By the time this article is published, the Grand Prix will be Magic history. As of this writing, that story is still very much in front us. My plan for today was to publish the Q2 Vintage Metagame Report, to help folks prepare for the Vintage Championship this Friday. Obviously, the plan has changed. Apologies to the Vintage readers, and I promise to make it up to you. Legacy Grands Prix don’t happen every day.
The key deck at the Vintage champs this year is going to be Tezzeret. This may be the best chance for a repeat archetype champ, which hasn’t yet been done. Here’s my Tezzeret list:
- 2 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Brainstorm
- 4 Mana Drain
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Hurkyl's Recall
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Imperial Seal
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Time Vault
- 1 Gifts Ungiven
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Ponder
- 3 Nature's Claim
Tezzeret Control is probably the deck to beat, since Nature’s Claim powers it up so much, giving it the most efficient answer to both Workshop decks and Oath, Null Rods, and other Time Vaults. I realize that the name is misleading, since Jace has replaced Tezzerets — but the shell remains the same, and the strategy is Key/Vault.
Here’s what I played at GP: Columbus:
I chose Lands for Grand Prix: Columbus. Lands is a Loam-based control deck. But it’s not just any control deck. It’s a prison deck. And it’s not like Stax or Enchantress, which rely on artifacts or enchantments, respectively, to lock up the game. Instead, it directly attacks the opponent’s manabase. Its game plan is to lock the opponent out of the game by tying up all of their mana, deploying silver bullets, or clogging up or wiping out the board in other ways. .
Legacy is a Creature-Based Format
The chief reason that I want to play Lands is that Legacy is a creature-based format. Over 80% of the metagame (and more now that Mystical Tutor is banned) are creature-based strategies, not just decks. Zoo, Merfolk Goblins, CounterTop-Progenitus, Reanimator, New Horizons — all of these decks, and more: they are creature-based strategies. In my view, that makes The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale one of the best cards in the format.
At the cost of a land drop, it is a Rishadan Port and the mana to activate it, for every creature your opponent has in play. The more creatures your opponent wishes to play, the more they will tie up their own manabase. As I said in my Lands primer, it’s a Chinese finger trap: the more they do to try and break out of your lock, the more entrapped they will become. They will try to play more creatures to overcome your defenses, but that only locks up the game even more.
Tabernacle puts a sharp limit on the number of creatures a player may have in the game, which is no more than they can afford to pay for Tabernacle. Wasteland keeps that number even smaller. Maze of Ith is usually enough to keep the remaining creatures at bay. Cards like Mishra’s Factory on defense, Engineered Explosives, and Glacial Chasm can help deal with the overflow. There may be no better, natural anti-creature strategy in the entire format, not even Enchantress. Lands has the greatest natural advantage over these strategies. Of course, this advantage comes with the price.
The Banning of Mystical Tutor
The natural strategic advantage Lands enjoys over creature decks is inversely true of creatureless decks. Lands is strategically weak to creatureless decks. The banning of Mystical Tutor removed the worst matchup for Lands from the format by fiat. I had already started leaning towards Lands when Mystical Tutor was legal. To combat ANT, I was running 3 Arcane Laboratory and 4 Chalice of the Voids in my sideboard. With ANT out of the picture, half of my sideboard opened up. Many people interpreted the banning of Mystical Tutor as format-scaping, trying to make Legacy even more creature-oriented. The metagame trio of Merfolk, Zoo, and CounterTop-Progenitus, is one of the best possible metagames for Lands.
The MTGO Effect
Increasingly, players learn formats online. They become familiar with the card pool, the strategies, and borrow ideas or decks from a constant flow of online results. This is known derisively as the hive mind. Paper Legacy and online Legacy have a few critical differences, including the lack of Maze of Ith, a key component of Lands. I felt that Lands was an opportunity for arbitrage, to exploit the gap between the cardboard and online metagames.
Grand Prix: Madrid
Lands was one of the top performers at Grand Prix: Madrid, putting 25% of the Lands players into Day 2. Its performance there seemed to indicate that Lands can succeed in big, creature-heavy environments, like a GP.
Those were all good reasons to play Lands. However, there were some things that concerned me.
