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June 22, 2017

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Fear and Lifelink in Las Vegas: A Legacy Grand Prix Report

We were somewhere in round five on the edge of the tournament when the caffeine began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I lost the die roll; maybe you should start first…” And suddenly there was a terrible presence all around us and the sky was full of what looked like a giant jellyfish, tentacles swooping and flashing around the True-Name Nemesis, which could only hit for three damage a turn. And a voice was calmly saying, “Annihilator six”. Then it was quiet again, and the game was over.

Last week a host of magic players descended on Las Vegas to play a month’s worth of Grand Prix in less than a week. An event in every format was available, but I went just for the Legacy. Las Vegas is a city full of casinos, shows, and attractions beyond the inside of a convention centre, and I was determined to explore them all.

My trip started off with me forgetting the Boy Scout motto: be prepared. I’m sure getting up at 4am didn’t help, as I forgot my wallet at home and didn’t notice until we were at the airport. A costly cab ride later, I returned in time to make my flight. I’m sure my lovely wife will remind me to be better prepared next time, but she was very gracious by not saying anything!

Preparation is a very important aspect of any tournament. There are a lot of factors that go into it beyond just the travelling side; for example, paper for tracking life totals, dice for counters, and required tokens. I was surprised that one opponent used dice to track life totals and he had to confirm that he had the correct information more than once during the match. Simply writing down life total changes and what caused them can be important to keep the game state consistent. Even before the tournament itself, there’s the sticky point of what deck you are going to play and what cards should be in your sideboard.

As a long time player of this great card game, I’m in a spot that is both good and bad. On one hand, having the flexibility to play a number of different decks is nice. On the other hand, a great many writers talk about how it’s potentially more important to know your deck inside and out rather than constantly switch to the “best deck”. Trying to find the best deck for an event causes its own problems. Problems like not knowing which hands to mulligan, alternative routes to victory, or which cards are hard to deal with for whatever deck I’m playing that day. Perhaps this is a story about these exact problems!

In the month before Las Vegas, Legacy was in an uproar due to the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top. Which deck was the best? Was there a best? That wasn’t a question I could answer myself. I started checking tournament results to see what other people stumbled upon. One surprise was that Miracles still existed in a new, unexpected form. Another was that plain old UW Stoneblade was good.

Mike's Legacy Deck
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UW Stoneblade

Spells (21)
Umezawa’s Jitte
Batterskull
Council’s Judgment
Flusterstorm
Counterspell
Force of Will
Swords to Plowshares
Brainstorm

Planeswalkers (3)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Creatures (12)
Snapcaster Mage
Stoneforge Mystic
True-Name Nemesis

Lands (24)
Tundra
Plains
Island
Wasteland
Arid Mesa
Flooded Strand
Scalding Tarn

Sideboard (15)
Surgical Extraction
Disenchant
Misdirection
Containment Priest
Engineered Explosives
Meddling Mage

If there’s one thing about this deck that stands out, it’s the mana base. Six basic lands ensure that you won’t get locked out by Blood Moon, or not be able to cast your spells due to Wasteland – you even have Wastelands of your own.

Joe Bernal ran this deck to a win last month, and I couldn’t find any fault with it. If anything, it’s an incredibly fair deck with no cards that just win out of nowhere. Four copies of Snapcaster Mage seals the value package. A few changes to the sideboard and I was good to go. There was just one thing that I couldn’t control as the tournament began, and its name was variance.

Suffice to say, not a lot went well. Variance reared its ugly head and sometimes I was drawing six lands in a row, or no creatures for a game. Other times, the cards that I drew didn’t line up remotely with the cards my opponent drew. Instead of detailing the event round by round, I’ll instead highlight some interesting plays and observations through the nine rounds.

I faced the mirror in round two, except that my opponent had a red splash. Generally when you’re playing a mostly blue mirror and your opponent has a red splash, it’s due to cards in the sideboard. The usual suspects are Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast. These one mana counterspells or vindicates can heavily swing matches in your favour, and that’s exactly what happened in games two and three. Without many options to sideboard in against this deck, I made a few changes but Disenchant looked silly when a True-Name Nemesis was cast.

There was a round against an opponent on Black/Red Reanimator. That is likely the most explosive, yet fragile version of the deck. It was able to explode for a turn one win in game one, but folded to sideboard cards in games two and three. Containment Priest and Meddling Mage can be devastating. Food Chain was another deck that also had trouble with Meddling Mage, but a surprise Liliana, the Last Hope was the key card in game three that took that match.

My opening paragraph that parodies the great novel Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, refers to a match that I thought was just regular Sneak and Show. An early Show and Tell into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn abruptly ended the first game. A key point that I noticed, but didn’t pick up on until too late, was that my opponent looked at his sideboard after game one. He did not actually substitute any cards in or out.

In game two I realized why, as he cast Cunning Wish for answers to my Meddling Mage and Containment Priest. I feel like I might have lost that game when I tapped out to cast Counterspell, instead of exiling it to Force of Will. It allowed my opponent to use Daze to full advantage and wipe the board with a Kozilek’s Return. Did he have a Force of Will if I didn’t tap out? We’ll never know, but maybe the Force of Will was the correct line.

Another interesting set of plays were involved in a match-up against Storm. In the first game, he already knew I had a Counterspell due to Gitaxian Probe a turn prior. He started with Duress, and I tapped out to play the Counterspell on it as he was likely to take it and I wanted to keep the card I drew a mystery. He had zero fear and went for it. The worst part? It took the Counterspell to make enough storm to kill me.

In the third game of that match, my opponent was stuck on a single black mana source. This time, he saw that I had no ways to interact, but had to wait a turn. In that turn, I drew a Flusterstorm. I couldn’t really stop him from going off though. The key was that he ended up having a lot of extra mana from three copies of Lion’s Eye Diamond, a Lotus Petal, and a Dark Ritual he drew for the turn. However, instead of just going for lethal storm, he used an Infernal Tutor for another Infernal Tutor, and then cast Tendrils of Agony. I used the Flusterstorm and managed to counter three copies through all the extra mana and stayed alive. Had he just went for lethal storm, he could have paid for all the copies and that would have been the match. Instead, Batterskull and Jace, the Mind Sculptor sealed a game three victory for me.

While the tournament didn’t go so hot for me, the weather was super hot! After the event, I spent the rest of the week walking the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street with drinks in hand. My wife proved to be adept at gambling for hours on no more than a hundred dollars. We also saw the Cirque Du Soleil show “O” at the Bellagio. Footsore and happy, we managed to travel back to Ottawa without forgetting a wallet in our hotel room.

For those that are interested, here’s one last observation: of the eight rounds that I played, every round featured an opponent with a different archetype.

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: 1-2 Jeskai Stoneblade

Round 3: 2-1 B/R Reanimator

Round 4: 0-2 Foodchain

Round 5: 0-2 Sneak and Show with Ominscience

Round 6: 2-0 Elves

Round 7: 2-1 Storm

Round 8: 0-2 Punishing Jund

Round 9: 2-0 Infect

Until next time, may all your brainstorms be great! (And quick!)