Defense Mechanisms in Magic

As the people who know me are fully aware, I love to study the psychological aspect of games. Before I dipped into serious Magic, I used to play football, Pokémon TCG and Counter Strike all at a somewhat serious level. I didn’t just play these games – I also studied them whether it was advanced tactics, cunning mind games, reading of the game plus put a big emphasis on the importance of a positive environment in the dressing room, in testing or on the voice communication server. If you haven’t read “My 10 MTG Commandments” I advise that you give that a look before diving into this one. Keep in mind that everyone either is or has been guilty of all of the following, including myself. Reading this article will hopefully help you as much as it helped me write it.

1) “I lost even though I played perfectly”


Players will use this phrase to project the attention after a tough loss. More often than not, the recipient of this message, usually a friend they traveled with to the tournament, will tell the losing player that they couldn’t do any more than that (doing their best), and that just happens in Magic. While that is a positive response from your friends, the responsibility lies with the losing player. While they maybe didn’t have any other decisions to make during the game, they might not have researched the metagame well enough before constructing a sideboard. Another possibility is that they didn’t playtest the matchup thoroughly enough and that their “truth” is flawed. I suggest playing the match in your head and come up with points where you actually had decisions to make and try to evaluate those after the tournament. Mulliganning, whether to fetch out a basic or shockland, sideboarding and other stuff can be relevant to look at. But at the tournament after the match – just focus on your next game instead of being frustrated about the past.

2) “My opponent got extremely lucky”


I often hear players talk about their match as if only the last draw from the opponent mattered. While it is very hard to practice in the aftermath of a tough loss, it is somewhat simple to see what the constructive way of dealing with this is. You should take a deep breath and look at everything from start to finish in the match instead of looking at the last draw (in case of a devastating top deck) in a vacuum. Conveniently, with a comment like this, the player got to sneak in that they are a way better player than their opponent. I mean, without the extreme luck, how else would he beat you? Sometimes you get into situations against a deck like Burn in Modern where the absolute best line you can draw up will need your opponent to draw either a creature or land for their turn, so you can attack for lethal in a scenario where a targeted burn spell wins your opponent the game. If you figured out the best line, you live with the result and get back into the saddle no matter the outcome.

3) “I didn’t test for this tournament”


Players will usually slip this comment before the tournament to lower the expectations to them from their peers. If they end up doing badly, they want people to remember what they said. On the other hand, if they do great, their friends will most likely look at them as a God-gifted talent (or at least, that is what they hope will happen). Trying to set up artificial win/win situations like this is a very common defense mechanism. What I wish I was able to do in cases where I know I didn’t prepare as well as I could for the tournament, is keep quiet about it and hope to lean on my experience instead of recent actual playtesting. If situations occur, where I lose because of lack of preparation, I will either have to live with it or prepare better next time. No reason to create a false narrative to protect your pride.

4) “This format is horrible”


A commonly used quote from good players about fast formats like Modern and Vintage after losing to a proactive or prison style strategy. Yes, it is not the best feeling in the world to lose to a turn three Karn Liberated or never getting to cast a spell, but remember who chose to devote money and time to sign up to the tournament. During the last couple of years, I have taken a break from Modern whenever I felt the metagame was too proactive – the kind of Magic that I don’t enjoy. You either accept the name of the game or take the necessary procautions.

5) “My Opponent’s deck is unplayable”


Let me be the first to say that I have been extremely guilty of this one in the past. I spend a reasonable large amount of time to figure out the metagame and aim to choose just the right deck for a given tournament. If I then faced a deck that was bad against the consensus “best” deck in the format, which would make that deck unplayable in my mind, and that deck randomly had a great matchup against my m3t4g4m3 k1ll4h deck, I would just tell myself that my opponent was bad and he would probably just play against the “best” deck next round and get what he deserved. Needless to say, all my thoughts were not doing anything good for my tournament success or well being in general. The lesson for me was that players at Grand Prix especially will always show up with whatever they already had built prior, disregarding metagame trends and recent printings. That is part of what makes Magic a beautiful game.

I hope you enjoy the mix-up between strategy, results, psychology and deck breakdowns as much as I do. I might start to do some videos in the future, but I can’t promise anything yet. Thank you for reading and please share your experiences about defense mechanisms with the me and the other readers. We all have a lot to learn.

Sculpting Minds with Jace in Modern

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

On the days leading up to the banned and restricted announcement, I was fairly sure that Bloodbraid Elf would come off the banned list and nothing else would happen to Modern. To say I was wrong is an understatement, as Wizards injected the most powerful planeswalker of all time into the format alongside the seemingly innocent value elf. I’m not going to build a ton of Jace decks just yet, because I need to know the metagame in order to build good control decks. Instead I will share my thoughts about which cards and strategies whose value will be boosted.

Ramping Out Jace

Noble HierarchTalisman of Dominance

Accelerating out your four-mana planeswalker has been a winning strategy in Vintage, Legacy and Vintage Cube for a long time, and I believe the same will be true for Modern. I like the talismen, because it allows to keep up a defensive play, like Fatal Push or Dismember, the turn you play it. In the case of Noble Hierarch, I imagine various Bant builds with disruptive creatures and heavy hitters to close out the game. This deck will not be looking to control the game; rather, it will try and play cards with high individual power level and play them ahead of schedule thanks to the Hierarch and possibly Birds of Paradise. These mana creatures are rather bad top decks later on, but can then be used to block and protect Jace. Which leads me to…

Blocking Becomes Valuable

Lingering Souls Wall of Omens

Controlling Jace decks will look to find cheaper, defensive cards that protect Jace and are not embarrassing to play. Lingering Souls will double as a win condition in Esper builds while straight Blue/White can play Wall of Omens on turn two and protect Jace ahead of time. I don’t quite think that Squadron Hawk has what it takes in this era of Magic, but I’m sure it will be tried out. These decks will already run Snapcaster Mage for obvious reasons, but the 2/1 body attached is now more important than ever.

Burn Spells Get Better

Lightning BoltLightning Helix

Burn spells used to be pretty bad against blue Modern decks outside of their sometimes relevant ability to pressure the blue mage’s lifetotal. Their delve creatures or Tarmogoyf would be too big, and you needed to resolve two burn spells in order to kill one. That changes with Jace in the picture, because now your copies of Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolt will actually be decent cards. If they get to “brainstorm” once, and you finish Jace off with a Lightning Bolt, you should be happy. Be aware that experienced players will use Jace’s +2 ability more frequent than you might expect.

Creature Lands Are Great

Treetop VillageRaging Ravine Stirring Wildwood Creeping Tar Pit

We should see more decks than usual pack a few creature lands to be better equipped to deal with Jace. I only listed the three-power ones, because I believe lands like Mutavault and Shambling Vent will prove lackluster thanks to their two power instead of three. Jace decks will be built to keep the battlefield as clean as possible, and the difference between two and three power on your creature land can be the difference between life and death against Jace.

Whaaat, Free Spells?

Slaughter Pact Disrupting Shoal

Whether you get to untap with Jace on the battlefield the turn after you cast him is critical. If you manage to “brainstorm” with him twice, you should be in good shape depending on how your deck is constructed, so that is your goal. I believe a card like Slaughter Pact will help you achieve this and should see play in the coming months. Having a Doom Blade the turn you cast Jace will be powerful, but also being able to Snapcaster Mage back the Pact later with only two mana up sounds delicious. I listed Disrupting Shoal because a friend of mine is certain it will become a mainstay way to protect your Jace, but I have my doubts. Very interesting nonetheless.

