Editor’s note: This was written last week, but was delayed due to issues we had with the website. Enjoy this bonus Barnello piece!
Hey everyone, welcome back, and my apologies for missing you last week. I was on vacation, and missed my opportunity to write due to a large intake of beach and sun. Sick brag, etc. Regardless, I’m back in dreary upstate NY, ready to dive back into the New Phyrexian World Order.
This week was the first opportunity we’ve had to use NPH cards in our Legacy decks, and players across the globe tuned into SCG Orlando on Sunday to see what the Open Series had to say about the effects on the format. To no one’s surprise, Mental Misstep was everywhere, and the top 8 reflected just how remarkable an impact the card had on the metagame – at least for this weekend – with a staggering 27 copies in the top 8. Granted, this is not to say the card is dominant or should be questioned in the manner that Survival was – it’s the first opportunity for the card to be played, and it’s going to take a bit of time for the format to adapt. Keep in mind, Brainstorm saw 28 copies in the top 8 – as did Force of Will – and Wasteland put 22 copies into the top 8. Blue decks were dominant in the event, for certain, and you’re required to look to 10th place before seeing a deck incapable of making a blue mana – and that deck is alone in the entirety of the top 16.
Further North, Jupiter Games was having an event as well. Their event was of similar size to the SCG event, with just over 100 players in attendance. At the end of the day, there were five more decks with maindeck Mental Misstep entering the single elimination rounds, with 18 copies in the top 8 (most of the decks ran 3 copies maindeck, although a few ran the fourth in the sideboard). More information on this event, including the top 8 decklists, can be found on The Source, here.
If I haven’t been able to convince you that blue is the color to be playing in Legacy before, I can’t imagine it to be hard now. Without a shadow of a doubt, the strongest decks in Legacy are running Islands, and are shutting down your plays from turn 0 onward.
Let’s talk a little bit about the second and third place list from SCGFL, piloted by Drew Levin and Gerry Thompson. The two of them have revitalized mono-U control (although that’s a bit of a misnomer, as they both splashed for Swords to Plowshares) with lists that are more reminiscent of old-school Landstill than older MUC lists. For reference,
The deck is utilizing the combination of Force of Will and Mental Misstep to protect themselves on turn 0-1, Misstep and Spell Snare to protect on turns 1-2, and the three along with Counterspell to solidify their defense on turn 3 and beyond. The coverage of mana costs between Misstep and Snare allows them to trade little to no mana for the majority of major role players in the format, and any that slip through the cracks are mopped up with a combination of Swords to Plowshares, Engineered Explosives, Vedalken Shackles, or are Boomeranged back via Repeal and Jace, to be hit with a new counter on the way back down. Gerry’s deck tech on the build suggested that while the potential for a win via Factory beats or a stolen creature was theoretically plausible, it was much less likely than winning via an Ultimate from Jace.
This deck does a lot of things right, and is actually quite elegant as a control deck. I’ve been wondering how viable the idea of pairing Spell Snare with Misstep is, as the combination of the two seems to solve most of the problems presented by the aggro-control decks of the format without losing you much in other matchups like combo. Gerry and Drew’s deck also utilizes Standstill quite well, although there are certainly decks that are better with the card, and ones where playing it on turn two can be incredibly bad, if not downright awful. Obviously, the deck is very, very weak to a resolved Aether Vial, and this weakness is something that has been taken into account in a major way – which is why so much sideboard space is dedicated to the Merfolk matchup. Aside from Merfolk, dredge also appears to be a nigh-unwinnable match, with zero cards in the main or sideboard allotted to the deck. Traditionally, if a Dredge player recognizes this as the matchup, they move to the draw, discard, dredge plan of attack, and this build appears nearly incapable of beating that strategy. We’ll get to Dredge in a minute, so let’s not focus there too much. As I said, I see a lot of things I like here, but aside from the Vial issue, I see a few things that I feel could be improved.
1. This deck is so close to the older style Landstill builds that it seems to feature the same major enemy that those decks had – the clock. With so few ways to actually win the game, rather than just forestall defeat, the draw bracket is a very real problem. Two early draws is effectively the same as a loss, and puts you into the “must win every match” situation in a medium-long event. It also means you can’t ID at the end of the event to secure top 8, and makes you play the entire swiss. It also means you’re going to have less time between matches to recover, and will cause fatigue to be a factor.
2. This deck is bad at operating under its own Standstills. Unless you’ve already drawn one of your four cards that do something under Standstill (Factory), or it’s mid-game and you’ve dropped a [card vedalken shackles]Shackles[/card] or a [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] (already in good position), you have no real way to utilize the Standstill to maximum effect. Perhaps this is fine, as by now, most people have learned that the appropriate time to break a Standstill is generally “As Soon As Possible,” but some decks are ready and willing to play the attrition war, and don’t mind waiting you out. Against these decks, having a way to break the symmetry is paramount, and I can’t see a real argument for not having some way to do so.
