After the Vintage side event at Pro Tour Kyoto on Saturday, I knew I would have a lot going on the next day. First off, there was the Beta/Italian Revised/Portal Three Kingdoms draft that I qualified for in the morning, and then there was a Legacy Duel for Duals at 2PM. I hoped that the Beta draft wouldn’t last long enough that I would miss the Legacy, as that was what I really wanted to play in, mostly to test for Grand Prix Chicago.
With the Beta starting at 10AM, I would need to win it pretty fast to have enough time for the Legacy tournament. However, I suppose if I were too late to enter the Legacy, it would mean that the Beta was going well, so I might not mind.
With each pack, a player could “reserve” a card. At the end of the draft, each player would have three reserved cards, and could pick one of those cards to keep. The winner of the eight man single elimination draft would get the rest of the cards and a mini laptop. It was a pretty big prize, but typically, I performed miserably in these side events. At the Worlds Win a Car, I went 0-2. The next year, at the Worlds Win Gold, I went 2-2 with an amazing sealed deck. It did not bode well for me.
I slow rolled every pick in the Beta pack. Turns out that each of the packs had about four basic lands in each. I thought that adding one basic land to Shards was bad enough, but apparently things could have been worse. The first few cards were all unexciting, but Swords to Plowshares was the second to the last, which would be a fine first pick. The final card was a Bayou, which made me pretty happy. How many of you can say you cracked a Beta Bayou?
Second pick I took a Prodigal Sorcerer over basically nothing, and then selected the highly underrated Living Wall third. I predicted that the format would be pretty slow and cards like Living Wall were going to be very difficult to get through. Turns out, I was sort of right, as the Beta and Revised packs contained nothing but slow, terrible cards, but Portal sped up the format a ton.
Fourth and Fifth pick I selected some banders, as I dreamt of scenarios where my ground guys would hold off their army, as banding would make any trades terrible for them. With the ground locked up, I would eventually just kill them with fliers. The rest of the pack consisted mainly of me selecting basic lands at random.
My Revised pack was pretty loose, and I reserved a Mountain. Thankfully, I somehow got passed a Sol Ring and then an Aladdin’s Ring to combo quite nicely with it. The rest of my picks were fairly mediocre in the Revised pack.
Drafting the Portal pack was extremely interesting. All of the packs were Chinese and the draft consisted of myself, two European pros, and five Japanese players. None of us could read Chinese and there was only a single Magic Encyclopedia with which to translate with. After a while, there was also a laptop that had the images on them, but even two translators for eight drafters meant the draft itself took well over an hour. In fact, my draft started before the Pro Tour Top 8, and by the time Luis was in the finals, I was still drafting.
I opened an Imperial Seal, but don’t remember what I selected as it wasn’t exactly noteworthy. However, I got passed Ravages of War (Armageddon) and Rolling Earthquake (think Earthquake, but better) which made my deck considerably better. At the end of the draft, I was very happy with my deck, as Portal filled out my curve with some very solid horsemanship creatures.
Some scouting revealed that one player had two Pestilences, a Fireball, and a Black Knight, all of which were quite good against me. Two other opponents had Disintegrates. It seemed like it would be hard to win this eight man.
The Draft Battles
Round one I faced one of the Europeans. His deck had about 15 great cards and then a lot of filler. I thought I was in good shape with Living Wall, a 2/2 horsemanship, and Rolling Earthquake, Swords, and Path of Peace in my hand, especially after my mulligan, but I definitely messed up enough to cost me the game. My opponent had a Mahamoti Djinn and another random creature, so I chose to Path of Peace the Moti rather than use my Quake at that point as I figured I would be able to get a three for one later with it, or just use it to burn him out.
After that, he played a 3/3 horsemanship that I used Swords on, as I wanted a high life total to make my Quake better, and the horsemanship creature could simply ignore.
My opponent then played a Juggernaut, while I played a Benalish Hero, which I could trade with the Juggernaut with the help of banding. On his turn, he cast Holy Strength on it, and I could no longer block. Now, if I wanted to use the Quake, I would have to use it to trade two of my cards for two of his. I figured we could trade damage for a bit, and if I drew another creature I could use that to trade with his Juggernaut.
In game two, it was my opponent’s turn to mulligan, and my deck managed to curve out perfectly. I finished him off with an Armageddon. For the third game, I mulliganned again, but again had a decent curve. We each played a 2/2 horsemanship on the third turn, but on his fourth turn, he just passed with four mana open. I knew he had Guardian Angel in his deck and didn’t want to let him use his mana that turn, so I just played another creature and passed the turn.
When he passed the turn again, something seemed fishy, but I didn’t quite know what it was. When I attacked with both of my creatures and he simply took it, I knew something was amiss. After all, why would his creature not attack or block? Sadly, I didn’t know what it meant. Surely, there was some card in the format he could have to justify his odd play, so I just decided to kill him as fast as possible. Once I dropped another creature or two, I cast Armageddon as I knew that he wouldn’t be able to come back from that board position.
As it turns out, there is a card in Portal that destroys all tapped creatures for 4WW, but he never got to six mana. Who knew?
The other European lost, so I was going to face all Japanese from here on out. I played against a young kid with a pretty good RG deck, if not for a few mediocre cards. In game one he played two Craw Wurms and two Lightning Bolts, which was more than enough to beat me.
Second game, he kept Mountain, Sol Ring, and spells, but drew the Forest to cast a three mana Rampant Growth. I thought the turn three Craw Wurm was coming, but he could only play a Sol Ring. I stabilized with my superior cards and he ended up flooding out while I played a midgame Sol Ring into Aladdin’s Ring.
For the final game, he started out strong with Scryb Sprites, a Zodiac Monkey, and then a 1/1 forestwalking Dryad. I had a very strong Prodigal Sorcerer on turn three, while my opponent only had green mana. I played a 2/2 horsemanship and passed the turn. He drew a Mountain, played it, and then a Portal Mogg Fanatic wannabe and killed my Sorcerer. I got to kill a creature, but given enough time, that Sorcerer would have destroyed him.
Instead, I had to trade with his crappier creatures, but I managed to stabilize. He had a 3/3 trampling Woolly Mammoth, while I had a 3/3 horsemanship. I was at four and had six lands, Plains, Armageddon, 2/2 horsemanship, and Aladdin’s Ring in my hand while he had five lands and one card. I could wait a turn and hope I drew a land for the Ring, but if his card was a Craw Wurm and I missed on the land, I would be in a lot of trouble. I decided to float two, cast Geddon, play a land and the 2/2.
On his turn, he offered the trade for our 3/3s, which I had to take. I attacked him to nine while he drew and played another land. I could only attack and pass, while he conveniently drew a 2/1 so I had to hold back as I couldn’t race and didn’t want to get Bolted out. We traded and he played yet another land.
Three turns later, he had Craw Wurm in play, while I was still stuck on one Plains with seven spells in my hand. I finally drew a second Plains and played a tiny creature that I chumped with and he played yet another guy. At this point, I was drawing to Swords, but didn’t get there and died.
At least I could still play Legacy. I still needed some dual lands for my deck, so David Ochoa (aka Webster) took it upon himself to sell my Ancestral and buy me some dual lands that I needed while I tried to get the rest of my deck together, so thanks for that Web!
I knew I wanted to play something with Counterbalance, while Josh Utter-Leyton (aka Wrapter) was going to test out Ad Nauseam and Web was going to try Merfolk. I studied all the online lists, but I liked the ones that were more like a real control deck than something mindlessly aggressive like the UGR Canadian Threshold list, some of which just jammed the Top/Counterbalance combo into their deck.
I wanted to be able to fight in the late game if need be, so I wanted some kind of card drawing or ways to get card advantage. Most of the card drawing in the format was too slow like Fact or Fiction, or too situational like Thirst for Knowledge. I didn’t want to run a ton of artifacts, so Thirst was probably out of the question.
I have found Standstill to be pretty bad, especially on the draw. Legacy is just too fast to rely on something like Standstill, as there are plenty of insane one drops that make playing Standstill much better for your opponent than you. In addition to that, they might simply just draw more manlands and Wastelands and will be able to assemble a better board position, forcing you to crack your own Standstill.
I like my cards to be great at all points in the game, which is one of the reasons I don’t like Standstill. In a fifteen round tournament like a Grand Prix, the odds of Standstill costing you games are pretty high. I chose to look for other options.
Prolepsis9 is a MODO screen name that I’m familiar with, so when I saw that he was cutting up the Classic premier events with a decent looking list, I decided to grill him about his choices and he was more than helpful. I ended up running something close to his list, although I wanted to change a couple things. He had Eternal Witness and then Mystic Enforcer, but I wanted to try Trinket Mages. He also only had three Tops and three Counterbalances, which I consider a crime. I had to cut something, and chose the Counterspells. Even though I thought they would be better than Fact or Fiction, I wanted to give FoF a try.
Here is what I registered:
The tournament was swiss plus one and was capped at 128 people, which meant eight rounds total. The winner would get 30 dual lands, while second place would get the other ten. The remaining top finishers would all get some Conflux boosters.
Round one I sat down across from a German gentlemen playing mono black Pox. Both games ended the same way. We both fought hard in the early game, but eventually I found Loam in game one and Crucible in game two. Sensei’s Top helped me get there.
Second round I sat next to Wrapter while I played against a pseudo mirror. By turn four or so, I turned to Wrapter and told him that my opponent was most definitely a ringer. His duals were all Beta, he had a good deck, and he knew exactly how to play, especially with his Tops. This was going to be a tough match.
After the match, coverage reporter extraordinaire Keita Mori informed me that my opponent was the highest rated Eternal player in all of Japan, and the only Magic format he plays is Legacy. It’s good to know that I’m still a good talent scout.
His deck was strictly UGB, so I felt like I had the advantage with my Red Blasts for his Threads and Sowers, and Swords as additional removal. I also had Loam with Wastelands and Factories. The late game would certainly be mine.
Third round my opponent’s deck exploded in his hands while he was taking his first mulligan, and Golgari Grave Trolls went everywhere. I was going to keep my hand regardless, as it was Brainstorm, Daze, Swords to Plowshares, Top, and some lands, but having the extra information certainly helped.
Turns out that he didn’t stop at one mulligan, and ended up going down to four cards. His draw was still pretty bad, and I didn’t have much trouble dispatching him.
At this point, I was pretty happy that I had the Crypts in the sideboard, even though I wasn’t expecting much Dredge, nor was I expecting to play against it once I was in the winners bracket. Dredge just seems very poor in Legacy. It was a force in Extended when no one had Force of Will or Swords and usually had Snare instead of Force Spike. Finding a hand with land, discard outlet, and a dredger is hard enough, but you normally need two or more discard outlets in Legacy because of things like FoW, StP, and Daze. It makes Dredge even more unstable and borderline unplayable. With really good hands throughout a tournament, you can certainly win, but it doesn’t make it a good choice.
Second game I had to work a little harder for my victory. I managed to Swords and Daze his first couple discard outlets, but he managed to dredge into another dredger every time and even had a Chalice for zero. I had to Intuition for Loam, Explosives, and Academy Ruins, while Tarmogoyf held the zombies at bay. I was able to Ruins the Explosives back on top, play it where x was equal to one, but sunburst was zero due to the Academy Ruins and blow up his team and Chalice. Shortly thereafter, he was conceding to Tormod’s Crypt recursion thanks to Trinket Mage.
I got a gift pairing in round four, as I managed to play against a White Weenie deck. His deck had some Cataclysms that I was somewhat scared of, but Daze managed to keep them in check. Tarmogoyf, Counterbalance, and Pyroclasm were all stars and I won another easy matchup.
My opponent wasn’t happy with his fifth round pairing, as I was the only Counterbalance deck in his bracket, which is a terrible matchup for his Ad Nauseam deck. Game one I played a Polluted Delta and passed, while he cast Brainstorm and then went all in on Lion’s Eye Diamond plus Infernal Tutor. I had the Force of Will and he conceded when I played a Tarmogoyf, as his life total was already low from mana burn.
For the final game he led with land and two Lotus Petals. I played a second land and an Engineered Explosives. I said go and my opponent lapsed into thought. While he was thinking, I realized what a huge mistake saying go was, as he probably had Orim’s Chant in his deck. During his upkeep, I took the chance that he didn’t have it and blew the Explosives. He Chanted me which I had to Force of Will, and then floating a blue with his other Petal, burned for one, played a land and passed the turn.
I played a Counterbalance and passed back. He made his land drop and ended his turn. I was stuck on two and couldn’t play anything. My opponent played a Lion’s Eye Diamond and I blind revealed a Trinket Mage. He then played a Rite of Flame which I let resolve and then a Dark Ritual, which would leave him with five mana and one card in hand.
I was pretty sure that I was just going to Daze his Ritual, as then he couldn’t cast Ad Nauseam, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cast the Brainstorm in my hand or not. Eventually, I decided that I would cast the Brainstorm, as there was a very low chance that it would leave me stuck with all uncastables, so I decided that I would cast the Brainstorm, but for some reason I cast it after the Ritual, even though I could have Brainstormed into a one drop and countered it for free. I didn’t get there so it wouldn’t have mattered, but it was still a pretty bad play.
My Brainstorm is pretty bad, and now I have to draw blanks for two turns in a row. I should have waited at least a turn to cast it, as I was under no real pressure and still had the Counterbalance plus Brainstorm to protect me.
On his next turn, my opponent draws the perfect card: Cabal Ritual. His Ad Nauseam resolves and he stops at five life, as he has enough to storm me out for 18, exactly my life total, and he didn’t want to risk flipping his other Ad Nauseam. However, the Fact or Fiction I left on top counters a copy of his Tendrils which leaves me at two life. I draw a Tarmogoyf and then a Top soon after, and he can’t deal me the last two points before Goyf finishes him.
At this point I’m on a fifteen Eternal match winning streak, and feeling pretty good. Obviously, right now is a good time to crash and burn. I get paired against Aggro Loam, which I feel is a solid matchup, but it didn’t quite go as planned. In game one, he plays a couple early guys that I simply can’t find answers to. Top doesn’t always serve up the goods and despite establishing a Counterbalance soft lock, he’s got the board position.
I keep a much better hand for the second game and am able to stop his dudes. Eventually, Counterbalance stops his attempt at a comeback and he concedes to a Tarmogoyf. For the final game, I keep Top, Daze, Sower, and lands while he gets the best start possible: turn one Dark Confidant. I am ready to Daze a second turn Countryside Crusher, but he is smart enough to play around it. He just casts a Life from the Loam and saves the Crusher for turn three. I get Duresed, but that doesn’t stop Sower, which I use on his Crusher.
However, he’s still drawing a bunch of cards with Loam and Confidant, so I’m kind of nervous. He tries for a Seismic Assault, but I flip my Top to find the Force I was floating and counter it. He still gets to play a Tarmogoyf though. “My” Crusher becomes a 9/9 and reveals an Intuition. I attack with both of my creatures and my opponent goes deep in the tank. By Wasting my own land, I could pump the Crusher to 11/11, which with my Sower, would put him at one. Sadly, my opponent remembered the Intuition I showed him and correctly blocked.
He did some cycling end of turn, and found another Seismic Assault, which I couldn’t stop, as I couldn’t find a blue card which would allow me to Intuition for Force of Wills. I Intuitioned for Swords to Plowshares to kill his Crusher, and would then need to preferably find a Trinket Mage for Tormod’s, but saw a bunch of blanks instead.
I watched the legendary Tsuyoshi Fujita battle with his new brew all day, this time it was a Natural Order/Rock variant. I didn’t have any good answers to Progenitus, and he had a lot of three drops that I couldn’t easily stop with Counterbalance, so the matchup didn’t seem very good. I was starting to wish I hadn’t cut those Counterspells.
Tsuyoshi thankfully didn’t have a Top in the first game, but didn’t really need it. I Force of Willed his first Natural Order, sacrificing his Finks, and then Forced his Eternal Witness. His second Witness and the following Natural Order killed me though. I didn’t have much of anything going on, but the only thing that would have saved me was a Counterbalance with a three on top or a never ending string of Force of Wills.
The second game went much better for me, as I started with a Top and Dazed his. This time, my Top advantage proved key as I was able to stop his early threats while he flooded out. He tried to make a comeback with a Pernicious Deed, but I calmly revealed the three drop I was floating on top, and he conceded.
I punted the final game. I had a raw Counterbalance in play when I untapped on turn three. I should have passed the turn and used Brainstorm to counter his Cabal Therapy via Counterbalance, and Force of Will his Natural Order. After that, I could untap and play Trinket Mage for Top. Instead, I decided that I didn’t want to spend my turn “doing nothing” and hastily cast the Trinket Mage. He had the Therapy and Natural Order and I was dead.
After the match, Brian Kowal pointed out my mistake and it seemed fairly obvious after I saw it.
I was now out of contention for first or second, but decided to stay in for experience and a chance to get prizes. I was paired against another Japanese superstar, this time Masahiko Morita. I have only beaten Morita a few times in my career, and all of those have been on Magic Online. I’m not sure what it is about him, but he just always beats me.
He was another Aggro Loam player, although these games were far from close. Again, I had problems stopping his early threats and his engine just ran me over. I couldn’t find Counterbalance in game one and in game two, I couldn’t find a two drop. I think my problem was that I had sided out Dazes, which left me with only eight two drops. That left my Counterbalances highly ineffective, which was a mistake I wouldn’t make again.
I also didn’t have enough removal for his guys, which left me thinking about adding some Blue Elemental Blasts or Hydroblasts. Technically, Hydroblast is better as you can cast it on their land if you need an instant for your Tarmogoyf, but that situation should rarely, if ever come up. I ran a split on Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast because of stuff like Cabal Therapy and Meddling Mage, so maybe that should be the case for Hydroblast as well. Granted, it is very unlikely someone would name Hydroblast with Meddling Mage, but they could easily Wish for Therapy if they wanted to resolve a threat like Crusher or Devastating Dreams, especially if they knew you had a Blast from an earlier discard spell.
5-3, 12-8, top sixteen and the winner of nine packs.
All of these things led to me playing what I did at Grand Prix Chicago, although I certainly tried several different builds before I settled on one similar to what Gabriel Nassif used to win the tournament.
Feel free to leave questions or comments in the forums or email me at GerryT at ChannelFireball dot com.