Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Magical Comeback: Building The Deck

This article is going to be kinda technical in Magic the Gathering and won’t really have any appeal to 40k people.  Not much I can or want to do about that.  More Games Workshop articles next week.

As I mentioned, my ‘comeback’ with be at the SCG Legacy Open in Orlando on May 20.  Legacy is a fantastic Magic format, with an unfortunately high barrier to entry for most people, especially new players.  Luckily for me, most of the incredibly expensive cards were not super expensive when I was playing, and I still have them because I wisely never sold my collection when I stopped playing competitively.  So money was not an obstacle to keep me away from Legacy.

To stay on topic, Legacy is great because of the variety of viable decks.  In Standard right now, there are about 2 tier 1 decks and probably 3-5 tier 2 decks that are bit further down the ladder whose viability waxes and wanes based on which of the tier 1 decks is more popular at the moment.  In Legacy there are a handful of popular decks (Esper Stoneblade, RUG Delver, Maverick) but there are at least a dozen other decks that are more than capable of beating them and winning a tournament.  In fact, there are so many viable decks that there are no tiers in Legacy.  There is simply “viable” and “not viable.”   The card pool is so large that the potential for viable decks is huge, and as many competitive players will say of Legacy, “you can play anything, within reason.”  The wide variety of decks at a large Legacy tournament makes following the tournament quite enjoyable.

Additionally, while some deck are more popular than others that does not mean they are better.  If you play tested exclusively against the popular decks you’d still only be prepared for less than 50% of the metagame.  The format is so large and diverse that you simply cannot playtest every possible match up.  So the key to the format is not simply playtesting against a gauntlet until you learn all the match ups, it’s playtesting against as many different decks as possible.  2 matches against 10 decks are more valuable than 4 matches against 5 decks, generally speaking.   That said, you need to know the major 12-16 decks in the format so that you can know what your opponent is playing by no later than turn 2.  The format is rather fast, and making the right play early is key.  Making the right play early is tough if you can’t determine what your opponent is playing.

So the wide variety of Legacy attracted me t the format.  After watching dozens of Legacy tournaments, and reading all the Legacy columnists on the web I had a pretty good idea of what decks were out there.  My play style usually gravitates to mid-range control decks, like The Rock.  I also tend to gravitate to Bant colors.  Based on this, the first deck I put together was a Bantblade deck that looked like so…

4x Knight of the Reliquary
4x Stoneforge Mystic
4x Noble Hierarch
3x Vendillion Clique
1x Scavenging Ooze
1x Qasali Pridemage
4x Force of will
4x Brain Storm
1x Ponder
1x Sylvan Library
1x Sword of Feast or Famine
1x Umizawa’s Jitte
1x Batterskull
2x Jace the Mind Sculptor
1x Elspeth Knight Errant
4x Swords to Plowshares
1x Forest
1x Island
1x Flooded Strand
4x Misty Rainforest
1x Savannah
4x Tropical Island
3x Tundra
4x Wasteland
3x Windswept Heath
1x Karakas

I really liked the deck, and I still do.  It has all the tricks and is basically the all the best cards in the respective colors.  Unfortunately, the metagame is faster and more tempo based.  Stoneforge Mystic is insanely powerful, but it doesn’t come down until turn 2 at the earliest, doesn’t put a Batterskull into play until Turn 3, and it can’t attack until Turn 4.  Turn 4 is simply a turn too late to start attacking.  The deck can also go Hierarch -> Knight -> Knight and bash for a lot of fast damage.  But what I found is, unless you get a Hierarch in your opening hand, the deck is too slow to beat the combo decks, and is too fragile to beat the control decks.  It doesn’t have a favorable match up against Maverick or Esper Stoneblade, which is a real problem as those are two of the most popular decks.  This deck is ideal in a format where decks like Countertop or Hymn to Tourach are more popular, but that isn’t right now.

Add to this, there are a lot of decisions to be made in this deck.  “Do I play Stoneforge turn 2 and try to win with Batterskull, or play my Knight turn 2 and try to take that line?” or “what should I do with my Jace this turn?” or “what equipment should I grab with my first Stoneforge Mystic?”  A lot of decisions and interactions.  At this point, I don’t trust myself to make the correct play enough to the time.

So I decided I need to play a more aggressive plan.  My next idea was to play a Maverick type of deck with blue for Brainstorm and go more aggressive with more attacking Green creatures and no Stoneforge package.  Unfortunately, this idea didn’t make it past the brainstorming stage, because I kept thinking, “just play Maverick, it will be better than cluttering your deck with unnecessary Blue cards.”  Then inspiration struck!  In March, Phillip Contreras won the Legacy Open in Sacramento with a bizarre aggressive Bant deck featuring lot’s of mana acceleration, hexproof creatures, creature Auras to buff them, and tempo based counterspells like Daze and Spell Pierce.  This was the exact style of deck I wanted!  You can find his list here.

Strange, eh?  Spectral Flight and Psionic Blast in Legacy is odd indeed.  But what works is what works.  I rushed to throw this together and play a bunch of games.  The first thing I learned from the games I got to play is that I want 4 Wastelands.  I almost always want my third turn to be to put Spectral Flight on a Gheist, drop a Wasteland, kill a land, and attack for 9.  So I cut down on one the basic Islands and a Spell Pierce to pick up two more Wastelands.  And I arrived at the following deck…

4x Noble Hierarch
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Troll Ascetic
4x Geist of St. Traft
4x Quasali Pridemage
4x Daze
3x Spell Pierce
3x Unstable Mutation
2x Spectral Flight
4x Brainstorm
3x Psionic Blast
4x Wasteland
2x Forest
1x Island
1x Savannah
4x Tundra
4x Tropical Island
3x Windswept Heath
3x Misty Rainforest

It’s fast and beaty.  Best of all it has a rather linear game plan: drop a powerful threat turn 2, attack for a bunch turn 3, protect my advantage with the disruption, and win turn 4 or 5 before the slower decks can react.  This deck is powerful in the current environment because the threats are difficult for the midrange decks that rely on Swords to Plowshares to interact with and the threats are bigger and just as fast as the Delver decks.  Lastly, it has fast enough threats to force combo decks to try to go off before they are ready and has enough countermagic to keep them honest. 

So that’s where I am at with the deck.  I’ll discuss my sideboard choices next and my tournament preparation.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?


  1. I'm glad you're doing legacy - otherwise I'd have to stop reading on account of being too tempted to start collecting again.

    Keep this series coming though, it's been super enjoyable so far.

  2. Got to say, I'm thrilled to read some Magic content here. I don't follow Legacy competitively, but I'll gladly read your adventures getting ready for, and playing in, these tournaments.

  3. Remove Psy blast from the main and put it in the sideboarc...throw in some more Counters or Swords.....

    1. Running swords to plowshares in an aggro deck doesn't make sense to me. And psi blast gives the deck reach, more counters will be in the sideboard for combo decks.

    2. This deck (or a similar one very much like it) is getting a lot of play here in "casual" Legacy (that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one). The comments I've heard about it when I asked were that you have to play EXTREMELY aggro (which I believe is NOT a problem for you), and that Psi is situational but not bad to have.

      I'll admit that both the guys who commented on what to change love Swords like CRAZY, but I thought I'd pass it on.

    3. Path to Exile would be much better in this deck since it doesn't gain the opponent any life. I will definitely have them in my sideboard for creature heavy match ups.



    Apologies, when I was being taught how to play Magic, many many moons ago, the guy teaching me had a mono-white deck with 4 of those. They haunted my nightmares for years.

    I never played Magic in a tournament setting outside of drafts, so I can't really make a meaningful comment on the deck, but I'd be interested to hear more about how it does.

  5. I think I might give this a spin myself. I'll end up running a more budget-y version with more fetch lands and fewer duals, but it should be okay.

    I guess the most obvious question is... no FoW? I know it's probably just a knee-jerk reaction, but it just feels safer to have "free" hard counters.

    Done any playtesting yet?

    1. Yeah I played a handful of games last night. Beat a Red/Blue Burn deck, lost to combo-Elves, and beat Death and Taxes.

      FoW is in the sideboard. You don't want it against other aggressive creature decks, and it's only good vs. control when you're on the play. It's always good against combo decks though, so that's when I'll bring it in.

  6. Good luck next week. Unstable Mutation was always one of my favourite cards. Just watch out for Volcanic Fallout.