A Shift to Creatureless Control and Combo Decks
Although the banning of Mystical Tutor knocked Ad Nauseam largely out of the format, it seemed that a new crop of combo and creatureless control decks were stepping up in its place. The CounterTop Thopter deck won the last StarCityGames.com Legacy Open, and Enchantress seemed to be gaining some attention. On top of that was the buzz around Aluren. Was the metagame shifting away from the standard Zoo, Merfolk, Natural Order CounterTop, Goblins to something else?
Jared Sylva Data
Jared Sylva aggregate data for the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open series shows that Lands win percentage has fallen precipitously from its high. Is that because of metagame shifts, people adjusting for the matchup, or something else?
Is it possible that, despite the natural advantages, it’s really as vulnerable to hate as Matt Elias suggested?
The Night Before
On the Thursday before the GP, I invited selected Meandeckers, including StarCityGames.com Legacy Open champ Lou Christopher, to my home, and we played a 6-man round robin tournament, featuring Zoo, Merfolk, Goblins, CounterTop-Thopter, a Tendrils combo deck, and Lands. You can see the results below:
The results were exactly what we had expected. CounterTop Thopter and Lands were the two best decks in our gauntlet. In addition to the core of Zoo, Merfolk, and Goblins, I had also put together Enchantress, CounterTop Thopter, Reanimator, and Doomsday combo. Before our little mock tournament, we had been constantly running these decks against each other, to see how they fared. The decisive match in our tournament was CounterTop Thopter versus Lands, and it was the final match of the evening, with Kevin and Brian battling for well over an hour. Brian prevailed, using the new technology of Oblivion Stone.
Based upon all the testing we had done in the preceding 48 hours, we executing my five-step process for building decks, having agreed as a team to play Lands. The decks we expected to see, in order, were: Zoo, Merfolk, Goblins, Natural Order-CounterTop, Reanimator, CounterTop-Thopter, and New Horizons. Thus, we built a specific anti-Lands list for each archetype, and the composite is the list posted at the beginning of this article.
Let me talk about a few specific cards:
Before discover this, we were trying 3 Krosan Grip maindeck, as a way to compete with decks like CounterTop Thopter. Bobby Kovacs, a local Ohio player, had suggested this to me a little while back, but Brian DeMars independently rediscovered it, and it was the solution we had been looking for. It defeats all of the specialized hate, like Magus, Blood Moon, Back to Basics, etc, but it also clears away armies, and destroys cards like Emrakul, Progenitus, Jace, and Counterbalance! This was the card we wanted, and we immediately put two more in the sideboard, over additional Ensnaring Bridges and the like. This card has been one of our favorite cards ever since. It’s simply amazing.
If you play Lands, you must run Crucible. Crucible is a card that you need if your Loams get Extirpated. It also is strong against Tormod’s Crypts, since you can induce opponents to blow Crypts.
Zuran Orb is mostly here for the Zoo and Goblins matchup, and for long-term inevitability against decks that can apply pressure to your life total.
Since we started out a few months ago with the Blue Lands list that Chris Woltereck designed, Intuition has been amazing. But with the metagame shifts, we found New Horizons to be a very difficult matchup, largely because it was nearly impossible to resolve Intuition. Thus, we started playing with Gamble again (especially since Flame Jab is great against Magus of the Moon). We started with 4 Gamble, and then we decided we wanted Intuition again, and split it 3/3. But then we all came to the conclusion that we just really wanted 4 Intuition, as good as Gamble is.
There are two basic plans with this deck: hard mana denial or soft board control, with either recurrable artifact sweepers or silver bullets. For a long time I thought that a second Ghost Quarter was pointless, since you can just recur the one you had. What I didn’t appreciate, until trying out multiples, was that with two or more Ghost Quarters, you can very quickly strip out all basics from an opponent’s library, using either Exploration or Manabond and Life From the Loam. I tested a list with 4 Ghost Quarter, and it was helping some matchups tremendously. Eventually, my teammates and I decided that 2-3 Ghost Quarter is the correct number. At the GP, Brian DeMars and I ran 2, and teammate Kevin Cron ran 3. Too many decks run too few basics. Ghost Quarter is not good until you can strip out the last one, but then it’s great. With 1 Exploration and 1 Manabond in play, you can actually Ghost Quarter four times a turn! It’s very difficult for opponent’s to keep up, even if they have 8-10 basics! Within a few turns you can strip out every basic from their deck!
