I just got back from notching another milestone in my fledgling paper Magic career, this time by playing in my first Grand Prix. I was having mixed
feelings going into Providence. On one hand, Legacy is one of the formats I feel I’m best in, having played a lot and being familiar with most of
the decks and their incarnations. On the other hand, it’s a wide-open format and one where it’s hard to find a deck that you really feel
The actual GP was pretty tame; I played a pretty stock Merfolk list (due mostly to card availability). I didn’t think there was much room for
innovation since the deck has a solid game plan and, while flexible, doesn’t want to do much besides attack a lot and counter relevant spells.
That being said, Batterskull looks like the breakout card of the tournament and poses a pretty serious threat to Merfolk, being both excellent on
offense and defense, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some significant tweaking required.
The games were for the most part uninteresting, highlighted by my almost complete inability to remember relevant moments. I also got my second loss
round four when I punted an attack, which essentially mooted my results from the rest of the day.
Thoughts on Hive Mind
The Hive Mind combo that made the finals of the GP may have been surprising there, but it’s been tearing up MODO for a while. One benefit is
people don’t really know how to play against it—specifically what works and doesn’t work to stop the combo despite being a simple
affair once you sit and think about how it works. In a nutshell, they play Hive Mind, then immediately play a Pact that will kill you on your upkeep
when you can’t pay.
Regular counterspells are no good, since they usually can just counter yours with their Hive Mind copy. Chalice of the Void on zero is actually awful
since it just counters their copy but not yours (since you never cast it).
Daze is excellent since you can counter your Pact, but they can’t use their copy to counter yours if you have a mana up. You still have to sweat
a second Pact, but that can give you time to kill them. Likewise, Cursecatcher counters your Pact copy to leave theirs for their upkeep, requiring them
to have two Pacts. Stifle also works, since it can counter the trigger but not itself. It’s still a powerful deck though and resilient against
both discard and counters, so I would not be surprised to see it do well in the future.
Gitaxian Probe: PTQ All-Star
After Ben Peebles-Mundy squeaked into Day Two, the rest of our car reluctantly accompanied him to PTQ instead of drinking beer and playing Super Smash
Bros. Melee all day long. The good news was that both Reid Duke and his brother Ian made Day Two and were able to lend me an awesome U/W Caw-Blade
list. (Also, major congrats to Reid on his top four finish. It’s a well-deserved finish for another player riding a non-Pro Tour hot streak.
He’s quietly qualified for all the Pro Tours so far this year and is poised to make a deep run in Nagoya.)
This list is the 75 given to me by Ian Duke. After playing eleven rounds with it, I can say it’s awesome, especially the Gitaxian Probe. Probe
fills in a lot of holes with the already strong Stoneforge strategy and was absolutely one of the best cards in the deck.
It is awesome against Splinter Twin: Splinter Twin (especially the U/R build) has inevitability, given you have no hard counters pre-board. This means you have to establish a clock while
your counters still matter. Splinter Twin, however, also has the ability to win turn 4. Probe is at its best here, letting you know whether it’s
safe to slam a turn 4 Jace without fear, or alternately whether you have to start playing around the combo.
It is awesome in the mirror: The mirror (both U/W and Darkblade) have a ton of lines of play, and they all intersect in different ways. I’ve written before about how you
can get into a Rock/Paper/Scissors type of game where maximizing your plays will depend on what they do and vice versa. Probe will let you fetch the
correct Equipment, decide on the right turn 2 play (i.e., Squadron Hawk or Stoneforge Mystic or hold up Mana Leak), or know if it’s clear to
equip Feast and Famine unprotected.
It costs almost nothing to play: Life loss as a cost is at an all-time low in relevance. Splinter Twin can kill you from a million, and the mirror is determined almost entirely by
board position. Life will only start mattering when you have to sacrifice board position to keep from dying, which usually takes a while. In most
relevant matchups, it is free to cast.
