Going To Lille

Carsten Kotter isn’t quite comfortable with his deck choice for Grand Prix Lille, and he showcases his metagame analysis and deck options while synthesizing something new for the event!

I’m writing this as I’m sitting on the bus that will carry me close enough to Lille to reach a generous host who has offered to put me up for the weekend (thanks Tom!). The thing I’m thinking about on the trip – well the thing you guys would actually be interested in, the Magic-related thing – is what I should be playing.

I have been reasonably happy with Miracles in Legacy, yet I don’t feel the deck actually gives me the kind of advantage I’d hope for when going into an event. I’m tempted to try Storm again – after all, other players manage to still make the deck outperform just about anything – but after running Storm into a bunch of Omni-Tell and Delver lists with Dig Through Time, I once again don’t feel the edge I’ve usually felt when picking up the deck. In the end, Storm’s problem feels easy to diagnose: it doesn’t run Dig Through Time and that just has to be doing it wrong.

Pulling A Stunt

So what am I going to do, I wonder? Well, one thing that seems like it might work when discussing Miracles with Sith from The Source when he stopped over in Berlin is that, with the metagame in the state it is, Swords to Plowshares ends up feeling like a dead card more often than not. At the same time, Pyroblast and Dig Through Time are cards I want to draw against almost anything – so why don’t we just cut the stupid white cards for those that I want instead most of the time?

The theory is easy: Terminus is in and of itself quite a bit of defense against creature decks and I happen to sideboard out Swords to Plowshares against most midrange-y blue decks, be it Stoneblade or Grixis Control, anyway. You can’t overload on removal when you need to win the card advantage (or at least countermagic count) war, after all, and Terminus is much better at answering True-Name Nemesis and Young Pyromancer. That means I basically have four maindeck sideboard cards in my Miracles list squarely aimed at just Delver of Secrets and fringe Dark Confidant/Tarmogoyf strategies. That doesn’t seem like an ideal setup.

Also, the theory seems sound to me as a corollary of way back in the day when Fact or Fiction was dominating Vintage. Keeper (four- to five-color control, the descendant of The Deck) wasn’t the best Fact or Fiction deck – Mono-Blue Draw-Go had that honor, or maybe U/R Workshop Aggro – but obviously Keeper couldn’t readily ignore the card advantage arms race. And it didn’t, with the result that the deck started cutting creature removal spells for more and more card drawing. After all, you wouldn’t want to draw Swords to Plowshares against a fellow Fact or Fiction mage, and conveniently enough the increased card draw count meant you still saw enough removal spells to reasonably defend yourself. Dig Through Time feels a lot like Fact or Fiction did back in those days, down to the good old acronym.

EoTFoFYL (End of Turn Fact or Fiction You Lose)

Now the fact that I want to replace those cards with Pyroblasts and more Dig Through Times is a pretty big slap in the face of someone (me) who didn’t think Dig was unduly warping the format just yet, but in fact I’ve just been slow to realize what’s going on. However, that really isn’t something for the article at hand – no matter how warped the format, it’s the one I’ll be playing this weekend.

So what would such a list look like? Well, here’s my first draft:

This is still missing a Snapcaster Mage or two – nice with Pyroblast and now more important than ever to recur Brainstorm to enable Digged-into Terminii – and maybe that’s what the Preordains should be in the first place, though I want to run for Dig Through Time and that might force a couple of extra cantrips on me.

In the end, I’m just too chicken to run such a massively divergent list cold – and the time for testing is pretty much over, seeing as the GP is going to start tomorrow. Getting rid of all the cheap spot removal in one fell swoop could easily change the inner workings of the deck to a point that I simply don’t feel sure I can predict how the deck will handle, and that in turn might mean I just end up dead to too many things too often. I would run something this extreme into a smaller event, maybe even a rather big one like Prague Eternal. I won’t run it into a GP.

At The Crossroads

So instead, I’m reasonably sure I’ll be selling my soul to the devil for some real demon rum this weekend. If you follow my ideas, you might have an idea what I might mean when I say I’m selling my soul – yes, this beast:

Nope, I didn’t think it’d happen either but unless I get cold feet at the last second, I’ll be bringing things to class this weekend – with a twist naturally, but before we explore that let me lead you through my reasoning.

I believe that Dig Through Time is fundamentally broken and that not playing the card to its maximum potential just has to be a mistake. So what I should do is just take the best Dig Through Time deck and run with that, right? Well, there are actually two decks that claim that title

One is a broken combo deck, the other a broken card-advantage aggro-control deck that feels a helluva lot like good old Super Gro when played by someone actually experienced with the archetype (instead of someone who treated it as a “cast creatures and smash” kind of deck). Overall, I think both lists have their strong points but I also think each has its own tragic flaw.

Grixis has a flimsy win condition and the same problem my Dragon list had back in January: you’re an awesome control deck but you really can’t kill a Tarmogoyf (or Tasigur, or whatever large beatstick) with decent efficiency. That makes it really hard to win when the opponent brings enough resilient threats to the table and is otherwise equipped to fight back adequately. In short, it’s missing the tools to truly go over the top of other grindy midrange strategies – especially ones running Punishing Fire.

