If you missed this weekend’s Season Two Invitational in Columbus, make sure you go
ahead and check out the coverage when you have the time. There were some really sweet and well-played matches to observe for sure. With this being one
event we can assume was filled with competent players – given that they managed to qualify for the Invitational in the first place – the successful decks
are particularly interesting to look at because we know they likely didn’t just perform well due to player edge. The metagame, as is common for
Invitationals judging from the past, was unusual for the US too, and there are some interesting trends worth highlighting, not to mention a couple of sweet
decks that could do with a little light coming their way. Now that you know what I’m up to, let’s get going, shall we?
The first impression I got from watching the coverage was that the US metagame seems to be catching up with a jump to what has been going on here in
Europe. There were more Miracles feature matches than I’ve seen in the US basically ever, and it seemed as if BUG Delver and Elves had a pretty strong
representation as well. Now, as we don’t have an actual metagame breakdown, this might just be coverage bias showing – it’s entirely possible, after all,
that we saw every person playing Miracles on camera throughout the weekend while never being shown one of the three hundred people who brought RUG Delver.
There just being a lot of those three decks seems much more likely than the latter, though.
I think some of this has to do with this being the Invitational – there’s always a control bias working in these events for some reason – and some with
good players trying to gain an edge by looking to Europe playing metagame predators common here but not yet massively popular on the other side of the
pond. It’s also an interesting development in the light of recent articles on this here site: Drew Levin, yours truly, and others have been harping on
about the unrealistic over-representation of tempo strategies in the US and highlighting how Europe seems to have solved its supposed dominance. While I
don’t have any evidence that these articles actually influenced deck choices for the Invitational, it’s an interesting coincidence to observe and lends a
little bit of credibility to the notion that a lot of the perceived dominance of certain strategies in Legacy might be founded on public perception instead
of actual power level.
As for how the three on the rise archetypes performed, BUG Delver reached the only 8-0 Legacy record and Miracles got Reid Duke a solid 7-1. Elves, on the
other hand, is not to be seen in either, the Top 8 or among the best performing decks in the Legacy portion. Now, that’s all anecdotal evidence but it also
makes a lot of sense to expect Elves to be the odd one out even after its strong performances on the SCG Open series lately. Miracles against Elves is one
of the most lopsided Legacy matchups I have ever played so if you run into a field that is unexpectedly very heavy on Miracles, Elves is likely to be in
trouble and that’s what it looks like happened.
The Best Legacy-ers
The clear winner of the Legacy portion of the invitational is Richard Shay’s BUG Delver list, the only 8-0 record of the event (Congrats Rich!).
I know Rich from the old Vintage days – he is and has been one of the best Vintage players in the world – so I’m not surprised to see him do well in Legacy
when he puts his mind to it. His list is fairly standard for BUG Delver, though going just a little bit more midrangy with his singleton Jace, the Mind
Sculptor, something that makes a lot of sense if you expect to run into a lot of Miracles and midrange decks as you traditionally should in Invitationals.
One thing definitely worth cribbing from his list are the two copies of Sylvan Library between maindeck and sideboard. Against most combo decks and
oftentimes control decks, Sylvan is completely busted, essentially playing like an Ancestral Recall with upside for 1G.
Jacob Baugh the only other undefeated player (I assume his record is supposed to be 7-0-1 in the eight Legacy rounds not 7-1-1 for obvious reasons) is
making me a very happy camper. Guess what he’s playing:
- 1 Tendrils of Agony
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Cabal Ritual
- 4 Duress
- 4 Dark Ritual
- 1 Grim Tutor
- 2 Cabal Therapy
- 4 Lotus Petal
- 4 Lion's Eye Diamond
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Ponder
- 1 Ad Nauseam
- 4 Preordain
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 1 Past in Flames
Once again, a rather Standard list though I love that he has managed to make room for the full four Preordains as well as the all-important fifth tutor.
Cutting a land to do so makes a lot of sense. You’re easily able to board out the fifteenth land against decks without Wasteland anyway and only need
Grixis colors maindeck. Given that Jacob has the fifteenth land – his green source for Abrupt Decay – in the board anyway, his configuration seems
excellent if you don’t expect to run into too many RUG Delver players.
The one thing I very much disagree with are the four Dark Confidants. In my experience the card just isn’t very good in Storm any more. Yes, it’s very good
against the different Blade decks but those are some of your best matchups already, not what I’d want to spend four sideboard slots on. The other
disruptive black decks – which is where I’d expect Bob to shine – actually put up a very solid clock, often not giving you the time to draw a meaningful
amount of extra cards (and if they don’t have the clock, you can usually grind them out without Bob).
Against Miracles, drawing extra cards also isn’t exactly what you want to be doing as you generally lose to too many hate permanents hitting the field and
those blank your extra cards anyway. I’d much rather be on Xantid Swarm (for Sneak and Show or Reanimator and to randomly get people) or the Berlin
original tech of Young Pyromancer (probably the best card to complement Abrupt Decay against Miracles and a solid, low commitment, high potential threat
against tempo and discard).
