This year, I made a resolution to acquire Level 7. The task sounds straightforward, but I know from failing two years back that there’s far more to it than just showing up at Pro Tours and doing well. It means that I have to constantly practice all the tournament formats available, so that I give myself the best chance at each opportunity to earn the forty points I need.
There’s no reason that practice has to mean grinding in marathon playtest sessions with your buddies, nor does it mean slaving away one Daily at a time on Magic Online. Each of those provides methods of improving your game in quality and quantity, but there’s another type of game that needs practice, and that is your mental game. Real-life opponents are people who make mistakes, especially if they don’t practice as much as you do. Taking advantage of these mistakes and helping them happen are both skills that really only get better over time.
I was starting to feel the itch to get some real action, as writing and grinding Magic Online was starting to wear thin. Talking to Gerry, he said he was going to go to all the SCG Opens to exploit his two byes he earned the previous year. It seemed like a good time anyway, so I borrowed some Legacy cards and booked a ticket to Kansas City.
Besides, there’s no reason that I can’t get Level 7 from WotC and Level 7 from SCG right?
Gerry and I met up at the onsite hotel and got down to business. Gerry expected a bunch of U/B Control, so he was dead-set on playing B/R Vampires. Despite not playing the deck myself, I was equipped with the knowledge gained from helping Efro and Ben Stark at Worlds and was able to provide him with the Tectonic Edge he sought. To help me out, Gerry provided a Japanese version of the uncommon that caught my attention recently:
Thought I could sneak one by you. That is indeed a Twisted Image you see there. I actually think it may be seen in the blue decks of the future. Here are a few things it does, brought to you by Billy Mays.
Ever had your Lotus Cobra fall to the miserable miscreants of black and red Vampires? Well, Twisted Image provides some protection there, foiling Arc Trails and taking out Pulse Tracker in cahoots with your reptilian friend. It even saves you some life against Bloodghast, Vampire Hexmage, and Lavaclaw Reaches!
That’s not all, folks, Twisted Image can slice and dice too! Think about those accursed Primeval Titans, standing in the way of Inferno Titan’s march to victory. Worry not, for with a single red mana, a blocking Primeval will be sent to the bin with your beloved Inferno Titan left alive, thanking Kookus for teaching him how to breathe fire.
Think about your friend and mine, Sea Gate Oracle, minding his own business when suddenly he’s accosted by none other than Jace, thinking up a storm. How rude! With Twisted Image, you can show Jace you don’t appreciate his line of thought at all!
Finally, we come to the real question everyone has on their
how does Jace
this sort of situation to his advantage? Imagine it’s nighttime, and all is blue and black around you. You hear a noise from behind, and barreling towards you is a slimy Creeping Tar Pit. Fear not, Twisted Image will be the banana peel you need to keep ahead of the menace on your way to thinking about how you’ll spread some seas.
Twisted Image does all this and so much more, and now you gotta ask, how much is this gonna cost me? 2R? 2U? 1B? 1R? 1U? R? Sorcery?
No sirree, if you buy it today, and today only, it will cost you just a single blue mana and at instant speed. So confident are we that you’ll like your product that we’ll pay you to use it! A whole card for every usage!
Think about it. I’ll be here when you do.
I started strong, beating Mono-Red and WW Quest but ended the day a disappointing 6-3. Going into the play by play of a tournament report seems silly now, as I have written about RUG many times. Lotus Cobra into Jace into Inferno Titan gets old after awhile. Understanding what works is just as important as knowing what doesn’t, and I think reviewing my results against different deck types and my sideboard plan will reveal the next step in the deck’s evolution.
3-0 against Mono-Red Aggro
Post-board, all the Mono-Red decks had trash like Arc Trail and Searing Blaze, which wasn’t sufficient to beat my near creatureless post-board games. Countering or Pyroclasming what few threats they had set up the easy fateseal plan. Easiest matchup by quite a lot, even without the Obstinate Baloths that I cut at Worlds. Garruk was excellent, as none of the opponents bothered to try to kill him, to their demise.
1-0 against Boros
1-1 against Vampires
Again, these aggro decks boarded in useless Arc Trail and Cunning Sparkmage and couldn’t defeat an Inferno Titan at any point. My Vampires loss was complete variance, as I needed any land in seven draws (draw step, Preordain shipping two, and Jace’s Brainstorm) to win and missed.
1-0 against WW Quest
Another easy matchup, as I played a turn 4 Inferno Titan both games and rode it to victory.
0-1 against Mono-Green Eldrazi
0-1 against Valakut
Sadly my worst matchups were just as they seemed. I could comment on how I was mana screwed three of the four games I lost, but in reality the matchup is bad to begin with.
