So Many Insane Plays – CounterTop Emrakul in Legacy

Monday, August 16th – At GenCon, Stephen Menendian rocked an exciting CounterTop Emrakul list in the Legacy Championship. Today, he takes us through his tournament performance in time for the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Denver.

Here’s what I played at the Legacy Championship at GenCon:

CounterTop is one of the most powerful combos in Legacy, but it’s a combo that supports other combos or other powerful tactics. Among the most successful has been Natural Order plus Progenitus. Tarmogoyf has almost always been used with Counterbalance. By adding a few more Green creatures and Natural Order, you can power out an unstoppable finisher in Progenitus.

Another option is Show and Tell. I conceived this idea before the Grand Prix, after playing a few pick up games against Rich Shay test Show and Tell in Dreadtill, but I didn’t have the time to put it together in our zeal to perfect Lands. Natural Order has the advantage of only requiring a Green creature to be in play, while Show and Tell requires that you draw both combo parts. However, Show and Tell doesn’t warp the deck in other ways, such as the requisite density of Green creatures demanded by Natural Order. Instead, you trade off an overall higher quality deck for a two-card combo. Part of what makes this doable is the amount of search in the deck with Brainstorm, Ponder, Top, and Burning Wish in particular, which gives you seven copies of Show and Tell or ways to find Show and Tell. Thus, despite being a two-card combo, there are plenty of ways to make the combo consistent.

What makes this deck so dangerous — aside from the strength of the deck’s primary combos – is the variety and breadth of tactics available to it. There are five primary combos with the deck: 1) Counterbalance plus Sensei’s Divining Top, 2) Firespout plus Tarmogoyf, 3) Show and Tell plus Emrakul, 4) Jace, the Mind Sculptor plus Tarmogoyf, and 5) Burning Wish plus Firespout / Show and Tell.

Opponents who manage to stop Emrakul may be sunk by Jace. Opponents who stop the Goyf attack may find themselves locked out by Counterbalance or defenseless against Emrakul. Opponents who deploy all of their men onto the board to race Show and Tell or Goyfs will find themselves in a big hole when Firespout resolves. The key to this deck is understanding that it has several major game plans, each of which is powerful in its own right.

Teammate Steve O'Connell suggested Burning Wish, and I loved the idea, as did Brian DeMars. At first, I felt that Burning Wish may be too awkward, slow, and ineffectual. But after testing and tournament play, it was as smooth as could be. Burning Wish finds situational answers like Hull Breach, combo parts, or board sweepers like Pyroclasm or Firespout.

Jace earned its way into the deck with just a few games of testing. Jace plus Tarmogoyf is one of the deck’s stronger game plans. Goyf protects Jace from attack, and allows Jace to take over the game. Goyf serves on offense too, especially when backed up with Counterbalance.

I tested Daze, but it was poor, and it was swiftly cut for more lands and Jaces.

The sideboard was thrown together at 2am the night before the tournament, and was not well conceived. I forgot entirely about the Dredge matchup, and I had too many cards for the Blue mirror. Llawan was for Merfolk.

Blood Moon, part of the original Weissman soft lock, is really good in here for a number of reasons. Like Pithing Needle, it’s an answer for Karakas. But, just as importantly, people will walk into it post board. It’s also a silver bullet in the Lands matchup.

Although I was dead tired, I was excited to play such an interesting brew at the Legacy Champs. We take our seats and discover that we have about 190 players in the field, or eight rounds of swiss with a cut to a Top 8. Pairings go up, and we begin:

Round 1: Survival

Game 1 was a blur, except that my opening hand had Counterbalance, Show and Tell plus Emrakul, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. And that’s exactly how I curved out: turn 2 Counterbalance, turn 3 Show and Tell, and turn 4 Jace, all with Force of Will protection. The game ended rather quickly.

Curving out like that got me pumped up for the rest of the tournament. This was going to be a fun day!

Game 2:

I sideboarded in Pithing Needles and Krosan Grips for lord knows what.

My opening hand was:

5 lands
Sensei’s Divining Top
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Does being on the draw make a difference? I felt that it did. I had part of the combo and Top, which seemed pretty good, especially with all the fetchlands I had in hand. I kept that hand.

