After SCG Edison, I decided to take a break from control for a while, and began brewing with High Tide. For a few weeks, the deck was well poised as a serious contender in Legacy, and was beating virtually everything I could throw at it. If this were two years ago, I’d have jammed this deck for weeks with no second thoughts, because it would have kept on winning the whole time. Fortunately for the format, it’s not two years ago, and there is so much innovation going on in Legacy right now, that you must adapt constantly, lest you be weeks behind and stone dead. I decided that High Tide had far too much of a target on its back, and began to test something that could both beat it, and beat other decks, too.
I began with my CounterTop shell from Edison, of course, as I had very few issues with that deck during the course of that event. However, I couldn’t help but acknowledge what was going on in Standard right now – the best control deck in the format is the best deck in the format, and is staggeringly dominant. Caw Blade is strangling that format, and I had to see what it could offer Legacy. Here’s how my thought process went:
First, I knew I wanted to add at least another Counterbalance to the deck. Having only one meant you absolutely could not lose a counter war over the card vs. High Tide, or the game was essentially over. It also meant if you drew it against Ad Nauseam, and they Duress you, your life just became very difficult. A second seemed essential.
I also knew that Thopter Sword was going to play the role of Squadron Hawks in my deck. I could run 4 1/1 fliers for two, or I could run essentially infinite 1/1 fliers for 1 that gain life as they come into play. Pretty simple decision, I think.
I wanted Stoneforge Mystic primarily as a secondary tutor for Sword of the Meek that also could be utilized to win the game by itself when necessary. It’s an unfortunate consequence that he’s the only actual creature in the deck, because it tends to get killed pretty easily by anything, but that’s worth the risk to run the “I win.”
As far as the equipment package, only one was guaranteed. The others rotated until I had a feel for what I really wanted to be doing. I tried Swords of Body and Mind, Fire and Ice, Feast and Famine, and Umezawa’s Jitte all at different times, and ultimately settled on Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Fire and Ice. These did two important things. FaF was essential in racing anything, because it doubled the amount of Thopter tokens I could make per turn. It also gave a blocker protection from almost every creature in the format. The discard was nice, but actually the worst part of the abilities in my testing. FaI was primarily removal, secondarily card draw, and was a solid choice against any of the tribal decks that I expected to face. It was a debate between Fire and Ice and Jitte, ultimately, but the decision I made was that in this deck Jitte didn’t actually do anything I couldn’t already do. The lifegain wasn’t important when I run unlimited Stream of Lifes. The removal was only marginally better than SoFI. The pump, at best, only kept pace with SoFI’s p/t boost and shock, so I decided the protection was really the clincher, and went with it.
The deck made those changes, and was basically similar to the Edison list otherwise until about a week ago, when I decided I was sick of being exposed to Wasteland by the artifact based manabase, and Mox Opal finally got the cut for a million basic lands. At that point, I had to decide if I wanted Wasteland myself, but Alex Artese and I had the following conversation:
Me – Ok, we have two slots left in the manabase. Should I just run Wasteland?
Alex – You know what this deck really wants? Mishra’s Factory.
Me – Mishra’s Factory can’t swing through a Moat. But manlands are a great idea. You know what I kind of want to run?
Alex – Blinkmoth Nexus.
Me – Exactly. Do you have any?
Alex – No.
Me – Me either. I have Inkmoths, though. I’m going to try them.
I proceeded to infect many, many people to death, and was rapidly sold on the card.
The maindeck was done, but the board needed work. Since I had decided to cut the Mox package, I went down to two colors, and so I cut the Engineered Plagues from the board. I filled in some gaps, and tried to think of all the things I could crush whole decks with. The list I ended on was as follows:
I had dreams of playing an Ethersworn Canonist and strapping a Sword of Fire and Ice to it vs. High Tide. I believed that there was a window for Meddling Mage to be viable and relevant in the board, and hate bears just seemed fantastic right now. I’ve spoken about Humility and Cursed Totem, and how insane they are against all things creature. The rest of the board addresses weak points here and there, or is Energy Flux. We’ll get there in a minute.
I’m going to skip most of the normal report details on how amazing the times were, etc, because frankly, outside the actual game play of the event, I had kind of an awful weekend. I drove down to Boxboro alone on Saturday, skipping the Standard event since I was wholly unprepared for it, and wanted to spend my birthday Friday with my family since I would be missing Easter. Five hours alone in a car is a long day. I ended up trying to avoid sleeping in the snoring room, so got a meager four hours of rest on a hotel floor, with a pillow and no blanket, freezing and uncomfortable. I’ve had better event trips, but at least we didn’t end up driving home in a blizzard this time.
