11:30 pm Thursday night, 34.5 hours before the start of GP Indianapolis. I sat at my desk staring at my calendar, going back and forth about booking a flight to Indy for the following night. I really didn’t want to go all of March without playing another GP, but the flight times were just so brutal. With all of my recent traveling for Magic, there was no way I could book “reasonable” flights as they would require me to take 2 half-days at work, and there was just too much to get done.
To pass the time, I streamed myself smashing random legacy decks into Sam Black’s 4 color zombie brew, repeatedly crushing him despite my half-hearted attempts at piloting Zoo or Maverick. As it got later and later, my mouse drifted back to the “book flight” button in my browser window a good half dozen times but still I hesitated. Arriving at 9:20 am for a tournament starting at 10 seemed so horrific.
To break the monotony, I went into my closet and pulled out some boxes with my legacy cards. “I’ll just see what cards I have laying around to kill some time,” I told myself. Within 15 minutes I’d pulled out most of both U/W Stoneforge and RUG Delver. This wasn’t just casual browsing; I was inching closer and closer towards the GP…
Around 1:30 am, Mary Jacobson messaged me and started making fun of my terrible zoo play and my even worse decision to not go to the GP. This was the final straw; I finally broke down and booked my ticket. I was going to Indianapolis.
I woke up too early the next morning as I had a full day ahead at the office. I frantically packed a bag and threw two deck boxes with a bunch of legacy cards in amongst my random clothes. The day passed slowly and at multiple points I regretted my late night decision. I was already tired by the afternoon; did I really want to be flying out that night at 11:30? Oh well, I was in too deep and there was no turning back. I was going to Indy.
I’d spent several hours over the preceding week jamming some games with Drew Levin’s RUG build and it seemed ok. LSV told me he was on UW Stoneblade as he didn’t want to play a deck with only 18 lands in a format full of Wastelands. If the RUG deck bricks on its Ponders/Brainstorms, it can often find itself mana screwed. He didn’t want to introduce that much variance into his tournament. Neither option was particularly appealing. Earlier in the week, Drew mentioned to me that Marijn Lybaert had posted a pretty sweet looking Esper list on Facebook but that it hadn’t been holding up in testing so he was fairly set on RUG.
Around 8pm (T-minus 4 hours to departure), I posted on Twitter asking what deck I should play. Sam replied almost instantly – “Esper stoneblade”. I immediately called him to ask for more details. He too had seen the Marijn post and was pretty sold on the deck. He sent me the tweaks he’d made so far and we got to work. Having played zero serious games with the deck between the two of us, we were pushing theorycraft to its maximum. For the next 3.5 hours, first as I drove home to pick up Lingering Souls and Vindicates that had been neglected the night before, and then as my friend Ian Spaulding caddied me to SFO, Sam and I went back and forth on our options. Our relatively frantic brewing was interrupted only briefly, as I had to put my phone through the x-ray machine at security.
I was very happy with where we had the maindeck but that didn’t stop us from exploring all of our options. Sam had already come to several of the same conclusions I’d reached, like cutting the 2nd Intuition (too cute), the 2nd Vindicate (too clunky) and a Force of Will (too mediocre). I really wanted at least 1 Vendilion Clique in the maindeck, and Sam was pushing for some Spell Snares, so we compromised and added 1 of each. We both agreed on having at least one 2 mana counterspell, and once he convinced me that the manabase could support Counterspell over Mana Leak we went with the original. I asked about cutting a Lingering Souls a few times but Sam made the (very accurate) point that it is just an inherently unfair card and cutting it seemed wrong. While it looks clunky compared to many Legacy staples, it has such a high inherent power level that it could carry its weight even in Legacy. I decided to defer to Sam (and was quite happy I did so).