I drew Counterbalance on turn 1, and played the Top. But instead of playing Counterbalance on turn 2, I felt it was more important to spin Top first. I had too many lands in hand, and I needed to make sure I was drawing business. He played turn two Survival, anyway. A blind Counterbalance hit was unlikely, and given the paucity of spells in my hand, I felt it was more important to ensure a decent topdeck. And it was. I played turn 3 Burning Wish (rather than Counterbalance), which in retrospect was an error. I Burning Wished for Show and Tell to play turn 4 Show and Tell. I didn’t know that Survival decks play Emrakul, and it was a blowout when I played Show and Tell with Force of Will protection, and he Survivaled up a mystery card, and put Emrakul into play when I did. Counterbalance came down, but by then I had already lost too much tempo and life, and he was able to overwhelm me with this Survival.

Game 3:

My opening hand was:

Pithing Needle
3 lands

I played turn 1 Tarn. He played land, Noble Hierarch. I untapped and played Volcanic Island, and Clasmed away his Hierarch. He played turn 2 Survival, and I drew Force of Will for the turn, so I played Pithing Needle on Survival. He answered with Tarmogoyf, and I looked helplessly at my Firespout, which would only power up the Goyf, who would survive the storm. He Krosan Gripped my Pithing Needle, but it was too late. I drew and played Show and Tell with Emrakul. He played Genesis, and I untapped and won.

Round 2: 4c CounterTop

My opponent appeared to be playing the same list as Matt Sperling the weekend before, with maindeck Karakas. The first game lasted for over thirty minutes. My opening hand had double Show and Tell and double Emrakul, but he played turn 3 Karakas, even though he had no idea what I was playing. He had naturally drawn the decks singleton Karakas.

I made the mistake of making the first move, and I attempted a Counterbalance, which was Spell Snared. However, I resolved a Goyf and he resolved a Goyf, and the game became a good old-fashioned standoff. I managed to resolve a Top, and that was my trump. However, he got a Counterbalance down, and then another. However, he didn’t have Top to manipulate his library. Miraculously, I topped into Goyf, Jace, and a Blue spell, and I slow-rolled that sequence, finally getting Jace to resolve, which he couldn’t stop with Counterbalance. However, he did Oblivion Ring my Jace. I had plenty of counter protection at this point, but, after one Counterbalance trigger whiffed, he activated a fetchland for a blind counterbalance, and saw Force of Will to counter my Force of Will. I had another Force in hand, but that was obviously moot as well.

The good news is that I used Burning Wish to find Hull Breach on Oblivion Ring, which brought Jace back on line. I bounced his Goyf, and attacked, but realized I needed greater control over the game, not simply tempo. So I fatesealed him once (to control his Counterbalance), and then Brainstormed, and then felt strong enough to go for the win, and won the game with double Goyf.

This was a great win, as it taught me that I could win even when I couldn’t Show and Tell. This decks other plans are strong enough to win even a fierce Counterbalance mirror.

Game 2:

I boarded in Krosan Grips, Karakas, Blood Moon, and Red Elemental Blast. Here, I realized that I probably didn’t need those Red Blasts.

By turn 2 I had Jace and Blood Moon in hand. Despite the fact that he played only non-basics for the first couple of turns, I was afraid to go for Blood Moon. I had Force of Will in hand, but my only Blue spell was Jace, so I kept waiting until I could find a Blue spell to pitch. He missed early land drops, after his first two lands, making me think that he had even more countermagic in hand. I should have just gone for early Blood Moon, and when I didn’t, he was able to Vendilion Clique me. I Red Blasted the Clique, but he Forced, and put Blood Moon on the bottom of my Library. His Clique dealt with Jace, and this game ended.

Game 3:

We begin this game with mere minutes on the clock. I had turn 3 Show and Tell with double Force of Will protection, but I ran out of time. Show and Tell resolved in extra turns.

Round 3: CounterTop Thopter

Game 1:

My opening hand was:

4 lands
2 Force of Will
1 Tarmogoyf

And in my first two draw steps, I drew two more lands, but then drew another Goyf. I played turn 2 Goyf and turn 3 Goyf, and then Forced his Counterbalance, pumping my Goyfs. He played Moat, but I Brainstormed drawing Burning Wish, putting back two lands. I Burning Wished for Hull Breach, blew up his Moat, and won the game!

Interesting tempo game here! This deck seems to be playing differently every game!

Game 2:

I mulliganed my opening of seven into a one-lander:

Misty Rainforest
Krosan Grip
Force of Will

My opponent mulliganed, and reluctantly said he’d keep.