The other cost is the added uncertainty when mulliganing, since lots of times your hand may be one card away from being keepable, and Probe could be
anything. This cost is mitigated in that the two most important factors when mulliganing are whether you have enough lands and whether you have a Hawk
or Mystic. You’re still playing 26 lands and 8 Hawk/Mystics, so Probe will not affect the percentage of hands in which you have those two-drops and
only very few of the ones where land mix matters.
Notes on the deck
I think this deck is very strong and would strongly recommend it to anyone, at least until the next Banned / Restricted update. I think it might be a
little easier to learn than the previous incarnation, since there’s no Gideon Jura endgame, and Probe also makes gameplay less reliant on muscle
memory. That being said, there’s no replacement for practice, and the best thing to do would be to play as many games as possible, but here some
notes on the deck that may not be readily apparent.
Probe is best sandbagged unless the information or extra card will change your play. The deck uses its mana very well early, so it’s usually okay
leaving the cantrip uncashed.
The deck is essentially pre-sideboarded against the mirror; just bring in the second Divine Offering, second Batterskull, and maybe a Dismember for
Mana Leaks or Spell Pierces, depending on whether you are the play or draw.
Splinter Twin can be a tough matchup, but as discussed, Probe really shines. Try to speed up the clock as much as possible. Probes go out against
non-blue decks (particularly aggro), and sideboarding is mostly intuitive otherwise.
I’m considering adding Surgical Extraction in the side to shore up both the Twin and Vengevine matchups. If Vengevine becomes popular, I would almost
certainly bring some in. Ian and I also talked a little bit about Consecrated Sphinx in the main to bolster the mirror. Sphinx gets the nod over Sun
Titan, since the deck isn’t built to support Titan, and it can’t return Batterskull.
In most matchups, you want to fetch Batterskull or Sword of Feast or Famine. Batterskull is definitely the call if you think they can mess with combat
at all (e.g., Deceiver Exarch, instant-speed spot removal). Sword of War and Peace is rarely your first Equipment but is there mostly to gain life or
to attack through blockers with one of your other Equipment. While sometimes you can get them on the back foot by stringing together attacks,
it’s rare you can go all the way if they put up any resistance.
Me: “The PTQ is only 116 players. That’s awesome.”
Some guy: “Really? Someone else said it was over 200. How many tables are there?”
Me: “Uhhhh… Oh, 116.”
I played a pretty wide swath of decks over the nine rounds of Swiss. Mono-Red, Darkblade, Ascension/Twin, R/B Vampires with my only loss being to
Flores U/R Splinter Twin.
Round three my opponent went turn 0 Chancellor of the Tangle, turn 1 Llanowar Elves, Forest, Llanowar Elves on the play with a turn 2 Lead the Stampede
for two Vengevines and another dude. Meanwhile, I was staring at my hand of Preordain, Stoneforge Mystic, and two Glacial Fortresses. I Probed turn 2,
seeing a third Vengevine and a Stoneforge Mystic, except the Probe drew me into the untapped land I needed to keep in the match. Eventually, I pulled
back into the game behind Batterskull and won, though I don’t really remember how.
Probe was especially awesome in my Darkblade match. On the draw game one, I saw his hand of Swamp, Stoneforge Mystic, Jace, Preordain, and a blank
after playing a turn 1 Creeping Tar Pit. I snap Pierced his Preordain and rode my Stoneforge to victory as he bricked land drops.
On the other hand, against Flores Splinter Twin, my opponent played small Jace after my turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic and drew a hundred cards while I
stared at the Mana Leak in my hand. Probe there might have won the game. I then lost game two in spectacular fashion. I played around the combo by
playing an untapped blue source instead of Colonnade so I could play Squadron Hawk with double Pierce mana. When he played Exarch end of turn tapping
my Island, I looked down in horror at my untapped Inkmoth Nexus.
“If you don’t mind my asking, do you know what your rating is?”
This question was asked by one of my despondent opponents after I beat him in the PTQ. I briefly thought about lying but ultimately told him of my
relatively awful rating. This is one of the secret joys of having a newborn DCI number.
