There. Now that you have the decklist, you can silently judge me and flip to the next article. For those of you who actually want to read what I have to say about it, please continue.
I wasn’t planning on going to the StarCityGames.com Orlando Open. Zach Efland told me I had a free place to stay that was very close to both the airport and the tournament site. Then I found out about the crew that was going, and it included some of my favorite people in the world. Also, I knew that if I didn’t do well in the events there would be plenty of drafts, not to mention that the ggslive.com crew was doing coverage. I finally decided to look up flights to show myself it wasn’t financially feasible, only to find that there were multiple cheap flights from the tiny airport 20 minutes from my house to the one 5 minutes away from Efland’s. It was becoming harder and harder to talk myself out of going, which is my default response to any option other than sitting at home. Eventually I gave in to myself and booked the flight, ready to game and hang out with the Floridians. I used to laugh about everyone that was hanging out. Now I don’t talk so loud, nor do I seem too proud.
Day 1 was uneventful. I played UW Tap-Out Control, or as I like to call it, Exponential Blue. I lost round 1 to a RDW splashing Black. Game 1 is a bad match-up, and then I boarded something like 10 cards. It all comes down to turn 6ish; he has 2 cards in hand, and I have 2 Baneslayers. I cast one and it gets Bolt + Bursted at end of turn. He draws and passes, so I cast my second Angel. He draws and Deathmarks it, and I died a few turns later.
Round 2, I beat a more Chapin-esque style UW deck that wasn’t played very well. Round 3 I beat Korey Duffie in a ggslive feature-match playing Jund. Game 1 I fall to 6 but stabilize and he doesn’t have the burn to finish me off. Game 2, he keeps a two-lander on the play, and I have a Spreading Seas to buy something like 3 turns while he missed land drops, and that was enough.
Round 4, I lost to a Jund + Sedraxis Specter deck. Game 1 I stabilize easily. Game 2 I have a million Flashfreezes and Celestial Purges and Oblivion Rings and Path to Exiles. He plays a Malakir Bloodwitch, which I can still barely race or kill through with Martial Coup tokens and Celestial Colonnade, but he immediately casts a second one and I don’t draw a second Martial Coup off my Mind Spring for 4 with seven mana up. Game 3 I get to a game-state where he has a Putrid Leech and no cards in hand. I cast Baneslayer and pass, and he draws Bloodbraid Elf into Maelstrom Pulse, knocking me to 7. I draw a Day of Judgment, and he draws Siege-Gang Commander. Skill game.
I went to eat and did a little booth work. Tim Landale was whining about wanting to leave because he couldn’t win the 8-man win-a-box tournaments to save his life and wanted to go play poker. I told him to stop all his weeping and swallow his pride; it’s not poison. Efland didn’t care either way, but was going to do what Tim wanted to do. I was happy to be doing coverage, and Gindy was still in the tournament, so they were basically going to strand us there. Luckily, FJ offered up a ride for us, as it was on the way. I was appreciative, but Zach said that the way he was going home was inefficient, and if he wanted to go the fastest way home, we wouldn’t be on the way anymore. I don’t know why Zach was actively trying to strand us there, but luckily it all worked out in the end.
I was up all night leaning on the windowsill tweaking my nice little brew for Sunday. I had wanted to play Enlightened Tutor in a Counterbalance Top shell for a while, and it turns out that someone did just that and made Top 16 at GP: Madrid. I made a few changes to the list and sent it to a few people for some tips. Counterbalance and Enlightened Tutor just click in my mind, as you now have additional pieces of both sides of the combo and a way to find cards that wholly answer everything that snuck through before you locked down their spells. Enlightened Tutor also becomes Counterspell when you have a Counterbalance in play, with or without Top, due to being able to put a three-drop Artifact or Enchantment on the top in response to the Counterbalance trigger when they play a three-drop, then flip it up and counter the spell.
Rashad Miller, one of my advisors and the resident expert on the 43 Land deck, and asked how I could get my deck to consistently smash it. I figured a lot of people will be playing it since Chris Woltereck won with it 2 weeks prior in Indianapolis. He suggested adding Back to Basics as an Enlightened Tutor toolbox item. When I said that made the mana bad at casting Dark Confidant and Enlightened Tutor, he suggested just cutting Black. It made total sense to me.
