One Step Ahead – Return To Form *1st and 1st*

Gerry Thompson made StarCityGames.com Open Series history this past weekend, taking both the Standard and Legacy Open trophies home from Pittsburgh. Read about the decks that got him to the finish line twice in a row.

I lost round one of the Standard Open in Pittsburgh last weekend to Hero-Blade. Taking that kind of beating is something that I’ve become accustomed to over the years. After a while, you kind of get numb to the idea of losing. You know it’s going to happen at nearly every tournament, so you can’t beat yourself up over it.

For me, it was just another one of those days. Over the last few months, I hadn’t been doing very well in tournaments. Part of that had to do with not having a whole lot of fire, and part of it had to do with me randomly sleeping in for events, but that was largely due to my lack of fire.

Well, after battling back to Top 8 the Standard Open, it seems I’ve acquired some.

The story of my weekend mostly started at the event site Friday night. The tech I talked about last weekend was mostly given up on, but it involved re-inventing Cunning Sparkmage/Basilisk Collar (now with Grim Lavamancer!).

We had Sparkblade (Grimblade) brews, RUG-Pod with the combo, and some other brews. I ended up sticking with U/W, while Matt Scott switched to Puresteel Paladin. I tried to convince him to run Grim Lavamancer in that deck as well, and he seemed sold. That was until I told him about Valakut with Oracle instead of Solemn Simulacrum.

At that point, he started pulling all the Unhinged Forests and Mountains out of his box.

I met up with Ben Hayes and Josh Cho and handed them a double-sided decklist. “One side,” I told them, “has the decklist that I’m playing, and the other has the decklist that I think that people who aren’t me should play.”

They both studied each side and came to the same conclusions. “Spellskite? Mirran Crusader? What is this garbage? Obviously we’re playing the list with one Ponder, one Gideon, and one Consecrated Sphinx!”

Ben Hayes I understand. He could tell what I was going to play and likes playing similar decks. Cho, on the other hand, was a die-hard Vampires player up until a week ago. Such a quick learner…

I liked the Flores-Blade list I altered slightly but knew that I was better equipped wielding something a little more versatile. The fact that my two friends were behind the same list (and Drew would have been, had he been there) gave me a bit of confidence.

Here’s what we all registered:

The changes from last week are:

+ 2 Jace Beleren, 3 Spell Pierce, 1 Mana Leak, 1 Oblivion Ring, 1 Glacial Fortress, 2 Timely Reinforcements, 1 Twisted Image

– 2 Gideon Jura, 1 Consecrated Sphinx, 2 Everflowing Chalice, 1 Preordain, 2 Mental Misstep, 1 Celestial Colonnade, 2 Blade Splicer

Most of the changes to my deck were as a result of Edgar and Nick absolutely annihilating the SCG Open in Seattle. If I wanted to win the tournament, I figured I had to go through one of them, or someone else like Dave Shiels.

They had Spellskites for my Oblivion Rings and Spell Pierces for my Gideons. I was sure that I was not favored and thus needed to adapt. The amount of big spells had to be reduced, and I added a Twisted Image to the maindeck and sideboard to make them pay for running Spellskites.

Spell Pierce was mostly a concession to Tempered Steel, as it was the counterspell I kept in on the draw. Stopping Tempered Steel and Shrine of Loyal Legions seemed like the best way to win the matchup. Pierce was also fantastic against Oblivion Ring, Valakut, and Splinter Twin, which are all things you wouldn’t mind stopping.

Jace is fantastic in the mirror. I’ve mentioned in several articles that you shouldn’t be afraid to “Mikokoro” with Jace. Your cards are probably better than theirs on average, so you shouldn’t mind both of you drawing a card. Eventually you will two-for-one them enough times, or overpower them with Gideon or Sphinx. As long as Jace lives, you probably will too.

Blade Splicer was meh; Oblivion Ring was awesome; and Chalice was mostly used to power out my five- and six-drops. Timely Reinforcements was my attempt to hedge, as there is typically a solid following for Tempered Steel, Vampires, and RDW at the Open events. It was well worth the slots.

My matches that I remember were:

Hero-Blade (loss 1-2)
G/W Pod (win 2-0)
Ben Hayes w/ 75 card mirror (win 2-0)
Tempered Steel (win 2-0)
Tempered Steel (win 2-0)
Vampires (win 2-0)
Alex Bertoncini w/ Flores-Blade (win 2-1)

Hero-Blade (win 2-1)
Hero-Blade (win 2-1)
Goblins (win 2-1)

I’m forgetting two matches, and I assume one was a Hero-Blade, but I can’t be sure. It was, after all, a long weekend.

My point is that I played against exactly what I expected and performed as I had hoped. A single Splinter Twin or Valakut pairing could have easily thrown a wrench into my plans, but thankfully it didn’t come to that.

The round one loss I incurred was likely a fluke. My version is built to out-control the Hero-Blade versions of the deck. Once you kill every threat they play, you force them into playing a long game which they aren’t equipped to handle.

Goblins, Vampires, and RDW are all jokes thanks to Timely Reinforcements. The rest of your deck would be reasonable against them to begin with, but if you ever draw Reinforcements they are in big trouble.

