So Many Insane Plays – The Road to Chicago with Next Level Blue

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Monday, March 9th – Grand Prix: Chicago is now in the books, with attendance figures higher than anyone imagined. Despite failing to make Day 2, Stephen Menendian prepared well for the event, and today’s So Many Insane Plays chronicles this preparation. He outlines his final build, and shares his thoughts on the format in general.

By the time you read this sentence, Grand Prix: Chicago — the third American Legacy Grand Prix — will be in the record books, meaning web archived on MTG.com.

I began my exploration of Legacy a few months ago by selecting one deck — Chapin’s Next Level Blue – and playing it card for card in a local tournament. You can read my tournament reports here and here.

I did not expect that Chapin’s deck would be the archetype I decided to play in Chicago. Although I was aiming for a high finish in Chicago, my immediate goal was to simply learn as much as I could about the format. As I began to map out the format, I wanted to commit to learning a deck very well, but allow myself to be open to changing decks if a clearly superior deck came to my attention. The closest I came to an audible for this tournament was for Enchantress, an archetype that I saw clean up on the back of Choke in a local tournament. The more I tested Enchantress, the more I saw the design weaknesses and ways to beat it, even with ostensibly unfavorable pairings.

In this article, I want to explain my card choices for NLU, some of the operations of the deck, and how to approach the anticipated matchups.

The Metagame

With four colors and a basic aggro-control concept, there are virtually infinite design permutations. The difference between every possible configuration and the optimal one is the anticipated metagame.

In my experience, magic players are notoriously poor at predicting or assessing metagames. This is no fault of their own. Our brains are not wired to accurately perceive information, but skew information based upon what is important or salient. For example, people tend to extrapolate Top 8 data to the entire metagame. Thus, most people tend to overemphasize the largest metagame competitors and under-estimate more marginal elements. I begin every major tournament with an assessment of what I think the metagame will actually look like. It is important to recognize that I begin with the awareness that a great deal of error is involved. If my predicted metagame is within 20% of the real metagame, I consider that extremely accurate, or about as accurate as we can be with so much unknown and unknowable information. If I am within even 35% of the true field, I consider it good enough to make accurate metagame tweaks and sideboard choices.

Even if I turn out to be considerably less accurate, this exercise is useful for helping me think more deeply about what I expect to encounter and whether those expectations are sensible. This process makes explicit basic assumptions I may be harboring, and thereby more easily scrutinize them.

Composing an accurate metagame prediction for Grand Prix: Chicago poses a number of challenges. Good data for Legacy tournaments is more difficult to obtain than for almost any other format, including Vintage. The Vintage community — largely out of necessity — developed over the years several reliable outlets for accumulating and aggregating tournament data. Although the Source remains a useful resource, many tournaments reported there are small and with incomplete information such as tournament size, etc. The average local Legacy tournament appears to be considerably smaller than the average local Vintage tournament, which results in even less statistically significant information. There are far more “Top 4” data in Legacy, indicating much smaller, and more variant tournament information.

After having scoured through virtually every tournament results I could obtain in the last couple of months, giving particular weight to American tournaments, especially those in the Midwest, and giving greatest weight to the metagame breakdowns for the tournaments I ran (the Meandeck Opens), here is my predicted Grand Prix: Chicago metagame breakdown:

Threshold 12%
– w/ Counterbalance — 11%
– w/o Counterbalance (i.e. UGr): 1%
Landstill (8%)
Goblins (4.5%)
Elves (4%)
Dreadtill (UR and UW variants): 4%
Control decks with Counterbalance/Top: 4%
Affinity (4%)
RGB Loam (4%)
Blue Loam Control (4%)
Merfolk (4%)
Counterslivers (4%)
Misc. Control Decks (4%)
Natural Order Decks (3.5%)
Team America (3.5%)
Dredge (Ichorid) (3%)
Prison (3%)
Zoo (3%)
The Rock/PT Junk (3%)
Enchantress (3%)
Ancient Tomb Stompy decks (2.5%)
Dark Ritual Storm Combo (2%)
Mono Black or B/W or B/G (2%)
Land.dec (2%)
Burn and burn variants (2%)
Survival (2%)
Solidarity (1%)
Painter (1%)
Belcher (1%)
Other: 5%

We’ll likely never know how accurate this prediction is since Wizards usually only reports the Day 2 breakdown, which is by definition the best performing chunk of the whole. I also wanted to leave a 5% random, since if I tried to capture the entire metagame with less than 30 decks, I’d almost certainly be wrong.

GP: Philly was less than 500 players. GP: Columbus was almost 900 players. In some ways, that’s the inverse of what one might expect. Grand Prix: Philadelphia was a wide-open format. It was the first high-level competitive Legacy tournament since the format was created. One would have thought that in such a wide-open format, everyone would have shown up with their homebrew. In contrast, Grand Prix: Columbus was a tournament defined by Flash. Everyone knew it going in. Many players said that they refused to attend since Flash was so unfair and non-interactive. Given how much people complain about non-interactive combo decks, one would have thought that the turnout for Grand Prix: Philadelphia would be large and the turnout for Columbus be comparatively small. At the time, Grand Prix: Columbus was the largest American Grand Prix, or one of them. What explains this fact? Aaron Forsythe speculated that perhaps the buzz around Flash actually drew more attention to the tournament, and got more people interested. And, interestingly, most players came into the tournament confidant about their Flash matchup. The only complaining I heard at GP: Columbus was from Flash players.

Another factor could simply be the location. Columbus can draw out more mid-westerners and southerners than Philadelphia. Pete Hoefling reminded me that none of the previous Ohio Grand Prix tournaments were even close to those numbers.

In the end, I think the turnout for Grand Prix: Chicago will fall somewhere in between the two prior tournaments, and probably around 500-700 players. The trials have had very light turnouts, which makes me think that the final turnout could be closer to Philadelphia than Columbus. That means that every 1% of the metagame in my predicted breakdown represents roughly half a dozen players. [Of course, we know the true figures now… – Craig]

Force of Will & Tarmogoyf

Force of Will and Tarmogoyf are the starting point for this aggro-control concept. Tarmogoyf is arguably the best beatdown creature ever printed, since it is the most efficient for its size and strength. Force of Will is clearly the best counterspell ever printed.

Ponder and Brainstorm

I have written quite a bit about both cards in the Vintage context (see one of the last sections of this article, for example), although both cards are now restricted in Vintage (which should give you a proper sense of their power level).

This deck is functional in no small measure on account of these two cards. It helps us to reliably play a four-color deck. It gives us a tremendous edge over any deck that does not run these incredible cantrips, by giving us much greater consistency relative to the field, and allowing us see far more cards than our opponents over the course of the game, and thereby more options and answers.

I keep hands like this on account of Ponder:

Flooded Strand
Swords to Plowshares
Dark Confidant

When it comes to turn 1 Ponder or Brainstorm, I generally prefer Ponder. If you Brainstorm a one-land hand and see no more lands, it will be two more turns before you have the possibility of drawing a second land. With Ponder, you can shuffle your library if there are no lands on top.

Brainstorm is preferred with hands on the opposite end of the spectrum:

Tropical Island
Flooded Strand
Underground Seal

Brainstorm is better when you are mana flooded, so that you can use your Fetchlands to shuffle away the excess mana. But when you are mana tight, Ponder is much preferred because it sees more cards and can shuffle your library.

Both cards serve multiple functions in this deck. They help you develop your manabase, they dig up answers and countermagic, and they interact synergistically with Counterbalance and Dark Confidant.

In terms of mid-game usage, Ponder and Brainstorm differ substantially. Ponder is a card that is almost always to be used as quickly as possible. Brainstorm is slightly different on account of the fact that it can turn late game dead draws, such as Dazes that have no chance of countering anything, duplicate Counterbalances, and excess land into cards with more immediate value, especially if you have a Fetchland available to shuffle away the chaff. Similarly, Brainstorm is very important when you have Counterbalance active. It allows you to put back particular casting cost cards on top of your library, especially three-mana spells of which they are only a few in the deck.

This next point will be more difficult to explain. In my last tournament report, I speculated that I might have been using Ponder and Brainstorm inefficiently.

Here is what I said:

I may be using both cards too aggressively. Aside from Dark Confidant and Counterbalance, there are no sources of direct card advantage in this deck. There is no Blue draw engine, like Thirst For Knowledge or Intuition plus Accumulated Knowledge, for example. And there are no restricted cards to dig for that will just win the game. There is no Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall to Ponder into. I am wondering if I am automatically playing Ponder and Brainstorm too quickly without giving enough thought to how to maximize their usage by waiting. This is especially true of Brainstorm. Some of my best play on the day was the times and places where I just held Brainstorm in hand until the right moment.

At the next tournament, I tried to use Brainstorm less proactively. I held it for longer periods of time. What I discovered was somewhat surprising to me. In almost all of the matches in which I tried to do this, I discovered that my early game advantages waned the longer I held onto Brainstorm. What was happening? In Legacy, much of the interaction is on a one-for-one basis: you counter my spell, I plow your creature, etc. What happened was that I was holding onto Brainstorm in an attempt to get an advantage by shuffling away dead cards at some point. But the very fact that I was holding onto Brainstorm meant that I had a card that wasn’t doing anything (Brainstorm) and was thereby harming my ability to keep parity on the one-for-one basis. I was struggling to keep my head above water. When I reverted back to my earlier and more aggressive early and mid-game use of Brainstorm, my advantage resumed. My conclusion is that it was a worthwhile experiment, for the understanding it imparted, but ultimately I was not using Brainstorm inefficiently. This isn’t Vintage, where decks push for critical mass or otherwise sit their idle. If you wait to Brainstorm in the hopes of turning dead cards into good ones, you risk having Brainstorm be dead in the meantime. In a format where tempo is so central, that cost is not trivial.

Counterbalance + Top

Threshold decks were very popular and powerful before the printing of Counterbalance. However, they were more tempo oriented. They were more burn heavy. The printing of Counterbalance gives Threshold a genuine card-advantage engine.

In his article two weeks ago, Josh Silvestri expressed incredulity that anyone might run less than 4 of either, but Counterbalance especially, and openly admitted that he had not, and would not, consider possible arguments in the alternative as beyond the pale. In his view, Counterbalance-Top is the reason to play this deck. Let me now compose the response.

In the Engines of Legacy, Matthieu and I described Counterbalance as a format defining spell. It is. But that means that everyone who plays Legacy realizes that it is a format defining card, and has made adjustments accordingly. There is virtually no deck in Legacy that does not have a plan or the means, even if it is less than likely, for fighting Counterbalance. That means to rely on Counterbalance, too bank on it too hard, is wrong. Since I started playing Legacy again in December, I realized this fact.

For this deck Counterbalance is a source of card advantage, not a lock — at least most of the time. Against Goblins or Landstill — two of the decks I expect to see quite a bit of play at the GP, playing turn 1 Top and turn 2 Counterbalance is a recipe for losing. Even in matchups where it might shine, such as Merfolk, Counterslivers (assuming they don’t get an Aether Vial down first), or Dreadtill, I prefer to play a Dark Confidant first. In fact, if there is a choice of a turn 2 play of Counterbalance or Dark Confidant, I will play Dark Confidant more than nine times out of ten. The main exception is if I am forced to play turn 1 Top. Even then it’s not automatic that I’ll play Counterbalance first. For example, if I’m holding Daze and Force, I may go for Bob instead, since I expect my opponent to try to remove the Dark Confidant.

I use Counterbalance, rather, as a sort-of mid-game card advantage boost, as a way to counter a few of my opponent’s spells and give my deck the final edge going into the end-game. In some ways, it’s the same concept as how the control deck plays Fact or Fiction to seal up the game.

Alternatively, I use Counterbalance as powerful bait in the early game, to draw out a counterspell, or to protect a turn 3 Goyf for a few turns. It’s an important way to generate card advantage, but one that I tend to use in the mid- and late-game. It’s a way to move the game safely into your corner when hand sizes have dwindled, and both players are picking at each other, one for one. Sure, there are games when it comes online in the first couple of turns, but those games are few and far between. For those reasons, I think running three is a perfectly legitimate choice. If Counterbalance had just seen print, or if the metagame had not adjusted, then the answer might be different.

It’s actually incredibly amusing to watch people counter turn 1 Sensei’s Top because they so fear Counterbalance. I have am always thrilled when someone counters Top or Duresses away a Top. When I am confronted with the choice of turn 1 Top, Ponder, or Brainstorm, I almost always prefer Ponder and Brainstorm. In fact, one of the reasons I play Top is to help filter and preserve life with Dark Confidant.

Dark Confidant

This is the key card advantage engine of the deck in the early game. This is my absolute preferred turn two play, over everything and anything in this deck. Its conspicuous absence from many Threshold lists is as jarring as if Counterbalance weren’t there either.
Take a look at my predicted metagame. Of the biggest decks I expect to see at the GP, the mirror, Landstill variants, Threshold Counterslivers, Loam, etc. This is the best turn 2 play against most of those decks, and in fact most of the decks in the format. The immediate card advantage it generates pushes me ahead and gives me a critical edge. For example, even against mana denial strategies, Bob helps me find more mana more quickly.

Most decks will try to match it or remove it immediately, since Bob is even more deadly than a turn 2 Goyf. This is where cards like Daze and Force to protect it become so big. In fact, probably my favorite possible sequence of play is to play turn two Bob with my opponent tapped down, beam with joy as they try to Force it, when I meet their Force with Daze. The Daze was a two-for-one, and the game is likely a blowout at that point.

When I first started to learn this deck, I was so aggressive about playing Bobs, that I found my life totals fall too quickly, and I put myself into too many precarious positions. While sometimes two Bobs on the table is a good idea, in general you don’t want more than one. If you Ponder while you have a Bob on the table, and you are presented with the option of a 2nd Bob or something else, you should probably go with the other card. The one exception is if you have Top on the table, then you can manage multiple Bobs quite effectively.


The number of Dazes seems to fluctuate between 3 and 4 depending on which list you look at. I started with 3 Daze, simply because I was running a carbon copy of Patrick’s 2007 Worlds list. As soon as I allowed myself to make tweaks, I upped the Daze count to 4. Shortly thereafter, I cut the 4th Daze on the grounds that I wanted to make room for other cards.

It’s taken me two more tournaments to realize that the Daze count should always be four, with no exceptions whatsoever. This point will take a lot of explaining, and I’m sure that there will be forum posters who still question this decision. Let me explain the logic.

Everyone acknowledges that Daze is amazing in Legacy, a format where the vast majority of the mana development is one land at a time. As people try to develop their game plan, they will often tap down as they try to utilize all of their mana. Many times, players will try to play around Daze, but this is often futile. When players are stuck on one or two lands, playing around Daze is impossible, and Daze becomes a tipping point in the game. Alternatively, if you have a fast tempo game with a powerful ground assault in Tarmogoyf or threats like Bob and Counterbalance, playing around Daze is a luxury. Against these advantages, one of the disadvantages that people list is that Daze is poor in the late game or poor in multiples. I dispute that it’s poor in multiples for the reasons just articulated. However, it is weaker in the late game. Although this is true, this misses the point. Daze is a critical card that enables you to get into the late game in the first place, or arrive there with such an advantage that it’s merely clean up duty.

The purpose of Daze is not to counter your opponent’s turn 1 play, although if you are countering a Lackey or Aether Vial, that is a worthwhile move. Rather, the purpose of Daze is to counter their play on turn 2 and 3. This deck has the three best two-drops in the format: Tarmogoyf, Counterbalance, and Dark Confidant. When you play these powerful turn 2 spells, there is a very good chance that your opponent will try to stop them immediately or within a turn or two. When they do, there a few more effective ways to blow them out than playing Daze. Having to return a land to hand actually at this point is not a disadvantage. Most of the time, your turn 1 play will be Ponder or Brainstorm. That means that you will actually have a good chance of drawing a Daze to protect your turn 2 play, but only if you run the maximum amount.

In a sense, Daze is actually a superior Spell Snare. It counters the turn 2 play of your opponent, but at no mana cost, and thus allowing you to play the tempo aggressor — seizing both the aggro and control role at the same time. Given how central Dark Confidant is to how I view this deck, it certainly follows that Daze is a must run four of. Unlike even Goyf, your opponent’s will try their best to stop Bob with removal and countermagic. There is no bigger blow out than Dazing someone’s Force of Will on your Bob. That’s two-for-one play!

The only two real sources of card advantage in this deck are Counterbalance and Dark Confidant. Daze provides yet a third, when your opponent tries to Force of Will your turn 2 plays, which will happen many times over the course of a 15+ round tournament.


You are on the play. You Thoughtseize your opponent and see this hand:

Pernicious Deed
Tropical Island
Eternal Witness
Sensei’s Divining Top
Sensei’s Divining Top

What do you take?

A good deal of the time I do not know what to take with Duress or Thoughtseize. Both cards act as a preemptory counterspell, taking a card I’d have to deal with later on. But almost as important is the information it reveals. Being able to plan around your opponent’s hand is a huge boon, and allows you to mold your strategy to their likely line of attack.

Since the Blue decks seem to be on the ascension, these cards are getting better and better. At the moment, I am running 2 Thoughtseize maindeck, 1 Duress, and another Duress in the sideboard. Part of the rationale for only having 3 Duress effects is that I have two Vendilion Cliques maindeck, giving me a total of 5 Duress effects maindeck.

Duress is my preferred turn one play against most of the blue decks in the format, even above Ponder. Thoughtseizes is even decent against aggro decks, although the life loss is too much to painful to justify running a full playset. Three one-black mana cost Duress effects feels like a compromised balance.

Swords to Plowshares/Path to Exile

Swords to Plowshares is the reason to run White. Without White, you are forced to consider inferior junk like Smother, Diabolic Edict, Ghastly Demise, etc. There is really no comparison. STP is and remains the best creature spot removal ever printed. When Conflux was printed, the question became: how many of this effect do we want? Paul Nicolo said “five,” and that was the same answer I had come to. In some matchups, you want all eight. The problem is that there are many matchups: Burn, Enchantress, Ad Nauseam, where Plow effects don’t matter at all.

One of the big lessons I learned in testing is that Swords to Plowshares is not a card that you can dig up in desperation. It’s a card you have to find before you need it. If you are in topdeck mode, breaking fetchlands, using Top, and Ponders, etc, looking for a Plow to stop a Tombstalker in the mid-game, you likely won’t get there. The key is to create a situation where you don’t need to get to that point, by shifting the tempo in other ways. Create pressure, for instance, so that it will be harder for your opponent to swing in.

Nimble Mongoose

The number of Geese I have been running started at 4, then fell to 3, then to 2, and then I decided to cut them entirely. The Geese are good. There is no doubt about it. I would definitely not run 4, but 2 or 3 is a perfectly reasonable amount. Chapin’s original list ran 4 in a Goblin infested metagame. If that metagame still existed, I would run 3. The reason not to run four is that you almost never want to see two in your opening hand. Too often, a Goose is just a puny 1/1, since it’s not always that easy to quickly achieve threshold. Sometimes, the game goes many turns before you finally hit threshold, even with 8 fetchlands, 8 Brainstorms, and multiple Duress effects.

One of the most important functions of Goose is to fight Mishra’s Factories. The Goose can protect you while you swing in with Goyfs. It’s cheap and often slips past counter magic. But the reason I finally cut the Goose entirely was to make room for this next critter:

Trygon Predator

I felt comfortable cutting the final two Geese for this card since both cards fill similar functions. This guy is par excellence at fighting Mishra’s Factory decks. If a Factory tries to block a ground creature, after combat the Predator will send it to the graveyard. He kills Explosives, Crucibles, and Moats as well. He’s blue, so he pitches to Force of Will at the same time. Finally, Predator is good in the hardest matchups. Predator blows up Counterbalances in the mirror. He also is a great maindeck answer to Enchantress effects like Elephant Grass, Choke, Moat, and City of Solitude. He also terrorizes Phyrexian Dreadnaughts, if you can survive that long.

Vendilion Clique

I initially cut my two Predators to make room for these two guys. Although Predator is good, this guy is better if you have to choose between the two. I now run two of both, however. Clique is Duress 4 and 5, but it’s Blue, and it’s a fast clock. This deck may even want 3 of them, despite his legendary status. If you don’t know by now, the time to use this card is on your opponent’s draw step. I’ve caught countless opponents off guard with this guy, taking the key card they just drew. But, also, don’t be afraid to not take something. That’s a legitimate response as well. The information you gain is often valuable enough.

Having Clique and Predator also helps to diversity your Counterbalance flipping base. There are 19 one-mana spells, 15 two-mana spells, and then 4 three-mana spells.

Sower of Temptation

This guy is intriguing. Josh Silvestri sold this guy pretty hard. As I look at my expected metagame, I just cannot justify him. He doesn’t seem better than Predator or Clique.

Meddling Mage

Unfortunately, I never actually tested this guy. I have only ever seen one list with him maindeck. He seems okay in theory, but I was never motivated to try him.


Patrick’s original list ran a single Stifle. In my testing and tournament play, I used that Stifle to counter Vial activations, Bob triggers, Fetchland activations, Engineered Explosives and Pernicious Deed. It’s a widely versatile card, but the more I played it the more I became convinced that its purpose there as a singleton made little sense. In essence, the main reason it was being run was to catch your opponent off-guard when they went to activate a fetchland. The more I played the format, the more I realized that this play would rarely work against higher skilled players, who would always be prepared for this possibility. As such, I concluded it could not be optimal to run one, and cut it.

Engineered Explosives

At the time of this writing, this card is the card that I am considering for the 5th Swords slot (i.e. the Path to Exile Spot). My criticism of this card is that its inclusion is somewhat random and the card itself is somewhat clunky and inefficient. However, there were times in which it pulled me out of a spot that I could not win without it. Essentially, running this card would be a statement that it is ok to include singletons that may save your butt from time to time, although they are generally not very good otherwise. Is that a sensible reason to include a card? With Explosives in the maindeck, I actually have a maindeck out to cards that would otherwise induce a scoop in Game 1, such as Moat or Ensnaring Bridge. But, is that a good enough reason to run this card? As I look at the expected metagame, this card could do quite a bit of damage. It will probably be a last minute decision. Alternatively, there is a small chance that I’d run the 4th Counterbalance over the 1 Path to Exile.

With all of that in mind, here is the maindeck I am planning on playing at Grand Prix: Chicago:

Rather than discuss the sideboard specifically, I will discuss it in the context of each and every matchup I expect to face.


The Threshold Mirror

Four-Color Threshold has a very nice advantage in the mirror. White gives you tempo and creature removal superiority. You’ll answer their best creatures with your Plows. But Black gives you Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize/Duress. On turn 2 you want to play Dark Confidant, unless you believe it will be successfully countered or destroyed, in which case you want to play Goyf or Counterbalance (to protect turn 3 Bob, or bait countermagic). You want to answer their Goyfs with your Plows. If you can go turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Bob, turn 3 Goyf/Counterbalance, you’ll likely not lose unless you don’t draw a Daze or a Force of Will. If you draw a Daze or Force in that sequence, there is almost no way you can lose, as every possible answer they might have will be met and answered in turn.

Post-board, you want to bring in the pair of Threads and the Duress for the Path to Exile and probably 2 Plows. I’d keep in the Predators for opposing Counterbalances and Threads of their own. You may also want to bring in Krosan Grips for their Counterbalances/Threads, although I am not sure what I would cut to make room for them.


Your god draw in this match is turn 1 Duress/Thoughtseize, turn 2 Bob, and turn 3 Vendilion Clique (on their draw step). Between Clique and Duress, you should have been able to keep them off of Wrath/Deed, etc. and given them a very short clock. A turn 3 Bob is quite good as well. That’s how good Bob is in this match. They will drop Factories on the table, and you’ll use your Plows to clear them out and lighten their manabase. They will attempt to block your Bob with Factory, hopeful that they might be able to trade. Let them walk into this trap. Let them animate Factory, then Plow it. It will not only produce an even more sizeable tempo advantage, but it will be demoralizing for them. It will reduce their manabase and lengthen the amount of card advantage you can generate before they can finally pull off a Wrath.

Trygon Predator is the first guy you want to plop onto the table after they’ve Wrathed/Deeded your first assault team. Daze is also really important to the early game in this match, as your opponent will try to use Counterspells and Spell Snares on you. Post-board, I would just bring in the Duress and the pair of Grips for Path to Exile and two Plows, probably.


If your opponent is good, there is a good chance they’ll get you in game 1. If your opponent is just a mediocre player, you will probably win game 1. If you win game 1, the match will be easy. If you lose game 1, the match will be tight and you will need to play accordingly. You need to counter turn 1 Aether Vial/Goblin Lackey, or there is a good chance you’ll just get blown out. The good news is that you’ll generally be able to answer these threats most of the time. The real problem is Goblin Ringleader and Siege-Gang Commander. If they resolve either, you probably can’t win. There is no really good sequence of plays that you can pull off to counter it either. Thoughtseize is actually very important in helping you keep them off of Ringleader and SCG. You’re mana will be disrupted with Ports and Wastelands in the early game, so be aware of that as well. The god draw for this match, if there is one, is turn 1 cantrip, turn 2 Goyf, and turn 3 Goyf. Double Goyf is about the only way you have to beat them before they can kill you if they have Ringleader or SCG. A single Goyf will not be enough. In the mid-game, they’ll finally resolve a Warchief and find a Matron. Once they are able to get a Piledriver to stick, it will end for you quickly, especially if its preceded by Ringleader. Plows are really important here. You will need them to take out their turn 1 Lackey and their Piledrivers.

Post-board, sideboard out the Cliques and the Predators for 4 Blue Elemental Blasts. These guys will be your saving grace. They counter every Red Goblin, including Piledriver, and most importantly Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Ringleader.

If they splash Black, be aware when using Brainstorm/Ponder/Top that you could face Cabal Therapy (so don’t have two of the same card in your hand if you can help it by hiding one on top of your library). Also be prepared to face Warren Weirding aimed (indirectly) at your Goyf.


Your ideal sequence here is turn 1 Plow or Top, turn 2 Counterbalance, turn 3 Goyf. You do want to Daze whatever they play on turn 2. Dark Confidant is much less important in this match. You want to aim your Plows at Nettle Sentinels and Heritage Druids. Save your Forces for Glimpse of Nature if you can. Once you get a Goyf down and the Counterbalance engine going, it’s very hard to lose this match. Post-board, keep in your Duresses so that you can nab Krosan Grips. You can sideboard out the two Trygon Predators for a Duress and a Threads.

Just as a side note, if there is a matchup where you have maindeck dead cards, but no good sideboard cards, sideboard in the Threads, since it is Blue, and a Blue blank card is better than a non-Blue blank card.


I think very little of this archetype, and it should be an easy match with 5 maindeck Plow effects, and Trygon Predator on top of that. Duresses, Dazes, and Forces are very important here. Just be careful not to walk into a Stifle with your fetchlands. The ideal sequence here, again, is turn 1 Duress/Thoughtseize, turn 2 Bob, turn 3 Vendilion Clique. More likely, you’ll play turn 1 Ponder/Brainstorm, turn two Bob, turn three Cantrip/Duress, which is just fine. If you Clique them, don’t make them put away Dreadnaughts unless you have to. It’s better to take their countermagic and make them Stifle their Dreadnaught where you will Plow it. Be prepared to see Trinket Mages and to have your own Goyfs plowed. Counterbalance is also really good in this matchup. The one thing you need to not die to is their Factories, which will be remaining even if you’ve taken care of their Dreadnaughts. Don’t sideboard in Threads in this matchup, as that is a trap. I would bring in the Duress and the two Krosan Grips for the two Cliques and a Sensei’s Top, perhaps.


There is no ideal sequence, although any combination of turn 1 Duress/Thoughtseize or Brainstorm/Ponder, turn 2 Dark Confidant/Tarmogoyf, with turn 3 Trygon Predator is probably excellent. Plows are excellent here, but need to be timed well. Daze and Force are critical. You must stop Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager, or else create conditions where you can time Plows to deal with them. You may need to expend Plows on Disciple of the Vault. Do not counter Ornithopters. Counterbalance is a great mid-game card here, surprisingly. I would sideboard in 2 Grips and 1 Threads, and probably sideboard out Cliques and 1 Duress.

Aggro Loam

This matchup is very irritating. They will try to Duress you on turn 1 and then Devastating Dreams to destroy your lands. Be prepared to face manabase annihilation at any time. Use your Brainstorms and Ponders to hide key cards. Plows will deal with Bobs, Terravores, and Countryside Crushers. Counterbalance is great once it hits here, but you will need to set it up with a two-mana spell on top of your library. Post-board, bring in Leyline of the Void. It’s very hard for them to address or Deed away. Their creatures will be small, and no match for your Goyfs.

It’s the Fear — Blue Loam Control

This matchup is pretty similar to the other control mirrors. Just be prepared to face recurring Explosives or Shackles with Academy Ruins.


Plow the Lords and you’ll be fine. Don’t let a Jitte hit the board. Game 2, fetch out basic Island quickly, as there is a good chance they’ll bring in Back to Basics. For that reason, keep in the Predators and bring in a pair of Grips as well.


You need to be lucky to Thoughtseize away and counter Crystalline Sliver. Their best play against you is turn 1 Vial, which you will also want to Force. So long as you can keep Crystalline Sliver off the table, you will be fine. Your Plows will take out Sinew and Muscle Sliver. Dark Confidant to draw cards is obviously important in this match. Watch out for Stifle and Mutavault. Do not get too greedy and attack at the wrong time with Goyf. Your life total will matter in this match. It’s a close overall matchup. Your flyers will make a difference here.

Natural Order Decks

I haven’t seen a really good Natural Order deck. By the time the Grand Prix is over, I bet we will have a good one to point to, probably one that made top 8. Countering or Duressing or Cliquing away Natural Order actually isn’t that difficult since it’s such a slow card. It’s also easy to spot that that is where one’s deck is going a good deal of the time, on account of the Wall or Roots or Birds of Paradise. And a small proportion of the time, by the time they’ve gotten Progenitus, you may actually have enough mana to do them in. I’m not terribly afraid of Alix Hatfield’s list either. It’s far too green compared to my blue deck.

Team America

This deck doesn’t run Dark Confidant! [That’s me laughing out loud] Put this deck up against mine, and I’ll out tempo it even on its own terms. Unless you have a truly inferior hand, you’re not going to lose this match. Thoughtseize/Duress is really huge here as well. You have the same plays but better cards instead of junk like Sinkhole or slow garbage like Tombstalker. Daze is huge in this matchup.


You can still win game one. Force or Daze Careful Study, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Breakthrough. Even if they can pull one off, you still have an opportunity to keep them off balance by playing Plows in their draw step after they’ve returned Ichorids or popped in Narcomoeba, but before they can move to their main phase to Therapy you. Post-board, you can’t lose with 4 Leylines and 2 Jailer. Don’t mulligan looking for Leyline. Just use your normal disruption to win the game. Try to find Jailer if you don’t have turn zero Leyline though. Make sure you Brainstorm hide it if you do see one. Don’t let it be Therapied or Unmasked if you can avoid it. Sideboard out 3 Counterbalance, 2 Predators, and 1 Top.

Ancient Tomb Prison

Manuel Bucher talked about this deck. This deck will have all kinds of hate for you, Moat, Trinisphere, etc. You will be surprised at how often you win this match. The key is recognizing that you have a consistent deck, and they do not. Use Daze, Duress, and Force to keep them off balance. Use Bob to draw cards. Use Counterbalance to pitch to Forces. Trygon Predator is incredible in this matchup. Sometimes you will want to let Trinisphere resolve. Sometimes you’ll need to counter it. Post board, your Krosan Grips will break up many annoyances. Keep in Plows for Magus of the Tabernacle. Just board out the Counterbalances. Tops are important to help you continue to make land drops.


You may actually want to Daze/Force early creatures like Kird Apes and especially Wild Nacatl and Goyfs to prevent them from being able to use their pump spells. Watch out for Tribal Flames and cards like Price of Progress. Goyfs will clog up the ground quickly. Counterbalance lock should come together when you are more than 5 life, and that will end the game as much as anything else. Post-board you bring in Threads and it’s a blow out.

The Rock

Duresses, Clique, Bob, and Goyf all will play a role. If they can pull off a Deed, there is a good chance they can beat you. Daze anything you can, including Duresses. Post-board Grips will be able to hit Deeds, and you’ll need them.


You want turn one Duress, turn two Bob, Daze their turn two play, and a Clique/Predator soon after. The cards you want to Force are: any Enchantress effect, Choke, City of Solitude, Moat, Replenish or a win condition. If they haven’t gotten a an Enchantress effect to stick by the time you have a Goyf on the table, you can actually consider whether to just let them play a bunch of spells and only counter the critical ones, even letting Choke resolve if it doesn’t really matter. Trygon Predator is so huge here. Enchantress has an ostensibly favorable matchup, but like the Prison match, it’s actually a coin flip, and with the tools you have (Predator/Clique), and more importantly the consistency, you might actually just have a tiny edge.

Ancient Tomb Stompy Decks

You throttle Sea Stompy. Bring in Blue Elemental Blasts for Dragon Stompy, although let them resolve Chalice for 1 in games 1, and often in game 2, unless your hand is mostly 1cc spells.

Dark Ritual Storm Combo

You are their nightmare match. Duress, Daze, Force and Counterbalance, not to mention Clique. Predator can even blow up LEDs and Chrome Mox. Bring in the 4th Duress post board and sideboard out Plows.

Mono Black/B/G/B/W

I’ve faced so many different variants of these decks. Daze is a total beating here, and Smallpox is one of the most annoying cards they can play, since it takes our your draw engine, Bob. Turn one Hypnotic Specter is not that uncommon, but it’s not that deadly either. You have five plow effects and four flyers. There is also a good chance you can get a Bob or Goyf down even with active Hippie.


Bring in Leylines and Jailers. Counter their turn one Mana Bond if you can. Set up Counterbalance to counter Life From the Loam if possible.

Burn/Boros Burn

This matchup is very difficult, and one of the reasons that I’m running four Blue Elemental Blast maindeck. If you win game one, you’ll have little difficulty winning the match. Do not let Mogg Fanatic fool you into sucking up a bunch of damage. Plow that guy as soon as possible. Always be on guard for Price of Progress and Fireblast.


Plows are critical in this match. If they are playing Imperial Painter, bring in Bebs.


Approach this matchup similarly to the Tendrils match, but you’ll need to plow Goblin Welders immediately.

That’s pretty much everything you’ll likely face in a tournament, barring a new breakout deck from the Grand Prix. After going through all of this, it makes me wonder whether the fourth Duress effect should be in the maindeck since it’s so good in so many matchups and works so well with my intentions of getting down an early Bob.

I will be disappointed if I don’t make Day 2 given all the work I’ve put into this deck and the format, but even then my efforts will not have been in vain. I’ve come to understand and appreciate Legacy anew. I have enjoyed learning and playing Legacy far more than I could have imagined, and will continue to do so long after Chicago Next week I will give you a full report of my Grand Prix experience.

Until then…

Stephen Menendian