On the plus side, I spent most of the day Saturday in the hotel bar Winston Drafting our cube with Mike Poszgay. I may have finally found the only person greedier in Cube than me. ALL of his decks were five color monstrosities that managed to play flawlessly, while my overpowered two color decks dumped seven Islands and zero Plains in play every game. I suppose I got all the run-bads out of my system when I could.
Sunday morning, I got to the event early, since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, and got ready to grind. I anticipated that longer games favored me, so I expected to be playing straight through most of the day with little time for breaks.
While I was filling out my decklist, Adam VanFleet, one of the Syracuse locals who came down for the event asked me to test a few games. He’s normally a limited and standard player, who was doing his first dabbling into Legacy with a Tezzeret Affinity list, and was looking to get a few games in to figure out the important interactions and game scenarios he could expect when not facing down a goldfish. I obliged, and over the course of the next ten or so games, I proceeded to get my face smashed. I did everything I could, pre and post-board, and just absolutely could not make any headway. I’d answer his creatures and lose to Tezz. I’d Needle Tezz and get hit for 15 with Cranial Plating-ed Ornithopters. It was miserable. I was fairly certain that I wasn’t going to have to worry about this matchup, but Adam and his crew had been hearing quite differently. I figured it was worth the risk of one slot in the sideboard to run a copy of Energy Flux, on the off chance that I ran into Affinity or any of the MUD-style decks. Of course, no one had a copy to loan me, but the SCG booth had a few for a whopping quarter, so I couldn’t resist. I exchanged an underwhelming Engineered Explosives for the Flux. After boarding that card, the matchup was suddenly swayed heavily in my favor. Casting Enlightened Tutor on turn 2 for a turn 3 Energy Flux was nearly always game. A few people asked if I was concerned that my deck won via Swords and Thopters, and I was using a card that made these cards have an upkeep, but honestly, if I have to pay 4 to keep a threat in play, and my opponent is rapidly losing his entire board, I’ll gladly make that trade every time. With that last minute change, I prepared to battle.
Round 1 – Jonathan Varelakis – Affinity
Of course. Jon took a mulligan, and led off with a Seat of the Synod and a Memnite, and I did a happy dance in my head. The first game went similarly to my first round of testing with Adam, although Jon’s list was green for Glimpse, and ran Disciple/Ravager, which is pretty awful for me. The turn before I stabilized, he found the Ravager to go with his double Disciple, and that was game.
After another mull in game 2, Jon played Mox Opal, Memnite, go. I’m not sure why Affinity players keep this kind of hand, but I constantly see them “taking the risk.” I Plowed his Memnite, and he played nothing for two turns while I started to establish a board. Eventually he played a Blinkmoth Nexus, and followed up with a Seat of the Synod. On his next turn, he taps the Blinkmoth to activate itself, and I respond by blowing a Seal of Cleansing on his Seat. He floated for blue, and cast Springleaf Drum. In response, I Plowed the Nexus, and he was still stuck without metalcraft. When I countered his Ornithopter the next turn, he conceded.
Game three, Jon mulliganed again, and I played turn 2 Enlightened Tutor, and he read Energy Flux. He kept a Myr Enforcer and a Frogmite, and lost everything else. I played Moat on turn 4, and his cards no longer had text.
I apologize, as Jon was an unfortunate victim to my pre-event testing session. I was artificially prepared for this match, which was all it took.
Round 2 – Luke Bardsley – Cephalid Breakfast
In our first game, Luke mulled to 5, and led with a Tropical Island and an Aether Vial. My hand was Enlightened Tutor, 2 Force of Will, a Swords, and land. I wasn’t worried about Forcing the Vial, because there are only two decks that run Vial and Trops – Cephalid Breakfast and some New Horizons Builds, and I could use the Tutor to get Needle against either. On his next upkeep, Luke Worldly Tutored for Nomads En-Kor, and I let him resolve it. I had the Swords for the end step. Over the course of the next turns, Luke used two Living Wish, two Worldly Tutors, and three natural draws to play 3 more Nomads En-Kor, 3 Cephalid Illusionist, and a Sky Hussar. I had all four Swords and three hardcast Force of Wills to answer every single one of them. He was running hot on his mull to five, for sure, but I was running just as well.
In our second game, Luke only mulled to six, and again opened with Vial. I had sided into the lock deck, and ran out a Pithing Needle on Vial and a Spellbomb by turn 2. By turn 4, I had added a Cursed Totem and Counter/Top to the board, and knew it was fairly academic from here. Luke battled on, but eventually I found Thopter Sword and Luke conceded.
