As any of you who have looked at the main page of this site in the past week or so already know, this past weekend marked the StarCityGames.com Los Angeles Open. I have been excited about the SCG Open series since it was announced, and as a player I was especially excited for one that I could drive to! As a writer, too, the event was exciting, since it’s so perfectly timed. Normally the month before the release of a new expansion is a period filled mostly with speculation about the upcoming set from the tidbits of spoilers that have been seen, but a major multi-format tournament like this gives both players and writers a reason to care about the current Constructed formats until the moment Worldwake cards go on sale.
The timing of the event was not the best for my preparation for the tournament, however. With the event coming right after the holidays and my usual partner in crime Ben Rubin not playing in the event, my preparation consisted of mostly conversations with Matt Sperling and Paul Rietzl along with sporadic games on Magic Online when I could borrow the cards I needed. As I mentioned at the end of my article on the St. Louis Open, I’d been looking to UWR control as a foil for the metagame that came out of that tournament. My expectations were that Jund would remain the most common deck in the metagame, but that Red and Grixis would rise significantly in popularity after their results at the last Standard Open, so I wanted to try to find a version of UWR that matched up well against all three of these decks.
I’d worked on UWR prior to Worlds, but at that point hadn’t found the now ubiquitous maindeck Flashfreeze that is so important in the Jund-filled metagame. The decks that I built then had many of the same elements of the Austrian deck that was so successful at Worlds which LSV ultimately ported into his tournament-winning deck, so for my SCG LA Open build I went back to what I had worked on before. One of the cards that stood out at me from my old lists was Vedalken Outlander. I’d had quite the run with the reincarnation of Galina’s Knight (or perhaps it should be rebuilding, since it’s an artifact creature this time around) in Honolulu, and it seemed like the card was especially well positioned in the metagame I expected.
I was anticipating a surge in the popularity of both Red decks and Grixis, and Outlander is fantastic against both of them. While UWR is already strong against Mono Red thanks to Wall of Denial, the games in which you don’t draw Wall can be tough. While a 2/2 pro red body without flying doesn’t do much against Ball Lightnings or Hell’s Thunders, it quickly shuts down Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede and takes the sting out of Hellspark Elementals. Against Grixis, traditional UWR is in rough shape because it lacks any way to put on pressure, and the late game of Cruel Ultimatum and Sorin Markov trumps just about anything you can do. Vedalken Outlander is actually remarkably effective at providing a clock against Grixis, since most builds have nothing in their maindeck short of the aforementioned big spells and blocking with Sphinx that can deal with a protection from red creature. Landing one early puts your opponent on the back foot and forces them to find a way to stop it rather than sit back and craft a perfect hand to Cruel Ultimatum you.
Of course, something has to come out of the deck for Vedalken Outlander to come in. Compared to LSV’s list what mine lacks is Spreading Seas. I’ll be the first to admit that the swap comes at a cost against Jund. Although Vedalken Outlander is solid against Jund, holding off Bloodbraid Elf and Sprouting Thrinax, it does not have as big an impact on the game as Spreading Seas. Going first, you often have to make the decision between playing an Outlander and holding up mana to Flashfreeze a potential Putrid Leech. With Spreading Seas, there is no such problem — you just cast your Seas to cripple their colored mana development and know that there’s nothing they can cast on their turn. Disrupting Jund’s mana impacts the game more than a 2/2 pro red creature, since you can just lock them out of doing anything meaningful for a number of turns quite easily. All told, I felt like it was worth giving up a bit of edge against Jund (which still felt like a favorable matchup regardless) to boost my chances against the other decks I felt would make a strong showing.
Here is what I played
As it turns out, my metagame predictions were quite a bit off the mark. Jund, of course, still showed up in force, but neither Red nor Grixis showed up in particular force, though you wouldn’t know it from my matchups. My day went as follows:
Round 1 versus Mono-Red: Win 2-0
Round 2 versus Grixis: Lose 2-1
Round 3 versus R/b Goblins: Win 2-1
Round 4 versus Mono-Red Win 2-0
Round 5 versus UW Control: Win 2-0
Round 6 versus Jund: Win 2-0
Round 7 versus Jund: Lose 0-2
Round 8 versus Jund: Lose 2-1 and drop
None of my matches were terribly interesting. I trounced all of my red opponents rather handily, with the exception of a game against the Goblin deck in which I didn’t consider that his deck might have Eldrazi Monument and managed to lose a game I otherwise had firmly in hand. My games against Grixis were all rather unexciting — in the first game I kept a two-land hand on the draw and discarded three times, in the second I smashed him with Vedalken Outlanders and Mind Controlled his Malakir Bloodwitch that he played to block them, and in the third he had a turn 5 Bloodwitch to contain my Luminarch Ascension while his Spreading Seas kept me off the double white mana I needed for my Baneslayers. I felt like I got very unlucky in both of my losses to Jund, losing to a combination of perfect cascades and mana flood or screw, but it’s entirely possible that Spreading Seas would have made the difference in at least one of my losses.
Overall I was happy with the deck with the exception of the Day of Judgments in the sideboard. Granted, I didn’t play against any decks against which I wanted a Wrath effect like G/W, but I did realize after losing to Malakir Bloodwitch twice that I wanted a good answer to it that I could bring in against both Jund and Grixis. Mind Control was awesome for me every time I brought it in throughout the tournament, but I can’t really envision playing too many of them since they cost five. I think in retrospect I’d go with the two Essence Scatters that LSV played and a third Mind Control. A third Negate is probably better than the Swerve now since UWR is likely to become more popular, but I think preparing for the mirror is going to require more than just retooling a few sideboard cards, since that is a really dumb matchup, as the quarterfinals between LSV and Jeff Huang displayed.
Despite being down and out in Standard, my weekend was not over yet! I was excited to play in the Legacy Open on Sunday, despite never having played the format before. I had been discussing a Bant deck with Patrick Sullivan since the SCG Open tournaments were first announced, but we’d never gotten around to playing actual games, so the deck was entirely theory. Pat at least had some goldfishing under his belt, so I asked him for his list once partway through the day on Saturday. I was able to get all the cards I needed together thanks to the fine folks at StarCityGames, made a few tweaks to the list Pat sent me, and got ready to play.
Here’s what I played in Legacy:
My changes from Pat’s list were -2 Vendilion Clique +2 Trygon Predator in the main, since I wanted a bit more action against CounterTop, and -1 Hydroblast -2 Pithing Needle +2 Sower of Temptation in the sideboard for pretty much the same reason. I had very little idea what to expect from the field, since my only exposure to Legacy has been reading coverage from Worlds and previous SCG Open events, but I liked the looks of my deck against just about everything but CounterTop, in particular CounterTop with Natural Order/Progenitus since that trumps the whole plan of winning the Tarmogoyf war with exalted creatures. The games in Legacy were much more interesting, so I’m going to talk about all of the matches that I played.
Naturally, my first round is against CounterTop/Natural Order and I lose. I feel like I made a mistake in the first game by fighting over a Trygon Predator. My opponent had a Wall of Blossoms in play and I played the Predator, which resolved. He played Firespout in his turn, which I Forced, since I felt that having the Predator in play could protect me from the eventuality of losing to Counterbalance lock and it also gave me a threat that could get around his Wall of Blossoms. Unfortunately, this gave him a prime opportunity to use Daze, which I could have played around by not forcing back and just dropping a Tarmogoyf on my turn, which — thanks to the dead Trygon Predator and the other three card types in our graveyards — would have been big enough to fight through Wall of Blossoms and given me reasonable pressure. I end up losing that game because I was out of gas to stop his Natural Order for Progenitus many turns later, and I would have been in a much better position if I hadn’t let him Daze my FOW. I lose the second game to CounterBalance coming down early and getting two blind hits before Top seals it.
My second match was against a very friendly fellow playing Reanimator. In the first game he Entomb/Exhumes an Iona on his third turn, but I have enough pressure to make a game of it if I can draw a Trygon Predator to chump block one turn. I don’t and I die. Game 2 illustrates my ignorance of Legacy, as I have an early Tormod’s Crypt and follow it up with a Meddling Mage and have no idea what to name. From talking to Matt Sperling before the tournament (who also played Reanimator) I remember him mentioning Echoing Truth as the best catch-all solution for Reanimator decks, so I decide to protect my position with Crypt by naming that. Of course, my opponent goes and fetches a Bayou and Mystical Tutors for Krosan Grip my Tormod’s Crypt and I’m left with a very silly looking Meddling Mage. Thankfully, though, that left him without the means to fetch a fatty and reanimate it and I’m able to take the game down. The third game sees my opponent mulligan twice while I have a solid draw, and I’m able to put enough pressure on him that he doesn’t have time to find his combo pieces.
My third match was somewhat amusing and once again showed how little I know about Legacy. In the first game my opponent mulligans and I have a decent beatdown draw, putting out a full four Noble Hierarchs to power my chosen attacker through whatever might get in the way. My opponent just plays out Islands and fetch lands, and on the turn I think I’m going to untap and attack for the kill, he announces an effect before I declare attackers — High Tide. Oh, now I know what’s going on. I Daze his High Tide twice to cut down on his mana generated, but after some enormous number of untap effects (Reset, of all things!) and card drawing I found myself suddenly without cards in my deck and required to draw from Words of Wisdom.
My sideboarding was amusing to me, since I took out Swords to Plowshares for Jittes because they could possibly speed up my clock and Sowers of Temptation because they’re blue and I could pitch them to Force of Will. I end up with a ridiculous triple Force of Will draw in game two that causes my opponent to fizzle after casting two Meditates that give me the extra turns to kill him, and then game three I play a Meddling Mage on High Tide and my opponent isn’t able to generate the mana he needs to go off before I kill him. I definitely found playing the match to be very interesting once I knew what was going on, because it seems like it’s important to save your countermagic for the perfect time during their combo to force them to use as many resources as possible before they fail at going off. At some point during this match, I cast Ponder and went to resolve it as if it were Brainstorm, but caught myself and called a judge, who ruled that the penalty of drawing extra cards (since I’d put the cards in my hand) would be downgraded since I had caught it and called the judge on myself.
In the fourth round I played against Goblins, and I was fortunate enough to draw a Force of Will for his Aether Vile in both games, along with a Blue Elemental Blast for Goblin Lackey that shut him down. My opponent made a critical mistake in game one by using his Wasteland before casting Goblin Matron, which let me get value out of Daze and stop him from chaining Recruiters. In the end I drew too many Tarmogoyfs for him to overcome.
In the fifth round I played against another CounterTop Progenitus deck, this time on the ggslive stream. In the first game I failed to draw a white source, fetch land, Brainstorm, or Ponder for a huge number of turns, and ended up unable to play either of the Swords to Plowshares in my hand on my opponent’s Tarmogoyf until he’d already set up Counterbalance/Top. In the second game, my exalted creatures let me win the Tarmogoyf war, though it took me painfully long on the final turn of the game to realize that I could just attack with everything and win. In the third game I think I made a mistake in not using Sower of Temptation on my opponent’s Noble Hierarch when he missed a land drop, instead taking the Tarmogoyf he played the following turn. This gave him an opening to Natural Order for Progenitus, which just trumped anything I could do at that point. If I’d taken the Noble Hierarch, I would have had a double exalted flier in Sower of Temptation to put my opponent on a clock and would have cut out both a mana and a green creature to sacrifice for my opponent to Natural Order Amusingly, on the last turn before I died, I cast Ponder and again resolved it as if it were Brainstorm — though this time, despite catching myself, the penalty was indeed a game loss since it was my second warning of the same type. At least it happened in an unwinnable game!
My sixth round was against an Aggro Loam deck. I don’t remember the exact details of the games, but after an incredibly close game 1 that I lost, in game 2 my opponent had to play a Dark Confidant to block a Noble Hierarch when he was at one life. I held back my Hierarch and continued to play creatures as my opponent hit land, land, Mox Diamond, land with his Dark Confidant before finally hitting a card with a casting cost! The third game I managed to get out three Qasali Pridemages to give me a hard hitting clock and keep any dangerous artifacts or enchantments away, but my opponent landed a Seismic Assault with enough lands in hand to kill all three of them despite the fact that I could kill it with a Pridemage on its way out. I’d been holding back a Tarmogoyf for fear of Engineered Explosives, which I played out, and it looked like my opponent might be getting back into the game when he drew a Tarmogoyf and Countryside Crusher of his own. I managed to stick a Trygon Predator, however, which took down the game just as a 2 power flier over his ground creatures.
When my seventh round opponent played a Llanowar Elf turn 1, I decided to play it safe and name Glimpse of Nature with my Meddling Mage on the following turn. It soon became clear that his was not an elf deck of the combo sort, as he played out a legion of elves including Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Imperious Perfect. I managed to Plow the latter before it got out of hand and trade for the former, but soon the board was gummed up by literally a dozen 1/1 elves on his side against a Rhox War Monk and a Tarmogoyf on mine. He kept drawing 1/1s and I kept drawing land until I finally started chaining Ponders into Brainstorms and shuffling away my extra land for spells. After a few attacks from my fatties, the elves on his side quickly diminished, and eventually I took the game.
Still confused about just what I was up against, I sideboarded in my Submerges, Jittes, Sowers, and Engineered Explosives and pulled my Meddling Mages along with a few Dazes and Force of Wills and shaved some other numbers here and there. After a few elves I’d seen before came down, Survival of the Fittest clued me in to the fact that my opponent was up to something. I Sowered a Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Submerged my opponent’s only mana creature in response to a Survival activation and my opponent conceded, since apparently he didn’t have any way to deal with a flying creature in his deck and he was on a two turn clock thanks to my exalted creatures.
In the final round, I was paired with Pat Sullivan, who I’d just watched lose a heartbreaking game 3 to the eventual champion playing Enchantress, in which his opponent drew Replenish the turn before he died to come back and win the game. Pat was frustrated to have missed Top 8 after starting 5-0 and, knowing that I’m likely to travel to more of the SCG Open events, decided to concede to me rather than play out a virtual mirror match.
6-2, putting me in the Top 16.
I felt like the deck was fairly solid, and at the very least had game against everything I played against. I felt like some of the cards in the deck were rather unimpressive, like Rhox War Monk, but it’s possible that’s because I didn’t play against any really aggressive decks like Zoo where he would shine. Overall it seemed like the collection of removal and countermagic effects meant that you were rarely drawing dead against anything, but the deck didn’t feel like it did anything tremendously powerful either. I felt like the deck wanted some more powerful gamebreaking effects, and could easily see swapping the Rhox War Monks out for Knight of the Reliquary and fitting at least one Elspeth, but maybe I’m biased because of how great those cards have been for me in Extended.
All told, I’m really happy to have played in the Legacy event and done reasonably well, because now I have a whole new format to think about and brew for! I’m certainly going to play in GP: Columbus this summer, and I’m debating traveling to Madrid the weekend after PT San Diego to play there — not to mention looking very closely at the SCG Open schedule to see where I might be able to get my fix next! I know I’m wishing I could have found a reasonable way to get to Dallas this weekend — I’m disappointed that next weekend I’ll have to look at those results from afar, but I’m excited for them to come in so I can keep brewing.
Until next time…