The only thing I was adamant about changing was the Sword of Fire and Ice. I’d played the Sword in my Esper Stoneblade deck in Providence in 2011 and was very underwhelmed by it throughout the tournament. Sam and I discussed several different equipment configurations and I started pushing the Batterskull / Umezawa’s Jitte plan. He thought about it for a bit and agreed; our main deck was almost set. The last card to discuss was the Tower of the Magistrate. It seemed way too cute to me and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find one. I wanted a “sexier” colorless land to take that slot but I couldn’t come up with one. Riptide Laboratory seemed underwhelming; Wasteland or Mishra’s Factory as a one-of didn’t really make sense. I actually should have been looking to bolster my colored mana, but at the time I thought it was a free upside slot so I went with the Tower. In the end I shrugged and went with Sam’s instincts.
We spent most of our call discussing the sideboard. As part of our maindeck equipment package we locked one slot for Sword of Feast and Famine. We also both wanted to find room for at least one Disenchant. Sam was initially down to 2 Surgical Extractions, but I really wanted to fit four anti-graveyard cards. As with at least half of our card number arguments, we eventually used the one-of Intuition to get us to three Extractions. Sam initially replaced the second Perish with a Submerge, but I argued strongly against this change. I’d had a tremendous experience with Perish in Providence and I didn’t think Submerge added much to our plan. With Lingering Souls we really didn’t need to play a tempo game. Sam had previously been underwhelmed by the card, but he deferred to me on it and cut the Submerge.
Sam initially had both a 3rd Inquisition of Kozilek and a 3rd Thoughtseize in the board, but we cut the Thoughtseize to make room for the 3rd Extraction. He also still had the Vedalken Shackles in the board from Marijn’s list but put up no resistance when I suggested we cut it. He’d already added Engineered Explosives and I quickly agreed with the choice. We briefly discussed adding a Virtue’s Ruin as an answer to both Mother of Runes and Knight of the Reliquary, but we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to find one so we moved on. Diabolic Edict survived our tinkering despite my reservations. It seemed underpowered and against decks like Maverick I really wanted targeted removal. Sam was worried about random Show and Tells dropping [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakuls[/card] into play and I didn’t feel strongly enough to argue. As my flight finished boarding, I mentioned Hydroblast as a random 15th card that gave us something against burn decks with utility elsewhere, and we finally had our 75. My flight took off for Chicago and Sam headed to bed.
Normally I am a great sleeper on planes; usually I am asleep before the plane lifts off and I wake up when we touch down. Not this time. The light in the plane pantry was shining right on me and they didn’t have a curtain to close; this made it very hard for me to sleep. I managed to get maybe an hour of sleep before giving up and pulling out my notepad to review our decklist.
I came up with four things to discuss with Sam in the morning – first, what if we cut the [card tower of the magistrate]Tower [/card]and the Vindicate for an Academy Ruins and an Engineered Explosives? Second, what if we cut the Counterspell for a 2nd Spell Snare (I was afraid of UU still for some reason). Third, where was Darkblast ever even good? (Answer: Maverick) Fourth, these Force of Wills sure seem bad with so few blue cards – can we cut more?
I landed in Chicago for my layover around 6am local time. It was an hour behind Indy and Drew Levin was already awake. I had a text message waiting for me: “We are goosing people”. I replied “I am on Esper” and he almost immediately jumped ship. He’d been trying to get Esper to work and really liked the changes we had made to the list. He even had something to add; one of his roommates (Ben Rasmussen) suggested a Zealous Persecution for the sideboard. I loved it. It killed Mother of Runes and had other powerful applications (Empty the Warrens, eh?). When I landed in Indianapolis an hour later, I called Sam from my cab and ran through my list of points to discuss. He rejected the Academy Ruins / Engineered Explosives plan (“Tower seems sweet”) and the Spell Snare (“I want a hard counter”). He brought up the Intuition to justify the third Force of Will (making it obviously uncuttable) which made me stop considering cutting Ponders for more lands. And he pointed out Maverick as a reason to play Darkblast. I accepted these arguments as I was determined to play the same 75 as Sam.
He really liked the Zealous Persecution idea, so as soon as I got to the site I tracked down an extra copy and then changed his sleep in special decklist to replace the Edict that neither of us liked with the Persecution. I considered changing his entire decklist to be 60 Forests and a Lost in the Woods but I didn’t think he would appreciate it.
