What To Play In Atlanta?

Chris VanMeter reviews the best Legacy decks and where the metagame seems to be heading. SCG Open: Atlanta is right around the corner, so don’t leave home without a good list to kick off 2012.

Everything must come to an end…

The ending of this season was quite bittersweet for me. After placing in the Top 4 of the Legacy Open in St. Louis, I did abysmally at the Invitational. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t take advantage of any of the contacts that I have gained throughout the year and was behind on the “tech.” I probably should have been playing something with Pristine Talisman in Standard and should have sleeved up Geist of Saint Traft in the sideboard of my U/W Stoneblade deck. I felt good about both the Illusions deck and the U/W Blade deck I played in St. Louis and only changed a few cards. I played Geist of Saint Traft in my Illusions deck and played the same U/W Stoneforge list from St Louis card for card. This was definitely a mistake, and you always want to be changing something. The minute you think you have a perfect list is when you’ve given up.

I also missed out on qualifying for Honolulu. I lost in the finals and in the Top 4 of the two non-GP PTQs I played in and ended up short about 120 points to qualify on Planeswalker Points. This stung a little, especially since I knew why I missed out—not making the extra effort to hit FNMs when I was traveling to the Opens. This is being fixed with the new program for next year, so there really isn’t much else to talk about with FNMs and Planeswalker Points.

My plans for pursuing competitive Magic next year are still up in the air, but we all know what happens to Magic players. “I don’t know” is usually just a “Yes, I’ll be there in disguise.” I’m thinking about just hitting all the GPs and Opens that are in driving distance from Wichita and flying to all the Invitationals, but who knows what will happen. I will, however, be in Austin so make sure to stop and say hi if you’ll be there.

Enough about me though; let’s jump into some hot Legacy action! The results from the Charlotte Invitational and Legacy Open hold some interesting tidbits of information. Change is on the horizon for Legacy; let’s see if we can figure out where we need to be for the Atlanta Open next weekend.

Let’s start with Stoneblade and its rainbow of flavors. We have the traditional U/W version, piloted to a win in the Charlotte Legacy Open by Tony Chu.

We can see a stock maindeck akin to the list I Top4’d in St. Louis with, but the sideboard is quite spicy! Leyline of the Void is a concession to Dredge becoming more popular, which does seem like a possibility with one placing in the both the Invitational and Open Top 8.

The main card I want to look at is Geist of Saint Traft. Drew Levin touched based on this in his article; however I would like to reiterate just how great this guy is. We recently hit a point in Legacy where being blue (and target-able) has become a detrimental drawback. To solve this, I looked to Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and she was fabulous! Can’t be ‘blasted, and she killed Jace. She out “attrition-ed” the attrition decks and was tough for Counterbalance to effectively counter. She did it all, but what’s the next level?

Geist, that’s what. He also kills Jace and can’t be ‘blasted unless he’s on the stack. Tough for the BUG style decks to kill. Tough for Counterbalance to effectively counter, and he smacks Elspeth upside the head. Jumping him with Elspeth is quite a good feeling.

Next we move onto Bant Blade, being championed by Alex Bertoncini with multiple Top 8s over the last few Opens.

Alex also has been on the Elspeth train and doing well. This deck really hasn’t changed much over the last month, with the exception of maindeck or sideboard Bojuka Bog. Too bad we can’t Green Sun’s Zenith for Geist.

Esper Stoneblade has always been a deck that people play but hasn’t really been worked on in the public eye to fine-tune a list. Edgar Flores has been championing this archetype for a while now with mild success.

With the overwhelming popularity of Spell Snare, I feel like Bitterblossom just isn’t worth playing another color for.

Lastly we have the new breed of Maverick decks, and although they play Stoneforge, they aren’t much of a “blade” deck. Currently being championed by Gerry Thompson and Michael Jacob, this is one of the decks that is going to facilitate the change coming in Legacy, which we’ll get to a little later. Punishing Fire gives this deck a completely new angle of attack against both Control and Aggressive strategies. Delvers and Lavamancers never live. Stoneforge Mystics never live. Noble Hierarch, Snapcaster Mage, all the Goblins, they all die—and it shoots them for one each time you need it to, and this is all backed up with efficient and powerful creatures and a Green Sun’s Zenith toolbox. I think that the Maverick style of deck is the perfect home for Punishing Fire / Grove of the Burnwillows. The only thing that could be better is probably some type of Loam deck with Liliana.