ETB Effects vs. Fatties

Eternal Witness Thalia's Lieutenant Bedlam Reveler Gurmag Angler Knight of the Reliquary Tarmogoyf

It is inevitable that the Jace player will need to “unsummon” your creatures from time to time, and having creatures with relevant “enters the battlefield” triggers on them will reduce the power of Jace. On the flipside, Jace loves to bounce big fatties with delve or green monsters with huge power.

Hopefully you got a tip or two that will lead you to even more productive thoughts about abusing or beating Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Modern. Let me know if you have some tricks up your sleeve that I need to know about for my next Modern tournament!

Follow Andreas on Twitter and as ecobaronen on MTGO.

Preparing for Grand Prix Lyon

Wow, that was a great Pro Tour to watch. Any concerns about Modern not being able to hold up to the scrutiny of the pro teams were pretty much rendered mute. The top 8 had 7 different archetypes, and the diversity continued throughout the posted decklists. The most popular deck was 5-color Humans but because it’s just a bunch of creatures it is very beatable if you just try a little.

Lantern winning the whole thing seems to have garnered the most talk about banning but I’m not sure it’s warranted. I have very little experience playing against Lantern so I don’t have a good idea of how beatable it actually is. It seems like Burn and Tron have decent matchups but I for one do not want those decks to see more play. Anyway, as long as there are so few people actually capable of piloting Lantern, the problem might be too small to warrant bannings. Then again, it’s a pretty weak argument that it’s only a small number of people ruining things for the rest of us. I’ll stay out of the debate for now and be content whether something is banned or not.

Instead I’ll try to figure out what I should play at Grand Prix Lyon next week. When deciding on a deck in Modern I think you should always choose between decks you have extensive experience with. There are so many different matchups and weird interactions that you will be very hard pressed picking up a new deck the day before a tournament and do well. Of course, if you have a long time to prepare and build up a mastery of a new deck, by all means go for it, but a week which includes working full time is not enough.

That actually brings me to an important announcement if you haven’t heard: I have decided to quit my day job and spend all my time on Magic. For this blog it means that I will be devoting more time to writing and I will try to do more writing while I’m playing. This way I write down my thoughts as they occur so I don’t have to remember a couple of days back when I sit down to write an article. So if you feel like my posts are of low quality (yet are somehow still reading?) you should see an improvement soon. If you don’t, then I hope you will still see an improvement. I will also be trying my hand at streaming and a good friend and I have started working on a Youtube project so keep an eye out for that. I’m very excited for all of this and of course a bit nervous but I hope the excitement will win out and shine through.

Back to Modern, I have 3 options: Storm, UW Control and Mardu Pyromancer. I have played both Storm and UW at Grand Prixs before and I played a lot with Mardu during December and January. Given ample practice time I think I would play Tron since it’s good against Mardu, Lantern (I think) and Humans, all of which I could see being popular in Lyon. Then again, it’s Modern so week to week metagame changes are pretty negligible, another reason why I favor just playing something you know well.

Of the three, I have the least experience with Mardu so there would have to be some big tendencies in the metagame for me to choose it over one of the others. If I knew the metagame would be the same as the Pro Tour I would snap it off but the trifecta of Burn, Tron and Scapeshift will likely be more popular at the Grand Prix so I don’t think I have the guts to bring it.

I had actually thought UW Control to be kind of dead but the printing of Search for Azcanta and maybe more importantly Field of Ruin has given new life to the deck. I definitely enjoy playing it more than Storm but not enough to want to play it unless it is as good or better, so I’ll have to figure out if that’s the case.

Looking over the Pro Tour lists, they are actually quite similar to what I used to play, and I have tried both with and without Ancestral Vision. Last I played it, around Grand Prix Birmingham, I had abandoned Ancestral but when people like Raphael Levy, Lee Shi Tian and Tomoharu Saito include it, I consider the discussion reopened at least.

There were two main reasons why I cut it. First, the most important thing for the deck was to play its fourth land on time to unlock Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command. Cards like Wall of Omens were more help there. Second, the top dogs were Grixis Shadow and Eldrazi Tron who had Stubborn Denial and Chalice of the Void respectively, which made it too uncertain that Ancestral would resolve.

I set to testing with a non-ancestral list and found myself struggling to get to just 3 wins in a league. I don’t think I played the same deck more than twice during 5 leagues, so it’s not like I just faced a bad matchup all the time. It’s just that UW is a deck that really requires you to be focused almost all the time. The games are often close until well after turn 5 and even in the late game you can lose by spending the wrong counterspell/answer on their threat. Since it was so long since I had played UW I often made these small missteps in the first two leagues and then I got frustrated and made even more in the next. For me at least, if I am going to play this deck I need to be calm and comfortable which I wasn’t. Since I don’t know if I can get there before the Grand Prix I turned back to trusty old Storm.

I started out with a chat with Snapcardster buddy Michael Bonde who had just played it at the Pro Tour to a 6-3-1 record. He still like the deck so I questioned him about his list:

Creatures (6)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (37)
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Pyretic Ritual
Desperate Ritual
Manamorphose
Remand
Unsubstantiate
Gifts Ungiven
Noxious Revival
Past in Flames
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Lands (17)
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef
Mountain
Island
Snow-covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Pieces of the Puzzle
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Echoing Truth
Gigadrowse
Shattering Spree
Lightning Bolt
Dismember

There are a couple of new things here, compared to my last list. First off is the full amount of one mana cantrips which I don’t have any argument against; you want to churn through your deck so let’s play all the cards that help do it. Then there is one Unsubstantiate instead of the third Remand. I think this is brilliant because while you lose out on a card, being able to bounce something like Meddling Mage or Eidolon of the Great Revel can give you a chance in a lot of games where you otherwise wouldn’t have any. Next, it seems Noxious Revival has claimed another victim. I even gave it a second chance after talking to Michael and I never cast it. Either I was winning without it or I needed it to be a card in my hand and not on top of my library to be able to win. I am sticking to Simian Spirit Guide and I will spend a lot of thought over the next weeks to come up with a proper argument rather than just “one has been great for me, the other hasn’t.”

Finally, the manabase is completely free of fetches. The advantage is that when you scry something to the bottom of your library, you get to keep it there until you play Gifts Ungiven. The downsides are that you are slightly weaker to Blood Moon and I think you take slightly more damage from your lands (calling Frank Karsten to do the math here). I think both downsides are pretty negligible; since playing without fetches, I have faced Blood Moon twice and won even with no Islands in play. The cost is just one mana for playing a Manamorphose before you play a guy. No matter how the actual math shakes out, I’m sure there is a less than one life per game difference. I remember one game in Madrid that I won because my turn 1 Scalding Tarn made my opponent play his turn two a bit differently in case I was playing a deck with Lightning Bolt or Spell Snare, but I think that’s extremely rare and doesn’t move the needle noticeably. I like going fetchless.

The sideboard is where things get really interesting. Michael had gotten it from Caleb Scherer’s blog  and I recommend you read the 5 or so posts he has written about Storm. I played some leagues with his list and followed his sideboard guide. The essence is that when you expect graveyard hate (which is close to always), you cut the Gifts package for Pieces of the Puzzle and look to play a long game where you either play multiple smaller Empty the Warrens or just stock up your hand and kill with Grapeshot plus Remand. I had just been playing Pieces as an extra grindy card and rarely shaved even a single Gifts, but I tried it out nonetheless.

My opinion after 10 leagues or so is that Caleb goes overboard with the Pieces plan, at least in some of the matchups. Against Tron, for example, I don’t think there’s a need to take them in, I would rather just keep my game plan intact, force them to draw hate and when they do, you still have bounce and/or artifact removal to power through it. I like to have some number of Pieces, but I see them more as a way to help dig for a bounce spell. Against all the blue decks, Gifts is often better, even for grinding, because it’s an instant, and you still get card advantage.

