Twice in a row. Back to back. The last two Invitationals in a row I have started 8-0. Both times, I ended up faltering in Day Two and ending up missing the Top 8. In Charlotte, I finished in 16th. Last weekend, in Columbus, I ended up 15th.
While neither of those are bad finishes by any stretch – Top 16 at the Invitational is a strong result – they certainly weren’t what I was after. I wanted a Xenagos, the Reveler Satyr token with my face on it. I wanted to be immortalized as half goat, half man, half cardboard. I wanted the win.
Both times, a self-destruction in the Standard portion eventually caved me in. This time, I went 1-2-1 in Standard on Day Two. Last time, I went 1-3 in Standard on Day Two. Both times, I had strong Legacy records that could have carried me to a Top 8 if Standard was more cooperative. I want to use this article to highlight the decks I played, the reasons I believe I fell short, and what lessons I can learn for next time.
For Standard in Columbus, I went to battle with Esper Control. My list was fairly similar to what Shaheen Soorani talked about in his most recent article. I opted to cut out the countermagic and stick to playing a more proactive game plan. Instead of cards like Dissolve, I played Thoughtseize.
Rather than play a card like Planar Cleansing, I opted to stick to the tried-and-true plan of infinite Oblivion Rings. For the most part, I was happy with that decision. Now that cards like Planar Cleansing are starting to become commonplace in Standard, I feel like Abrupt Decay is on a downswing. Also, recent lists of Jund Monsters have been cutting it and the card itself isn’t that great against Monsters anyway – you want to deal with their big threats, not the little guys.
My maindeck was skewed to beat decks like Jund Monsters and Mono-Black Devotion variants. Cards like Dissolve aren’t that great against either of those decks; they can either slide under your Dissolves and force you to tap out, or they can just tear apart your hand with discard. Unfortunately, I never ended up playing against Mono-Black Devotion, but I did beat Jund Monsters twice, something I consider to be a positive considering that Monsters typically preys on Revelation decks.
The creature-laden sideboard is something I like to do a lot with decks like this. I like to board in a few creatures in most matchups to keep your opponent off guard. While most people nowadays know that I am going to do something like this, it is still very difficult to board against both an Esper Control deck trying to win with Sphinx’s Revelation and also keep in cards that kill Nightveil Specter or that interact with Sin Collector or Blood Baron of Vizkopa. If Mono-Black Devotion keeps in Devour Flesh, then they are just asking to get destroyed by Jace into Elspeth into Revelation with a hand full of removal spells.
I almost cut Fiendslayer Paladin, but I was thankful I didn’t when I played against a seventeen-land Mono-Red deck (akin to the one Tom Ross won the tournament with) in my first round of the tournament. Thanks to some timely assistance from cards like Fiendslayer Paladin and Nightveil Specter, I was able to escape that round unscathed. In fact, I hit my opponent for lethal damage with an unleashed Rakdos Cackler, which felt so good. How does it taste? When your Esper Control opponent is unleashing the Cacklers they get off the top of your deck from Nightveil Specter… it’s time to pack it in.
Negate and Blind Obedience were my sideboard options for Jund Monsters. I figured I needed to win game one and then somehow eke out a post-board game where I didn’t get ravaged by Rakdos’s Return. As it turned out, I did get savaged by Rakdos’s Return by both of my Jund opponents – but I was far enough ahead at the time that I could safely Revelation my way back out of the bind.
Ultimately, I think there is value in Esper Control. It is good against pretty much all of the Devotion strategies and it can made to be respectable in a variety of other matchups. Part of me just feels like something is missing, though. Maybe it’s Dissolve, but maybe there is just a fundamental flaw in playing a deck like this. If your opponent just gets out too fast or you have the wrong removal spells, you get sent home early. I’m not honestly sure, and I’m doubting that I’ll figure out the answer before rotation happens and Sphinx’s Revelation gets kicked to the curb.
U/W Control is also an option, but I actually just hate that deck. It just feels bad to me. I hate decks that have almost no ways to beat certain types of permanents, and U/W seems like it gets punished so much harder by “hate” cards like Mistcutter Hydra and Stormbreath Dragon than Esper does. That deck also leans so hard on Sphinx’s Revelation that it can struggle to function if you don’t draw one, or – God forbid – your opponent has something like Slaughter Games to ruin the gig.
