“I’m not even supposed to be here today!” — Dante Hicks
That’s how I feel about my StarCityGames.com Legacy Open win with New Horizons. Last year I was laid off from Microsoft as a Systems Analyst, giving me plenty of time to focus on competitive Magic while collecting unemployment checks. I won a Mox Sapphire with my Tattermunge Maniac-fueled RDW brew, then I won a Grand Prix Trial, and then I scored a 49th place finish at GP: Seattle (good for $200 and a useless pro point) with “Boddy Red.” After this brief and modest success, I started my career as a computer programmer and mostly forgot about competitive Magic. I turned up from time to time to dump hundreds of ratings points at Limited PTQs, ensuring that I wouldn’t be tempted to fly to any Grand Prix events with friends, leaving myself with one or no byes to every tournament on the schedule. That’s not to say that I gave up the game entirely — I still loved the game and cube drafted with local friends on a regular basis. I became great friends with another former StarCityGames.com writer and current Wizards of the Coast employee — Zac Hill — and it turned out to be an excellent outlet for my gaming desires, as we could talk for hours about Magic while neither of us played competitive Magic (he couldn’t, and I didn’t want to).
So when two weeks ago both Cedric Phillips and Gerry Thompson told me they’d be in Seattle for the Open weekend, I was looking forward to seeing them both and hanging out, but I informed them that I wouldn’t be playing in either event. Gerry eventually bailed on the event, being unable to make it out here, but Cedric did come in town, and I took him to all the great places to eat in the city — Ezell’s Fried Chicken, Dick’s Burgers, Paseo Caribbean Sandwiches, and the like. We had a great time, and on Saturday I went to the tournament site to hang out with some friends and get a draft or two fired up. In the course of trying to find a draft, I got to talking about ANT with Jesse Hampton, one thing led to another, and I started to borrow a Merfolk deck from him. After laying the cards out and thinking about Legacy for 15 minutes, I couldn’t see how this deck would be good in the current metagame that involved a ton of “miserable” decks like Zoo and Goblins, so I opted to borrow most of the New Horizons deck from him and played a grand total of 4 games with it before deciding that it was the deck for me. Max McCall told me the deck was terrible, but I couldn’t see how it was significantly worse than the other decks people decided to run. (It’s also worth noting that Max was going to play a deck like this but audibled into Reanimator at the last minute.)
At any rate, with a few tweaks here and there, I ended up with this list:
I’d definitely make some changes if I was to play this deck again, but I’ll talk about that at the end of the tournament report.
Adding Meddling Mage shored up my matchups against ANT, Dredge, and 43 Land, while Llawan, Cephalid Empress was clearly great against Merfolk but also provided an out against Inkwell Leviathan from Reanimator. While Crucible of Worlds is probably good, I think Life from the Loam has terrible negative synergy with this deck unless you’re rebuying Wastelands, and in that case you should just use Crucible of Worlds anyway.
Vendilion Clique was unbelievably good all day and I couldn’t understand why New Horizons decklists didn’t play this card, especially in combination with Karakas. It is the best spell to break Standstill locks with, rendering their extra cards mostly useless during their end step while giving you an opportunity to untap and cast a Terravore/Knight of the Reliquary if they counter your Vendilion Clique. It’s huge against all combo and control decks, and it’s also another blue card to pitch to Force of Will, something this deck often lacks in crucial moments.
Let’s get on the to the tournament report, shall we? Oh, did I mention that this was my second Legacy tournament ever, and that going into it my Eternal rating was 1528?
Round 1: Jeff Ouano, 43 Land with Blue
Jeff was the guy that knocked Cedric out of contention in the Standard Open with Mythic Conscription. He played fairly well in that tournament, so I wasn’t terribly happy to play my first round against someone who probably knew what he was doing while I had no idea how to play my deck.
I win the die roll and keep my hand in game 1, light on threats but containing Brainstorm, Ponder, and a fetchland. Jeff mulligans once, agonizes, and then keeps. I open on Ponder while Jeff opens on Exploration and a second land. Jeff runs out of lands that do anything meaningful, however, and I get a Knight of the Reliquary online and start blowing up his lands that might cause a problem. He never draws Life from the Loam, Gamble, or Intuition, so we go to game 2.
