When I booked my trip to the GPs, I had to choose between spending the time between tournaments in San Diego or in Madrid. It is generally tough for me to decide, because the US is cheaper and everything is easier in there, but other places are generally more interesting, since I already know the US a lot. This time, though, the fact that no one was going to Madrid early, and the fact that my other choice was in Spain, which is a place I am not particularly fond of, made the decision pretty easy. When Martin mentioned he and his friends were going to stay in San Diego until Thursday, I was set.
On Monday, I moved in with the Czech guys. They decided to go to Mexico on the first day, which meant I spent my afternoon in the shopping mall, because, well, I don’t have a visa for Mexico, and Brazil is in the select list (very select) of countries that need visas to go there. Apparently I did miss a lot, too, because one of the guys nearly got arrested for drinking in public – they put handcuffs on him and all that.
After that we drove to Hollywood, where my presence was allowed, and we got to see some parts of it that I hadn’t during the Pro Tour. I got to take a picture with Pee Wee’s star (though I have no idea if this is the Pee Wee from my column name, but there can’t really be a lot of Pee Wees can there?), and we participated a Hooter’s Quiz, in which we found out we are decent in geography and history but kind of fail when it comes to basketball players and who is marrying who in the movies scene.
After that, I finally began my journey to Madrid, and I have to say that everything in it was miserable, starting with the airplanes. First of all, it took me a really long time – I did San Diego-LA, LA-Miami, Miami-London, London-Madrid. Second, I was pretty sick during those – most of my time was spent drifting between sleeping and awake, in that febrile state where your dreams mix with reality and you have no clue about what is going on. My misery did not end when I landed, though, because I had to go through the end boss of the terrible airports, Barajas. It actually fights with London Heathrow for the worst airport I’ve ever been to, except Heathrow has some redeeming qualities, such as the absurdly awesome British Airways lounge, and, well, Barajas is just a bunch of stairs and walkways and people who do not know how to organize checked luggage, since mine was sent to a different terminal. Overall, everything was just really slow and inefficient.
After that I took a shuttle to our hotel, where I met Sam Black – our other roommate, Gaudenis, was only going to arrive on Saturday morning. I went to the shower, and as soon as I touched it, it went on a frenzy like those firemen hoses, wetting the entire bathroom in a matter of seconds, including the ceiling and the remaining towels. Awkward.
We left to the event, and Sam decided we should walk the first day, to see if walking was viable for the other days – it was “only two metro stops away” anyway. 50 minutes and three backtracks later, because we kept going in the other direction or running into dead ends, we arrived at the very crowded GP site. There we met Luis and Tim, and talked a bit about the decks. Some days before, at the PT, I had some pretentions of brewing something, mainly with Iona and Survival, but quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t have time to figure anything out – with two GPs and a PT in four different formats, you pretty much have to neglect one format, and that format was Legacy for me (and I believe everyone else), so I was probably going to play some sort of Counterbalance Top deck. Sam was set on playing 43 Lands, Luis was deciding between Enchantress and Counterbalance and Tim was, well, doing coverage. We went to eat and then back to our hotel, and I played a couple games with Enchantress to see if I liked it – I didn’t, even if I was beating Lands – and I decided to just play Counterbalance, like every time.
I have written about this already, but my process for choosing a Legacy deck includes a very big, and in my opinion effective, filter – either I am killing them on turn two, or I am stopping them from killing me on turn two, which basically means I have Force of Will in my deck. I pretty much refuse to be a victim of the people who choose to play those Ad Nauseam and Charbelcher decks – I want control over my games. At some point during the tournament, I was watching a feature match in which one player went land, Ponder. The other went land, Wild Nacatl. And then he died. How can I be the person playing Wild Nacatl in a format where you die turn two, if not one? Those people deserve to be killed on turn two every game!
Of the combo decks of today, it seems there are two options – Reanimator and Ad Nauseam. I’d never played a single game with Reanimator, and it seemed somewhat vulnerable, and my experience with Ad Nauseam hasn’t been very good – before GP Chicago I played three games, and when I died to Ad Nauseam on 19 life I knew it was not the deck for me. That left Blue.
Blue means pretty much two decks – Merfolk and Counterbalance variants. I have a hard time believing Merfolk is good in any format, and though it is better in Legacy than anywhere else, I still don’t really think it is very good – it beats the combo decks, but it doesn’t seem that good against anything else – just like I am not a fan of being killed on turn two by Ad Nauseam, I am not a fan of being killed turn two by Grim Lavamancer. That left Counterbalance.
You see, this train of thought is why I have a love-hate relationship with Legacy. Everyone says Legacy is a very open format and there are many viable decks, but I do not really consider many of those decks viable – I will likely never touch 43 Land in my life, for example, and there is no amount of talking that will convince me to do it – so it is a “viable” deck in the same way that Mono-Blue Allies is a viable deck in type two – sure, the cards are there, but it doesn’t actually beat anything. The fact that sometimes some people beat some decks with them doesn’t mean they should. I think the big problem is that some of the cards are so powerful that they render everything else unplayable – so though you have access to 10000 cards, you can only realistically play 50-100. It is pretty much the opposite of a format like Block Constructed, where you have 500 cards but the same 50-100 playables, because the context is much less powerful and lets you play less powerful cards and get away with it, and that is the main reason I like Block (obviously Alara block is excluded).
The love part comes from the fact that, like it or not, Legacy has been the format in which I have had the most success in competitive magic (well, other than Ravnica Team Block) – I’ve played 5 big Legacy tournaments, and my records were Top 24, Top 48 (both around 1K people events), 4-1 and 3-0-1 (at worlds) and 25th in this one. In those 5 tournaments, in a 3 year spam, all my decks had 4 Force of Will, 4 Brainstorm and a number of Dazes. So much for “diversity of choices”
So, I still needed a version. Luis said he thought Natural Orders were good, so I decided to base mine on Sperling’s PT San Diego side event list (though Luis ended up playing Enchantress). This is what I played:
I generally am not a fan of card-by-card explanations, since they always end up like “4 Thoughtseize: Discard important cards, a must have” “4 Wild Nacatl: 3/3 for 1, must have” but I will try to give an explanation about most of the cards for this one, since there is actually a reason why I play some cards instead of others:
4 Sensei’s Divining Top: PLAY FOUR OF THIS CARD. Seriously. I never expected to have to argue that, but the guy who Top 8ed ran three, so some people will invariably think “well he Top 8ed a 2 thousand person tournament with that, he must be doing something right” – whatever he is doing right, it is not playing 3 Tops. Top is the card that makes this deck, and you always want it in your opening hand. Multiples can always be shuffled away, and sometimes you even welcome them when you want to counter a lot of 1s in the match. MUST HAVE!
3 Daze: I am a fan of Daze as a card, but generally in more proactive decks such as Merfolk and combo. In this deck, its value is highly dependent on whether you are on the play or on the draw, and it is hard to use defensively when they are not trying to kill you in the first two turns – it is much better at countering Ad Nauseams than Wild Nacatls. The saving grace, and what makes me run 3, is Noble Hierarch – if you open with Tropical/Hierarch, then you can usually Daze anything with no problem. I was happy with it most my matches, but I would not add a fourth, and if I cut the Noble Hierarchs, I’d seriously consider lowering their number, up to 0.
4 Noble Hierarch, 3 Natural Order, 1 Progenitus, 1 Dryad Arbor: This is a package, and it is hard to justify any of those cards without most of the others. The reason I played those was because I wanted something to just win with, and it performed well at that – I definitely won games with Natural Order that I highly doubt I’d have won with any other card. It is a lot of slots though, and they might be better used elsewhere – I’ll go more in depth on this next week. I was in doubt about Dryad Arbor, but Luis insisted I ran them, and they ended up being pretty good. I remember asking about Hierarch in SD and Josh saying they were the card you want on turn one every game, and overall I was pretty happy with them, as they make a lot of your cards better, such as Daze, War Monk, and obviously Natural Order.
1 Wall of Roots: At Worlds I played Wall of Blossoms because I needed a 2-drop, and I was happy with it. Wall of Roots performs almost the same function, but it is much better than Wall of Blossoms in this deck because it accelerates Natural Order (and also sacrifices for it).
1 Trygon Predator: We had one slot which we were thinking of making into a Knight of the Reliquary, but in the end Trygon got the nod because it essentially gives you a lot of outs for Moat, since you can Natural Order for it – without him, the deck is just cold to Moat game 1. He also removes for FOW, which Knight doesn’t.
1 Engineered Explosives: honestly, I am not sure why I ran one of this card. I mean, I understand why I ran it – it is good against Zoo and Merfolk, which are two not-awesome matches, and it has applications against opposing Counterbalances, Empty the Warrens, etc – it’s just a decent card overall – but I don’t understand why I ran one specifically. I guess there just wasn’t more room? Anyway, the list started with 1, and then the number never really changed. The good thing about this deck is that you can justify having 1 or 2 of a card pretty easily, since you see so many cards with Brainstorms, Tops and Fetches.
1 Enlightened Tutor: This came from the fact that I wanted 4 slots against Dredge, and I wanted to diversify them. Tutor is never really a bad card, since it can grab EE, Top, Counterbalance or any hate card, and by adding one you can play things such as one Canonist and have access to two of them, and two is a lot in this deck.
1 Ethersworn Canonist: Since there is a Tutor, it is just the best card to have as a one-of against storm decks. It is especially effective against Ad Nauseam, because it also attacks them in the meantime, and life total is a precious resource for them. It also does that without leaving you vulnerable – sometimes you just can’t tap out for Rhox War Monk because then they will kill you, but Canonist lets you apply pressure while making sure you don’t die when you play your threat.
1 Tormod’s, Relic, Wheel: Dredge and Reanimator hate, though Relic is good against some Threshold builds. I’d play one Wheel with Tutor, since it’s the card to lock up the game, but if Reanimator becomes more common, then Tormod’s is probably better than the second Relic, since Relic is sometimes too slow against them.
2 Sower of Temptation: Sower is just a good card in general, and it’s good against pretty much anything without Red that has creatures, but it wasn’t exceedingly exciting for me during the tournament.
1 Threads of Disloyalty: Threads is not an awesome card because the decks you want it against will have a lot of removal for it post board, but I had two slots against Zoo, and by adding a Threads I could board in both the Threads and the Tutor, filling all the blanks.
2 Spell Pierce: Originally I thought Spell Pierce wasn’t very good, but then the more I thought about it the better it seemed against the combos and in the mirror, since countering something like turn one Top and turn two Counterbalance is huge, but playing Daze this early usually sets you back too much.
2 Engineered Explosives: For dudes!
1 Tsabo’s Web: Finding this card was pretty funny, because everyone I asked said “I didn’t even know a card with this name existed”, and in the end I just bought it for two Euros. It is there mainly as a card against Lands, because you can Tutor for it, but it is also excellent against Merfolk, and sometimes you just board it in to draw a card if you have slots to do so. I played against Land 0 times, but played 3 times against Merfolk and it was great in there, or would be if I had drawn it – I would happily play more if I needed something specifically for this match.
So, this is the deck. I understand it doesn’t look very powerful, but it has a lot of strengths. First of all, it doesn’t just lose to anything – there isn’t really anything that they are playing that you can’t beat. Second, you see so many cards! That not only lets you run 1 and 2-ofs without much trouble but it also makes it so that it looks like you run more of every card. For example, there are only 4 Goyfs in there, but most of the time you will play a lot more Goyfs than your opponent, you might as well be running six. There are only four Swords, but you have the ability to kill far more creatures than a normal deck with four removal spells. And then there is Counterbalance, which is just an all star, nullifying most of what they do so that all the other 36 cards in your deck only have to deal with 5 or so in theirs, as well as just being the bane of combo decks.
Onto the tournament
The tournament was scheduled to start pretty early – after all, there were a lot of people and it was supposed to end pretty late already. I am not sure, though, why it still surprises me that there are ridiculously big delays. In this tournament, they had the excuse “we had way too many people, we weren’t expecting this, which is kind of pathetic. Everyone knew this GP was going to be huge – even I knew, how can people who do the logistics of the Grand Prix not know? Didn’t they look at the previous GPs in this region? Didn’t they look at the previous Legacy GPs? The organizers had every reason to believe that this was going to be big, it is just ridiculous to claim that it caught them off guard (sure, it might have caught them off guard by 100 or 200 people, but not being prepared for a big GP was just absurd). In the end, it was like 4 PM when we started playing. The reason it makes me angry beyond belief is not that I had to wait two hours, but the fact that the tournament ended at midnight, and Day Two started at 8 – give the time to go back to your hotel (and there was no site hotel, we had to take the metro and walk), to eat (because there is no time for eating), to go sleep, to shower, eat, go back to the event next day, you are looking at a 5 hours sleep max, which is again just absurd – you simply cannot expect people to play one of the most complicated games on earth with 5 hours sleep max! It kind of defeats the whole purpose of it, and makes it more of an endurance test. Of course not all of the delay is their fault, but why not start registration earlier on Saturday? That would have gone a long way towards mitigating the 2 hours initial delay.
I have a very good memory for games, but it has been a month, so I might not remember all the details or the order of the rounds, I apologize for that. I still remember most important things, though!
Round 4: Ad Nauseam
This is a pretty good matchup for me, and my opponent wasn’t exactly the luckiest person in the world. He mulliganed to five game one, and I soon assembled the Counterbalance Top combination that he could not beat.
+2 Spell Pierce
+1 Threads of Disloyalty
-3 Natural Order
-1 Wall of Roots
Ever since I boarded out Swords and my opponent played Dark Confidant against me at Worlds, I’ve learned my lesson. Now I not only keep the Swords in but I also board in Threads, which is an answer that can be Tutored for and removed for FOW if needed be. Explosives is also kept because who knows what they might have – I know Robert was boarding in Empty the Warrens, for example. In the end, even if they don’t have those cards, it’s very rare that drawing too many of those will make you lose – when you lose, it is not because you have useless cards in your hand, but because you don’t have the key cards, and you are not boarding out any key cards for Swords, so it wouldn’t really matter what those cards would be.
Game two was another nice game, as he Duressed me but couldn’t take my opening hand Canonist. I soon found another Top, and that found a Counterbalance. At the end of my turn, my opponent played Brainstorm, and I responded by flipping Top. He says “response” and sacrifices a fetch. At this point I know he cannot do anything, because I have Canonist, but eh, might as well let him try and show me what he is planning to do. Sure enough, he plays Mystical Tutor, and I just point at the Canonist. He draws, passes, and I draw my Top again. On my upkeep, he plays the Tutor, which I Force of Will, so that he doesn’t get Wipe Away. Then I play the Top I drew, and he triumphantly points at my Canonist like I did with him. I give him a stare and he pauses for a while and goes “oh, nevermind”. The game ends and I still have all these permanents in play and two more Counters in hand.
Round 5: Gaudenis with Merfolk
I was not very pleased with those pairings, because Gaudenis is good and I was told Merfolk was a pretty bad matchup, though I hadn’t played it a single time. This was a feature match, covered here:
-4 Force of Will
-1 Natural Order (I didn’t really know if this was good or not; it seemed decent, but three seemed too many, since he has Dazes, Catchers, Forces and am already boarding in two Sowers.)
+1 Tsabo’s Web
Force of Will comes out because you don’t really need it against anything they have – their cards are generally not worth it to 2×1 yourself for, and they have Cursecatchers, Dazes and their own Forces – it’s just terrible to Force something and get it Dazed, for example.
Overall, the match was much easier than I anticipated – I never really thought I’d lose at any point in any game, though that might have been because he didn’t have a turn one Vial. Also worth noting is that I knew he had Submerges and a small assortment of control magics, so I delayed playing my Goyf until I could handle it or had no choice – I would generally try to deal with his threats in other ways, because if I just went for Goyf and he Submerged it I would take some damage that I didn’t want to. Tsabo’s Web was great in there, being an un-answerable way to deal with two of his Vaults. I’d also like to note that, in game one, I played Swords on his guy, and he searched his library for an Island and put it into play *cough* cheats *cough*.
Round 6: Sven, Zoo with Wasteland
My opening hand had Top, Natural Order and Force of Will, and when he started with a Kird Ape I just Forced it, because I felt like my game plan was just to survive until I cast Natural Order. That was probably a mistake, because if he goes Goyf next turn then the Force is going to effectively deal me as much damage as the Ape (+2/+2), but at that point I just didn’t want to take damage. I drew a Wall of Roots, which was great, but he Wastelanded one of my lands, which delayed my plan. In the end, I managed to get a Progenitus, but he was at 21 because of Helix. I attacked once, but then his Knight of the Reliquary became too big and I couldn’t kill him without dying, so I had my Progenitus play defense. When his Knight of the Reliquary was 9/9 I topped into Swords, which was great because it was the last possible turn – if it ever got to 10/10, then that would put him back at 21. As it was, I put him on 20 and attacked him to 10, ready to win next turn if he didn’t draw a Swords or a Helix, which he didn’t.
-2 Force of Will
-1 Trygon Predator
I took out two Forces only because of Knights and maybe Elspeth.
I don’t really remember game two, except that it was close and I lost.
Game three started pretty well – I had Hierarch into Monk, and he couldn’t kill it. I Threaded his Nacatl and he Griped it, and then I tutored for Top. I topped into three blanks, and on his turn he drew a Swords (or I think he drew it) and killed my Monk, which was pretty annoying since I know most people play Path, and if he was one of those people then I would have gotten a free shuffle and a look at three new cards, and though I obviously cannot know if I would have won the game or not my chances would have been much higher – I didn’t really need to top into many things in there to win the game, since I had a pretty big advantage at that point, having gotten two Exalted War Monk attacks in.
As it was, I had to content myself with attacking for two with Hierarch as he kept playing creatures. One of them was Gaddock, so I had to Swords him before playing Explosives for two to kill his two Qasalis. In the end he was left with Nacatl and Lavamancer, and those were enough to kill me.
Round 6: UB Reanimator
My opponent this round was shuffling my deck and dropped a card on the table, face up. I called a judge and he gave him a warning. Now that didn’t seem very fair, especially in a format such as Legacy where knowing to mulligan or not to Force of Will or whether your opponent has Force of Will in his deck or not changes the entire match. Besides, I had the impression they had upgraded that ruling, so I called the head judge and argued that I thought he was getting too much an advantage and that a warning was a price I’d gladly pay to look at my opponent’s deck once a tournament. He asked me if I thought it had been on purpose, I said I didn’t, but I also don’t think the person should be benefited by a mistake they made, and that seemed to be the case. In the end, the judge upheld the ruling, saying it was no different than scouting, and that I probably knew what most of my opponents were playing anyway, because I was wearing a Channelfireball shirt. That left me kind of puzzled, as I always supposed those things were not taken into consideration, but I was not about to argue with the judge about it – to be honest, I do think Game Loss is too harsh for this, as I know it was just an accident, but I also think a Warning is not enough, and there is nothing in between, so you have to move it to one side or the other, then I guess it only makes sense to move it to the side of the person who committed the infraction.
Regardless, I think that left my opponent completely tilted. I have a good hand against his deck (except that I, unlike him, did not know that when I kept), with Force of Will and all, and he simply plays Careful Study and draws three cards. I ask him “wait, how many did you draw?”, and he just scooped his cards and said “sorry, you win”.
Now I could have called the judge again, but I supposed the end result would be the same, and I really thought he was just super nervous, and not trying to cheat me, so I just didn’t.
-1 Engineered Explosives
-1 Trygon Predator
-1 Wall of Roots
-3 Natural Order
-1 Rhox War Monk
+2 Spell Pierce
I had no clue what to take out, so I decided it was better to just take out the entire Progenitus package instead of taking out random one-ofs.
Game two he started with Fetch, Thoughtseize, Fetch, Entomb Inkwell Leviathan and Reanimated it, and then I just played Tarmogoyf and things became kind of awkward, because he couldn’t kill me before I killed him with Goyf. He attacked me down to nine, and was at three himself, which was enough to be killed by one attack, and then the two monsters just stared at each other. Now at this point he is a very big dog, because I have Top out and it is much easier for me to resolve another Goyf (or Sower) than for him to go through all the trouble of Reanimating something again. At some point, at the end of my turn, he plays Entomb. He pauses for a second and then says “wait” in response, play Mystical Tutor“. I pause for a while, to see if I understand the implications of what just happened, and in the end just let it resolve though I have a Force of Will. He says “Entomb resolves?” and I tell him that no, Mystical resolves first. He goes “oh” and then argues about how stupid he is with his friends that were nearby (in Spanish). Then he shuffles his deck for Exhume, shows me, and puts it back and starts shuffling for Entomb, which gets Iona but shuffles his Exhume away.
By then, I’ve already used a fetch and am already at eight. I keep topping into blanks, and then I decide to attack him with Hierarch and Swords it, so I can go to 9 and use another Fetch to shuffle again. I attack with my 1/2 and he goes into the tank for a couple minutes. Now I am not sure what he was thinking about, as I am relatively sure there is nothing that would be able to kill his 7/11 Shroud guy that would not just kill him if he took and that is remotely playable (that excludes Gaze of the Gorgon), but in the end just blocks, and I kill my guy and shuffle again. On his turn, he draws and then instantly looks at his graveyard, and then mine, so I know he drew Reanimate – when you have those cards in your deck, you really have to keep track of both graveyards, so you don’t give it away as easy as that.
I draw another Hierarch, and then finally another Goyf. I play that and he Forces it. I don’t have 8 mana, so I can’t hardcast my Force, but I can go to 7 to play it pitching a Daze, and then attack with my Hierarch again and Swords it again, going to 8. He cannot do anything to stop my Goyfs and just dies.
I am going to leave you here for today – next week I’ll talk about the remaining 10 (!) rounds and what I would change on the list. I’d normally split this on day one and day two, but I spent a lot of time talking about the list and the trip, ranting about the delay and explaining why I am ending this now and not in round 10, and since next part is “just business” they will end up being the same size anyway (or so I imagine).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and see you next week!