So Many Insane Plays – Mission: Counterbalance!

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Monday, October 12th – At a recent Legacy tournament, Stephen Menendian did very badly. Today, he’s attempting to redress the balance. He takes his Counterbalance Top deck and thrashes it out against the major players in the metagame, sharing his match and play data along the way. Can he redress the balance?

Today’s topic will be Legacy. I was crushed in the last Legacy tournament I played, losing many Eternal rating points, suffering through 4 losses in a 6 round tournament trying to learn why my deck was no longer good. The results of the last SCG $5K event (excluding Philadelphia, which happened between the writing and publication of this article) makes the reason clear: the metagame has shifted dramatically.

Here are the enemies:

This is enemy number one. It’s the best performing deck at SCG Charlotte. It’s a monster, and it’s got a million tools for smashing Counterbalance decks.

This is enemy number two. Goblins is back. And it’s badass, thanks in part to M10.

And, of course, there is this thing:

Enemy number three. This thing only gets better with Zendikar’s Cosi’s Trickster (perhaps?).

Here is my weapon:

However, I want Leyline instead of Jailer and Annul and a Hydroblast instead of the third Extirpate.

Round 1: UGBW Counterbalance-Goyf versus Zoo, Pre-Board

Counterbalance is on the play.

Game 1: Counterbalance can’t find a White mana. Goyf and Bob are burned out. 0-1

Game 2: Zoo mulligans to 6, and that keeps Counterbalance in the game. A Goyf is burned out and garbage is drawn by the Blue deck, like Thoughtseize, Daze, and Cliques. 0-2

Game 3: Zoo mulligans to 6 again, but this time Counterbalance has the nuts: turn 1 Daze, turn 2 Bob, which is burned, turn 3 Goyf, and takes control with Predator in the air as well. 1-2

Game 4: Turn 1 Thoughtseize, two consecutive Dazes and then Counterbalance + Top take over and a Goyf goes all the way. 2-2

Game 5: Turn 1 Thoughtseize takes Jitte. Goyf is Plowed. Bob resolves, and survives a turn and draws a Plow. Bob is burned, and a Sylvan Library resolves. Two Goyfs pound away at Zoo. 3-2

Game 6: Triple Force of Will followed by bob and double Goyf allows Counterbalance to win. 4-2

Game 7: Lavamancer, Goyf and Pridemage overwhelm the opponent. Finished off with Fireblast. 4-3

Game 8: Turn 1 Nacatl, turn 2 Pridemage is Dazed and Jitte is Thoughtseized, but two Grim Lavamancers stick and that’s enough. 4-4

Game 9: Zoo has to mulligan the one land Canopy hand for the third time in this set. It’s mulligan is: Thoctar, Pridemage, Forest, Savannah, Windswept Heath, and Wooded Foothills. CBT draws: Underground Sea, Thoughtseize, Predator, Plow, Vendilion Clique, Flooded Strand, and Ponder. Turn 1 Thoughtseize takes Pridemage. Turn 2 Ponder sees Double Goyf. Miraculously, CBT squeezed this game out by plowing a Goyf to survive being burned. 5-4

Game 10: Zoo has to mulligan to 5 because of two one-land hands that are not keepable (the second had just a Mountain, but only 2 Red spells). Double Daze actually helps Zoo, as Kird Ape punches away at CBT’s life. Eventually, a stalemate trumped by burn just before CBT takes control. 6-4

Okay, so I didn’t really expect the matchup to be 5-5 pre-board. I expected a slaughter by Zoo. I am tempted to dismiss this as aberrant, except that there were games that could have easily gone Counterbalance’s way, like 1, 2, 8, and 10 believe it or not.

Some cards seem really bad in this matchup, like Trygon Predator, Vendilion Clique, even Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize. Yet, oddly enough, Thoughtseize can take a key early play, Bob has to be dealt with, and redirects burn and removal, and a Clique can even go all the way. On top of that, the Zoo deck is not as consistent as I thought it would be, particularly because of the manabase.

