Monsters & Miracles

Brian Braun-Duin regales us with the tale of his weekend at SCG Open Series: Atlanta, where he found his way to the top of the leaderboard for the StarCityGames.com Players’ Championship.

GP Richmond

It was the classic dichotomy between good and evil. Devil on one shoulder. Angel on the other. Atlanta, O great land of excessive heat and Coca Cola, I entered your wide expanses prepared to battle. I came not with sword and shield nor the most powerful of arcane forces but armed with mere knowledge and 150 pieces of carefully-selected cardboard. “Brute force can sometimes kick down a locked door, but knowledge is a skeleton key.”

I was equipped with the forces of darkness and chaos in one hand, and the forces of light and truth in the other. Seventy Five of the foulest creatures this side of the Mississippi. Seventy Five chances for a miracle to shine through and quell the abominations that reigned supreme. For the Standard Open, I stepped into that arena wielding the powerful and yet truly destructive force known simply as Jund. Not just any Jund. Jund Monsters. I registered four copies of Charlize Theron. Monster. I played red, green, and black – Monsters, Incorporated. Or so it Xena-goes . . .

I awoke beaten and bloody, lying face-down in a ditch. Thankfully it was a pretty mild ditch, as far as ditches are concerned. I quickly ditched the ditch and began to examine my surroundings. My head felt like it was about to explode from within. Eventide. Rare. Light from Within. Bulk.

I looked around and saw flesh. I grabbed my head and then examined my hand. Blood. Everywhere. I looked around one more time. I saw a Sylvan Caryatid and an Elvish Mystic getting destroyed by a Supreme Verdict. I saw a Lifebane Zombie brick off on a Stormbreath Dragon. I saw a Polukranos, World Eater become something even I feared. A 6/6 with no abilities after a botched Monstrous attempt. Scary. Never go full vanilla.

Suddenly a bright light erupted ahead of me. A shining figure in white armor stepped forward. In a loud and clear voice I heard her say: “You. Monster. You will pay for your crimes against humanity. You will rot forevermore in the deepest and darkest pits of this minor ditch you are standing in right now. For I am Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, and your day to wreak havoc upon this ripe, unsuspecting world has come to an end.”

I gazed up at her quizzically. I paused, briefly lost in contemplation. I shook myself out of it and responded in kind. “You, shining beacon of self-righteous justice. You will pay for your crime of calling me a monster. I am a mere human. Did you see that ugly looking thing? Yes, that foul Gorgon over there. Now that’s a monster. In fact, you’re in a battlefield full of random monsters and other assorted miscreants and you singled me out. Gotta admit, that’s pretty messed up. I mean, I know I look pretty disheveled, but you really don’t think after a bath, some bandages, and maybe a nice warm meal at Denny’s I couldn’t make at least a reasonably dashing young man? That’s a Polukranos, World Eater over there. It has like 90 heads. There’s a thing over there with 100 freaking hands. These creatures actually have the text “Monstrous” in their text box. Yet I’m the monster? Get out of here with that kind of attitude, lady! Also, there’s only one thing here that’s ripe and unsuspecting.” I bit down into a perfectly ripe apple at that precise moment. The apple never saw it coming.

“Not a monster? Why, you precious little thing. You fancy yourself a Hero, do you? Awww. So. Darned. Cute! Are we in a Trust Company concert? It really feels like you’re aching for a Downfall. As you wish. Hero!” Elspeth pointed at me flippantly as she spat out the last words. Then she abruptly began to planeswalk away. I caught one last glimpse of her shining figure. She had stubbed her toe on a rock and was saying some truly unladylike things about said rock and what heritage it may have descended from . . . what can be said about her vocabulary that hasn’t already been said about a box of Crayolas? It was colorful.

As if at Elspeth’s beck and call, a giant hairy beast came and actually stepped on my chest. It looked just like the art from Hero’s Downfall. I kid you not. I was flabbergasted. (What do you know ’bout that vocab, Elspeth? Get aghast at my flabbergast. Get on my level.) I was pretty sure I was going to suffocate to death under the pressure of the giant manbeasthairpig, until I realized one crucial fact.

