Taking Counterbalance To The Top: 1st Place At Indianapolis!

Tuesday, February 15 – How did Ben triumph at the latest StarCityGames.com Legacy Open? He’ll tell you how he tweaked his deck, and go through his day round-by-round!

My adventures with CounterTop began at StarCityGames.com Open: Denver. While I
didn’t top 8 there, I felt that I needed to keep learning the deck because I knew Canadian Threshold wasn’t going to cut it much longer. The next time
I took CounterTop to battle was at Kansas City. I went 5-2-1, but could have
top 8ed if I hadn’t made some errors in both playing and deckbuilding.

Before Kansas City, I didn’t realize how powerful Firespout really was. It kills so many of the aggressive creatures — and it costs three
mana, which is huge in matchups like Junk, and also makes it difficult post-board, where you’ll want to keep a three-drop against Krosan Grip.

One of the changes I made after Kansas City was the mana base. The basic Plains was useless — but a basic Mountain would have been awesome. I also
added two more fetchlands, and dropped the number of each dual land I played from four to three. The added bonus was that I got more shuffle effects
for my Sensei’s Diving Tops, Brainstorms, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

I noticed that GerryT didn’t play Ponder in San Jose — and after thinking about my
experience with them, I realized they weren’t needed. I was never thrilled to draw Ponder. I’m a big fan of not tapping mana in your main phase unless
it is for a broken card; now, I consider Firespout, Counterbalance, Sensei’s Divining Top or Tarmogoyf all cards I’m willing to tap main phase mana
for. And while Trinket Mage isn’t absurd, it always finds an answer or the missing Sensei’s Divining Top.

I was also looking for something spicy to play that would be good against Merfolk, while still having game against Zoo, Goblins, and Bant Aggro. I
looked through a bunch of tournaments and didn’t see anything of note. Repeal looked cute, but wasn’t what I wanted. Then I looked online at the Magic
Online Legacy events — while they don’t have every card, the format is still similar. I saw that Bing Luke/prolepsis9 was playing CounterTop with Grim
Lavamancer, and I was sold. While I did board it out fairly frequently, when it was useful, it was awesome. It was mediocre in rounds three
through seven — but in round 8 onward (including the finals), it helped win games that I could have lost if I couldn’t burn creatures or throw fire at
my opponent’s face.

I got to the site and had to finalize my seventy-five. I had sixty-one cards in my maindeck — so I showed my deck to Drew, hoping he’d give me advice
on what to cut, since he’s another Legacy master. The card he told me to cut was Jace, the Mind Sculptor #3 — which was the card I had been leaning
towards, but wasn’t sure if it was right. Since he agreed with my instincts, it was gone and my seventy-five was this:

My last addition to the sideboard was a Llawan, Cephalid Empress, empress who I never needed to board in — but I was happy that I had it, in case I
played against Merfolk.

The one thing I would change after playing it would be cutting the second Spell Pierce for a third Krosan Grip, or possibly a second Engineered
Explosives. Krosan Grip is awesome, and hits about half the spells you want to Spell Pierce anyway. It’s definitely worse against Storm Combo — but
your matchup is already pretty good there, and I don’t think you need the Pierce.

Because I am Level 5, after the player meeting I did some combo Cube Drafting with Alex Bertocini, the Louisville Crew, and the Madison crew. I got to
Grindstone and Chaotic Backlash some people out with the help of a Painter’s Servant. During my second bye, I went to get some food — and was then ready
to battle when my tournament started in round 3.

Round 3 started, and I saw Gerry walking around. He came by and said that he got deck-checked — which is brutal after two byes. I knew that I’d been
waiting all morning to battle Legacy. (If it’d been Standard, I probably wouldn’t mind, since I’m not the biggest on that format right now.) We
actually talked about how back in 2004, someone rescinded their byes at a Grand Prix, and we jokingly talked about not using ours for the Legacy
portion in future StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens.

Round 3: Goblins

In game 1, I was able to get Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top down. Eventually a Tarmogoyf got through, and I know I hit at least one Goblin
Ringleader with a Jace that I was floating. (In case you don’t know CounterTop terminology, “floating” is where you keep the card of the converted mana
cost your opponent is most likely to play on top of your deck. In my case, my four-cost Jace trumped his four-cost Ringleader.)

