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Carrie On – Making it Work

I am constantly striving to improve, and recently my writing has been focused on helping you to improve as well. I’ve talked about focus and preparing for your first tournament. I wanted to follow up on that with a look at how I did at GP Ghent this weekend, and whether any of it helped.

“Be prepared” – Boy Scouts Motto Since Forever

Last week I wrote about how to prepare for your first big tournament or a new format. This was inspired by my own preparations for GP Ghent. The one and only time I have played Legacy, I went last minute to GP Amsterdam for the PWPs (thank goodness that’s over with). I took Zoo, because I could run it without practice and had access to the pieces. I’d never seen half the decks I played against. Oddly, I didn’t do well (3-5 and drop for dinner).

This time, given there was no ulterior motive, I wanted to choose a deck I liked, have knowledge of the format, and play it competently.

After some initial testing I really liked Reanimator, but I thought I would consult someone with more experience than me so I asked LSV. This was a couple of months back, and the response was essentially, “I can’t imagine not playing a deck with [card]Griselbrand[/card], Reanimator seems a solid choice”.

With this glowing approval I continued to practice and learn, but then GP Atlanta happened. The meta caught up with the [card]Griselbrand[/card] decks, and suddenly they weren’t putting in the performances we had seen. I got a message from Luis a few days later: “I wouldn’t play Reanimator, but Maverick seemed sweet—try Ben Stark’s list.”

Maverick – Ben Stark, GP Atlanta Top 8

[deck]Main Deck:
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Dryad Arbor
2 Forest
2 Horizon Canopy
1 Karakas
1 Maze of Ith
1 Plains
4 Savannah
1 Taiga
4 Wasteland
4 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Fauna Shaman
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Mother of Runes
4 Noble Hierarch
3 Qasali Pridemage
2 Scavenging Ooze
1 Scryb Ranger
1 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
1 Path to Exile
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Sylvan Library
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
Sideboard
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Crop Rotation
3 Faerie Macabre
1 Gaddock Teeg
3 Gut Shot
1 Karakas
1 Life from the Loam
2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Path to Exile
1 Purify the Grave[/deck]

Play to your Strengths

I have been accused of being unable to play blue decks. While this is untrue, I do accept that my biggest strength as a Magic player is combat math. That is probably why I put up some of my best results with creature-based decks. Why not accept that and use my best asset, rather than conforming to what the masses think is the best deck? Accepting your own strengths and identifying any weaknesses will be to your benefit.

As you might have guessed, Maverick suited me. It is a creature-based deck, but it has plenty of interesting abilities and ways to interact with your opponent. I took to it like a duck to water, and scrabbled to find all the cards I would need for the GP. People are awesome, and thanks to everyone who dug through forgotten boxes of cards to lend me cards.

Thoughts on Maverick

I want to talk a little more about why I like Maverick, and why it might appeal to you. This section is aimed at the new Legacy player, and will not be a guide on playing Maverick, or the latest tech. If you are already a master, you might want to fast forward.

Maverick is cool. It contains all the things I love about Magic. You get to be aggressive with creatures while getting in your opponent’s way. Plus, there are plenty to opportunities to outsmart the opposing player. I believe it was described on the coverage as a control deck. I don’t think that’s true, but between [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] and [card]Wasteland[/card], you can certainly stop your opponent from doing anything, without resorting to Islands and counterspells.

[card]Mother of Runes[/card] is one of the best cards in the deck. You rarely get to untap with it, for good reason. Once it’s active, your opponent has to contrive all sorts of situations, or two-for-one themselves to get rid of it before they can handle any of your other threats.

One of the cards I somewhat overlooked was [card]Scryb Ranger[/card]. I assessed it as an anti-Delver card due to the pro-blue ability. What I missed was how well the second ability works in the deck. You can use [card]Scryb Ranger[/card] to pump [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] six times in a complete turn cycle, if you’re feeling particularly mean you can do this while destroying three of your opponent’s lands. You do need rather a lot of Forests/Plains for that one, but you get the idea.

Even ruder is [card]Scryb Ranger[/card] with [card]Mother of Runes[/card]. Nothing is going to die ever again once that synergy is online.

I found I spent much of my time in game prioritising creatures. For example a slightly mana-screwed Dead Guy Ale opponent cast [card]Diabolic Edict[/card] when I had [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] and [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] in play. Thalia had been there for a while, and my opponent was slowly dying with cards in hand. I had only just acquired the Knight. While it represented a better clock, I chose to sacrifice it. My opponent’s grudging nod was confirmation I was 100% correct. Thalia’s ability was far more important than speeding up the clock. The Knight would be easy pickings once my opponent could cast spells again.

[card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] is a huge priority against RUG Delver. You get to turn off threshold and make [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] smaller, while gaining life and representing a clock. In this matchup you work really hard to keep it alive. There are trivial plays that you have to not get over confident or lazy about, such as when there are two creatures in graveyards. You have two green mana left after casting the Ooze. Your opponent has open red mana. The lazy option is to exile the creatures immediately, or end of your opponent’s turn which lets the Ooze die to a bolt. The smart play is to do precisely nothing until you have more mana (probably next turn) so that if the Bolt happens you can exile the same creature again before resolution. It’s slower but safer, and with a high priority creature like Ooze it will be the winning line.

I made one serious misplay during the tournament that I only realised after the conclusion of the match. I drew. This was at 6-0 on Day One. I wasn’t thinking about the consequences of this grievous misplay. I was happy. I had a good match, was still doing way better than my previous attempt at Legacy, and a draw is a draw. At that point, not bad enough for either of us to scoop… right?

Wrong!

What deck do you think is most like to end up with draws? Control. As I discovered during the weekend Maverick doesn’t really like control. While it itself can go control against the aggressive decks, it is very much mid-range against control, and control loves that. It’s not unwinnable—I beat two opponents—but not without some luck. [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] and an early [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] really help, but you just are not fast enough with the average draw to get there before they get the lockdown on you. [card]Sylvan Library[/card] helps you play a continual stream of threats to push their resources to the limit, so baiting counters to get this to resolve is an important strategy.

Sadly, I only realized the gravity of my mistake when I sat down for my next match, and was promptly dispatched by my Jace-wielding opponent. I thought then that it might all be over, but I was lucky enough to find a Delver player for round 9 and made it to Day Two. Of course, the first match of Day Two was also against control, and I assumed I was in for a disheartening day after all my hard work. Thankfully, I only faced the menace three times and even managed one win. It could have been so much worse—on reflection, if I was in the GP to win it, conceding may have been the best strategy.

I was shocked at how little there was in my sideboard for this matchup—Until I remembered an important lesson from the last time I played Legacy.

I played Zoo. I noticed there was no graveyard hate in my 75, and I asked how I beat Dredge. The answer was simple: you don’t. For Zoo, Dredge is basically impossible to beat. Thus, I had no sideboard cards for it, because it would have required about 12 to make the matchup reasonable, which compromises too many other matchups. Control is not unbeatable for Maverick, but I think the number of cards required to make it that much better would take too many slots, compromising the overall success of the deck in post-board matches. I did go up a [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] (replacing the [card]Taiga[/card]) in my list compared to Ben Stark’s, and it worked really well. The other cards I would consider finding space for are [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card], which is just a very powerful and hard to answer threat against them, and [card]Disenchant[/card] for [card]Humilty[/card] (and, as a bonus, [card]Cursed Totem[/card]).

The only other change I made to the 75 was to put an [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] in the board. Europe is supposedly famous for it’s love of Storm and seeing as that was supposedly “tearing up the field” state-side, I felt it best to be slightly prepared. I didn’t actually play against a single copy, but it did win the GP, so I feel justified in my choice and I didn’t miss the third [card]Gut Shot[/card].

Legacy as a Whole

There is a lot of stuff going on in Legacy. Even in only one given matchup there are lots of funky interactions going on. One of my favorite plays was from the following board state against RUG Delver:

The board state is simplified here for convenience, leaving out graveyards and hand sizes—the only remaining fact of note is that there were no creature cards remaining in graveyards.

I had just chosen to play the Jitte, and once it resolved I simply attacked with the Ooze, leaving up two mana ([card]Wasteland[/card] and [card]Savannah[/card]). I could hear murmurs of confusion from onlookers but I had spotted something they hadn’t.

Ooze is really important against RUG Delver, and keeping one alive is pretty big game. I was rewarded for my patience as end of turn my opponent cast [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] to kill my Ooze. There were no creature cards remaining in graveyards to pump it with—but I can, and did, [card]Wasteland[/card] my own [card]Dryad Arbor[/card], using my remaining untapped land to exile it with the Ooze’s ability. My opponent looked both impressed and frustrated. I won from there.

Working out a play like that is a huge buzz. I also made mistakes during the tournament, and opened myself up to clever plays I hadn’t anticipated from my opponent. I look forward to playing more Legacy and building on these experiences.

In a similar vein, I was surprised by the number of misplays I saw. With so much going on, I suppose it is to be expected, but I was lead to believe that Legacy was played by a group of dedicated, elite players that only brave the sunshine to play this exclusive format. While that may be true, they aren’t as unbeatable as my brain thought. Or maybe I didn’t play them, who can say. Still, my point here is not to insult Legacy players, but to encourage people to try the format.

If you enjoy a mentally stimulating and challenging game then give a Legacy tournament a whirl. It reminded me of when I first learned Magic, and every combat step would send my neurons into overdrive. Further, it is not full of unbeatable experts, but just your average Magic player having fun. It was a pleasure to be rewarded for quick thinking and sharp play. Especially after suffering through Avacyn Restored Limited.

Last time I played Legacy was about 9 months ago. Surprisingly it’s changed a lot since then. Helped, I’m sure, by the regular Legacy tournaments now being held in the US. In Amsterdam I played seven rounds, and only had one duplicated match: Infect, Enchantress, Reanimator x2, Elves, Team America, UW Countertop. This time I played six rounds on Day 1, and found 2x RUG Delver, 2x Esper Stoneblade, Dead Guy Ale and Death and Taxes. I was doing better this time, which might reflect why I saw less variation in my matches—but looking around the room I saw the same decks repeated time and time again. Most notably RUG, Stoneblade, Maverick, Elves and Goblins.

I think this is a shame. One of the aspects I really liked last time was how vast the meta was. It seems to have shrunk, though there is still something for every pallet.

One of the biggest absences this weekend was unfair decks. I wrote an article after GP Amsterdam about my impressions of Legacy as a first time player, and I said, “You cannot play a fair deck—it will just lose.” Well, that appears to be becoming less true. The unfair decks still exist: Storm, Reanimator, Sneak and Show, Dredge etc. but the fairer decks (I won’t quite say fair) have adapted and are a successful part of the meta. This will, undoubtedly, fluctuate depending on sideboard and main deck choices. For example, I did not need any of my storm or graveyard hate this weekend. This might result in my reassigning those sideboard slots, which will then allow those decks to beat me in a subsequent tournament.

I guess before regular tournaments existed, the Legacy metagame could not define itself, and so people played anything they liked. Now, tuned and proven decks exist to copy. As the variation shrinks, sideboards can be tuned and metagame decisions can be made.

It is interesting that Storm won. As Reanimator became such a popular and expected deck, multiple sideboard slots were devoted to dealing with the menace. This leaves less room to deal with Storm, which worked out well for Timo Schünemann

When the Bubble Bursts

For those that don’t keep an eye on my every move (I really hope that’s all of you), then you will have missed how frustrating the last season’s GPs were for me. There were three GPs in Europe. I “successfully” went 6-3 at two of these and 5-3 at the other. I followed this up with the first GP on this season by converting a 6-0 start into a 6-3 miss.

That’s a lot of bubble matches. Six to be precise.

The final event was GP Manchester and I left disheartened, downcast, and frustrated. Luckily, a superhero appeared in the form of Richard Hagon who had a chat with me about state of mind and focus. This is what prompted me to reassess when I am successful, helped me win the WMCQ, and spawned my article on the topic.

Putting it into practice at a GP was going to be the big test. It’s a long, tiring day and it is easy to fade and lose concentration.

So, did it work?

In a word, yes. I once again got to 6-0, but then drew the next, and lost the one after that. When this happened in Manchester I went on tilt. I remembered my seemingly complete inability to win a bubble match and I lost it. I could have been handed a sweet legacy deck to beat the Limited pool the opponent in front of me was wielding, and it wouldn’t have mattered. When you sit down thinking like that, you will lose.

This time I was ready for the fears and doubts and I pushed them away. I wasn’t going to think like that. I would play the match to the best of my ability and see if that was good enough. I knew I could win.

Well, I did. And victory never tasted sweeter.

I am on the road to recovery and improvement. Identifying a problem (by yourself or with help from others) and working to overcome it is really satisfying. I have spoken to various players who mentioned having bad runs or feeling stuck. Don’t worry, you can beat it. It will require hard work and perseverance but, it’s not beyond your capabilities.

All in all I had a fun and successful GP. I finished 45th, my highest finish yet at a GP and, more importantly for me, I kept a clear head throughout and got to make some really sweet plays. If you have never tried Legacy, then it is well worth putting in the effort—so give it a try! Until next week, feel free to say hi @onionpixie.

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