Chasing Victory – Lessons from GenCon

“You want some Lessons from Gen Con? Don’t go.”

-Bill Boysen

Going into Gen Con, Steve Sadin and I had a plan. We made a list of events that we wanted to play in based on the schedule and the prizes up for grabs in the various tournaments. All of the championship events (block, Legacy, Vintage) had great prizes, and I definitely wanted to play in all of them.

Steve and I had been tuning our block 5cc list, based on Chapin’s from Pro Tour Honolulu, all week. We didn’t foresee anything coming close to beating it once we added some extra hate for Esper and WG.

Here is the list we played, although block isn’t the most interesting or relevant format:



I predicted the field to be Jund, 5cc, and Esper, with some GW beatdown thrown in, and basically because block is such a narrow format, I was right. This list is great against all of those decks, and while I might change a couple things, I would definitely play the deck again.

The best part of the deck is the sideboard plan for the mirror, where you cut everything that isn’t a Mind Rot, so every time you cascade, you destroy their hand.

– 4 Wall of Denial, 1 Caldera Hellion, 3 Maelstrom Pulse, 2 Terminate
+ 4 Blightning, 2 Deny Reality, 1 Scepter of Fugue, 1 Ajani Vengeant, 2 Thought Hemorrhage

It’s a shame that I have to keep in some Caldera Hellions, but it honestly doesn’t matter, as if the mirror isn’t on the same type of Blightning plan, it’s very hard for them to win. You are usually able to Mind Rot them on turns three, four, and five, which basically leaves them with nothing but lands. I was on the receiving end of this round two of the Pro Tour, and I knew that I basically couldn’t win the match, as I was relying on Countersqualls to fight his 20 Mind Rots.

Traumatic Visions is very important in the mirror as well, as it allows you to play a counterspell without ruining your cascades, which is necessary for fighting Cruel Ultimatum.

A lot of people said that block is unfun, and all based on luck, because “My opponent had to cascade into his Maelstrom Pulse to win, and got there” or some such. The great thing about this deck is that, for the most part, you are able to control your cascades to always hit what you want.

In game one, your cascades always hit something that deals with a threat or an Esper Charm. Sometimes, hitting an Esper Charm against an aggro deck is pretty bad for you, but even turning your Bloodbraid into a Mulldrifter isn’t the worst thing.

Post board, you will have full control over your cascades.

You might be thinking that block is boring, irrelevant, and dear god why am I reading this, but I feel like these lessons are going to translate well into the new Standard format in a few months. Cascade is such an overpowered mechanic that it would be wise to remember why Chapin’s block deck was so good. After all, you are going to need a really good reason to not play with Bloodbraid Elf in October.

As I mentioned earlier, I finished the block championships in fourth place. Kind of hard to be disappointed with such a solid finish, but I was. I was paired against Sadin round one in the 75 card mirror, and we had to decide what to do. The tournament was a heavy six rounder, meaning that 4-1-1 wasn’t likely to make top eight, so IDing was out of the question. A draw was as good as a loss, but for some reason I see players make the mistake of IDing too early.

We didn’t want to play the match out, as that seemed quite boring, so Steve offered to concede. I offered to concede in response, but Steve was having none of it. Naturally, he lost round two while I didn’t lose until top four.

The tournament went as expected. I defeated two Jund decks and a WG deck (two of those matches were feature matches as well, covered by www.ggslive.com) before double drawing into top eight and grabbing some food. I beat a very aggressive Jund deck in top eight before losing to Brian Kowal’s 4c Jund deck.

During the block tournament, I was attempting to brew up something awesome for the Legacy championship. Sadin and I were definitely going to split our prizes pre-tournament, because we felt like either one of us could do really well if we played the right deck and/or got good matchups. Cutting down on variance seemed like a good idea for an event like Gen Con which ends up being pretty expensive. We both just wanted to recoup the cost of our trip and maybe make a little extra. Neither of us were trying to “get big.”

To further cutting down on variance, we decided that we should both play different decks. What if we both played some form of Counterbalance, only for the field to be very hostile towards it? We would both likely have poor finishes.

Early on, we decided that the 40 land deck seemed very strong. Not many players were playing combo and a lot of good players were playing blue decks, which lands is very good against. That seemed like a good first choice, but after Cedric Phillips split the Legacy event at Gen Con, a lot of other players were jumping on the bandwagon. We definitely needed our second deck to be good against lands, so I started looking at combo decks.

Dredge was a possibility, but it wasn’t very good against the land deck in my experience. There were basically no outs to a Glacial Chasm, and even beating things like [card]Maze of Ith[/card] and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale was proving difficult. In addition, with the land deck becoming popular, I could easily see the Leylines and other hate coming at me.

Storm was another deck I was looking at ever since Ben Lundquist played a cool looking Ad Nauseam deck at the Boston 5K (which I think was designed by Ben Stark). It was the first version I saw that had Crystal Vein and Mox Diamond for faster Ad Nauseams and Psychatogs in the sideboard. Obviously the main problem with the storm deck is the bad Blue matchup, which I didn’t really know how to address. Playing some Grips and praying didn’t seem like the best idea.

There were other combo decks that I felt more comfortable with, such as Illusions/Donate or Painter/Grindstone, but those were all poor vs. Krosan Grip. The Trix combo had some advantages, such as being able to play Counterbalance/Top, being better against opposing Counterbalances, and being able to run a Merchant Scroll/Intuition/Accumulated Knowledge engine that I really liked. Merchant Scroll also allowed for some awesome one ofs, like Gigadrowse to put them off of Grip mana.

Chapin suggested his Hive Mind combo deck, but we proxied it, played a couple games, and then left it on a table. Pat also brought up Aluren, which seemed interesting, but then I thought about the Leyline of the Void/Helm of Obediance combo. Being able to play Leylines maindeck in a field of Loam and Tarmogoyf seemed pretty awesome, but if you didn’t open with Leyline, your combo was hard to assemble. Also, I didn’t really know what kind of shell I wanted to play.

I could have used a standard Counterbalance/Top shell, a straight combo deck, or even a white Stax shell like Chapin suggested. I considered all of that, until I thought of Back to Basics.

Mono Blue control was the first thing I thought of, and that night I scoured mtgthesource.com and deckcheck.net for lists. I liked some of what I saw, and disliked a whole lot more. It seemed like a lot of people had things like random Vendilion Cliques in their draw-go decks. Still, that isn’t quite as strange as trying to make Ophidian happen (it’s NOT gonna happen), or playing such sick draw engines as Think Twice or Trade Routes. Don’t even get me started on those Drift of Phantasms.

Anyway, the list of good Blue cards legal in Legacy is quite long. Shocking, I know right? I considered playing any of the following cards, and had a very hard time chopping it down into a deck:

Ancestral Vision
Sensei’s Divining Top
Swords to Plowshares
Force Spike
Spell Snare
Jace Beleren
Thirst for Knowledge
Back to Basics
Cryptic Command
Force of Will
Tezzeret the Seeker (probably with a Pithing Needle, Relic of Progenitus, and Ensnaring Bridge)
Engineered Explosives
Vedalken Shackles

Kaho, Minamo Historian (Nice card – LSV)
Trinket Mage
Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Decree of Justice

Chrome Mox
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand


Threads of Disloyalty
Hydroblast/Blue Elemental Blast
Relic of Progenitus
Engineered Plague
Krosan Grip
Thawing Glaciers

I knew that I wanted to run a Brainstorm/fetchland engine, most likely with Ancestral as my main card drawer. Being able to Tezzeret for Ensnaring Bridge was appealing to me, at least in game one. With Tezzeret, I could justify running Thirst for Knowledge, Chrome Mox, Trinket Mage, and basically no other creatures except for maybe a one of Meloku. The problem with that was that it’s slow and bad against things like Daze, Red Elemental Blast, and Krosan Grip.

Chrome Mox would be useful for turbo-ing out Back to Basics as well, although that probably isn’t very necessary. I was always a fan of Mox in the old NLU style decks, as playing turn one Top and having Counterbalance active on turn two while knowing what your top cards were is extremely powerful. Still, the card disadvantage is a bit much, especially when you’re also packing [card]Force of Will[/card]s.

This is what I probably would have played:


It’s possible that several things are wrong with this list, including:

1) Not enough card drawing. A couple Thirsts or Fact or Fictions could fix this, although Brainstorms and Tops may be sufficient.

2) Not enough creature removal, especially maindeck. Splashing Swords might be the answer.

3) A little slow, especially considering the Counterbalances and Back to Basics. Chrome Moxes are looking pretty good though.

4) Maybe not enough answers to Counterbalance. Splash Krosan Grip?

As I said earlier, there are a ton of different ways to build the deck. I even considered a UGW threshold style deck with Back to Basics. I feel like the card is just really good right now, especially in that specific tournament where I knew I would have to beat the land deck at some point.

I realize that threshold with Back to Basics or even Magus of the Moon isn’t very earth shattering, but they are both cards that seem to have been forgotten (I think what Gerry is trying to say is that it might be time to uh, go back to basics -LSV).

Steve ended up playing a mopey UW control deck rather than asking anyone if they had cards for the land deck and went 4-0, 0-2. I wasn’t able to get to the site on time after staying up too late the night before, so I just decided to sleep in instead. Probably a much worse decision, as I’m regretting it now.

Bonus Cascade LD list that I’ve been playing on Magic Online:

Cascade LD

It needs some work, but I’m happy with the matchups against anything that aren’t Faeries or Rb.


8 thoughts on “Chasing Victory – Lessons from GenCon”

  1. That land destruction deck just isn’t as good without boomerang. wouldn’t it benefit from running incendiary command?

  2. Not much LD in the LD deck, but then that game is about having just enough and no more.

    To bad you didn’t get to play that Legacy deck. I belive I played a mono-blue Back to Basics deck to a top 8 at a Gencon many years ago, in Vintage. Vastly different metagame and a bit before Vintage had it’s resurgeance, but the point is that I admire the intention.

  3. I’m really wishing they hadn’t dropped Rule of Law from the core set. As soon as I started using the card (a cheaper alternative to cannonist, and more durable) M10 came out, *insert frowny face here*

  4. About Block: IMO you run WAY too much removal md. Esper Aggro is a complete joke and GW is a good matchup even with just pulses and a couple of sb infests. The matchup that concerns me is that Sphinx Control deck, since they play cheap counters for your discards and lots of card draw. Even when you empty their hand they can just topdeck Sharuum and start looping cards again (you can’t ever remove it if they have the protomatter powder and their sphinx akroma of doom in unkillable w/o an ultimatum). That’s why I’m currently playing 4 hemmorhages in the sb. I usually don’t like this type of do nothing cards, but if you remove their sharuums they practically lose on the spot, and it’s not that bad in the mirror too.

    About T2: Isn’t the elf matchup a nightmare w/o infests? 🙁

    GJ with ur articles, keep them up ^^

  5. The only flaws in your counterbalance deck are 1) counterbalance will miss more than in most decks. You only have 7 cards in the 2-cost slot, and that’s counting your CBs. 2) You only have 4 pieces of removal, so I could see turn1 Wild Nacatl or Aether Vial (especially from Merfolk) being an issue.

    It looks like it would crush 43Lands and have game against Dredge, though, so if that’s all you were gunning for, I guess you’re set.

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