Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Beauty of Legacy: my report from Grand Prix Columbus 2016

It's been a good long forever since I reported on Magic: the Gathering, and there's good reason for it. Even back when I summarized my second-ever Legacy format Grand Prix in 2012 and a couple other events, there were still two or three events a year which I would attend. Not so anymore!

Thanks to a streak of bad timing for local tournaments and being busy with the kids and the job (plus finding my competitive outlet in Hearthstone over the same time period), I actually went my longest break between tournaments before this past weekend. It did not help that the last couple Legacy Grand Prix tournaments were too far away in New Jersey and Seattle/Tacoma. I had not played a sanctioned game of Magic since late 2014! Who would have thought I would go an entire calendar year without even a single weekend of "official" Magic?*

* To be fair, there were a couple weekends of Commander/EDH with the guys mixed in during this gap, but no sanctioned Magic.

Needless to say, I was a bit rusty even in my beloved Legacy format.

But with a Grand Prix coming to old Columbus town, I had to jump back in. Just like my last report, I'm still on Elves, albeit a much more refined version four years later. This is a relatively similar list to the one I took to Day 2 of Grand Prix Washington DC in late 2013, the most recent Grand Prix I played in:

As a reminder, despite not being able to make any Day 2 of a Grand Prix back when I and my group of friends played regularly and competitively, my record in Grand Prix in Legacy is pretty solid. Would I be able to match this success and cash again like GP Columbus 2010?

  • 2010 GP Columbus - Played Belcher, finished 12-4 (35th)
  • 2012 GP Indianapolis - Played Elves, finished 4-4 (660th)
  • 2013 GP Washington DC - Played Elves, finished 9-6 after 9-2 start (185th)
  • 2016 GP Columbus - ???
I made some choices to prepare for what I believed to be the better decks in Legacy like U/W Miracles and attrition decks like Delver and Shardless Sultai. Although I did not choose to run Choke in the SB (seriously thought about it), the main deck Sylvan Library was in there to improve my matchup against these blue style decks. Plus even without my usual Karakas in the SB, I still ran Crop Rotation to help dig out Cavern of Souls if needed. 

Without spoiling the next few paragraphs, the wide variance you can see in tournaments with 2000 players would make those decisions totally irrelevant. But let's look in detail at the games, and a conclusion I came to on the day overall, which makes me love Legacy even more than before. 

Round 1 vs. Bryan (Elves)
So many players in a Grand Prix, and you bring a somewhat under-the-radar deck...and hello mirror match in the opening match. Go figure. Although Sylvan Library was not in the deck for the mirror, it definitely won Game 1 because after Bryan races out to a good start with Deathrite Shaman etc., I am able to take two extra cards on the turn before he is going to likely win and combo out myself for victory via Craterhoof. Game two, Bryan again has a much better start with DRS while I do not, and he runs me over easily. 

Game three, I again struggle without a DRS but I have enough to force a double Glimpse of Nature combo turn right before he will likely kill me. However, my draws were super awkward during the combo, not finding Nettle Sentinels or the other key cards to keep the combo going. I end up needing to stop about 50% through the deck with two Cabal Therapy casts to try and rip apart Bryan's five card hand. Obviously I name Natural Order first, but that comes up blank. His hand is two lands with one Gaea's Cradle, a Craterhoof, a Heritage Druid, and a Green Sun's Zenith. He had four creature already on board, so there was no stopping the mana to cast Hoof or GSZ, and I went into the tank to think it over for quite some time. I finally decided to make him spend one more mana for GSZ, although I appeared to still be dead on board because of the trample damage coming. Predictably, Bryan casts GSZ for 8 and goes through his deck...and then he goes through again with a confused look on his face...could it be? Indeed, he had sided out his second Craterhoof and had to put a Xantid Swarm in play instead. Best nine mana GSZ ever, right? So my opponent mis-sideboards and that allows me to luck into the correct Cabal Therapy play to win. Mistakes are punished in Legacy. 
(1-0) (2-1 games)

