I have plenty to talk about this week. First there is the overhaul that Extended underwent, with all the new format changes and the banning of Hypergenesis and Sword of the Meek. Second, there is the banning of Mystical Tutor and the unbanning of Grim Monolith and Illusionary Mask in Legacy. Third, I played in the Columbus Magic Weekend that included the Midwest Masters Series on Saturday and a PTQ on Sunday. This week you get a three-for-one special where I’ll talk about all three topics.
It was Thursday night, just after midnight, and I was about three hours deep in an online poker tournament when all of a sudden five people messaged me on Facebook asking what I thought of the new Extended format. Obviously I had no idea what they were talking about, but when I was directed to this link, it all became clear. To put it lightly, let’s just say I was extremely excited. I may or may not have leaped out of my chair and done a celebratory lap around the house.
Prior to this point I had basically been on the Rich Hagon plan of knowing my deck inside and out and just going into a well-defined format with the best deck (the Thopter Bant deck with which I’d made Top 16 at Grand Prix: Houston) and hoping that was enough of an edge. But now instead of Amsterdam being the most well-defined format Pro Tour of the year, it will be the most wide-open and innovation-rewarding Pro Tour of the year! Let’s talk about the format for a minute.
The disparity in power level between a Standard deck and an Extended deck used to be quite high, given the fact that Extended’s card pool was so much larger. It was nearly impossible for a Standard deck to be adapted to Extended and still compete. Now, however, Extended is basically the past three Standard formats smashed together (Time Spiral into Lorwyn Block, Lorwyn into Shards Block, Shards into Zendikar Block). Moreover, the card pool is only approximately twice the size. So now adapting a Standard deck to Extended is very realistic, whether that Standard deck is current Standard, last year’s Standard, or the Standard from two years ago.
My first impression of the format is that there will be three primary breeds of competitive decks. The first kind is the powerhouse deck of each respective Standard format (Faeries, Five-Color Control, Jund, etc.). These will be updated versions of proven Standard strategies, incorporating some minor upgrades but nothing too extraordinary. The second kind are the decks that lacked some necessary card or cards to compete with the top decks in the their respective Standard but no longer lack that card or cards and can now compete with the big dogs. Decks like Doran, Polymorph, and Merfolk come to mind as potential candidates for this category.
I haven’t had time to really sit down and properly analyze the format yet, but I plan on doing that in the coming weeks. I’m really looking forward to preparing for Pro Tour: Amsterdam. I can only hope M11 will be available on MTGO for drafting before Amsterdam weekend so that I can be adequately prepared for both formats.
Legacy did not undergo quite the overhaul that Extended did, but the changes will certainly shake things up for Grand Prix: Columbus.
The most obvious change to notice the effects of is the banning of Mystic Tutor. Decks like ANT and Reanimator rely on this card to assemble their respective combo. Such decks will have to either adapt by replacing Mystical Tutor with something else or will completely leave the metagame. My intuition is that Reanimator will survive while ANT will not. I’m not sure if Ponder is the right card to replace Mystical Tutor, since then Entomb and Careful Study are the only ways to bin a fatty. It might still be enough, but I’d like to see if something like Strategic Planning is better. It might turn out to be too slow at two mana, but it’s something I think is worth testing.
Most people have been talking about the banning of Mystical Tutor, but not too many people have explored what the unbanning of Grim Monolith and Illusionary Mask will do to the format. While Classic formats are by far my least expertise, I have been playing Legacy ever since the format was first created, so I’d like to think I know something about the format and about both Grim Monolith and Illusionary Mask. I believe they will change the metagame more than others are giving them credit for, especially Grim Monolith.
Grim Monolith provides something for Legacy that did not exist prior to the unbanning, namely a way to generate an enormous quantity of mana as early as turn 2. I’m guessing cards like Voltaic Key, Lodestone Golem, Ancient Tomb, and Trinisphere will be involved in most Grim Monolith decks, but I envision a number of different decks branching out from that common base. Mono White Stax has been a fringe deck in Legacy that could likely benefit from Grim Monolith as another way to accelerate out its lock pieces. Dragon Stompy and Angel Stompy could also likely benefit by incorporating Grim Monolith into their core strategy.