The only matchup where I agree with making the full Gifts-Pieces switch is against Shadow decks where can be quite sure that you won’t be able to combo off the normal way, and where even small Empty’s are likely to win the game. Otherwise, the main plan is just so strong that by switching you have already given up considerable percentage points, whether they draw hate cards or not. Of course, I am not 100% on this and I’m not sure how it is possible to have a rational discussion about this since it basically come down to numbers which none of us are able to calculate properly (I would think even Dr. Karsten would be hard pressed). Nevertheless, I am very interested in any points you might have, no matter which side of the argument they favor.

I am not quite sure what list I’ll play but if you swap Noxious Revival for Spirit Guide in Michael’s list above, you’ll be pretty close. If you have a list, I’d love to see it and hear your reasoning. Wish me luck in Lyon, and good luck to you wherever your next tournament might be. If you’d like to see some of the video content I’m going to do, follow me on social media, I’ll post whenever something goes up.

Modern’s new wunderkind

I came home from GP Madrid excited to play a lot of Storm online. The deck felt great and I already knew some ways to improve the list as I mentioned last time. The following week was an online PTQ and I was going to Grapeshot my way to the top of it. Then reality slapped me in the face as it is wont to do. I rarely got above 3 wins in the leagues I played and by Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I was in sort of the same spot leading up to Madrid, but then I decided that it was just variance and the deck was still good.

This time I had a harder time convincing myself. Then I happened to look at the league leaderboard and noticed that the leader, Selfeisek, had more than twice as many trophies as number two. That big of a gap couldn’t be just variance and hours played, so I went through the published decklists and found several entries from this guy. Some were recent, some were from as far back as October, but all of them were the same deck and almost identical lists; Mardu Pyromancer.

Mardu Pyromancer

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Lightning Helix
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Blood Moon
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Shattering Spree
Pithing Needle

I tried it out and immediately went 5-0. I guess this would be my deck for the PTQ then. My confidence and hopes for the tournament were back up and they went up further when I beat THE sandydogmtg in round one. Then I faced burn twice more, got killed and was brought back down to earth. I still really liked the deck and decided to keep working on it. The matchups are roughly as follows:

Creature decks (devoted druid decks, humans, affinity etc.): These are great as you might have assumed from the roughly one million removal spells we play.

Spell combo (Ad Nauseam, Storm): Also great as you have lots of discard and can combine it with a reasonable clock.

Burn: Pretty bad. You have few ways to gain life or negate their spells and it’s often hard to not take damage from your lands. Games are usually close, though.

Death’s Shadow: Very close. Lingering Souls is obviously great but you have very few ways to kill their guys.

Eldrazi Tron: Bad. They go over the top eventually but your aggressive draws have a decent chance of getting there.

Control: Good. You have value creatures and discard. You do have to keep pressure on them, which not all your draws are capable of.

Tron: Horrible. You need discard and Blood Moon and a fast clock and the mana to play all of them.

Boggles: I was about to call this unwinnable but then I beat a guy who play a total of one aura in two of the three games. If you value your time more than your record, just concede the match.

 

The first thing I changed was a Sacred Foundry to a Godless Shrine. I sometimes found myself wanting both black and white from one fetch and the second foundry is unnecessary. Next, I had a chat with Peter Ward after we played the mirror and he suggested changing Lightning Helix to Collective Brutality. Helix might be great against Burn but it often forces you to fetch and shock to cast it which means it effectively only gains you one life. Brutality fits perfectly in the deck and I am actually surprised that Selfeisek isn’t playing it. Both the discard and -2/-2 modes fit with the rest of your deck and you have cards that you can discard either for profit or minimal cost. These are the only things I feel made the deck straight up better and I don’t see anything I would want to change regardless of the metagame.

So the time came to try and fix the bad matchups. I got really tired of losing to Tron and Burn. Burn was easily fixed by having the full 4 Dragon’s Claw in the board and now I actually look forward to facing people with so much disregard for interactive games of magic that they would sleeve up Lava Spike and friends. Unfortunately, some people have even more disregard for the intricacies of ‘good’ games of magic and decide to play tron lands and Karn Liberated. Even more unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to punish them for this disregard. I realized that Blood Moon is just not enough, especially against Eldrazi Tron, so I tried Fulminator Mage. Blood Moon wasn’t cutting it against Eldrazi Tron because it means you spend turn 3 not doing anything so making their Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher a turn or two later to the party isn’t enough. It’s also worth noting that even though we are playing red, Blood Moon can still be quite a nuisance.

The Fulminators didn’t make enough of an impact though. I figured that you could also get them back with Kolaghan’s Command but even the ‘ideal’ case of turn 3 mage, turn 4 get it back, turn 5 replay it isn’t necessarily going to win the game against either tron variant, and you spend almost all your mana for 3 turns on it. If the best case scenario for a plan doesn’t destroy a plan as linear as Tron, we should be able to do better. So I took Brian Demar’s idea of Molten Rain and Surgical Extraction. It doesn’t hurt you mana like Blood Moon or take up too much mana like Fulminator, and if you kill a tron piece turn 3 and the extract it, regular Tron will have a very rough time. Eldrazi Tron will still be able to play a game most likely but here it matters that you deal 2 damage and trigger prowess or make an extra 1/1 token. I’m not sure it’s the best way to deal with the big mana decks and I’m sure it’s not enough to turn it into a positive matchup, but it’s the best I’ve got for now.

After these considerations my list currently looks like this:

Mardu Pyromancer by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Collective Brutality
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Molten Rain
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Surgical Extraction

Keep in mind that this list, the sideboard in particular, is quite skewed towards Burn and Tron since I seem to face them in every single league I join. For a bigger tournament like a Grand Prix, I probably wouldn’t play 3 claws and 4 molten rains.

Since a lot of the deck is discard and burn, I don’t think it’s the hardest deck to play so I don’t have that much profound insight, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

 

  • Obviously Lingering Souls is a good discard to Faithless Looting but so are excess lands. This means that you usually want to keep one land in hand in case you draw looting. Keeping more than one can bite you if you draw a Bedlam Reveler though.

 

  • If you have more than one reveler in hand, all but one are ‘free’ discards to looting. Against some decks like BGx midrange, you can keep two to protect against Thoughtseize because reveler is your best card against them. Kolaghan’s Command can count as revelers too in this regard; if you have one of each, you can discard the reveler and get it back later with the command. If you are in a hurry to get reveler into play, you can discard the command instead.

 

  • It is tricky to decide what to play turn 1. I tend to order it Monastery Swiftspear > discard spell > looting on the play. On the draw, if they played a one drop, killing that can easily be top priority, and if they don’t but you are low on removal for an important two drop, discard can jump swiftspear as well.

 

  • Your land sequencing and fetching also requires some thought. You only need white for Lingering Souls so black and red are obviously more important. If you have neither Swamp nor Blackcleave Cliffs, you will often want to fetch Blood Crypt. At some point you then want to get one of the white shocks. If your life total is under pressure and you have ways to discard souls if you draw it, you can get away with fetching a mountain instead of having to shock Sacred Foundry.

 

I encourage you to try out this deck, it seems great for the format and it has a lot of play to it. Also, casting Bedlam Reveler empty handed is just a great feeling. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Top 8 at GP Madrid

A few weeks ago I attended Grand Prix Madrid with my awesome and frequent travel buddies Oscar Christensen and Christoforos Lampadarios. It was Team Modern so the first task was to find a good lineup of decks. We agreed early on that the optimal strategy was for each of us to play a deck that person had a lot of experience with, and to value experience over metagame considerations. This presented a problem immediately as Oscar was on Abzan Company (and top 8’ed a GP with it) while Chris was on Abzan Midrange. Obviously these are not compatible for a team Grand Prix so something had to give.