All that being said: Go Storm! I keep telling you the deck is sick…
Another deck I like a lot here is Steve Wise’s BUG control deck:
The dynamic duo (Jace and Liliana) is an incredibly powerful endgame, and Baleful Strix is just brilliant value removal. The truly innovative thing here is
how Steve uses True-Name Nemesis, though. Usually when we see Nemesis, it’s the high end finisher threat, used to guarantee an overwhelming endgame. In
Steve’s deck, it isn’t the unstoppable force, however, it is the immovable object. Its main role is what I originally anticipated to actually make it
miserable to play against: a card that blocks everything and forces the opponent to overcommit that also just happens to be a nigh impossible to kill
Another thing I expect played very much in Steve’s favor was the surprise factor. There is so much overlap between his deck and a traditional BUG Delver
list that it’s nearly impossible for an opponent to identify early that he isn’t actually running all that many cheap creatures and certainly won’t Daze
you. Playing around the tempo spells is very important against the Delver deck, but slowing yourself down to avoid getting blown out is terrible against
Steve. His deck has incredible staying power between the high Planeswalker count and quad Nemesis so the usual dynamic against BUG Delver (if I live till I
have five mana, I probably win) is utterly turned around. In most matchups, going long is actually going to favor the BUG deck. I would bet money he got a
couple of free wins just because his opponents played around all kinds of cards he didn’t even have in his deck.
This next list is something I was considering highlighting at some point anyway:
Jeff Stevens’ New Age lands deck takes full advantage of the – relatively – recent coming into existence of the Thespian’s Stage/Dark Depths combo. Instead
of having to focus on grinding the opponent out over the course of thirty turns every single game, lands suddenly has access to a really cheap, powerful
combo finish. Between Crop Rotation, Life from the Loam, and Gamble, it’s easy for him to either set up the Loam/Punishing Fire–Grove of the Burnwillows
long-game or a turn 2 (Exploration) or 3 (Mox Diamond) Marit Lage, depending on which plan suits the matchup and situation better.
The threat of the fast combo kill alleviates two of lands major problems from the past: Going to time because Ghost Quartering all opposing lands to beat
down with Creeping Tar-Pit takes forever and you just die to fast combo. It should be obvious that a flying, indestructible 20/20 ends games quite rapidly,
which conveniently solves both problems to a certain extent (a dead opponent won’t combo you out any more so you can at least race now). Definitely a deck
to keep an eye on for the future.
A little sidenote on Gamble: between this deck and the Burning Reanimator list I talked about a little while ago, I have been thinking of that card more
lately and come to the conclusion that it is likely one of the most underexplored cards in Legacy. Casting Gamble with four other cards in hand has an 80%
chance to play very similarly to a Demonic Tutor for R – which clearly would be utterly busted; just imagine Demonic Consultation being legal. Now, you
also have a 20% chance to have just paid a red to discard a card, which is quite terrible. The secret here is obviously to try and make that scenario
irrelevant as often as possible (be it by getting fatties/Unburial Rites in Reanimator or Loam/a land in lands), but the power level of Gamble is so over
the top when it does work that I think we should put a lot more time into finding places to make this card good significantly more than we have been doing
There is nothing too surprising in Craig Krempels Esper Deathblade deck:
The one thing I like a lot – and that has also popped up in the top eight Deathblade lists – is the combination of a maindeck Council’s Judgment with the
two Sideboard Zealous Persecutions. Both cards give you flexible answers to True-Name Nemesis, but the Persecutions also combine well with the two Supreme
Verdicts in the board to give the deck four (!) sweepers against something with a ton of small creatures (hint: Elves!). That’s just good deckbuilding, and
I expect to see more of it moving forward.
As to the one Miracles list that managed to clinch a 7-1 finish, Reid Duke has incorporated a couple of interesting deviations from the “stock” list:
Sadly, I don’t like most of his additions very much. Now, I get that having maindeck graveyard hate is very good in Legacy so I can see where he’s coming
from replacing the now-standard duo of Ponders in the deck with Relics of Progenitus. I still feel finding Sensei’s Divining Top and just more lands is too
important to lose out on the additional library manipulation.
His singleton Predict is something else I’m not fond off. I understand the allure of having at least one piece of actual card advantage in your deck, but
Predict is relatively inconsistent – I expect you’ll have to just cycle it at least half the time. If you have a Top in play, however, you can get
essentially the same kind of edge by tapping Top and casting Repeal on it in response – and Repeal is a significantly better card to randomly draw when you
don’t have a way to set up your draw-spell. As such, I’d be looking towards the bounce spell instead of Predict if I were looking to play something that
allows me to build my own Divination.
Leaving behind the top-performing Legacy decks, there are three decks that stand out among the weapons of choice of the Top 8 competitors.