For those keeping track at home, it was 5 games into the event, and my opponents had mulliganed six times. It was about this time when I realized things were going pretty swimmingly for me.
One of the things I’ve rediscovered about the format based on playing this deck is how linear some strategies are in Legacy. There are incredibly powerful decks in the format, but most of them are vulnerable to very specific cards that are relatively unanswerable to them if they aren’t prepared for them. Having four maindeck Enlightened Tutor as virtual copies of these narrow answers is a powerful strategy in and of itself, because it allows you to punish the linear nature of those decks. In R1, Energy Flux was a trump. In R2, I had an absolute trump in Humility, but softer ones in Cursed Totem and Spellbomb/Crypt, as well. This ability to “just win” in a control deck is one of the things that attracted me to this deck, despite its tendency to go deep into the late game where the opponent theoretically has the ability to find their answers.
Round 3 – Jesse Robinson – Team America
This match was the first time I really got to take advantage of the Stoneforge package, which was exciting for me as it’s what I really wanted to try out this weekend. As usual in this match, both games were attrition wars where his disruption attempted to allow him to land a creature I couldn’t answer. In each game he landed a turn 2 Bob, but I had Swords for both. Sometime around turn 4, I played a Stoneforge, getting Sword of Feast and Famine. Once equipped to either a Mystic or a Thopter token, the only way Jesse had to deal with the creature was Jace and bounce, which was obviously a lot to ask for. In one game, I threw away a Thopter Foundry to make a 1/1, which was immune to Go for the Throat, and strapped the Sword to it. In the second game, I used an Inkmoth Nexus with both Swords attached to end the game in two quick attacks. Jesse lamented on the fact that now, two days in a row, he’d lost to the combination of Stoneforge Mystic, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Jace the Mind Sculptor. Was there any format not plagued with these cards?
Round 4 – Drew Tunison – Dredge
In our first game, Drew mulled once, and led off with an Undiscovered Paradise into Putrid Imp. I Forced, and played a land. His second turn was a Gruesome Encore of the first, and so was my response. He began to use Cabal Therapy to strip cards out of my hand, until he finally got a pair of lands to cast a Golgari Thug, and binned it by flashing back a Therapy. On my turn, I took the opportunity to play a Jace, and ramped to five, which was likely incorrect. On Drew’s turn, the dredging began, and he secured what we both thought was a guaranteed victory by dredging about 20 cards via Cephalid Colloseum, including two Narcomoebas and a trio of Bridges. He flashed back his third Therapy to clear the way and to give him enough Zombies for Dread Return… except he didn’t hit any of his Dread Returns, and we had been so focused on his Bridges that neither of us had noticed. He was left with no play and passed. On my turn, I topped, Fetched, topped, Brainstormed with Jace, and the third card down was the Ensnaring Bridge. I played it and Drew slumped. He said “I can’t believe you hit the one-of Ensnaring Bridge, I don’t know if I have outs to that.” We played it out for two turns while Jace ramped, and Drew decided our time was better spent going to the second game. How do you beat Dredge game one? Luck, and lots of it.
Game two, the critical moment was during a series of Therapies when Drew overlooked a Humility in my hand, and didn’t take it when he had the opportunity to do so, choosing Jace instead, as my only blue card to pitch to Forceof Will. I resolved Humility the next turn, and topdecked a Moat to follow it up. With the lock in place, I was pretty certain I was in a winning position, and was certain when Drew used the next turn to dredge 16 cards rather than dig manually for a spell to answer the enchantments with. Since he hadn’t seen either of the cards in game two, he boarded in Ancient Grudges, but not Ray of Revelations, and so the Terastodon, which would have been an out to Moat or Ensnaring Bridge, did nothing with Humility. Drew was visibly frustrated with himself for not taking the Humility with Therapy, lamenting his not reading the card properly when he could have. Inexperience with the format was the real culprit in this matchup, and I don’t claim any credit for this round – in fact, I probably had less to do with the result than Drew – which isn’t to say that he’s a bad player, he seemed quite competent. Sometimes the chips just fall the other way.
Round 5 – Jim Davis – Goblins/G
Jim Davis was easily the best goblin player in the room, which didn’t make me very excited to play this match. Goblins just wins sometimes, despite any of our best efforts to keep it down. In the first game of the match, I played a pair of Stoneforge Mystics across a few turns, both of which were dispatched by cycled Gempalm Incinerators. Jim had a hoard of Goblins staring me down, and a massive Piledriver made my army of Thopter tokens look just a bit blue.
Our second game was a bit different as Jim’s mass of tokens were stopped cold by my Moat. He dug to find a Siege-Gang Commander, but whiffed on a Goblin Ringleader, giving me a window to find and play Humility. I used Pithing Needle to turn off his Gempalms, and rode an Inkmoth strapped with a Sword of Fire and Ice to victory. This left us short on time in the round, and we’d both be looking to avoid a draw, if possible.
In the third game, Jim landed a Skirk Prospector which proved to be problematic, as I was forced to kill it off with a Swords prior to him finding either Siege-Gang or Goblin Sharpshooter to win past my Moat. As we entered time in round, we were jockeying for position, him with five lands and a bunch of guys, me with Moat, Top, and Jace, but not enough turns to go ultimate and win. On the end of turn 1, he played Krosan Grip on my Moat, allowing for an attack. He played a Ringleader and hit it big, filling his hand with Siege-Gang, Goblin Piledriver, and more, and I was in trouble. His attack with Ringleader and some 1/1s saw me activate a tapped Inkmoth Nexus, sac to Thopter, chump a Goblin Matron, and go to 6. This proved to be a critical misplay as I was dead to his attack the next turn either way. I drew for turn, topped into another Top an Enlightened Tutor and a non-fetch land, and didn’t have two draws to get the Tutor and draw the Ensnaring Bridge. I drew with Top, and sacced it to Thopter Foundry to get one card deeper with the second top, and saw the Bridge as the third card down. However, now I was left with only two mana, and couldn’t play the Bridge to force the draw. Even with two Thopter tokens, I knew Jim had a Warchief and Piledriver to kill me, and that was game. He revealed his top card – Tin-Street Hooligan. My one-outer was trumped by his one-outer, and it seemed destiny was on my opponent’s side this time. With that, my back was against the wall.
Round 6 – Adam Chambers – Goblins/B
Adam and I have been in the same circles a number of times during PTQs in upstate NY, but have had the opportunity to play against each other only once. He handled me in that draft match quite readily, but with experience in the format on my side, I felt like I had a much better shot in this match. Eli Kassis shouted over from a few tables away to let me know that he never beats Adam, and that he’s the only one Eli would ever say that about. I promised him vengeance, and we began.
I kept a risky hand that was soft to Wasteland in game one, and didn’t do enough recon to know if that was a smart or stupid call against Adam. He led with Mountain, Aether Vial, and I was nervous. Fortunately, he wasn’t on the Wasteland plan, and when I used my second turn to Pithing Needle the Vial, it was game on. Adam stumbled on mana, and I quickly assembled a Thopter, Sword of the Meek, and Sword of Fire and Ice. He played a Mogg War Marshal, and went digging into his pocket for his tokens. He had a bit of trouble getting in there to find them, and frustrated with both the tokens and the board state, conceded rather than deal with either. Easily the most awesome play anyone made on the day. Forget the tokens, I’d rather scoop than reach in my pocket. We both had a laugh and shuffled up for game two.
The second game was only marginally different than the first, as I again found a Sword of Fire and Ice, this time via Stoneforge, which was killed off with a cycled Gempalm Incinerator, again. Adam got a Sharpshooter with a Matron on his next turn, but before he could put it on the field, I played out a Thopter and Sword of the Meek, and strapped up a token. The 2/3 would be enough to survive the Sharpshooter and grab a SoFI, allowing me to kill his Sharpshooter before it could really become an issue. That was enough to secure the game and the match.
Round 7 – AJ Sacher – RUG
This match was featured on SCG, so I went in thinking one very specific thing – win or lose, DO NOT PUNT AGAIN. During our feature match in Edison, I threw game one, and in turn, my shot at the match win away against AJ, and it’s been haunting me ever since. I typically enjoy the control mirror, so I was excited for this round, but made a tactical error in our first game when I went far to aggressive with the Inkmoth Nexus, getting it killed by a Fire//Ice after losing the ensuing counter battle. This left me far behind on cards, and AJ was free to have his way with me. Had I been a bit more conservative, I think I could have leveraged the game into something more favoring my deck’s better late game, instead of losing in the midgame to the unanswered Jace. In our second game, I needed to hit my Academy Ruins a lot sooner to shut off his recursion, rather than allow him to use Engineered Explosives to shut the board down turn after turn. I don’t think I made any serious errors in this game, but I could be mistaken. Either way, it was a very interesting match to play, as most Legacy control mirrors are. Once again, AJ knocked me out of top 8 contention, and I was playing for top 16.
Round 8 – Chris Gilley – Junk
This match was a video feature on SCGLive, which will eventually be in the GGSLive VOD2011 archives. Chris and I weren’t initially supposed to be video featured, since we were both X-2, but somehow we got on camera. I was really excited for Chris, who had traveled down from Portland, Maine to play, and had his first match under the lights. He sent his brother a text telling him to watch the coverage, and we began. I managed to assemble Counter Top and hit the threes when I really needed to, which is an important factor in this match. Vindicate can be a real problem, and with only a few spells to stop it in the deck, I was lucky to do so on multiple occasions. I did use Enlightened Tutor to find it once, but finding it after shuffling Bridge away with Stoneforge Mystic (and finding another one of the threes) was pretty lucky, I admit. Sometimes you just run well. I used a combination of my Pro: Chris Stoneforge and Jace to keep his creatures under control until I could counter them and start fatesealing. Our second game was relatively similar to the first, they both revolved around a combination of Sword of Feast and Famine and Jace. I took the match, and Chris’s brother sent him a text of “Wow, Sword seems good against you.” I happened to agree. It was a pleasure playing against Chris, and hopefully he’ll have many more features if he has the opportunity to play in more of these events.
Round 9 – Steve Hicks – NO Bant
Steve and I were both far, far down the list of tiebreakers. One of us was walking out with a top 16 slot. The other wasn’t even a lock for top 32. Steve led with Forest, Green Sun’s Zenith for zero, and I put him on being one of the Elves players I’d seen at the upper tables. His second turn Noble Hierarch and Tropical Island changed my mind, and I recognized that he was on Natural Order Bant. I took some serious damage this game, and was at three for a few turns while I chumped his attackers with my lands and my spare artifacts, digging for a Sword of the Meek to start gaining ground. Eventually I found a Jace, and bounced one of Steve’s beaters to buy time, and set up a pair of turns where I was weak to Natural Order, but had the opportunity to find a Sword. I managed to do just that, and slowly crept back into the game, still dead to any Natural Order. He never found it, and I ended the game at a healthy 17 life, despite my teetering on the brink of death for nearly the whole game.
In our second game, I played to a similar strategy, except I managed to resolve a Counterbalance early on, but needed to play Pithing Needle on Top to prevent him manipulating his own library with his, and allowing me to fateseal with Jace. I resolved a Humility followed by a Moat, followed by an Ensnaring Bridge, and allowed him to keep basically any creature or non-Krosan Grip spell, but he did eventually find (or already had) the Grip, and went for it by Gripping the Humility, blowing up the Bridge with Qasali Pridemage, and cruising in with a Vendilion Clique and two Trygon Predators to try and get the rest of the lock pieces. I sacrificed a land and the Thopter Foundry to block the Predators, and used Academy Ruins to put the Bridge back on top. When I resolved it the next turn, Steve extended the hand.
My 7-2 record was again good enough for top 16, this time placing a whole slot higher than my previous finish, ending the day in 11th place. Maybe Shaheen was right, and the UW control archetype is only a top 16 deck, but I still think I was very close to securing a top 8 berth. I was extremely hot all day, and topdecked my way out of some situations where I felt I had no business winning, but I suppose there’s an element of luck involved with anyone winning through 9 rounds, let alone another three of single elimination. I was very pleased with the deck, although I’m not certain whether the sideboard was good for the metagame that was present at the event, or if it was more applicable to a generic metagame. The Meddling Mages were irrelevant, and would have better been served as anything else. It’s possible that the deck still wants access to black mana for Engineered Plague and cantripping the Nihil Spellbomb, but for this event, it seemed greedy. There was a lot of debate between minds I trust on whether Inkmoth Nexus is actually better than Blinkmoth Nexus in this deck, but I feel like Inkmoth pulled superduty in this event, and totally earned its slots. It was the most reliable way to secure a game when you had Humility and Moat in play, and that came up much more often than I expected it to. I’d go so far as to say that Humility could probably be a maindeck card, it was useful enough and there were far less outs to it available in game 1.
I’m not positive where to go with this deck from here – mostly because I feel that the format is on the brink of serious change. I think the shell of “Thopter Blade” in Legacy is a strong one, and it will continue to get better once New Phyrexia is released, with Mental Misstep included. Four of them are virtually a lock for the maindeck. At this point, I expect to play something similar to this list in Providence. As much as I enjoyed testing and playing High Tide, I feel like that deck exposes you to scenarios where you just can’t beat the deck across the table from you. I’m on a track right now that makes me want to avoid any kind of linear strategy, and maintain flexibility to give me a way out against any given situation. This deck gives you that adaptability. If you’re looking for something similar, I highly recommend this deck as a starting point.
For those of you who are foaming at the mouth for more history lessons, stay tuned; the second installment of the History of Legacy is on the way!
Until next time, may your opponents be poisoned, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!