The deck doesn’t need to draw a ton of cards like your more classic The Deck style deck would need to, which is what this looks like at first. The difference is that with Sensei’s Divining Top in conjunction with Counterbalance, you can create game-states where so many of their cards are just going to be countered for free that it’s like you drew that many cards. Having the Enlightened Tutor to set up the soft lock as soon and consistently as possible is key, and the fact that you can blank entire decks with 1 card (that costs you another card) in Enlightened Tutor makes up for the fact that you are a control deck that doesn’t draw cards. Does it matter how many cards you are up if you have Back to Basics against Land? Does it matter how many cards you are up if you have Moat against Goblins? Enlightened Tutor is just a great Magic card. You need a steam-shovel to keep away the dead, and a dump truck to unload your head. She brings you everything and more.
Your absurd card selection suite helps make up for the fact that you don’t have raw card advantage engines like Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge or Fact or Fiction. Having 4 Tops, 4 Brainstorm, 2 Jace the Mind Sculptor, and lots of shuffle effects (fetches and tutors) gives you the ability to sift through a ridiculous amount of cards to get to what you need.
Rashad watched a couple of my games and had a great line to describe the deck. He said, “So AJ, how does it feel to have no cards in your hand and know that you can’t possibly lose the game?”. The answer is that it feels pretty good. Counterbalance with a 2 and 3 plus the Top itself for 1, fatesealing them every turn, a Moat, and a Tormod’s Crypt and they have 4 turns to break out of it before their hand becomes their library. Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?
Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek is a page right out of Extended’s playbook. The combo is very powerful and allows for an extremely resilient win condition. The fact that both halves are tutorable with Enlightened Tutor is no coincidence either. Multiple times throughout my tweaking of the deck, the people I showed it to scoffed at my decision to play Tarmogoyfs in the sideboard. The fact is that they are not a very resilient win condition. Every deck has a billion ways to kill it, you can’t Academy Ruins it back or pitch it to Force of Will like you can with Thopter Foundry, and it also makes your mana much worse and your Back to Basics much less effective. I would almost certainly have to add a Forest, which would give the deck yet another land that doesn’t cast Counterbalance. It wouldn’t cast Enlightened Tutor either. It would be great after turn 3 or 4, but to fetch it early could seriously set your development back, and fetching Tropical Island in an otherwise nearly Wasteland-proof deck with Back to Basics in it is not what you want to be doing. Also, it is worth noting that Tarmogoyf does not fly over (or swim across) Moats.
As powerful as it is, Tarmogoyf can lose races. Goblins and Tombstalkers and Rhox War Monks and so on all strap on their Nike’s when Tarmogoyf throws down a challenge, but they just stay in bed and eat potato chips if Thopter-Sword comes a’ knockin. When all of the clowns you have commissioned have died in battle or in vain, you will see that having Swords to Plowshares be dead against the maindeck is a significant advantage. Thopter tokens don’t get triple blocked and killed, or Maze of Ithed, or Swords to Plowshared, or Gempalm Incinerator’d. The comboesque kill can pull you out of burn range, attack and block, and can be tutored for. Think hard before you go down to one of each and find room for Goyfs.
A few cards may seem out of place, so I will take the time to go over a few of them. First is the Crucible of Worlds. It was in my build since the beginning, but when I went to Florida, some people there talked me out of it. Luckily for me, at the last second Rashad did a very nice job of talking me back into it. It was quite good all day. The idea is that once you create this game-state where you can’t realistically lose, you can Top-Fetch or Brainstorm-Fetch or Jace+0-fetch every turn and lock it down. It lets you find the ThopterSword pieces while generating lands to use once you have it assembled. Without Crucible, you can only make about 3 guys a turn with Thopter Foundry and having the ability to see an absurd amount of cards while hitting land drops for free is very powerful. Especially in a deck without any traditional card draw. When you don’t need lands for the rest of the game, your Tops and Brainstorms get a lot better, and the fact that you are shuffling every turn makes them better than better. The life lost is accounted for by the fact that Thopter Foundry gains life once you start to win the game.
It also makes sure you have all the White sources you need, and you can get Academy Ruins back if it gets Wastelanded. And if you have Seat of the Synod and Thopter Foundry, you can make a guy every turn. It may not be the fastest win condition, but it’s quite resilient and the lack of speed is made up for by the fact that you only really go for this when you have Counterbalance and Top, at which point it doesn’t really matter how long you take to kill them.
The one-of Counterspell is a card that may raise some eyebrows. Previously, the Pithing Needle was in the sideboard and I had 2 Daze. The logic behind that was it doesn’t matter if you set yourself back because as long as you can protect Counterbalance-Top, then you’ll have the time to hit your land drops again. Gerry suggested that Dazes are just dead late game and I should simply play Counterspell instead. Especially because the deck has a higher curve than most. Spell Snare was never really considered since the deck needed more two-drops for Counterbalance. Plus, Spell Snare doesn’t counter what I want it to nearly often enough. I want counters that can get a Goblin Ringleader or something else absurd once I have Counterbalance down, because any two-drops that I could Snare are getting countered anyway.
