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Looking at Legacy Champs

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Introduction

Coming back from New Orleans was a bit of an ordeal for me. The day I left, I had gone without sleeping for nearly four days and had not eaten in six. I was rather ill, and there wasn’t much that could be done about it considering that my insurance was not going to cover any of the providers available in Louisiana. I had to soldier on until I could get back to Michigan and be seen by a doctor. It was a frightening ordeal to travel with long walks and layovers when I wasn’t even able to pack a pair of items in my bag the previous night without needing to lie down to rest. Luckily, I’d found a way to breathe in a way that reduced a lot of the pain I was in, so I would at least be able to sit for a period of time without needing to fear the discomfort while waiting for or sitting on a plane.

When I got back to Michigan, nearly the first thing I did was get to an ER, where they screened my blood for a few of the more dangerous pathogens to rule them out while I was rehydrated through an IV. When it was discovered that I had nothing exceptionally dangerous, it was hypothesized that I had a common form of E. coli that had already put me through the worst of what it had to offer. I was given a strong antibiotic and sent back home, where I built a massive pillow fort so that I could sleep while sitting upright, and slept for the first time in quite a while. I was on a liquid diet for just short of another week, while I weaned myself back onto putting food into my system. I lost about fifteen pounds and learned an important lesson: Tap water can kill you.

So, now you know the story of why I was missing the last couple of weeks. My trip, aside from getting that ill, went very well, and I had a great time. I’m glad to be back eating solid foods, although my appetite is much smaller than it used to be. I’m also glad that I have the energy and focus to be able to write again, which is where I am now.

While the event is dated by a few weeks, I still think it’s important to take a look at Legacy Champs and explore what we can learn from it, because in my absence very little was said about a tournament that I think has a lot to offer.

Legacy Champs

Traditionally, the Legacy Championships has a wildly outrageous Top 8, won by what is generally the most unlikely deck. Last year, for example, Goblins, a deck with one of the worst combo matches, defeated Belcher, a deck that is seldom able to dodge Blue decks enough to even make a Top 8 in the finals. Nearly every previous year, the event was won by an original or direly underrepresented archetype. This year was different, however; all of the decks in the Top 8 were known archetypes, and most of the players had been seasoned with their decks. While the eventual winner did still have an interesting twist on his path to victory, having a competitive Top 8 for Legacy Champs makes it a lot more worthwhile to look at over previous years.

The Decks

You can view the coverage from GenCon on the Wizards event page. (If you visit this page more than a year from now, WotC has started overwriting pages of previous years’ champions with the current year’s results, so that won’t be very helpful.) Seven different archetypes were represented in the Top 8. NO R/U/G was the only archetype represented twice; the other decks that made the cut were a traditional Zoo list, Merfolk, Reanimator, U/W Stoneforge, Dredge, and Team America. Popular cards in the Top 8 of the event:

Force of Will: 23

Mental Misstep: 23

Brainstorm: 20

Tarmogoyf: 16

Daze: 14

Lightning Bolt: 12

Notable cards that showed up in small numbers:

Stoneforge Mystic: 4

Show and Tell: 0

Merfolk took the event down, beating NO R/U/G in the finals. I will not hesitate to share that I have mixed feelings about this result. First, I’m glad to see Merfolk back in the mix, even though the deck causes a lot of trouble for my personal pet decks. Merfolk is relatively well-positioned in the current metagame, and its absence from the top tables has baffled me. On the other hand, the deck’s pilot comments about how this is his first time playing in a Legacy event, which also leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. On one hand, it shows that anyone can come into the format and do well, much like the Zoo player who made Top 8 in Grand Prix: Providence. On the other hand, Legacy players have spent years trying to defend the fact that the players have a competitive edge and that the format demands a high level of familiarity to do well with it; results like that waylay those claims of aptitude. Regardless, I am happy for Jared Kohler’s success in his first Legacy event. This event might ultimately be dismissed as zany, like nearly every other Legacy Championships, but most likely not, because this year, the event had a metagame that reflected the format in some form.

NO R/U/G

NO R/U/G was the deck that took second place, as well as securing another spot in the Top 8. I had the privilege of talking with Mark Sun about the deck and his list, and this is a great time to bring it up so I can both name-drop and use the conversation that I had with him about this. His list looks like this:

I seldom see eye to eye with the bigger names in Legacy, which results in some interesting debates, but the one thing I have to get off my chest is that I still cannot subscribe to the ideology of playing fewer than four Force of Wills in a deck that can support them. There are a few decks, such as Merfolk, where Mental Misstep can fulfill many of the roles of Force of Will, but in most decks, you’re playing Force of Will to stop broken things from happening before you can interact otherwise, and it’s a bonus that Force is also able to stop most anything else. In deck with Natural Order, Force of Will serves another purpose, to protect Natural Order, which must be protected not only because it’s the win condition, but because you’re committing so many resources to the card anyway that having it be countered isn’t really within the realm of acceptability. When he and I spoke, he defended his number of Force of Wills, saying that he played a third in the board along with three Counterspells, which enabled him to play the control deck quite well, and I agreed that if he wasn’t going to play all of the Forces in the main deck, the reach of control he had was pretty good for post-board games.

Critiques aside, Mark obviously made some good calls, considering that he did quite well in the event. He did say that he’d like to cut the Trygon Predator, considering that there wasn’t much for him to destroy. I asked him about Scavenging Ooze, and after talking for a bit, we agreed that the card is an interesting mix of cute and powerful, but is best relegated to a board slot. (The second-place list played Ooze in the main). We both seemed to feel that the main deck should be streamlined. Streamlining the deck is exactly the topic that Reid Duke covered last week in his article on NO R/U/G. I think this is a great read on the subject considering the level of success that Reid Duke has had with the archetype and the fact that he has been consistent in piloting the deck since he helped popularize the archetype a number of months ago.

NO R/U/G has been a deck that I haven’t had a lot of time to cover publicly but have been very fond of personally, and I think it’s a solid Tier 1 deck that has solidified its place in the Legacy metagame. Not only is the deck performing well, but it’s putting up numbers in Top 8s that rival various Stoneforge-based decks, which had, in the previous month, been far and away the most popular deck at the top tables.

Concerning beating NO R/U/G, I’ve seen complaints from several people that Zoo is actually a rough match considering that it’s able to race the deck pretty well. Although on the Star City Games circuit most of the NO R/U/G players seem to be metagamed against Hive Mind, I’m still inclined to think that Hive Mind is favored in the match, especially when the NO R/U/G pilots are expecting a diverse metagame. But there is another deck that seems to be doing pretty well against NO R/U/G, and he even packed Darkblast to really put it to them. That’s the next deck I’d like to look at from the event.

Reanimator

Reanimator has been a deck I’m always interested in looking at lists from because I have a history with the deck. Back when Entomb was unbanned, I acquired a set that very day to go along with my Ionas and was able to play with them until Mystical Tutor was banned and the deck fell into obscurity. More recently, after my stint with Battle of Wits and a few other pet decks, my Eternal rating (which, like all other ratings, is essentially worthless) had fallen below 1800 for the first time in years. I picked up Reanimator again, originally with a single copy of Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. That number steadily worked its way up to three, while my Eternal rating has now peaked at its highest point ever, gaining over 100 points through the course of about eight weeks. I’m always interested to see how the deck can be improved and am always happy to see the deck do well. This is his list that made Top 8:

Since Eli Kassis has enjoyed multiple Top 8s with his take on the archetype, there has been a trend that I’ve enjoyed following in the metagame. The two versions of the deck are contrasted mostly by the speed at which they aim to have board presence. The slower builds that are loaded up with cantrips like Eli’s are normally indicated by the Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in the main and Hymn to Tourachs in the sideboard. The more aggressive builds, like the build I favor, feature redundancy in both pieces of the combo, loading up on both reanimation spells and means to get a creature into the graveyard; these builds are normally indicated by the presence of Hapless Researcher. This list seems to actually have gone for a middle ground on the matter, playing with both a pair of Ponders and a pair of Hapless Researchers, and using an interesting control suite of a single Daze, Darkblast (which is great off Entomb), and Spell Pierce. Interestingly, the list doesn’t use any Show and Tells out of the sideboard, meaning that he felt confident simply fighting graveyard hate with his tools in the sideboard.

After spending quite some time looking at and working with this list, I think that the Darkblast is best for the sideboard to help slow down Natural Order decks, although I tend to believe that NO R/U/G is favorable toward Reanimator, considering that it has a very fast goldfish and tons of live draws, whereas NO R/U/G tends to run a bit slower and often won’t be able to tap out to apply pressure in the early game.

The NO R/U/G match with Reanimator was something I was actually very interested to see the result of after the most recent SCG Open in Boston. I wasn’t able to watch the live coverage for the event, but I was really excited to read the coverage that was posted of Alex Bertoncini (NO R/U/G) versus Rob Castellon (Reanimator). Before I made it to the coverage, I was already provided with the knowledge that Alex had won this match, but I was interested to see how it played out. You can see the written coverage yourself here, but I’ll probably spoil it for you here anyway. There was a concession in Game 3 for a prize split. It was incredibly disappointing for me, eager to see what the dynamics of the match were for other players, only to see that a prize split occurred. I wish there had been a conclusion to that match, or that it hadn’t been written about, because it was a totally disappointing experience.

Closing Thoughts

It occurred to me that the metagame may actually be ripe for mono-Black control of the likes of The Gate for the first time I can really recall. While MBC may not be the flashiest deck on the scene, it can be built on a budget and has access to many of the tools that are incredibly strong against the field at the moment. Decks like NO R/U/G, Hive Mind, and even Stone-Blade decks want their hands left alone more than anything, and a deck flush with Inquisition of Kozilek, Hymn to Tourach, and Thoughtseize is going to be exactly what they don’t want to see. Gatekeeper of Malakir along with other Edict effects also seem rather strong at a time in the format where there are not many creatures on the board, and the ones that are there are generally essential to the deck’s game plan (NO R/U/G, Reanimator, Show and Tell decks, etc.), and a mono-Black deck is able to easily access Perish without having to play around it itself. Better yet, you have access to Dystopia and have a proactive card that really pressures Natural Order decks and has some splash ability against other decks. I’d probably start playing around with the deck somewhere close to here:

There should naturally be a strong desire to play Phyrexian Obliterator, and if you don’t own Wastelands, I’d suggest you go for a build that cuts Abyssal Persecutor for Obliterator. I’d also make this change if you want to run the deck without Dark Confidant and then play Tombstalker in that slot, although Phyrexian Arena has its merits and should be considered. I’d also like to find room for Geth's Verdict, which would have merits over Innocent Blood if it were not for Abyssal Persecutor, although Diabolic Edict may be better even in this current build. I feel the sideboard gives a lot of room to move, and while my configuration may not be optimal (you may not want to play Darkblast), it allows the deck some breathing room. This deck is going to be best in environments that are low on Jaces, since the deck really struggles against the card. If Zoo is large in your area, you may want to consider Phyrexian Crusader, who has protection from all of their removal and makes attacking difficult. Playing B/W has its merits as well, as it’s a road-proven deck that has mysteriously been absent from top tables, but I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about this deck. You might want to consider a Black-based disruption deck for your metagame.

~Christopher Walton in the real world

im00pi at gmail dot com

Master Shake on The Source

@EmperorTopDeck on Twitter