Beyond existing archetypes, I believe Grim Monolith will fuel brand new archetypes. Prior to the unbanning of Grim Monolith there was no conceivable way outside of Sneak Attack and Show and Tell to cheat an Eldrazi creature onto the battlefield, but Grim Monolith in conjunction with Voltaic Key and Ancient Tomb can quickly generate lots of mana, enough to cast large colorless monsters. In Legacy the Annihilator mechanic is particularly devastating since most decks are not able to generate much of a board presence in the first few turns; instead the format is very spell-dependant. So a deck whose primary plan is to play a Sneak Attack and activate it to put an Eldrazi onto the battlefield will benefit greatly from the existence of Grim Monolith since the artifact will serve three important roles: (1) accelerating out the Sneak Attack, (2) offering a way to actually hard cast the Eldrazi if the Sneak Attack plan fails, and (3) allow the deck to reliably play one of the most powerful board-impacting cards in the format: All is Dust! Sure, sometimes it will be a seven mana Vindicate, but for the times when you need it to be, it can be a seven mana Violent Ultimatum (but unlike the Ultimatum, it will feel like it costs much less, thanks to the mana production of Grim Monolith). Turn 2-3 All is Dust will crush some decks, and turn 2-3 Sneak Attack into an Eldrazi will crush other decks. And decks that try to sit there and play control via Moat or whatever will have a lot of trouble dealing with a hard-cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
Even beyond Sneak Attack, I’m sure there is a way to use Grim Monolith, Power Artifact and Tezzeret, the Seeker together to good effect. It would probably end up looking like Blue Stax or perhaps more like the Accelerated Blue decks of Standard in the days of Grim Monolith, with the added power of the Legacy Blue staples. There is no Tinker, but there is Mindslaver and plenty of other fun directions to go with the deck.
As you can see, I’m a firm believer in the power of Grim Monolith and its ability to impact the Legacy format. Illusionary Mask, while not as overtly exciting to me, has excited me enough to purchase a playset. In hindsight, a playset might be too many since the deck that wants it (Stifle-naught) probably won’t play the full set (though it might). Qasali Pridemage has been the bane of Stifle-naught’s existence in Legacy and has practically rendered the deck non-existent with the plethora of Zoo decks in the field. Illusionary Mask will take care of this problem to a large extent because if you are able to use the Mask to put the Phyrexian Dreadnaught onto the battlefield, you can then use your Stifle to counter the Qasali Pridemage’s activated ability. Moreover, the deck will likely run Dark Confidant and maybe some obscure Morph creature that benefits its controller when it gets flipped face up. One thing to keep in mind with the Illusionary Mask is that you can overpay to play the creature, so if you pay two mana, the opponent will not know whether it is Dark Confidant or Phyrexian Dreadnaught (or something else). Moreover, if they do not know this trick, they might automatically assume it is Dark Confidant and act accordingly. This is particularly important against decks with counter-magic, since they will have to guess whether the two-mana creature you’re summoning face-down is worth Force of Willing or not.
Those are my initial thoughts on the changes to Legacy. Now I’d like to talk about some of the things that happened this weekend at the Midwest Masters Series and PTQ in Columbus, Ohio.