Our final 75:
The tournament itself is a bit of a blur. I landed in Indianapolis at 9:20 am, having slept for 3 hours in the previous 24 hour period. I used the byes to follow Drew back to his hotel and take a shower, stealing a little of Kibler’s hair product to spruce up my own look. (Maybe this is why I went 9-0?) After procuring a few energy drinks for my long day ahead, it was time to battle.
Round 4: U/R Delver
My tournament finally kicked off and I very nearly lost my first round. My opponent took a very aggressive line at all opportunities, Lightning Bolting me on turn 1 and activating his Grim Lavamancer to deal 2 to my face whenever possible. This was a pretty poor line against a deck featuring Umezawa’s Jitte and I easily won game 1. I thought I was going to win game 2 as well after his Goblin Guide revealed a Jitte on top of my deck and I was able to flash in a Snapcaster Mage to trade with it, leaving me with a Lingering Souls token, 4 lands and 6 life. Unfortunately, his two cards were Lightning Bolt #3 and a Ponder that found Lightning Bolt #4 and we were off to game 3.
Game 3 was very similar to Game 2 as he directed his burn at my face at all opportunities. I stabilized at 3 life with a Batterskull but he had 1 turn to draw a burn spell to end me; thankfully he bricked and the Batterskull quickly put me out of range.
Round 5: RUG
This match is largely a blur as I played against RUG a lot during this tournament. I suspect Lingering Souls did some work here.
Standard RUG Sideboard:
Round 6: UR StifleNaught
This round was fairly straightforward; I won game 1 after my opponent did basically nothing all game. I saw some blue cards and some red cards, including a Trinket Mage and a Stifle, but I actually forgot that Phyrexian Dreadnought was a card. This led to some awkward sideboarding.
I started off with a double mulligan on the play and I was pretty disappointed. The matchup seemed pretty favorable and I hate losing like that. Luckily when I Thoughtseized him on turn 1, I saw that he had kept the speculative hand of a Phyrexian Dreadnought, a Brainstorm and 5 lands. I didn’t have an immediate answer to the Dreadnought in hand and I felt that the late game would heavily favor me, so I decided to make the “safe” play and take the Dreadnought. I was able to wrap up the game from there as he never drew much business, ending the game with 2 Dreadnoughts in his hand after using the only Stifle he drew on a fetch early in the game.
Sideboard (once I realized he had Dreadnoughts)
Round 7: Durdle playing UW Stoneblade
I knew most of LSV’s list as he had texted it to me the previous day. I was pretty confident in the matchup as Lingering Souls seems amazing at defeating a Jace. You can watch the match in the ggslive archives. I basically outplayed him a bunch and won.
Round 8: Matt Costa playing RUG
I won game 1 without too much trouble, as the Lingering Souls are very good here. My sources had Matt on Levin’s version of RUG, which I had also been testing all week. I knew Drew had 2-3 Sulphur Elementals and 2 Sulfuric Vortexes. I debated bringing in the Disenchant but decided it wasn’t worth it with only 2 targets. I was very glad I had the Blue Elemental Blast.
Game 2 was a very back and forth affair. Matt resolved an early Sulfuric Vortex, but I was keeping pressure on him. We were hitting each other back and forth and I actually thought I might be able to use the Vortex to kill him but he managed to clear the board. He used the Vortex to finish off a Jace and passed with me at 10 and him at 12. I ticked down to 8 and drew a Swords to Plowshares, taking out his [card tarmogoyf]Goyf [/card]and passing the turn back. He went to 8 and slammed a 2nd Vortex. I went to 4 and drew a Brainstorm. I Brainstormed into the actual nut, finding a black source and the Engineered Explosives. I put back some irrelevant cards and played the Explosives on 3. Matt went to 4 in his upkeep and I popped the Vortexes. I drew a threat a turn or two later and was able to finish him off in a very close game.
After the match Matt told me that he’d cut the Sulfur Elementals from his sideboard for other cards (ding!) so the matchup was actually much better for me than I expected post-board.
Round 9: RUG (I think?)