I was no hero. How could I die to Hero’s Downfall? Flavor fail. I explained my point to the giant beast, the hair apparent of the throne of clogged drain. Thankfully, the creature was a logical one. He paused, then agreed that flavorfully it made little to no sense for the antagonist to die to a Downfall meant for a Hero.

He asked me directions to Reid Duke. Barcelona. Peach Gardens. You have my oath. I coughed it out as he slowly released pressure from my aching chest. I sent him on his merry way and I was once again free. Free to do as I wished. Free to, um . . . what was it Elspeth said? Free to wreak havoc upon this ripe, unsuspecting world. Yeah, that’s it. That sounded really badass. She was kind of cool. You know, outside of the whole ‘I’m going to kill you unceremoniously’ part. Outside of that. Outside of the part where she thought I was a monster and wanted me deader than dead. She was the nut. Nut.

You may recognize this decklist as one piloted before, and for that I applaud you. You are correct. This list was not my own creation. I am not the sole proprietor of this idea. I am not the patent-holder for this marvel.

I was a mere vessel. I was a mere vassal in liege to the kings of monsters that reigned before me. The Kent Ketters. The Cedric A. Phillipses. Those fine folk that paved the way for Jund Monsters to become a thing. I merely adopted and adapted. After I had picked up my second loss and was effectively dead for Top 8, Cedric Phillips informed me: “When you mess with perfection, this is what you get.”

I had altered his list, and I paid the Ultimate Price. Or at least I would have, if I didn’t end up cutting those from the 75, thus causing me directly to get desecrated by one Master O. Waves and his motley assortment of little blue critters. So yeah, I guess I did pay the ultimate price. Standard is such a dreadful bore! Oh well! Better luck next time, bucko!

Seven and Three. Top Sixty Fo’. Felt like I was a Food Lion bagger the way I successfully bagged those two open points. Tied me up with William Jensen. The Huey. Just needed to show up for Legacy to claim first place in the Open Series race for the Player’s Championship. Leaving a legacy was going to be the industry standard for one Brian S. Braun-Duin, or at least, that’s how I dreamed it up.

Mizzium Mortars to me felt like a steaming piece of bantha fodder. The card is average against other Monster lists. You can kill a Stormbreath Dragon or maybe get a couple of mana dorks later in the game, but it doesn’t do much against cards like Polukranos, a bigass Scavenging Ooze or Reaper of the Wilds. Also Mortars is the stone worst against UW Control. “I hope he eats my attacking Elvish Mystic with his Mutavault so I can 1 for 2 myself with a turn 9 Stone Rain second main phase! That Mizzium Mortars was vaaaaaaaalueee!”

I wanted a card that was always live. In came Flesh/Blood. Let me put things to you this way. I lost a lot of game ones in this tournament. I hated my maindeck. It was clunky and unwieldy. There was one gorgeous exception, though, and that was Flesh/Blood. The card was magnificent. Blood with a Reaper of the Wilds is Hero’s Downfall. Blood with a Polukranos is a two-mana Lava Axe. Flesh/Blood fused on any creature, with any other creature is basically Hidetsugu’s First and Second Rite mashed together. “Cast only if opponent is at any life total. Hidetsugu’s First and Second Rite does a lethal amount of damage to that opponent.”

I had eight four-drops, and they frequently did nothing. It was gross. I’m stuck on turn seven with two Reaper of the Wilds and a Polukranos still in my hand waiting for the Polukranos in play to continue to do nothing and die so I can play the second one to also do nothing and later die. Don’t get me wrong, Polukranos is a hell of a card, but the deck just felt clunky. Every good card in my deck cost four and five and if I didn’t have the nut start with an Elvish Mystic or a Sylvan Caryatid, I was basically just durdling around for a while.