In my opinion, both of these issues are solved by running something like Decree of Justice, although even in the older UW lists, this was often the worst card in the deck until you were in a winning position. Still, with the addition of so many undercosted or free counters, having a win condition that completely circumvents all counterspells as well as sliding under your own Standstill seems like a winning proposition. It’s also the most efficient way to end games, often killing the opponent within a turn or two of its resolution. With Drew’s pedigree in Legacy, I can’t imagine the card wasn’t at least considered, but I anxiously anticipate the discussion from him and Gerry both discussing their thoughts on the deck overall. Regardless, I intend to incorporate some of their ideas into my own decks, which will likely be in need of a significant amount of work after the results of this weekend.
This week, and perhaps only this week, is a great time to be a Dredge player. For some time, it’s been widely accepted knowledge that being on a graveyard-based deck is a volatile decision to make, and that you’d be better served playing a less linear strategy. However, as people scramble to complete their playsets of Mental Missteps and build crazy blue brews, the time is ripe for the decks that largely ignore the interactions blue players try to force.
Another piece of generally accepted practice is the move toward a Putrid Imp/Tireless Tribe type build that runs more discard outlets, more answers in the maindeck, and plays the resiliency game, rather than trying to explode with Lion’s Eye Diamond. I feel that this is a worse plan now, with Misstep in the format, since the major players in your outlets (both creatures as well as Breakthrough) are countered by the card. I feel that it’s a good time to move toward a more traditional version of the deck, perhaps incorporating Gitaxian Probe to improve your Therapies. I’d start somewhere like the following:
As usual, this list is a basic, untested list, but I think the power of LED and Deep Analysis in conjunction with the way the format is developing right now is something worth investigating. As long as blue decks are dominating, you may as well prey on them.
As you are possibly aware, I’ve been working diligently on a little brew of my own for the past few months. Starting in Edison, I made top 16 with a Thopter deck utilizing the synergy between artifact lands and Mox Opal to make something of an accelerated blue variant that relied on Enlightened Tutor to put together a number of game-winning board states. After that event, I worked on the deck some more, and eventually removed the artifact lands and the black splash to secure a more stable and basic-heavy manabase, along with adding a Stoneforge Mystic package to enable a more aggressive strategy when needed, along with three more tutors for Sword of the Meek. I took this list to Boston, and again made top 16. When you all last saw the list, it looked like this:
I still very much like this list, but I believe some of the card choices must change because of the introduction of Mental Misstep into the format. There are two very important factors to consider. First, I want to play at least three of them, possibly four. This deck is well positioned to play the card, as it wants it early, and actually has the ability to turn it into a useful card beyond turn one, should it become dead – Brainstorm, Jace, and Force of Will all allow you to turn an otherwise useless Misstep into an asset. On the other side, the second consideration is how bad Misstep is FOR this deck. Seventeen cards in the maindeck are countered by the spell, and while none of these are actually crucial for the deck to function, most are critical in making that operation run smoothly, rather than drawing the wrong part of the deck at the wrong time.
To these ends, I made the following initial changes to the build:
This allowed me, at the very least, to get some of the card into the deck to assess the value of the counter prior to making serious changes to the overall strategy. The general function of the deck maintained, although it was slightly more difficult to secure any specific plan due to the card selection being diminished. I also noted some significant changes to the way games played out:
• Due to the bullet-proof manabase, I was much more likely to keep one-land hands with this deck when they also contained a Brainstorm or Top. This deck has such a strong mid- to late-game that giving up a bit of the early game to try and establish a board position through digging was fine against most decks like Bant. These hands are no longer even a questionable keep. You MUST mulligan if your hand is leaning on a 1-drop to function.
• The value of Sensei’s Divining Top has actually gone up, and the value of Brainstorm has gone down. People are much more willing to trade a card for a Brainstorm, and will absolutely go after your Tops. Using a Brainstorm main phase as bait for a Misstep is a legitimate play, because having a Top in play is much more important than any given Brainstorm. I’ve found myself using Brainstorm more for the “put two back” or the “dig one card deeper with Top” more than any actual want for the cantrip in the deck lately. It’s still not in consideration for cutting, but it has gone down in importance – which is actually a good thing in this new environment.
• While Stoneforge Mystic is fantastic as an additional tutor for Sword of the Meek, it sucks in every other function. Her role is basically to be a two mana annoyance and block until the opponent uses one of the removal spells that have been sitting in their hand against her. Which will happen, since she’s the only real target in the deck for those removal spells. For sure, if she sticks for a turn or two she’s insane, but that’s usually an unlikely prospect. There are games which she “just wins,” like when she’s strapped with a Sword of Fire and Ice against Mefolk or Goblins, or when Sword of Feast and Famine makes her an invincible blocker against Junk. However, more often (especially in the new meta) she will be a distraction from your better game plans, which usually revolve around putting a roadblock like Moat or Ensnaring Bridge into play, and killing them with Thopters. The fact that she lacks synergy with both of those spells – which often become plan ‘A’ in many matchups – is also frustrating at times.
Certainly, the issues with Stoneforge are something worth consideration. I really like how Stoneforge allows you to execute a fast win when you need to, for time concerns, etc. I also like (very much) when I strap a Sword of Feast and Famine on a Blinkmoth Nexus. Stoneforge offers the control deck a number of functions which are relevant and useful, but it’s not perfect in this deck by any means. This is something I’m still working to solve, but I’m not there yet.