He won game two pretty easily and then in game three, I knew I was winning this tournament. I was on the play and led with Top; he followed with Goblin
Lackey. I played Tarmogoyf as a blocker, and he untapped to play Warren Weirding. I didn’t have the Force of Will in my hand, so I activated my Top to
draw a card, trying to hit the four-mana outer — and I hit.

The game still wound up close, because he got a second Goblin Lackey — and while I ate one with my Tarmogoyf, he was able to get in a Siege-gang
Commander. I untapped and played Pithing Needle on Siege-Gang Commander. I wound up taking beats down to six, where I got a Firespout off through a
Rishadan Port. ‘Goyf ends up finishing him off right as time is called.

Round 4: CounterTop Mirror

Here I played Josh A. Guibault, who I beat in the top 4. We wound up going to three games, and drew the third. I was probably going to win the game
with an active Jace — but it wasn’t locked up, so he didn’t scoop and we headed to the draw bracket.

Round 5: Junk

I knew my opponent was playing Junk, because I saw him draw against Gerry earlier in the day.

I was able to get a Top down in game 1 to survive his discard, and eventually I got a Counterbalance and locked him after Swording his threats.

Game 2, he kept a risky hand of Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author] and Karakas. He wasn’t able to play his Hymn to Tourachs, any three-drops, or Tarmogoyf… making it easy for
me to stabilize with a Counterbalance lock. I didn’t play a threat for quite awhile, because I liked the top cards of my library, which had a two- and
three-drop floating.

Playing the Tarmogoyf in my hand would have forced me to crack a fetchland. (If I’d had a Brainstorm, I would have been more willing to crack it,
because then I could put cards from my hand equal to the casting cost of his spell on the Top.) Eventually, I got a Tropical Island into play, but he
Wastelands it — and then Extirpates me, leaving me with just Jace and Trinket Mage left to win with.

Eventually, with five minutes on the clock and him at around fourteen, I decide to tap out for Trinket Mage and get my beatdown on. I finished him off
right as time was called.

Round 6: Belcher

I knew my opponent was playing Belcher, because I saw him get paired against Christian Valenti in Round 1. That’s amusing, because Christian normally
plays Belcher but chose to play G/W Creatures this time around.

I won the die roll and saw the stone nuts of “Fetchland / fetchland / Sensei’s Divining Top / Counterbalance / Force of Will / Jace, the Mind Sculptor
/ Engineered Explosives.” I won this game with no effort on my part, since it was the stones.

I was getting ready to board out Swords to Plowshares for game 2, and then remembered that earlier he’d said he was playing Christian’s deck and that
Christian had Xantid Swarm in his sideboard. I wound up leaving them in, and boarding out some other do-nothings.

He tanks on his mulligan decision in game 2, which makes me think that he has a Xantid Swarm hand, but not a turn 1 Empty the Warrens or Goblin
Charbelcher. I decided to keep my hand with a Swords to Plowshares, Counterspell, Top, and some lands.

He led with Swarm, which I Sworded on his turn, which was a mistake. I should have done it my main phase — because if he’d had Empty the Warrens, I
would have just given him two extra creatures. Fortunately, he didn’t have it, and I got a Counterbalance lock down before he could do anything.

Late in the game, he started hard-casting Simian Spirit Guides to get some damage in, and I actually had to Swords one because I didn’t have a
three-mana card on top when he cast it. With ten minutes left in the round, some Tarmogoyfs took him down.

Round 7: Landstill

This round, I got an uncovered Feature Match with Jason Terry. He was playing Four-Color Landstill, similar to what Jason Ford played in Columbus.

He stomped me in game 1, with Life from the Loam and Wasteland / Mishra’s Factory. Game 2, I was able to resolve a Jace, but he has a Mishra’s Factory
to stop it from really doing anything.

He then landed a Standstill — which is awkward for me in many, many ways. He won game 1, so I need to win both this game and game 3 to win the
match. A few turns went by with me fatesealing him off of more Factories and cards I care about.