I remember this being another extremely close match. I don’t remember what I played. The insane travel schedule plus the long day of magic caught up to me…
I was ecstatic to finish day 1 at 9-0, something I’ve never managed to accomplish before. I gathered up a motley crew of food finders and set off to find something still open. Drew Levin ditched us to join a group of misers at St. Elmo’s (a decision he may have come to regret) but I pressed on to Hard Rock with Sam Black, Nadja, Mary Jacobson, Ben Rasmussen, Greg Ogreenc (the devil) and a few others. After making day 2 in Seattle I had dinner with a very similar group and Greg somehow lured me into a night of drinking and dancing by offering me an “innocent” adult beverage. This time I was able to resist his wily charm, limiting myself to a single nightcap with dinner. Once the meal finished, Sam and I set off to find a hotel room for the night as neither of us had the forethought to book something in advance. We got to bed by 12:30 and I was finally getting a good night’s sleep.
I woke up the next morning to my alarm going off at 8:10. Thankfully my phone had correctly accounted for the lost hour and we weren’t already late for the tournament. I went to the bathroom to find Sam Black already thoroughly entrenched. 30 minutes later (!) he emerged and I frantically showered and got my things together. I ran the 4 blocks to the site and arrived just as the player meeting was getting started. Be warned if you ever room with Sam: make sure to get the first shower!
Round 10: High Tide
This was another video feature match that you can watch on ggslive. The highlight was him going off game 1 and actually bricking, something that seemed almost impossible. Thankfully he didn’t sideboard out a High Tide so I was able to Intuition for Surgical Extractions and get all 4. It was basically impossible for him to win after that.
Round 11: Jason Ford (RUG)
Jason was playing the same 75 as Matt Costa so I knew what I was in for.
Round 12: Caleb Durward (RUG)
Tournament reports get a lot easier when I can just keep linking elsewhere. This one is also in the ggslive archive. This was my only loss of the tournament and it was pretty heartbreaking. Game 1 I Thoughtseized Caleb on turn 1 after we had a Force of Will battle over his Nimble Mongoose, leaving him with just a Wasteland in hand and 3 cards in his graveyard. He proceeded to draw perfectly for the next 5 turns (while also making some very good plays along the way) to pull out what seemed like an impossible game.
I knew he had the Counterbalance sideboard plan but I did not know about his Sulfur Elementals. I was able to defeat him in game 2 despite the Elemental, but even after he boarded down to just 1 of them for Game 3 I could not dodge their fiery nature and it got me after a mull to 5 in game 3.
It was a wakeup call seeing what a loss felt like; I really thought I was going to go 18-0 in the event. I began envisioning a nightmare scenario where I lose again and suddenly miss top 8, but I was able to put that behind me and get ready for the next round.
Round 13: Hive Mind
I knew my opponent was on combo going into the round and was able to keep a highly disruptive hand that also featured a Stoneforge Mystic to grab Batterskull. After [card thoughtseize]Thoughtseizing[/card] his Hive Mind on turn 1, he had to decide between pushing ahead for another Hive Mind or moving in on dropping in a Progenitus with Show and Tell. The presence of my Batterskull made the prospect of racing me with Progenitus daunting and he decided to hold out for another Hive Mind. Despite looking at seemingly half his deck with a series of Ponders and Brainstorms, he never found the Hive Mind and I was able to kill him in time.
My inexperience with the format bit me in the read for game 2 as I had no idea the Hive Mind decks even ran Show and Tell as a backup plan. I boarded exclusively for the Hive Minds, leaving my Perishes in my sideboard. My very, very good hand in game 2 was trumped by his T2 Intuition for 3 [card progenitus]Progenitusen[/card] (is that the proper pluralization?) and turn 3 Show and Tell. I couldn’t race it this time and quickly lost.
