StarCityGames Duel for Duals 3 – Day Two and Beyond

Ladies and gentleman, Dan Spero has done you a disservice. He has an unnatural obsession with U/G/W Threshold, and while it is a good deck, it is nowhere near the sex goddess he makes it out to be. Dan Spero would be more than willing to enter that deck into any tournament regardless of format.

The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet." – William Gibson

Ladies and gentleman, Dan Spero has done you a disservice. He has an unnatural obsession with U/G/W Threshold, and while it is a good deck, it is nowhere near the sex goddess he makes it out to be. Dan Spero would be more than willing to enter that deck into any tournament regardless of format. He even suggested I play it at Regionals (3-4 if you’re curious). So it should come as no surprise that he recommended people to play his U/G/W Threshold deck at the most recent Duel for Duals. To his credit, Day 1 was won by a U/G/W Threshold player. However several Threshold players with solid lists ended up in the bottom half of the standings. Why? Goblins. Oops, did we forget about that particular behemoth?

Goblins is not a favorable matchup for you, and it gets even worse if you do not have significant experience versus the Martians. And when significant portions of the field are Goblins, you can guarantee that you are going to keep running into the deck. At least when you lose to Goblins you do not have to suffer long, since the creatures just destroy you. Goblin Smash, GG, go eat for 40 minutes. Something like Rifter (or let’s be honest, Slide) was not the best deck because Reset High Tide showed up in a radical way. So looking back, what do I think was the best deck to bring to that tournament?

U/G/R Threshold.

Legacy is falling into a trinity: Goblins > UGW Threshold > Reset High Tide > Goblins. However Goblins still outnumbers both decks, and it is much easier to pick up and play. I suggest U/G/R Threshold because it sacrifices percentage against Reset High Tide while making Goblins favorable even pre-board. U/G/R Threshold is the underdog versus U/G/W and U/G/w/r Threshold, but Threshold still shows up in fewer numbers than Tide and Goblins.

Dan discusses the build further on The Mana Drain. The general idea is preserving the permission elements of Threshold but adding more aggressive elements (burn in place of Meddling Mage, Serendib Efreet in place of Mystic Enforcer) to enable it to beat Goblins.

So, that is what I wrote a week or two ago. It turns out that a lot of things change once Coldsnap becomes legal and Threshold ends up more than ten percent of the field. [Of course, Coldsnap is now legal… Kevin gets to that later. – Craig.] The number one problem is that U/G/R is pretty bad in the mirror, which it turns out is becoming important (and bad in the U/G Madness pseudo-mirror). Swords to Plowshares and Jotun Grunt end up being very good in those mirrors. The only reason U/G/w/r was any good was because it could fire Meddling Mage on Swords to Plowshares and still have relevant removal. If you want to go that route, I would suggest U/G/w/b. For removal you keep some form of Edict or Ghastly Demise, and Meddling Mage remains relevant. White remains essential in the Threshold mirror for one important card: Jotun Grunt. It is possibly the best card in the mirror because of its potential to turn a fair game into a blowout. At the very least, it replaces Tormod’s Crypt/Pithing Needle in the mirror, and remains a 4/4 even if you are Crypted. If you really want to start somewhere, you might end up looking at something like this:

4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
3 Tropical Island
2 Tundra
3 Underground Sea
1 Plains
1 Island

4 Brainstorm
4 Serum Visions
4 Mental Note

4 Meddling Mage
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Werebear
2 Mystic Enforcer

4 Force of Will
4 Daze
2 Counterspell

2 Diabolic Edict
3 Ghastly Demise
1 Engineered Explosives

4 Jotun Grunt
3 Tivadar’s Crusade
3 Duress
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Blue Elemental Blast

If you desire, the Mystic Enforcers could be replaced with Dark Confidants, as well as some of the removal. That’s the kind of thing that can only be seen through testing; this list is only intended to be a rough draft.

