MtTG: Grand Prix D.C. – Part 1

So I’ve been a little absent from TEGs blog-o-sphere lately but that hasn’t been because I haven’t been playing Magic, quite the contrary. The past few months I have been thinking about, gold-fishing, and playing more Magic than I have since I’ve started traveling to tournaments. The whole push was to be as prepared as possible for the Legacy Grand Prix in Washington DC.

This tournament had been on the radar the whole year. Legacy is by far my favorite format. I’ll save everyone the rant on why they should be making the necessary moves to get into the format. So when I saw the GP was coming to our backyard I wanted to create and execute a plan for preparing for the event. In the months leading up the the event I had intended to blog about my testing, deck choice, lessons, etc. As it turns out I was so consumed with my preparation that any free time I had for Magic I wanted to be jamming games and testing. .

In lieu of that I’m going to break up my article into multiple parts to avoid writing a novel and to break up the top level topics for discussion. I’m going to start by discussing how I arrived to the deck I played and touch on some of the other decks I considered and why.

Working with the Team to Develop a Strategy and Pick Decks: “ Well maybe you and me could pool our resources, you know, trade information? Professional courtesy?”

One of the first barriers to picking a deck was figuring out what cards I had available to me. I am the proud owner of a couple “fringe” Legacy decks but I wanted to make sure I had all the options available to me. So I talked with the local Legacy crew to see what decks we could possibly put together (that’s one benefit of getting involved with Legacy *cough cough*). We talked about the Delver decks, Stoneblade decks, and most major contenders that weren’t Show and Tell based since we couldn’t build those decks. Looking at my options I had a fairly fundamental question in front of me which we kept circling back to in our discussions, “What do I want to play?”, “What deck will I be willing to literally grind day after day to prepare for the GP?”. So with roughly three months until the GP I made my plan.

1) Distill the choices to 4-5 decks I’m interested in,

2) Test those against a variety of matchups to get a good feel for them and see how I liked them in action, and

3) Then with no less than 1.5 months settle on a deck and play it as much as possible.

Distillation. One of the amazing things able Legacy is you have the opportunity to play archetypes that Wizards has decided to abandon and activity discourage from the newer formats, namely Prison/Resource Denial and Combo. As an aside, I think that it’s a shame this is happening. Back in my time these strategies were commonplace and generally accepted and I think playing against them offers a refreshing perspective to approaching the game. Anyways, I just so happens that these  archetypes are some of my favorite (yes the previous aside was completely biased, I ain’t ashamed to admit it, you aren’t my baby’s daddy). So playing decks that fall into this category would surely keep me entertained which is critical when you plan to play the same decks everyday,  over and over and over for more than a month . It also happened that some of the “Fringe” decks that I built were strong versions of these types of strategies, aka they top 8 SCG Opens from time to time. So I began testing the following decks and I’ll go over my thoughts on each one after I did some testing. .

A) B/G Loam Pox

B) MUD (Metalworker combo)

C) High Tide

So what about the other choices? Why not Delver, Stoneblade, or control? Is you having more fun playing prison or combo really a good enough reason to abandon those other decks when the goal is to do well”? In short, yes. Let me explain my thought process. I think there are at least two competing approaches. Play the deck that you think is best but less comfortable with and hope the deck choice and your raw ability get you there. Or, play the deck that is less optimal but you are more comfortable with and hope your deeper understanding of the strategy and it’s intricacies will help you overcome difficult match ups. I tend to support the latter approach, especially in Legacy where the most popular deck usually is only 10% of the field (in standard it can be as much as 30%). Being in tune with your deck in this kind of environment should not be underestimated.

I have rarely played tempo and fair midrange type strategies and to be honest I find them boring, however I freely recognize their strengths. I’ve been playing prison/resource denial strategies since Ice Age (Icy Manipulator was my jam) and when I first got into Legacy I immediately wanted to build prison decks and have been playing them ever since. I followed the same trend in the EDH formats, building prison first. I eventually transitioned my EDH decks  to combo and my tastes in Legacy followed a similar suit. I was betting that my comfort with these strategies would provide a solid foundation to start testing from. Then through exhaustive testing I would be best equipped to deal with tough or uncommon matchups  and as I mentioned earlier, in order to test exhaustively you need to be having fun. I think this is something you can’t underestimate.

 

Additionally, considering the high profile of a legacy Grand Prix I knew people would be showing up with their A game. The field would be expecting to play against RUG and Stoneblade and be prepared with sideboard plans. Picking up one of those decks last minute without the experience felt like a poor move.

Testing the Decks: “Is this your homework, Larry? Is this your homework, Larry?”

B/G Loam Pox

Creatures (1)

Planeswalkers (4)

Lands (26)

Spells (29)

Sideboard

The goal of this deck is fairly simple. Strip your opponent of all their all their lands and cards and reduce their resources to top decking. At this point your top decks are ideally better than the opponents and you slowly build card advantage with Life from the Loam and win. Now what is deceptive is executing that goal can actually be tricky. Since many of your cards are mutually destructive you have ensure that you are getting maximum value out of them or otherwise seriously screw your opponent. Case in point is Smallpox. It is almost always right to save this card until your opponent has a creature so that they lose three cards (land, creature, card from hand) and you lose three cards (land, card from hand, smallpox). The only creature you play is Nether Spirit and he comes back from the dead. This way you don’t lose value. The exception is if your opponent made their first land drop in four turns, then fire that puppy off.

One of the things that makes this deck appealing is it has a reasonable match up against a decent number of decks which I’ll generalize as anything with blue and anything trying to play fair. Since Pox decks attack fundamental resources there are not many bad matchups outside a few (Dredge, Loam). Having access to Abrupt Decay deals with troublesome permanents such as Chalice of the Void or Counterbalance. The Life from the Loam engine is nice when you are your opponent locked out and you are looking to keep a brother down and seal the deal.

Some of the problems with the deck are inherent to the strategy. Because you are playing cards like Smallpox, Mox Diamond, and Life from the Loam you want to have a healthy land count which sometimes leads to awful top decks after you have drained the opponent and that gives them the room they need to draw out of it. The win conditions are synergistic but don’t exactly kill quickly, again giving your opponent time. The deck can be awkward in that it can quickly and efficiently drain the opponents resources and then just lose to itself or to an opponent topdecking because of the time required to actually kill. Tombstalker out of the board sometimes helps this.

MUD (Metalworker Combo)

Creatures (22)

Lands (20)

Spells (18)

Sideboard

This is an artifact deck that uses the 2 mana producing lands and the ability of Metalworker to make large amounts of mana to “cheat” fatties into play. In this respect the deck is a combo deck. Get the pieces to make mana and play a big scary. It has some prison elements with Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void, and Crucible of Worlds +Wasteland.

This deck can have some absurd draws where you have a turn 2 attacking Wurmcoil or Sundering Titan. Chalice of the Void and the other prison elements are also not to be underestimated. Resolving one or more of those can sometimes yield a concession from an opponent on their own. Goblin Welder is also amazing if he is left unchecked and offers a lot of raw power later in the game. Ripping him off the top can often be enough to pull you back in the game.

One of the obvious downfalls of this deck is you have a pile of fatties and a piles of ways to make mana. If you draw one without the other then you can lose quickly and there is no library manipulation to mitigate that risk. This fact also makes mulliganing with the deck very bad. You can also have some unfortunate hands that start amazing but after a Daze and a Force of Will on a key piece like Metalworker you are left a bunch of cards that you aren’t casting anytime soon. If you see the trend here this deck isn’t exactly consistent, especially for a Legacy deck.

High Tide

Lands (18)

Spells (42)

Sideboard

Now we are at the combo deck. I have thought this deck was interesting for years and after I built a High Tide focused combo deck for EDH I decided to flirt with building it in Legacy. The deck wins by playing High Tide and Turnabout with counterspell protection to generate lots of mana. Then it rinses and repeats with Time Spiral and Candelabra of Tawnos  until you can generate enough mana to defeat you opponent with a Blue Sun’ Zenith for more than their library. There’s a bunch of cantrips and and other ways to draw or find cards and a Cunning Wish Board for some added utility.

This deck can consistently can kill on turn 4. Thats slow for Legacy but not many other combo decks can match High Tide in terms of resiliency and consistency. The utility of the wish board is refreshing and helps with a lot of game 1s against tricky matchups. Playing only basic islands also dodges a lot of hate like Wasteland and Blood Moon.

One major problem with this deck is the price of  Candelabra of Tawnos but that’s mostly a financial downside. In terms of the deck, it can be taxing to play. Your combo turn sometimes takes a lot of time and you have to keep track of your mana, storm count, high tide count, did you play Pact of Negation, did you play Meditate. That all adds up fast. There’s also the unfortunate chance that you fissile off a Time Spiral and draw nothing but lands and counterspells, which is depressing. If you start to combo you should just win. The deck usually can deal with hate but sometimes large volumes of counterspells can catch you off guard and it can be susceptible to uncommon hate cards like a Chalice of the Void if your draws are poor.

The Choice: “Yeah, right man, there are a lot of uh, facets uh, to this. A lotta interested parties”

After playing the decks and getting countless opinions I decided on G/B Loam Pox. Actually building High Tide was a bit of a barrier but mostly I didn’t want the mental burden of such a long combo turn for potentially 15 rounds of magic. MUD was good when it was good but after a couple testing sessions with poor draw after draw I wasn’t going to deal with that level of inconsistency over potentially 15 rounds of magic. Pox had the least raw power of the decks but I was hoping it would be unexpected and that it should have a shot to beat most of the decks I would face given it’s generally decent matchups. With my choice I set out to start the testing process. I wanted to get matchup experience against as many decks as possible. The group had Delver and Shardless BUG among others built that I had been testing against but one matchup I wanted to get reps against was storm combo like ANT or TES. Luckily for me my roommate had almost all the cards for ANT. He graciously built the deck for me with the caveat that I play it some to really understand it’s game plan and understand the weak links.

So we started playing games with me playing ANT against a couple decks (Merefolk, Burn, Delver) and it didn’t take long for me to get hooked. The deck felt very strong and a lot more play to it than I had expected. I hadn’t really considered ANT because I thought High Tide would be just better and more resilient to hate. That might be true but that margin of “better” was smaller than I had thought. After almost 3 hours, I conveyed how surprised I was with the deck and how much fun I was having playing the deck. Then my roommate threw it out there, the statement that with 1 month til the GP would change my plan.

T –  “You should just play ANT at the GP”

Me – “I don’t have the cards for ANT. The only way I could would be if I borrowed your deck”

T –  “This is true…”

Me – “…Can I?

T – “Only if you promise not to scrub out”

“The Dude abides.”

Big thanks to my roommate (TROWE) for prompting and providing (mostly) the deck I ended up choosing and grinding for the GP. Ad Nauseum Tendrils (ANT) storm combo. The deck has always been a top strategy and if I could learn the specifics of it in time I knew I could do decent with it. At this point too, True Name Nemesis had been spoiled and there was a lot of talk of how good he would be in Legacy. I great way to beat True Name is not care about him and kill the opponent with Tendrils of Agony.

This is deck I started testing.

Lands (15)

Spells (45)

Sideboard

I’ll go over my thoughts of the deck in detail in my next post, talk about why I jumped to play it over my other choices, and  also share the version I ultimately played (which has some spice). I’ll also touch on the metagame leading up to the GP. At this point in my journey (picking ANT) a couple high profile Legacy events were about to take place, like Eternal Championships and Bazaar of Moxen. I knew those events would cause some shake up in the metagame and provide some clarity. So until then my focus was on inherently good decks against a broad metagame.

Til next time

John Henry

 

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