The Pithing Needle was a last-minute addition, as I was playing the deck and was short a card but couldn’t figure out what it was, so I just pulled the Needle from the sideboard. Turns out it was a land, but the Needle was very good (or would have been good if I had drawn it, or had the game continued longer, etc) in the games I played. If you are going to draw a bullet that isn’t very good, Sensei’s Divining Top can help you not draw it; you can put it back with Brainstorm, you can put it back with Jace’s Brainstorm, or you can just draw it and win down a card anyway on the back of your powerful tutor package and soft-lock. Or you could just leave it out on highway 61.
The sideboarding is simple enough: you take out the bad bullets for more good ones. Paths and Goyfs come in against creature decks, and Krosan Grip is there for random hate cards and opposing Counterbalances. There should be a third Krosan Grip and a second Moat in the sideboard, and the Sylvan Library can be cut fairly easily. When sideboarding, be sure to leave your Counterbalance numbers reasonable. You can’t board out all of your three-drops for two-drops against a deck that will have Krosan Grip, for example.
I lost a real heartbreaker in the Top 8 to some unfortunate circumstances, but I wasn’t too upset; the deck I had come up with was very good, and I put myself in a good position to win the whole thing. Julien was the only real bad match-up in the Top 8, not to mention he was probably the best player in it. Sharfman is obviously very good as well, but he doesn’t count in my assessment of the Top 8 for myself because that match-up is so favorable it doesn’t really matter how well he would have played. As for now, my fingers are all tied in a knot. I didn’t think I had the strength to get up and take another shot only a week later, but a few days in my own bed and I am on my way to Houston for the Grand Prix.
I’m almost definitely going to be playing a pretty out-there rogue deck, so hopefully it pans out well and I look like a genius. Otherwise, I’ll just be a buffoon who brought a joke deck to a gun fight. If that is the case I will probably be able to do some coverage or drafting and side events. Hopefully I won’t have to do that, though, as I’ll still be in the main event.
This gets published after the GP, so you already know how that panned out for me. Until next time, sound off in the forums. I won’t be reading any letters, however. That is, not unless you mail them from Desolation Row.
P.S. By popular demand, here’s a quick rundown of my tournament. I don’t want to write a full report since Legacy is still pretty minimally enjoyed (which is a shame, as it’s the best format in Magic). Here you go:
Round 1, Belcher. Game one I Force of Will on turn 2, then get Counterbalance/Top going early and start Jacing him out. Game two, I Swords to Plowshares a Xantid Swarm paid for with a Lotus Petal. I Brainstorm putting a 2 as the bottom card. I draw and tap out to play Counterbalance and a Top, so I have 1 or 2 locked out. He Land Grants showing me mana cards, including a Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Burning Wish. I let Land Grant resolve and get him to 0 cards before showing him I had a 2 on top the whole time when he casts the Wish.
Round 2, Reanimator. Game one he is flooding a bit early which allows me to take my time to Brainstorm on my turn instead of running it out there on end step. He cracks his fetches immediately but doesn’t play a spell with the mana. He draws a Brainstorm after senselessly cracking 3 fetches, bricks off and complains. I get Jace going, playing around Daze, and kill him. I sideboard as if he is Reanimator despite not seeing any trademark cards because I figure I can beat Team America fairly easily, and that’s the only other deck he could conceivably be playing. Turns out he is Reanimator. I let him Reanimate a Sphinx of the Steel Wind and Swords to Plowshares it. Shortly thereafter I get two Counterbalances and two Tops in play, and start winning with 0 cards in hand.
Round 3, Dredge. Game one, I Swords to Plowshares a Putrid Imp and then Enlightened Tutor for Tormod’s Crypt. I cast it along with my natural Counterbalance-Top. He dredges a bunch and plays the occasional spell that gets countered for free. I play a Moat so his guys can’t attack, and a Crucible, and can now fetch every turn while facing down only one Narcomeoba of pressure. He Dredges and hits 2 Narcomeobas, and I think about cracking Tormod’s Crypt. Looking back, I probably should have. Counterbalance + Top is a lot of protection, and I think I had a Force of Will in hand at this point as well, without a Blue card. Zombie tokens can’t swim a Moat, so the Narcomeobas should have gotten Crypted. Instead, I let it resolve and continued looking and shuffling and looking and shuffling, but I can’t find a Thopter Foundry or an Enlightened Tutor to close him out of the game despite seeing a ridiculous amount of cards. The fact that I came so close to beating Dredge game 1 (and probably should have if I didn’t punt) goes to show the capabilities of this deck, as most dedicated control decks roll over in this match-up.
