The Swasey Shuffle – Don’t Mind If I Do

Larry Swasey touches on Standard, Legacy, and Modern–all in one article! Find out why he went 4-0 in Legacy but 0-4 in Standard and what decks he’s looking into after the Invitational.

God only knows what place I ended up in at the recent StarCityGames.com Invitational. I didn’t make Day 2, and I wasn’t surprised. After all, I played Tempered Steel (sorry, Ari Lax). Going 0-4 in the Standard portion didn’t help. But the Invitational didn’t start with Standard; it started with Legacy. Guess how I did in Legacy. 0-4? 1-3? Do I hear a 2-2? Wrong, wrong, and very wrong. I went 4-0 in Legacy. I had zero byes. For those who don’t know me, the only other time I played Legacy was back at the last StarCityGames.com Invitational. Something is wrong with me going 4-0. Well, perhaps wrong is the incorrect word. I did find out something strange while I was cruising to my undefeated record in Legacy (admittedly, only playing four rounds and going undefeated in four rounds is no big feat, but again, I’ve never really played Legacy). I actually liked playing Legacy. Me, the funk master—sorry—brew master extraordinaire of Standard, enjoying Legacy. These are not the cards you are looking for.

The Droids You’re Looking For

While I’m no expert on Legacy, I do have a few friends in the community who are good at Legacy. Obviously, I didn’t ask any of them for advice on what to play. Instead I went to Tom Ma. Do you know what deck Tom Ma plays in Legacy no matter what? Hive Mind. Now, again, like I said, I’m no expert on Legacy, but it seemed to me that Hive Mind was poorly positioned. When there are Pyroblasts and Stifles running around, I can’t imagine that you want to be relying on abilities going on the stack, blue spells, or your opponent not having counters. What I failed to realize was that when you’re playing Hive Mind, you don’t actually care what your opponent has or could possibly have. A lot of the times you just cast Show and Tell and move to the next game. Sure, sometimes they have the Karakas to bounce your Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but the other times they won’t. Or they won’t be able to pay for a Pact of the Titan or another Pact on their upkeep. Know what else? People have stopped expecting Hive Mind. When Hive Mind was popular, there used to be a lot of Angel’s Graces around to counter the deck. Now? There is no dedicated hate. Just when you least expect it, POW! Right in the kisser.

Apparently, Legacy is a diverse format. So diverse, in fact, that you can go a whole four rounds without seeing so much as an opposing Force of Will or even Brainstorm. I guess that helps to explain the 4-0 start. Why people play without those cards is beyond me. Have you ever cast a Wild Nacatl only to be staring down an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or a Progenitus? Pat Cox, you’re a braver man than I. There is an easy way to avoid staring down those cards though. It’s called Force of Will (and a blue card or 3UU, but come on, it’s Legacy! No one runs THAT many lands). Actually, you’d probably still be facing down those threats even with Force of Will to counter their spell. They obviously have Force of Will backup, who are we kidding? Legacy is a format filled with degenerate decks. Why play fair when you can play awesome? I had a game where my opponent was doing really well for himself. He had a Knight of the Reliquary, Noble Hierarchs, and even an Umezawa’s Jitte! And then he lost because he couldn’t pay 10UUUR during his upkeep.

The maindeck is Tom Ma’s basic maindeck that he’s been running for a while and the one that most Hive Mind players run, give or take a dual land or two. The sideboard was originally Tom Ma’s, but then I talked to Caleb Durward, a renowned Evil Snake and Legacy expert. His suggestion was cutting Progenitus for the fourth Chalice and two Impulses. All four rounds I played in, those three cards were amazing, especially since the Impulse let me dig with a Chalice at one in play.

From One Format to Another

So, why do I suddenly love Legacy? Because I just haven’t quite found my one true love yet in Standard. I’m not a big fan of any of the decks in Standard right now. The decks aren’t bad, but they just don’t have the power in them. I guess that’s the problem of going from a full set to just down to one big block. Although I might not be a fan of the current Standard format, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it from time to time. If you can call going 0-4 in Standard at the Invitational “enjoying.”

See, Ari Lax loves his Tempered Steel. I had no idea what to play for the Standard portion (read: should have been U/W Humans), so I asked him for his latest list and was convinced by Ben Friedman that we should roll the dice. I mean, variance has to work out in your favor SOMETIMES, right? Well, it turns out that variance does work in your favor sometimes. And sometimes it works in favor of Ben Friedman (congratulations on top 8ing the Invitational, Ben!).

For those of you who don’t have the pleasure of knowing Ben Friedman, he’s a charming young man from Maryland and a fine magician. I’m not sure what started the idea of us playing the same 75 at big tournaments, but we both played my Pyromancer Ascension list at Pro Tour Philadelphia. Obviously I didn’t day two while he made top fifty and secured his invite to Pro Tour Hawaii (or is it Pro Tour Dark Ascension? Sounds ominous). With Ari Lax Steel list, I went 0-4 and failed to day two (sounds familiar), and he proceeded to make the top eight. I realize it’s dumb to blame luck (ha! dumb luck), but saying “golly, I sure chose the wrong deck to play, kept some really bad hands, and made some terrible plays!” doesn’t make for a good story. I also realize that no one REALLY wants to hear a bad beat story, but think of it more of a story about how awesome Ben Friedman is. Anyways, here’s the list we played!

We had some good reasons for our card choices. Hero of Bladehold is a quick clock against a lot of the control decks and is a good threat post Day of Judgment. She also helps close games that might otherwise be unwinnable. Shrine of Loyal Legions gives some late-game inevitability that the deck lacks. Drawing Memnite past turn one or two is the worst feeling you can get (besides drawing multiple Mox Opal). Drawing Shrine and having it slowly tick up counters while playing against control is one of the best feelings you can have. You can basically wait until the Shrine is lethal and then win on their end step. Even though the deck has some raw power, I didn’t do well with it. I did learn a valuable lesson by playing it though. I hate not being in control of what I draw. I’m not exactly Commander Keen (if you get that reference, you’re awesome) on relying on my draw step. Round five I was paired against Brian Kibler and got wrecked by his miser’s Curse of Death’s Hold. I had at least ten answers to it left in my deck, but I drew lots of lands and dead cards. Not being able to control what you draw is not a fun feeling. The only reason I would feel comfortable not being able to control my draws is if the deck I’m playing had a LOT of sweet threats like Geist of Saint Traft, Hero of Bladehold, or Mirran Crusader. Man, I should have played U/W Humans.

C’mon Topdeck!

If I’m playing a deck in Standard, I don’t want to have to rely on the draw step for everything. Especially if all the cards I’m drawing are individually weak (Sphere of the Suns, Memnite, Birds of Paradise, or Plague Stinger). When I play aggressive decks, I like to have some planeswalkers or cards that can “upgrade” my weak cards into super cards (super by their standards, let’s not let Tempered Steel get Memnite’s hopes up too much). Fauna Shaman in the last season of Standard was a perfect example of this. Currently the best examples of “upgrade” cards are the Sword cycle and Angelic Destiny. Sword of Feast and Famine makes even Birds of Paradise demand an answer, even if it feels like a “waste” for an opponent to Doom Blade a Birds. Angelic Destiny makes unwinnable games into cakewalks. And we all know cakes are delicious. Are you at one life staring down an Inferno Titan, a Primeval Titan, and a Kessig Wolf-Run? Just slap that Destiny on a creature, make him into Voltron and go to town! Everyone knows the best cakes are made from the tears of your opponent.

Even though I just complained about Standard, one deck did stand out for me. That deck was Caleb Durward’s U/W/b control deck.

Watching him play this deck was awesome. He always had answers for even the hardest to deal with threats (Thrun, the Last Troll comes to mind), and then he would win with a couple Snapcaster Mages. Or he would White Sun’s Zenith for more cats than your local crazy cat lady. The other awesome part of this deck is that it runs Volition Reins. Have you ever been in topdeck mode against a deck that has some good threats? Imagine your opponent slams down a Hero of Bladehold. Then he equips it with Sword of Feast and Famine, dialing the intensity of the situation up to 10. Then he slams an Angelic Destiny on it. Did I forget to mention that this amp goes to 11? So there you are, staring down the ultimate warrior while all you have is a Phantasmal Image. Suddenly the clouds part and you draw Volition Reins, the superhero of our story. Gingerly you take the Hero, not wanting to do it so fast as to add insult to injury. And then you play Phantasmal Image, intentionally adding insult to injury. “Go,” you say. Your opponent draws for the turn and then scoops it up. That’s how good Volition Reins is.

Questions for Caleb

Seeing as Caleb is such a good friend of mine when he’s not insulting my deck choices or the hands I keep with Hive Mind, I decided to pick his brain about this deck and ask him a few questions.

Me: Why U/W/b and not straight U/B? Is there a lack of answers in black that make white more appealing?

Caleb: There are a few key white cards—namely Day of Judgment, Timely Reinforcements, and Elesh Norn—that make white worth playing.

When RDW was the only burn deck out there, Timely was less necessary. After all, a U/B deck could simply load up on counters, removal, and Spellskites and have a relatively good matchup (and I did). However, with Illusions being the prominent burn deck of choice (yes, you read that correctly), it’s no longer enough. Timely forces the Illusions player to overcommit into a wrath effect, while they could otherwise peck away while holding back resources.

While black has a solid sweeper in BSZ (Black Sun’s Zenith), Day of Judgment is necessary for stuff like Dungrove Elder and Hero of Bladehold.

Finally, Elesh Norn is the stone best answer to a pile of Inkmoth Nexuses in the game, and it also serves to wreck any creature deck and act as a permanent overrun. I never board it out.

Me: Are you ever worried about your lack of win conditions? Winning with a 2/1 isn’t out of the question, but I can imagine it gets worrisome sometimes.

Caleb: Nope. After a long game of flashing back Forbidden Alchemy, the deck becomes more and more threat-dense as White Sun’s Zenith keeps shuffling back in. On MODO I can even bin the Zenith and Snapcast it back later to shuffle it in, but I have to keep reminding myself this is a bug and that I can’t do it in real life!

Me: How amazing is Volition Reins?

Caleb: Going to depend on what you’re stealing. I’ve taken Moorland Haunts with it before (who has More-Land now, huh?), but I’ve also taken Karns and Angelic Destiny-ed Hero of Bladeholds. The card is insane in the current meta and was MVP on the weekend.

Me: How was staying with me? Am I as awesome as advertised?

Caleb: Who would pay for that advertisement?

Me: What matchups do you enjoy? What do you want to avoid?

Caleb: The Illusions matchup is one of the more skill-intensive that I’ve played in Standard for a long time, and I enjoy it a lot. I like my game versus most decks in the field, however. I’ve played roughly a hundred and fifty matches with the deck, including MODO, and boast a solid 75% win rate with it. My nightmare matchup is Solar Flare, which was unfortunately my top eight pairing. I have never beaten that deck simply because they’re more threat-dense and have inevitability in the long game.

Me: Thanks for your time

Caleb: No problem

(Okay, so that last exchange didn’t actually happen, I just wasn’t sure how to end the little questionnaire. It sure does make it end nice and neat though, right?)

And Now For Something Completely Different

Finally, this wouldn’t be a true Swasey Shuffle without a brew for some Constructed format. So, here’s a Modern brew I’ve been toying with. It’s based on something I played in Extended. It’s also pretty fun. The deck? Goblin Charbelcher.

I’m gonna be completely honest; this deck may not be legal by the next Banned and Restricted announcement. Seething Song is a likely candidate for banning. That said, this deck is a real blast to play. Just count to seven, play Belcher, and win. At least, that’s the idea. I’m not sold on the Empty the Warrens plan; I’m not sure the storm count gets high enough. They may be better as Channel the Suns. The sideboard is also pretty loose. The Noxious Revivals are for decks with heavy discard or for control if you’re desperate. Leylines are for discard decks and red decks. Dark Confidant is against control; Nature’s Claim is for Affinity, opposing Leyline of Sanctity, and for Oblivion Rings (in the rare situation you have to play a naked Belcher).

Before I go, I’d like to give a special thanks to all the people who loaned me cards for the Invitational. I went from having no cards to two full decks in two days. This is no easy feat, and I really appreciate all the help my friends gave me putting together two decks. A super special thanks goes out to Jonathon Sukenik who coined the name “Swasey Shuffle” way back at the StarCityGames.com Boston event. Another very special thanks goes out to Tim Sussino who I forgot to credit with the shell of a Splinter Twin deck I posted a while back. I got the base from him and tweaked it more to my play style. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

Krazykirby4 on Magic Online

Krazykirby AT gmail DOT com

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(I also play League of Legends!)