Grand Prix New Jersey is in the books as the largest Legacy GP of all time, and I’m happy to say I was a part of it. I managed to make Top 16 with an amazing deck list and I’m thankful that I was able to qualify for Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Before I get to discussing GP NJ itself though, I’d like to go through some of my testing process.
After attending SCG Worcester and Eternal Champs, I knew the deck to beat was UR Delver. The deck was consistent, powerful, and incredibly punishing for the unprepared. I was definitely surprised at how much the deck had taken off, as I thought the deck would be fairly beatable once it was known. It had shown several weaknesses in initial testing. First, it struggled against combo. Second, it also struggled against decks that had a plethora of removal spells and their own Treasure Cruises to refuel. Third, it was very difficult to beat the CounterTop lock. I believe that the deck was simply played in such large quantities that these shortcomings were not apparent.
My first explorations with attacking the Treasure Cruise format came in the form of various combo decks. Sneak and Show felt very powerful, but ultimately was just inconsistent enough that it could still lose to its “good matchups.” Storm was more consistent, but it was a bit of a headache to play and I punted several times during a 7-round tournament, which was enough to convince me to drop the deck. So, I knew I had to go back to the only card I could win with: Delver of Secrets.
I had a few options. I ruled out UR Delver for the reasons I listed above, as well as the fact that there was no truly effective way to win the mirror. Umezawa’s Jitte was very good, but it was clunky enough that I didn’t think I could afford to run more than two. BUG Delver was very good, but it definitely had issues with UR Delver. RUG Delver with Young Pyromancer and Tarmogoyf just seemed a bit clunkier and even more vulnerable to cheap removal. But, Tarmogoyf had been overperforming so I just figured that fatties might be the way to go. When my friend Dan Signorini suggested Phyrexian Dreadnought, I laughed it off. But… it seemed too awesome not to try. This is the list I almost ran at the GP:
Phyrexian Dreadnought was definitely a trump, and with Abrupt Decay at an all-time low, I thought it might not be a terrible choice. Swords to Plowshares was an issue, but you had other threats for them to deal with and you also had Sylvan Library to turn their Swords to Plowshares into even more Ancestral Recalls.
Ultimately I decided to put down the deck after I realized how many people were maindecking Pyroblast. Pyroblast was so effective at winning Treasure Cruise mirrors that I realized that I had to play it maindeck if I was going to play Treasure Cruise and there wasn’t very much space in the RUG deck.
So, I went back to my very first Legacy Delver deck, UWR Delver. The deck was solid against the field, but not particularly exciting. The UR Delver matchup was a bit favorable game 1, but post-sideboard it became a lot closer when the UR Delver player boarded in their haymakers like Blood Moon and Price of Progress and had answers to my equipment. Blue Elemental Blast and Kor Firewalker were fairly effective answers, so I was happy to just go ahead and sleeve up the deck a week prior to the tournament and call it a day. I was not particularly excited though, as I felt that my deck last year (BUG Delver with Hymn to Tourach) was better. Indeed, BUG Delver later went on to make a run that year and become the #1 deck to beat. If I had to make numbers up out of thin air, I would say that I had maybe a 5% edge against the top decks with BUG Delver last year and probably closer to a 2% edge this year with UWR Delver. BUG Delver was also a lot more straightforward to pilot, as it was generally clear which role you would be assuming in each matchup. UWR Delver tended to alternate between tempo and control depending on the cards you drew, and it was difficult to evaluate when and how to use Wasteland as it was a legitimate mana source in a deck with equipment.
I wasn’t able to find a better option, so I settled on a list and drove up to Northern Virginia from Richmond to test Thursday night. Lo and behold, one of my friends, James Pogue, had a breakthrough: Play CounterTop in the sideboard. After testing the matchup against UR Delver post-sideboard, it became clear that it was the real deal. I played against UR Delver a whopping six times at the GP and only dropped a single game. Five of us ended up settling on very similar lists for the GP, and I can say that I’ve never felt like I had a better deck metagamed for the tournament. Out of the five people who played the deck, four made Day 2 and three cashed. Our collective match win percentage Day 1 (not counting byes) was a whopping 80%. Here’s my list:
In over half of my matches, I boarded out my Dazes and my Delvers and morphed into a control deck. This strategy was incredibly effective, as few saw it coming. By having a boatload of removal spells, we could effectively play the control role because we had very resilient threats in Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis. Taking out Delver of Secrets made their removal spells significantly worse, and the addition of Counterbalance + Top was enough to take over a variety of different matchups.
Even more strikingly, the CounterTop package was very effective against Miracles. I realized that we were almost better suited to play the control role than the hardest control deck in the format because we had just as many counterspells and even more card advantage than they did. Out of the thirteen matches I played, I sided in Counterbalance in nine of them. The deck is the real deal, and I’m firmly convinced that the UWR decks with delve spells, along with UWR Miracles, are the best decks in the current Legacy format. Unlike UR Delver, these decks have a solid game plan against combo in the form of counterspells and hate bears. They are also very flexible, as they can overload on removal or permission in games two and three as necessary.
Instead of giving a round-by-round recap of the tournament, I’ll try to delve into the mirror match I played on camera in round 15 against my friend James. Hopefully, you will find these games as interesting and educational as I did. You can find the video here.
James wins the die roll and leads with a Volcanic Island. I draw, see a hand with excess lands so I save a fetchland for my Brainstorm and lay a Tundra and pass. He Wastes, which I am fine with. I play a land and pass again. On his turn, he goes ahead and lands a Stoneforge Mystic, and searches up Umezawa’s Jitte. In general, the first choice pre-sideboard should be Umezawa’s Jitte. There are too many ways of simply killing the Stoneforge Mystic and stranding the Batterskull, whereas Umezawa’s Jitte + True-Name Nemesis generally wins the match.
I quickly Plow the Stoneforge Mystic in case he already has Batterskull in hand, and then go ahead and jam my own Stoneforge Mystic. I am deliberating not playing around Daze here in order to gain some information. If he Dazes, I am okay with letting Stoneforge be countered because the real haymakers game 1 are the True-Name Nemeses and Treasure Cruises, and I want a read of what he has in his hand. He declines to Daze, so it’s likely that he does not have one.
This ends up being critical a couple turns later when I tank on whether or not to drop my own Jitte. I know he can cast Treasure Cruise or True-Name Nemesis on the following turn, but not casting the Jitte leaves me fairly behind tempo-wise if I topdeck Delver or True-Name Nemesis later and want to equip the Jitte as soon as possible. Furthermore, I have a Force of Will, Daze, and a Red Elemental Blast in my hand, so I feel fairly safe.
I decide to take the aggressive tempo play and I jam my own Jitte. I also decide to Wasteland his Wasteland so that I can maintain an untapped red source for my REB. James ends up going for the Treasure Cruise, and I tap out for the Red Elemental Blast. He does not Daze here, so when he passes back the turn, I happily jam my topdecked True-Name Nemesis. Now, he is very much on the back foot as the first player with True-Name Nemesis + Umezawa’s Jitte generally wins. I decide to Force his Stoneforge Mystic because a Batterskull might make me leave True-Name on defense. He Forces back, but I remove his Stoneforge Mystic so his best hope is topdecking a True-Name Nemesis the next turn. His draw step is a blank and he quickly concedes.
My sideboard plan is risky. In hindsight, I think I could have kept one additional Lightning Bolt for a Flusterstorm, as having only three ways of answering a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull could be very dicey. On the other hand, I know James is far more likely to tutor up Jitte, which means that I don’t have to kill the Stoneforge Mystic.
The rationale for siding out the Delvers is simple: they simply don’t do enough and are a fairly miserable topdeck during the later stages of the game. It is far too easily trumped by Umezawa’s Jitte and Batterskull. I believe Swords to Plowshares is better than Lightning Bolt because being able to Swords a Germ can be surprisingly relevant. In addition, Lightning Bolts fill up your opponent’s graveyard while Swords to Plowshares does not, and this might actually make a difference, as the first person to resolve Treasure Cruise is advantaged. The equipment removal and CounterTop package comes in, as well as countermagic to fight over key spells. Most games boil down to True-Name Nemesis, so having more counterspells is always good. The Sword of Feast and Famine comes in because it’s needed in the arms race when both players have ways to remove equipment. It also happens to stop Germs.
The second game begins much like the first one. He casts a Stoneforge Mystic for Jitte, I Swords it and then jam my Stoneforge Mystic and tutor up Batterskull. I had the second Stoneforge Mystic in my hand, so if he did not have the removal spell, Batterskull could come into play unimpeded. If he did have the removal spell, I was fine with just casting the second Stoneforge Mystic and tutoring up the Jitte. I chose to play the Wasteland on turn 2 instead of either of my other lands because I was up on cards and had spare lands in my hand, so I was actually baiting a Wasteland.
On his turn, he kills my Mystic and then Ponders and decides to keep a risky three that don’t have a land. His read is that I don’t have many lands in my hand because I laid a Wasteland, and that he would probably be able to cantrip into mana if I wasted him once. I end up jamming my second Stoneforge Mystic and then cutting him off red with my Wasteland. In general, wasting the red sources is correct because of the power of Pyroblast. Furthermore, when games go super long, it’s not unheard of for one side to draw three Wastelands. In which case, cutting your opponent entirely out of a color is an incredibly powerful play. On his turn, he Brainstorms into a land and kills my Mystic.
I untap and decide to jam Treasure Cruise while he has no way to Pyroblast it. After a counterwar, I win the fight but unfortunately end up facing a Stoneforge Mystic with no answer in hand. I cast Top and top into a Wasteland to cut off his white source.
He drops a Jitte and swings for 1. He does topdeck the white source the following turn, but he chooses not to Wasteland which allows me to drop my own Batterskull. He equips his Jitte and then attacks into mine. I definitely should have blocked here, as I did not have the removal spell for his Germ at the ready. Trading Germs and leaving him with a Stoneforge Mystic and three lands and a Jitte with two counters on it would not be ideal, but I would not have been able to attack with my own Germ because his Germ would have won combat. If I make this play, a Swords to Plowshares or True-Name Nemesis would stabilize it for me.
Luckily for me, my Ponder yields an amazing card: Wear // Tear. I eliminate his Batterskull and swing with my own. Here, James decides to Bolt my Germ. I actually make yet another critical miscalculation here as I decide I would rather save the Force of Will for a True-Name Nemesis. While a True-Name Nemesis on his side would have likely swung the game, I was definitely on the back foot against Stoneforge Mystic + Jitte as I wouldn’t have sufficient time to recast the Batterskull. But, my luck holds again and I manage to top and find a Council’s Judgment. Now, the game is fairly locked up as I have a Force of Will for all of his topdecks and I have Batterskull + Jitte going. I decide not to counter his Treasure Cruise as there are only a few cards left in his deck that matter, and it ends up paying off. I Force of Will his Council’s Judgment (which he would have drawn with Top the next turn regardless) and the game is over as I drop Counterbalance.
I definitely made several errors during this match, but I’m glad I have this opportunity to learn from those moments. Even the best players in the world have space to improve, and I know I have a long, long way to go.
This was a bittersweet tournament. Making the Pro Tour is an awesome feeling, but I wish I could have done it without facing my friends Dan and James. They, along with the rest of the people from Curio Cavern, have been my mentors and I would never have gotten so far without their help. People have been complimenting me on being a couple steps ahead of the metagame, but it’s more like I know people who are two steps ahead of the metagame. I’m planning on kicking some serious ass at the Pro Tour for their sake and for mine, and I’m sure we’ll break the metagame for GP Seattle again next year.
Sincere thanks to everybody who helped me test and rooted for me. You make everything worth it.