Omni-Tell on the other hand is super-linear, can’t win without Show and Tell (which means somthing like Trinisphere in hand is probably game) and while it is a powerful, fast combo deck, it just doesn’t feel flexible enough to make up for its comparatively low speed and reliance on what is effectively a three-card combo. In Storm, being linear is fine, you’re modular enough to play around most things opponents come up with by adapting your combo lines. Omni-Tell has exactly one line and if that one is out, so are you. In addition, its secondary set of disruption spells always seems terrible no matter which ones are chosen. I don’t think I could justify running such a one-track deck.

It seems I’m stuck, huh?

Never fear. GerryT to the rescue!

Remember this little daily digest? Because I can’t get it out of my head. Ever since seeing Jacksad’s decklist, the following train of thought has been coalescing in my mind:

Dig Through Time is the most powerful card in Legacy. Grixis Control and Omni-Tell are the best Dig Through Time decks, not close. Now, looking at the actual cards in both decks, we find an insane amount of overlap, to the point that, while winning differently, most of the lists are pretty much identical with a different way to profit from the Dig Through Time – cantrip cartel – Gitaxian Probe shell, even though they end up playing as completely different archetypes. Remember that article I wrote a couple of years ago about the superiority of hybrid decks? This looks like a perfect case to apply some hybridization.

Having a deck that can be either Grixis Control when it suits it (against anything combo-y or blue and midrange-y, basically) and Omni-Tell combo when that’s preferable (anything fringe as well as anything focused on dealing damage fast) seems like the perfect solution to either deck’s weaknesses. When there are too many Tarmogoyfs to cope, just become omniscient and do something that really doesn’t care about random creatures mucking up the ground and trying to attack. When your combo is too hard to make work or too much hate is focused on it, just cast a Young Pyromancer, keep cantripping to your hearts content, and overrun them with the raw power of massive card drawing and free Elementals.

Basically what we’re trying to do here is to take the Super Gro deck of the format and turn it into a deck that can play like a combo deck – in short when we have Gro, so let’s build freaking GAT!

The kind of gameplay this deck delivers is exactly the kind of combo-aggro-control game GAT brought to the table in Vintage. I mean, this clearly is a lot more clunky than the best deck ever made – you have clunky pieces in your deck instead of just Fastbond and Yawgmoth’s Will, though GAT’s Psychatog plus Cunning Wish for Berserk combo is surprisingly close, mana cost-wise, to the costs incurred by casting Show and Tell for Omniscience – and the deck’s combo mode is eerily reminiscent, too, seeing as GAT comboed out by turning a super-powerful, mana-efficient draw engine (Gush) into a full combo tool – which is exactly what Omniscience does to Dig Through Time. Yes, it’s worse – but being worse than GAT is a pretty decent place to be in, GAT likely is one of if not the best deck ever made, after all. Now, I don’t like Jacksad’s exact list (in particular the high clunk-count similar to traditional Sneak and show lists) but the concept seems like the perfect thing to be doing to max-value DTT.

Some tinkering and crafting later, and here is something very close to what I’m very likely running cold come tomorrow:

My one regret about doing this is that I wish I had ignored my preferences (I really don’t like Show and Tell) and started working on this the first moment I laid eyes on Gerry’s article, but sadly I didn’t. This still conceptually feels like the most awesomely broken thing you could be doing with Dig Through Time, so I think even with zero experience and testing, this is the deck for me to play. It’s close enough to a ton of other decks I’ve played and I at the very least love all the cantripping and drawing cards, I know my Probe plus Therapy game and honestly, the combo really isn’t hard to understand here – neither is “play Pyro and go nuts”.

In short, I feel like I’ve stumbled over the best thing that there is to do in the format and I’ll be damned if I lose out on using it because I’m too afraid to jump into the cold water. If I scrub out with something else, I’ll forever ask myself what would have been if I’d run this. If I scrub out with this, on the other hand, I’ll feel okay knowing that I took a chance based on what my gut and analysis are telling me even if both of those turn out to be wrong. Life happens, we mustn’t let it be ruled by fear. It isn’t like I’m abandoning a deck that I feel utterly comfortable bringing in the first place for something utterly far out, after all. Even if this doesn’t prove to be as revolutionary and awesome as it looks, it’s still built on two of the most successful decks in the format with what is most likely the strongest core in the format right now. In short, even if it doesn’t work as advertised, it still should be doing something decent.

The Benefit Of Hindsight

When you guys and gals are reading this, GP Lille will be over and we’ll all know how my little experiment turned out. If I’m lucky (and right about this Frankenstein’s Monster), you might already have seen me sitting in the Top Eight and enjoying the fruits of having taken a chance. If I’m not, well, at least I’ll be comforted by the knowledge that I took the chance I thought worth taking with my eyes wide open. Can’t really ask for much more when you’re convinced just going with the good old isn’t going to cut it.

That’s it from me for today, hopefully you successfully wished me luck retroactively and I can write a glorious tournament report!