed on one land forever (thanks to Swords on both Hierarch and Arbor) but still casts a creature every turn. After a few turns he
finally starts hitting lands while I’m out of removal due to manascrewing him and my life starts to tick down. Moat provides hope but gets Gripped
instantly and I die.

Game 3: We’re low on time and play quite fast. He has minor manaproblems again but soon draws out of them and slams a Sylvan Library—uh oh. At
some point my hand is two Moat and two Jace, though, and I drop the first Moat, which gets Gripped. The second sticks and I also play consecutive Jaces
after the first eats two burnspells.  In the meantime he has been using his Sylvan quite aggressively and is on only twelve life while I’m finally
deploying Hawks. Time is called and if neither of us tries to win, the game will definitely end in a draw.

I attack for one on the first extraturn and play another Hawk. He also plays for the win and draws another card with Sylvan, putting him to seven (he
has a Terravore that will just kill me if he can remove the Moat). He plays a Pridemages which gets forced and a Lavamancer, which I have to Swords
because otherwise I can’t kill him. He passes and the only way I can win this is if I play a third Hawk, find a Clique this turn, flash it in during
his eot and hit him for exactsies. I have a Spell Snare as the only relevant card in hand, drawing Ponder. Ponder shows me cards that will make 100%
sure I can’t lose (StP, among others) but I shuffle because to have a shot at actually winning the match. I hit the Clique! I pass. On his turn, he
draws another card with Sylvan going to two and plays a Pridemage—I Spell Snare and realize while casting it I’ve screwed up—if he has
another Pridemage after the Snare, I’ll die. So I hold priority and Clique him in response to my own Spell Snare (should have just Cliqued him on
drawstep, obviously, especially once Sylvan had taken him into range of on-board Hawks—did you realize it while reading?) and obviously he does
have the Pridemage in hand. I bottom it, he draws a blank and my men kill him.

Round 5: Affinity

Game 1: I keep a one-lander with Misstep, Force, Hawk, Moat and Jace. Risky, but I can buy some time. He plays Memnite and Ornithopter turn one while I
peel the land and Force his turn two Master of Etherium, though Frogmite resolves. I peel another land and stall the board with Hawks but that’s where
my lucky streak ends. He has me down to seven when I finally find the land to resolve Moat many turns later. He Galvanic Blasts me twice but I have the
force for the second (2 Life) and get a Jace down. I have to Force something else but that’s enough to ultimate Jace. For some reason he allows it to
resolve (I see he doesn’t have Tezzeret) before scooping.

Game 2: He opens on Thopter and Memnite again but I Misstep his Signal Pest than Spell Snare his Plating and Ravager. At that point Hawkcestral takes
over and I Clique-lock him. He scoops when Jace makes it abundantly clear he isn’t topdecking out of this any more.


Round 6: Bant Loam AggroControl

I’m the only undefeated player, so my opponent wisely refuses the draw as he already has one.

Game 1: I mull to five, keep Island, Force, Jace, Ponder, Brainstorm and Force his turn two Tarmogoyf (I need time to draw lands). I wiff on my turn 2
Ponder while my opponent has another Goyf and though my turn three Brainstorm finds me a Scalding Tarn I have to go for Island as his third land is a
Wasteland. I stall with more Countermagic but never find either a third land or a Swords (which I couldn’t even cast) and Goyf kills me. If I was
playing to win the round, I should have conceded much earlier but a draw wins me the tournament anyway, so the lost time doesn’t seem important.

Game 2: Many Tarmogoyfs where Oblivion Ringed during this game but the pivotal series of events is the following: At some point my hand has Force, a
blue card, Jace, a land a Clique and a Hawk. During his endstep, I Clique him, it gets Sworded in response to the trigger and I see Force, Intuition,
Trygon, Spell Snare, Tarmogoyf, and another Swords. I take the Snare to make sure my Hawks will come down to defend Jace, untap and play said Jace. He
Forces, I Force back and Hawkcestrals start going off soon-after. When my two Hawks have beaten him to eleven, he realizes he can’t win this and
concedes hoping to get another game in.

Game 3: This is another nailbiter. He opens on turn two Goyf, which I can’t stop. I let him hit me once, than play a B2B, which he considers for a long
time before allowing. He does however counter my Oblivion Ring on turn four (he needs to kill me in time) and I start the Hawkchain the turn after.
Brainstorms and more Oblivion Rings keep his board somewhat under control (I deal with a Knight of the Relinquary but a Goyf and Trygon Predator
resolve), but I’m running out of Hawks to chump his Trygon Predator with. I finally find time to resolve the Jace, bounce his Predator and chump the
Goyf. Next turn I cast Peacekeeper on four life. Three counters for his Swords later, all his Tundra’s are locked down while Jace starts ticking up,
but time is called. I end the game with Jace on nine, Peacekeeper and Back to Basics all in play while holding a Counterspell.

I misplayed, though. Once time was called I definitely should have started bouncing his Goyf instead of fatesealing to make sure I don’t lose to him
topdecking Swords and a backup Counter through my Jace.

I take first place and win enough store credit to last for a while. If you like drawing cards, give the Caw Cartel a try, you’ll enjoy it. Learn to
play fast though, the deck takes its sweet time to win.