At first my thought process was that Oscar is the better player (no shade on Chris, we just have to admit that Oscar is pretty damn good) so he should play something else and let Chris play what he knew. But as we got closer to the tournament, Oscar became more and more convinced that it was a mistake to not play the Company deck; it was too good to leave out, especially with an experienced pilot. He managed to convince me but I decided to stay out of it and let the two of them settle on a solution since it was their decks.

Whoever didn’t play Abzan would probably play Eldrazi Tron, so Oscar got Chris to play some games with Eldrazi Tron and he reported back after a few days that the deck was insane and he wouldn’t mind playing it. I had been set on Storm for a long time and since it didn’t have any overlap with the other decks, there was never any reason to deviate.

With our Company, Eldrazi, Storm lineup set, I really liked our chances. There are very varied opinions on Eldrazi Tron and I have heard pros call it anything from unplayable to insanely good, but the fact is that it has some unbeatable nut draws and a lot of late game power, so there is at least potential. To be honest, I didn’t really influence our choice that much. I just said I would play Storm and let the other two decide what to play, so I don’t have an informed opinion on their decks. They both really liked Tron, though and Chris ended up going 12-2 at the Grand Prix for what it’s worth, small sample size and all.

This brings me to the thing that disappointed me most about this Grand Prix; we didn’t actually prepare as a team that much. I think it’s pretty common in a format like Modern since you have all these linear decks that probably only has one expert on your team, so everyone just figures out their own list. The only teamwork is figuring out what decks you’re playing and making sure you have no overlap. After that, I can’t imagine a Lantern player needing much input from his team.

The only exceptions I’ve seen is from Joel Larsson’s latest article on ChannelFireball where his team had to figure out their manabases together since they had overlap in colors and the fetches and shocks they wanted. And of course the great moment we had in the airport Friday night when Oscar and Chris where playing some games and someone noticed that they both had Walking Ballista in their deck… At least it was better than another Danish team who didn’t realize the same mistake until during the actual tournament. Their Company player had to continue with a basic land instead of ballista. We at least got to play Rhonas the Indomitable which makes little to no difference.

Anyways, we arrived in Madrid late Friday and I set about figuring out what list to play. I had tested on MTGO for about two weeks but had mostly focused on game play since I hadn’t played the Gifts Ungiven version of the deck before. As such, I hadn’t tried out all the potential configurations and sideboard cards so it was all theorycrafting. This is where I would really have liked to discuss it with two teammates with similar amounts of experience with the deck. Again, it’s not their fault, it’s just a natural consequence of the Team Modern format. If you haven’t played Storm (or UWx Control against Storm), how would you have an informed opinion on whether to play Gigadrowse or Dispel for that matchup? How would you know whether to play Empty the Warrens main or not, or Blood Moon in the board or not? Despite my displeasure with the process, I think I arrived at a good list:

Storm

Creatures (7)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (35)
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Apostle's Blessing
Remand
Past in Flames
Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual
Manamorphose
Gifts Ungiven
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Lands (18)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Island
Mountain
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Gigadrowse
Blood Moon
Abrade
Lightning Bolt
Pieces of the Puzzle
Shatterstorm
Engineered Explosives

There is a surprising amount of variation in the Storm lists so I think it’s useful to go over why I made the choices I did. Let’s start with the main deck. I have seen anywhere from 2 to 4 electromancers and I went with 3 after having played 2 during testing. I can’t tell you for sure which is correct but I can tell you that I have rarely lacked one for going off (this is factoring in opponent’s removal), and I boarded one out against decks without removal. I also played one Apostle’s Blessing instead of the third Remand. This counts as an extra guy if you have already drawn one and it means you can play your guy on turn 2 and still protect it. I think it is a mistake, however Remand is just too good. It is obviously great with Baral, but as Oscar pointed out (and I hadn’t thought about for some weird reason) you can Remand your own Grapeshot to essentially double your storm count. I remember playing up to 4 Grapeshot before Baral and Gifts were a thing because you could often kill easier if you drew two. Remand does that and so much more and I’m beginning to agree with the people who play the full 4.

Next is my omission of Noxious Revival. I am pretty convinced that this card is bad. There are some obscure scenarios where you need it to put a card on top to be able to go off or you can counter something like Surgical Extraction but in all the common scenarios, it’s just a useless card and as soon as your hand size is pressured by discard or counterspells it absolutely sucks. Finally is the main deck Empty the Warrens. It is great against stuff like Grixis Shadow because you can go off early and make 8 goblins or something and they often can’t beat it. Also some crazy people play stuff like Leyline of Sanctity or Witchbane Orb in their main decks.

Lastly, Martin Müller played a Simian Spirit Guide, which I agree with and recommend going forward. The main point is that if you draw Past in Flames, you only need 5 mana to go off with Gifts (and a guy in play) instead of 6 because you can Gifts for 4 spells that make mana. Even if they give you Manamorphose and spirit guide, you can go up to 4 mana, cast Past in Flames and have one mana left to cast everything again. The crucial thing in favor of the ape is that unlike Noxious Revival, it doesn’t suck outside of this corner case scenario, it just makes an extra mana. I have even won several games where I had to kill turn 2 because I could play a guy, exile ape and the go off.

Then there is the sideboard, which I was really pleased with. My friend Magnus Christensen was kind enough to borrow me a bunch of cards and also suggested Abrade as both [/mtg_card]Lightning Bolt[/mtg_card] and artifact removal. It is great and effectively freed up two sideboard slots. Sometimes you want to bolt something turn 1 but I found that often I could spend two mana and work around it. Usually you kill something end of their turn and then untap and kill them. As artifact removal you often need it against decks where your guy lives and then it only costs 1 anyway.

The Shatterstorm should have been a Shattering Spree no doubt. One of the Wipe Away should have been Echoing Truth. I was very pleased when by Grishoalbrand opponent brought back a Griselbrand and asked to go to combat before drawing cards. Since that gave me priority I could bounce it and he couldn’t draw any cards in response. Being able to bounce Relic of Progenitus without them cracking it is also quite valuable. Still, being able to bounce two [/mtg_card]Rest in Peace[/mtg_card] or leylines with one card can be just as important so a 1-1 split makes sense to me.

Blood Moon is great in this deck and has won me so many games. It’s even better here than in other decks since you can play it turn 2. Shadow decks, all the new Search for Azcanta control decks and of course the big mana decks are all vulnerable to it. Pieces of the Puzzle and empty are pretty standard by now and I like the role they play. I was actually going to play a third pieces but I couldn’t immediately find one so I took the opportunity to throw in the miser’s Engineered Explosives. I like it a lot in Modern as there are a lot of troublesome permanents with converted mana cost 2 and once you’re lucky enough to draw it in a deciding game against Boggles, you’ll never want to get rid of it. Seriously, I don’t know if it’s correct to play and aside from the obvious cases I was always on the fence about bringing it in or not so I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly.

Day 1 of the Grand Prix was pretty unexciting for me. I only finished 5 matches before my teammates had decided the outcome, losing to a Company player who had turn 3 kill all 3 games, including turn 0 white leyline in game 3, and to Luis Salvatto’s Elves where I couldn’t overcome his Rest in Peace and Eidolon of Rhetoric in game 3. That’s what you sign up for with a deck like this; you can often beat a hate piece because it has made their draw slow enough to give you time to bounce it but if they still kill quickly or have multiple hate pieces, things get rough. There wasn’t anything super exciting happening in my games, even all my Gifts piles were pretty normal. What I want most with this deck is to win games because I play Gifts and my opponent gives me the wrong cards, but it didn’t happen all weekend.