What I wanted was a tool that I conveniently put in my sideboard. I felt like Jund Monsters had a pretty weak matchup against UW Control. Reaper of the Wilds just doesn’t quite cut it against a deck that basically doesn’t have any spot removal spell post board against you. It just eventually dies to a Supreme Verdict, doesn’t apply a significant amount of damage in the meantime, and doesn’t really pressure them on an axis you care about.

Xenagos, the Reveler. Now that’s a Magic card. I think my Satyrday would have gone a bit better if I was maindecking this fine gent. Xenagos is basically the best thing you can do against any kind of UW(x) control deck. He presents a quick and ever-growing clock. He pressures them enough to force a Supreme Verdict without overextending, and he can even let your heavy hitters like Stormbreath Dragon and Mistcutter Hydra hit for even more with the +1 ability fueling large X’s and Monstrosities the likes of which have never been seen.

Xenagos is also awesome against any black-based deck. Those decks essentially rely on a near-endless supply of spot removal spells to clear the way for heavy hitters like Big D, the Desecration Demon. Barring a Hero’s Downfall, it’s hard for them to really muster up enough removal spells to handle the number of Satyrs Xenagos spits out. Xenagos also provides endless fodder to hold Desecration Demon at bay.

Even in the mirror, Xenagos can pressure Domri and play chump block duty against their big stuff long enough for your big stuff to come a-rumbling home. He lets you cast more than one spell a turn.

Despite all this talk about how clunky the deck was, I still went 7-3 including a couple of egregious game-costing punts. I think there is a lot of potential here, but I envision the deck looking more like R/G Monsters, just with Ultimate Price and Dreadbore as removal options to complement Flesh/Blood and really giving you a leg up on the mirror match and bringing some game against Master of Waves and Desecration Demon without sacrificing elsewhere, such as against UW Control.

I want to cut down on the splash, cut out the Reaper of the Wilds, and bring the focus back to Planeswalkers. Domri, Xenagos, Chandra. Get Ghor-Clan Rampager back in there. While these changes certainly weaken the mirror match, I feel they drastically improve the deck elsewhere since Ghor-Clan Rampager is essentially identical to Reaper in a lot of matchups, just with the ability to also Bloodrush and combo with Flesh/Blood for dirty amounts of damage.

Next time you see me at a Standard tournament, expect to see me battling with a more traditional Monsters list.

Actually, expect to see me battling with Obzedat, Ghost Council. What the **** am I doing with a R/G deck anyway? Something, somehow, somewhere went wrong. I goofed.

We pressed onward. I had become their leader. I was the king. The King of Monsters. Hydras, Gorgons, Dragons, Plants, Elf Druids . . . some of the scariest and most powerful creatures in the known universe. I was in charge. Elspeth hadn’t returned. I shelved that memory. Let’s just pretend she never came in the first place and hope she never comes back. I’m sure she would find a way to ruin everything if she did. Elspeth felt like the kind of soul who would destroy all my massive monsters but leave me with a couple of little critters left just to rub it all in. She seems vindictive like that.

The world was mine. Well, as long as Poly K didn’t eat it first. There was just one last place to conquer. The shoreline. We cautiously approached the sea, unsure of what to expect. What creatures . . . what monsters lie in wait on the other side?

Suddenly a creature emerged from the great blue expanse. We recoiled back in fear of the unknown. Then we laughed. Deep. A huge bellow. I pulled out my pet Bellows Lizard just for good measure. It was certainly a bellow average pet, but you make do with what you’ve got.

What rose from the water was a half man, half fish. It wore tattered clothing and began performing a strange ritual that looked surprisingly like twerking. We laughed again. Was this the best the sea could muster? It looked like this ripe, unsuspecting world truly was ours.

Then I saw it. The sea itself. It rose above the fish-man. It began to dance in tune with his rhythms. The sea itself began to twerk. Little known fact: Polukranos can’t swim. We got tworked. I turned and began to run. I started to shout out one word over and over again.