Game two, he Cabal Therapy’s me on the draw, and I let it resolve despite having an Enlightened Tutor in hand. The key here is that I quickly let it resolve. If I had thought about it, a good player would pick up on that and know where I was in the hand. Instead, he named Brainstorm due to the fact that I played a Fetchland on turn 1 and usually don’t raw-dog my Brainstorms. I’m fairly certain that was the incorrect name, but there was no way he could name Enlightened Tutor, which is all that mattered. I play a Counterbalance early and he plays some sicko two-drop like an Ideas Unbound or something, and I Enlightened Tutor for Wheel of Sun and Moon, countering the Ideas Unbound with Counterbalance. I cast the Wheel and the game goes on for a lot longer, despite the fact that he was never really in it. Game 3 my hand is very good for this match-up; Tormod’s Crypt, Wheel of Sun and Moon, and either Sensei’s Divining Top or Enlightened Tutor. Maybe there was another spell in there, I don’t remember. This match was covered by ggslive, so you can probably find it. I knew I was going to win and was playing very quickly to avoid getting clocked out, so excuse me for missing some details of this game.
Round 4, Goblins. Game one, Moat you. Game two I kept a slow hand and got punished by a very good start. I Swords to Plowshares a Goblin Lackey on one and he just brings the pain. Game three, I get Counterbalance/Top going and play a Moat as he is working with only Mountains. He draws a fetch and Krosan Grips the Moat and hits me for like 9. On the back-foot all of a sudden, I Swords to Plowshares the Piledriver and start assembling ThopterSword. I Force of Will a Goblin Ringleader and get Thopters going. I saw basic Swamp from him in game 1, so I am making all of my guys on my turn in case he draws a Black source and has Extirpate. A Tarmogoyf stands off and I Counterbalance a few guys randomly. He catches me without a three on top and resolves a Matron, but makes a costly mistake and gets Goblin Chieftain instead of another Ringleader. He plays it and bashes with his guys, and Thopters eat his team while Goyf trades with a Piledriver. I Top and don’t find any two- or three-drops, but I have the Swords to Plowshares I have been floating for a few turns to make my land drops to make more Thopters. I make my guys sorcery speed again, leaving up a White. He tries to get a big Piledriver turn going, but I spin Top and Thopters close it out. He shows me the Extirpate in his hand, but it only would have mattered the first couple of turns. Once I had made guys for a few turns he was too behind to comeback with the split second combo-breaker.
Round 5, Lands. Probably the easiest match-up for this deck. I get Counterbalance-Top going early thanks to Enlightened Tutor and just shut him out of the game while I find a Jace. Game two, I get Jace going with Counterbalance/Top and a Wheel of Sun and Moon enchanting him. I float three-drops for a while to make sure he doesn’t hit something like runner-runner Krosan Grips. Eventually, Jace sculpts another mind.
Round 6 and 7, ID.
Top 8, Game one he opens on double Mox Diamond, Burning Wish. I rawdog a Counterbalance and miss when he Burning Wishes for Reverent Silence to kill it. I draw a Top with Brainstorm and start going to work. He spends his turn Burning Wishing for a Devastating Dreams. I can’t find a counter, so I need him to not hit 2 lands in his 3 card Dredge of Life from the Loam to leave myself 1 land (with one in hand). He hits 2 lands, though, and wipes out my mana. I play the basic I was holding and start digging again. I draw a Counterbalance I had on top, but can’t find another Blue. He makes some mistakes in his engine that give me a couple of extra draw steps, but I can’t find the mana for my Counterbalance with a Sword of the Meek still floating.
Game two, I mulligan into a pretty bad hand. He does some stuff while I play Counterbalance and Top. He plays Null Rod, which locks out my Top. The next few turns he does some stuff and I keep hitting cards that are dead for my Counterbalance and for my draw step, like Island, Top, Island, Island, Seat of the Synod. Eventually he plays a win condition and I flip another Island, and my tournament was over. Also, at some point during this game I made a sick play of not flipping to Counterbalance when he Loams for a fetch and a basic, hoping that he would run something into my top card. He did play his second Null Rod, but I bricked off anyway, so my attempted trickiness was for naught.
I made mistakes sideboarding in the final match due to being rushed by the judge. He was right to rush me, as I was taking too long and deserved the warning I received. I just wish I could have made better decisions in the time-frame available. Things like that come from knowing a deck and a metagame, and seeing as it was the first tournament I had ever played with the deck, and the second tournament of new-age Legacy that I had participated in, I don’t beat myself up too much for not being able to figure out the optimal sideboarding plan for a deck no one plays in under three minutes. Next time, I won’t make the same mistakes.