In game 2 I mulligan while he snap keeps. He has Manabond on the play but doesn’t dump his hand just yet. I play a land and pass, he plays a land and passes as well. I’m holding on to Tormod’s Crypt just ready to pull the trigger, but I obviously keep it in my grip for the time being. I play a Tarmogoyf and he casts Intuition for The Tabernacle from Pendrell Vale, Maze of Ith, and Glacial Chasm (I give him Chasm) and then pulls the trigger, dumping Life from the Loam and Glacial Chasm in the graveyard while putting a bunch of lands that don’t do much into play. He has no cards in hand to protect Life from the Loam with, so I attack him with Tarmogoyf, play Tormod’s Crypt, empty his yard, and that’s the game.
1-0 in matches, 2-0 in games
Round 2: Ryan Evans, ANT
Ryan sits down and has a pretty friendly demeanor, and we make small talk while we shuffle up. I win the die roll and my opening hand is about as good as it gets, containing Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary, Brainstorm, Force of Will, Daze, Tropical Island, and Misty Rainforest, so I obviously keep. Ryan thinks for awhile and then keeps, but seems pretty happy with his opening seven. I play Tropical Island planning on Brainstorming on turn two and filtering with Misty Rainforest (I at least know this combo in my deck), and Ryan empties his hand and casts Ad Nauseam on turn one. I Daze it.
Game 2 doesn’t go much better for him, as he’s on the Sensei’s Divining Top (and possibly Doomsday) plan but I blow up two of his early fetchlands with Stifles, leaving him without much mana to do anything with. I beat him leisurely with a very large Terravore and a Meddling Mage on Tendrils of Agony, all the while holding Stifle, Force of Will, and Daze.
2-0 in matches, 4-0 in games
Round 3: Chris Lennon, New Horizons
Chris is from the Pacific Northwest, and we talk a little bit about Legacy tournaments in the area. It turns out that he plays a lot at Mirkwood, which is a store north of Seattle that hosts a bunch of great Legacy/Vintage tournaments with generous prizes. This, of course, means that he probably knows how to play his deck and I really haven’t yet figured out how to do that.
In game 1 he draws his removal for my guys and his Knights of the Reliquary are too large for me to deal with effectively. He also has Spell Pierce to stop my Stifles, which set me back quite a bit. The game took a long time, as it was one long attrition war.
I sided out just a single Force of Will for Vendilion Clique because I think both Force of Will and Stifle are probably fine on the play and he had Noble Hierarch making my Engineered Explosives useful (and probably necessary).
So in game 2 I blow up his fetchlands with Stifle and draw three Wastelands for the lands he does draw, none of which get Stifled. He kept a hand with a single fetchland and the first turn of the game went:
He didn’t think I kept Stifle in, which is why he kept that hand. Whoops!
I can’t figure out what to side out because nothing in my sideboard seems good in the mirror, so I don’t make any changes.
In game 3 I have him on the ropes with mana denial, but he has Path to Exile in addition to Swords to Plowshares to take out all my large threats. With three turns left in extra time, I stick a 10/10 Knight of the Reliquary while he’s at 19 life. I ask if he wants to concede, and he says no. Neither of us was offended, and his next card was a Path to Exile anyway, so we take the unintentional draw.
2-0-1 in matches, 5-1 in games
Round 4: Jeremy Flores, New Horizons
Jeremy tells me that he was paired against his brother in the first round, so they intentionally drew rather than forcing one of them to start with a loss.
In game 1 I get the business in the early game, getting Stifled and Wastelanded right out of the game. But Jeremy’s light on threats and I’m able to build up a defense with Tarmogoyfs, Knights of the Reliquary, and a Terravore. He has a lot of Knights but no Terravore, and he alpha strikes me in a turn where my Terravore is an 18/18 while he’s on 20 life (and I have Horizon Canopy in play). I chump block and leave myself alive with just Terravore to his two Knights, and I hope to draw any sac land to kill him, but don’t. After the game he mentioned that he hadn’t realized just how large the Terravore was.