However, post-board, the Zoo deck has Choke, Grips, and all kinds of nastiness. In return, I get a bunch of Blue blasts.

Let’s see it!

Round 2: UGBW Counterbalance-Top versus Zoo, Post-Board

I boarded in most of the Zoo board, bringing in Shusher, Price of Progress, Choke, the second Umezawa’s Jitte, Red Blast and Krosan Grip for Chain Lightning, Kird Ape, Woolly Thoctar, and Fireblast.

Game 1: CBT actually had stabilized. It Forced turn 1 Nacatl and Dazed turn 2 Pridemage. Turn 3 Goyf resolved, but CBT had Bob and then another, which dug up Plows to remove two Goyfs. However, Shusher hit and Path to Exile on the only untapped Bob won the game clearing the way for the final two points of damage. Odd game. 0-1

Game 2: Turn 1 Thougthseize took Jitte, seeing Bolt, K. Grip, Price of Progress, and land. Bob came down on turn 3 so that it could be protected. Goyf came down then too, on the other side, but it was Plowed the next turn. Grim Lavamancer was Blasted, but Reb answered until Force resolved REB. Wild Nacatl was topdecked to hold of Bob. Trygon Predator joined the fun. Grim Lavamancer resolved and stuck. That’s game. 0-2

Game 3: This game was amazing. CBT had control for most of the game, but Choke came down and dominated. CBT’s Goyf was killed with Path. Then, Price of Progress finished the game. 0-3

Game 4: Turn 1 Lavamancer, turn 2 Pridemage, turn 3 Goyf — all unanswered. GG. 0-4.

Game 5: Bob is Pathed and CBT can never get ahead, trading one for one, and eventually a Price of Progress ends the game with Shusher. 0-5

Game 6: A critical Ponder decision to shuffle away Black mana to see some other business spells, let Zoo, which was stuck on one land for the first three turns, back in the game. Counterbalance came down, but it was too hit or miss, and Zoo eventually got a Cat to stick, which went almost all the way. 0-6

Game 7: This was another good game. CBT managed to survive deep, deep into the game and in fact take control. A counterbalance was Gripped, but another came down, and even a Goyf. However, a well timed play allowed double Bolt to kill the Goyf. Two Bolts were needed to kill a Bob. Then, Price of Progress and one swing from a Cat ends the game. 0-7

Game 8: Another game like the previous. This time, CBT has Goyfs, but the first is killed when two Goyfs double block a Cat powered by Pridemage, and the second is burned out by a Bolt. 0-8

Game 9: CBT is stuck on one land, despite having a million Blue Blasts, double Goyf goes to town. 0-9

Game 10: Everything was going smoothly for CBT this game, with Counterbalance, Goyf, and Bob in play and a couple of Brainstorms, when Choke hits. Miraculously, CBT plays another Goyf and has just enough tempo to win. Zoo has Shusher and can protect spells, but not enough, as CBT is able to double counter two key spells and Zoo only has three mana, so it can only activate Shush once per spell, which also activates Daze. CBT wins the game at 12 life.


Post-board, the matchup is pretty terrible. Shusher, Price of Progress, and Choke are all devastating. It took me a while to realize it, but despite the Choke, REBs, the Krosan Grips, and the Pridemages, Counterbalance is still really good in this matchup. The first one will be destroyed, but another can replace it. Sideboarding out Counterbalance, without better cards coming in, is probably wrong. One of the hardest things about this matchup is the fact that Bob rarely survives, with Grim Lavamancer, Lightning Bolt, and Paths all waiting.

More later…

Round 3: UGBW Counterbalance-Top versus Goblins

Goblins is on the play.