Magic Weekend in Columbus
On Saturday, Professional Events Services (PES) ran a Midwest Masters Series tournament, and since I did not have a Standard deck I was happy with, I decided to audible back to Tricked-Out White Weenie. When in doubt, good old Trusty Machete can get there! Actually this time it did not get there, and I went 4-4 on the day. Many of my matches came down to last-minute top decks, either by my opponent or by me. One match I had my Bant opponent dead on board with Path to Exile in hand, and all he had was a lethal Celestial Colonnade and no cards in hand. He untapped, drew, activated the Colonnade, and attacked with it. I cast Path to Exile and he responded with Emerge Unscathed for the win. Another match, my opponent cascaded into Maelstrom Pulse with Bloodbraid Elf to kill my Kor Firewalker the turn before it was lethal. Then in another match my opponent put Avenger of Zendikar and seven 4/5 Plant tokens onto the battlefield and passed the turn at 7 life when all I had was a White Knight equipped with Trusty Machete, and maybe a Steppe Lynx and some other irrelevant card. On my ensuing upkeep, I revealed my hand of blanks, tapped four mana, and announced Elspeth as I flipped the top card of my deck onto the table. To my amusement and my opponent’s chagrin, the card flipped over was actually Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and I attacked for lethal in the air with the White Knight. Unlike when Gabriel Nassif called and top decked Cruel Ultimatum, mine earned me nothing as I was already out of contention for Top 8, while Nassif gained thousands of dollars and dozens of Pro Points for his, but I bet Gab would trade his story for mine any day. If Tim Aten were hearing this story from the rail, he would flap his wings and concur.
After the tournament, I met up with Chris Grady, Tam Tran, Jon Swearingen, Susan Zell, and some hippy looking dude that kept telling me I look like Jarrod from the Subway ads. I think his name was Pozsgay. Anyway we ended up 3v3 drafting in a Biochemistry laboratory that had tables and chairs, but no couches and not enough basic lands. I drafted a deck that Pozsgay referred to as “worse than the decks this local kid drafts. And this kid regularly pisses and pukes on himself.” Honestly, when I fanned out the cards I drafted, I did sort of feel like puking on myself. The finished masterpiece contained such hits as Phantasmal Abomination, Hand of Emrakul, and Haze Frog. I ended up winning one of my three matches where Susan got mana screwed one game, crushed me handily the next, and then I got nut drawn in the third when I ramped out a Pelakka Wurm via Joraga Treespeaker and then Drake Umbra’d it to swing in the air for 10. Pozsgay 3-0’d and Tam 0-3’d, so we still lost the draft anyway, but at least I won a match with my pile. It was around 2am when we finished, so Jon and Tam went home, and the other four of us split a hotel room and returned to the site the next day ready to battle it out in the PTQ.
Since I did not feel Mono White had what it took to win the PTQ the following day, I decided to play Owen Turtenwald Jund deck. Round 1 I mulliganed three straight one-landers and got smashed in the mirror in less than ten minutes. I then spent the next hour getting lunch at the Market.
In round 2, something unexpected happened that tested more than my play skill. When my opponent was shuffling my deck, he kept looking down at the deck, and at times would angle the cards where he could see the bottom card. Since I was already 0-1 and it was just a PTQ, I decided instead of calling a judge to just tell him to be careful not to look down at the cards when he shuffles my deck. Instead of apologizing, he got defensive and insisted he wasn’t looking at the cards when it was 100% clear to me that he saw the bottom card. I still did not call a judge, partly because it’s nearly impossible to prove that he saw a card and partly because I did not want to make a big deal out of it, though in hindsight I should have so that the DCI can at least track it and if he does it enough times they will notice a pattern. Regardless, I figured I had to be on my toes and be vigilant for the rest of the match (and I was right).
