Feature Article – GP Madrid Report *Top 4*


Hello, this is Tomoharu Saito.

Because I was able to place in the top four playing Legacy at Grand Prix Madrid immediately following my Grand Prix Oakland article, this article is also a tournament report.

Prior to Deck Selection

This time, I played Blue/Black ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils). I will discuss the details of how I came to this decision.

First of all, the fact that ANT is the strongest deck is well-known among players who devote themselves to Legacy.

However, that ANT is the strongest deck was only one of the conditions I was considering, as there was also the issue of playing it correctly.

In playing the deck even a little it becomes apparent that there are many choices to be made, and that it is a considerably difficult deck to play.

In addition to hand disruption, Brainstorm, Ponder, Ad Nauseam, Sensei’s Divining Top and others make up the essential group of card choices. Furthermore, when trying to go off, making an error when keeping track of storm and mana counts can be a serious mistake.

Naturally, given that I was unable to take much time to practice it seemed very likely that playing this extremely difficult deck was not the best option. But, when playing ANT I have an advantage. This was that at the end of last year, I went to Osaka for an event called the “Eternal Party”, which is Japan’s largest Legacy tournament. There, I played this version of ANT and won the championship. It was at this event that ANT’s popularity grew considerably.

Although ANT is too difficult to play correctly in 100% of circumstances, I decided to play this deck because even if played correctly only 90% of the time it is still the strongest option. Incidentally, Yuuta Takahashi, the most active Legacy player among Japanese pros has the exact same opinion on this matter, and supported me in this decision.

One point where we disagreed though was regarding which variant of the deck was better: the one that included white with Orim’s Chant and Silence or the two-color Blue/Black discard version. Eventually, I decided on the latter two-color version that I played at the Eternal Party. There are three main reasons:

(1) When you add White, it becomes easier to have colored mana difficulties due to lands. Consequently, it becomes difficult to use City of Traitors, a card that would otherwise increase the power of your deck.

(2) The turn you decide to use Orim’s Chant, one additional mana becomes necessary. This one mana is crucial. Casting a discard spell the turn before is also strong.

(3) Including Orim’s Chant has caused the rate at which I see playable hands to decline. If cards like Ad Nauseam are not available early game, an alternative game plan where I disrupt my opponent’s activity while using Brainstorm, Ponder, and Sensei’s Divining Top to easily accelerate mana and set up for Ad Nauseam is also a possibility.

These were the reasons.

In conclusion, in comparing the Orim’s Chant version to the Blue/Black one, I thought it seemed much less stable and that its chance of success in the tournament was much lower. Also, from the start I believed that the strongest deck was the most stable version.

Of course, if my opponent puts Sensei’s Divining Top as the top card of their library while holding a counterspell, not having Orim’s Chant can lead to an awkward moment.

So, as a result the deck list I used was the following:

Tomoharu Saito (ANT – Ad Nauseam/Tendrils of Agony)

The Tournament

The day before Friday I went to register and found a long line of players waiting at the desk. There is a Japanese expression that compares a line like this to a snake, and the people waiting to register certainly looked like one. Since I detest standing in lines, I considered returning to register the following day. The next day when I went to the assembly location, there were again many people in line and I waited for around 30 minutes.

And at the morning player meeting, there was the head judge’s announcement:
“2220 players have gathered here for the GP!”

A new world record for Grands Prix! Really, it was huge. Winning looked like it would be very difficult.

I could have seen this as a negative, but realized that I should view it as a good thing instead.

To keep my spirits up, there was one thing I had been considering.

Winning at a GP with over 2000 participants would be really cool! I had to try!

With this in mind, my GP Madrid performance began.

Day 1

Rounds 1-3 *BYE*

Round 4 0-2 vs. Counter-Top Goyf

In the first game, my opponent did not play terribly well, and although I had Ad Nauseam I thought revealing a card would be worse and made an error that destroyed my chances. I had four life remaining, and revealing a card had a much higher expected value. I think that this type of mistake is relatively easy to make, and requires special care to avoid. I lost one more time due to a weak draw and mana troubles.


Round 5 2-1 vs. Goblins

Goblins is ANT’s best match-up and it was easy to play against. It doesn’t have counterspells or discard, and is not itself a combo deck, but my opponent did play Gaddock Teeg. The main deck seeks to overwhelm with creatures, and after sideboard my opponent brought in counter-measure cards which proved advantageous in combating my deck.

Post-sideboard, he cast two Chalices of the Void set to 0 and set to 1 and was able to take a game.

Conversely, one of the only reasons I did not lose the match was Hurkyl’s Recall and all the other bounce spells. Adding these proved to be excellent.


Round 6 2-1 vs. Merfolk

Since I had never tested against merfolk, I guessed that our match-up odds were approximately 5:5. However, in reality against ANT it has only a few effective components and if Duress and Thoughtseize remove these cards, Ad Nauseam resolves and you have usually won. In thinking about it more, I had the sense that the match-up odds were better than I had originally guessed. Naturally, all kinds of counterspells as well as Stifle and Mindbreak Trap become the natural enemy as far as ANT is concerned, but in order to keep Merfolk’s versatility from being too low, there are many cases where they are not in these lists.


Round 7 2-0 vs. Merfolk

The second game was a certain victory. Because he had drawn already from Standstill, there were only a few effective components to deal with and after a Thoughtseize, Ad Nauseam won the game.


Round 8 2-1 vs. Mono Artifact

On the first turn of game one my opponent played Chalice of the Void for 0, and on turn two he played Trinisphere, for an overwhelming defeat. In the second and third game, I boarded in my bounce spells to cope with these issues and won via a successful Ad Nauseam.


Round 9 0-2 vs. Counter-Top Goyf

I lost decidedly in two games to Sensei’s Diving Top and Counterbalance. There was no way I could win if CTG’s plan played out perfectly.


The first day of GP Madrid was the usual level of tournament play, but that was just the first of two clearly different parts. Since there were so many people on day one, the tournament was packed full. There wasn’t a single round in which I didn’t bump arms with a player from the match next to mine, and in the first round I was hit on the back around ten times by people passing by. Everyone had to play their matches in these equally harsh conditions. And, within all this, I had chosen the hardest deck to play. In terms of results, I was safe to advance to the second day, but the play mistake I made in Round 4 that resulted in a loss had also prepared me for the possibility of a day one drop.

I think that from now on I will think of day one of this GP as a good experience. Although the conditions were poor it turned out to be a most suitable place to improve my ability to focus my mind and play correctly.

Day 2

Round 10 2-1 vs. Merfolk

An ordinary win. It seems like Merfolk is truly a good match-up for my deck. However, my play was not always clear, so I apologized to my opponent. Because I often feel only half-awake for the first match of the day I have to pay particular attention to clear communication and declaration of effects.


Round 11 2-1 vs. Zoo

My opponent was in the Top 8 of GP Amsterdam, the world’s first Grand Prix, and as such was certainly a GP veteran. In the first game, he played Gaddock Teeg, and I had no means to deal with it in my main deck. I had considered whether to add Chain of Vapor and [card]Wipe Away[/card] to the main deck at length, but at this time giving preference to the deck’s raw power has led me to leave them out. In the second and third games, I had means to deal with the problem cards, resulting in two ordinary wins.


Round 12 2-0 vs. Zoo

Usual wins. The details of my success were almost exclusively decided by [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] turning up [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card], and in the case where there was no hindrance to my plan there is little to write. Certainly in this match, and other times as well Tormod’s Crypt and other graveyard hate were played but were not very effective against ANT. I thought that perhaps [card]Path to Exile[/card] and other truly unhelpful cards were taken out and replaced by them, and began to interpret their appearance as a lucky sign. Seeing these cards meant that the chance that their sideboard had little to combat ANT was high.


Round 13 1-1-1 vs. Survival

In game one after checking his hand with a discard spell, it was as usual a decisive victory. In game two, my opponent played Gaddock Teeg and Ethersworn Canonist, and then he got a second Canonist from Survival of the Fittest. There was nothing I could do. On the internet I have seen various ANT lists which play one copy of Infest in their sideboards, and now gained an understanding of why this is useful. In the third game, we started with only about eight minutes remaining on the clock. This was an extremely advantageous situation for me. Any chance for my opponent’s mid-range deck to win was distant: this was either going to be a win or a draw for me. My opponent also clearly understood this, and the game ended in a draw after many counterspells and with zero damage dealt.


Round 14 2-1 vs. Dredge

In the first game, after my opponent took a triple mulligan and saw the card I hit with Duress he resigned himself to defeat. Because my opponent conceded in game one I had seen very little of his deck, but having seen other ANT players playing this match-up in previous rounds, I had some idea of his sideboard plans.

In game three, hitting with a discard spell led [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] to victory. Mana to cast Ad Nauseam came slowly which made me uneasy. In the end, one turn made the difference in allowing me to win.


Round 15 2-1 vs. WGB Control

My opponent took seven mulligans over three games. This was rough. I just wished him good luck. My opponent’s deck contained discard effects and Orim’s Chant, but aside from this there is little to say.


Round 16 2-1 vs. Counter-Top Goyf

Having no discard, I went all in on an attempt with Ad Nauseam in which I lost if my opponent had a Force of Will but had a chance if he did not. He didn’t, and I ended up winning. In these circumstances, I had to be proactive. If I waited, I would only become prey to Counterbalance.


Round 17 2-0 vs. Merfolk

The odds in this match-up are already quite good for me, and it was also the fourth time I had played against Merfolk and I had grown accustomed to it. Since he mulliganed, it was a certain victory.


Throughout day two, due to the space I was always able to feel at ease while I played. Also, my luck was good: I had 14 match wins, 2 losses, and one draw allowing me to advance to the top 8. Reflecting on the whole experience my main thought was that my play was slow. In order to avoid losses related to mana and storm count errors I carefully confirmed those numbers many, many times. If I were to have the opportunity to play this deck again, I would like to memorize each pattern before the event so that I could quickly confirm mana and storm counts.

Quarterfinal 2-0 vs. Counter-Top Goyf

Game one was decided normally with discard, but in game two I had no such spells, and I had what I believed was an All In victory. I won because he was unable to draw Counterbalance. Because Counterbalance can also be lost to discard, I prefer this version of ANT.

Semi-final 0-2 vs. ANT

My opponent in the semi-finals had practiced against me during byes from the day before. He is a friend of Martin Juza, and an ANT master. He included Orim’s Chant because he understood play of the deck very well. It was a slightly unfavorable match-up for me.

The first game was decided in favor of my opponent before it began by mulligans, and in the second game my opponent managed a second kill on the draw.

In game two I kept the following hand on the play:


Some people said to me afterwards, “Shouldn’t you have mulliganed?” It was certainly not an ideal hand, but I think it was a keep.

After sideboarding in the ANT vs. ANT match-up, Dark Confidant is strong because discard strips away options and hitting each other with Sadistic Sacrament means that the situation becomes such that Confidant is the only way of winning remaining. However, I have [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card] from the start, so it would be a one-sided advantage for me.

Also, playing Dark Confidant on turn two and then casting a ten point Tendrils of Agony on turn three makes it considerably more difficult for my opponent to achieve their combo.

And, because I knew that the deck list my opponent presented publicly before the tournament had only one copy of Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant was even better.

Unfortunately, my opponent killed me on turn two.

In this way, my part in the main event at GP Madrid came to an end. Legacy’s card pool is enormous, and with so many cards as options, play is both difficult and truly enjoyable.

I think the victorious Reanimator deck was bound to win. He passed through the preliminary rounds in first place, and as is it says in his top eight profile comment, he chose his deck because it isn’t fair. There was a lot of graveyard hate seeing play so while his timing was not the best, I think even just looking at his list shows that it is in fact considerably strong. If I was able to play in GP Madrid one more time, I honestly think I would like to play this deck. Though perhaps unexpected, the fact that this Reanimator build stands above 2220 other people is a happy thing.

Even though in the future the limited number of older cards may be a problem for the Magic world, I think I would like periodic Legacy GPs. This huge legacy tournament was interesting! There will be one more Legacy GP this year in Columbus, Ohio. I am really looking forward to it.

This concludes my report. See you around!

From Tomoharu Saito, to Magic players throughout the world

Translator Credit – Emily Porcher

41 thoughts on “Feature Article – GP Madrid Report *Top 4*”

  1. Congratulations! Top 4 over 2220 people is no small feat. You deemphasize it in your article, but I was very impressed that even though you lost your first round of actual play, you managed to keep your confidence and win enough afterwards to make top 8. Also looks like a very cool deck.

  2. Good read. Whoever is editing needs to fix the results after round 12 as it goes from 2 losses to 1 and ends up with 16 matches in 17 rounds.

  3. Excellent report and succinct, charming language. Saito has a wonderful attitude toward his own growth as a player. I’m glad to see Legacy gaining in international popularity.

  4. Also would like to add that in Round 12, it says Tendrils of *Corruption, not Agony.

    After reading your losses in rounds 4 and 9 0-2 to Counter Goyf, I’m glad you picked up and started winning you future matches. You changed your playstyle to combo as soon as possible in the matches you won. I’m guessing you played more cautious during the matches you lost.

    Seems like the best way to go even though Force of Will and Stifle are possible threats.

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  6. Nice report Saito! Would be really nice with a report about Kuala Lumpur too! I would like you yo talk about your Red Deck for that event – especially about your sideboard 🙂 Rakka Mar and Journey 🙂

  7. Very much enjoyed the article, thanks to the translator. I can live with minor editing errors for excellent content.

  8. @Mike: Any constructive comments, or just undirected complaining? Honestly, if things are wrong, they can be corrected, but undirected complaining is totally useless.

  9. A relevant comparison: There’s a world of difference between PV’s articles and this one. PV actually takes you into the thought process in interesting situations (and thoroughly so), while this is merely a reiteration of what happened during the tournament. “I lost, he had counter-top”, “I won, as I Ad Nauseam’ed on a crucial turn”. You can read the tournament coverage on wizards.com for that.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine, I just don’t see why people are getting carried away here.

  10. very helpful insight on how to properly play ANT…I’d love to see more Legacy stuff from ChannelFireball in general.

  11. I think we should name Saito’s version : SANTA, or Saito’s Ad Nauseam Tendrils (of) Agony.

  12. the difference between PV and saito is that PV is good and saito is like the best player in the world

  13. For your round 16, can you detail a bit more your decision making process on determining to go “all in” and bet it all on no counter? I always seem to get this wrong and I’m not sure if you’re just getting a great read on whether your opponent has the Force, or I just can’t flip the coin well…

    Also, any thoughts on reconciling these two comments: “…the fact that ANT is the strongest deck…” and (regarding the winning Reanimator list), “I would like to play this deck.” Is this a changing of the “fact” that ANT is the strongest deck, that Reanimator was a better list for that meta, or something else?

  14. Good to hear from a top 4 but the match reports were very skimpy. congrats on the result!

  15. Congrats! You make some very good points in support of discard over chant effects in ANT. I’m also curious as to what you think of Ill-Gotten Gains, Burning Wish, or Doomsday in ANT.

  16. nice article ! i was on GP Madrid (it was my first big tournament) and i saw you playing the semifinals vs ANT ^^ and it was so exciting !!

    well, i’ll be waiting for the next article !! good luck if you’re going to columbus =)

  17. Chris (brimstone)

    I’m sorry, but I fail to see why everyone is getting all carried away by this article. There are no specifics given in any round and no interesting plays/hands are presented. If I was interested in ANT, I’d want to know what hands should have in each match or at least his sideboarding strategies/thoughts. I’d also want to know some of the math behind the decisions or how to play around counters/chant, this article presented almost none of that. Comparing it to a PV article isn’t fair at all, PV’s tournament reports always include at least sieboarding philosophy and he at least tries to present interesting/unconventional plays he made or things his opponent’s did that he found odd (either good or bad). While the report wasn’t terrible, it’s not deserving of the praise it’s received.

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  19. I agree with chris the article wasn’t so interesting. Didnt realy gave any insight on the deeck/some interesting plays as im sure he could.

  20. The article wasn’t much for play by play, agreed. I enjoyed reading it b/c i love all tournament reports, but at least a couple of indepth looks at certain key situations, lines of play etc would be great.

    And editing while good could be better. Anyone else as irked as I when you see

    S Diamond

    on the decklists? You can’t mouse over it to see the card. QQ 😎

  21. It would be really nice to get some more articles from saito, perhaps next time you could go into things with a bit more detail. I would love to get into the head of one my favorite players of all time.

  22. I’m curious about why you think ANT does so poorly in the starcitygames 5k tournaments. Do you think it’s because the deck is so hard to play that only pros can win with it?

    Also, at the 5k tournaments, Merfolk have a very good matchup against ANT. Why do you think this is?

    I love playing ANT myself. I agree with you that Merfolk should be a good matchup, despite the 5k evidence suggesting otherwise. Even though I play with the deck a lot, I still seem to make mistakes with it somewhat often. However, the deck is so good I often win in spite of my mistakes.

  23. Chris (brimstone)

    “Not going into detail at least means we, ourselves, can do a bit more play testing.”

    Please don’t tell me this comment is supposed to be taken seriously.

  24. Heya,
    It was really interesting to play versus you, I was your Round 9 opponent. I must say, I knew you were playing ANT and my hands were very good against you and I was very excited to win the match. Good job on making top8 😉

  25. I agree with Chris (brimstone). Nothing too interesting going on in this article. I get the feeling the jubilant commentators are grading Mr. Saito’s Magic-playing skills, not his writing. Now the former is unquestionably great – but his article is just nothing to get excited about.

  26. Whether or not Merfolk runs Stifle, either maindeck or sideboard, greatly affects its game against ANT. Many ANT lists can’t stop a countered Chant followed by a Stifle, but that’s hard for merfolk to do, requiring 3 cards (FoW being its only hard counter that hits a 1cc spell).

    The difference between Thoughtseize/Duress as disruption, and Orim’s Chant, is that Chant absolutely must be used on the turn you go off. Duress lets you check out their hand a turn before you go off. That, and the straight UB version is less susceptible to mana disruption via Wasteland. I think this is why this version did well in Spain but the Chant lists are having problems in the 5k’s.

    As for the article, it well justifies the UB version over the Chant version more than anything else. In that regard, he did well; my play group is planning to try this list out soon.

  27. Definitely plan on playing this list in the future. I am just not sure how to SB.

    Saito, do you mind sharing some SB thoughts for certain match ups? (mainly Fish,Zoo, and Countertop)


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