Game 3 was a much closer affair as I put early pressure on him with a Vendilion Clique and a Stoneforge Mystic carrying a Sword of Feast and Famine. My Clique saw a reasonably slow hand so I felt pretty good, but several Brainstorms and Ponders later and I knew I could be in trouble. On the second to last turn, he Brainstormed mainphase and then cast a Grim Monolith, giving him 8 mana for the following turn. I hit him to 6 with my guys and he discarded the Spell Pierce I had seen before with my Clique. I thought for a moment and got the feeling he was protecting himself with that Brainstorm, so I used my Surgical Extraction on his Brainstorms to make sure he would draw a random card. His hand was Hive Mind, Pact of Negation, Progenitus and his top card was a Brainstorm, so he would have been able to play the Hive Mind and then Pact his own Brainstorm to kill me. He was drawing live to any non-blue Pact or any 1 or 2 mana spell, which gave him about half his deck as outs, but thankfully he bricked and I was able to kill him on my next turn to lock up top 8.
Round 14: ID
Round 15: ID
Caleb got very unlucky this round, as despite being the third seed he ended up getting paired down with the 6th seed who had to play. The final round is paired in standings order, and both Pascal (the 1 seed) and I had already played Caleb so we were paired against the 4th and 5th seeds respectively. I quickly ID’d and then spent some time looking at how the pairings for the top8 might work out.
It looked pretty bad as I was going to most likely get paired with the Reanimator player or the High Tide player if Caleb won. Thankfully, after winning his match, Caleb agreed to an ID with his opponent to let his opponent remain in the top 16. This made the top8 break perfectly for me, putting Reanimator vs. High Tide on the far side of the bracket from me.
Top 8: Pascal Maynard vs G/W Maverick
This matchup was also on camera on ggslive as well as written up here.
A few random thoughts.
This was my first time all tournament playing against Maverick (some how) so I wasn’t sure if my sideboard plan was actually good.
When they announced the top8 I grabbed Sam Black, LSV and Wrapter to discuss potential sideboards.
We came up with the following plan:
We also discussed the option to potentially leave in Intuition and cut a Ponder or Spell Snare.
Once I was given Pascal’s decklist to review, I decided to audible my sideboarding. He had 2 Aven Mindcensors so I didn’t want to fool around with Intuition. He didn’t have Stoneforge Mystic and he only had 3 Qasali Pridemages, so I decided I didn’t want the Spell Snare and would rather be more proactive with a Thoughtseize to try and take out Choke. I also left in the second Thoughtseize, as he was boarding in two [card thrun, the last troll]Thruns [/card]that could be difficult to deal with if they resolved. In that place I decided to cut a Lingering Souls as it didn’t seem that impressive given how the games played out. Maverick doesn’t really put the same kind of pressure on you as the RUG decks; their creatures have considerable utility. I didn’t think just repeatedly chumping with tokens to buy time for a Jace was a viable plan when they can get so much value out of a Knight or could just use Mother of Runes to power through.
The coverage describes the match well; the only interesting thing I particularly remember was the turn in game 3 when I used Karakas on his [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card]. I waited until the end of turn, letting it hit me for 3, to make sure he would need to have a 4th mana to play Choke.
Semi-final: Dan Jordan with Maverick
Dan had a very different version of Maverick, playing Stoneforge Mystic with equipment and 3 Chokes. I decided here to further audible my sideboard plan, going up to 5 discard spells and leaving in 2 Force of Will to try and keep the enchantment off the board.
Following up on my experience in the Quarterfinals, I decided I was willing to just cut the Lingering Souls entirely in the matchup. I really wanted to maximize my answers to Choke and there just wasn’t anything else I could cut. The Souls seemed somewhat outclassed and I hoped my plan was right.
You can read about this match here.
As well as watch game 3 on ggslive. It was an extremely close match. In game 1, I Cliqued him on turn 3 and had a very hard decision between [card stoneforge mystic]Stoneforge[/card] and [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card]. He already had a Library going and I had a Swords to Plowshares in hand for the Knight he was holding but if I had to remove his Stoneforge I wouldn’t be able to deal with the Knight. I only had 3 land, but if I drew a 4th I would have no problem just powering through the Thalia. I ultimately took the Stoneforge and failed to draw a 4th land, getting crushed. If I’d taken the Thalia I would have had a chance but I would still have been a big dog; I’m not sure which was right.
