Legacy’s Allure – A Fearless Legacy Inventory

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Tuesday, June 23rd – Inspired by Olivier Ruel and Sam Stoddard’s articles reviewing their stumbling blocks in the game, Doug takes a look this week at the challenges that hold him back from advancing in the game. With both general and Legacy-specific points, Doug tackles issues that many Legacy players face, both pre-game and in-game. Find out how you can enhance your play skills and win more Legacy games in this week’s article!

I found myself rereading Sam Stoddard article A Fearless Magical Inventory recently and realized that I am in need of a Legacy-specific inventory, as I am sure many readers are as well. Sam’s article is probably one of the Top 10 ever written about the game of Magic (also check out Jacob Orlove’s Putting It All Together, an underappreciated but impressive article as well). I was prompted to reread the article after reading Olivier Ruel article Regaining Self Confidence this week. It was humbling to read Ruel, a seasoned pro with PT wins under his belt and a Hall of Fame position, discuss the hangups in his game. I refer the reader to those two articles for general ideas on improving game, with this as an exposure of both format-specific and player-specific issues that I have encountered and recognized I need to improve. While it may seem self-serving to give you a list of my problems, I essentially fit the mold of many Legacy players – I read a lot, test a bit and attend events, while knowing that there’s something my playing could use but being unable or unwilling to confront it to improve. Let’s jump in!

Outside the Game

1. I don’t practice sideboarded games as much as I should, and in Legacy, this is critical. The sideboard in many Legacy decks contains things like Choke, Krosan Grip, Blood Moon, Engineered Plague and more. In short, cards that you don’t see in the first game that can really mess up the day post-board. Further, I don’t try different sideboarding strategies. One example of this is when I was testing Gifts Rock. I expected people to take out Counterbalance because it’s really terrible against the deck, but then saw that my sideboarded cards all suffered if the Enchantment was left in. I didn’t test bringing in those cards while being Counterbalanced, and I lost several games at the Grand Prix recently where I could have had better information and planning. Similarly, although Choke is also bad against the deck, I’ve played in events against people who have brought it in against me. If I expect Choke, I need to know what lands to fetch out of my deck so I don’t get caught by surprise.

2. I am lackadaisical about standardizing the pictures and editions of the cards in my deck. I’ve gotten a lot better about this, but I still feel the urge to run mixed editions because I may have a few cooler versions. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but I have played against people with different pictures on their Swords to Plowshares, for example, and known when they have two because I have previously seen one copy when they cast another. I need to take this standardization through to even the basic lands in my decks.

3. I am adverse to playing aggro decks, even when they seem like the best option at the time. I don’t understand combat enough to feel comfortable, but I can’t exploit the fact that most Legacy players don’t know combat really well either.

4. I am uncomfortable playing without Force of Will in a deck.

5. I do not play non-Eternal formats with regularity, and I make excuses about why I don’t play MTGO. A chat with Gerry Thomspon recently (GT: “you need to play real formats”) made me think more about how playing Standard would make me get better at attacking and blocking. I make excuses about not playing MTGO, basically because I don’t have the cards and can’t afford to buy them online, while ignoring the fact that I can borrow whole decks from friends who have offered.

6. I overestimate my surprise factor with playing rogue decks, while underestimating the variety of decks in Legacy that will surprise me. As a result, I play really controlling decks that try to cover all the bases but do not have a cohesive plan.

7. I try to be too clever in my deckbuilding and consciously avoid Tarmogoyfs in my decks, which is probably detrimental.

8. I am unsure of why I go to events. I’ll expand – I don’t know whether I go to win or I go to play clever and fun decks. It’s certainly possible in Legacy to do both at the same time, and I try to, but there are times when I need to decide whether I want to play the better deck or the smarter one. I should have played the better one at GP: Chicago. I am reminded of Tom LaPille article about playing Dredge in Charlotte (which was his first for SCG!) and how he said the deck was not fun to play, because it was very mechanical, but it was very good. I need a firmer understanding of whether I want to win or play fun decks, and luckily, this seems like a very simple decision to make with an event in mind. I’m definitely looking at GenCon with this in mind.

Inside the Game

9. I don’t get mind-tricked all that frequently, but I don’t try to play my opponent either. I know I should bluff a Swords to Plowshares, but I can’t seem to remember to do it. Part of this is the result of doing a lot of online testing and testing against friends, where the opportunity to bluff is really diminished due to technology eliminating face-to-face interactions or people who know me well enough to know when I’m pulling a fast one.

