I had the tools in hand, I just needed the mana. My opponent opened with an island, but my [card]Past in Flames[/card] would let me fight through a [card]Force of Will[/card]. I dropped [card]Spoils of the Vault[/card] on his end step, and he let it resolve. I named [card]Dark Ritual[/card], and started flipping.
Twenty cards later, my UB control opponent had wracked up his first turn one kill. Most players might doubt their card choice, their deck choice, their abilities, their luck. They might curse the ground or the heavens. I might’ve too, if I weren’t having so much fun.
Back track two days previous. The SCG Nashville Open weekend started with a nine hour drive, and we left at seven at night. We arrived at four, passed out in a pile of magic grinders, and woke up at seven. I rolled out of bed, fastened my lips around an energy drink, and gulped greedily. We stumbled into the car, and made it with plenty of time.
This is the list I registered for Standard:[deck]8 Island
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
3 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Solemn Simulacrum
2 Consecrated Sphinx
2 Grave Titan
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Doom Blade
1 Go for the Throat
2 Mana Leak
1 Tribute to Hunger
1 Twisted Image
2 Victim of Night
1 Karn Liberated
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Black Sun’s Zenith
3 Azure Mage
1 Volition Reins
2 Sorin’s Thirst
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Black Sun’s Zenith[/deck]
It’s similar to the list I jammed in Indy, but has some dramatic changes. At the time, I thought I needed a semblance of draw-go to have a chance in the control mirror, but this wasn’t the case at all. [card]Mana Leak[/card]s were cut to three, then two, as I only wanted to draw one per game, and much of the time it wasn’t necessary. Instant speed cantrips were cut for [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card]s and [card]Divination[/card]s, which gave me some realistic winning lines in the control mirror while not damaging my aggro matchups. In fact, I managed to squeeze in a few more removal spells, and the additional synergy with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] paid off throughout the day.
The maindeck Nihil Spellbombs seem revolutionary, but they’re a callback to cantripping, graveyard hating baubles of formats past. [card]Phyrexian Furnace[/card] as a maindeck answer to [card]Hammer of Bogardan[/card]. [card]Scrabbling Claws[/card] mitigating [card]Patriarch’s Bidding[/card] and opposing [card]Eternal Dragon[/card]s. Right now, the red decks are running [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card], and an on board Spellbomb can blank multiple of a control opponent’s best cards. And it cycles? Yes please.[card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] had tested well, but underperformed in Indy, and I was in the process of moving it to the sideboard when my friends stopped me. At first I was stubborn, because I tend to trust my test results highly, but they didn’t give up, and a few minutes later I had switched to [card]Volition Reins[/card]. Little did I know what a huge impact this would have on my tournament.
The early rounds blurred together as hoard upon hoard of creatures died to my swaths of removal. There might have been a game where I felt under pressure. I might’ve even lost one to a [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] ultimate, but for the most part my deck did what it was designed to do and ate the creature decks alive. Three RDW and two [card]Tempered Steel[/card].
In round six I lost to Solar Flare after my opponent stuck a [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] in game three. I stared down the top tables, a field of control mirrors, and realized I didn’t have any other creature decks to munch on. Had I made a huge mistake? Were my changes not enough to make the control mirrors winnable?
Round seven was a feature match against Edgar Flores with Solar Flare. The last time we played was over a year ago in Boston, where I’d beaten his UB control list with [card]Pawn of Ulamog[/card] Vampires.
In game one I flooded out while he resolved some titans.
In game two, we felt each other out for a bit and handled each other’s threats. He resolved a [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card] and made us start discarding. Eventually, I [card]Volition Reins[/card]ed his planeswalker and used it to ultimate him, splitting it such that he would drop to four lands and I would get back either a [card]Grave Titan[/card] or a Consecrated Sphinx, depending on which [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] he kept. He scooped.
Game three began with me playing a few creatures and him resolving a Liliana. He went to reanimate a [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] with two lands up. I leaked, and he leaked back.
Bam. Volition Reins took his Wurmcoil, and my [card solemn simulacrum]Solemn[/card] and [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] ate his Liliana. My newly found ten power worth of creatures ate his life total in a few short turns.
