I ignored the college hipsters, the various ethnic groups, the drugged out scene kids, and even the retro-ish types with band pins and torn clothing that looked like they stepped right out of the eighties, right out of SLC Punk. I struggled my through the groups to a seat somewhere near the middle of the pack. I was on the red line, headed towards Chinatown, and I was in for a long ride.
I pulled out my most recent list of the Pestermite control deck that I had ran in Atlanta. I had been desperately trying to improve the matchup against RG Scapeshift, and a testing session against recent open winner Matt Landstrom was fresh on my mind. Unfortunately, my new “tech” of Spreading Seas wasn’t carrying its weight, and I only had six hours before the PTQ to fix the problem. I had talked with Ari Lax about RG, and he liked Mindlock Orb, but he was also running Spreading Seas. Maybe that, since Faeries had more disruption, the card was better in that deck, or maybe he wanted it for utility in other matchups. I wished I’d asked him. It seemed that, no matter how hard I stared at the list in front of me, rearranging the numbers in every which way, I couldn’t find anything that looked good against Scapeshift on paper. My head jerked up when a shout caught my attention.
“This here is the greatest game on earth!”
For some reason, I studied the shouter. Perhaps my subconscious thought he might be talking about Magic. The man, featuring a heavily patched jacket and missing his front row of teeth, had nonetheless found a group of college students to politely listen to his plug. He had three dixie cups on an unfolded magazine. His hands blurred with speed, and a small orange object flickered between the cups. I smiled. I had lived in Chicago long enough to know that at any given time, someone was getting hustled. Three card monteys on the street corner, pirated DVDs being sold out of barbershops, all the way up to the politicians taking their kickbacks. It was one of the reasons I liked living in the city. For a lot of gamers, the hustle is how they survive the ups and downs of the tournament life, and it’s also my weak area, the spot in my game that needs the most improvement.
I turned back to my deck list, being interrupted only once more when a fight broke out. My seat-neighbor handed me a bottle of Corona, telling me to “hold this so it don’t get broken on some fool’s head” before jumping up. Fortunately for me, and the Corona, a large black man separated the group and taught them how to be cool.
By the end of the ride, I had settled on this:
I changed the sideboard from its previous (and too large) incarnation:
The idea was that I’d be able to slow my opponent down with counters long enough to see more Runed Halos and Mindlock Orbs than he had removal for, potentially Jace-locking him out of the game.
After getting off the train, I immediately got lost in Chinatown. One man would give me directions, pointing me “West.” Then, fifteen minutes later, another would give me a similar direction, but with the opposite “West.” Fun times.
After an hour of wandering, I arrived at Steve’s house at four in the morning, which gave us just enough time to pick up another grinder, Jack Dobbin, and drive the five hours to the event in St. Louis on time. The venue was small, the crowd was even smaller, and it would be a relaxing seven rounds before the cut to the top eight.
Round one: Jund
At one point in game one, he Terminated a manland while I had a Wall of Omens enchanted with a Splinter Twin in play. I stared at the Terminate, and then down to the Cryptic Command in hand, and let it resolve. Next turn I animated another Celestial Colonnade, and it was as if the Terminate had never existed.
After the game, he explained that he was running Gindy’s list, and showed me that he had boarded out Maelstrom Pulse in an effort to become more aggressive. I was reminded of something Owen Turtenwald once said about how he typically had the edge in the Jund mirror because his opponents would typically destroy their deck in sideboarding.
I’m not pointing out my opponent’s mistakes to poke fun, or to try and look better by comparison, but because they contain valuable lessons. Properly identifying the key cards in a matchup is important in both game play and sideboarding. If you have to pick up a deck cold, as my opponent did, then boarding fewer cards rather than more is probably ideal. The difference between his having zero Maelstrom Pulse, as opposed to any other number, made his cascades much less threatening.
Round two: Andrew Ellis with Vengevine Conscription
I recognized Andrew from the open circuit. Here, he was playing a Bant Sovereigns deck that he and some buddies had narrowly missed day two of Atlanta with. Game one went like the typical Noble Hierarch matchups do, with Volcanic Fallout doing most of the work backed up by spot removal.
In game two he had to mulligan to five, and was never really in it despite resolving an Elspeth, which is usually a problem card.
Round three: Faeries.
In game one we both cast some spells and drew some cards, but I never saw a Volcanic Fallout. When playing a control deck against Faeries, it is helpful to draw Fallouts.