Round 2 vs. Anson (Eldrazi)
My opponent wins the die roll and goes Ancient Tomb, Chalice of the Void for 1. Considering I had 5 1-mana cards in my hand, that's pretty much all she wrote in that game. Anson did not have the same luck in game 2, and I won with a Natural Order Craterhoof turn a few turns into the game. Game 3 Anson is going first again and he of course has the Chalice for 1 on turn 1, followed by a creature and an Umezawa's Jitte on turn 2. Elves just can't beat that, going second (not drawing any Abrupt Decay was painful, but one would not have been enough). Although I was pretty unprepared for Eldrazi as a new contender in Legacy, this is similar to the type of auto-losses you could sometimes take to the MUD deck also. Moving on. 
(1-1) (3-3 games)

Round 3 vs. Greg (Belcher)
Greg goes on the double mulligan game 1, which probably puts him on combo. My suspicion was correct as he still comes out of the gate on the draw with a turn 1 combo out for 14 goblin tokens. That gives me until Turn 3 to win, and I'm able to do just that with a good Glimpse draw leading to a Natural Order finish. Game 2 he went off quickly and my disruption package did not show up. For Game 3, I decided to try for consistency and took out the Cabal Therapy package. Despite being an expert with both these decks, I still made this questionable decision. That was punished when I overextended one extra creature into his slow play of Burning Wish for Pyroclasm, and I did not have the backup of discard spells to decimate the rest of his hand. About 3 or 4 turns later, I was Belcher'd out on the turn before I was going to win with Natural Order. But had I held back one of the creatures which died to the Pyroclasm or kept the discard in, I probably win this game easily. I certainly should win any game where Elves goes first and Belcher can't go off until about turn 8. Once again, mistakes are punished in Legacy.
(1-2) (4-5 games)

Round 4 vs. Joshua (Burn)
At this point when I see a Blue-red fetch land on turn 1 of game 1, I figure this is finally when I get to play against a blue-base deck (which seems to make up 70%+ of the format, maybe even more, thanks to the power of Brainstorm and Force of Will). Nope. He searched out a basic mountain and brought out the Goblin Guide. I won the game at 16 life, so it clearly went well and quickly. In game 2, he was able to combine a Sulfuric Vortex and an Eidolon of the Great Revel to stack enough damage for me to come back from. However, game 3 was your typical tight affair where Elves goes first and has just enough to win the game at single digit life just before losing to the likes of Vortex and burn spells. This guy was very salty about how the final game went down, but he also was recovering from throat surgery and so it was a strange muted type of salty response. It was interesting to say the least, but back on the winning side is a good thing. 
(2-2) (6-6 games)

Round 5 vs. Vincent (Burn)
Apparently islands just aren't a thing in this format anymore, as I find yet another opponent not on the Brainstorm plan. That's just fine with me, as this pleasant fellow from Cincinnati would share the same fate as the previous burn opponent, albeit in a different way. Game 1 was just as easy as the previous round, with me winning on 11 life thanks to the usual combo powered by Natural Order. Game 2 was a great one, probably the best game since Round 1 as far as entertainment value. He comes in with a couple of burn spells, an Eidolon, a Sulfuric Vortex, and then a Pyrostatic Pillar as well. Overkill much?

When he played the Pillar, I had five creatures, most of which were tapped from attacking: Dryad Arbor, a Quirion Ranger, two other 1/1 creatures, and a Nettle Sentinel, and I sat on 5 life. He was at 6 life with the 2/2 Eidolon left untapped to play defense. Dropping to 3 life on the upkeep thanks to Vortex, I could not play any of my green creatures to untap the Nettle Sentinel because of Pillar/Eidolon, and I did not have a GSZ or Natural Order to get around the damage to finish the job. Thus, I am forced to swing in with the four 1/1 creatures, one of which gets blocked. Opponent drops to 3. I then use the Quirion Ranger to return Dryad arbor to the hand and replay it as a potential blocker. Vincent drops to 1 on his upkeep, he can't attack through my blocker, and his own Pillar and Eidolon stop him from casting the Lightning Bolt that could have won him the game. Essentially, he could have won if he had not played the Pillar (total of 4 saved damage, 2 from Pillar when Bolt is cast and 2 from Eidolon when Pillar was cast). The theme rings true, mistakes (even small ones) are punished heavily in Legacy. It was nice to not play game 3 as well for the first time all day.
(3-2) (8-6 games)

