Homeward Bound: The Story Of #GPDC

If you’re looking for a Legacy deck to play at SCG Open Series: Providence this weekend, don’t miss this article by Sam Black about the Bant deck he took to the Top 4 of #GPDC.

I’m currently on a flight home from Washington DC after another successful weekend. I’ve been away from home since I left to prepare for Pro Tour Theros, and I somehow managed to Top 8 all three premier events I played in on this trip. I feel like Reid Duke, and maybe that’s because I played his deck.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been working as a game development consultant with Cryptozoic on Hex, their online CCG. It’s a fun game that plays very similarly to Magic but will only exist online. It uses digital space to do some cool things and allow for some unique mechanics. You should check it out when it comes out.

I was looking forward to working there because I’ve never had a job like that but have always wanted to work on game development. I also wanted to see what having a regular full-time job would feel like. After I finished my first day, I realized that the job felt a lot like preparing for a Pro Tour—except that it was only an eight-hour day and then at the end of the day I had time for other things. But I was away from home in Irvine, CA, and I didn’t know anyone or have a car, so I didn’t really want to do other things. I immediately switched to a more comfortable schedule of working twelve- or fourteen-hour days.

This was awesome since it let me get a lot more work done in the very short time I was out there, but it meant I had no time for things like Magic (though I’d be lying if I said we didn’t manage to work in time for a couple Theros drafts).

I mention all of this to explain my preparation—or lack thereof—for this Legacy GP.

When True-Name Nemesis was spoiled, I knew the card looked incredible and wanted to play it, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. Maybe Merfolk, maybe Delver, maybe something else. I mentioned the card to Reid at GP Louisville, and he said he was also looking to play it but was thinking in Bant where he could accelerate to it with Noble Hierarch. We said we’d keep in touch.

Before True-Name Nemesis was released, Reid won a SCG Legacy Open with a Bant deck that I believe he was just playing as a prototype to test the shell of his future True-Name Nemesis deck. I think that’s why people thought that deck looked so bad; it wasn’t the real deck yet.

So on Friday before DC, when I was leaving California, I messaged Reid to ask what he was playing. I’d failed to keep up my end and provide any useful insight whatsoever, but Reid generously sent me his list and said he was very confident in it, so I set about trying to get the cards together without even looking closely at which cards were in it.

The numbers all looked pretty arbitrary, and I didn’t know anything about how he sideboarded with the deck. But I trusted that Reid knew what he was doing and that I could figure it out.

Now that I’ve played the deck, I think I can go over the reasoning for some of the numbers before I get into my matches.

People were surprised that the deck had room for four Force of Wills and four True-Name Nemesises and assumed that some package must have needed to be cut to make room for all that. Did I still have Stoneforge Mystic? And Green Sun’s Zenith? And Knight of the Reliquary? How could I fit all that?

Trimming is the answer of course. Only three Mystics, three Zeniths, two Knights, and one Jace. It’s all still there, but there aren’t as many.

This is definitely my kind of deck. With so many ways to see more cards or search your library, having some of something is radically different from having none of it, but having more of it isn’t necessarily as much better as having some. This deck has all the tools; it’s just great at playing Magic.

This deck is looking to curve out with amazing threats and disrupt the opponent as necessary. The cards that there are fewer than four of, like Stoneforge Mystic, Green Sun’s Zenith, and Knight of the Reliquary, aren’t really cards you want to draw multiples of; you just want to play one on curve and then do other things.

Force of Will might be the card in this deck that most impressed me. This is noteworthy not because I’m just saying Force of Will is a good card—I’ve known that since I’ve played a lot of decks with Force of Will—but because it managed to exceed expectations despite that. Why was it so good in this deck in particular?

In Merfolk, Force of Will isn’t just a card that doesn’t support what the rest of your deck is trying to do (overwhelm the opponent with tribal synergies); it pulls another card out of the critical mass you’re trying to build. It’s a necessary evil in Legacy because of how powerful some spells are in some decks, but any time your opponent is playing a fair game of Magic, you want nothing to do with it.

In control, you have powerful plays you’re trying to protect, and you need it early to buy time to get to your powerful late game. But at the end of the day, you’re often forced to play an attrition game of some kind, and Force of Will isn’t helping the cause.

Force of Will is probably at its best in decks like Show and Tell that just need to set up a single play and don’t require a lot of different cards working together to make that play (this second concept is why it’s better in Show and Tell than in Storm).