He played turn 1 Seat of Synod, Top. I Forced Top. I did this because with his lead of Seat of Synod, and his reluctance to keep his hand, I felt there was a good chance I could mana screw him. This plan backfired as he topdecked Brainstorm, and played Tundra. I didn’t see a land on my turn, so I broke the Misty Rainforest and played Brainstorm, which did not reveal another land, but did reveal a Ponder. Next turn, I Pondered into a Volcanic Island, and played it. He played Academy Ruins, and put Top back onto his deck. I played Jace once I hit four lands. He Enlightened Tutored for Oblivion Ring, and Ringed Jace. But it was too late. Jace allowed me to Brainstorm, which found Burning Wish. I Burning Wished for Show and Tell, and put Emrakul into play. He put Moat into play, but Moat does not beat Emrakul, and I won.

Round 4: Saito’s Merfolk

I have no memory of he first game, but I must have won it.

Game 2:

In this matchup, I sideboarded the Counterbalances out, since Aether Vial trumps them anyway. I brought in Red Blasts, Pyroclasm, and Llawan.

My opponent mulliganed to six, but he played Mutavault, Aether Vial on turn 1, and Standstill on turn 2, and put Lord into play on turn 3 My opening hand was literally two Show and Tells, Emrakul, and land. I played turn 4 Show and Tell, playing around Daze (maybe I should have played one on turn 3?), but he Forced it, and my turn 5 Show and Tell was too late. He won on turn 6 with Islandwalkers. I was swarmed.

Game 3:

My opponent sideboarded thinking I was playing Show and Tell and Sneak Attack, apparently. Because when I played Goyf on turn 2 and another on turn 3, he was not remotely prepared. This was the first game in which I played Green spells this match. He had turn 1 Cursecatcher, turn 2 Lord. I played turn 4 Burning Wish for Show and Tell, and he Spell Pierced it on turn 5. On the next turn, I Burning Wished for Firespout, killed all of his men, and killed him with Goyfs.

Round 5: Lands!

This was a GGSLive feature match, watchable here. There appears to several glitches in my match coverage. To watch it, you should be able to click the video of the 2010 Legacy Champs, and then scroll over to the round 5. However, to watch my video, you have to start at round 4, watch the advertisement at the end, and it will load round 5.

Unfortunately, the first game was lost due to technical difficulties. But in the first game, my opponent had early Exploration and Loam, and began Loaming very quickly. I had early Emrakul. But he had Manabond plus Exploration plus Loam, so he was able to generate multiple permanents per turn. He used this advantage to fuel a Glacial Chasm. I was developing my manabase with all basics to withstand a Wasteland assault that he was never able to launch. With the Manabond in play, he could Loam, cycle Tranquil Thicket, and Loam again, putting about 4-5 permanents in play a turn. In the first Emrakul swing, he easily sacrificed 6 permanents, and then returned most of them to play on the next turn. I saw him dredge away Ensnaring Bridge and, shortly thereafter, a Riftstone Portal. If not for my Emrakul, he could have been Loaming 3 times a turn.

At just the right moment, I topdecked Burning Wish, which I used for Hull Breach to kill the Manabond. This slowed him down considerably. He was now losing about 3-4 permanents a turn, but he still had plenty of lands in play.

At the last possible moment, he was able to Tolaria West for Academy Ruins. He had Glacial Chasm, Ruins, Tropical Island, and one other land in play untapped after sacrificing six. On my next turn, I topdecked, and scooped. This caused quite a bit of confusion in the broadcast booth. I had Emrakul in play, and scooped. They didn’t see the Bridge or the Riftstone Portal in my opponent’s graveyard. My opponent indicated that he was about to Ruins back the Bridge, and play it on his turn, and I would be locked out, which he could do with exactly enough mana. With Hull Breach gone, I had no more answers. I didn’t make him go through the motions because we had less than 30 minutes left in the round, and I needed to win two more games.

Game 2:

I brought in 3 Krosan Grip and 2 Blood Moon, and maybe 2 Pithing Needle (for Academy Ruins, for example). I sideboarded out Goyfs and a Burning Wish. This also raised questions in the broadcast booth. I played Lands at the GP, you have to understand that Goyf is the weakest card in this matchup, tying up mana and not doing very much. Emrakul can’t be stopped by either Maze or Chasm.