Leaving the Mystic decks behind we look forward to the Delver decks. Andrew Shrout placed in the Top 8 again with his U/R Delver deck, and Adam Prosak “won” the Invitational with his. This style of deck makes life preservation and resilient cards very important. Delver and Goblin Guide deliver a lot of damage very quickly, backed up with lots of three-damage spells (Bolt and Chain) and more-damage spells (Price of Progress), giving the deck a lot of reach. The other Delver deck is RUG Tempo.

This deck is more about flipping a Delver or resolving a Tarmogoyf and keeping you one turn behind with Daze and Stifle. This deck has fallen a bit behind as the format evolved to handle it, and then it evolved into the U/R hyper aggressive Delver deck.

These have become the popular decks, which have the potential to cause the meta to shift a bit. Where do we want to be when the battles all revolve around 3/2 fliers for one, Stoneforge Mystics, and Green Sun Zeniths? There are a couple options to look at.

First up is Dredge.

Dave Thomas has placed well with this archetype in the past and brought it back for the Charlotte Open. With a lot of the top players championing Purify the Grave as the graveyard hate sideboard card due to the popularity of Reanimator at the time, Dredge can capitalize on the lack of Surgical Extractions and Leyline of the Voids being played. Unfortunately, with Leylines being in the sideboard of the winning deck from the Open, Dredge might be a risky proposition.

Next up is ANT.

With Counterbalance being on the decline, ANT could be poised for a comeback. Duress and Thoughtseize make it extremely easy to win through the tiny bit of permission people are playing in their maindeck, and then you get to play the “Bob or no Bob” game against the control decks. The Maverick and Bant Blade style decks can’t put enough pressure on you fast enough. Sadly, the Delver decks have quick clocks and permission to try and put you away, but again, Duress and Thoughtseize are great against them too.

Last is Hive Mind.

Hive Mind was extremely popular during the Mental Misstep era and was championed by Tom Ma, Ben Swartz, and myself. Once it reached its peak, sideboards became littered with Angel’s Grace, and the NO RUG deck evolved to have game against the Hive Mind menace. Times have changed, and there isn’t an Angel’s Grace to been found. Chalice of the Void is good against the Delver decks. Spell Snare is bad against us. The aggro decks aren’t fast enough, and Whipflare kills everything Firespout kills with the addition of flipped Delvers and has the benefit of costing one mana less. Hive Mind is always looked at as a “gimmick deck,” and let’s face it: it really is. However, if piloted correctly in a field with close to no hate, it can be extremely powerful. With the new Maverick deck picking up steam, we can expect there to be a drop off on Stifles, as Stifle is pretty bad against it. With Stifle on the decline and Angel’s Grace disappearing, Hive Mind could be a great call for Atlanta.

I think that we are at another inflection point in the Legacy meta cycle. During the Misstep era, we went to a point where the control decks took over using efficient counterspells backed with game-breaking card advantage engines like Ancestral Vision, Standstill, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Eventually, the combo decks started to make a push towards the end of the era, and we saw a surge of Reanimator and ANT decks. Once Misstep was banned and Snapcaster Mage was printed, the format shifted once more. Aggressive decks could be played again, and we saw a surge of Zoo and Goblins and the birth of the Delver style of decks. Snapcaster still gave the control decks game by being able to cast multiple Swords to Plowshares and pull ahead with four-cost planeswalkers. Now we are to the point where REBs, Punishing Fires, and Delver of Secrets are going to be keeping the Stoneforge decks in check, and the Maverick style of decks are going to rise up to keep the Stoneforge and the Delver decks both in check. The next step is where we want to be, and it definitely could be combo, so be prepared.

Atlanta is going to see Punishing Fire Maverick, U/W Stoneforge, Bant Blade, and U/R Delver fighting it out. Punishing Fire seems very good against all of the top decks, and it feels like we should have two things in mind. Either make it so Punishing Fire isn’t very good against us or be playing Punishing Fire ourselves.

I still love U/W Stoneforge and am working on an updated list, keeping in mind everything I pointed out here. I don’t think that I’ll have time to write an article about it before Atlanta, but I’ll be sure to share the list with people who are interested.

I recently started playing on MODO again, my screen name is bubbacvm so feel free to say hi if you see me. You can also find me on Twitter @Chris_VanMeter, so don’t be shy. Good luck to everyone in Atlanta!

<3 CVM