10. I actually write down life totals on a pad of paper (sorry, Deckmaster abacus!) but I don’t annotate sources of damage with abbreviations. In an event and in a courtroom, people who bring more documentation to the dispute that specifies what happened are generally favored. I’ve had times when opponents contest life totals with judges when they have used dice and I use paper. I win those disputes (because I’m honest and thorough) but I don’t notate with comments like “FOW” for Force of Will or “Delt” for Polluted Delta. Doing so helps resolve life total disputes when both players are using a pad of paper.

11. When I make mulligan decisions, I don’t really take into account how much mana sources my deck needs to play well. Of course, you auto-mull a one-lander most of the time, but do you keep two sources and a Standstill if you’re on Landstill? I don’t pay enough attention to starting hands when I test to understand whether I helped or hurt myself with my keeps and mulls.

12. I get locked into in-game strategies that involve reducing the lines of play that my opponent has available, resulting in me not noticing I could just win instead. One recent example involves playing my Peasant Highlander deck. My opponent had several Slivers out, threatening to kill me when I passed the turn. I had Diabolic Tutor in hand and was wondering what I could get to remove one of the Slivers to buy me a turn. I had only about eight mana, so I could not effectively blow them out with Rolling Thunder, and they were out of Pyroclasm range. It finally dawned on me that I could attack with a Jetting Glasskite and a Mulldrifter, sending the opponent to three, and then get Incinerate and just burn them out that way. I especially ran into this problem while playing Gifts Rock and eventually found that it was just best to Gifts for Gigapede and Etched Oracle and start attacking with pesky guys instead of getting an Engineered Explosives/The Abyss/Academy Ruins lockdown. Legacy really encourages this control-minded thinking, especially with decks like Enchantress that can hunt down lock pieces like Choke and Runed Halo. Sometimes, it’s better to just get Sacred Mesa and make ponies, and I am working on being able to step back from the in-game play and evaluating my chances to just up and kill someone.

13. I don’t drink enough water at events. Consequently, I get headaches because I am dehydrated (on account of how much I love to talk) and hurt my thinking abilities. This seems like a silly entry, but I forget to do it often enough that I need to come clean about it.

14. I give up too easily on figuring out complex scenarios. I love that Steve Menendian can map out all the playlines in Vintage, which I think makes him an excellent player. It takes a lot of time, and I sometimes criticize him for giving too much weight to corner cases or not recognizing pre-experienced playlines from memory, but it also takes a lot of brainpower that I am sometimes too lazy to commit. Again, with Gifts Rock, I was playing against Enchantress at an event and I was facing a scenario with Karmic Justice and Choke on the board and no clear way to win. I needed to make lots of mana to get Gigapede on the table and then Pernicious Deed away their Moat, which would take every permanent of mine. I felt inadequate in my thinking because it took me an unnatural amount of time to figure out how to do this effectively. I pulled it off and won, so I’m happy that I got that far, but I want to become more comfortable with untangling Gordian Knots in-game.

15. I tap lands before I cast a spell. This is inferior play, but I still do it. The problem with tapping before playing is that I cannot see my opponent’s reaction before I tap my lands. There’s a split second where you can get a read on whether someone has removal or a counter that informs you whether you should keep mana open for the other threat in your hand or the piece of removal. Announce, then tap, is the superior order.

16. I don’t pile shuffle before every game, only every match. This can result in poor shuffling even if I shuffle thoroughly, which means worse opening hands. A pile shuffle will break up the clumps that even six repetitions of side shuffling can leave.

17. I keep riskier hands and make riskier plays if I have won the first game ,and I play too conservatively if I have lost the first game. With the power of the Legacy cardpool, I should be both more respectful of how an opponent can press an advantage and more understanding of how my deck can still pull through, even after mulliganing twice.

18. When an opponent has a Counterbalance lock, I assume that I am totally locked out, even though play and experience has shown otherwise. Instead of sandbagging differently costed cards, I should test with 3- and 4-mana cards to see if they can even stop one of those. As a result of my play, I retain cards in hand while sacrificing tempo and long-term options. I am also unwilling to make an opponent put a Sensei’s Divining Top on their library to stop my Swords to Plowshares so that I can punch through their Counterbalance with differently costed cards.

I am very interested in learning from my readers about their Fearless Legacy Inventories, especially because I know there are about a hundred different hangups that I missed in this article. I’m reminded of two quotes – the old proverb that “good is the enemy of great”- pithy, motivating, appropriated by too many midlevel managers. The other being, humorously, a line from Stewie in Family Guy when he is running a business and acting like a midlevel manager and tells Brian, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!” Maybe I’m drawing inspiration from the gutter, though it does help me aim for that last 10% I need to be better at this game.

Thanks for joining me, and please email or respond in the forums! Next week, I’ll be looking at results from the 187-player StarCityGames.com $5000 Legacy Open in Boston this past weekend!

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com