Hero of Bladehold and Manabarbs are about the only way for them to beat a Reinforcements, but they need additional pressure as well. If you kick Reinforcements and their response is Manabarbs, they are almost certainly going to die to your tokens. It’s a sad day to be a red mage.

I don’t think Splinter Twin is necessarily a bad matchup, but nothing else in the format threatens you quite like Twin (or even Valakut) does. You have to play cautious, draw the right answers, not miss land drops, and still find a way to kill them. It’s a tall order, but you have the tools; you just have to play tight.

Valakut, on the other hand, is going to jam a threat down your throat every turn until you simply can’t deal anymore. More often than not, you’ll run out of counterspells before they fail to find threats or you kill them. There’s not much you can do aside from playing more counterspells or playing specific hate cards, but you don’t have room for those.

My mana base for this type of deck will typically consist of 27 land, but occasionally I play 26, just to see how it feels (see: SCG Memphis). Just as I thought, I’d prefer to play 27, or at least another Ponder or Preordain, probably in place of the Twisted Image. I felt land light a few times, but also won games because I constantly had gas.

One of the keys could be siding out a Tectonic Edge against aggressive decks and possibly boarding in the fourth Colonnade against the slower matchups. That should give you plenty of gas to fight hordes of creatures while giving you enough lands to make your drops in control matches.

If I were playing Nationals, I would almost certainly be playing U/W. My list is definitely the best right now, but that could easily change in a week, so be careful.

Part Two: Legacy

I sent Ben Hayes an email containing two decks: RUG aggro control in the same vein as Canadian Threshold, and U/B Control build by Osmanozguney on Magic Online. In the end we played neither, but we played the shell I proposed.

You see, with Hive Mind taking down multiple Opens, I figured that it would be the deck to beat going into Pittsburgh. I was right, but everyone else had prepared for it as well, as it didn’t even crack the top sixteen this time around.

My plan was to fight their Pacts with soft, situational counterspells that they couldn’t counter with their own Hive Mind. Hopefully, after you countered your Pact copy, they would die to their own Pact once their turn rolled around.

The longer the game goes, the worse Stifle and Daze become, so you want to close the game quickly. Tarmogoyf is an old favorite, and one that doesn’t fall to the plethora of Stoneforge Mystic hate out there. Stoneforge into Batterskull might be more powerful in a vacuum, but Goyf doesn’t die to Dismember (some of the time) or Ancient Grudge.

Dark Confidant picked up a solid following in Team America decks, but he’s not good with all the situational cards. I wanted something that would kill them with no fuss, and Tombstalker seemed to fit that bill. Vendilion Clique was my backup choice. Bob will just draw you into excess dead cards and not kill them quickly enough.

Here’s my winning list:

With so many cards in the deck having diminishing returns, you definitely don’t want the game to go long. Their topdecks will likely be better than yours. In some matchups, you’re the control deck (Merfolk, Zoo, combo), but against control, you’re the beatdown.

Being shoved into the control role when you can’t really afford to be is tough. Past the first few turns, only so many of your cards work as controlling elements, so you often have a tough go of it. When you’re the control deck, game one can be very tough.

Thankfully, we get to sideboard! Demise, Deed, and Jace turn us into a respectable blue deck, but matchups like Merfolk are still going to be tough. Didn’t they get the memo? The fishies aren’t supposed to be good anymore.

That’s the problem with the Legacy Opens. There isn’t a metagame like there is in the Standard portion. It seems like most people play the one Legacy deck they have, aside from a few certain people who have enormous Legacy collections. That turns the Legacy Open “metagame” into a regional thing, which make it very difficult to build your deck.

My advice would be: Don’t try too hard. Build something that you know will be good against a wide field because you have no real idea what you’ll play against.

Take my tournament for example:

Mono-Blue Glen Elendra Liege (win 2-0)
Cephalid Breakfast (loss 1-2)
Team Italia (win 2-1)
Burn (win 2-1)
73-card mirror (win 2-1)
Enchantress (win 2-0)
U/W “Fish” (win 2-1)
Merfolk (win 2-1)

Merfolk (win 2-1)
Reanimator (win 2-0)
Zoo (win 2-0)

That’s quite an eclectic group of decks. I built my deck with Hive Mind in mind, with a nod to decks like Dredge and Aggro-Loam with the Leylines in my sideboard. Both of the focal points of my deck were useless because of my matchups.

But I won anyway.

I don’t think that necessarily makes it right or wrong, as a BUG shell is mostly good, regardless of what specific cards you’re playing. I wouldn’t play my list again though. I’m a little sad that when I finally won a Legacy Open, it was with probably the worst deck that I’ve ever made top eight with.

Who am I to complain though? I just made history!

Players like Nick Spagnolo, Edgar Flores, Adam Cai, and I have managed to Top 8 both days, but no one had ever won both days before. I’m very proud to have been the first to do it, especially after losing early both days.

My Standard deck was simply amazing. There is little that I would change (goodbye Twisted Image…), and with US Nationals this weekend, it looks like it’s the deck to beat. When Edgar and Nick both made the finals of SCG Seattle, I expected a widespread adoption of their Caw-Blade deck, but didn’t see it popping up on MTGO. My deck is already making waves, so be prepared for it.

The Hero version is likely obsolete now.


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