Winning Nashville: A Second Chance

Revisit Todd Anderson’s run through SCG Legacy Open: Nashville where he took home the trophy, and read about the major Standard players for States, including newcomer Wolf Run Ramp.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the StarCityGames Open in Nashville, Tennessee. The city itself is pretty awesome, full of rich culture and life. I don’t get to go there too often, but I’m always glad when I do. For those who attended Grand Prix Nashville last year, which was held in Opryland, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The city just teems with an energy unlike most cities I’ve ever been to. It has character.

Since Kali was scheduled to work the weekend as an events coordinator, we had a little extra room in the car this week. This left myself, Brian Braun-Duin, GerryT, and Kaitlin tagging along for the seven-hour drive south, a paltry three hours from my hometown of Birmingham. This meant a lot of my friends were coming, so it was sure to be a great trip.

After Gerry and Kaitlin met me at my apartment, we headed south to pick up Brian from his place near Virginia Tech. As Brian began packing his belongings into the trunk, he accidentally laid his hand on top of a very-hot car roof. This prompted a strange sound from Brian; something akin to a Dolly Parton squeal after a mouse has run between her legs. For the rest of the trip, it wasn’t uncommon to end a sentence with the sound, just to needle Brian. He even did it himself a few times. However, the best part of the trip was when Brian wasn’t given a fork or spoon (or spork) to eat his mashed potatoes. Suffice it to say, he used a chicken bone. God Bless America.

As we departed from Blacksburg, everyone was pretty laid back, mentally preparing for the long drive. There were conversations about everything, ranging from old Magic stories to current events. At some point, Brian wanted to start working on a new deck, since he just wasn’t happy with his Solar Flare deck from last week. He was pretty happy playing all versions of Caw-Blade in the previous Standard season, and he wanted to build something similar. The problem was that he lacked Squadron Hawk. We had a long debate on whether or not you could build a control deck with Sword of Feast and Famine in it, and eventually we just settled on the fact that every deck in Standard is a much worse version of what it once was, but we had a level playing field. Maybe Sword of Feast and Famine was still good, but it just needed a good home.

After that, Brian started writing down the cards he wanted to play. Blade Splicer was at the top of the list, and for good reason. That card is just ridiculous right now. Not only does it live through a Liliana sacrifice, but it leaves you with a 3/3 to finish the job and continue applying pressure. While Blade Splicer wasn’t amazing last season, it was definitely good. Without Into the Roil in the format anymore, you can expect the Golem token to have a lot more value. Blade Splicer is also a virtual two-for-one against most aggressive strategies and gives you two warm bodies to attach Sword of Feast and Famine to. She was easily the best creature in Brian’s deck.

After Blade Splicer, we figured that he probably couldn’t fit Mirran Crusader. It had to be one or the other, and Blade Splicer was much better against the aggressive decks, not to mention Liliana. After that, we filled the deck with a smattering of other awesome U/W cards, including the new All-Star: Snapcaster Mage. Even though Snapcaster Mage wasn’t insane in Brian’s deck, it was still solid and often just acted as a Silvergill Adept alongside Gitaxian Probe. Later in the game, it could rebuy a removal spell or Mana Leak, making it a serious contender in the deck.

Here is what Brian ended up piloting to an 8-1-2 finish in the Standard event, losing in the Top 8 to the eventual winner:

His only regret was playing Timely Reinforcements maindeck. It is much better in the Esper decks, since they play so few creatures. He said he would much rather have played another Day of Judgment, but I’m not sure that’s the route you want to be taking. This version of UW is much more aggressive, and I would definitely prefer spot removal to mass removal, as that will help you connect with your Swords.

The biggest addition to this deck, compared to the other U/W Control decks, is Inkmoth Nexus. Brian’s list is much more aggressive than the other lists we’ve seen, and the full set of Inkmoth Nexus should help prove it. He admitted to winning about half of his games with poison, which says a lot about the power of the card in this archetype. Additionally, he pointed to Dismember as the worst card in the deck, but mostly because he sided it out almost every round due to playing against an absurd amount of Solar Flare.

I felt like Brian Braun-Duin deck had a lot of game, but he fell a little short to the eventual winner, Brian Sondag, piloting this crazy concoction:

What can I really say about this deck? On paper, it looks like the bastard child of Valakut, but much less powerful. However, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. I feel like this deck just came out of left field, but it feels very well-tuned for an infant metagame.

With every deck losing a substantial amount of raw power, this strategy feels like it retained the most after the rotation. While Primeval Titan is a huge threat on his own with Kessig Wolf Run, the added ability to end the game with a single swing of an Inkmoth Nexus is pretty bonkers. With Primeval Titan, you can even search up both of them! Add to this the fact that you get to play with cards like Viridian Emissary and Solemn Simulacrum—cards that are absurd against both aggressive and control strategies—and you’re starting to see a real winner emerge.