Game 1: Goblins has turn 1 Vial and turn 2 Vial. CBT has turn 2 Goyf. Goblins Vialed in Matron for Ringleader, which finds three Goblins, which are chained into overwhelming card advantage and victory. 0-1

Game 2: Goblins opening hand has two lands and no one drops. A bottlenecked Goblins treads water, but an inability to find a crucial White mana source by CBT allows some goblins to hit the table, but not enough to reach critical mass. Eventually, the White mana source is found, and the board is stabilized. A Goyf beats down with two Bobs for the eventual win. 1-1.

Game 3: Turn 1 lackey, turn 2 attack puts Ringleader into play, which draws: Chieftain, Ringleader, Warchief, Piledriver. Unreal. Goblins swarms. 1-2

Game 4: Turn 1 Thoughtseize takes Vial, leaving Lackey. Tundra is Wastelanded. Game is over. Lackey puts Matron into play, which finds Ringleader. Warchief and the Commander are already in hand. 1-3

Game 5: Incredible game. Goblins keeps a hand without Lackey or Vial. Piledriver is Thoughtseized. Goblins is stuck on three lands for many turns. The Blue deck manipulates its library to try to get some pressure on the board. But it Forces a Vial, Dazes the first four-drop, a Ringleader. Forces a Moggcatcher. All Counterbalance could get going was a Bob, Top and a Predator. Eventually, Goblins pulled ahead with its high casting cost Goblins. 1-4

Game 6: This was also an incredible back-and-forth. In the end, Counterbalance had Goblins at 1 life with 2 Goyfs and 2 Bobs. Goblins had Warchief, Ringleader and Chieftain, but a well drawn Lackey and Matron with just enough mana allowed it to Matron up Piledriver. Goblins wins. 1-5

Game 7: Turn 1 Vial slips through. Turn 2 Lackey and Wasteland, turn 3 Vial in Piledriver, then Matron, then Ringleader, and the game ends. 1-6

Game 8: Turn 1 Vial is Forced, not Dazed, so Bob can come down on turn 2. Thoughtseize and then Daze stops the turn 3 threat, and then Force stops the next. Goyf joins the game, and the Blue deck wins. 2-6

Game 9: This was another incredible battle. Vial was Forced on turn 1. Top came down. Turn 2 Lackey was also Forced. Goyf came down. Goyf started to swing for 4. Thoughtseize took Mogg Catcher, and Chieftain and Matron were Forced. All four Forces were used, thanks to Top. Goblins played around Top. 3-6

Game 10: Blue decks opening hand: Top, Strand, Delta, Trop, Goyf, Goyf, Bob. Goblins hand: Vial, Lackey, Lackey, Mountain, Mountain, Chieftain, Piledriver.
Strand into Island, Top. Goblins draws Stingscourger, and casts Vial. Goyfs join the board, but Vial does its job, and a Matron finds Ringleader, which leads to Siege-Gang Commander with Piledriver in play for a lethal swing. Goyfs aren’t fast enough. 3-7

Ouch. Goblins is a bad matchup.

Round 4: CBT versus Goblins: Post-Board

I brought in 4 Blue Elemental Blasts, Hydroblast, and 2 EEs for 2 Predator, 3 Clique, a Thoughtseize and a Counterbalance. For Goblins, I brought in Jitte, Zo-Zu, and Relic for Stingscourgers and Chieftains.

Game 1: Goblins mulligans a no-land hand into one with: Mountain, Mountain, Lackey, Warchief, and two Gempalm (maybe Gempalm should go out too? For Chieftain?). CBT keeps: Force, Counterbalance, Trop, Strand, Blue Blast, Daze, Brainstorm. Goblins plays turn 1 Lackey. CBT kills it with Blue Blast. Goblins plays turn 2 Mountain. CBT plays turn two Counterbalance. Goblins plays Piledriver, which is countered by lucky Counterbalance flip, which revealed the second Counterbalance. CBT plays turn three Brainstorm, Fetch, Top. Goblins attempts turn four Piledriver, not seeing a third land, and Counterbalance flip reveals Counterbalance again. Bob comes down in a few turns and Top + Counterbalance + Bob take over. Goblins plays a bunch of spells, but they are either countered by Counterbalance or met by a barrage of Force, Daze, Plows, and Blue Blasts. Another Bob enters play, and then yet another. Three Bobs attack a turn, and multiple Tops and Fetch keep the life loss to a bare minimum, especially with Brainstorm. CTB wins. 1-0