Games 2 and 3 go the same way; I draw all my Stifles, Wastelands, and Dazes while he stumbles on mana. In game three he has a shot to block my guys (including Terravore) and make a cool play with Knight of the Reliquary fetching Bojuka Bog to crush me, but I have Stifle to stop that.
3-0-1 in matches, 7-2 in games
Round 5: Charles Gordon, Landstill *SCG FEATURE MATCH*
â€¢ I made a terrible play mistake with Knight of the Reliquary in game 2. As the coverage says, the Knight was a 6/6. Charles was at 14, and I attacked him with it before sacrificing a Windswept Heath. This left him at 8 and gave him an extra turn to draw something to get back in the game.
â€¢ His deck was really good; I felt it was one of the best decks in the tournament. He was also a far better player than I was. (I felt this was true about two of my opponents all day.)
4-0-1 in matches, 9-3 in games
Round 6: Matt Nass, ANT *GGSLIVE FEATURE MATCH*
This match should be archived on the ggslive YouTube channel in the near future, so keep an eye out for it.
I can’t remember all that well what happened in game 1 of this match, and I’m loathe to make anything up since it will be immediately contradicted by the archived video coverage, so I’ll just say that I do remember the game went like this matchup tends to — I play an early Tarmogoyf and ride it to victory behind a lot of annoying counterspells.
We play a long and drawn-out game two where I have Vendilion Clique + Karakas going with me solidly in the driver’s seat until I decide to throw it away. Matt targets me with Duress and inexplicably I return Vendilion Clique to my hand with Karakas and cast it in response to his Duress. He shrugs and I take a Ritual from him. He resolves Duress, taking a Stifle, and then casts Chain of Vapor on my Vendilion Clique, spins his Sensei’s Divining Top, and Thoughtseizes the card from my hand.
I eventually stick a threat and he runs out of time, pulling the trigger on two Lion’s Eye Diamonds and Ill-Gotten Gains, but I return Stifle, Force of Will, and Brainstorm. He casts Duress, I Force of Will it, and he’s drawing dead because he can’t flip his top even if he finds something while filtering due to Stifle (his Brain Freeze in his hand is not lethal).
5-0-1 in matches, 11-4 in games
Round 7: Stephen Gusin, Merfolk
This is my win-and-in match, and given my bad breakers, it’s looking like I might not make the Top 8 with a loss here depending on what others do. Fortunately for me, he’s playing Merfolk, which is a pretty solid matchup.
Game 1 goes as planned as I play large green creatures and draw two Swords to Plowshares for his Lords of Atlantis.
Game 2 he executes his plan, crippling my manabase with Wasteland and Vialing out too many Lords for me to deal with.
Game 3 he is able to get four Merfolk lords in play, but my Terravore and Knight of the Reliquary are too large for him to deal with. He makes a reasonable block, but I scoop his board with a critical Swords to Plowshares on his Lord of Atlantis. He can never alpha strike me for the win because I’m managing my Islands in play with Knight of the Reliquary and holding back lands in my hand. I make another play error when I fail to realize that I can kill his Cursecatcher in combat when I Plow one of his lords. Another great play by yours truly.
6-0-1 in matches, 13-5 in games
Round 8: John MacFadden, Zoo
I get a few requests to play this round and eliminate someone from Top 8 contention so I can help some friends out, but I get paired up against the only undefeated player and it doesn’t make sense to play, as we’re both in Top 8 with any result. As such, we intentionally draw, and I go to the local grocery store to pick up a bag of carrots and lemonade to refuel.
I take some time to sort my deck before the elimination rounds start, and they announce that I’ll be going in sixth overall, playing against Daniel Marley with Zoo.
6-0-2 in matches, 13-5 in games
Quarterfinals: Daniel Marley, Zoo
After Bill Stark has us fill out the initial paperwork for the elimination rounds (I refuse a Top 8 split, as Luis does as well), I sit down and ask the judge if they’ll be deck checking us. He says no, and I start shuffling my sorted deck. This was Daniel’s first big tournament, as he typically plays small Legacy tournaments at the local store (First Pick Games in Seattle). He was very nervous and talkative, which was understandable. I definitely remember what it was like the first top I made the Top 8 of a PTQ.
As we present, we get deck checked, as did the other non-feature match in the quarterfinals. I sit back and relax while Daniel is visibly quite nervous about the whole process.
After the decks come back with no errors, we get underway. Daniel wins the die roll, and we’re off.
I win game 1 on the back of timely spot removal, large creatures, and keeping Steppe Lynx off the board. Lynx is the most vital creature to keep off the board in this matchup and you have to manage your life total and nonbasics in play rather well due to the threat of Price of Progress.
In game 2 I take a single mulligan and get run over by Daniel’s early start. I can’t remember much from the first or second games because of the craziness in the third game…
So in the third game (which should be archived on ggslive at some point) we have a long drawn-out attrition battle that inexplicably ends due to time being called. We go to extra turns where the game will be decided on life totals, and Daniel attempts to cast Price of Progress to draw the life totals but forgets that he has a Plateau, putting him 2 life points below mine in the last of extra turns. Just like that, I’m the winner of the quarterfinals match.
People who watched this game figured out that Daniel plays glacially slow (especially when dealing with Sylvan Library), but I’m no blitz player myself either. I think that untimed matches in elimination rounds are a very bad idea, and though I probably benefited from it in this particular instance, it’s the only negative thing I have to say about this otherwise very well-run tournament.
Semi-Finals: Kevin Ambler, Merfolk
Finals: Matt Smith, Zoo
Game 1 showed the power of Stifle + Wasteland, even on the draw. Matt cast a Wild Nacatl from a Taiga, and I Stifled his second fetchland and Wasted his Taiga, leaving him with nothing but a 1/1. Since most Zoo decks are light on land, he very well could have been dead right there. Sadly for me, he had plenty of land to come after that and was able to burn me out.
Game 2 showed the power of never giving up. Getting angry at needing to double mulligan and saying to yourself: “Well, it had to happen eventually. Can’t win this one,” doesn’t do you any good and mentally prepares you to lose. You always need to keep yourself in the game mentally, even when things look bleak. People also questioned my play of keeping Engineered Explosives up when he was attacking me with Loam Lion for multiple turns. I was plenty happy to let the Loam Lion attack me down while I stranded what I thought were Grim Lavamancers and other one-drops in his hand, since my hand was light on removal.
Game 3, Matt kept a terrible hand on the play. If I had Wasteland, the game would have been over immediately. I cast Swords to Plowshares on his 1/1 Wild Nacatl because unlike the second game, I wanted to remove any source of permanent damage immediately and get my Knight of the Reliquary + Wasteland mana denial plan online as quickly as possible. He had Path to Exile for his Nacatl, which I had to Daze, and my mana denial plan came online a bit late.
There were a few more plays that people wondered about in that final game as well. The first was casting Vendilion Clique and taking one of his two Prices of Progress instead of his Lightning Bolt and locking out Price of Progress with my Meddling Mage. The reason I didn’t do this is because I wanted to take game-breaking cards out of his hand (Price of Progress was the only one here) and that he was very likely to draw a removal spell for my Meddling Mage, leaving him with two copies of the best card against me in his hand. I took a Price of Progress, fully aware that he would Lightning Bolt my Meddling Mage, thus getting two cards out of his hand that I really don’t want him to have. It was worth the chance that I’d give him another land with Vendilion Clique (which I did).
The second questionable play was holding Swords to Plowshares in my hand the entire game instead of casting it on his Tarmogoyf and applying pressure with my Tarmogoyf as well as my Knight of the Reliquary and Vendilion Clique. Let it be known that I think that the correct play in a vacuum is to plow the Tarmogoyf and start attacking, but to understand why I played far more conservatively requires understanding how I play the game of Magic. By nature, I do not play aggressively (despite the “Boddy Red” deck, I’m very much a mono-Blue player at heart). I play extremely conservatively, and every time I’ve tried to switch modes in mid-game, I tend to miss things and make huge mistakes. This is a lesson that was cemented in my head even more when I watched Gerry Thompson draft while staying at my place for GP: Seattle — he helped me to understand better lines of play and strategic maneuvering of resources. So, going back to the situation at hand, here are the reasons that I held the Swords to Plowshares besides the fact that I am far more comfortable playing conservatively:
â€¢ My opponent kept a Horizon Canopy + Wild Nacatl + Path to Exile opening hand. He clearly didn’t understand what role he was playing in this matchup on the play, and it probably meant that he would make future strategic mistakes down the line. I wanted to keep my best weapon in my hand rather than give him a chance to peel a back-breaking card (like a second Kitchen Finks) that gave him the edge.
â€¢ Playing not to lose is frequently the correct line of play, especially in that situation. My opponent was far behind on board already — he was getting attacked repeatedly by a huge Knight of the Reliquary and an essentially unblockable (and due to Karakas , unkillable) Vendilion Clique. By plowing his Tarmogoyf, I further push my advantage and can possibly end the game sooner, but it gives him outs to stabilize or buy more turns via Kitchen Finks or his own Swords to Plowshares / Path to Exile. I saw no reason to increase my already sizeable edge.
The last interesting play was running my Rhox War Monk into his Tarmogoyf on the second-to-last turn of the match. I did this to gain three life points, knowing full-well that he had just one turn to pull the trigger on Price of Progress. That play is fairly simple, but a few people asked me about it, so there you go.
Whew! It felt good to win a Magic tournament despite not playing competitive Magic in a long time. The Legacy format is really open and I felt that Charles Gordon had the best deck in the Top 16. Both Charles and Matt Nass played far better than me, but I got lucky against Charles and Matt was facing a nightmare matchup, and sometimes that’s how Magic goes.
Before I talk about the few changes I’d make to the deck, I’d like to quickly address the feeling that many Legacy players have about “their” format. Many Legacy players on many forums talk about how Legacy is a “different animal” and that the format isn’t something that “pros” can pick up right away and do well in. Well, aside from the fact that every major Legacy tournament held by Wizards of the Coast has been won by a non-Legacy specialist, I think that Charles “Aceman” Dupont put it perfectly over the weekend: Just because you play tennis on clay all year with your friends doesn’t mean you’re better than Roger Federer on that surface. The game is still the exact same as Constructed Magic. You have 20 life points, 60 card minimums in your deck, and you draw the same amount of cards to start the game. Most “pros” have been playing Magic for a long time and have seen all the interactions that are popular in the game. Storm combo has been around forever in many formats, as has Reanimator, Threshold, Zoo, Countertop, Merfolk, and so forth. The attitude that Legacy is a special format is really off-putting and it is quite insulting. Constructed Magic is Constructed Magic. Period. Certainly not all Legacy players feel this way, but enough people have expressed this sentiment to me that I wanted to write about it briefly and say that there’s not some mystical force that make the format somehow different than constructed Magic. Remember, this was my second Legacy tournament ever. (In my first one, I went 1-2-1 with Countertop.)
As far as my deck goes, I’d like to play some more spot removal in the sideboard. Cards like Path to Exile were huge in the mirror and would shore up the Zoo/Goblins matchup. Ideally you want cards like Dueling Grounds, Ghostly Prison, and Propaganda, but all of them are weak to Qasali Pridemage and Propaganda is a prime target for Red Elemental Blast. I expect Goblins to become more popular, however, so the enchantments might be a solid choice against them. They’re just not very good against Zoo, as they have built-in protection against those solutions.
Armageddon might be good against control decks and 43 Land, but you tend to beat those decks anyway. Colin McCune (a local ringer) was playing Wrath of God in his sideboard, which was a huge surprise for some Reanimator opponents (to say nothing of its effectiveness against Zoo/Goblins/Merfolk and so forth).
You probably don’t need so many Krosan Grips, and the Meddling Mages aren’t really that great either. In short, you definitely want something against creature-based decks in there, and possibly a few copies of Spell Pierce or Spell Snare. You absolutely do NOT want to cut Stifle from the maindeck, and cutting lands for more spells seems wrong given the fact that Horizon Canopy is a half of a mana-producing land at best while the Wastelands are maybe a third of a mana-producing land.
This report is already too long, so let me wrap it up with some old school props and slops:
To the people who lent me pieces for the deck: Jesse Hampton, Kent Ketter, David Bedoll
Cedric Phillips, for being awesome
Rashad Miller and Ben Swartz for running ggslive — Magic has needed this for years
Bill Stark for his excellent match coverage
Star City Games for running a great tournament