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Breaking Pioneer with Lotus Breach in Brussels

I made the Top 8 of Players Tour Brussels, while breaking the format with Lotus Breach. Since I’m not connected to any pro teams (yet? My DM’s are open, just saying), our preparation was an interesting process I’m happy to share, as well as some insights into the deck from the creators.

There are quite a few other articles regarding the future of Lotus Breach, and sideboard strategies. While I’m happy to share my insight, I figured it would be interesting to see the development. I recommend Pascal Vieren’s article, and recently Seth Manfield’s article matches a lot of thoughts I have on the deck.

I made the Top 8 with a 9-1 record in Constructed, while my unimpressive 3-1-2 Limited record was just enough to get me in the Top 8. I started out 1-0-2 with the type of deck I wanted to draft, B/G midrange. It lacked removal, but compensated for it with four bombs. After Day 1, my record was 6-0-2, and in the evening we practiced about 5-10 drafts, because even though I had dozens of drafts under my belt, I still felt unprepared. I distinctly remember saying: “I would pick the black card over the blue card, not because it necessarily is better, but because I feel I have a better feeling of what a black deck wants to do, in blue I feel rather clueless.” Naturally, my Day 2 draft started with a Shimmerwing Chimera, followed by a second one. So down the rabbit hole we went. Luckily, I went 2-1, which meant I “only” had to go 4-1 to get there.

That’s not even trophy-ing a League, how hard could it be? Our deck was broken, right? I was undefeated, right? I knew what I was doing… Right?

Underworld Breach

Underworld Breach

Early in the spoilers, both Underworld Breach and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath looked like cards that could make a dent in Pioneer. I was a big fan of Uro, and wanted to test it. My partner in crime, Niels van de Sande (with whom I made the finals of Grand Prix Ghent, to qualify for this PT) was partial to Underworld Breach. Before the set was out on MTGO, we already had a day of testing with proxies in order to get a jump on the format with Theros Beyond Death. Two conclusions arose from that day:

1: Uro is a great card, it definitely could be good enough for Pioneer.
2: Underworld Breach is an insanely powerful and unfair card. Forget about Uro. (Someone should have told Joel Larsson.)

I have not played a game with Uro after that day.

I want to share the list Niels van de Sande brewed up for that first day, because I want to show you how close the starting 60 was to our final list, from day one. This speaks to the deck selection Niels makes, it’s absolutely one of his strengths. The decks he plays “always” end up getting banned. (KCI,  Urza Whir, Amulet.) When he says a deck is great, it’s a good idea to listen.

Lotus Breach MTGO Screenshot
Click to enlarge.

The most noteworthy was the idea to have the 4th Breach in the sideboard. It looks obvious in hindsight, but most things do. The fact that it was our starting point felt great. Our first list didn’t have Tome Scour in it yet, we needed some outside assistance for that. It wasn’t necessary for the deck to be good, however. Underworld Breach has such great potential that even the old “combo” with Omniscience and Enter the Infinite was good enough for us to feel we were on to something.

We had never broken a format, and never found a deck which was unknown and possibly busted, so I decided to ask Pascal Vieren (who we already agreed to test Limited with), if he would be interested in testing something with us. He agreed, and within 48 hours he messaged me saying: “The deck feels insanely good.”

In the days that followed, some streamers decided to play around with the deck, specifically with Chronic Flooding. We were very worried our deck would get discovered, but luckily all streamers (we saw) were playing a list which turned out to be bad, and they lost interest in the deck. Some doubt started to form, since there were plenty of people dismissing the deck. Were we onto something, or did we get fooled by a small sample size and a bias (because of course we hoped we would have broken the format)?

This changed when Pascal came up with Breaking // Entering. After combo’ing that way one time, I was sold. (And, my hand hurt from all the clicks on MTGO)

Breaking quickly became Tome Scour (cheaper and no black necessary), and we were off to the races. The next day I wrote down all avenues to win with minimal resources, which in hindsight feels pretty obvious, but at the time of writing it, was groundbreaking.

The more situations I was writing down, the better the combo felt. Before the Tome Scour combo, you needed to have a decent graveyard in order to go off. With Tome Scour, the following starting points were a deterministic win:

Chart of ways to get a deterministic win with Lotus Breach
Click to enlarge.

The next days and weeks were us testing the deck, scooping multiple Leagues at 4-0, and optimizing matchups and sideboard cards. I still felt some doubt, since there was a lot of hate due to the popularity the “bad” version of the deck had generated. In the end, the deck is good enough even with hate present, so I registered the following 75:

Lotus Breach

Pioneer

1 Blast Zone
4 Botanical Sanctum
3 Breeding Pool
4 Lotus Field
1 Sheltered Thicket
1 Forest
1 Temple of Mystery
4 Thespian's Stage
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Arboreal Grazer
4 Fae of Wishes/Granted
2 Satyr Wayfinder
1 Thassa's Oracle
4 Vizier of Tumbling Sands
4 Hidden Strings
4 Pore Over the Pages
4 Strategic Planning
4 Sylvan Scrying
2 Blink of an Eye
1 Dig Through Time
3 Underworld Breach

Sideboard
1 Underworld Breach
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
1 Lost Legacy
1 Natural State
1 Return to Nature
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Thought Distortion
1 Tome Scour
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
2 Unravel the AEther

Some notes, also with regards to the future:

• On MTGO we liked Ratchet Bomb, but with open decklists we felt it wasn’t as great (it’s a better hedge against aggro).
• We felt there were two flex slots, and we decided to play Blink of an Eye since it is decent in almost every matchup, gave us more answers to post-board hate, and can save a Breach from a removal spell in a pinch. Pascal played a Spell Pierce, Seth Manfield plays a Dispute, I’m still a fan of Blink.
• I almost never wish for a sweeper post-board, so I always board them in against aggro. Wishing for it is slow, and we felt the sweepers are better in your deck post-board.

Back to the day before the PT. At this point there was no use in agonizing over my list, and when I arrived on site Thursday I felt pretty confident. Up until the point I spoke to other Dutch/Belgian grinders and told them of our deck choice. They unanimously were unenthusiastic about our choice. I claimed our version was different from the one they know, but I don’t think I convinced them at that point. Understandable, since all existing versions at that point underperformed.

Thursday was spent testing against the “new” U/B Inverter deck, and we went something like 20-5 against Kannister’s list. I don’t think it’s a good reflection of the matchup, let’s just say my hot streak started on Thursday. I do think Breach is favored in the matchup, and it certainly boosted my confidence for the next day.

The Tournament

After I went 1-0-2 in my first draft, I needed the deck to work some miracles. It delivered in the first Constructed round, and never stopped.

I played versus 5c-Niv-Mizzet, and game 1 my opponent turn-3 Unmoored Ego’d me naming Hidden Strings. I remember thinking to myself: “Ah, so it’s going to be one of those days.”
35 minutes later, having wished for Ugin, and Underworld Breached it back two times, I won the game by combo’ing with Pore Over the Pages.

Game 2, I faced T1 Thoughtseize ,T3 Unmoored Ego naming Lotus Field (this time I had none on the battlefield), t4 Thoughtseize and Kunuros. I still won that game, but that was mostly luck. I did have a Jace and Ugin in play, so I guess I out-midranged my opponent, who was drawing mostly lands.

At the end of the match, I felt I was going to be in for a tough time, as this match took quite some energy and brainpower to close. Luckily, most people did not have Lotus Breach on their radar anymore, so the toughest hate piece was missing from their sideboards: Damping Sphere.

After finishing Day 1 with a record of 6-0-2, I felt great about the deck.

On Day 2 I had the pleasure to be covered several times, and had some real nail-biters. Off-camera, I got to mill out my U/B Inverter opponent (He cast Inverter, I used Granted to find Tome Scour and chose my opponent as the target), I copied some Castles from my opponents, used a Return to Nature on Heliod to get an extra card in the graveyard (I would have been a mana short otherwise), and barely lost a game 1 the entire Constructed portion.

Usually I’m quite level-headed, but the last round I was having a nervous breakdown when deciding whether to draw or not in the last round, as it would come down to tiebreakers if I would make the Top 8. I was not ready to deal with the idea of missing a PT Top 8 because of a miscalculation. In the end I decided not to draw and luckily obliterated my opponent (who was in the Top 8 regardless). After the tournament, Frank Karsten told me I would have made the Top 8 with a draw almost certainly. Now I can claim I did it so I would be on the play and for that extra 5k. None of that is true, but it makes me look better in the story.

My goal for the PT was to reach Day 2, as I had not done that before in an individual PT. Little did I know that I would make Day 3. My girlfriend who knows almost nothing about Magic was cheering me on, even getting her entire family watching Twitch. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall there, as this is a glimpse of what happened (she told me afterward): “Is it a good or a bad thing if the numbers [life totals] go down, is it first to 0 wins?” – “Oh he’s bringing out the flowers [lands to symbolize floating mana], he’s winning, he’s winning!”

In the end, I finished third thanks to not drawing in the last round, which made me 20k (thanks for winning Kannister, otherwise it would have been 15k), an invite to the PT Finals and the next PT. According to people who have spent more time researching it than I have, I also have a decent shot at making Rivals, something which I would have never imagined. It sounds corny, but I’m living the dream and look forward to competing again. Preferably with a new broken deck, but so far Niels has been awfully quiet.

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