Retreat. Retreat. Ree . . . gargle . . . gargle [unintelligible].


I awoke. Alone. Wet. Facedown in a ditch. I had no recollection of who I was or how I got there. I had no idea where I was or why I was there. My hand was clutched tightly around a seashell. Inside the seashell was a small and ornately-carved top. I ditched the ditch and found a small piece of flat rock. I carefully placed the top and gave it a good spin…

Suddenly I was engulfed by a bright light. A shining figure in white armor stepped forward. In a loud and crystal clear voice I heard her say: “You, Monster. You will…” She paused. Her teleprompter was stuck. She cleared her throat a few times as a guy with some powder touched up her face a bit. “You will pay…” She paused again.

This time she looked at me. Actually looked at me. Realization dawned over her face. She looked like she had seen a ghost. “You will pay… $3.19 in toll to the Troll up ahead to cross the bridge. On the other side, you will find warm clothes and a hot meal. I am Elspeth, Champion of the Sun, and you are just the person this world needs to save it. You. Hero.”

I was frozen in place. My knuckles were whiter than her armor, gripping the top as tightly as I could. The best I could do was stammer out some sort of statement in the affirmative. “Yes, I. Warm clothing is… I will meal. I like lamp. Top of the day to you, ma’am.” I looked sheepishly at the top in my hand.

She looked me over once more and gave me one last parting word: “Don’t stack your triggers wrong. Seriously. Don’t screw that up.” With that she Planeswalked away. The last I saw of her she was taking off her clip-on microphone and cursing her iPhone’s reception.

I journeyed across the bridge, dreadfully alone. Darkness encompassed me on all sides, but yet I remained unharmed. No trolls even bothered asking for a toll. Free $3.19. I was oddly calm. I found the clothes and the warm meal. Hot was a bit of an exaggeration on her part. I dressed quickly and was about to go on my way when I noticed it. A small glint of metal. Lying on the ground was a plain sword. Engraved on the hilt were the words: “Sword of the Meek.” I sheepishly picked it up.

Meek. Sounds about right.

If I wasn’t wrong, though, I’ve heard talk that the meek are supposed to inherit the earth. Count it.

I sighed and began to trudge along on my way. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was meant to face. I just knew that whatever it was, I would give it everything I had and I hoped it would be enough. What was the worst that could happen?

I was surprised I had even made it this far. It was truly a miracle.

Academy Ruins and Blood Moon. Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, and Rest in Peace. Academy Ruins, Thopter Foundry, Blood Moon, Rest in Peace. I wanted to load my deck up with only the best combos.

Legacy is a combo format. Or so I’ve heard. I provided my own combos, no need to share. Thank you very much. I’ll return this Thopter Foundry to the top of my deck, and then I will lock myself out from ever being able to return it again with Blood Moon. Combos rock.

I went through somewhere between 20 and 9,029,234,123.32 iterations before settling on this precise list. I spent an entire road trip to Atlanta doing literally nothing but pondering over the exact details of this deck. In the end I settled on Preordain instead. I’d rather be able to clear the Sensei’s Top of my library than just offer up a shuffle. Preordain is underplayed in Legacy. The card is awesome and better than Ponder in a lot of fair decks. If cantripping is a religion, consider me a Preordained minister. Paging all Shaheen Soorani’s. It’s time to confess your sins.

I’ve wanted to play Miracles for quite some time. Last time I went to sleeve up the deck, Christopher J. Edgar VanMetre convinced me to stick with something I knew better. He warned me of the ills of the unintentional draw. He described to me the pitfalls of trying to play one of Legacy’s more error-prone decks without proper training. At the time I concurred, begrudgingly.