I play turn 1 Island, Ponder. He plays turn 1 Taiga, Mox Diamond (discarding Tolaria West), and casts Manabond, which I don’t care about here. It only matters if he has Loam. I play Wooded Foothills, and pass the turn. He plays Rishadan Port. On his endstep, I play Brainstorm. Then, when he goes to Port me in my upkeep, I break the Foothills for basic Mountain. I then play an Island and cast Burning Wish for Show and Tell. My hand has another fetchland in it, and a dual land. I kept Jace in hand over Krosan Grip for two reasons. First, Jace is Blue, and pitches to Force. Second, Jace is strategically powerful in this matchup, especially if I can get CounterTop lock going or Blood Moon down, as then I can use Jace to win. It trumps Ensnaring Bridge.

My opponent untaps and plays Gamble, and I Force it. I don’t want him Loaming with Manabond and Exploration in play. I untap and, after being Ported, play Show and Tell for Emrakul. He puts an Exploration into play. A few moments later he scoops.

Game 3:

I sideboard out the third Krosan Grip for a Burning Wish, and the commentators wonder why. Burning Wish finds Hull Breach, so it gives me slightly more versatility/flexibility, and performs one of the same functions as Krosan Grip. Had I known my opponent had Oblivion Stones, I probably wouldn’t have done this.

I had Blood Moon in my opening hand, and was very excited about it. He played turn 1 Exploration, Urborg. I played Tropical Island, Ponder, setting up the nuts draws. He plays Oblivion Stone, and I Forced it. I played turn 2 Mountain, and turn 3 Island, Blood Moon. Then I played Show and Tell and resolved it, but he put Ensnaring Bridge into play. This was fine as I had Jace in hand. I drew consecutive fetchlands and duals, all Mountains. He played another Oblivion Stone, and this forced me to Force it, pitching Jace. Then I ripped Burning Wish, and Wished for Hull Breach, targeting Ensnaring Bridge, and wiped his board with Emrakul.


Round 6: Burn

Unfortunately, he won the die roll.

He plays: Mountain, Go. I play Top. He plays Spark Elemental, and I play Counterbalance. He plays Sulfuric Vortex, and then a Keldon Marauders slips through the Counterbalance next turn. And, although I’m able to counter his next turn Price of Progress, he plays double Fireblast, the last two cards in his hand, killing me. Unreal.

Game 2:

I had a one-land hand with Top, Top, Emrakul, Show and Tell, Brainstorm. I played turn 1 Top, upkeep Top, seeing Ponder and no lands. I played Ponder on turn 3, and he Red Blasted it. On turn 4 I got a land down, and played Ponder again, and saw more lands, but it was too late. His burn raced my Emrakul. He killed me with more burn in hand.

Round 7: Bant, Natural Order-CounterTop

My opponent won the die roll.

In game 1 he had turn 1 Noble Hierarch, turn 2 Goyf, turn 3 Trygon Predator, and he got there with damage and countermagic.

In game 2, I had Show and Tell and won.

In game 3, this happened:

As you can see, I had Emrakul and two Goyfs in play, and he had a Progenitus. When I played Show and Tell, he had Progenitus in hand. This wouldn’t have mattered, except for two things: his turn 2 Rhox War Monk brought him to 28 life, even though my Goyf had blocked it. Second, he had 7 permanents in play when my Emrakul attacked. So, he sacrificed down to the Progenitus, and then killed me with it, despite the fact that I did 25 points of damage to him the turn before.

Round 8: The Epic Storm

I smashed up an Epic Storm player, getting CounterTop lock assembled by turn 2 in games 2 and 3, followed shortly in both games by Jace, but I scooped him into the Top 16 as I was mathematically eliminated while he was not.

All in all, I had a blast playing this deck. A few changes are in order, though. First of all, my sideboard was very bad. It was thrown together the night before. I should have played with Blue Elemental Blasts over Red Elemental Blast. That would have helped me enormously in the Burn matchup. Pithing Needles are there for Karakas, Survival, Academy Ruins, and Belcher, so I’d recommend keeping them. Llawan can maybe be cut. One of the things I would try to change is to fit another Firespout into the maindeck. That card is really good.

This deck is flexible, and can be modified in a number of ways to suit your personal preferences/card choices. But I encourage you to give it a shot, especially at this month’s StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens. CounterTop Emrakul seems well positioned in the new metagame, with strong matchups against the traditional powerhouses.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian