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Recurring Nightmares – Turning Point

In a way, this week has been one of the most important weeks of my life, Magically speaking. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary occurred, and I didn’t win any events, but the approach I have to the game has begun to turn around – and I consider that a victory in and of itself.

After writing last week’s article, this wave of calm came over me, as I felt for the first time in a long time that I was actually taking the steps necessary to improve as a player (both in terms of gameplay, as well as my in-tournament personality). This week marked my first opportunity to prove to myself that there was more to this change than simply writing words down on a page, and that I’d be committed to actively changing my approach. I believe this week to be a success, regardless of the results on the page (which were not terrible, to be fair).

Because Saturday was December’s Jupiter Games Northeast Legacy Championship Qualifier (NELCQ), I decided that it was more important for me to knock out the last few tweaks in my “real” Legacy deck than it was to try out something non-blue for a change. I took my UW Stoneforge list to our local event on Thursday, and put up a mediocre 2-3 result. This is misleading, however, as the three matches I lost were A) three of the closest matches I’ve played in months, each going to three games and coming down to a few minor choices, and B) completely within my control, should I have taken slightly different lines of play. Each match I played, I felt like I was completely in, whether I won or lost, and I honestly believe that I was equally capable of going 5-0 in this event, should I have played just a bit tighter.

In one match against G/W midrange piloted by Trevor Brown, our entire match came down to me being convinced that the last card in his hand was an [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card], and playing around it for about five straight turns. I was positive that I had the read, and couldn’t commit to playing into it, because the game was a matter of inches. It turned out to be a bluff, which sucks – if I had been slightly less attentive to how he was playing (i.e. didn’t take the bait), I would have played a bit more aggressively over the course of a turn or two, and would have won, rather than sacrificing aggression to play around his nonexistent trick. The thing is, once you put the opponent on a specific trick, and commit to playing around it, the worst thing you can do is just shrug and say “if he’s got it, he’s got it,” and play into it. You have to either get yourself into a position where it doesn’t matter if he has it, or continue to play around it as best you can. I next-leveled myself out of this game, and lost the match because of it. Nonetheless, I think Trevor and I both played way out of our typical level of play in this match, and we both enjoyed it thoroughly.

In another lost match, I was defeated by Goblins. The critical point was on a turn where I had stabilized, my opponent having an [card]Aether Vial[/card] on 4 counters, along with an empty hand. I had a hand of [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card], [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card], [card]Brainstorm[/card], and [card]Batterskull[/card]. My board was Island, Tundra, Plains, [card]Riptide Laboratory[/card]. I’m tapped out from a [card]Wrath of God[/card]. Goblins rips a [card]Goblin Matron[/card] off the top, and finds a [card]Goblin Ringleader[/card], which is Vialed in. He hits just one card – a [card]Warren Weirding[/card]. On my turn, I draw an Island, and get very excited. I slam down Elspeth, and immediately recognize my mistake as I look at the mana available and realize I can’t Swords the Ringleader. He untaps, plays Weirding, I [card]Brainstorm[/card] hoping to find [card]Force of Will[/card] + blue card, fail, and die. What I should have done was do nothing, and pass. He attacks, I [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] the Ringleader, and pass. The next turn, I [card]Brainstorm[/card] main phase, which finds me another Swords. I pass again. Now I have another swords, and potentially an Elspeth along with it, as outs to his attackers. If I untap, I can play a [card]Batterskull[/card] with Elspeth to protect from Weirding, allowing me to slowly crawl back into the game. It would have been an uphill battle, but I was not out. By focusing on my own plays and not changing directions based on what my opponent was going to do, I lost to my own haste.

This is one of the things I criticized myself for doing last week. Normally, I would be pissed at myself, and go on tilt, and blame my opponent. I tried very hard to contain myself, and assessed when and why I made this mistake. I feel that I did a reasonable job of understanding the error, and hopefully can learn from it.

Overall, I was happy with the testing that was accomplished in the local event, and made a few changes to the list before the NELCQ. Here’s the list I brought to Vestal:

[deck]4 Force of Will
4 Brainstorm
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Vendilion Clique
3 Spell Snare
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Counterspell
1 Spell Pierce
1 Path to Exile
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Batterskull
4 Tundra
2 Volcanic Island
4 Flooded Strand
1 Polluted Delta
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Arid Mesa
2 Mishra’s Factory
2 Wasteland
1 Riptide Laboratory
1 Karakas
3 Island
1 Plains
Sideboard
4 Red Elemental Blast
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
2 Spell Pierce
2 Path to Exile
2 Purify the Grave
2 Wrath of God
1 Wasteland
1 Crucible of Worlds[/deck]

There are a few minor points I’d like to make prior to the match recap. First, the list is a fairly standard arrangement, but I’ve replaced the singleton [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card] I had been running with a [card]Spell Pierce[/card], on the suggestion of Bryant Cook. It played much better than the Sprite had been, and outperformed my expectations in a major way. When you run Sprite, they obviously improve in multiples, and I had no interest in cutting [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]s to fit them in. In addition, [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card] is superior to [card]Mutavault[/card] against any deck that isn’t Merfolk, and I would much prefer to run those. I had also been running [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card] in the maindeck, but cut the Jitte for Elspeth after reading about the success Chris VanMeter had been having with it. I’ve run Elspeth before, and she’s always been a brick house. I was happy to find room for her once again.

In the sideboard, I once again took some inspiration from Chris VanMeter by adopting his 1 [card]Wasteland[/card], 1 [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card] plan. I’m not usually a fan of lands in the sideboard, but this plan seemed fantastic to me. Having 25 lands in the tempo and control matchups seems like everything I’ve ever wanted and more, and giving yourself the potential to Wasteland lock a RUG opponent is dreamy. I was pleased with this choice all weekend. The red splash in my deck is entirely for the set of REBs in the board, which is an odd choice considering the added weakness to the manabase, but I’m convinced that having access to red is worth the cost, when you can board up to 11 spot removal spells vs RUG/Merfolk – not counting [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. Post board, your deck becomes a soul-crushing removal machine, and you can trade 1-for-1 until the end of time.

This creates a natural weakness to creatures like [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] and [card]Nimble Mongoose[/card], but hopefully [card]Wrath of God[/card] allows you some play against them, and if you get a [card]Batterskull[/card] online, your odds are much better.

Where [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card] was my original option for the sideboard equipment, I decided the metagame is well-positioned for [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card] at the current time. The major threats I’ve been seeing are [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] ([card]Batterskull[/card]), and [card]Delver of Secrets[/card]. A connected [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card] kills all of these but two, and dodges nearly all of them. Having the combination of [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] and [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card] allows you to select the most likely advantage between the two, and sets up a protection wall that’s hard for this metagame to push through. When comparing [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card] to [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card] heads up, you gain all the benefits of Jitte (removal, creature enhancement) save lifegain – which [card]Batterskull[/card] can give you – while gaining card draw and evasion. I was very pleased with this choice, and for the near term, I think it’s the go-to sideboard equipment.

The weakest link in my board is the pair of [card]Purify the Grave[/card], which I would have preferred to be nearly anything else. While having grave removal is nice, I think that card in particular is pretty bad. It doesn’t do anything that spectacular, and despite it being in your Snapcaster deck, doesn’t actually do anything with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. It’s bad against dedicated yard decks, and is only ok against Snapcasters. Honestly, I didn’t feel like opposing Snapcasters were that bad for me in general, so it’s probably fine to eschew those for better options. I’ll toy with some other choices and keep you updated.

The post board configuration of the deck varied based on what the opposing deck looked like, but I felt like you could transform into either a mono-removal deck or a mono-counterspell deck based on the opposition. Either way, I felt like my post-board deck was fantastic, and as you’re playing the majority of games sideboarded, this left me very comfortable with my deck throughout the day.

R1 – Greg – UW/r/g Thopter Sword

I don’t actually recall if my opponent’s name was Greg. I apologize if that’s incorrect.

Our first game, he plays the following:
Turn 1, [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card] for [card]Sword of the Meek[/card].
Turn 2, [card]Sword of the Meek[/card].
Turn 3, [card]Thopter Foundry[/card]. I [card]Force of Will[/card], he Forces back. End of turn, [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card] for [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card].
Turn 4, [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card]. I play [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], he Forces Jace.

Moving on.

In games 2 and 3, his draws are much more reasonable, and I manage to take the match. I know he played red for Blasts and [card]Blood Moon[/card], I see a Trop in game 3 but no green spells or [card]Engineered Explosives[/card]. His list remains a mystery.

There was an oddly large presence of Thopter/Sword this weekend. I’m doubly glad I chose to play an equipment that grants Protection from Blue.

1-0

R2 – Anthony – BW Stoneforge

This matchup hinges largely on three spells: [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card], [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card]. If more than a few of those go unanswered, it becomes difficult to win. Fortunately, I play a reasonable number of [card]Spell Snare[/card]s, and an unreasonable number of [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card], and Jace just beats this deck barring [card]Vindicate[/card] shenanigans.

2-0

R3 – Adam – RUG Tempo (eventual winner)

Well prepared for this matchup, I play more lands than my opponent, and my [card]Path to Exile[/card]s are fantastic against them. It’s nice when you Path, and they fail to find – especially when you intend to [card]Wasteland[/card] them into oblivion. A critical play comes in our second game, as I’ve cast a [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card], and he has an active [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] to keep my guys from getting strapped up. He is forced to tap down to two Volcanic Islands open, and I know he has an [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card] in hand. I play a [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] at end of turn, and he allows it (Grim can handle it as easy as a REB). He [card]Brainstorm[/card]s in response to the trigger to protect his REB, and I untap and attempt to equip. He kills the Clique, and I play a mainphase [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], target a [card]Spell Pierce[/card], and equip the Snapcaster with Pierce backup. From there he has just a few short turns to try and find/resolve a [card]Dismember[/card] before the Sword takes him apart. He doesn’t find it, and dies.

3-0

R4 – Greg – UR Delver (feature match)

This match was covered on the Jupitergamesonline.com website, but there’s not a whole lot to it. Where most RUG lists play a slew of duals to manage green spells, this list plays basics, which allows it to run [card]Price of Progress[/card] (which my opponent cut at the last minute). It also leaves room for much more burn, and a ton of counterspells. It’s basically classic counter-burn. I was forced to trade Snapcasters for unflipped Delvers when I could, and the large number of removal spells forced me into wasting mana trying to get a [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card] strapped to any guy. Post board, I was blindsided with a [card]Smash to Smithereens[/card], which was then flashed back to kill another equipment. It was an excellent match, but he had my number for sure.

3-1

R5 – Brian – Junk

As much as my last opponent had my number, I had his this time. In our first game, I managed his threats via spot removal until I could begin to gain advantage via Elspeth. She was joined by her friend Jace, and we moved on. In our second game, a [card]Maze of Ith[/card] held my team at bay, forcing me to attack with a bunch of shoddy 1/2s and 2/2 lands, rather than connect with a [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card]. I dug hard and long for a [card]Wasteland[/card], and while I failed to find that, I did manage to find enough removal to allow my team of squires and bears to deal lethal. Whatever works, I guess.

4-1

R6 – Jon – RUG Tempo (feature match)

I should have refused the feature. It added pressure to the situation that I really didn’t need. On the verge of flipping the record I’d amassed during the last NELCQ, I wanted this win – badly. If I win here, I get to draw into the top 8, and secure myself in the fact that the changes to my mental game have been valid, and that I’m on the right path. I can still top 16 with a loss, but that just isn’t the same at all.

Jon wins the first game on the back of [card]Nimble Mongoose[/card]. The Goose is a choice which I had feared running into all day – my deck is very adept at handling any variety of creatures, but hexproof/shroud are an issue, and I don’t have a lot of time to find outs for them before they kill me.

I mulligan in game 2 on the play, while Jon keeps. My deck has mulled a fairly high number of times throughout the day, but I’ve been extremely happy with the manner it did so, and won many games after mulling, where a deck like the tempo deck I played last month felt like it was in a deep hole after going down a card. The power level of the cards in this deck is high enough that I felt comfortable with its ability to draw out of a card deficit, and was fine going to six on the play or draw.

The critical play of this game came on Jon’s fourth turn, as I had an untapped and active [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], and he had an unflipped [card]Delver of Secrets[/card]. During his upkeep, he revealed to flip Delver – a [card]Krosan Grip[/card] – and I seized the opportunity to use [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] during his draw step to take that option away from him. Trading a turn of Stoneforge activation for ensuring that the [card]Batterskull[/card] actually sticks around was 100% worth it, and I was happy to trade my Clique for his Delver either way. Instead, I decided to Swords the Delver, and go on the offensive. After the game, I asked why Jon bothered to reveal the Grip, since the value of the blowout on the [card]Batterskull[/card] was much higher than the value of having a 3/2 in play. He said he didn’t even consider choosing not to reveal, but would from this point on. I kind of wish I’d kept my mouth shut.

Our third game presented me with another interesting decision, which I managed to screw up. On my fourth turn, I was facing down a pair of Mongoose which were rapidly approaching 3/3. I had access to four mana, with the following hand:

[draft]Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Batterskull
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Vendilion Clique
Stoneforge Mystic[/draft]

In my mind, the decision was fairly difficult. I could play a Jace, which just dies to a pair of threshed Geese, not to mention is vulnerable to [card]Daze[/card], [card]Spell Pierce[/card], [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], and [card]Force of Will[/card]. I could wait, play [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] during combat, block, and hopefully set up a Jace or Elspeth for the next turn. This also gets shut down by all the same spells save [card]Daze[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card]. I could run out the Elspeth, make a blocker, and chump a Goose, which is stopped by everything but Red Blast. I could play Stoneforge, which gets me [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] to play defense, but is stopped by Snare, Bolt, and Force. I’m also at a mere 14 life, which is only a 3 turn clock once the Geese are threshed – which will happen next turn. This only gives me two shots to stabilize.

I decide that while Jace is vulnerable to the most things, he’s also the best [card]Duress[/card], and gives me access to the most cards. I play it, he resolves, and now I’m stumped, because I didn’t expect that to happen. I use the +0 to Brainstorm, looking for options, and brick on options as well as lands. Jace dies to a Mongoose attack, and I draw a garbage card, play a Stoneforge, it’s Snared, and I die in short order.

I should have gone for the Clique plan. At worst, it trades for a Red Blast or a bolt. At best, it allows me to check to see if the coast is clear to untap into an Elspeth – my best option for actually stabilizing the game. While I may take 6 that turn in exchange for my information, it lets me best devise my opponent’s plan, which can in turn let me play my own game more effectively.

I don’t feel terrible about that play, because it was not an easy one. I did feel pretty awful about losing the match, and my shot at top 8. Contrary to my usual manner, I congratulated Jon on making top 8, and wished him luck in the single elimination rounds. I got up and walked outside to clear my head.

I walked around the corner from the storefront, leaned against the wall, and tried to organize my thoughts. I took a few deep breaths and tried to settle my emotions. I was choked up, and didn’t understand why. I realized that this tournament meant a lot to me, because I feel like for the first time in quite a while, the golden ring was within my reach. I had control over what kind of finish I was going to have, and let it slip away. It’s been quite some time for me since I manage to achieve some real results in one of these events, and I felt like this was my day. I was in a new frame of mind, with one of the better decks I’ve played in any Jupiter event, and really wanted that win. Not that top 16 is anything to sneeze at, but we all know how much better surviving the cut to single elim feels. No one cares how many ninth place finishes you have.

Except, I still felt pretty good about the day. Here I was, one match win away from a top 16, or maybe better, finish. When just a few weeks ago, I went 1-5! If that doesn’t show that things are turning around for me, I don’t know what does. I’ve played considerably better this month, and I’ve improved a million tiny things – not the least of which is how I’m approaching each match and opponent mentally. I’m turning the corner, and taking real strides toward bettering myself – and who can honestly be disappointed with that?

One round to go, I might as well enjoy it.
4-2 (but who cares?)

R7 – Paul – UW/r Stoneforge mirror

Paul and I had something of a silly match. I felt miles and miles ahead for the majority of this match. It seemed like my deck was simply better tuned for the mirror than his, which makes sense, because I had prepared for this event all week, even typing up my decklist ahead of time, while he played a list James Rynkiewicz brewed up 10 minutes before round 1. Our first game was decided by a turn 2 [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] on my side going unanswered, while his turn 2 Stoneforge was exiled before being used. This allowed me to apply pressure to him, while he was forced to both answer my spells as well as find his own way to apply pressure. In our second game, I used [card]Riptide Laboratory[/card] to leverage my [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] into near infinite card advantage, and despite giving him a few opportunities to steal a game where I was miles ahead, I redoubled my focus in the last few turns and locked up the match.

End result – 5-2. After checking out the standings and seeing that a majority of the X-1 players would be forced to play out their matches, I believed I had an outside shot at sneaking into top 8 in 8th place. Ultimately, one match decided to ID, which caused another match of X-1’s to draw, despite this forcing one of the X-1-1s to bubble out of the single elimination rounds. This left me in 10th place.

After playing 12 rounds with this deck, I’m quite happy with it. I may play at least one more local with the build, perhaps tweaking a slot here or there based on my expectations for our local metagame. I’d also like to find a real replacement for the [card]Purify the Grave[/card]s – perhaps returning to [card]Disenchant[/card], or possibly [card]Smash to Smithereens[/card] (it was such a blowout). More important than the decklist changes, however, is the change I feel in myself after this week of play. I can already tell I’m back on the right path, and I expect to continue to see an improvement in both my attitude and play as the changes continue.

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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