In game two he opened with some discard, getting rid of my spot removal, and began beating down with manlands. At one point I resolved a Jace and brainstormed, hiding a Volcanic Fallout on top of my library. He killed Jace and Thoughtseized away a Lightning Bolt, leaving me at six life with quad Mana Leak and a Splinter Twin in hand.
I drew for the turn and shipped it back.
He laid a land, his eighth, and activated a Creeping Tar Pit before tanking about whether or not he should activate the second. My face was still, but my mind raced. If he didn’t activate that second land, I was stone dead. I would have to burn the Volcanic Fallout this turn, and then I would need to rip a non-Fallout removal spell for the other manland. Why wasn’t he snap activating that land? I knew that, were I in his position, I wouldn’t give my round two PTQ opponent the credit for hiding the Fallout with Jace, but that was definitely what he was considering.
Calmly, I turned to my lands and sorted them into Volcanic Fallout mana, making sure my opponent noticed, but not overdoing it. He smirked, activated his second land, and sent them both in. I cast my card.
“You had the Fallout?!” The shock on his face was worth the five hour car ride.
“The double bluff!” I said, laughing.
Several Jaces ended up in our graveyards before I stuck a Splinter Twin on a Wall of Omens, which drew me into another Jace, which in turn started Fatesealing him. When he didn’t scoop, or increase his speed of play, I had to call the judge to watch our match. I dropped a Runed Halo on Mistbind Clique and another on Vendilion Clique, further eliminating his outs. When turns were called I used my Jace ultimate as a Mind Twist, ensuring that my manlands didn’t have their throats slit as I bashed him down to six, and then finished him off.
Round four: Adam Boyd with Jund Scapeshift
I ate a pile of Valakut triggers game one, but managed to aggro him out with multiple counters and Pestermites in game two.
Then, in game three I had the nuts of turn one Spell Pierce, turn two Wall of Omens, turn three Runed Halo, and turn four Mindlock Orb. Here he Thoughtseized away my Jace, leaving me with a Cryptic Command in hand, but I ripped another Jace like a master and fatesealed him out of the game.
Adam played tight with an innovative list, and I was unsurprised to see him top eight the PTQ, though he lost to RG Scapeshift in the quarterfinals. Here’s his list:
Steam is rising from my keyboard as I type this; that’s just how hot this tech is. I’m not sure Inquisition is better than Duress here, as Duress can hit Cryptic Command, but I bet Inquisition’s ability to hit Spellstutter Sprite is relevant. Also, I wonder if some number of Primeval Titans might be fit into the maindeck, despite its inability to be tutored for, and I think I would like three, but preferably four, Volcanic Fallout in the maindeck.
Of course, anytime anyone asks me what they should play in Extended, I tell them something with four Volcanic Fallout in it. In this metagame full of Noble Hierarchs and Bitterblossoms, just playing the card in your seventy five is a strong first step to taking down your PTQ.
Round five: Summoning Trap
It was my opponent’s first PTQ, but he played tight.
In game one I cast a Volcanic Fallout and backed it up with pinpoint removal and planeswalkers.
In game two I made the mistake of boarding in Runed Halo, drew multiples of them, realized they were useless, and was never really in the game despite taking out his early plays.
Game three went like game one, only this time I cast two Volcanic Fallouts.
Round six: Faeries
My opponent was the only undefeated, and was actually in a place to scoop to me and draw into the next round. He said he would consider it, but that we should play some games first.
The games weren’t particularly close, as I had fantastic draws involving multiple Fallouts and planeswalkers while he drew poorly, stumbling on his mana.
Round seven: Faeries
We ID in, and I make it as second seed at 5-0-2. That meant I played Jack Dobbin, the third guy in my car, in the quarters. He was running 4cc, and the games weren’t particularly close. In game one he broke parity by chaining Esper Charms, and in game two I had an awkward start with only one blue source and double Cryptic Command. I drew one planeswalker to his three, despite bringing in the Ajanis. After the match, I wished one of my Vendilion Cliques was a miser’s Venser, the Sojourner just for the control mirror. In fact, the Cliques could be cut completely to move one of the Spell Pierces back to the board, perhaps adding in a Sea Gate Oracle to the maindeck. I mean, Splinter Twin ends up on Wall of Omens often enough, and then the deck would have five sweet blink targets for Venser.
Jack went on to lose a close semifinal match to RG Scapeshift, being double runnered out in the third game, to end his eleventh PTQ top eight. As someone who has only played in four PTQs lifetime, that number boggles my mind.
After the tournament, Jack brought up the idea of going to eat at Pi Pizza, a hipsterish place in downtown St. Louis. On the way there I realized I should’ve sold my top eight box to someone outside the store, but had completely forgot. So good at the game, so bad at the hustle.
When I heard that the president had ordered Pi Pizza in from the White House, I knew it must be good. The man’s from Chicago, he must know good pizza. The food lived up to the hype, and soon my mouth was full of still-steaming garlic marinara, some of the best mozzeralla I’ve ever tasted, match sausage, artichoke, and black olives. Jack claimed that Pizza Luche’s from up in Duluth was better, and I’ll admit that Luche’s is as good as it gets for a more Italian-style pizza, but my love for the deep dish knows no limits.
The quality of the drink blew my mind. When I asked prices, the waiter had to go look it up, as the menu changed weekly. We all ordered drinks from Boulevard, a brewery in Kansas City, and I chose a chocolaty drink at 9.1%. I felt a little hesitant because every beer I’d had with that much alcohol had tasted like muddied vodka. With my first sip, the rush of chocolate was dizzying, as though I was drinking a cake but without the sickly richness, and with a resounding aftertaste. Hours after we finished eating, I could still taste the beer. It was hands down the best brew I’ve ever had, and at five dollars a drink I would snap try anything Boulevard, and highly recommend Pi’s if you’re ever in St. Louis.
We got back to Chicago around four in the morning, and I was faced with another late night trip on the red line.
“What are my chances of getting stabbed?” I asked.
“Not that great,” Steve said.
“Higher than zero,” Jack added, helpfully.
Fortunately, the train was much quieter, and the rows of sleeping homeless were a nice contrast to the rambunctious crowd that I had had to wade through on my way down.
I used the time to crunch some numbers (mostly relating to the manabase and the power level of the average draw) on the Legacy list I had been fine tuning all week:
Tezzeret is the real deal. His ultimate leads to kills where you don’t attack the opponent at all. This is relevant in legacy, where you can be locked out of combat via a Glacial Chasm on turn one, or maybe your opponent just has larger creatures than you. Tezz is always nutty when he resolves, but particularly against the prison and control decks.
Signal Pest made an appearance in the top sixteen of Indianapolis in Timothy Morrison’s affinity list. A one mana artifact lord with evasion for Cranial Plating? Sign me up. Note that, with a Thopter Foundry in play, his battlecry ability gets silly fast.
Another unorthodox choice is the running of fewer than four Arcbound Ravagers, which longtime affinity players will immediately balk at. However, the card adds less tempo than Cranial Plating, less inevitability than Dark Confidant, less synergy than Thopter Foundry, and less utility than Phyrexian Revoker. That said, the hail mary all-in on Ornithopter, or Signal Pest, or thopter token, or Etched Champion still wins some games, so having 1-3 Ravagers is still correct.
A friend that plays the rock, Chefy on Magic-League, advised me that four Disciple of the Vault was the minimum, as it was a threatening card for the Pernicious Deed decks, but after much testing I became much happier with a list that overloaded on Pithing Needle effects instead. Having the added versatility of being able to hit an Engineered Explosives, or Maze of Ith (though not with Phyrexian Revoker,) or Sensei’s Divining Top proved crucial in testing.
One consideration that I’m still not a hundred percent on is the inclusion of Blinkmoth Nexus over it’s newer, more poisony brother from Mirrodin Besieged. While Inkmoth led to some turn three kills out of the opening hand, it wasn’t as good past turn four as Blinkmoth, and I prefer to tune for the strongest overall draws in comparison to the most busted goldfish.
It took me a while to come around on Etched Champion, but there isn’t a better Cranial Plating target, and this is still a Plating deck. Meanwhile, the card gives Zoo, Goblins, and spot removal fits.
While Legacy is too broad of a format to give a complete sideboarding guide, I can give you a list of cards that are cuttable so that you don’t destroy the deck in boarding.
1-3 Ornithopter (You can go down to one on the draw, but I never drop below two on the play, where its interactions with both Cranial Plating and Springleaf Drum are more important)
1 Thopter Foundry (Usually just against combo)
1-2 Tezzeret (I pull one for the Jitte fairly often against aggro, but it is the most powerful card in the deck)
That’s all for this week. If you have any specific questions, feel free to post in the forums. If you play one of the lists, send me a message on Facebook or at CalebDurward@hotmail.com to let me know how it went!
Thanks for reading,