This deck is oddly similar. True-Name Nemesis’s detractors say that it’s absurd to play a three-mana three-power creature when you can play a three-mana spell that "wins the game" instead, but I think Show and Tell requires a lot of other things to go right. Also, True-Name Nemesis basically wins the game against a surprising number of people.  The plays in this deck are so individually powerful that you just need to make sure they stick; after that, they’ll generally be worth several cards.

It also helps that this deck plays an unusually high number of mana sources, making hard casting Force of Will not at all out of the question.

Usually, I sideboard Force of Will out against anyone who doesn’t have a spell that will kill me if it resolves. But in this tournament, I don’t think I ever sided out more than one, and I mostly played against fair decks.

In the Top 8, Reid suggested that I should board out Force of Will against both Craig Wescoe and Owen Turtenwald, but it just didn’t seem right to me. This deck is just so good at winning even when it’s behind on cards by playing a trump or two that you just always want Force of Will.

Speaking of which, Force of Will is the reason the deck plays four True-Name Nemesises and only two Knight of the Reliquarys. Drawing multiple Knights can be clunky, but you can usually be pretty happy pitching a second True-Name Nemesis to Force of Will.

I think that basically explains the maindeck, and I loved the way it played and wouldn’t be quick to change any of Reid’s numbers.

As for the sideboard, it’s pretty straightforward. The maindeck is built to play the best possible fair game of Magic, and then the sideboard is full of tools to beat various unfair decks. Against most of my opponents, I just boarded in Jitte and one other card, but I did use every card in the sideboard throughout the tournament.

I played against RUG Delver three times, Dredge, Manaless Dredge, Affinity, Elves, Sneak and Show, U/W Stoneblade, U/W/R Delver, G/B updated Modern deck with Golgari Charm, Death and Taxes twice, and U/R Delver. I lost to Affinity, Manaless Dredge, and U/W/R Delver.

RUG Delver is an amazingly good matchup. I didn’t lose a game to it, and at least one of my opponents commented on how hopeless the matchup is. You have Jitte and Swords to Plowshares to answer Delver of Secrets, and True-Name Nemesis and Knight of the Reliquary make it almost impossible for them to beat you on the ground. They typically try to beat people who rely on three-mana trumps by attacking their mana, but with a high land count, cantrips, four Noble Hierarchs, Green Sun’s Zenith to get Dryad Arbor, and two basic lands, it just isn’t realistic for them to expect to keep you off three mana. You can generally even afford to play around Daze with all of your important cards.

In this matchup, I sided out Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Qasali Pridemage for Relic of Progenitus and Umezawa’s Jitte.

I played against Death and Taxes in the first round of the tournament and in the first round of the Top 8. Both times I lost the first game and became very worried that I’d lose the match since I had very little I wanted to sideboard in. I think the matchup is pretty good—Wescoe called it a land-destruction mirror, and while Aether Vial makes it close, you have more mana than them. Mother of Runes is excellent, but you have Swords to Plowshares and True-Name Nemesis.

I played very badly in my first game of the Top 8. I tapped out when Craig had Aether Vial on one and I had a Swords to Plowshares in hand, he put Mother of Runes into play, and I basically lost on the spot. I would have likely been in fine shape if I’d just been sure to always leave a mana up so that he couldn’t do that—Craig still would have had to go for it since it’s only an issue as long as he doesn’t increase the counters on his Aether Vial, and I would have Plowed it and played a normal game.

Before the Top 8, Reid told me he doesn’t like the counterspells in this matchup and thinks that you just want a bunch of cards that are good late-game topdecks. He suggested cutting four Force of Wills for Umezawa’s Jitte, Sylvan Library, and two Vendilion Cliques on the play and cutting three Dazes and one Force of Will on the draw when Daze is worse. His reasoning was largely that Aether Vial makes counters bad and it’s a grindy matchup.

I disagree with this. In the Swiss, I cut Scavenging Ooze for Umezawa’s Jitte and left everything else alone. I don’t think a potentially big ground creature does much, and most of the time there aren’t any creatures in the graveyard anyway. I don’t see the matchup as grindy at all. The way I see it, both players are trying to cut off interaction from the other player with Wastelands, protection, Jitte, and fliers, and someone usually establishes a positional advantage and runs away with the game. I think the games are about a few trumps, and most cards don’t matter too much so counterspells are excellent, though I agree that Daze is questionable on the draw.

Vendilion Clique is pretty good unless they have Karakas, and I didn’t want to risk that too much so I only boarded in one and only on the draw when I didn’t want Daze. I’m undecided on Sylvan Library, but again I brought it in when I didn’t want Daze.

The Dredge decks were scary because I had minimal dedicated hate. The basic game plan is to bring in all the counters, cut all the expensive spells, and try to use counters to slow them down until you can lock them out by using Green Sun’s Zenith to find Scavenging Ooze. Sometimes you steal a win with Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus. Those matches were both very close.

Affinity crushed me. I didn’t have enough dedicated hate or relevant interaction, just creatures that are slower than theirs. In the first game, my opponent played Ancient Tomb, Arcbound Ravager, Memnite, Memnite, Mox Opal, and Thoughtcast on turn 1. I should have Force of Willed the Arcbound Ravager, but I didn’t and died horribly to an Etched Champion shortly after. Game 2 I think I felt like I was about to take over with an Umezawa’s Jitte, but he killed me with Cranial Plating the turn before. I didn’t expect to play against it and still don’t, but it’s definitely a bad matchup.

My U/W Stoneblade opponent did very little in game 1, and despite the fact that he played a True-Name Nemesis, I managed to convince myself that he was playing Miracles because I’m very stupid and sideboarded horribly for the second game, cutting all my Swords to Plowshares and bringing in useless Swan Songs and losing a game where he mulled to five and had a hand I should have been able to beat easily. I corrected for the third game, and things went much better. I believe I just sided out a Noble Hierarch and a Scavenging Ooze for Umezawa’s Jitte and Sylvan Library.

Elves is a scary matchup. Swords to Plowshares is incredibly important, and your basic plan in game 1 is to try to hit them with Umezawa’s Jitte, which means you usually either need True-Name Nemesis or a Swords to Plowshares to answer their Wirewood Symbiote so that they can’t blank your Jitte by bouncing a blocker.

After sideboarding the goal is to assemble the combination of Umezawa’s Jitte and Humility, which is basically impossible for them to beat unless they have something like Abrupt Decay for your Jitte. I won one game this way and the other game play playing Ethersworn Canonist and Vendilion Clique to create a reasonable clock while locking out most of their unfair plays. I sided out Daze on the draw and most of the expensive creatures to bring in Humility, Umezawa’s Jitte, Sylvan Library, Ethersworn Canonist, and Vendilion Clique.

I lost game 1 to Sneak and Show when he put Emrakul into play on turn 1 and I failed to find Karakas. Things got a lot better for game 2, when I boarded out Swords to Plowshares, Scavenging Ooze, and True-Name Nemesis and brought in Gaddock Teeg, Ethersworn Canonist (so they can’t fight over their threats), Humility, Vendilion Clique, and all the counterspells. In the second game, my opponent played Defense Grid. I then cast Humility, protected by the Defense Grid, and he conceded. In the third game, I drew a lot of counterspells and a Karakas and found a Gaddock Teeg that he failed to fight through.

U/R Delver just didn’t feel like it could make powerful enough plays to matter. I lost one game to Grim Lavamancer, but in general all of his cards just felt underpowered and True-Name Nemesis unbeatable. Again, minimal sideboarding. I believe I just cut Qasali Pridemage for Umezawa’s Jitte.

Against G/B, Golgari Charm was a huge problem, and he won the second game after sticking a Dark Confidant. The matchup felt pretty close; we both have trumps, answers, and card advantage and just play regular fair games of Magic. I know that I didn’t sideboard much and brought in Sylvan Library and Umezawa’s Jitte, but I’m not sure exactly what I cut.

I thought I would have a pretty good matchup against Owen playing U/W/R Delver in the Top 4, though the fact that he had eight one-mana removal spells was a problem, but he was on the play due to being higher seed and just had an absolutely perfect hand in game 1 and another great draw in game 2 that I couldn’t keep up with. This was another spot where Reid didn’t like Force of Will, but I think it’s important. I ended up cutting one for game 2 and lost to his True-Name Nemesis because I couldn’t find one to get my True-Name Nemesis out first. The creatures are just too important and too hard to answer in this matchup, and you need to be able to counter them so you don’t fall behind.

Ultimately, I’m obviously delighted with my deck and performance—particularly since I didn’t have time to prepare—extremely grateful to Reid Duke, and likely to play this deck again in the future. I highly recommend it for people who want to play a regular fair game of Magic where you always have the tools to compete.


@samuelhblack on Twitter