Star City Games Duel for Duals III Day Two
Richmond, Virginia
July 9, 2006
64 Players

Top 8
1: R/w Goblins
2: R/g Goblins
3: Reset High Tide ("Solidarity")
4: R/w Goblins
5: Reset High Tide
6: Mono-Blue Aggro ("Faerie Stompy")
7: R/w Goblins
8: B/r Sui

The finals came down to what I consider the most important matchup in modern Legacy: the Goblins mirror match. This match seems to have been decided by the numbers; both players had access to a full set of Gempalm Incinerators main, but post-board Jacob Baughman had 3 Siege-Gang Commanders and 4 Pyrokinesis to Christopher Coppola 1 Siege-Gang Commander, 1 Goblin Sharpshooter, and 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Chris’s build just is not prepared for the mirror match. Congratulations are in order to Chris though; he is the only player to Top 8 both events, and he did it with a three-card difference to tweak metagame slots.

It is worth pointing out that there is not a single pure Goblins list in the entire event (both days, no less). By pure, I mean a deck that follows the 24 lands, 4 Aether Vial, 32 Goblins standard.

Goblins (8) *
R/G Beats (1)
Angel Stompy (3)
Reanimator (2)
Vial Affinity (1)
Stompy (3)
Mono-Black Aggro (1)
B/W Aggro (1)
Four-Color Green (1)
Mantle Affinity (1)
Elves (1)

Threshold (5): U/G/W (4); U/G/r/w (1)
B/x Sui: (8) *
Faerie Stompy (1) *
Slivers (1)

G/W/B Control (1)
B/g Control (1)
Angel Stompy (3)
U/B Control (1)
Rifter (2)
Discard (1)

Reset High Tide ("Solidarity") (11) *
Aluren (1)
Iggy Pop (2)
Burn (3)
Belcher (1)
Contract Tendrils (1)

In their article "Playing in the Post-Goblin Era – Analyzing the Legacy Metagame," Brian Diefendorf and Anwar Ahmad assert that Goblins is actually a pretty poor choice for a tournament. It has some unfavorable matchups, and is really only favored against B/W Pikula-style builds and randomness. Their analysis is pretty good, although there are two problems. Number 1: they don’t separate the different Threshold variants. This is actually problematic because, for example, Goblins is favored versus U/G/W Threshold builds, but behind against U/G/R and U/G/B Threshold builds. This artificially makes Goblins seem like an awful choice, when in fact it is not. The second problem is not their fault; they keep all the different strategies templated together. To really analyze the Legacy metagame in a proper way would require a Flores level of analysis. The reason Jacob Baughman won the whole tournament was that he templated his Goblins deck to win the mirror, where Chris Coppola templated his deck to beat the rest of the field. If you want to build an anti-control build of Goblins, you can give yourself access to maindeck Goblin King to break through stalls and push through an unexpected amount of damage, and likewise (or with Goblin Pyromancer) if you are expecting a lot of combo. If you think you will have to face the mirror, you have Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Sharpshooter main. If you will face nothing but Threshold, you will give yourself access to Sparksmith to take down Werebears and Mystic Enforcers (in addition to your Gempalm Incinerators, of course).

Despite its showing, Brian and Anwar claimed in their article that Goblins is one of the worst choices to take into an unknown field. On average, it splits with the most populous deck (the mirror) and is favored against randomness and B/r. There were 64 players there. Let’s look at the so-called good matchups:

Sui Black and B/r: 7
Random aggro: 8-10 (depending on what you classify as random)
Random control: 5

So yes, things look good for Goblins, if all of those matchups are really favorable. It’s questionable whether Goblins actually beats Burn, or Jack Elgin’s G/W/B control deck. This is even including B/r Sui, a deck that appears to have been re-templated from B/W Confidant in order to beat Goblins. So if we assume that the cards fall perfect for Goblins, about one third of the field is favorable. I want to go through the results for the Duel for Duals 2 and see whether Diefendorf and Ahmad’s analysis is correct. Based on their matchup matrix and an estimated 70% win percentage versus randomness for Goblins, at that tournament, Goblins had an EV of about 50% (50.703%). I made a few assumptions in that calculation, such as the non-Tide combo decks being 40% for Goblins and the random aggro decks being about even. In a field where High Tide was the most popular deck, Goblins ended up even. If you remember that all of the Threshold decks there are not even with Goblins but actually slightly behind, Goblins is not a bad choice. GenCon and Jotun Grunt will change things, but we’re not in the post-Goblins era yet.