Will I play Esper again? I might, but I honestly am at a loss when it comes to Standard right now. Jund Monsters remains good, but it isn’t the unknown terror it once was. People expect to play against it in a tournament and they usually don’t bring decks that just fold to it anymore. Mono-Blue is also on an uptick, which makes Esper better and Monsters worse. I think Mono-Blue is good, but I struggle playing that deck. I just don’t enjoy it, and I feel like you play worse when you aren’t playing something you really like.
I’m thinking of going back to my roots. Maybe it’s time to kick things Obzedat-style.
In the Legacy portion, I played UWR Miracles.
I played Miracles the prior week in the Legacy Open in Providence and started out 1-3. I did end up grinding back to 6-3 but I wasn’t very happy with how the event played out. I played a version in that tournament with Entreat the Angels and Snapcaster Mage. My reasoning was that everyone else playing Miracles is playing those cards, so I should really just give them a try. To me, they have always seemed bad, but I wanted to know for sure.
They were bad.
Snapcaster Mage doesn’t fit into a deck featuring cards like Counterbalance, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Even out of the cards you actually can target with Snapcaster Mage, Terminus and Entreat the Angels aren’t exactly going to be Flashback targets in most games.
In fact, when I started winning matches it was because I was just immediately siding out both Entreat the Angels in every single matchup. I was winning with just Clique and Jace, but I wanted something better. I wanted Stoneforge Mystic.
When it came time to decide on what I was doing for the Invitational, I was like 50/50 on playing Miracles or abandoning ship to Sneak and Show. I felt like Sneak and Show would be a good choice, but I didn’t want to prematurely abandon Miracles. I have had a lot of success with the deck and I didn’t want one bad tournament to wreck my perception of it. A lot of times I get discouraged when I get destroyed with a deck and don’t want to play it again, even if it is still good. I didn’t want my emotions to skew my opinion of a deck, and as the week dragged on I became more and more convinced I would play Miracles.
I ended up sticking to my gut and registered Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top. As a result, if you ignore intentional draws, I went 15-2-1 between the Invitational and the Legacy Open and ended up getting 3rd place in the Legacy Open. Needless to say, I was thrilled with my deck choice.
Instead of Entreat and Snapcaster Mage, I opted instead for cards like Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull. While Stoneforge can just bite it to something like a Swords to Plowshares in game one, it is still a two-for-one and it still taxes your opponent’s mana. When you play Stoneforge Mystic on turn two on the play, your opponent oftentimes has to waste their entire next turn killing it. At that point, you’re up a card, and you’re up tempo. When you’re playing Sensei’s Divining Top, all you want is time. If the game goes long, your card selection will win.
A lot of times your opponent also just doesn’t have it and they just die to Batterskull. Even if they can eventually stabilize against the Batterskull, it will buy so much time that you can set up things like resolving Jace or forcing them to overextend into a Terminus. All in all, I was really happy with Stoneforge into Batterskull.
In fact, I was so happy that my sideboard plan includes Stoneforge into Batterskull. Two maindeck Stoneforge Mystic. One maindeck Batterskull. Two sideboard Stoneforge Mystic. One sideboard Batterskull. That’s synergy, bitches.
The second Batterskull won me a lot of games. I lost the first one to things like Ancient Grudge or Thoughtseize or Hymn to Tourach a number of times. Having access to a second copy lets you play more liberally and allows you significantly more freedom as you know that no matter what, you can still find another Batterskull if things get hairy.
Also, I get to play with my own Germ token, which I am a fan of.
I don’t think you can play four Stoneforge Mystics without a second piece of equipment. I also think Swords and Jitte are garbage in a deck with seven total creatures. When you sum that all up together, the best answer is to just play two Batterskulls. **** em.
I’ve also gotten a lot of questions about the miser’s Preordain. While my Standard deck might have been similar to a Shaheen list, let’s just say I am not on the Shaheen plan when it comes to Legacy. I have long loved Preordain and I have long felt it is underplayed. In this deck I am convinced it is better than Ponder.
The reason is simple. Sensei’s Divining Top. SDT. Preordain is the nut high with Sensei’s Divining Top. Most of the time when you activate Top, you see something like one winner, one mediocre card, and something you never want to see again in the rest of your life. Preordain lets you get rid of two of those bad boys and draw the good one. Then you get to see a complete fresh set on top of the ol’ deck.