Finals: Kenny Castor with RUG
I was very happy to be playing against RUG in the finals as the matchup seemed very good to me. When I got to look at Kenny’s list, I was even more excited. His list seemed terrible, with no Snapcaster Mages to give him range on his burn and essentially no sideboard against me. I couldn’t imagine a better matchup.
You can watch the games on ggslive or read about them here.
Having said that, I came awfully close to losing… Game 1 showed the main way RUG can beat me as he drew Wastelands and I didn’t draw Fetchlands (that would let me get basics) so he could force through enough creature damage early before I could stabilize. I quickly found myself in a hole down a game.
Game 2 was looking pretty good for me despite him having an army of 1 mana dudes. I had to walk a tightrope to keep the board stable but thought I should be able to hold.
A few interesting plays:
The turn I Vendilion Clique myself, many people have asked why I didn’t wait to Clique him in his draw step. At this point, if he doesn’t enable threshold on the next turn, I am certainly going to win. Cliquing him actually makes it more likely he can get threshold as he will be able to Daze or Stifle the Clique, putting a 7th card in his graveyard that he otherwise can’t put there. The only card I can take with Clique that he can’t just play in response is Ponder, and he had already cast two of them.
I decide to Clique away my Jace as a hedge against him getting threshold; I know I need to find one of my three outs (2 Perish, 1 Explosives) and Jace is too mana intensive to help with that.
When he hits the Fetchland (FML), I decide to trade with a Mongoose intead of the flipped Delver to increase my outs. My play is worse for me if I draw a Perish or Explosives, as I have to use 2 counters to kill his Delver instead of having all 3 Mongeese die, but better if I draw a Lingering Souls, as it is much easier to deal with his Delver than it would be to deal with a 3rd Mongoose. I decided to hedge there and block the Goose.
For game 3, I was sure I was winning when I Cliqued him and saw how awful his hand was. I don’t really know how he kept that hand on the draw; he had no action whatsoever. Thankfully he didn’t get lucky and draw out of it. I did my part to try to give him a chance, playing a few turns pretty loosely, but I was so far ahead it was almost impossible for me to lose.
The turn I let him Stifle my [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] I obviously should have Thoughtseized him first, but I actually forgot that he could Stifle my Jace and the only way I thought I could lose was if he had 3 burn spells in hand, let the Jace ultimate resolve, and then just drew them and bolted me out over the next 2 turns. I also did see the Spell Pierce, let it resolve, [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] Pierce and re-pierce play, but unfortunately I only had 2 blue mana so I couldn’t end it that way.
Looking back at the weekend, I am now reasonably glad that I booked my last minute flight. The only downside to winning the whole thing was missing my 8:45 pm reservation at St. Elmo’s. Despite two trips now to Indy, I have still never eaten there. I guess I’ll have to go back again and hope the third time’s the charm.
The rest of the night was a blur of celebration with the friends who were still around and awake. Long time good man Patrick Sullivan headlined a great group out on the town and far too soon it was time to take my 5am cab to the airport to catch my brutal 6:30 flight back to California. I finally got to experience what it is like trying to travel with a big metal trophy and it was as much fun as I expected.
I think the deck was very, very good and I expect it to be a big part of the Legacy metagame moving forward. The only change I would strongly advocate is cutting the Tower of the Magistrate. Ironically it is best in the mirror, the one matchup featuring lots of equipping and no Wastelands. Against Maverick, the other ideal matchup, it is unlikely to survive the Wastelanding long enough to be worth the colorless mana. If the mirror becomes a huge deal, I would consider leaving it in. If there are a ton of Chokes running around your tournaments, I would cut it for a Glacial Fortress (blue mana that untaps? Yes please).
I would consider the Ruins / Explosives plan main that I mentioned earlier but I’m not sure if I would advocate it. It seems fine but not compelling. Other sideboard changes seem very metagame specific. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply.
Thanks to everyone for the support during the event. I am thrilled to be a GP Champion and hopefully I can run it back in a few weeks in Salt Lake City. You can hear more from me on my newly rebranded twitter account, @tom_martell, or watch me playing live many nights of the week on my twitch stream at http://www.twitch.tv/semisober. See you soon!