Round 6 vs. Neeraj (R/G Lands)
You'd think playing Legacy you'd run into a deck with Islands, and especially a deck chock full of all kinds of lands, but not so. Game 1 was relatively short as I combo'd him in quick fashion without a Glacial Chasm there to stop me. Likewise, Game 2 was a quick affair thanks to his combo finish, which is Thespian's Stage copying Dark Depths for an immediate 20/20 flying Merit Lage. I had sided in Scavenging Ooze to combat a slow grindy Loam game, but seeing this plus Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale in game 2 made me sideboard it out for something else in Game 3, trying to add consistency and speed to the deck when going first. That is a massive mistake, as Neeraj relied on Glacial Chasm game 3 to hold my lethal damage at bay while he abused Life from the Loam to eventually assemble the 20/20 Merit Lage on the turn before he would have to sacrifice Chasm. I did resolve a green Sun's Zenith in the middle of this process for 2, and instead of getting the Ooze which would have dealt with Life from the Loam, or at a minimum, gained sufficient life to survive one attack from Merit Lage (which was all I needed to do to win with Chasm off the board), I had to go get another creature with the Ooze in the sideboard. Yet another example of how small misplays even in sideboarding get punished in Legacy. This also was a nice capstone to mirror my benefit from another Elves player mis-sideboarding in Round 1.
(3-3) (9-8 games)

The primary lesson, if it was not clear, is that playing clean in Legacy is vital to doing well in tournaments like this. I still firmly believe that a good pilot of nearly any deck can do very well so long as they understand the match ups and play flawlessly. It is so easy to make mistakes, especially with cards like Brainstorm, and you can take advantage of the high amount of mistakes other people make with their own decks.

I could've continued playing and may have made Day 2 at 6-3, but I had no interest in continuing with my mediocre level of play based on what was obviously the lesson of the day. Plus, how often can you tell a story in Legacy where you played SIX ROUNDS and you literally see ZERO islands, Brainstorm, or Force of Will? Unbelievable.

Maybe I should've been on Belcher like the GP in Columbus 6 years ago. I did loan that same deck to a friend Mike and he finished up 2-3 with it, ironically losing to Belcher in round 3 at the same time that I did. The People's Cannon is dangerous, but still worthwhile to play as a good time. Plus we got to grab dinner at a local German pub and played a couple of games of 1-on-1 Commander, which was a good time. That, plus going home to sleep in your own bed, was more than worth whatever satisfaction I would have gotten from trying to grind to 6-3 and/or play Day 2.

My only other major takeaway from the weekend was that Elves had a poor weekend overall, placing exactly zero copies in the Top 32 of both GP Prague and GP Columbus. Miracles is all over the place, followed by Delver and Shardless Sultai variants, and a little Death and Taxes, Storm, etc. thrown in. Interestingly, even though Infect won the Columbus GP, it looks like it only placed 2 or 3 total copies in the Top 32's of both Grand Prix combined. I think Elves is on a similar level as Infect, and probably should have seen similar results.

Bottom Line - I remain faithful that a properly tech-ed Elves (such as with Sylvan Library in the main deck and Choke perhaps in the sideboard) can do well in this Legacy format. That being said, if I wanted to burn $1,500...collecting the rest of Miracles (cost would be mostly dual lands and Jaces) and/or the rest of R/G Lands (cost would be Tabernacle, mostly) would also be a fun time. But that's not happening anytime soon with how infrequently I go to tournaments, so GO GO ELVEN TRIBE.

Also, I wonder if Divining Top eventually gets banned. If Miracles continues to be a clear best deck in the format, the slow play caused by that card may end up getting it on the radar for the ban team. For now I suspect it is safe, but when you see 50% of a Top 8 and Top 32 be one deck in a format as wide and diverse as Legacy (evidence - see my list of unexpected matchups over 6 rounds), that could signal a problem moving forward.

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