Even on day 2 nothing special happened in my games, I think the highlight was the aforementioned bouncing of Griselbrand. On top of this, I was in seat C and was usually the last one to finish so I didn’t see that much of my teammate’s play either. It got a bit better on day 2 and I’m happy I got to sit next to Chris for the deciding game of the last round. I looked at the standings before the round and figured that if we won, we would get 8th and if we lost, we would get something like 21st, so it was a game for several hundred dollars and 2 pro points each.

The matchup was Chris’ Eldrazis against Dredge and he was on the play game 3 (he should have lost game 1 but the opponent attacked into his Wurmcoil Engine when he shouldn’t have, and that allowed him to race). His opener was a one lander with Ghost Quarter, Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Matter Reshaper, a Walking Ballista and a Chalice of the Void. Against a deck as linear as Dredge, I think it’s a good hand and none of us disagreed. Several turns in, Chris had only drawn an Eldrazi Temple for land but luckily the opponent couldn’t do anything about the cage in play. Chris had to decide whether to play out the Matter Reshapers or play a second relic (the first had been popped to find land). Both Oscar and I were leaning towards playing more hate pieces but Chris was very keen on getting some pressure applied. It was his game, so we let him decide, but it did put a knot in my stomach. What if the opponent drew an Ancient Grudge?

Chris played reshapers and ballista the next turns and that made the second ballista for 1 exactly lethal through the opponent’s hardcast Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam blockers. I’m not sure if he would have lost by playing relic instead of the first reshaper, but I also don’t care. Chris took a line that Oscar and I were doubtful of, followed through with it, and won with it; beautiful Magic. And it got us 700$ and 3 pro points each as we did indeed get 8th, putting Oscar only 5 points away from Silver(!) and me close to reclaiming Bronze (not ‘!’).

We have already agreed to team up for the next Grand Prix Madrid which is Team Trios, meaning one will play Standard, one Modern and one Legacy. As I said earlier, I was a bit disappointed by the strategic aspect of Team Modern and I can only imagine it being worse in Trios since you’re now playing completely different formats. Nevertheless, I look forward to it because, leaving aside the strategy, I had such a blast with these two guys and being able to share your wins and losses is a much, much richer emotional experience than what you get in an individual tournament, and it has really strengthened our friendship. If you haven’t played a team event yet, find two friends and try it out! Let me know what you think about both the Storm deck and team tournaments in general.

A magical recap

Happy Holiday season everyone!

What a year it has been. About 12 months ago we started preparing our Kickstarter campaign, which successfully launched in February 2017. A lot has changed since then. In total, it’s been more than 21 months of ups and downs and I’m incredibly happy to be a part of this awesome magic community with our little baby: Snapcardster.

Milestones of the Kickstarter Campaign 2016/17

In the beginning, we started out as a group of magic enthusiastic students, but the project quickly evolved into a serious case. Company foundation, software development and fundraising was suddenly on our daily menu. Every angle needs to work out, but with the right team around, everything seems to be possible. In the following I’d like to dive into some things we had troubles with:


1. Get things started as a rookie

After participating at the Prototyping Week in March, it was Harm Brandt, one of the founding members of the non-profit OpenCampus.sh that saw my eyes flashing when I told him about my idea. With the “Fast»Forward” program, Harm supported me to hire the students Nicolas Jessen and Malte Delfs in the very first months of the project and the team of OpenCampus, including Alexander Ohrt, Eliza Rottengatter, Eva Charlotte Koschinsky coached us to pitch, evaluate and find the perfect market fit for our adventure. Still, there were thousands of unanswered question marks in our plan.

From left: Malte Delfs, Peer Oke Richelsen, Nicolas Jessen

Frank Bock, from CORONIC Software & Security and Peter Schottes from Eisenschmidt Consulting Crew helped us to get the business strategy right and advised our team for three months. As young students it was the perfect assistance you could ask for.


2. Build a working Prototype

We teamed up with the supportive institute of Multimedia Information Processing, a research group of Prof. Dr.- Ing. Reinhard Koch at the CAU Kiel to tackle the computer vision challenges with three bachelor theses. Julian, Christian and Niklas wrote their thesis about our project and scored solid grades. Special thanks to Prof. Dr.- Ing. Reinhard Koch and Johannes Brünger who coordinated and supported the group.

From left: Peer, Julian, Malte, Nicolas, Christian

Later, Malte, Nico and I quickly built a mediocre prototype, just to realize that scanning cards is a bigger challenge than expected. In today’s software development, especially when it comes to visual computing and machine learning, the focus lies more on data than algorithms. The Problem: We had no data at all. While there are beautiful resources for magic developers such as mtgjson.com and scryfall.com they couldn’t provide the data we looked for:

real life images of cards, with all its errors of bad lighting, bends, different angles and low contrast

We had to start crowdworking. The idea was simple: We made a Kickstarter campaign to raise small initial funding (6.000€) and asked the community to send us correctly labeled images of magic cards to support us. As a compensation, each supporter received Snapcoins based on the rarity of the card (yeah, it was a non-crypto token back then).

Oh boy, we received a lot of data. Next up: training a machine to understand magic cards is similar to training a human. A manual process called supervised learning teaches the algorithm: “this is an island, this is a forest” etc. We spend countless hours of verifying the submitted data or corrected the information if it was incorrect.

In the end everyone in the team was incredibly happy that this stuff we made up in our head about crowdworking really worked out. Thanks to everyone who participated! You guys rock!


3. Fundraising

Seriously. Magic: The Gathering? What’s that? It’s not like the venture capital scene has any idea of what’s going on in the market, nor do they care to understand. We’ve heard the word “no” more often then playing against Miracles.

In the end, after putting in the work of fundraising, pitching and networking we were able to find seed capital from a swiss investor in mid 2017. The entrepreneurial company (Snapcardster UG) evolved and renamed into a limited liability company (Snapp.ai GmbH) to enhance the vision and grow the team size. Finally, we had the resources to start working on the iOS beta, enhance the scanning quality and improve the product.

In November, 8 months after the Kickstarter, we released the very first closed beta of the long awaited iOS app thanks to Julien Großkrüger who put in the work, day and night to rebuild the app from scratch for iPhones.

Still, the current beta has its bugs, problems, unfriendly UI and is far from being called mature. But after months of intensive testing, we have a pretty good idea of what to fix in the next upcoming weeks.


4. Spread the word

What’s the goal of building one of the best apps for magic if nobody knows about it? In the end, everything comes down to the market entry.

For this matter, we’re very proud to present you both Team #Snapcardster and our Pro Tour Team.

Team #Snapcardster

Read More

#Sponsored Players

Pro Tour Team

Read More

#Affiliated Players

Being a part of this awesome community with Snapcardster means, to give something back to the active players who craft this experience. I’d like to credit Andreas Petersen for his incredible efforts to build and grow the professional scene surrounding us. Thomas Enevoldsen, Michael Bonde from Team #Snapcardster and Christoffer Larsen from Team Revelation winning Grand Prix Lyon was my personal highlight of the season. After starting 0-2 they grinded to the top with fourteen consecutive match wins and won the Grand Prix Lyon 2017.

From left: Thomas Enevoldsen, Christoffer Larsen, Michael Bonde

5. Sharpen the Saw

The Next Web just wrote a perfect article about the current state of apps.

Apps aren’t dead, they’ve just evolved […]

[…] you only get one shot to impress your consumers.
The Next Web

Tl;DR: Apps need to look and feel mature to make a dent. Our first and only priority is to provide you the highest quality app for our most favorite hobby: “Magic: The Gathering”. We want to make sure to get everything right, before publishing our first version one point zero.

Until then, I invite you to download the open beta on android or leave us your mail address to become a member of the new closed beta on iOS.