With five mana and a Manabond, you can Loam, cycle Tranquil Thicket, and then Loam again, and that way you can put five lands into play each turn. With eight mana, you can put seven lands into play each turn, dredging three times per turn.
A key play with Ghost Quarter, oddly enough, is Ghost Quartering yourself, when you are going through that sequence, to find basic Forests to provide all the Green you need to do all that. This is also another reason we wanted a second basic Forest, in addition to the help it provides in combating Price of Progress.
With the Gamble out, we wanted another color, both for EE but also just to take advantage of Extirpate. Extirpate is the bomb in the Lands mirror, but also good against Counterbalance, and all of the other Topdeck Tutor decks. It also wins the game against Doomsday, by simply shuffling their library.
Most of our team arrived on site late and bummed our list, but Kevin and I got to play in trials. I played in the fifth trial, and got second place. I beat Zoo, Goblins, Survival, then narrowly defeated Mono Black Control. But I had to face Doomsday in the finals, and predictably lost. They were interesting games, though. In the second game I had Choke, Extirpate, and Sphere of Resistance, but I couldn’t stop his Empty the Warrens for 8 Goblin tokens, especially since I’d sideboarded out Tabernacles. We knew that Storm combo was our worst matchup. Kevin, though, won his trial, getting three byes. Our combined record was 9-1 with the deck in the trials — pretty good, we felt. I was too tired to play in another trial, so I left the site to go for a swim. When I returned, we all went out to Brothers, a local bar, for some socializing.
Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Dennis Tsoi, playing Zoo
My opening hand was:
He opened with turn 1 Steppe Lynx. I played turn 1 Forest, Exploration. He played another Steppe Lynx, and a fetchland and broke it. He attacked me for 4. Then I drew Bayou, and played Crucible, and played both lands from my graveyard. The following turn I played Ensnaring Bridge.
He was able to attack with a zero-power Steppe Lynx and, after declaring attackers, pump it various ways, like with Path or by breaking a fetchland or using his Knight of the Reliquary, but I topdecked Tolaria West and found Zuran Orb. He was never able to deal more damage than I was able to offset with Crucible + Exploration + Zuran Orb.
Eventually, I found Tabernacle, and then Loam, and Ghost Quartered all of his basics. By the time he found Qasali Pridemage, it was too late, and he couldn’t cast it.
I sideboarded in just two Oblivion Stone.
My opening hand was:
I kept it.
Round 3: Mitchell Reiners, with CounterTop Thopter
He played turn 1 Top, turn 2 Counterbalance.
I had Intuition in my opening hand, and I Intuitioned for Academy Ruins, Oblivion Stone, and Life From the Loam. When I went to play Life From the Loam the next turn, his Counterbalance triggered and stopped it. I had Tolaria West in hand, so I transmuted for Engineered Explosives, except he had Force of Will for it.
I tried to find another way: I played Cephalid Coliseum, and activated it on him, with the Counterbalance trigger on the stack. He had one land open, however, and he used it to play Brainstorm. This was important because I had double Rishadan Port, but he played an early Pithing Needle on Port, preventing me from controlling his mana supply.
Amazingly, nearly twenty minutes in the round had elapsed at this point, and so I scooped.
My opening hand was:
I played Life from the Loam, on turn 2, returning nothing. On my endstep, he broke his Fetchland for Underground Sea, and I new exactly what was coming. He Extirpated my Loams. From there, it was a very long game.
He played turn 2 Counterbalance. I played EE, and then killed his Counterbalance. He played Relic of Progenitus and Sensei’s Divining Top. I resolved Choke, and he resolved Crucible. He began playing a fetchland each turn, thinning his deck. I used Port to tap any Island down to the Choke. He was using his Plains every turn to use Top. I played a Factory, and he played Pithing Needle on Factory. I Krosan Gripped it, and began attacking. He resolved a Thopter Foundry, and played a Tormod’s Crypt. I was able to attack, but he was starting to generate one token a turn, sacrificing Relic and Tormod’s Crypt. Eventually, I was able to Krosan Grip the Foundry, but not with enough time left in the round. Although I had him locked out, he was at 7 life on the final turn of the round.