• Jace is the best win condition when I’ve established the Moat/Humility lock, which is something I’ve found myself leaning on harder and harder as the deck develops. Cutting one was tough, but decreasing the overall mana needs in the deck was something I was looking to do, and that was someplace to do it. I think in reality, I want three or even four in the deck, because it is that good.
• [card elspeth, knight-errant]Elspeth[/card] is potentially amazing as a 1-of in this deck. Aside from the ability to generate a stream of bodies to hold a Sword, the ultimate ability is crazy good in the Moat deck. Her second ability pairs well with Moat, but is pretty awful with Ensnaring Bridge, so that’s a consideration. It’s also tough to add more four drops into the deck at this point, as I said about Jace.
• Spell Snare is something I really want to make happen.
• Counter Top is becoming more viable and powerful again. It was good when combo was top dog for a minute, and it’s even better now that people are casting Hymn and Misstep all day long. The more people try to push Aether Vial out of the format, the better Counterbalance gets. I think it’s pretty strong, so I’m considering upping the count.
I feel like the deck is on the verge of another major overhaul. It’s entirely possible that I’ll change the direction of the deck away from the base that it sits on today, and move it more toward the style of deck that Drew and Gerry played in Orlando – except with real control cards where their bounce spells reside. As that progresses over the course of the next two weeks, I’ll continue to elaborate for you, because things are heating up in our testing for Providence. I’m positive that some version of blue-white control list will be my choice for that event, now it’s just a matter of tuning.
A Rant on Rating
Over the last week, a number of discussions, articles, tweets, etc have popped up across the net discussing the changes to the system for Nationals qualifications, and on the system of ratings in general. Personally, I rarely pay any attention to my rating at all. I’m not trying to use it to qualify for anything – in fact, my constructed rating is low enough that I’m kind of embarrassed by it. I took 9th in an extended PTQ about two years ago, and that was enough to jump it by over 100 points, which is kind of ridiculous. As for Eternal rating, our local metagame basically trades the same 100 points between the top 35 players over and over, leaving us relatively homogenous. My Limited rating is reasonable for really only playing in our local sealed events each week, but even that pales in comparison to any given wannabe-pro. Much like many of the semi-competitive players I know, the only time I ever actually care about where my rating sits is the few weeks prior to a Grand Prix which I plan to attend. During the month before a Legacy Grand Prix, doubly so.
Imagine my surprise when I checked the ratings updates after SCG Boston and realized I had qualified for a second bye for Providence. My reaction was a mix of excitement and, once I realized what that meant, disappointment. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t checked. What I realized is this – with a total rating of 1966 (my current rating), for every single match I play, I’m potentially risking one bye at Providence. Three byes are fantastic, and in the hands of a competent player, it’s a near lock for a day two appearance. Granted, two byes is not the same thing as three byes. However, two byes is significantly more than one bye, where three is still much better than two, but not by the same margin. Note: this is a statement made by a player who has only ever had a single bye at a Grand Prix. I qualify this statement with the fact that on the subject of relative merit of each bye, I may be talking out of my ass. In terms of entry into a GPT, I’m risking my second bye in the hopes of being one of one or two people to earn three byes. In the case of a 40 player GPT (we should be so lucky), I’m putting one bye at risk for a 2.5% chance of winning a third. In anything less than a GPT, I’m metaphorically pissing away free wins at a major event for pack prizes, because I’m not making up 100 total points in two weeks. So where does that leave me?
In short, I haven’t played in a tournament since Boston. I won’t be playing in another until maybe some grinders before Providence. If I do play in them, it will be more for testing my list in a tournament environment and shaking off any rust than for the hope of another bye. I’m stuck for a month without being able to keep my edge in competitive (face to face) Magic, because my rating is at an awkwardly positive spot. I don’t know how to fix the rating system, and I realize #FirstWorldProblems, etc, but as others have said – any system which actively encourages your players to not play the game is a flawed one. I love Magic, and I love competing both locally and in larger arenas. I’m not a semi-pro trying to Q for some major event. I’m just this guy, trying to get a reasonable marginal advantage at one of the few major events I’m actually planning to go to, and I know for certain that others like me are in similar situations. It’s just a shame.
Enough whining for this week, I’m sorry. It’s just the most pressing issue on my plate today, as I see each opportunity to get tournament practice in with my Providence deck selection come and go. Testing in a living room only goes so far, and there is an inertia that comes with tournament experience and practice. It’s no secret – being able to maintain focus, energy, and tight technical play under tournament conditions is a skill that does wane with disuse, and I don’t want any excuse for poor performance when it counts.
As I said above, I’ll keep you all updated on the progress of the deck prior to the GP, and for those who can’t wait for the next installment of the History of Legacy, rest assured it’s in the works. Obviously as the date of the Legacy Grand Prix approaches, other things are taking priority, but don’t worry, I won’t forget. All good things are coming.
For now, I’ll be here, sitting on two. Memorial Day weekend can’t come soon enough. Until next time, may you be blessed with ratings problems, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!