Special thanks to everyone who already participated in the beta and gave feedback. You’re the reason that keeps us running!

If you want to follow the progress, make sure to head over to Twitter, Facebook or follow us on Instagram.

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

Signing off,

Peer

P.S: We’ll be on vacation over the holidays and return with full speed in 2018. Invitations and support inquires might take longer than expected. Thanks for understanding.

Harambe is evolving Modern

Editorial Note: This is the third guest article on Snapcardster. We’re always looking for innovative and interesting techs and people from the magic community. If you want to contribute, feel free to email us at blog@snapcardster.com

Hello all – in case you don’t know me (and why should you), my name is Hans Christian Ljungqvist – Beast_with_2_backs on Magic Online, and I previously popularized the budget Mono-Green Stompy deck piloting it to a top 8 at the 2014 Bazaar of Moxen tournament. If you are familiar with that deck you will probably notice some similarities in the creature package of my newest creation.

I’ve recently had a lot of success with a RUG version of the traditional budget U/G Evolve deck – managing a couple of competitive League 5-0’s. I wanted to share this deck with you all since WotC recently published a decklist of mine.

I’ve been working on and off on an U/G Evolve list for the last year or so, but it was only after the addition of red to the deck that my win rate went above 50% consistently. Below is my latest list – it is still in the early stages of tuning, so the numbers may appear a bit rough. I’ve chosen to name the deck “Harambe“, as it really is, at it’s core, a monkey deck. Basically what we’re trying to do is turn a random assortment of 10 cent commons and uncommons into powerful apes. And as you all know, the most noble and best known ape in recent times has to be Harambe. Also, the Zoo name was already taken.


Harambe Tempo by Hans Christian Ljungqvist

Creatures (23)
Young Wolf
Experiment One
Narnam Renegade
Cloudfin Raptor
Strangleroot Geist
Avatar of the Resolute

Spells (18)
Pongify
Rapid Hybridization
Lightning Bolt
Spell Pierce
Vapor Snag
Chart a Course
Lands (19)
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Botanical Sanctum
Breeding Pool
Stomping Ground
Forest
Dryad Arbor

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Ancient Grudge
Life Goes On
Dispel
Unified Will
Abrade
Magma Spray

3 reasons why you should play Harambe:

It’s fast! It’s cheap! And it’s a LOT of fun to play – blowing your opponent out with a random collection of draft unplayables appeals to a certain kind of people (not the Lantern kind of people – those are bad people). If you are one of those people – keep reading!

The difference between my list and the more general budget Evolve lists is that I am not trying to build an all-in Evolve deck. This is not the second coming of Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor. Rather it is my attempt at building a tempo/aggro deck in Modern and in my opinion the Evolve/Undying creatures serve that role better than Delver of Secrets. Given that there are no free permission spells like Daze or Force of Will in Modern, playing protect the queen is often a losing proposition, and even a dedicated deck like Grixis Shadow has trouble protecting it’s threats. Harambe has a multitude of threats and Pongify/Hybridization serve as pseudo-threats.

First off – as anyone who has played with the Undying/Evolve creatures are aware, the combination of an Evolve creature + Pongify effect + Young Wolf = 8 power on the board on turn 2. That is one of the main draws to playing the deck – a lot of decks simply can’t keep up with that kind of opener. If you are unfamiliar with the math, I suggest you check out the Evolve primer part about stacking your triggers from Undying + Pongify. In short, you can stack the triggers so that the Evolve trigger from the token goes on the stack first and then the evolve trigger from undying goes on top allowing both to resolve.

The approach to playing the deck is “get ahead – stay ahead”. This approach requires you to be able to get on the board early and interact at relevant levels with your opponent at a mana discount. The playstyle resembles a mix between Zoo and Legacy R/U/G Delver. While it is possible to play Harambe like an aggro deck, I strongly discourage you from doing so – instead try to establish a dominant board presence and force your opponent to respond to it rather than just piling on. Knowing when to smash your own creatures with a Pongify effect and when to smash the opponent’s creatures is the most complex part of playing the deck.
So far so good – now off to the individual card-choices:


These cards all serve as the core Evolve package and I strongly suggest you start off with 4 of each when building the deck. While 8 Pongify effects seem like a lot, experience tells me that you usually won’t be sad to draw one off the top.


These two cards serve as the filler-threats of the deck while still synergizing with the main theme of +1/+1 counters. Narnam Renegade is by itself a decent threat and in my opinion the only viable 4th 1-drop available to the deck. Also with the conspicuous absence of Kird Ape, Narnam Renegade has to play the role of honorary ape. In this deck, Avatar of the Resolute is a powerhouse for only 2 green mana and will frequently enter the battlefield as a 5/4 or bigger, easily trumping what other fair decks have access to for 2 mana. The Avatar’s synergy with the rest of the deck is one of the main reasons to not play Tarmogoyf in the 2-drop slot. The Trample is also quite relevant as Pongify effects allow for instant speed removal of blockers on the Avatar.


These cards serve as your relevant game 1 interaction and are chosen for their flexibility – the sideboard includes more specific answers for different matchups. Vapor Snag, while seemingly a bit underpowered, works well in the situations where you have to smash an opposing creature – bouncing the token allows for a free attack. While spending 2 cards to remove 1 card is not optimal, being a tempo deck with a very fast clock, we can sometimes allow ourselves a 2-for-1 and still maintain a superior board presence. Lightning Bolt also serves the dual role of killing roadblocks and allowing the deck to have a bit of reach to close games out.

This recent addition from Ixalan serves as the most mana-efficient refueling card available in the R/U/G colors. While traditional cantrips aren’t effective enough in this type of deck, Chart a Course‘s rate of 2 cards for 2 mana is a good rate for a tempo deck.


The manabase is currently built to support 3 things.

First of, every single mana source provides green mana. This is a necessity, as 12 of our 1-drops cost green mana. Only 4 of the lands do not produce blue mana, which means that we will almost always have access to Cloudfin Raptor turn 1 if we want it.
Secondly, the deck has 10 fetches – currently tied with Burn for the second highest number of fetches in a Modern deck (Death’s Shadow decks tops that list with 12!). This allows us the luxury of only playing 2 Stomping Ground and means we usually always have a way of triggering Revolt on Narnam Renegade.

The third point is the Dryad Arbor. While traditionally Dryad Arbor serves as Liliana of the Veil protection for creature combo decks like Infect and Bogles, the Dryad Arbor in Harambe serves as a low-cost way to get the engine rolling. It serves as free fodder for Pongify/Hybridization and is able to trigger Cloudfin Raptor on it’s own. While the deck only plays 19 lands, the lack of cantrips means that you will occasionally flood out a bit. Having access to an extra attacker or a surprise blocker is very valuable.

As for the sideboard cards, the deck is generally quite flexible, so you have a lot of options to choose from. While many of the cards that I have included are meant for fairly good matchups, my approach to sideboarding is often to make decent/even matchups even better postboard rather than try to fix some of the abysmal matchups (Bogles is virtually unwinnable). The only card I would strongly advise against tinkering with is Ancient Grudge, as it is the pillar of postboard strategies against the artifact based tier 1 decks.

Some of you may notice that I include no graveyard hate in the sideboard. This is mostly since the relevant cards either hurt us too much (Grafdigger’s Cage) or just don’t do enough in Modern (Surgical Extraction). Apart from that, the graveyard based decks are usually fine matchups – Dredge for instance is easily on of the best matchups, since it turns out that dead creatures block very poorly.


The case against 3-drops

I’m going to spend a few lines explaining why the deck doesn’t play any 3-drops despite a prevalence of powerful cards available in the R/U/G colors. The most obvious choices would probably be Kitchen Finks and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in the sideboard for the grindier matchups and honorary 3-drops like Snapcaster Mage and Hooting Mandrills in the maindeck.

The reasons for not playing the more mana-intensive cards are two-fold. First of all, my core philosophy for the deck is that it should be able to operate off of 2 lands, similar to the Burn deck’s ability to function on only 2 lands. Having only 19 lands with no filtering means that you will often have games where you never see the third land or choose to prioritize a Dryad Arbor over a third shock. Second of all, the deck is a tempo deck that usually doesn’t tap out past turn 2 or 3.

Tapping out for a 3-drop is very dangerous in Modern, as a lot of decks will be able to punish you for it by either winning on the spot or by deploying their more impactful cards. That being said, both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Kitchen Finks are very decent choices for the sideboard, I just firmly believe that cheaper, more targeted cards, can serve the same role. Disclaimer: If your meta includes a lot of B/G/X and Eldrazi Tron it is probably correct to include some number of Dismembers in the maindeck to deal with their threats.

Off to the matchups – I’ve chosen to go through the matchups you’re most likely to run into at your local FNM.


Affinity

This one can be a bit rough – Affinity has a fast clock and a number of hard-to-deal-with threats. The games are very play/draw dependent, but the key to winning is to continuously apply pressure while trying to deal with their haymakers. Prioritize getting Steel Overseer off the table, as he can really ruin your day. Arcbound Ravager is not the end of the world, as keeping one mana open means your opponent has to respect your ability to interact with a Ravager target. This matchup drastically improves postboard.


Grixis Shadow

Quite positive matchup – we are very fast, even for Modern standards. The Grixis player will have a very hard time punching through, as Harambe blocks exceptionally well due to the Undying creatures and Narnam Renegade. Don’t be afraid to smash a Shadow that has grown too large. Do make sure to finish the game quickly however, as their superior card quality will take over once they get rid of all the air in the deck.


Eldrazi Tron

One of the hardest matchups for Harambe – the game revolves around you being able to handle a Chalice of the Void for one. This is almost impossible to do game 1 and is one of the main reasons for including Ancient Grudge in the board. Apart from that, the deck is able to stall the ground quite effectively with big bodies and annoying card like Matter Reshaper.


Jeskai Control

Very positive matchup – they rely on single target removal, which Pongify effects severely punish. The only card you need to worry about is Anger of the Gods. Otherwise it’s smooth sailing.


Storm

Quite positive matchup – the combination of a fast clock and relevant disruption is just what the doctor ordered against the pure combo mages. Prioritize keeping removal up rather than counterspells.


Humans

Even matchup – we are faster, but they have a number of incredibly annoying cards like the two Thalias. Don’t get caught off guard by a Reflector Mage – keep a Pongify effect up if you can!


Burn

Positive matchup – we goldfish as fast as burn and are quickly able to outmatch their groundbeaters. The only drawback is our manabase, which means you have to fetch carefully in order to not hurt yourself. Postboard a resolved Life Goes On means game over for Burn.


G/X Tron

Even to positive matchup – Tron games feel quite lopsided. We either win very fast leaving them with no relevant way to interact or they manage to land a haymaker in time to stem the bleeding. Wurmcoil, Ugin and Oblivion Stone are the real issues here, whereas Karn and Ulamog are usually manageable. Counterspells work wonders postboard.


Titanshift

Negative matchup – Our interaction lines up poorly against Titanshift meaning we are forced to race and overextend. The presence of Anger of the Gods makes life hard for the monkeys. Try to keep a hand that goldfishes turn 4.


Counters Company

Even matchup – our interaction is very relevant, but the deck wouldn’t be a contender if it wasn’t able to grind through a few lightning bolts. Kitchen Finks is also a very annoying card. That being said, the deck has a lot of air and Harambe will punch through eventually, given enough time.


U/W Control

Positive matchup – they are by far the slowest of the controlling decks and their interaction is quite expensive like Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict. Don’t overextend into a Supreme Verdict unless you’re doing it with Undying creatures, but make sure to still keep enough power on the board to be able to pressure their planeswalkers.


Lantern Control

Negative matchup – our inability to remove Ensnaring Bridge game 1 means the preboarded games are very lopsided. Postboard we have a lot of interaction but will often have to win two sideboarded games.


B/G/X midrange

Negative to even matchup – Jund and Abzan have a number of annoying cards. While Liliana of the Veil does very little against Harambe (and may even be a liability), Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze present real problems. The Scavenging Ooze needs to die on sight as it invalidates a large part of our gameplan. As for the Goyf, the stage of the game decides how the old Lhurgoyf should be handled. Experience tells me that it is usually correct to smash him and move on, taking the 2-for-1 in stride.

Hope you enjoyed the article. Take the deck for a spin at your next FNM – you might like it 😉

Until then,

Beast_with_2_backs

Winning Eternal Clash with Four Color

Hello and welcome back to another Legacy article with a fresh tournament experience to talk about.

A facebook post popped up about a Legacy tournament a four hour drive away from my house, in the German city of Flensburg, and I started to search for travel companions a week in advance. I still had my trusty Four Color Control deck in my bagpack after my top 4 finish at Danish Legacy Masters and decided to run the same 75 back. Never change a winning team, right?

I’ll not go into too much detail about my particular list, because I’ve talked about it a lot in previous articles, but instead I want to focus on what I learned playing against this super diverse field of Legacy decks. For reference, here are the top 8 lists from the event.

Czech Pile by Andreas Petersen

Creatures (13)
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Snapcaster Mage
Baleful Strix
Deathrite Shaman

Spells (27)
Lightning Bolt
Murderous Cut
Fatal Push
Kolaghan's Command
Brainstorm
Force of Will
Hymn to Tourach
Preordain
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Lands (20)
Badlands
Bayou
Island
Swamp
Tropical Island
Bloodstained Mire
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn

Sideboard (15)
Pyroblast
Hydroblast
Red Elemental Blast
Blue Elemental Blast
Surgical Extraction
Grafdigger's Cage
Flusterstorm
Marsh Casualties
Toxic Deluge
Thoughtseize

Burn

I have played this matchup several times online, but never at a premier event in real life. Playing against a deck with aggressive one drops, Eidolon of the Great Revel and a full playset of Price of Progress might sound like a nightmare, but I’m actually really comfortable being paired vs. Burn.

First of all you need to kill their first creature fast to avoid taking a lot of damage and being finished off by burn spells. Aside from the obvious reasons, you also need fodder in the graveyard for Deathrite Shaman. You want to either gain life or force them to kill it – effectively the same thing.

Obviously, cards like Hymn to Tourach and Force of Will are good at denying them resolved burn spells, but even Kolaghan’s Command can help out by minimising their resources. Against a hellbent opponent, you can disrupt their drawstep if they draw a creature or sorcery, and that will be relevant in close games.

Playing against Price of Progress can be tricky, so make sure to fetch out basic lands when you can afford to. Deathrite Shaman fixes a lot of color issues, so prioritise your lifetotal over perfect mana.

Establishing a clock is also important, because they will reduce your lifetotal to 0 given enough time. The best way to do this is Leovold, Emissary of Trest which conveniently will draw you cards when targeted.

With cheap interaction (2 blasts and 2 Flusterstorm), sideboarded games will be easier. Also note that Murderous Cut kills Eidolon free of charge.


BUG Control

I had a great semi final match against BUG Control, which was basically my list without the Kolaghan’s Command and the Pyroblast in the sideboard. The fact that he couldn’t run any of these cards means a few things.

Command lets me grind very well in combination with either Snapcaster Mage and Baleful Strix, so I will be favored in a long game. It even turned out he played Umezawa’s Jitte which was just icy on my cake.