Jared Boettcher’s utility-creature-CounterTop-Painter-control-with-a-combo-finish list is a strange beast but I really like what the deck is doing:
There are a multitude of different angles of attack and many of them require the same kind of answers, making it likely the opponent is simply going to run
out at some point and die to whatever is left over, be it the Planeswalkers, the Goblin Welder recursion shenanigans, the Counterbalance Top lock, the
Ensnaring Bridge or the Painter’s Servant/Grindstone combo kill. This deck is incredibly difficult to play against simply because it can come at you in so
many different ways and if you play around one of them, you probably open yourself up to being blown out by one of the others. I’ve never seen a list
combine all these elements before and tie them together with library manipulation and a couple of different tutors in such an efficient way that it
actually looks like a working deck. This is on my short list for things I want to try out now as it looks incredibly fun to play, with so many different
tools and options at your disposal. I expect this deck will see some changes in the future as we all get our hands on it – original decklists generally
have some room for improvement once they go public – but I love the innovative approach to deckbuilding used here. Jared – thanks for helping to keep
Where Jared did something new by mixing and matching a number of different approaches, Logan Mize innovated by simplifying instead:
His OmniTell deck forgoes usual partner in crime Enter the Infinite completely, instead relying on a full playset of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. As a result,
he removes the complete Dream Halls package, leaning heavily on Show and Tell alone to get the job done. This has one pretty big advantage: every single
one of the big cards in his deck is actually good with Show and Tell compared to the additional twelve mana bricks in the common lists.
Instead of drawing his deck with Enter the Infinite and winning with some instant from the board, Logan uses Omniscience to cast all his cantrips for free
until he can find an Emrakul, an Intuition (to find three Emrakuls) or a Cunning Wish (to get the fourth Intuition from the board). In doing so he leaves
himself more vulnerable to hate – such as Humility or Ensnaring Bridge – and replaces the secondary Dream Halls engine with more tutoring to find Show and
Tell (the Intuitions once again). Seeing as I’m a big fan of minimizing dead cards in my decks, especially combo decks, I like the plan Logan is working
towards even though I’m a little skeptical concerning the additional vulnerabilities and inconsistency accrued by relying so heavily on Show and Tell. A
Meddling Mage or Surgical Extraction is a much larger problem for him than for any other Show and Tell based archetype, for example. Still, the heavy basic
land manabase, the incredible amount of cantrips and the comparatively low number of dead-in-multiples combo-pieces definitely make this build of OmniTell
something worth exploring if you enjoy this kind of deck.
The final deck I want to talk about is Tom Ross’ Infect deck:
- 4 Brainstorm
- 2 Force of Will
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 4 Daze
- 2 Berserk
- 1 Stifle
- 4 Invigorate
- 2 Crop Rotation
- 1 Ponder
- 1 Spell Pierce
- 4 Vines of Vastwood
- 2 Gitaxian Probe
Tom has been playing the archetype for a while now, including good finishes during Open events, and his list has been successfully picked up by others
already. Despite that, the archetype has remained largely under the radar, though probably undeservedly so in my opinion.
Infect isn’t the greatest combo deck in the format. It usually doesn’t win before turn 3 (though it can), it uses vulnerable creatures and somewhat narrow
effects – aka pump spells – to win (making removal live for the opponent) and doesn’t have much disruption that will work beyond turn 2 or 3. It makes up
for this with one glaring advantage however: it has two completely different ways to work out. Obviously, there’s the broken combo finish where you attack
with some Infect creature, cast Invigorate and Berserk and suddenly the opponent is dead. However, because of its creature-based nature and how infect
works with small pump-effects, you can also nickel and dime the opponent down over a couple of turns, essentially playing a game extremely close to the
formats common Delver tempo decks. Sure, his creatures are a little worse, having only two power naturally. At the same time, however, Infect makes
incredible use of threat value. The opponent has to constantly play with the threat of just dying in mind, forcing them into lines that aren’t at all ideal
against the “grind ’em down one point at a time” plan. This gives Infect a similar flexibility to what makes Elves such a good deck – only with the
additional ability to play your own countermagic instead of having a maindeck with nothing but utility dudes. If you want something that attacks with
creatures and can fluidly shift between trying to just blaze the opponent down and playing a more tactical game of cat and mouse, this deck should
definitely be on your list of things to try out.
Overall, the Invitational looked like crazy fun watching the coverage (hopefully I’ll manage to make a trip over the pond at some point to see for myself)
and the level of play seemed to be consistently high (I suggest watching at least Reid Duke’s win and in round – sick game). Metagame and innovation-wise,
the Invitational didn’t disappoint either. We have a couple of sweet new brews to try out, a spot in the light for another undervalued deck or two, and
finally signs of the American and European metagame starting to converge. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens when we’re finally pretty much on
the same page on both sides of the ocean. More players working on breaking open the same metagame holds the potential to lead to some surprising and
drastic changes in the long run, and I can’t wait to see how the Invitational’s impact shakes out in the long run. Time for us to go and see for ourselves!