Game 2: Goblins Wastelands a Sea on turn 1, Brainstorm finds two more lands. Turn 2 Vial is Dazed. Turn 3 Thoughtseize takes Piledriver. Lackey is played, and met with Hydroblast. Warchief hits and swings. Bob comes down. Matron and Piledriver follow, and the game is now almost out of control. Hydroblast kills Warchief. A Piledriver is held off by Bob, since only Matron is on the table. Aether Vial begins to ramp and a Relic hits at the same time as two Goyfs. However, Vial wins it, despite CBT almost stabilizing. 1-1

Game 3: Lackey is Forced, and turn 2 Goyf comes down. Two more come down soon after. It looks like CBT is about to win, until Goblins topdecks Relic, and Goyfs are suddenly irrelevant. Lackey, Matron, and Jitte equipped Piledriver attack into a pair of Goyfs. A Goyf blocks, and the Relic is popped. Goyf dies. However, CBT untaps and Blasts the Lackey and Plows the Piledriver. The two remaining Goyfs do enough damage to win the tempo war and are just a few points shy of winning when Goblins plays Ringleader which finds a bunch of men. This game could have gone either way. 1-2

Game 4: Goblins has no turn 1 play, and CBT has turn 2 Bob and turn 3 Bob. Turn 2 Piledriver is Dazed and turn 3 Lackey and Jitte are Forced and Dazed. Goyf comes down the next turn. Vial resolves. CBT attacks for 9 with Goyf and two Bobs. Goblins plays Mogg Catcher, which is played and then Goblins dies. 2-2

Game 5: Goblins is mana screwed and Bobs and Goyfs come down like flies. An equipped Piledriver is not enough to stop two 5/6 Goyfs and a Bob. 3-2

Game 6: Turn 1 Ponder, turn 2 Bob. Turn 1 Vial is Forced. Wasteland Sea and Lackey resolves; however, it is Plowed. Relic resolves, but Goblins has no more land. Three Bobs and Two Goyfs win the game. It’s incredible how little Relic ultimately matters. Rethink sideboard plan. I’m reversing the sideboarding except for two Jittes in for two Gempalms. 4-2

Game 7: Turn 1 Lackey resolves, but is Blue Blasted. Piledriver is Dazed. Goblins is stuck, again, at two lands and misses its turn 3 play after CBT played turn 2 Ponder. CBT plays turn 3 Bob. However, a topdecked Piledriver resolves. Turn 4 Goyf. Turn 5 Warchief is Dazed. Bob reveals another Goyf, and it’s played on turn 5. Matron is Dazed. Both Goyfs swing in for 8. Goblin Chieftain is Blue Blasted. Double Goyfs and a Bob swing in. Another Bob is played to block just in case, and that’s game. 5-2

Game 8: Turn 1 Lackey is Forced. Turn 2 Bob. Sea is Wastelanded and CBT is stuck on one land, an Island. Mistake may have been keeping second Bob instead of third land. However, Daze, two Blue Blasts, and several Plows keep CBT in the game. However, two Ringleaders resolve, then are Forced, but allow Goblins to draw five cards. The one-for-one goes back and forth. Goyf is Stingscourgered, which trades with a Bob. Then three Mogg Catcher resolves and lives for a turn, which puts Siege-Gang Commander in play to clog up the board and win the game. Another great game. 5-3