Green Sun’s Zenith is just icing on the cake. It is a virtual Rampant Growth in the early game (which is already in the deck) with the singleton Birds of Paradise. Later on, it becomes a Viridian Emissary, Acidic Slime, or Primeval Titan, depending on what you need most at any given time in any given situation. While Green Sun’s Zenith doesn’t have as many juicy targets as I would like, it still functions well for this archetype.

But let’s not forget Garruk, Primal Hunter. Not only is Garruk a creature-generating engine, but he is also a huge source of raw card advantage. If you have a Kessig Wolf Run in play, his -3 ability can get rather ridiculous. His biggest draw is that he’s great against control and aggro decks alike, making him a huge favorite for best card in the deck. Without a combo deck in sight, Garruk’s power will only grow in time.

Overall, I feel like this is probably going to be the best deck in Standard. There aren’t a lot of ways to combat the deck other than Flashfreeze, which I bet people will be adopting en-mass after this weekend. The problem here is that you only have so many counterspells, and the control decks can’t really put the ramp deck under much pressure. Additionally, they don’t have Tectonic Edge to help out against Inkmoth Nexus or Kessig Wolf Run, and Ghost Quarter is a poor substitute.

As for me? I’ll probably still be playing Illusions at States this weekend. I think the deck is really awesome against the control and ramp decks, making it a serious contender. I even beat the single red deck I played against in the Standard Open this past weekend, giving me a little bit of confidence in my new sideboard plan. I ended up going 7-3, which wasn’t good enough for a cash, but I felt like two of my losses were flukes. I had both opponents on the ropes in the mid-game, only to have everything fall apart all at once. Either I would flood out while they drew into some gas, or they would hit me with something like Day of Judgment, and I wouldn’t have a counterspell.

In the future, I feel like I need to find a way to mitigate the lack of raw card advantage. Snapcaster Mage is good, but probably isn’t enough. Perhaps more card selection would help, and I’ll probably be testing out Ponder over the next few days to see if it smooths out some of my draws. I’ve also been considering moving all of the Mental Missteps to the sideboard, since they’re trash against a lot of the format’s top decks. Unfortunately, they’re insane against Mono Red, as well as other aggressive strategies, but fish decks have traditionally bad matchups against those kinds of decks, and a little help won’t usually get you over that hump. Perhaps I should just focus on my good matchups and have a lot of sideboard options for the bad matchups.

Here is my current list for Illusions. I highly recommend the deck to anyone who wants to dodge Solar Flare or Primeval Titan mirrors all day because they’re a train wreck.

While I’ve toyed with the notion of abandoning the Illusion theme in favor of more cards like Blade Splicer, the aggressive curve of Phantasmal Bear into Lord of the Unreal is just… really quite good (I’m Phinally done with all the puns). Lord of the Unreal allows you to play and protect your suite of undercosted monstrosities. Phantasmal Dragon catches a lot of flak, but he’s actually just ridiculous, and I’m going to show people at States this weekend just how good he is.

While my plan against Mono Red is a little ridiculous, I think it ends up being really good. I side out my more vulnerable creatures: Phantasmal Image and Dragon, in favor of Batterskull and more controlling cards. Celestial Purge can wreak havoc on Koth of the Hammer and Chandra’s Phoenix, while Oblivion Ring plays cleanup for their Shrine of Burning Rage. I’m seriously considering playing some number of Disperse in the maindeck to help deal with planeswalkers as well as Shrines. The card seems fine with Snapcaster Mage and gives you some added flexibility that the deck doesn’t already have. For now, I’m going to test out a few, but if it ends up being awkward I’ll just cut them.

While I’m focusing on Standard due to the State Championships coming up this weekend, I ended up “winning” the Legacy Open in Nashville this past weekend with a BUG deck pretty similar to the one piloted by AJ Sacher and GerryT last week. I had a few ideas of my own and tried to incorporate them into the maindeck and sideboard, but I hadn’t tested at all with the deck prior to the start of the tournament. Some of the choices ended up being all-stars, helping me take down the tournament, but I shouldn’t have even made it to the Top 8 in the first place.

First off, let me start with the deck I played. I liked it a lot, but I think there are a few things that can be reworked.

As far as the deck goes, Unearth was pretty mediocre. Most removal spells involve the words “Exile target creature,” giving me very few targets for it throughout the tournament. It was easily my most-sided-out card. With that said, I think Reanimate would be a much better choice. I had Reanimate in that slot up until about thirty minutes left in registration, only to be convinced that losing the life was relevant against Zoo. It would have been, but I didn’t play against Zoo. I did, however, play against Reanimator, and could have Reanimated his Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur on turn 2. In the end, it will probably be cut for more copies of Spell Snare or Ponder.

Pernicious Deed felt pretty awful and probably should have been Damnation. I could see playing a mix of the two so that you keep outs to decks like Enchantress. If you cut Pernicious Deed, I would definitely add Nature’s Claim. It works really well in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage. Every other card in the deck was awesome, including the singletons in the sideboard.

So for those interested, here’s the story of how I shouldn’t have even made it past the fourth round.

I started off the tournament at 2-1, feeling a little crummy because of my early loss to Merfolk in round three. In the deciding game, I just couldn’t dig up a removal spell and got obliterated by Wasteland after Wasteland. This had me seriously doubting my deck, since it seemed as if I couldn’t function after my mana was disrupted even in the slightest. Hymn to Tourach is just so difficult to cast alongside so many other color-intensive spells and forces you to fetch certain lands in certain situations that make you incredibly vulnerable to land destruction.

After losing my third round, I moved into Round 4 with a bit of a cloud over my head, but I trudged on. In the third game against Landstill, I made a serious misplay on the second turn, opting to cast a Tarmogoyf to apply pressure instead of holding up for Spell Pierce. He ended up killing it with a Swords to Plowshares and followed that up with a Standstill. I had a Force of Will at the ready, but his Spell Pierce on my Force of Will stuck his trump card and basically locked me out of the game from there. I was forced to break the Standstill, giving him an overwhelming advantage, and a few Wastelands ended the game after he landed a Jace.

Resigned to my 2-2 fate, I signed the slip and watched a nearby match play out, but my opponent didn’t get up from the table. I looked back, and he was staring at the round clock. He looked at me, looked back at the clock, then looked at the match slip.

“You aren’t going to beat me and then drop, are you?”

He paused, then smiled. I couldn’t believe what was about to happen. Was he really going to knock me out of contention and just leave? I felt betrayed, like someone just shot me in the gut. The following words that came from his mouth will stay with me for quite some time:

“Good luck in the rest of the tournament.”

He signed the match slip 2-1, in my favor. He dropped and went to play in the Draft Open.

Did that really just happen?

I couldn’t believe it! Here I was, at the brink of defeat, only to be snatched away at the last second by someone kind enough to forgo Planeswalker Points in favor of good sportsmanship. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to get up and dance!

But something was different. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I could feel it. The pressure of performing perfectly was gone. I didn’t deserve to be alive in the tournament, so I was just going to have some fun. It seems like I do a lot better when I’m in a positive mood, so I ran with it.

For the rest of the day, I was in a perfect state of mind. Nothing could upset me, and nothing was going to put me on tilt. How could it? I’d already lost, and I was long dead. Anything I won from here was just a free roll.

And my run-goods didn’t even stop there. In round six, I was paired against a Mono-Red Burn player on camera. In game 3, he was at eight life, and I had a 4/5 Tarmogoyf in play. Due to Hymn to Tourach and Fireblast, he had no hand and only two lands in play. I was at four life, and he topdecked a Magma Jet, sending me to two life. My hand was full of removal, but no counterspells. I grimaced when he put a card on top of his deck and one on the bottom.

I untapped, drew Brainstorm, and cast it with a few fetchlands in play. I drew another Brainstorm, but nothing else of note. I decided to stay at two life and refrained from cracking my fetchland and casting the second Brainstorm in case he cast Keldon Marauders. I passed the turn after sending him to four life from Tarmogoyf.

He peeled his card that he left on top, looked at his two Mountains, and said something to the effect of: “Oh wow, that was terrible.”

He suspended Rift Bolt.

After looking at his suspended Rift Bolt in disbelief, I just giggled. I was running so hot that it just couldn’t really be described. I felt like standing up and running around the room. I settled for rubbing my luck in JT Henricks’ face, which I’m sure we can all agree is just as satisfying. At this point, I wasn’t sure how I could lose, but I decided to split with my friend David Thomas in the next round anyway for $50, since a win would virtually lock one of us for Top 8. He just crushed me with Dredge in the first game, but my Leylines of the Void shut him down for the next two.

After drawing in the next round, I continued on to win the quarterfinals, semifinals, and even the finals after I had scooped to Chris VanMeter. The win locked him for Level 8, and I couldn’t have had a more enjoyable match. With nothing but pride and the trophy on the line (I wanted to earn it, dammit!), we played the most-fun match I’d played all day. After obtaining the trophy after a hard-fought battle, I can finally quell the “look at my awesome trophy” taunts from Kali (who am I kidding?).

With SCG Open: Nashville in the books, I’m $850 richer (from a Top 4 split), and happier than ever. I took advantage of an opportunity given to me by a man I’d never met before, and I just wish I could remember his name to thank him. He even came up to me multiple times during the later rounds, checking to see how I was doing. He seemed taken aback that I had made it to the Top 8, but I could tell he was genuinely happy for me. It feels good when you give people a second chance at life, and they make the best of it. I just hope that one day, I can do the same.

For Jessica.

Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MOL