During the match, there came a crucial turn in which he attacked me with Putrid Leech, Sprouting Thrinax, and Bloodbraid Elf. I cast Bituminous Blast on the Leech, cascading into Bloodbraid Elf into Sprouting Thrinax (I know, how lucky!). My Elf and Thrinax then traded with his Elf and Thrinax, we both put three Saproling tokens into play, and he distinctly said “Go” (and the two players in the match beside us later said they also heard him say “Go”). So I untapped and announced my draw step, as he picked up the two cards in his hand. Then immediately after I drew my card he raised his arm and yelled “judge!” and said to me “You just drew a card, I wasn’t done yet” to which I said something like “What? You said Go.” When the judge came over and asked him to explain what happened, he insisted that he sacrificed his Verdant Catacombs and was searching his library for a land when all of a sudden I drew a card from my deck. Seeing as how he was not accurately depicting what happened, I asked to speak to the head judge in private before he makes a final ruling. I explained to the judge that he never picked up his library or made any indication that he was sacrificing his land, and that I explicitly said “untap” as I untapped my lands and then announced my draw step before drawing my card, and he never made any attempt to stop me or indicate that he had any effects, but then all of a sudden, as soon as I drew a card, he yelled for a judge, and so he is at least lying about picking up his deck and I suspect his motivation is to try to set me up for a game loss. Obviously, if I’m moving into my draw step and my opponent picks up his deck and starts looking through it, I’m going to be like “Hey, what are you doing?” I’m not just going to proceed with my turn as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
So the head judge then talked to my opponent in private, and after they returned the judge ruled that it was a communication error and to back up to his turn where he sacrifices his Verdant Catacombs. My opponent then played Sarkhan the Mad and made a Saproling into a Dragon and passed the turn. I then realized what probably happened. After the Bituminous Blast killed his whole team, he said Go without looking back at his two cards in hand. Then when I was untapping, he picked up his hand and realized he forgot to play the Sarkhan the Mad post-combat, and that’s when all shenanigans broke loose. At this point I definitely felt cheated, but I didn’t think calling a judge to introduce the Sarkhan the Mad variable would change anything, so I played on. I played my own Sarkhan to kill his, but then died in two turns to his Dragon token. Had he not been allowed to retake his turn and play the Sarkhan the Mad, I would have cast mine first, turned my Saproling into a Dragon, forced him to play his Sarkhan to kill mine, and then he likely would have died to my Dragon token in two turns instead of it all happening the other way around. Fortunately, that was not the end of the situation.
After the game, my opponent wanted the judge to explain to him why I didn’t get a game loss for drawing a card, since every other time it’s happened, his opponents have gotten game losses. There was probably more to it, but I don’t know all the specifics of their discussion since I was not part of that, and I’m just going by what was told to me by the judges involved. Whatever he said to them, it was sufficient to establish intent, and the head judge was satisfactorily convinced that he was intentionally distorting the facts in an attempt to get his opponent (me) a game loss for something that did not actually happen. In short, he cheated and almost got away with it, but then through his own foolishness incriminated himself and got himself disqualified for it. I’m 99% sure my opponent had no idea who I was, and just assumed I was an easy target, nor did he realize how close he was to getting disqualified when he approached the head judge after the game. Little did he know I make a living off playing in Magic tournaments, have been competing in tournaments for over a dozen years, and know the rules well enough to not get duped by his tactics. He was probably also unaware that one of the most competent judges in the Midwest was head judging the tournament.
Hopefully the DCI investigates the situation and determines an appropriate penalty, assuming this is not the first time he has tried something like this (which I highly doubt it is, given his demeanor throughout the ordeal). I play by the rules and expect my opponents to as well, and when someone tries to cheat and they get caught and disqualified for it, there is a sense of justice being served. Given my personal involvement in the situation, when I was notified of the disqualification, my feeling of having been cheated out of the match and out of the tournament was suddenly replaced by an overwhelming feeling of justice and being undead at 1-1 and still in the tournament! To compare the two feelings, however, I would have been much happier losing out after the DQ and finishing 1-7 than I would have had my opponent gotten away with the win, regardless of how many of the remaining six matches I would have won. Fortunately I did manage to win five of my last six matches and finished 6-2 and in the Top 16, earning 11 boosters as a result. The take away message from this story should be not to ever cheat or lie to a judge; it’s far worse to get disqualified and flagged as a cheater than it is to lose a match from a play mistake. Also, always call a judge if your opponent does something shady.
After the tournament, I wanted to stay and hang out for a while, maybe do a draft, but Chris needed to go home, so we left. I forgot Origins Game Expo is this coming weekend and I already made plans to attend the St. Louis StarCityGames.com Open Series weekend. Since Origins begins on Wednesday morning and goes until Sunday, I think what I’ll do is drive up to Columbus Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning and game for a couple days, and then drive back to Cincinnati in time to head to St. Louis Friday. Yeah, I’m a gamer, and Magic is my life. Is that really a bad thing?