Game 9: CBT: Force, Counterbalance, Plow, Brainstorm, Strand, Delta, Island. Goblins: Piledriver, Vial, Wasteland, Chieftain, Wasteland, and two Mountains. Goblins play turn 1 Vial which is Forced. Piledriver is Plowed. Chieftain resolves, though. Warchief is Dazed, and Piledriver is Forced. Bob comes down. Chieftain and Bob face off. Both hands are empty (Goblins had two mountains in hand, but that’s it). Board is just one creature on each side and lands. Bob whittles away the life, and a Stingscourger bouncing Goyf wins the game, since it’s hasted. 5-4

Game 10: Turn 2 Piledriver is Dazed. This game was awesome as well. However, three Goyfs gang up and win before Goblins can win with Piledrivers, etc. 6-4

Post-board, the matchup appears to improve dramatically for CBT. Relic of Progenitus did precious little. A Black splash might be much better for Goblins to directly take out creatures with Warren Weirding rather than the weaker cards like Relic or Stingscourger. Almost all of these games were very close, and CBT could have won game 9 and 4 quite easily.

I honestly expected Goblins to run over this deck not that much worse than it did pre-board. Engineered Explosives didn’t seem that good. Maybe there is something better for that slot for CBT. Maybe the two Trygon Predators would just be better. Both decks could tweak their boards slightly.

Honestly, at this point, I was expecting to basically say that I needed to cut Black to compete against these decks and add red for Firespout. I’m not longer convinced. While I’d like to test a UGRW list, with Firespouts and Sower instead of Bob and Thoughtseize, I don’t want to go there just yet. One other avenue of testing is re-including Nimble Mongoose in some quantity. That card held a special place in the deck in the original Chapin build. I could see cutting second Thougthseize and second Clique for two Nimble Mongoose, as a start. Game 1 against Goblins isn’t probably winnable, but Zoo does seem somewhat winnable without having to resort to cutting Black. Bob is so good. However, these are thoughts for another day.

I’m very curious to see where the Legacy metagame shifts after the StarCityGames.com $5000 Legacy Open in Philadelphia that will have wrapped up yesterday (at the time this article is published). I have some important data. First, the Zoo matchup, at least pre-board, is not as bad as I feared. It’s not good, but it’s not as devastating as I imagined. However, it’s pretty terrible post-board, but I don’t think it requires a total rewrite from scratch to even up. Most of the losses at least felt close.

The Goblins matchup, pre-board, is as bad as I feared. The good news, however, is that miraculously, and somewhat inexplicably, post-board the deck has no problem holding its own, even with just Bobs and Goyfs.

There are many design possibilities for the future, and I’ve just mentioned two: returning Nimble Mongoose to the deck or cutting Black for Red, to support Firespout. This decision should also be made based on careful testing of the Merfolk matchup, which I’ve saved for the future.

My initial inclination, in keeping the deck UGBW is to do this:

So, what are the changes? First, I’ve re-included Nimble Mongoose. Nimble Mongoose shines in the Fish, Goblins and Zoo metagame. Trygon Predator is still good, but it shines against Counterbalance mirrors, and the Dreadtill matchup, in particular, a deck that has disappeared. Vendilion Clique is really good in the Counterbalance mirror — incredible, in fact. However, it’s really bad against Zoo, Goblins, or Merfolk. Also, I’ve added a Path to Exile in the maindeck as a fifth Plow effect. Also, in the board I’ve re-included Threads, simply because it’s good against Zoo in taking Goyfs or Pridemages, and it’s not terrible against Fish either. This deck should be much better against Goblins as well.

The question is: is this deck better than something like this?

UGRW Counterbalance-Goyf Proposed Experimental List

Stephen Menendian

4 Force of Will
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Counterbalance
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Firespout
3 Sower of Temptation
2 Trygon Predator
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Vedalken Shackles
3 Scalding Tarn
3 Polluted Delta
3 Misty Rainforest
3 Volcanic Island
3 Underground Sea
3 Tundra
1 Island

These are questions I’ll have to save for another day.

I’m very interested to see how the Legacy metagame shifts in Philly as a result of the SCG $5K Legacy event.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian