Unlocking Legacy- Tom Brady, Ice Cauldron, and Lifeforce

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Monday, August 18th – Doug examines the first results from the GenCon Legacy championships and discusses the importance of getting in practice over having the objectively best deck. With aggro-control again taking the world championships, we take a look at other aggressive-disruptive strategies and then finish up with one of the craziest decklists in a long line of weirdness. Not to be missed!

The preliminary GenCon Legacy Championships tournament results are in. By the time you read this, hopefully Wizards has the decklists posted on their site and I look like an uninformed fool. Unfortunately, we’ll likely have to wait a few days for that. So here’s the bare-bones breakdown, without names or lists:

Top 8:

Goblins vs Counterslivers (Slivers wins)
Dragon Stompy vs Elves (Elves wins(!))
Boros vs Painter (Boros wins)
Belcher vs Landstill (Belcher wins)

Top 4

Boros vs Elves (Boros wins)
Counterslivers vs Belcher (Slivers wins)


Slivers beats Boros

First, thanks to irrelevant on MTGtheSource for these results.

Second, I reserve the right to be wrong about what the finals were, as I have heard conflicting reports on the degree of Boros’ success.

Third, and okay, now we can finally look at the actual results, wow. I’m going to hold back on the Negative Nancy comments that I’ve heard from others about this. Remember that GenCon always has… interesting T8s. We have historically seen aggro-control take the cake every year as well. The biggest takeaway I can find from this is that there is no substitute for practice, which is what makes good players in this game.

In this month’s Esquire, there’s an interview with Tom Brady. I thought he was Greg, Marsha and Cindy’s brother, but apparently he’s a football quarterback, and a damn good one at that. In the article, he talks about the hundreds upon thousands of plays that he runs every year. He says this about all the work:

“And then you have all the game situations…, so I know where all those mistakes come in. I mean—I have a memory, and I can just eliminate mistakes when they come up because I’ve already made them.”

I don’t know, but I’ve got a pretty good hunch, that when you were discussing what the last few cards to put into Threshold were on a messageboard, the Elves player was grinding away with his deck, again and again, against anyone who could stand to see Forest, Elf, go. When his friends are giving him crap for playing a bad deck, he’s making sure he can deal with Counterbalance hitting the board. He knows it can happen because he’s lost to that card too many times to let it get him again. He’s made mistakes already so that when he gets to GenCon, he knows exactly what to do. I’d go so far as to say that this is the case for all the supercilious results in the T8. Former Eternal Champion and teammate Roland Chang played the heck out of UG Madness, even when there were better decks to play. We’d test just about everything against that deck at our kitchen tables, resulting in him getting in a lot of experience knowing when to pump his Wild Mongrel and when to hold back a land for later. As a result, he knew his deck better than anyone else in the room at GenCon and walked away with the win to prove it.

There’s no substitute for practice, and Legacy is where we need it most. That’s because the field is so, so open. Play eight rounds of an event and play against eight different decks. As competent players, we need to know our outs to a Solitary Confinement lock or recursive Tarmogoyfs coming straight out of Volrath’s Stronghold. The only way we know these situations exist is to lose to them in practice and learn from it. And while I think Magic Workstation testing is completely awful for most other formats (especially you, Vintage), it’s great for Legacy testing because of the sheer amount of trash you play against. Some of it will pack strange hoser cards that you’ve never seen before and that you will lose to. Great! Let’s lose to these cards now so that we don’t have bad beat stories after round two in an event we care about.

Note that I’m not saying that a deck should have an answer for every situation. Sometimes, the situation is outracing a threat, sometimes it’s ignoring it, and sometimes it involves sideboarding in 4x Hope//Pray. It’s just enough to be aware that these things come up and we know the correct pattern for dealing with it. In a recent Vintage event, I sat down with Burning Slaver after not playing the format for three months. I had two Force of Wills and a Mana Drain in my hand in a control match. I had to counter a threat with a Force, but I sat for a solid ten seconds considering which counter to pitch to back it up. What a tell! If I wasn’t in the Blazing Effigy bracket (0-3, baby!) then I would have felt like a much bigger slob than I was. That situation reinforced in me that even in formats we think we instinctively know, the nuts-and-bolts tactical plays need constant effort to get right.

Congratulations to everyone who played in the GenCon Legacy championships! The turnout was supposedly close to 160. Are you paying attention, WOTC? Extra-super congratulations to the players that T8ed, it takes a good deal of hard work to get that far in such a large and diverse tournament.

In the spirit of aggro-control, I bring you a bunch of not-Threshold decks that have performed admirably lately.

The Fish Market

First off, we’ve two different Fish decks with actual merfolk in them. Here’s Thing One and Thing Two:

UW Merfolk by Yuugo Tsuda
4th Place at Ancient Memory Convention 38th

4 Tundra
1 Plains
5 Island
4 Flooded Strand
4 Mutavault
4 Cursecatcher
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Merrow Reejerey
2 Sygg, River Guide
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Standstill
4 Aether Vial
4 Swords to Plowshares

1 Blue Elemental Blast
2 Hydroblast
3 Mind Harness
3 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Disenchant
3 Chill

Merfolk by Phill Calle
4th Place at Legacy South Florida 07/08

14 Island
3 Mutavault
4 Wasteland
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
3 Stifle
4 Tidal Courier
1 Cold-Eyed Selkie
1 Wake Thrasher
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Lord of Atlantis
2 Stonybrook Banneret
4 Cursecatcher
4 Aether Vial

4 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Stifle
3 Echoing Truth
4 Repeal
3 Seasinger

Both lists start off with 4 Daze and 4 Force of Will. They also run the full complement of Aether Vials and both Merfolk lords. In the first, we have a white splash for the board-dominating Sygg, River Guide and Swords to Plowshares. In the second, we have a mono-blue list with Tidal Courier (go ahead, look it up) and Silvergill Adept. There’s an absence of cards like Tidal Warrior that are clever but not actually good. I’m pleased with both builds, preferring the first for more creature-heavy environments and the latter for control- and combo-laden events.

Merfolk brings the beats against anything with Islands. Between Islandwalk and a bunch of counters like Cursecatcher, it can be hard to actually stop Merfolk with the classically efficient creaturekill we have in the format. It has the trump on Threshold in the match, due to evasive attackers and similar countermagic suites. Barring Counterbalance, the Merfolk will take the game most of the time.

However, Merfolk does have a problem with large creatures and slow starts. Against a deck like Survival, a Merfolk player would want to land one or two early threats and hope they draw enough Dazes and Force of Wills to keep the deadly Enchantment off the board. Similarly, against decks like Goblins, Merfolk cannot ride Islandwalk to victory and has to be judicious in its use of counters to stop threats.

Fish is a fine deck to play in the format, especially because it can be built so cheaply. Counterspells and Stifles go a long way to handle all the randomness we see, and the synergies of the deck work to make stronger decks fold. Have a problem with a Tarmogoyf? With a Reejerey in play, you can drop fish into play and tap him down all day long. Goblin Piledriver threatening you? Sygg and Mutavault will take care of that issue. It’s another deck that, no surprise, needs a lot of practice to be good.

The two lists above are essentially what I would play if I were taking Fish to an event. In Calle’s list, I’d be looking at what I could turn some of those fourteen Islands into. Specifically, three Cephalid Coliseum could provide some serious lategame draw if you hold onto your lands, though the likelihood of hitting threshold at a relevant time seems slim. It could probably support a single Pendelhaven as well. Both lists want for Umezawa’s Jitte, especially effective on evasive creatures and able to take larger creatures down to size or close damage races quickly.

Time To Buy Bitterblossoms For Another Format

Next up, I’m pleased to present a pseudo-faeries deck that took first place in the Ancient Memory Convention recently in a field of 46 players:

Ubg Faeries by Makoto Ishikawa

4 Underground Sea
4 Tropical Island
3 Wasteland
3 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
2 Faerie Conclave
1 Island
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Trygon Predator
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Bitterblossom
4 Smother
3 Standstill
3 Aether Vial
2 Umezawa’s Jitte

3 Hydroblast
4 Yixlid Jailer
3 Engineered Plague
3 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Krosan Grip

I’m keen on just about this whole deck, so I don’t quite know where to start. Trygon Predator has been popping up in Threshold lists recently and it’s a solid addition to any deck that can support the mana requirements. It’s evasive, cheap and stops a lot of long-term card advantage strategies that we see in the format. It can pick up a Jitte and cruise over with it and it’s a fine blocker if that’s what you need at the moment. While it doesn’t answer something like Vedalken Shackles due to its sorcery speed, the Sex Predator is still a big enough thorn in the side to hamper a lot of decks out there. It comes out around Counterbalance and does a good job of handling all the random permanents you will run into during a tournament.

I’m also big on Spellstutter Sprite, which I think you hold in hand for as long as you can. Bitterblossom pumps this up big-time, making it a solid late-game draw off the top. If you’ve played other formats, you know what Bitterblossom with countermagic can do, and in this case we have it backed up by Standstill and Jitte. Both play nicely with the flying tokens and can help solidify an early-game advantage.

I’m not so hot on the pair of Faerie Conclaves in the manabase. Certainly, the deck doesn’t have many turn-1 plays, so that’s a point for it. I’ve just never found them to really do that much in Legacy for the mana that it takes to power them up. Too often, they just bite a Wasteland or slow you down in some other obnoxious way. If we’re turning off Daze, can we look at other lands in their place? Is it too cute to look at Riptide Laboratory? Wizards decks in Extended ran it, though with a bazillion more Wizards than we have here. That said, being able to replay Spellstutter Sprite every turn seems strong, and hey hey, it also protects Yixlid Jailers on the sideboard! In any case, this deck looks strong and in the vein of the UGB good-stuff decks we’ve looked at before. Worth a try if you can build the deck.

This Is, Not Close, The Longest Decklist You Will Ever Write

So it’s not aggro-control, but I want to show you the next list because people were so enthused about the kitchen-sink Survival list I wrote about recently. While it took 2nd in an 18-person event at the Lunatic Moon Convention, I’m not sure whether it’s good or not. I just feel like looking at it, I get this sense of the first time I read Ice Cauldron and thought that since I had no idea how it worked, it must be amazing. Here it is:

Ubg Faeries by Makoto Ishikawa

2 Sakura-Tribe Elder
2 Wall of Roots
2 Eternal Witness
1 Academy Rector
1 Reveillark
1 Karmic Guide
1 Palinchron
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Withered Wretch
1 Bone Shredder
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Wood Elves
1 Spike Weaver
1 Genesis
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Loxodon Hierarch
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Triskelion
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Survival of the Fittest
2 Pernicious Deed
1 Recurring Nightmare
1 Worship
1 Mirri’s Guile
2 Gifts Ungiven
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Vindicate
1 Regrowth
3 Forest
1 Plains
1 Island
1 Swamp
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Snow-Covered Forest
2 Savannah
2 Bayou
1 Tropical Island
1 Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]
1 Tundra
4 Windswept Heath
2 Polluted Delta
1 Wooded Foothills

3 Carpet of Flowers
2 Lifeforce
1 Circle of Protection: Black
1 Pernicious Deed
1 Light of Day
1 Compost
3 Krosan Grip
2 Quagnoth
1 Kitchen Finks

If you didn’t tl;dr it, you might’ve noted that there’s only ONE four-of in this list. There are bits of the Reveillark combo, some Enlightened Tutor toolboxing and Gifts Ungiven to further complicate things. Speaking of Gifts, you can get whatever you want in this deck with Regrowth and Eternal Witness in the pile. There’s also the Palinchron/Recurring Nightmare/Triskelion combo, along with a host of creatures that play nicely with Nightmare by itself.

What are we to even make of this list? Is it going to be like when Mike Bomholt finally explained to me, years later, what Ice Cauldron did and I ended up underwhelmed? It seems like you fan open your hand and wonder just what to do with it. It seems like an old Far Side cartoon where two physicists are explaining a concept on a blackboard and one of the steps is “a miracle happens here”. I wonder if opponents are just going to end up confused and then relieved when they see that you have a combo kill to just, you know, make sense of the whole thing.

If you can make this work, let me know. If you can make it sing, win a tournament with it and let me know. It looks fun as hell to play, even if I’m not sure what it does. And to be thematic for today, it also seems to reward practice like no other deck I can think of.

And be sure to keep the Lifeforce on the sideboard. I’m sure they do something cool.

Doug Linn
Hi-Val on the internets
Thanks to MTGtheSource and germagic.de