The results from the Standard portion line up exactly with all my other experiences playing RUG. The aggro matchups are walks in the park due to Inferno Titan, but the ramp and control could use a lot of help. It’s interesting to note that not only was I boarding Oracle of Mul Daya out every game, but Spreading Seas and Acidic Slimes came in a majority of the matches. This post-board configuration very closely resembles Conley’s U/G deck that he took to the finals and perhaps means that there’s potential for a confluence of ideas.
Conley’s deck seemed well suited for ramp decks, while mine is more for aggressive strategies. There seems to be a lot of promise in this direction, and I think Garruk will be the backbone no matter the direction that it takes.
Gerry ended up tenth at 8-2, and after collecting prize, we headed out to forage for food. There was talk of multiple steakhouses in the area with edibles, but all the facilities were
on a Saturday night. A last act of desperation led us to a terrible burger joint that I had the wisdom to not partake in. Dining on the dinner of champions, animal crackers, left me just full enough to catch a few hours of sleep before heading to the Day 2 Legacy portion.
Here’s what I played, which you can call Dark Horizons, Junk, or just plain Poop Soup.
I won’t include sideboarding, as mine was absolutely awful.
Round 1 against Ben Stepka playing ANT
Game 1 shuffled up for my first game with the Legacy deck. Had an opener of
On the draw, that’s an excellent hand. One additional land makes this hand the nuts, so I was feeling good about my chances. Ben led with an Island, and panic set in when I didn’t draw terra firma.
After much deliberation, I played Stirring Wildwood, hoping that a land would grace me next turn. After I shipped, I noticed Ben Weinberg shuffle away from watching my game. Now that behavior is rather odd, so I reviewed my line of thought to see what egregious error had obviously occurred to make him saunter away in disgust. I then reread Mox Diamond.
Oh. You don’t discard a land as an additional cost? Oh dear. When did that change, or was it always like that? That means I didn’t have to worry about a Daze screwing me…
Ben end-of-turn Brainstormed, then main-phase cast Ponder, shuffling away his three in disgust and, disheartened, passing the turn without a land drop. Even my limited Legacy experience shows me that Ponder is in the U/B Storm deck, and that makes my turn 1 punt even worse. Bricking again on land, I played Sensei’s Diving Top. Ben missed as well and discarded Duress.
I made a second mistake here and upkeeped my Top activation despite DarkestMage saying how much of an idiot I was. I just needed a single land to at least Thoughtseize, which meant I should’ve main-phased the Top and looked one card deeper. Instead, I viewed the three and saw no lands. I did make a wise decision and discarded a Tarmogoyf instead of any other card, as with just Stirring Wildwood in play, he could think I was just some G/W awful.dec.
Learning my lesson, I waited to draw a blank before Topping again, and I was rewarded with a Verdant Catacombs as the last card. With a Bayou in tow, I Thoughtseized to reveal two Lion’s Eye Diamonds, three Dark Rituals, a Cabal Ritual, and an Infernal Tutor. Taking the only business, I was excited, as it looked like I would win. He needed runner/runner black source and a kill spell, and I had plenty of discard to back up a Dark Confidant to make it all happen.
My mistake turn 1 certainly didn’t cost me the game, as if I had Thoughtseized, he would very likely have played a little more competently, not scrying multiple Brainstorms to the bottom with Preordain.
Game 2 involved me having a very average all-discard and Sensei’s Top draw. Ben hit the best possible card four times straight but lost to Brainstorming his sole win condition to the top of his library and me Wastelanding his Polluted Delta (his only black source). If he fetched or Brainstormed properly, I easily would lose.
Game 3 I mulled to five and lost to turn 1 Thoughtseize, turn 2 kill you. It wouldn’t have been so frustrating, except it took him five minutes to figure out that with five black mana floating, no cards in hand, and Infernal Tutor on the stack, that he should probably grab Ad Nauseam.
Am I bitter? Yes. Sorry, won’t happen again.
Vindicate on basic land count: 1
Round 2 against Richard L Winter (Bant Aggro)
Game 1: Richard got a game loss due to tardiness.
Round 3 against Adam S Boyd (ANT with Invasion fetchlands and Burning Wish)
Game 2 Adam mulliganed again into a turn 2 kill if he drew a single mana source. He passed turn 1 without a play on six cards, and a Thoughtseize revealed
Pretty awesome hand. I took the Lion and used Hymn to Tourach the following turn, into a Gaddock Teeg that beat for about five turns. He was eventually joined by Dark Confidant, but I was extremely flooded and had nothing really going on but more discard and Vindicates on lands.
Facing lethal, he decided to go for something and cast Brainstorm with Ancient Spring, leaving up Lotus Petal, Sulfur Vent, Sulfur Vent. He seemed pretty pleased and Burning Wished for Firespout, sacrificing both Sulfur Vents and the Lotus Petal to do so. A casual activation of Karakas later, he conceded.
Vindicate on basic land count: 2
Round 4 against Edward L Stewart playing Goblins
Vindicate on basic land count: 4
Round 5 Orrin A Beasley playing Cephalid Illusionist combo
After the match, Orrin revealed to me what his combo did, and apparently he had zero outs to the Karakas I didn’t even board in. His combo involved Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Karmic Guide, which a return-to-hand activation colds.
Vindicate on basic land count: 6
Game 2 Daniel mulled to three on the play and was never in it after I turn 2 Vindicated his Island.
Vindicate on basic land count: 7
Round 7 Ben Wienburg playing 4-Color Counterbalance
Game 1 Ben was flooded and died to Dark Confidant-fueled beatdown.
Game 2 I forced through Elspeth that would kill him, but I made three consecutive play errors on the same turn, allowing him to Engineered Explosives for four. I ended up conceding at 28 life facing down Counterbalance/Top/Jace/Trinket Mage to save time.
At this point, we asked a judge how much time was left and found out there were less than eight minutes left. There was no conceivable way for the match to come to a natural conclusion with so many shuffle effects in both of our decks, so we intentionally drew.
This turned out to be a massive error, as I didn’t know Ben was in fifth, and I was in fifteenth. This meant I just drew myself out of Top 8 contention. Ben is a cool guy, but I’m not 100% he would’ve conceded based on board position even if he were going to lose. A draw is fine for him but knocks me out. This meant the best play was me conceding the match to put Ben in Top 8.
Ben could’ve still made it with a win in the last round but sadly got nut perfected by Goblins. I regret not paying attention to standings and apologize to Ben for not hooking him up when I could have.
Round 8 Matt D Reitz playing Goblins
Game 1 a turn 2 Tarmagoyf on the play stared down a pair of Goblin Lackeys, and I blew a Vindicate on one, marking it the first time I targeted something other than a basic land with it in the tournament. His mana screw met green monsters, and he succumbed, topdecking a useful Blood Crypt on the last turn at two life.
Blood Crypt, Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Ringleader, Siege-Gang Commander, Siege-Gang Commander. I took the haster and played Mox Diamond and Sensei’s Divining Top and begged my deck for a land, as my hand contained a pair of Vindicates and Tarmogoyf. It was sadly not to be, and I got buried by Ringleaders and Goblin tokens despite my Goyfs bringing him to three.
Vindicate on basic land count: 8
Ended the day at 6-1-1, tenth place
Plains was there to be a basic to fetch when you needed to Swords to Plowshares against Wasteland decks, but I found that they couldn’t really afford to be doing that against my four maindeck Stone Rains. This could probably just be another Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author] or a Karakas, if you want to play one.
Pernicious Deed is something I was Browbeat into playing, even though I wasn’t sold on its usefulness. Sure it’s terrific against Affinity and artifact lands, but it’s just worse than Maelstrom Pulse in most situations. I boarded this out every round, every game except against Counterbalance, where it led me to a terrible situation I would’ve easily won if it were Maelstrom Pulse. Mox Diamond is so good I’m hesitant to play any card that makes it worse, and this just didn’t pay.
Gerrard’s Verdict is another card that was universally boarded out. Because I was mana screwing them with Stone Rains and Wasteland, my opponents always had worthless cards to get rid of. This may be better as Sinkhole or Tidehollow Sculler.
Stirring Wildwood was a suggestion by Brian Kowal, but it never did anything. It only entered the battlefield tapped and tapped for mana I didn’t want. I understand there are games where your Knight of the Reliquary faces down a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but with Maelstrom Pulse, that becomes less of an issue. Could just be a Savannah, or a fetchland.
Last but not least is Maze of Ith. You’re supposed to find it with Knight of the Reliquary on your first usage, then use it at the end of combat step on your Knight to give him pseudo-vigilance (he will still deal damage). This allows you to use the Knight again post-combat to find a Wasteland or something to keep the pressure on. It also is sort of a removal spell that can be pitched to Mox Diamond. All of this is understood; it just never came up in practice.
A card I think could be very powerful in this deck is Weathered Wayfarer. You have tons of fetches, Mox Diamond, Wasteland, and Knight of the Reliquary to respond to, and the shuffle effect for the Top is much needed. He also gives Maze of Ith some extra synergy, so maybe I can give these two a chance.
For some other improvements, I think Sinkhole could help with the land destruction aspect if I wanted to go down that path (perhaps over a Swords and a Goyf), as well as a Maelstrom Pulse over a Pernicious Deed.
Here is an updated list:
I think I’m going to be playing in the Indianapolis event before Paris, so maybe I’ll see you there.
No one can fight the tide forever