That tournament was Nashville. I played Storm, baby, one last time. I went 7-2 but I hated it. I felt like I got super lucky to go 7-2 and I felt like I was playing inspired. No less than three times I was on the last turn of the game and had to try to mentally convince my opponent to make the wrong line when he had two options. Every time, my opponent chose wrong and I won. 7-2 could have been 5-4. I couldn’t afford many mistakes. My opponents could mess up many times and still win if they had the right hate. It took excruciating effort just to navigate games to a winning board state through infinite hate cards and it just wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to lose every time I made a mistake, and I didn’t want to feel like I couldn’t win games even if I didn’t make a clear mistake.

It was time to play fair. Unfair fair. GP Paris had three copies of Miracles in the Top 8. I hated every one of those lists. Entreat the Angels sucks. You don’t always have Brainstorm. Sometimes, you’re holding a card that costs seventy mana in your hand all game while your 22 land deck – in a format with Wasteland – just does nothing and dies. Entreat the Angels literally does nothing until the point where it wins. If I’m going to play “The Goggles” I might as well just play Glasses of Urza. You’re wasting three cards in your deck on a card that isn’t even good.

There was no way in hell I was playing Entreat. Originally, I was going to just play Rest in Peace and Helm of Obedience. Helm only takes up one slot in your deck for a dead card, and Rest in Peace is actually good against a lot of decks in the format.

But honestly, I think it’s actual madness to play Miracles without playing as many ways to make your opponent’s life as miserable as you possibly can. Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance is already a great delight to play against for most opponents. Let’s add in Blood Moon and Humility so that they regret ever signing up for a Legacy tournament.

But seriously…. it is actual madness to play Miracles without playing cards that just auto-win against a bunch of opponents. If I’m playing six basics in my deck and I’m not punishing people for playing greedy BUG and Esper decks, honestly, what am I doing with my life?

I locked out a lot of people with Blood Moon. Nobody saw it coming and they all paid in blood. The card is very good and I don’t understand why it isn’t more popular in Miracles. The first time I played against Miracles was in an Invitational. My opponent locked me out with turn three Blood Moon in game one and I spent the other two games in constant fear of just losing on the spot if he ever drew it. I could sense the fear in my opponents after I won a game with Blood Moon.

The card is scary.

Ultimately, I played Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek as my combo du jour because I wanted to play Humility and thus I wanted a combo that interacted favorably. My original idea was Bitterblossom and Humility, but I wasn’t sure Bitterblossom was good enough on its own, and I feared t simply killing me before I could win. Sword of the Meek can be searched up by Stoneforge Mystic. Stoneforge can also find Batterskull. The Batterskull Germ turns into a 5/5 with Humility in play. There’s also the part where I can play with a token with my own face on it. Sold.

I posted not one but two different Facebook statuses about the deck. This deck was the boiled-down essence of the contributions of numerous people, many who I don’t even know. It was a collaboration. In the same vein as Twitch Plays Pokemon, we have Facebook Builds Legacy. FBL was almost good enough to win SCG Atlanta. Next time. There’s always next time.

The deck was awesome. The entire tournament was awesome. Or at least, the Swiss rounds were. I got quickly and effortless dismantled in the Top 8 by one they call “the Boss.” That was pretty gross. I went back and watched the coverage. The commentators thought I didn’t know how Inkmoth Nexus and Humility worked because of how completely and utterly shocked my expression was after I lost.

I knew how it worked. I just couldn’t believe how badly I got steamrolled. Both games I tapped out and then died to a flurry of specific cards, including that singleton Berserk in game one. I was shell-shocked. I wanted a recount.

In the tournament I had Liliana ultimated against me three times. I won every one of those games. I had Ashiok cast against me on turn two. I lost that game badly. I went 7-0-2 in the Swiss. The deck was winning, despite my numerous mistakes.

In round one I played against Mono Black Pox. I won with Thopter/Sword.

In round two I played against Mono Red Burn. I won with Counterbalance/Top and Thopter/Sword.

That Blood Moon and Humility were both looking pretty nice up to this point. A couple of mono-colored decks that don’t care about creatures.

Thankfully the next round I managed to win a game solely on the back of a turn-three Blood Moon. As the tournament progressed, Blood Moon won me more and more games.

Humility ended up being much worse than I expected. I played against Mishra’s Factory, Creeping Tar Pit, Inkmoth Nexus, and Painter’s Servant. I basically played against the “who’s who” of cards in Legacy that don’t really interact very favorably with Humility.

Despite that, Thopter/Sword was awesome. I won many games by assembling the combo, and even games where my opponent was able to eventually break it up with Abrupt Decay, I was able to still usually generate enough of an advantage to win the game anyway simply off of the tokens I was able to create in the meantime.

One of the highlights of the tournament for me was my match in round six against Reuben Bresler. In the first game I managed to finally establish control of the game despite his Grindstone really messing with my Counterbalance.

In game two, he led off with a turn-one Thorn of Amethyst on the play. As the game progressed, he cast Painter’s Servant, Goblin Welder, Phyrexian Revoker, and a Manic Vandal to blow up my Batterskull. Only one of those creatures were actually able to successfully swing past my lone Stoneforge Mystic. That’s right. Squire was able to hold off three of his four creatures long enough for me to reach turn seven, where I hardcast a Terminus for seven mana through his Thorn of Amethyst. A few turns later I followed up that feat by casting a six-mana Force of Will on his Simian Spirit Guide.

A second copy of Squire later kept his Imperial Recruiter from attacking so that my Jace could tick up to ultimate.

And that’s Legacy, folks. Squire control. Achievement unlocked.

Would I play this deck again? Absolutely. Would I play the same list? Probably not. I don’t know exactly how I would change it but I can tell you what cards I didn’t play much of and let you draw your own conclusions.

I never sided in Swan Song, Ethersworn Canonist, and one of the Rest in Peaces. I think I sided in Sword of Feast and Famine once but the card was completely unnecessary.

It may seem pretty counterintuitive to play Rest in Peace in the sideboard of a deck relying on a graveyard strategy (Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek). In actuality, though, against the majority of decks where you want Rest in Peace, you don’t need Thopter/Sword to beat them and can just swap Rest in Peace for that combo and win with Jace or Batterskull. The only exception is BUG and RUG Delver, where you want both. That can be kind of awkward, and in fact I won my win-and-in against BUG Delver with both Thopter Foundry and Rest in Peace in play at the same time. With that being said, Rest in Peace was so backbreaking that I didn’t need the Thopter Foundry to win, even had I drawn Sword of the Meek.

If I am going to play Enlightened Tutor, I want access to the best piece of graveyard hate and I will work my deck around it. Relic of Progenitus or Grafdigger’s Cage? You must be joking. Give me the real deal. I want my opponent to sell their dredge deck to the dealer right after our match. I want my opponent to rip his Reanimates up in front of his friends and throw them in the trash.

Legacy. Isn’t it beautiful!

Top 8 puts me eight points ahead of Huey Jensen in the race for the Season One qualification in the Player’s Championship. There are only a few weeks left. I just need to hold on.

I trudged through the edge of the forest. I swung a dull silver blade in front of me as a machete, only barely cutting my way through the dense foliage. The sword was worn out, but if you looked closely you could still barely make out a single phrase. On the hilt. An inscription read: “Sword of the Meek.”

I stepped out of the forest. The sunlight shone in my path. A wave of calm washed over me. I laid down in the tall grass and sleep enveloped me. I was weak, worn, and sick. But I had arisen victorious over the forces of darkness. I had slain aberrations and demons alike. I had been tested time and time again and I had survived each encounter. My body was poisoned and weak, but I would survive this time again, like I always had.

I just needed time. I just needed to hang on. Three weeks. Three weeks and the journey would be over. Three weeks and I could rest. I could rest for good. I could finally rest in peace.

Time passed as I slept. The sun fell beneath the mountains, replaced by a giant, round moon. The moon was blood red. The hilt of my sword flickered in the pale red moonlight.

GP Richmond