Between the Devil and the Deep Swasey
The Top 8 was a win over the mirror and the rematch versus U/R Twin. The mirror was long but not really in doubt when he made some suspect plays like
fetching War and Peace first both games. Against U/R Twin, I had the early Probe and saw no combo pieces, showing me it was clear to punish him with
Feast and Famine.
The final was against fellow MODO grinder Larry Swasey and his hateful U/G Vengevine deck. His deck is
custom-built to prey on Caw-Blade lists, having previously dispatched two leading up to the finals. I managed to steal game two off the back of a
Journey for his Cobra but quickly found myself on the back foot in the decider against turn 2 Cobra into Fauna Shaman (off a Birds of Paradise). I
decided that I needed to answer his Cobra with my Journey then watched him chain Fauna activations, fetching Vengevine after Vengevine.
A pivotal turn happened later when he untapped with two fetchlands, Cobra, and Shaman. He announced a Fauna Shaman activation, started searching his
deck, then said he was going to crack the lands as a shortcut. He found appropriate basics, added Cobra mana to his pool, and presented his deck. I
immediately alerted the judge that he failed to find a creature, and it was clear that Larry was crestfallen at his mistake. At this point, it was
fourteen hours into the PTQ and well after the hall had closed. The judge consulted with another judge and declared he would be given a warning for
Out-of-Order Sequencing but backed up to the Fauna Shaman activation on the stack. Larry got a Consecrated Sphinx, drew a thousand cards, and buried me
in card advantage.
I was pretty furious at the call at the time, since it would have given me the exact opening I would need to win an almost unwinnable matchup, but the
consensus from my friends afterwards was that it could have gone either way and was the probable result given the situation. Larry played great
otherwise, and we played three fun, interactive games. It’s also comforting to know if it happened on our primary hunting grounds (i.e., MODO),
his misplay could never have happened. I wish him luck in Philly and hope to win the rematch there, since my plan is clearly to take down a MODO PTQ.
It’s also possible that I should have Journeyed his Fauna turn 2, which only is worse if he has Sphinx or Frost Titan.
My Live Play Development
My live play education continued after I got my third loss in the GP and plain forgot to de-sideboard. I called a judge when I drew a Dismember the
next round and got a warning despite expecting a game loss. I think my development is going pretty well overall though. Fatigue wasn’t an issue
despite playing a fourteen-hour PTQ without dinner, though chugging five liters of water over the day helped. I didn’t make any major mistakes or
get any other warnings. None of my fifteen timed matches over the weekend went to extra turns.
There were a couple awkward moments though. The first was when my opponent asked me what the text of Spell Pierce was, and I immediately picked up my
hand and shuffled towards the back. The second was when my opponent asked me how many cards I had in hand, and I absentmindedly waved it, flashing the
front towards him.
Overall, I think it’s about time to shut down this theme. I’m getting comfortable enough with live play that I don’t think it’s
affecting my game. There will definitely be a lot of masterly plays to learn, but my technical play isn’t suffering from the transition anymore.
The best play I saw all weekend
I was birding Adam Yurchick battle Christian Valenti, BUG on Painter, in early Saturday playtesting. It was a pitched battle of early discard against
the power of topdecked combo pieces, and after a number of games, I’m not sure who ended up on top.
As Adam was packing up his stuff, he looked in his backpack and was like “Man, I have like nine bananas in here.” I immediately felt a pang
of jealousy and thought about that moment every single time I had to choose between the crappy convention center cafe, a five-minute walk to the
marginally less crappy hotel cafe, or a ten-minute walk to the mall food court where I could get an eight-dollar cheesesteak prepared by disaffected
So props go to Adam for his sick banana tech.
I was privileged to be invited to the 2011 Magic Online Community Cup. I would like to thank all of you since at least one of you nominated me. It’s a
strange feeling to be recognized at a paper event for MODO and internet articles but also awesome to get all the support of the community. I look
forward to smashing the WotC team in a couple weeks. I haven’t gotten the chance to think much about the new Modern format, but it certainly
sounds interesting and more in the vein of old Extended.
@prolepsis9 on Twitter