The Times They Are A-Changin’

Jim tells you about what he learned at SCG Open Series: Providence last weekend, where he played Goblins in Legacy and U/W Control in Standard.

Bob Dylan said it best: the times they are a-changin’.

I mean, jeez, look at this interactive video for Bob’s "Like A Rolling Stone." That’s definitely not like any old music video from back in the day.

You can see it too in fantasy football. One of the players I was most proud of on my team was Alshon Jeffery, a second-year wide receiver from the Chicago Bears. I tagged him in my pre-draft board as a talented possible sleeper pick and picked him up with one of my late picks in the draft. For the first few games, he did not do very much, but around game 4 he woke up and has been a Top 15 wide receiver this season.

So what did I do with my prized sleeper? I just traded him for his teammate and #1 receiver on the Bears Brandon Marshall in a big blockbuster trade:

QB Tony Romo

TE Martellus Bennett

WR Alshon Jeffery

RB Shane Vereen


WR Brandon Marshall

WR Jordy Nelson

Why would I do that? Since the beginning of the season, I’ve believed in this guy, and he has heavily rewarded me by far overperforming what people expected of him. But sometimes a better option simply comes along, and you’ve gotta let ’em go.

That’s how I’ve been feeling in Legacy lately.

Legacy is a format where you really can play almost anything you want as long as it is reasonable and you are very experienced with the deck, and I have been playing Goblins in its various forms since the 2004 Extended PTQ season. Over the last few years, of course, this has translated to Legacy, the only format Goblins is still legal in, and afforded me a number of successes: second place at the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis, a number of SCG Open Top 8s, ninth place on breakers at Grand Prix Chicago, and so on.

Goblins is a deck that is very misunderstood and has really been the ideal deck for me for years in Legacy. It is a very skill-intensive deck that requires you to have experience and a plan in each matchup and gives you many avenues to outmaneuver your opponents. Admittedly soft to combo decks, the deck was extremely well positioned against any fair deck in the format and featured a fast enough Goblin Lackey draw to be able to rely on that, aggressive mulligans, and sideboard cards to deal with combo. Most important was how well it matched up against the various fair blue decks that many of the best players in the room would often be playing, especially at Invitationals, giving me an excellent edge where it was most useful. It also did so in a way that still gave me a ton of control of my matches, unlike other control-killing glass-cannon decks from other formats.

I would often say that when played optimally (which is admittedly difficult) the only thing that beats Goblins are combo decks or Engineered Plague, and more often than not I was correct. But as I said, the times are a-changin.

Delver of Secrets Deathrite Shaman Abrupt Decay Gaea's Cradle True-Name Nemesis

Sadly, all of the fair decks just keep getting better and better. In the last two years, we’ve seen Wild Nacatl gain flying and turn to the best color; Birds of Paradise gain an extra point of power and toughness, the ability to hose graveyards, gain life, and drain life; Smother gain the ability to hit anything; Gaea’s Cradle able to circumvent the legend rule and turn into a mega Dark Ritual; and most recently a three-mana Progenitus that’s also in the best color. Matchups that were once a walk in the park have now become much closer, and on top of that all of the combo decks have become more potent as well. And what have we gotten in the last few years?

That’s pretty much it. Thalia, Guardian of Thrabenantho is a good sideboard card, but for the most part Cavern of Souls is the only notable addition to the deck in the last five years. While Cavern of Souls is great, it is nothing compared to the gains the other decks have made.

It’s important to not be left behind and to recognize when you are being left behind.

The difficult part however, especially in Legacy, is trying to leverage experience with deck choice. While picking up a new deck might gain you a few percentage points in the theoretical sense, in the practical sense you have to factor in how many points you are losing due to inexperience with the deck. While I have played events before thinking Goblins might not be the best abstract choice for the event, I always knew that given all the percentage points I would gain from my experience with the deck I was still in the black. Recognizing when that gap shrinks or ultimately disappears can be a difficult task.

I was reminded of this in Indianapolis a few weeks ago when I decided to play Sneak and Show for the first time ever at the SCG Legacy Open. Clearly Sneak and Show was one of the best decks in the format, as four copies had just made the Top 8 of the Invitational, but while I don’t think I was playing poorly, I certainly was not playing the deck at peak efficiency. Choosing a new deck can be difficult and is going to require a lot of relearning. What will I play at the Invitational in a few weeks in Las Vegas? I’m honestly not sure. Legacy used to be such a comfort, but moving out of your comfort zone can be difficult and rewarding.

SCG Open Series: Providence

These are conclusions I came to after going 6-3 in Legacy last weekend at SCG Open Series: Providence, with my losses coming to Reanimator, Elves, and Jund. Reanimator is not a very common deck and almost completely unwinnable given how my sideboard is tuned for Storm and Sneak and Show decks and was an unfortunate pairing. Elves was previously a very good matchup, but that deck has gotten better and better since the printing of Deathrite Shaman, the legend rule change, and the advent of the Natural Order into Craterhoof Behemoth package. I still think the matchup is fine because of Goblin Sharpshooter and Pyrokinesis, but it’s not the matchup it once was. Jund should be a good matchup, but again their cards have gotten better and better and sometimes you just lose.

As I said, perhaps it’s time to move on.

For the Standard Open, Max Tietze and I played his U/W Control deck:

Our records were not particularly inspiring, with me ending at 7-3 and Max at 6-4, but we were both happy with the deck. My losses came to a G/B Aggro deck and two Esper Control decks.

G/B seemed like a difficult matchup, as many of their creatures like Lotleth Troll; Varolz, the Scar-Striped; and Boon Satyr are all resistant to Supreme Verdict, Abrupt Decay makes your Detention Spheres a liability, and Mistcutter Hydra out of their sideboard is rather dangerous. However, the deck is not very popular at all so it’s not the biggest concern, and I think with tight play the matchup is very winnable.

The Esper Control losses were a combination of subtle play errors and missed land drops, both of which can be corrected. The fact that you have so many maindeck counterspells—an astounding eight to their usual two—means that winning counter wars to resolve your Aetherling is much easier. All they have are a few Hero’s Downfalls, some dead removal spells, and maybe a few Thoughtseizes. This allows you to take a more reactive role in the matchup and sit back and force them to act first.

In one of my losses in a post-sideboarded game, I decided to take a more aggressive line, as he had an Underworld Connections going and I felt that my combination of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion tokens and Mutavaults would be able to race him. I chose to cast Elspeth over a Sphinx’s Revelation for three when he was tapped out, and he won the game many turns later as I got locked into my play and stuck on six lands when I should have been drawing cards and making land drops instead.

The issue of missing land drops was a major one, and I feel the deck definitely needs at least one more land. Given the more reactive nature of the deck, the high number of counterspells, and the four critical Sphinx’s Revelations, you really can never afford to miss a land drop at any point in the game. You can also be put into difficult situations on turn 3 where you want to leave mana open for a removal spell or counterspell but you don’t have your fourth land and are basically locked into casting Divination to find a land when you may not want to.

The solution to this is of course to add another land or two, and we have a number of good options that can help mitigate flooding. The simple solution is to just add another Mutavault and call it a day. Mutavault is the best value land in Standard at the moment, and having it available to pressure planeswalkers and block in a pinch makes it very valuable. However, another option would be to play a few off-color scry lands, which could help make up for our higher land count when we need to draw some gas. I will be trying both in the future. God how I’d kill for the U/W scry land!

Aside from the mana-base issues, I was very happy with the deck. Almost every matchup feels even to good, the deck has a ton of play, and counterspells are very well positioned in this format; you have good matchups against devotion decks, good answers to creature decks, and tons of counterspells for control decks.

I’ll be spending the next few weeks leading up to the Invitational seeing if it is really as good as I think it is.

Coming Attractions

As I’ve mentioned, I am very much looking forward to the Invitational in Las Vegas to end the year. After cashing four of the first five Invitationals, I have been rather disappointed with my results in the last few and am going to be using the holiday time off to prepare as much as I can for this one. I’m going to keep a journal of my testing and use that for an article after the Invitational, so keep an eye out for that.

We also have the next episode of So You Think You Can Brew to look forward to, where it looks like Brian Schlactus is going to be facing a new challenger!

I’m going to be spend some time each month talking about my Cube as well. I’ve wanted to write Cube design articles for a while, and if you love Cube drafting as much as I do and either have a Cube, are looking to make a Cube, or have a friend with a Cube you draft often, you aren’t going to want to miss them.

I’m not afraid to open up the floor either. What would you like to read about? If you have questions, things you are curious about, a sweet brew, or just something you would like to say, don’t be shy! Speak up in the comments and be heard! Feedback is the best way for me to improve as a writer and present things that you guys will all find interesting.

And lastly (and most importantly!), we will be following the progress of my first-ever fantasy football team as we look to parley my current first-place standing into a championship!

Let’s go Octopuses!

The Octopuses – First Place – 10-2 – Ten-Team League

QB – Robert Griffin III

WR – Pierre Garcon

WR – Brandon Marshall

WR – Jordy Nelson

RB – Jamaal Charles

RB – Reggie Bush

TE – Jimmy Graham

W/R/T Flex – Andre Brown

K – Matt Prater

DEF – Cincinnati


QB – Jay Cutler

WR – Randall Cobb

WR – Kendall Wright

RB – Lamar Miller

TE – Delanie Walker

DEF – Baltimore