Eventually, he had a brain fart and cast Life from the Loam. I chose to respond by drawing three cards. He sorta went on tilt there, and I was able to
get the lock on the following turn with Top and Counterbalance.

We went to game 3 with about ten minutes left on the clock. I was able to get a quick draw, including both of my Pithing Needles — one on Engineered
Explosives, and the other on Pernicious Deed. On turn 4 of extra turns, my Tarmogoyfs finished him off.

Round 8: Show and Tell

I was paired up against the only undefeated player left in the tournament — Josh C. Rayden. I knew he was playing Show and Tell/Natural Order with a
sideboard creature plan.

Game one, I made sure to play around Daze, which is really the only card that can blow me out. I took some beats from Noble Hierarchs, Counterspelled
his first Natural Order, and then proceeded to play the lock when I had plenty of mana up and had only taken Noble Hierarch beats down to twelve or so.
He eventually died to my Tarmogoyfs.

Game 2, I misboarded by leaving in a bunch of Firespouts, which aren’t actually good against him. This game wound up being weird, though, because no
one ended up attacking for more than one. He was attacking me for one with an exalted Birds of Paradise while I had the Counterbalance lock, but no
pressure. Eventually I Topped into Grim Lavamancer, who burned away his creatures and got his attacks on. Eventually I got a Tarmogoyf in play and Josh
went for it by hardcasting a Terastodon. I Forced it, and that’s game.

Round 9: Noodles and Company

I drew and got some food. Over half the top 8 ended up eating at Noodles and Company while the round was finishing up. I got back, talked some on
GGslive, and learned that in the top 8 you receive your opponent’s decklists.

I felt that was a huge edge for me; my list was fairly stock, but I had no idea what was in Michael Bomholt’s Forgemaster Combo deck. I knew it had Goblin
Welder, Metalworker, and some big artifacts, but no idea what was actually in it.

I had also heard the story floating around the site that someone had died on turn 2 when his opponent went “Turn 1 Ancient Tomb into Grim Monolith;
turn 2 Lightning Greaves, Voltaic Key, Kuldotha Forgemaster, play City of Traitors, hook Forgemaster to Greaves, then Tinker up a Blightsteel Colossus
to poison his opponent out.” We told this story to Alex, who was going to be his quarterfinals opponent, and Alex went crazy. He was like, “Oh, no, I
can not get poisoned.” He thought that was bad — until he saw his opponent had four maindecked Wurmcoil Engines, which he could never beat.

Before the top 8, I asked the Head Judge and TO if the top 8 was going to be timed or untimed. Happily for me, it would be untimed. I am a fast player,
and I didn’t finish a round that I played with more than ten minutes left on the clock. Also, knowing that I was likely to play against two
Counterbalance mirrors also meant that time was going to be critical, because sudden death is bad for me… especially when both of my Counterbalance
opponents had life gain in the form of either Rhox War Monk or Thopter Foundry.

The top 8 actually played out fairly quickly. The semi-finals took ninety minutes — but other than that, my other matches lasted less than sixty

All my top 8 matches were

covered and explained pretty well

. I do think I got a bit lucky in my semi-finals match when my opponent blew up his Engineered Explosives on two when we both had Counterbalance, but
he had a Top. He should have waited till his hand was stronger, because I couldn’t really do anything at that point. I was actually debating playing a
Tarmogoyf as bait for him to blow the Explosives, because it was going to be hard for me to win through it — especially because I couldn’t play my own
Top. Luckily for me, he blew the Explosives and I won the counterwar when he tried to play another Counterbalance — which let me resolve the lock and
win the game.

I was so happy to finally take home a trophy! It was unbelievable. I was the last of the Level 5s to win one, and I was due. Previously, I had punted
away the finals and lost twice in the top 4. Thankfully, I played really well that weekend, and could quite possibly have top 8s on Saturday with RUG
if I hadn’t out-thought myself when playing against Valakut.

I would recommend this deck for people trying to play control in Legacy. My biggest warning would be to Top fast and be prepared for no breaks all day.
If you Top slow, you’ll end up getting multiple draws.

I’ll see everyone at

StarCityGames.com Open Weekend: Washington D.C.

, where I hope to take home another trophy.