Round 4: Survival
My opening hand was:
He played turn 1 Forest, Noble Hierarch, and turn 2 Survival of the Fittest. I topdecked Tabernacle, and played it. He activated Survival putting Iona in the bin, and then found Loyal Retainers. He let his Hierarch die and played Retainers to put Iona into play.
Rather than play Maze, I sucked up one swing with Iona to try and develop my board, so I led with turn 1 Factory, turn 2 Tabernacle, turn 3 Ghost Quarter (?), turn 4 Maze of Ith. I Wastelanded him at least twice, but the key was the Ensnaring Bridge topdeck, which put my hand from 7 to 6, enough to prevent Iona from attacking naturally. In the meantime, he had Survivaled for Kira, to try and overcome my Maze, not knowing that I had already drawn a second Maze, which I also played. Then, he Survivaled for Qasali Pridemage, but I simply activated Academy Ruins and replayed Bridge.
When he eventually let his Iona go because of my growing lock, I exploded onto the board with Manabond and Loam, and he scooped.
I drew a weaker hand that I played sub-optimally.
He had turn 1 Noble Hierarch, again. But instead of playing Survival on turn 2, he played Meddling Mage on Life from the Loam, which didn’t bother me, as I didn’t have Loam. On the following turn, he Cliqued me, during my draw step, and saw Crucible of Worlds, Oblivion Stone, and 4-5 lands. He tried to take Tabernacle, and I reminded him that Clique says â€˜non-land card.’ He put Crucible on the bottom. I had double Factory in hand, so that made a big difference. I had Maze for his Clique, but I needed something more permanent. I played Oblivion Stone, but he was ready with Qasali Pridemage. At that point, I made an error of playing Glacial Chasm, winnowing my board, but I was able to climb out of the hole with Maze plus double Factory. However, he paid the Tabernacle upkeep, but then Vialed in Magus of the Moon so that my factories couldn’t block, and I couldn’t use Maze. I lost.
He played turn 2 Survival, and passed.
I untapped, Dredged the Loam back, and cast Loam.
I untapped and Intuitioned, but there was nothing I could really get. I had two Oblivion Stones in my deck, but one in my graveyard, and between my Forest and Mox Diamond, Engineered Explosives was not an out. In any case, he had and played Qasali Pridemage, so I had no chance of winning.
Round 5: Zoo
I open with:
During this entire game, my opponent has a somewhat befuddled demeanor, as if he wasn’t quite sure how I was locking him out so quickly. I won the roll and played Manabond, and dumped my hand. He played a fetchland, and passed. I Ported his Fetchland, and he broke it for a land, and I Ported that too — all on his turn 1 endstep still.
I untapped and dredged Loam, seeing Tranquil Thicket. I Ghost Quartered myself, pulling up a basic Forest, so I could Loam twice, which is what I did. I saw a second Ghost Quarter, and I Ghost Quartered him twice on my second turn. He played a dual land on his second turn.
I untapped, dredged Loam, played Loam, cycled Thicket, and Loamed again. I Quartered out all of his basics, and was keeping him on one land a turn. Incredibly, he kept making land drops. Soon, I found a fetchland, which allowed me to use Tolaria West to find Zuran Orb. Even with Zuran Orb, he kept me playing, until I killed him with Factories. I guess he kept playing because he wanted to see my win condition.
I had Intuition, but only Manabond as an accelerant, and no Loam in hand. He had the blitzkrieg hand/sequence of Steppe Lynx, fetchland, Steppe Lynx, Grim Lavamancer, Fetchland, Lightning Bolt, Price of Progress. Even though I had a basic Forest, he got me to one life so I couldn’t play a fetchland to get a second Blue to Tolaria West for Zuran Orb.
All this hand needs is to draw a land, and I probably win. I can Manabond and start Loaming. Of course, I never see another land. I draw Manabond, Crucible, Manabond, Intuition and then die. His board was: Steppe Lynx, Grim Lavamancer, and Wild Nacatl, with several burn spells to accelerate the process.
Sigh. Thus ended Grand Prix: Columbus for me, getting land screwed. I could have probably won with the first hand I had, but I didn’t want to risk it. In retrospect, I wish I had mulliganed that six-card hand, but who would think that in Land deck I couldn’t draw a second land in my first four turns?
Until next time…