Ponder also resets the top of your deck, but you have to draw a random card to do so. Preordain gives you the best of the first set and then a new one as well. I have actually been so happy with Preordain every time I’ve drawn it that I frequently wonder if I should play more copies. I’m a fan.
My standard matches were meh, but I had a lot of fun in Legacy and I want to talk about a few of the more interesting situations that happened to me in the Legacy events I played in.
All the World’s a Stage
The first was against Kennen Haas in Legacy. You might remember Kennen as the guy who won an Open the first weekend of the year with Jund Depths in Legacy. His Open win spawned a whole lot of newfound love for Dark Depths, and since that tournament I have seen a lot of Marit Lage tokens flying high. You have Kennen to blame for that.
In that Open he won, he beat some poor fool in round one. That kid was playing some crappy BUG control deck and he just rolled over and died.
That kid was Brian Braun-Duin. Yeah. He beat me senseless in round one of the Open he won.
So when we got paired again in the Invitational, you had better believe I was out for revenge. Revenge is a dish best served over a really long, grindy, 55-minute round between two of the slowest decks in Legacy. You know how that saying goes.
Game two was a long affair where I had a Jace slowly ticking up to thirteen and a Rest in Peace locking out his graveyard. I had a Pithing Needle on Thespian’s Stage preventing him from assembling his Stage/Depths combo. I felt in complete control.
Kennen ended up removing ten counters from his Dark Depths naturally and attacked with me Marit Lage. Unfazed, I cast Swords to Plowshares on it and moved on with my life. He played a second Dark Depths from his hand that I knew about and started to naturally remove counters from that as well.
Fortunately for me, my Jace was set to outrace him. On one of the last turns of the game, he tried to Punishing Fire Jace, tapping a Wasteland and a red source. I Forced it and ultimated Jace, leaving his library as just a singular Bojuka Bog, and then played a second Jace and Brainstormed for good measure.
I played the only land in my hand and passed the turn back.
It was then that Kennen put his hand to his head and explained how we had both punted the entire game.
He had tapped a Wasteland that last turn of the game along with a red source to try to Punishing Fire my Jace. That land I had played the last turn was Karakas. Why did it matter, when he couldn’t remove enough Dark Depths counters in time?
Well, you see. There was something we had both forgotten. My Pithing Needle was on Thespian’s Stage. However, the one that was in play had been activated earlier in the game to become a Grove of the Burnwillows. That changes the name of the card to Grove of the Burnwillows as well. Pithing Needle doesn’t stop it, and he could have made a Marit Lage at the end of the turn and killed me.
What a crazy game.
In the player meeting, I was telling people nearby that I had never actually just raw-dogged a Terminus before. Every time I Miracle one, I had to set it up. I felt it was weird to have missed out so many times on natural Terminuses, especially since I played four copies.
Lo and behold, in round one of the tournament I’m paired against Shahar Shenhar. In game one he stalls on mana and I fateseal him off of lands long enough with Jace to claim the game.
Game two was reversed. I was struggling with mana and at one point I was stuck on two lands with no board and he had a Jace, Liliana, and two creatures in play. I ended up drawing a land and Pyroblasting his Jace. The next turn I was able to flash in Vendilion Clique to trade with his Liliana.
I’d like to say that I was due. In all reality, I was just pretty lucky.
I wouldn’t have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that Meddling Mage
In round two of the Legacy Open, after facing World Champion Shahar Shenhar in round one, I was paired against none other than Bryant Cook, Storm aficionado. Bryant has been playing Storm since before most of us were born. In fact, he is often credited with coming up with the original The Epic Storm variant of the deck.
In game one, he showed me how epic the deck is when he killed me on turn two.
In game two, he was able to force through an Ad Nauseam and ended up stopping at two life with a pretty strong hand. My hand was just a naked Force of Will. I drew a Sensei’s Top and played it. On his turn he didn’t combo off out of fear of me having a blue card on top to draw to go with my Force. I was able to draw into a Vendilion Clique.
On his next turn, he started to combo off. I realized that he must have access to a discard spell if he’s going for it, so when he tried to cast a Lion’s Eye Diamond, I decided to cast that Vendilion Clique instead of trying to win with Force of Will. I was able to see a hand with Infernal Tutor and Burning Wish. If he drew a ritual effect off of the Vendilion Clique, I was dead. I took the Burning Wish and prayed. He bricked and I managed to win.
I was sweating at this point. What an intense game two.
In game three, he again resolved Ad Nauseam and drew all the way down to two life. In the process he found an Abrupt Decay to kill my Germ token and leave me with six lands, a naked Batterskull and a hand of just a land and a Terminus.
That was my hand. His hand was seven powerful cards after he sculpted them with Ad Nauseam.
I drew for turn. It was Counterbalance. I jammed it into play along with my seventh land. That was turn one of extra turns.
On his turn he cast a Xantid Swarm as bait. I casually flipped over Meddling Mage. That locked him out from casting any of his Burning Wishes he needed to combo kill me. He played some cantrips and passed back.
I bounced Batterskull back to my hand at end of turn, then cast it and a Meddling Mage on Burning Wish and passed the turn. That was turn three. I was going to need to kill him through his Xantid Swarm next turn. He needed to not draw any way to deal with my Germ or Meddling Mage.
I untap and draw on turn five of turns. He brainstorms to find an answer.
Blind Flip? Pyroblast.
The Greatest Game in the Multiverse
At 7-0 in the ten-round Legacy Open, I just needed to win one more match to advance to 8-0, where I could just double draw into the Top 8. I got paired against a gentleman playing RUG Delver. I was able to win game one by locking him out of the game with Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance. It’s easy to lock out a deck when they don’t have anything that costs more than one or two mana.
Or at least, that’s what I thought.
In game two he jammed a Dack Fayden down my throat after I had resolved a Stoneforge Mystic. He discarded an Ancient Grudge to it. Suddenly I couldn’t just put my Batterskull into play. All of a sudden I was facing a growing Dack Fayden and I didn’t have a whole lot I could do to pressure it. Without drawing a Council’s Judgment, that thing was just going to keep ticking up.
Eventually, he ticked his Dack Fayden up to seven, ultimated it, and then started ticking it up again.
That’s where the fun began. I had a Counterbalance, but no Sensei’s Divining Top. I was just blind flipping cards whenever he cast spells and cracking fetchlands when I didn’t want to draw them. At this point in time, I had assembled multiple Stoneforge Mystics and had both Batterskulls in my hand. He had an Ancient Grudge in his graveyard. I had a Stoneforge Mystic on top of my deck from an earlier flip.
I decided to “go for it.” I put in a Batterskull. He flashed back Ancient Grudge on it. I revealed Stoneforge Mystic to counter his Grudge. Due to Dack Fayden’s ultimate, he gained control of the Batterskull.
There is just one hitch. I still controlled the Germ. That resulted in the following picture.
I had a Batterskull. He had my other Batterskull. I controlled a Germ equipped to his Batterskull. The end result is that in a few turns I was able to kill his Dack Fayden, and, although I had to bounce Batterskull a few times when he was trying to steal my Germs with Lightning Bolt, I ended up prolonging the game so long that we actually didn’t finish and I ended that match 1-0-1.
I love playing against weird Planeswalkers in Legacy. Back when I played Miracles in the Atlanta Open, I lost a game to Shardless BUG when he shoved a turn-three Ashiok into play and I couldn’t possibly beat it.
At any rate, I ended up losing to Richard Shay in the Top 4 of the Legacy Open. I felt the matchup was close and interesting. Normally I feel way ahead against BUG Delver, but he had Jace and multiple Sylvan Libraries, which made the matchup far worse for me. I lost game one when I thought I couldn’t possibly lose and he drew insanely well to win. I won game two when I thought I couldn’t possibly win and I drew very well to win.
I kept a sketchy one in game three, and it didn’t pan out. If I had drawn a third land in one of my first few draw steps I think I would have won, but it wasn’t to be. Twelve Open Series Top 8’s and 4 Invitational Top 8’s… and a trophy still eludes me. I’ll admit it. It stings a lot. Every weekend I watch people win and wonder when or if I will ever win one. It’s frustrating, but the only thing I can do is keep battling.
And I plan on continuing to battle with Miracles. The deck is amazing. As for Standard? Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t know what to do in that format. I can only hope I figure it out soon.