Metagame Analysis
1. Number of Force of Wills in the Top 8: 12
2. Number of Wastelands in the Top 8: 18
3. The most common basic land type in the Top 8: Island (29); Mountain (21); Swamp (7)
4. The most common dual land in the Top 8: Plateau (12); Taiga (3); Badlands (3)
5. The most common fetch land in the Top 8: Bloodstained Mire (21); Wooded Foothills (13); Polluted Delta (10); Flooded Strand (5)
6. In the Top 8, the most popular cards, by color:
a. Blue card: Force of Will (12)
b. White card: Swords to Plowshares (12) (6 maindeck)
c. Green card: Tranquil Domain (4) (No green cards maindeck)
d. Red card: All the 4 of in Goblins
e. Black card: All the 4 of in Br Sui
f. Gold card: None
g. Artifact: Aether Vial (16)
7. In the Top 8, the most popular sideboard card: Pyrokinesis (11)

Because this took so long to get written and published (poor Craig is running behind), I have had a chance to update my article to look past GenCon. The first thing is that Coldsnap is legal. Aside from Jotun Grunt, I do not think Coldsnap will add much to Legacy. There is a lot of hype around Counterbalance, but not much that is interesting has shown up. The main problem is that Counterbalance is very much a prison-deck based on its desire to stop you from playing spells. Remember that the #1 deck in the format runs Aether Vial, and Aether Vial is very bad for since it just puts creatures into play. Counterbalance seems like an excellent tool, but I have trouble imagining it at the core of a deck. If you want it to be the core of the deck, it and the engine to support it takes up an incredible amount of slots, and you have to have spells all up and down the core. I would much rather see Counterbalance as a sideboard card in control mirrors, since even without library manipulation, you will be that much more likely to win counter wars over key spells.

The more interesting mechanic from Coldsnap, I feel, is Snow. Life from the Loam was already very good, with a strong draw engine and potential tools in Cabal Pit, Wasteland, and Barbarian Ring. To those list of tools, we get Mouth of Ronom and Scrying Sheets. If you can add a strong snow core, all of a sudden instead of just killing Goblins, your Life from the Loam will allow you to kill Werebears, dramatically increasing your game against Goblins. And the main issue with Cabal Pit, the life loss, is absent. However, the existing Life from the Loam decks already hate giving up land drops to remove creatures, so it is questionable whether the new tools will catch on, especially without being able to fetchland into snow duals.

Ted Knutson wrote an excellent write-up on the GenCon Legacy Championships, available here. 183 players came out to Legacy, and a full 35 players came packing Vial Goblins, which accounts for nearly 20% of the field. This highlights something that I find people falling prey to often: it is not okay to merely go 50/50 with Goblins. Over a long testing session or a series of tournaments, if you have a good matchups versus most of the field and split with Goblins, you can be profitable. At a tournament like GenCon, it is not okay to just split with the best and most popular deck in the format. When you get up to the late rounds of a tournament, you want to see only good matchups. We do not know what the top 16 or top 32 looked like at GenCon, but at other tournaments those final rounds are often clogged with Goblins, and you do not want a coin flip determining whether you Top 8 or not. Besides that, you are more likely to get paired against Goblins twice more than any other deck; and that makes you much more likely to get a loss at least once. Part of the problem with Goblins is that it just wins; if they get an exceptional draw game 1, you are all of a sudden in a steep pit post-sideboard, needing to win twice at really no advantage.

So what decks do I think are good? Decks that play powerful cards. Something that can overpower Goblins with brokenness (Goblins has very few metagame slots available because Goblin Ringleader is greedy), and still beat Threshold. I think Tog, Threshold with Jotun Grunt, Confinement decks, Tendrils, and Aluren combo are all very good choices. I am too worried about playing Goblins, especially the mirror, because it seems like the die roll is just too important.

Kevin Binswanger

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