I wished Edgar luck tomorrow, and he shook my hand before splitting. I felt a lot different after that match, like I’d gained a piece of my mental game puzzle that I’d been searching for for a long time. Besides Caw-Blade, I had never really felt comfortable in a control mirror. Kind of crazy considering the constant grinding, all while shifting decks every chance I got. That’s what happens when Wizards prints a blue [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]. I remember how, at the end of that Standard season, most people eventually gave in and ran the card. I wasn’t about to make that mistake, and I recommend you don’t either. Play the best Snapcaster deck you can. You’ll thank me later.
Round eight was a camera match against a friend, Drew Idoux, running Alex Bertoncini’s list that Christian Valenti took to a second place finish. Our games were pretty epic, and too detailed to describe, but it was probably my best match to ever get caught on camera. Volition Reins once again proved its worth.
Round nine I played a UB mirror match, only he had [card]Think Twice[/card]s and [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card]s. Both games revolved around me getting ahead on resources and sticking a Grave Titan, him [card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card]ing my Titan, and me [card]Victim of Night[/card]ing the Metamorph.
Round ten: ID with David Thomas.
David hadn’t had time to do all the math, so he assumed we would have to play it out, as he was X-0-2. I was ninety percent sure he would make it, and he trusted me enough to accept the draw. Now I was locked into top eight, but not able to enjoy it. I asked to see the standings again, as our result slip was turned in, and went over the math. Now I was even more sure, but there was still that chance that things could go awry.
The names were read over the sound system one by one, but I didn’t celebrate my name or clap for anyone else. I didn’t even breathe regularly until they called David in the eighth slot.
Quarterfinals: Christian Valenti with Solar Flare.
As happy as I was to see another Channel Fireball shirt in the top eight, playing a friend in the quarterfinals wasn’t exactly ideal. While I think our draws decided the match, Christian played tighter than me, and he earned the win.
I ran the [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card] on faith without any testing, and it was garbage all day. Another copy of any other card in the deck would’ve been more useful, particularly [card]Divination[/card], which overperformed. Flashing that card back in a control mirror feels like casting [card]Tidings[/card].
Going forward, GR ramp is receiving a lot of hype, and this should change the board in a number of ways. There needs to be room for an additional pair of [card]Flashfreeze[/card]s, so cutting the [card]Sorin’s Thirst[/card]s, which were a little overkill anyway, makes sense. To compensate, the [card]Twisted Image[/card] in the maindeck could be turned into a second [card]Spellskite[/card], or perhaps the [card]Negate[/card], which would in turn free up room in the board for another Spellskite. That said, I like keeping the Image, too.
If the GR matchup is more difficult than expected, adding a [card]Memoricide[/card] to the sideboard might help.
I got much better rest the second night, and actually had some energy when I woke up the next day. We rocked out to the randomness that the radio provided, including some of the most ridiculous rap music I’ve ever heard. Naturally, the only way to listen to such tunes is by rolling down all the windows and setting the volume level to “obnoxious,” to the amusement of our fellow Magic players when we pulled into the event site.
This is what I shuffled up for the Legacy portion:[deck]2 Underground Sea
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Volcanic Island
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Polluted Delta
3 Lotus Petal
2 Seething Song
3 Past in Flames
4 Dark Ritual
3 Burning Wish
4 Rite of Flame
4 Brain Freeze
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Cabal Ritual
4 Spoils of the Vault
1 Past in Flames
1 Tendrils of Agony
4 Empty the Warrens
3 Goblin Bushwhacker
1 Wash Out
1 Diminishing Returns[/deck]
Since I wrote about the deck last week, I’ll just mention the additions to the sideboard. I talked to my friends that had experience with storm combo, and they recommended [card]Pyroblast[/card] over [card]Pact of Negation[/card] (which works better with [card]Empty the Warrens[/card]) and [card]Deathmark[/card] over a bounce spell.
My round one opponent was Joey Mispagel with Reanimator. I knew Joey as a solid winning player on the Open circuit and no slouch. Some weekends, the Legacy portion is softer than the Standard. I got the feeling that this wasn’t going to be one of those.
I won the first game on turn three after [card brain freeze]Brain Freezing[/card] myself and flashing back a [card]Past in Flames[/card]. In game two I lost to a turn two [card iona, shield of emeria]Iona[/card]. I started game three by dumping ten Empty the Warrens tokens into play turn one. Joey cast [card]Careful Study[/card], binning [card]Elish Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card]. I asked him if he had the reanimation spell, and he shook his head no. I cracked in for ten and passed the turn, begging him not to slow roll me. He showed me a grip of brickety bricks, and I sighed in relief.
A relevant note is that he was holding a [card]Faerie Macabre[/card] at the end of that game, which would’ve made a Past in Flames win almost impossible. So far, the sideboard plan was proving effective.
Round two I faced Riley Curran, eventual top eighter, jamming his build of Elves. We’d actually sat across from each other in the player’s meeting, and I’d shown him my list. When we shuffled up for our match, I asked him what he was jamming, and he told me.
“Fair’s fair,” he said.
I appreciated it. The idea of sportsmanship, an even match, and the like are very much a part of the competitive magic scene, no matter how many stories you hear about someone getting scummed.
In game one, I fizzled on a Brain Freeze (for eighteen, I think,) and he punished me with a turn four kill.
Game two I won with ten tokens, a kicked [card]Goblin Bushwhacker[/card], and a tutored up [card]Deathmark[/card] to force through lethal.
Game three he mulled while I dropped sixteen tokens onto the board.
Round three was a camera match against Robert Graves with a UB Snapcaster deck. In game one I tried fighting through his countermagic. I didn’t have enough red to cast Past in Flames and flash it back, but I knew from [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] that he had a [card]Force of Will[/card] and a blue card. I jammed [card]Spoils of the Vault[/card], which he would have to counter if I had [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card] in my deck, since it represented lethal. He looked at the storm count and said “ok.”
I was a little startled, to say the least. I knew Robert Graves was no dummy. Then he looked down at his life total.
“Oh shoot, I cast a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] this game! I suppose I shouldn’t have let that resolve.”
As it was, I couldn’t win, but if I went back in time I would still give him credit. I would vocally confirm life totals before casting the Spoils, however.
In game two I dumped ten goblins onto the board on turn one, and he packed it in. Game three started with me having exactly enough mana to protect Spoils of the Vault with Pyroblast and leave three black and a red floating for Empty the Warrens. He forced, I blasted, and then flipped over twenty cards to kill myself on camera.
A lot of people condemned my card choice after this match, but if I’d had any other tutor there I would’ve had to crack my [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] in response to have enough mana for the Empty the Warrens, which would’ve prevented me from holding up [card]Pyroblast[/card] and I would’ve lost to his Force of Will on the spot. Spoils gave me a chance to win when no other card would’ve, and that’s incredible.
To my juvenile glee, my fourth round opponent was named Jordan Fish.
“Do you have any dice?” I asked.
“Certainly,” Jordan replied.
“Man, what a fish,” I said.
I immediately apologized for my poor taste (all the while chuckling at my own half-witticism, mind you,) but he took the joke well.
“It’s the worst when I play Folk,” he said.
I just about lost it. Maybe it was the caffeine overload, or maybe I was having entirely too much fun, but I laughed easier than I normally would’ve.
Mr. Fish was jamming a [card]Force of Will[/card] deck with some [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]s and green creatures, but I never really got to see most of it. I comboed him out game one, he won game two off of multiple counters and an early Clique, and I took down the decider with a pile of goblin tokens against his board of [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card].
Round five I played against Junk. Game one I had a [card]Burning Wish[/card] hand that could make a pile of tokens on turn two, which I thought was pretty good until I Gitaxian Probed him and saw his hand that contained a [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card], but no black source. I crunched some numbers and estimated I had a better chance of comboing off with [card]Diminishing Returns[/card] than winning with a pile of tokens, and I ended up drawing into the Brain Freeze combo and winning handily from there.
He opened game two with a turn zero [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card] and a turn two [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card]. I looked down at my hand, which would’ve produced a good fourteen tokens or so and didn’t much care about the Leyline, and started recalculating. At his end of turn I cast Spoils of the Vault for Burning Wish, losing a mercifully low four life. On my turn I wished for Deathmark. He jammed a [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], and I spent my turn [card]Brainstorm[/card]ing and killing his Teeg. This was a risky play, as if he had a second Teeg he could’ve punished me, but I knew my mana was going to be tight.
He cracked in and shipped the turn with two cards in hand. I did the math and realized I could make sixteen tokens. Halfway through going off, I cantripped into the Brain Freeze combo, and decided that he could always rip an out to the tokens, but milling my whole library and then flashing back a Burning Wish for [card]Wash Out[/card] on his Leyline, allowing the Tendrils of Agony win, was safer. I went for it, milling myself down to roughly fifteen cards in my library. I put a Past in Flames on the stack with one red floating, an Empty the Warrens in hand, and a Lion’s Eye Diamond in play. I intended to chain rituals and [card]Manamorphose[/card]s, but he responded by untapping his Knight of the Reliquary with [card]Scryb Ranger[/card] and using the Knight’s ability to find a [card]Bojuka Bog[/card], threatening to shut me out of the game.
I crumpled in my seat. What had I done? I could’ve just made sixteen tokens. Why didn’t I go for it? Now I’d punted, lost, thrown away the game. I only had a few cards left, and without much life. Should I scoop so that we have time for game three? No, he’ll kill me soon enough, I thought, and I could still chain some cantrips together and salvage a win. Is there anything I can do here?
There. The win, staring me in the face. I swept my graveyard to the side and announced that, with the Past in Flames on the stack, I was going to crack my Lion’s Eye Diamond. The Past in Flames resolved, Empty the Warrens gained flashback, and flash it back I did, gaining twenty two tokens that lethaled him next turn.
I fumbled over deboarding, as my hands were shaking. I’d gone from utter defeat to the height of victory in a matter of seconds, experiencing the full gamut of emotion along the way. I had pulled out an exciting win with an exciting deck, and I could feel it.
Afterward, my opponent pointed out that had he waited for the Past in Flames to resolve, instead responding to the Rite of Flame, then I wouldn’t have had a way to win. Sure, I could respond by cracking the Lion’s Eye Diamond, flashing back a Seething Song, and hoping to cantrip into something sweet, but with a Leyline of Sanctity in play, I would have to cantrip into my last Empty the Warrens to get there. Sketchy, at best.
There I was, at 4-1, with a mere three rounds remaining. A mere couple of wins would set me up for another top eight, and a pair of losses would prevent me from cashing at all. Maybe it was the caffeine, but I couldn’t stop jumping, grinning. I was a kid again, and I’d just top eighted my first PTQ.
Sure, I was doing well, but that wasn’t it. I felt different. My matches were exciting. Everyone had hate, and I had a pile of decisions to make, all of them relevant. I had been grinding so long, I didn’t notice when the excitement started to go, the adrenaline ebb. Now, every casting of Spoils of the Vault swayed my entire tournament, an instant speed game of Russian Roulette for the low, low cost of a black mana.
In the sixth round, I sat down across from David Thomas, who I had drawn with the day before. I met David in the swiss rounds of Grand Prix Atlanta. I was playing Pester Twin, and he was playing 5cc. We had a Jace war, which he won, leaving three mana up on my turn. I had to go for it, he had an [card]Esper Charm[/card] on the [card]Splinter Twin[/card], but I had a second [card]Pestermite[/card] to untap the first, comboing him off by making infinity faeries at instant speed. I knocked him out of the money that day, but we’ve shared a few Open top eights since then.
Dave was playing Lion’s Eye Diamond Dredge, which is what he’s known for in Legacy. Between his higher turn one kill potential and pile of [card]Cabal Therapy[/card]s I felt like a dog, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I had the fire.
Then I mulled to five. He dumped his hand turn one, stripping away my Burning Wish with a Therapy, and I couldn’t put together a kill.
In game two I kept a reasonable turn two kill hand, playing a land and passing the turn. In his turn he triple Therapyd me and dropped an Iona into play.
Sometimes, the fire can only get you so far.
The next round was a UB control opponent, and the match was a blur of discard, countermagic, and [card]Stifle[/card]s. His plan was to dodge aggro, and it was working.
In the last round I was paired up against another grinder, Jason Brinkman, since I had best breakers (70% at X-3 is pretty good.) He asked for the scoop, and I obliged.
Overall, I had a powerful list, and I played it reasonably well, but I didn’t run as hot as I needed to. Such is Magic. In regards to the list, cutting a Goblin Bushwacker for another Burning Wish target makes sense, as I rarely wanted to board in that many of the card anyway.
A few of my friends want me to work on BUG Snapcaster with them, so I’ll probably be writing my next article on it. So far, my list doesn’t look like what’s already out there, so tune in next week to catch the latest brew.
Thanks for reading,