The best of times

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I’ve always been something of a casual try-hard when it comes to Magic. I’ve never been part of a team of testers trying to break the new Standard. I’ve never gone abroad to a Magic tournament. Heck, I’ve never even been to a proper Grand Prix, even though there was one in Stockholm just last weekend, and one in Gothenburg last year, and another one only two or three years ago. I did almost go to Bazaar of Moxen this spring, I pitched the idea of a mini-vacation in France to my fiancé, and she loved it, even if I did “have” to spend Saturday at a tournament. We ended up buying a car with the money instead. Long story.

These days, with many obligations outside work and this blog, I don’t have time or energy to spend on Magic in the same way as I did when I was younger, which is a huge shame. Magic is the only game I have ever played that makes me want to say “Can we play another game?” almost each and every time. Even after long EDH games, I often yearn for another go with my deck against the others. A lot of the time these days, it’s about meeting friends – either old school friends that I don’t see very often since moving for university studies, or seeing people I’ve met through the game at tournaments. Well, that, and the competition.

opposition.hqCompeting against other players in this amazing games is the best way to spend a weekend, in my books. On saturday, I spent the entire day, from about 10 AM in the morning, to about 1:30 on Sunday morning, doing nothing but playing Magic against loads of different people, and even if I only got like nine or ten hours of sleep over the course of the entire weekend, I can’t wait to go again this spring.

I was planning to do proper tournament reports of everything, but chances are I won’t be able to. Recounting well over twenty games of Magic in two different formats, is too much for my old brain. Maybe the old try-hard casual me would be able to do so, but he seems to be nowhere to be found. I will, however recount my experiences with my deck on Saturday evening, the main event, the finals of the “King of Eternal” tournaments that have been played throughout Sweden this year. I wasn’t qualified in the proper way, but anyone can play in the finals tournament, the properly qualified people (i.e. those that had won a qualifier tournament over the year) competed for a separate prize pool, that’s all.

I played in the last-chance qualifier for the separate prize pool on Friday evening, and was 4-1-1 after an unintentional draw, got paired against a 4-2 player and lost the win-and-win against Death and Taxes in two quick, short, unfair games. I was pumped for Saturday anyway. Here’s my list:

The deck on TappedOut.net.

Temur Delver, 2014-11-01
4 Polluted Delta
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland
3 Underground Sea
3 Tropical Island

4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Tarmogoyf

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Abrupt Decay
3 Stifle
3 Treasure Cruise
2 Spell Pierce
1 Dimir Charm

Sideboard:
3 Disfigure
2 Thoughtseize
2 Golgari Charm
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Sylvan Library
1 Krosan Grip
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Pithing Needle
1 Null Rod

As you can see, the deck is more tempo than “regular” Team America, and plays Stifle over maindeck discard. This makes the deck somewhat schizophrenic, since playing it in the same way as Team America will likely be sub-optimal. I’ve taken to call it BUG Delver instead, since Delver of Secrets is much better in this shell than in Team America, and one could at least argue its status as “most important creature”, contrary to in Team America, where Deathrite Shaman beats it easily. Stifle/Wasteland combos well with the Daze plan, which I like a lot, and the deck has some outs in the mid game due to Treasure Cruise. Treasure Cruise was insane the entire day, as expected. 75 players showed up, meaning seven rounds of swiss followed by a cut to top 8.

Apologies to anyone if I get any details wrong, a lot of the games are a bit blurry in my memory. The metagame was a lot of UR Delver and a lot of Elves, few other combo decks. My friends that I stayed with over the weekend were playing RUG Delver (with True-Name Nemesis over Young Pyromancer) and Burn respectively.

propheticflamespeaker.fullRound 1 – Werewolf Stompy: Werewolf Stompy is basically Dragon Stompy but with other beaters, hence the name. It employs the same quick mana in Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors and it has the same lock pieces in Blood Moon, Chalice of the Void and so on. He also had Prophetic Flamespeaker, how awesome is that? He wins the roll (losing the roll is something I got used to over the day), and opens with Mountain, exile Simian Spirit Guide, Chalice of the Void for 1. I have both Delver of Secrets and Deathrite Shaman in hand, but refuse to Force of Will it anyway, since I also have an Abrupt Decay. If I counter, drop a land and pass, and he has Blood Moon, I lose, even if I can play a Deathrite Shaman or Delver of Secrets on my turn. I play a land and pass. He plays a second Mountain and pass. I play a land and pass. He passes back after drawing a card (oops), and I Abrupt Decay his Chalice of the Void in his end-step. From there, I win while he stumbles with mana.

I board in Krosan Grip, Maelstrom Pulse, and Vendilion Clique, and I take out the Stifles. Game two is more or less the same as the first one. I Force of Will a Blood Moon and just win with Tarmogoyfs.

1-0 (2-0)

adnauseam.hqRound 2 – ANT: I keep a hand full of creatures and as he casts Ponder off of a Volcanic Island (after winning the roll, naturally), I assume he’s on UR Delver. I cast a Deathrite Shaman, and pass the turn. Evidently, he is on ANT, which I learn when he starts fetching for basics before cantripping some more and passing the turn. I’m careful not to do anything stupid with Deathrite Shaman and he eventually kills himself with Ad Nauseam – it takes him to two life before he is able to find something to dig for his Tendrils of Agony with, and I just kill him in response to him casting a mana artifact. I didn’t draw much permission, however, so I was really nervous the entire time.

I board out two Abrupt Decays, a Tarmogoyf, a Treasure Cruise and something else for two Thoughtseize, Vendilion Clique, Surgical Extraction and Grafdigger’s Cage. I didn’t want to take out all Abrupt Decays, since he could very well board into Xantid Swarm or something else, and here’s a huge downside with playing black for Abrupt Decay over red for Lightning Bolt.

Game two, he mulligans and then indeed opens up with a turn one Tropical Island into Xantid Swarm. I have nothing to deal with it, only Spell Pierce and Daze as permission, and I’m forced to let it resolve. He has few things going for him, however, after he Ponders and shuffles, he casts an Infernal Tutor with some cards in hand. I take the bait, Daze the Infernal Tutor, and Surgical Extract(ion) his Infernal Tutors. As he reveals his hand, he was indeed on the Past in Flames plan, and was looking for more Rituals to make it happen. I win with a flipped Delver before he can recover. I got lucky this time with his shaky keeps, and as I report it to the judge, I’m hoping for more similar games this day.

2-0 (4-0)

stoneforgemystic.hqRound 3 – UWR Delver (Elof): The pilot of the UWR Delver is a well-known Legacy player in Sweden. He’s won the “King of Eternal” title before, in 2009, he’s won the Scandinavian Masters in Legacy, and he was the 2013 93/94 (“oldschool”) champion as well, making his Magic resumé quite a bit more intimidating than my own. We’ve played each other before, the last time I can recall I was playing BitterStalker (I wrote about the deck here), and I won with him having zero permanents on board. While shuffling, we causally talk about these past experiences playing against each other, and he mentions this blog in passing. I’d like to think I was just tired from playing six rounds of Sealed Deck before this tournament and not having a proper meal all day, but in reality, I was probably just a bit star struck –

In game one, I open with a Delver of Secrets while he Ponders off of a Tundra on his first turn. Delver of Secrets refuses to flip, I cast a Brainstorm to set it up for the next turn, and just pass the turn. “Oh, no land drop?” he says, and I look down at my two Misty Rainforests sitting in my hand. Like a true pro. Maybe he next-leveled me through casual conversation, I don’t know. He casts a Stoneforge Mystic for an Umezawa’s Jitte, and while I do kill the Stoneforge Mystic, I can’t keep a threat on the board before he finds True-Name Nemesis.

I board into Thoughtseize, Krosan Grip, Maelstrom Pulse, Golgari Charm and Disfigure to have outs to Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull and Umezawa’s Jitte into True-Name Nemesis. The play of the game is on the fourth turn (I think) of the game – I have Thoughtseize, Stifle, Tarmogoyf and two lands in hand, and I know he has Umezawa’s Jitte in hand from a Stoneforge Mystic, and he has a True-Name Nemesis in play. I Thoughtseize to steal the Jitte, and he casts Misdirection. I have to discard my Tarmogoyf since I didn’t want to lose to Jitte-Nemesis. I Stifle the first equip, but can’t find a Golgari Charm in time.

2-1 (4-2)

I ask him to continue winning to keep up my tiebreakers, which he agrees to – and boy did he deliver.

nettlesentinel.hqRound 4 – Elves: I recognized the name from the previous night, it’s the guy who won the last-chance qualifier I’m up against. He mulligans and casts a Gitaxian Probe on his first turn, followed by a Misty Rainforest, and I put him on Infect. I cast a Delver of Secrets and pass the turn. He fetches a Bayou (!) and casts an elf, I think a Deathrite Shaman. I’ve got a couple of Force of Wills and some removal, and I’m able to keep his pressure off the board while Delver of Secret flips and flies in for the win. He drew very poorly in the game, apparently, as he shows me his last cards, a Natural Order, and a Progenitus, with not enough mana to cast the former to get the latter.

I board into Disfigure, Golgari Charm, Grafdigger’s Cage and Vendilion Clique, I take out Daze, a Treasure Cruise, a Tarmogoyf and something else. I keep the Stifles since it can help me control his mana development, and it can save me from a Craterhoof Behemoth.

Craterhoof Behemoth is also my bane in the second game, as he combos way earlier than I expected or would have liked, and kills me with just three or four elves in play through Natural Order for Craterhoof Behemoth.

In game three, he mulligans to five and keep a land-heavy hand. I win quite quickly, the biggest nemesis being the clock. It sucks, but my opponent shrugs it off well, saying “it’s Magic”.

3-1 (6-3)

cloudpost.hqRound 5 – 12-post: I’m never sure about these match-ups, it feels like some games I draw enough disruption to easily keep these decks out of the game, and sometimes they just blow me out of the water with Titans and Eldrazis. It never seems to be grindy, and the most important card in his deck seems to be Pithing Needle for Wasteland, basically. I finally win the die roll and elect to play, Stifle his first fetch, play a Delver of Secrets who blind-flips on the very first try and then I just win. Such a strange match-up.

I board in Thoughtseize, Vendilion Clique and Krosan Grip, and I board out a couple of Abrupt Decays and a couple of Dazes. In game two, he leads with Cloudpost, and I drop a Deathrite Shaman. He doesn’t do much for a couple of turns, but I do destroy the Cloudpost and a Candleabra of Tawnos while he plays a Cavern of Souls naming “Giant” (oh shit). I drop two Tarmogoyfs to quicken up the beats, and he’s stuck on just four mana. I Brainstorm, fetch, Ponder, shuffle and Treasure Cruise for a Thoughtseize, but can’t find one, and as he drops his fifth mana, I’m almost panicking. I find a Wasteland, and if I draw a Thoughtseize I can Thoughtseize a creature to pump my Tarmogoyfs and swing for lethal on the next turn. I do just that, even though I had an Abrupt Decay for back-up, since I could activate Deathrite Shaman, drain him for two, Abrupt Decay the Shaman and swing for lethal, had I not found Thoughtseize. His hand was Primeval Titan and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. At that point, I’m very thankful for Wasteland.

4-1 (8-3)

monasteryswiftspear.fullRound 6 – UR Delver: If I win this one, I can safely draw into the top 8. Before the game, my RUG Delver friend, also on 4-1, comments how it would be awesome if we don’t get paired against each other, and if we both win, if we could then draw into the top 8 the both of us. I get paired against someone completely off my radar, and we start off the round by getting a random deck check, which we both passed in flying colours. My luck against the Elves player is repaid when I first don’t see any lands in my first two hands, and my five-carder is Spell Pierce and four lands. One is a Wasteland, so I keep in the hope of him playing combo. He doesn’t and my three first draws in the game (three only draws, really) are all lands, and I scoop. It’s magic!

I board into Disfigure, Golgari Charm and Maelstrom Pulse, I take out Force of Will and Stifle. Even if he has a lot of fetchlands, that’s his only target (aside the triggers on his creatures, which are numerous and redundant and generally not worth both a mana and a card), and his mana-base is quite stable with only two colours. I win a very tight game two where he has me dead on board but declines to attack since I represented Abrupt Decay and a potentially lethal back-swing. Some people around the table commented how my opponent played this incorrectly, after the match.

Game three is equally exciting, I effectively lessen the impact of a game-winning Price of Progress through activating a fetchland, failing to find a land, and then Wastelanding another dual land, netting me “only” four damage. I had seen the Price of Progress from a Delver of Secrets flip, so it wasn’t spectacular, but I don’t think my opponent expected the “fail to find” play. I win with very little life, very little time on the clock, literally shaking from the match. Since we had an eight minute time extension, the table is surrounded by other players. I hope neither noticed my shaking, or the coffee stain on my shirt.

5-1 (10-4)

Meanwhile, my friend had won his match as well, and was also on 5-1, and as the standings are presented, it’s apparent that one 15-pointer will have to play. I don’t get stabbed by the pairing system this time, my friend did, and he has to play against someone on 4-1-1, on camera. I got paired against hall of famer Olle Råde, who had ID’d round 6 against Elof, my round 3 opponent. We agree to an ID quickly, meaning I’m sure to T8 unless something really unexpected happens (like a meteor crashing into the site).

Final result: 5-1-1

My friend wins a tense win-and-in and finish 6-1. We split the top 8 prizes since it’s way past midnight and we’ve been playing Magic all day long.

I’m happy with how my deck performed, and I’d play it again without any changes in a similar metagame. The Death and Taxes match-up is very difficult, but it’s always been that way for Team America, and it has a decent match-up against most of the rest of the field. UR Delver is very 50/50 and draw-dependant, as Delver mirrors usually are. They have red blasts for Delver of Secrets in the sideboard, we have Golgari Charm for Young Pyromancer. They have very few outs to Tarmogoyf, which really helps, and even if Monastery Swiftspear can get frighteningly large, especially when there’s two of them on the board and he’s chaining cantrips into Treasure Cruise, it dies to Abrupt Decay just the same.

Also note, the deck name is a blatant joke, since I don’t like the wedge names. I called it “Abzan Delver” on Friday.

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Underestimated Legacy cards: Disfigure

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Legacy is a very large format with a huge card pool. It is home of the most broken creatures in Magic’s history, and some of the most broken spells. It is also home of some of the most broken removal spells in the game as well, Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay. It’s no wonder most removal spells printed never see the light of day in a tournament calibre Legacy deck, although there’s an oft-forgotten instant from Zendikar I’d like to discuss: Disfigure. Printed alongside another well-played common instant in Zendikar, Spell Pierce, Disfigure is my choice for second-best Legacy playable spell in the set.

disfigure.hqDisfigure is one of those Instants that’s never the first pick for any deck when it comes to choosing removal spells. In decks that are black and white, Swords to Plowshares is almost always better. In black and green you have Abrupt Decay. In black and red you have Lightning Bolt. Even in mono-black or black-blue, you have interesting choices like Innocent Blood that will probably be taking place before Disfigure in any control-type deck.

However, as removal-spell 5+, after filling up on the better alternatives, Disfigure is pretty damn good. For the sake of argument, let’s list the creatures it kills in the current tier 1 Legacy decks, listed in order of importance:

Deathrite Shaman
Delver of Secrets
Stoneforge Mystic
Young Pyromancer
Wirewood Symbiote and all of its friends in Elves
Mother of Runes and most of its friends in Death and Taxes
Vendilion Clique
Dark Confidant
Snapcaster Mage

Further, look at the creatures that Lighting Bolt kills, but Disfigure doesn’t:

Mirran Crusader
Painter’s Servant
Serra Avenger
Monastery Swiftspear (occasionally)

…and that’s about it. Naturally, Lighning Bolt can also be pointed at someone’s face, making it more flexible and obviously the superior choice. Abrupt Decay misses Mirran Crusader, but also kills Tarmogoyf aside the ones mentioned above. Dismember can take care of almost anything without protection from black, but also costs four life if cast at a comparable cost to Disfigure, which is quite important against the aggressive decks.

As a sideboard card in Team America, Disfigure is absolutely fantastic, and I’ve even had it in the main deck in some metagames. I’d say 2-3 in your 75 is amazing in most cases. Play it, live it, love it.

Hidden in plain sight

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dimircharm.hqA sleeper card that I’ve been working with in Legacy is Dimir Charm. Everybody likes Charms, and Dimir Charm is one of those rare exceptions of a Charm that is in great colours for the format and has three quite relevant modes. Killing most non-Tarmogoyf creatures in the format is perhaps the most flexible of the three, but countering spells like Show and Tell, Burning Wish, Entreat the Angels or Time Spiral is always nice. Lastly, it has for some time been my dream to present lethal on the board, and Dimir Charm my opponent into topdecking a land for the next turn, for a win-more feeling of goodliness.

However, with the advent of Treasure Cruise in the format, Dimir Charm seems to be rising in popularity, and many Team America pilots are trying one or two in the maindeck. I, for one, welcome our new Delve overlords, but can’t wait to counter a Treasure Cruise with Dimir Charm. I was already playing a Disfigure or a Dismember as a fifth removal in Team America, but Dimir Charm is obviously a lot more flexible, if more expensive and harder to cast.

Give it a whirl, it might be just what your deck is looking for!

The Superior Cruise

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I’ve discussed this card quite a bit lately, but that just goes to show how blown away I am by it. Hopefully, this’ll be the very last post on the card for a while, at least until I’ve been able to play with it in a few tournaments, and not just playtesting sessions. Deciding the first twentyfour or so cards in my Legacy decks has been very easy lately, even more-so than before. They usually go something like this:

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Treasure Cruise

But then – what to fill up the rest of the deck with? Do I want to go straight UR for a stable mana-base and quick clocks? Do I want to go RUG for disruption and Tarmogoyf? Do I want to go BUG for Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman? I’ve even played around with old DeathBlade lists, but haven’t figured out the manabase just yet, it’s still pretty much just as bad as before, although Treasure Cruise can take advantage of your lands getting Wastelanded. So which is really the best Treasure Cruise deck in an open metagame?

monasteryswiftspear.fullUR Delver – Bob Huang of Team America fame has already explored this deck and took it all the way in a StarCityGames Open a few weeks ago, which I wrote about in “The hidden gem of Khans“. It is obviously a very powerful deck – going straight UR means a stable mana-base, and even though you lack green for Tarmogoyf, the deck has very potent threats in Monastery Swiftspear and Young Pyromancer. However, the deck has few ways of interacting with the opponent sans the 8 free counterspells and a suite of burn spells for your opponent’s creatures, meaning that the UR build Huang took to first place will suffer against unfair decks, which he himself admits in his article about the tournament. As Swedish metagames often are combo-tastic, straight UR Delver is not an option for me. It might be for others, if they play in fair metagames.

Patriot (UWR Delver) Example list on TappedOut.net. Adding white to the mix grants access to more and better spot removal i Swords to Plowshares, and also gives the deck Stoneforge Mystic to win the long games and generate virtual card advantage. The deck will not resolve Treasure Cruise as early as UR Delver, since it has fewer free spells, though I suppose a cheeky pilot could try to squeeze in a few Gitaxian Probe (horrifying pun unintended). The deck’s manabase is more unstable than UR’s, but the deck itself is arguably more stable. The list in the link above is what I’m toying around with right now, the deck seems well-suited to take on other Delver variants, but is weaker than the next deck against Miracles and unfair decks. A big upside compared to the next deck, however, is that Patriot is unaffected by common graveyard hate, like Rest in Peace. Sideboarding out a couple of Treasure Cruise is a viable strategy if it means the opponent will be sitting on dead cards for the rest of the match.

deathriteshaman.hqTeam America (BUG Delver)Example list on TappedOut.net. Delving into black and green grants access to the best creature in the format, the one-mana planeswalker Deathrite Shaman, and also Tarmogoyf which is sometimes strictly worse, but almost always a lot faster and more mana-efficient than Stoneforge Mystic and its likes. The same colours also grant the deck Abrupt Decay, which not only answers Rest in Peace, it also kills most of the format’s creatures as well as other problematic permanents like Counterbalance. Especially the latter is a huge wrench in the machinery for the aforementioned Delver lists. However, cutting red means no red blasts in the sideboard, which is a huge downside, and it also means not playing Lightning Bolts and other cards for quickly finishing off an opponent at low life totals. I can’t recall the number of games I’ve lost because I couldn’t keep a threat on the table against Miracles and similar opponents, with them at single-digit life. It’s very frustrating, but a reality against these decks. Team America has the best match-up against the unfair decks, however, out of these candidates, which might make it a consideration for some.

Canadian Threshold (RUG Delver)Example list on TappedOut.net. Last up is the old faithful Canadian Threshold, these days with zero cards with the eponymous ability. Thought it saddens me to say so, I think the RUG colours will be the ones that will have the hardest to keep up in the new metagame, should Treasure Cruise be the real thing. It does have some things going for it – Tarmogoyf is just as huge and fast, Lightning Bolt is great utility and the access to both red blasts and silver bullets like Ancient Grudge in the sideboard should not be underestimated. Still, the old Nimble Mongoose is obviously incompatible with Treasure Cruise, which means the deck loses one of its biggest selling points, should you want to play the full set of Treasure Cruise. I don’t think the list linked above is anywhere near optimal, but I think it’s a decent skeleton. Young Pyromancer is the new threat to go for, and though it does carry some resilience, and it plays better with the reactive spells of the deck then Monastery Swiftspear, for example.

 

My conclusion is that in a fair metagame UR Delver or Patriot is the superior choice, with the former being a bit faster but less resistant than the latter. In an unfair metagame, however, I’d much rather be on Team America, as long as there’s no Burn decks around.

Thoughtseizing opportunity in Team America

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In the latest episode of Everyday Eternal, a Magic podcast created by some prominent members from The Source, the hosts discuss the obviously bonkers Treasure Cruise, and its impact on the format, what shells are better at supporting it, and so on. Exactly which shell is the best, only time will tell, but the hosts also talked in some length about one of my favourite cards of all time: Hymn to Tourach. Specifically, they stated how it’s not good in the format any longer.

hymntotourach3.hqHymn to Tourach has been a format staple at times, which is no wonder. In essence, the card is extremely broken as it is. Forcing the opponent to discard two cards at random for only two mana is very powerful, but it is perhaps less powerful now than before. There are a few things that hinders Hymn to Tourach in its effectiveness. First of all, it’s slow compared to other single-mana discard spells, and the double-black is often quite awkward in Legacy. Secondly, it’s a really terrible top-deck, compared to re-active spells. This is an issue with all discard and one of the reasons why Sneak and Show is often such a bad match-up – in fact, it’s probably one of the worst combo match-ups Team America has, unless you count Elves and even then, you’ll more often lose to Elves through them grinding you down with card advantage than their pure combo finishes. Hymn to Tourach and other discard spells are by definition pro-active spells, and therefore don’t protect against a deck topdecking threats, like a late Force of Will would.

Hymn to Tourach does have some saving graces, even to this day. It’s just awesome against most fair decks, especially those that don’t have any natural card advantage. Examples include some difficult match-ups like Death and Taxes, or Merfolk. Another very neat quality about Hymn to Tourach is that it creates card advantage in decks that would normally not have access to these things – albeit technically through forcing card disadvantage upon the opponent.

We live in a new age of Legacy, some would argue. Treasure Cruise and, to a lesser extent Dig Through Time, have already put a dent in the format, and if they do become the staples that some of the doomsayers would claim, without getting banned like other doomsayers cries for, Hymn to Tourach will indeed become a much worse card. If the opponent can easily recoup in the mid-game by resolving a spell for a single blue mana, your investment of double-black and a card seems much less satisfying.

thoughtseize.hqThis is perhaps the main reason why many Team America pilots are looking at Thoughtseize instead. Thoughtseize has a number of upsides compared to Hymn to Tourach, most notably the lower casting cost, and also the fact that you will always take your opponent’s most dangerous card rather than just two cards at random – i.e. you will be able to nab that Treasure Cruise before your opponent resolves it. The lower mana-cost helps the tempo strategy of Team America, since you will be able to resolve more spells in the first couple of turns even if you start without a Deathrite Shaman, and it also helps sewing together the manabase a bit better, since now the only double-black card viable in the deck is Liliana of the Veil.

It should be stated that Thoughtseize is easily at its highest peak of power against the non-redundant combo decks of the format, ANT for example, and at its lowest against fair, redundant, creature-based decks – any type of aggro, really. These aren’t that common in today’s metagame, however. It should also be noted that Hymn to Tourach is a real bomb against Burn, which has with the introduction of Eidolon of the Great Revel become something of a bogeyman in the format – able to take down even big tournaments with wide metagames. Incidentally, it’s easily one of the worst match-ups for Team America, and while Thoughtseize isn’t really a dead card, since you can Thoughtseize away dangerous Price of Progresses or similar cards with a high damage output, it’s far from Hymn to Tourach, especially since most burn decks are mono-red and therefore have no way of recovering the card disadvantage from the discard. “Resolve two Hymn to Tourachs as soon as possible and at all costs” was pretty much my plan against the deck before.

What do you think of Hymn to Tourach vs. Thoughtseize today? Leave a comment!

Deck Spotlight: U/G Infect (and beating it)

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Notice how I call the deck “U/G Infect”, and not “Simic Infect”. #sultaidelver

First, a disclaimer: I have never, in my life, shuffled up a cardboard version of Infect on a tournament. I have played its progenitor – Berserk Stompy – and I have played quite a bit against it with plenty of other decks, primarily Team America. As such, I will mostly discuss how to beat the deck, and not how to play it, but chances are that any given reader is part of the “does not play infect” crowd than “does play infect” crowd.

Most of the post will be written from a Team America (BUG Delver) stand point, but it is also very applicable to other decks in the format.

For reference, I will be using this list, piloted by Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson to a second and third place respectively at SCG Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. The only difference between the two decks are the names of the green fetchlands, and in all other respects, they are identical. Nelson’s list is available here with card-tags and all.

4 Blighted Agent
4 Glistener Elf
4 Noble Hierarch

2 Berserk
4 Brainstorm
2 Crop Rotation
3 Daze
3 Force of Will
4 Invigorate
1 Spell Pierce
1 Stifle
4 Vines of Vastwood
3 Gitaxian Probe
1 Ponder

1 Forest
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Tropical Island
1 Wasteland
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Pendelhaven

Sideboard:
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Spellskite
1 Sylvan Library
2 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Flusterstorm
1 Force of Will
2 Krosan Grip
1 Nature’s Claim
2 Submerge
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Karakas

Infect is in many ways a combo deck and can sometimes completely blow you out with a god hand. Turn one Glistener Elf, turn two Invigorate and Berserk is a 10/5 Infect creature with trample attacking you for a one-shot. However, the fact that both Nelson and Anderson plays only two Berserk suggests that they seldom count on the turn 2-3 kills and instead opts to grind for a bit more. It is truly frightening to utter the words “no blocks” against an Infect pilot, even if he or she has no mana untapped, Invigorate means you can get four extra poison counters out of nowhere that you didn’t count on.

inkmothnexus.hqPlaying against Infect almost always means that, unless you yourself are piloting a really fast combo deck, need to go on the defensive in the early game, and this is true for Team America as well. The deck’s creatures are very fragile and dies to all removal in the format, Inkmoth Nexus notwithstanding. Speaking of the latter, I’d always save my Wastelands for Inkmoth Nexus if possible, trying to waste them off mana is tough since the deck’s curve is very low, in this case Nelson and Anderson runs thirteen free spells and only Vines of Vastwood possibly cost more than a single mana, and only if kicked. As such, nailing their Inkmoth Nexus is probably the best thing you can do with your Wastelands, although sandbagging them on hand in order to lure out Inkmoth Nexus might be dangerous due to Crop Rotation. This is also especially important since Inkmoth Nexus is immune to Abrupt Decay and Liliana of the Veil.

vinesofvastwood.hqTwo of the trickier cards in the deck to play against are Vines of Vastwood and Crop Rotation. Vines of Vastwood means that Infect can sometimes blank your spotremoval and get a boost in the same card, which is very potent. It is, however, quite expensive by the deck’s standard, especially if the Infect pilot is also using mana to activate Inkmoth Nexus or casting cantrips. It’s very worth looking out for, however, it is one of those cards that can swing a boardstate from safe to catastrophic for two green mana. Watch out for it, it will win many games for Infect if not considered. It is also, coincidentally, on the sweet-spot of netting an infect creature 4 extra power, meaning that it only takes that and a Berserk, or two of them and an Exalted trigger/Pendelhaven activation for it to be lethal.

croprotation.hqCrop Rotation is another box of worms, it is one of the more techy cards in the deck and it can be used in a number of different ways to further the boardstate. It is often seen in Elves as further copies of Gaea’s Cradle, but in this case, it’s used primarily to find Inkmoth Nexus when needed, meaning the threat count isn’t as low as 8 infect creatures, it’s 12 infect creatures and two Crop Rotations. On the other hand, if it’s countered, it means severe card disadvantage for the Infect pilot, and a set-back on the board. It is an Instant, which means it can be played mid-combat for some tricks, and let’s not forget the one-of Karakas and Bojuka Bog in the sideboard against certain match-ups.

Post board, Spell Pierce is great for winning counter-wars and for countering their pump spells and cantrips, since their deck is so mana tight. Disfigure and Dismember are of course great additions to the deck as well.

In summary:

  • You are control
  • Keep Wasteland for Inkmoth Nexus
  • Watch out for Vines of Vastwood
  • Be careful about letting them resolve Crop Rotation
  • Board in Spell Pierce and Disfigure

Dazed and confused (Daze in Team America)

daze artLegacy as a format is extremely fast at times. There are decks that can kill you in the first two or three turns almost every game if left unchecked, and these decks are sometimes capable of killing in the first turn of the game, with a really good draw. Examples include various forms of Storm-based combo, Belcher, Oops All Spells, to name just a few. Storm combo can be really resilient, most of the decks play lots of discard spells in order to protect their combo, while Belcher and Oops All Spells are more all-in and generally goes for the kill even without protection. In a format like that, it’s no surprise that Force of Will is considered one of the format’s most important staples – while not everyone might play them, the fact that they do exist in the format will force players of these all-in combo decks to reconsider their deck choice, adapt to these strategies, or face losing to a Force of Will in the opponent’s opening hand from time to time. In short, Force of Will does a lot to keep the format somewhat fair. For reference, consider the first ever Modern Pro Tour, Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011. The tournament was completely overrun by extremely fast, unfair combo decks, all unhindered since there was no Force of Will or anything quite like it in the format. In this fantastic episode of The Magic Show, several high profile players like Drew Levin and Gerry Thompson bemoan the format in general, and the Blazing Shoal Infect deck in particular. The video, in its hilarious entirety:

daze.hq

Force of Will aside, Daze is another counterspell that in many ways keep the format intact and fair. It’s not played in the same extent as Force of Will, and it’s in general a lot weaker, but in some situations a lot stronger. Daze is the epitome of a tempo counterspell, it trades a card and a land drop for a soft counter, and as such is very useful in decks that are able to utilize its strengths. It is, however, quite situational, and its power is based on several factors. This post will examine Daze primarily from a Team America (BUG Delver, or Sultai Delver for the really degenerate ones) standpoint.

Daze is only good if you’re ahead. Consider the following situation: You, playing Team America, are on the play and you open a hand of three lands, Tarmogoyf, Hymn to Tourach, Daze, True-Name Nemesis. It’s not the best possible hand in the deck, but a turn two Hymn to Tourach with Daze back-up is great against most decks of the format, and following up that with either a Tarmogoyf in case you have to Daze something, or a True-Name Nemesis if you don’t, should put you in a good spot for the game. You play a land and pass the turn. Your opponent opens by fetching an Underground Sea and casting a Deathrite Shaman. And you’re behind, no matter what you do. You can let the Deathrite Shaman resolve, but then your opponent might cast something like a Tarmogoyf with Daze insurance on his following turn, and you have no real out for that, or he might Abrupt Decay your threat and still have a mana open to cast a Ponder or a Brainstorm, or if he has a Daze, he might resolve a Liliana of the Veil. You can Daze the Deathrite Shaman, but then you have to pick up your only land, and since your hand lacks one-drops, it’s a huge tempo downfall. Consider the same situation, but you’re on the draw. He casts Deathrite Shaman on his first turn, you drop a land and say go, and he casts a Liliana of the Veil. You have to Daze, and now you’re at zero permanents, and your opponent will have access to four mana on his next turn.

Dazes power is very dependent on your pressure. The tempo strategy is in essence about overwhelming your opponent in the first few turns of the game. Use your spells, trade cards and land drops to get ahead on the number of creatures on board, and win before your opponent can stabilize. If you cast a powerful one-drop like Delver of Secrets, Daze is very good follow-up, even if you don’t have any lands in play, you have a 3/2 flier, who constitutes a threat to your opponent. However, unless you have pressure on the board, your opponent is free to play a longer game and ensure enough land drops in order to play around Daze (and by extension, Spell Pierce, which is a lot harder to do though). Decks like Canadian Threshold (RUG Delver, or… ugh, Temur Delver) are experts at punishing the opponent’s mana base in the early turns of the game with Stifle and Wasteland and that keeps Daze relevant for more turns in the match.

Daze is an awful top-deck. Force of Will does cost five mana or two cards, but it isn’t that bad to draw late-game. Consider any grindy match, where you and your opponent are both in topdeck mode, looking for threats or spells to draw into threats. The board is stabilized and you’re both at below 10 life. Drawing a Force of Will against an opponent with a stacked base of mana in play is alright, since Team America can also sometimes hard-cast Force of Will for 3UU, even if it’s rare. Drawing Daze, however, is really useless towards the end of a game, for obvious reasons. Though I’ve Daze’d game-winning Entreat the Angels a couple of times, it requires having enough pressure on the board to force your opponent into making a sub-optimal play.

With these reasons above making my point clear, I do have to also point out that Daze is by no means a bad card. It is, as stated, situational, like most other counterspells in the format. It is a complete necessity for the deck, and while Canadian Threshold often returns lands much easier to their hand due to their much lower mana curve, Team America has Deathrite Shaman to stay on par with the mana development despite Daze.

My first experience with Treasure Cruise

I spent friday evening with a friend testing Treasure Cruise. I had previously decided to try Carsten Kotter’s BUG Delver list with the whole playset of Treasure Cruise. The list in its entirety:

treasurecruise.full

Legacy’s next bogeyman? Survey says yes!

4 Polluted Delta
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland
4 Underground Sea
2 Bayou
1 Tropical Island

4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Tarmogoyf

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Force of Will
3 Daze
1 Misdirection
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Abrupt Decay

Basically, it’s more or less the bog-standard Team America list but with Treasure Cruise over the slots usually occupied by Tombstalker/True-Name Nemesis and the flex-slots usually consisting of some numbers of Sylvan Libraries and Liliana of the Veils. Kotter’s list even incorporates Misdirection as the fifth pitch counter (“quite good when you’re playing Ancestrals”), and I went ahead and added that as well – since I even own a couple of signed Misdirections from my Vintage days, when the norm was to play the full set of Dazes and Force of Wills and two Misdirections on top of that!

I didn’t take any notes, so unfortunately there aren’t any real statistics to show, but I did play about a dozen games against my friend’s Patriot Delver list and the few losses I scraped were from: a manascrew after a whiffed Ponder, a game where he had a very quick Batterskull coupled with mana denial, and a game where we grinded forever that he won by the skin of his teeth. In short, the deck lost to things that usual Team America loses against, but it seemed to be a bit more rare.

The mid-long games more or less all boiled down to this: him resolving Stoneforge Mystics with nothing left to get, and me resolving Treasure Cruises. And honestly, which of these cards would you rather play?

squire.fullancestralrecall.hq

Legacy of Khans

Speaking from an EDH perspective, as before, there are quite a few cards I’m excited about in Khans of Tarkir. Sultai Charm will digthroughtime.fullsurely replace Putrefy in all my BUG-coloured decks, and I’ll make room for a Villainous Wealth right now as the reversed Genesis Wave Gotham deserves. The new Sarkhan is easily the most powerful Sarkhan printed so far, though maybe not in EDH but in other constructed formats. In Legacy, we have Dig Through Time as a new Ancestral Memories for a fraction of the cost. Some are bemoaning the fact that it doesn’t dump the unwanted cards in the graveyard, like Ancestral Memories indeed does, but that would obviously make it much too powerful. Even while it’s depositing the cards on the bottom of the library rather than the graveyard, I’m quite sure it’ll see play in mostly combo decks, even in Legacy.

treasurecruise.fullThe card I’m most excited about, however, is not these bomby rares or charms or anything – it’s one of the humble commons, namely Treasure Cruise. Drawing three cards for, optimally, a single blue mana, is something that has historically been associated with absolute brokeness, or something with a huge draw-back stapled onto it, like additional costs of tapping four creatures or waiting four turns. Treasure Cruise wants neither of this, it wants your graveyard. Some decks, like RUG Delver, might value their threats in Nimble Mongoose higher than Treasure Cruise, while others might cut pieces that would otherwise utilize the graveyard, in order to fit this beauty in. Snapcaster Mage will have to go from my DeathBlade list, I was never really happy with him anyway, for a pair of these. Only time will tell if someone finds a list that can play more than a couple of these, although Carsten Kotter wrote an article recently, on StarCityGames.com, detailing a few various Delver of Secrets lists using the card. I’m especially excited about the “Sultai Delver” list, although I’d never call it that. It’s either BUG Delver (though that’s also a crappy name) or Team America. For life.

Deck spotlight: Team America

I spent a few lines talking about one of the decks I’ve played for the past year or so, but I wanted to give it some more room to exaplain some of my card choices and my views on how to properly play it. For reference, here’s my list:

 

4 Polluted Deltadeathriteshaman.hq
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland
4 Underground Sea
2 Bayou
1 Tropical Island

4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Tarmogoyf
2 True-Name Nemesis

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Daze
3 Force of Will
4 Abrupt Decay
3 Hymn to Tourach
2 Disfigure
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Sylvan Library

 

Starting with the lands, they’re the bog-standard of Team America (or BUG-standard, rather) 20, 9 fetchlands, 4 Wastelands and 7 duals in the proper distribution. I play 20 lands, though I’ve tried 19 lands historically as well, because the deck wants to be able to generate UU, BB and GB while still having Islands in play for Daze, and 19 lands sometimes kept me from playing a follow-up True-Name Nemesis after a Hymn to Tourach.

In the creature base, I’ve chosen to play True-Name Nemesis over Tombstalker; although the cards basically fill the same role they are good against very different decks. I missed Nimble Mongoose when switching from RUG Delver to Team America, and having a Hexproof creature is great against Miracles, an otherwise pretty rough match-up. It also makes me feel like a bad-guy when I cast it, which I enjoy.

When it comes to the other spells, I’ve chosen to play “only” three Force of Wills because I play in a mostly fair metagame and Force of Will is often one of the weakest cards in the deck, and a bad topdeck at that. Hymn to Tourach has also seen its numbers cut to three, because it is also a very bad topdeck late game, and even if I want to see multiples in some match-ups, I’m often satisfied with just casting one of them before casting a threat in the first three or four turns. With the free’d up slots, I’ve added a couple of Disfigures, again because of the fairer metagame, and Disfigure is such a neat little spell since it kills everything relevant I want to kill – like Stoneforge Mystic, Deathrite Shaman, Delver of Secrets, Dark Confidant and so son. Lastly, Liliana of the Veil is a great card in some match-ups, such as Miracles, but is often a Cruel Edict for 1BB against other decks. Sylvan Library is awesome in grindy match-ups as well, not only Miracles, but any matches where I have to draw into more threats. It’s redudant in multiples, more-so than Liliana, which is why I only play the one.

Out of the maindeck cards, the ones most often boarded out are Force of Will, Disfigure and Sylvan Library. Needless to say, this does not mean they’re the worst in the deck by any stretch of the definition, but they are perhaps the most situational cards in there.

The sideboard is ever-changing, as should everyone’s sideboards be, but there are a few mainstays in it that I really like. First up is again more spotremoval, Disfigure and Dismember primarily. I play one of each right now in my metagame, and if you neglect to have any in the maindeck, I’d recommend at least 2-3 in the sideboard in just about any metagame. Spell Pierce is one of those cards that’s inherently stronger in RUG Delver, since RUG tends to play more re-actively and have mana untapped in the opponent’s turn, along with Stifle to keep Spell Pierce relevant for more turns of the game. That said, Spell Pierce is a great card againskrosangrip.hqt many combo decks, and a decent one against some slower control or midrange builds as well.

I’d play at least one or two answers to a resolved Batterskull, and split them between Maelstrom Pulse and Krosan Grip. Maelstrom Pulse is more flexible, but Krosan Grip is great against many other targets, like Counterbalance, Rest in Peace etc. Maelstrom Pulse’s difficult mana cost and Sorcery speed means it’s sometimes difficult and clumsy to resolve against decks with lots of countermagic. Some graveyard hate is also needed, Grafdigger’s Cage being the premiere spell because it also shuts down Elves to some extent. Golgari Charm is the last mandatory card, being great hate against Elves and Death and Taxes, while still answering True-Name Nemesis well enough. The last slots are up to preference, but I’ve played Thoughtseize, Submerge, Pithing Needle, Vendilion Clique et al to some success.