Pyroblast lets me answer haymakers like Leovold and Jace, the Mind Sculptor cleanly on the stack before my opponents gets any value from them. This means that a resolved Jace, unless I’m horribly behind, is often game over for the BUG deck. It also means that Leovold will always grant me card advantage.

The morale of the story is that Deathrite Shaman lets you play four colors without problems and that the red cards are very important in grindy matchups.


Grixis Delver

In my quarter final match I’m paired against Grixis Delver. I love this matchup because of the close games is provides and the numerous small yet important decisions you have to make during each turn cycle. But I wanted to include this, because a few interesting situations occurred that stuck with me.

My opponent is clocking me with a flipped Delver of Secrets backed up by Wasteland and soft counters. He has seen my hand containing Lightning Bolt and Kolaghan’s Command when I try to kill his creature with the Bolt. He counters it with a Force of Will and proceeds to Wasteland my only red source. The point is that you never want to Force of Will a Lightning Bolt, but out of respect for my superior lategame and card advantage he saw it as his most likely route to victory; trying to get lucky that I didn’t find another red source in time. I love playing a deck that incentivizes opponents to make these high risk plays, because when they don’t work out, I’m heavily favored to win the game.


Weakness and Cheap Interaction

The weakness of Four Color Control is when you’re being overwhelmed early by combo decks where your expensive cards sit in hand doing nothing. I haven’t really thought about that for a while, but my matchup in the finals of Omni Sneak was kind enough to remind me. I sideboarded in the following against him:

   


Yeah, that’s a whole lot of CHEAP disruption. My philosophy against combo is that I feel like I’m winning games where I don’t die on the first few turns. Therefore, playing one-mana cards out of the sideboard to accompany Force of Will and Hymn to Tourach is crucial. In game two I even waited to play my Deathrite Shaman until turn two, because I wanted to keep up Flusterstorm plus Force of Will at all times. This is not to say it was a super clever play on my part, but only to emphasize the importance of getting to play a longer game with this deck and making plays that allow you do to so.

Until next time, may all your games end in double digit turns.

Beating Legacy #1

November 5th there is a huge Legacy tournament in Copenhagen called “Danish Legacy Masters“. As this is a tournament with great tradition and players coming in from not only all parts of Denmark, but also from Sweden and Germany, I can’t wait to play.

I have four top 8‘s with one win and one finals split in this tournament series over the years, and I’m hoping to add to my resume this time around. But I’m getting way ahead of me because in order to win, you need to prepare! So tag along as I try and break down the most relevant decks to prepare for. Welcome to “Beating Legacy“!

Storm

Storm uses Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond to accelerate out Ad Nauseam or Past in Flames either natural drawn or found with Infernal Tutor. The tutor makes sure you can end your turn by searching up a lethal Tendrils of Agony. To clear the way of pesky counter magic, a total number of 6 or 7 Cabal Therapy and Duress are included.

Some opening hands allow for quick kills where others need to set up a later kill with the numerous cantrips. Gitaxian Probe provides free information about the opponent’s hand, while Brainstorm and Ponder do their usual job of digging for what you need.

In order to give yourself the best chance of beating Storm, you need to fight them on several axis. In my experience, if you can attack Storm on at least two of the following areas, you are in good shape:

1) Clock. The faster you can get them low on life, the better. The damage also interacts favorably with Ad Nauseam.
2) Counter magic. Counterspells are good, and Flusterstorm is the best of the bunch.
3) Discard spells. Going for their hand is good for obvious reasons and provides information on how to play out your hand.
4) Graveyard hate. Attacking the graveyard means that Ad Nauseam or Empty the Warrens are their only path to victory.
5) Hateful permanents. They will only have a few answers to permaments in their deck, so getting one into play around their discard spells is important.


Grixis Delver

Many color combinations of Delver decks have come and gone through the years, but in 2017 it’s all about Grixis. Deathrite Shaman is too good not to play and needs black mana, and your removal spell of choice – Lightning Bolt – can finish off players and still kill most of the creatures in the format. Furthermore, red offers some great sideboard options while also adding Young Pyromancer to the threat base. Speaking of which, their different threats can’t be dealt with by the same cards, so keep that in mind.

They usually run a full playset of Deathrite Shaman and Delver of Secrets and then a mix of Young Pyromancer, Gurmag Angler and True-Name Nemesis. While Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt take care of the first two, and True-Name and Pyromancer die to various -1/-1 effects, the Angler is very resilient to non-Swords to Plowshares removal. The difficulty of dealing with its creatures is one of the deck’s greatest strengths.

Playing and hopefully winning against Grixis Delver demands that you can navigate around some of their most important disruptive cards. Let’s go through them one by one.

“Can I afford to play around Wasteland?” is the most important question you have to ask your self. I’ve seen my share of players who played around Wasteland and as a result weren’t able to cast all of their spells. Don’t be that guy. Sometimes you need to make them have it and power through it, and sometimes you need to bridge a gap between two turns where you are immune to Wasteland. Storm and Sneak and Show are the most common decks for these situations with turn 1 basic Island and a cantrip.

Daze raises different questions than Wasteland, but they have their similarities. Early in the game you have to take stand to whether you can play around Daze all game or you’re going to run into it eventually. Keep in mind though, that waiting one turn to boost your odds of resolving a spell can backfire against a tempo deck like Grixis Delver. Wasteland, Cabal Therapy and Force of Will from the top of their library can punish you for sandbagging spells in fear of Daze, so I suggest you cast your spells on curve the majority of the time unless it’s a crucial one.

Playing around Cabal Therapy can be a few things. You need a lot of knowledge about what your opponent is most likely to name depending on the situation, which can be very hard. You should make sure not to have two of the same card in hand if you can avoid it. Aside from Brainstorm and Ponder, another way to do this is playing out the card you have two copies of if you have to decide between two spells for the turn. For example, if you have two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and one Stoneforge Mystic in hand, chances are you should be playing out the Thalia regardless of what the best play would be in respect of the Therapy.

Stifle in combination with Wasteland can really mess up your plans. In some scenarios, fetching out a nonbasic before the opponent has mana for Stifle, even though they run 4 Wasteland, can be the correct play. Sometimes you need to play out fetch lands and cast no spells and make your opponent keep up the mana long enough for the Stifle to be irrelevant or until they decide to make a move. Since they run relatively few lands, chances are that they will not be able to advance the board while keeping up Stifle. Be proactive if you don’t have the ability to keep making land drops or wait it out – your deck will typically be better in the long game.

That will do it for the first installment of Beating Legacy. Next week I will be back with some more tips and tricks for a few relevant Legacy matchups. In the meantime please add your best advice for beating Storm and Grixis Delver in the comments on facebook, twitter, reddit or where ever you are reading this.

Legacy is All About Leovold

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last six months, I can tell you that the “best” deck in Legacy is a four-colored control deck in which you can play any non-white card. The deck plays a lot of powerful cards, and its’ goal is to prolong the game so the superior card quality can take over – kind of like how “Jund” was looked at in Modern a few years back. Today I’m going to analyze what having 4 Color Control at the top of the metagame percentages means for the format.

Why is 4 Color Control a popular choice?

First things first. This deck’s game plan appeals to a lot of good players because they get to play a long game of Magic and gain small advantages here and there which ultimately gives you a higher chance of winning the game. When taking a look at the following list, which is not only a list of awesome Magic, but also the core of 4 Color Leovold, you suddenly understand why players want to play this deck.



Metagame reactions caused by 4 Color Control

The dreaded Black/Red Reanimator that was all the rage to start the year has slowly disappeared from the format thanks to too many decks starting off the game with Deathrite Shaman. I guess 4 Color Control can only take the blame partially for this one.

My team mate and Death & Taxes specialist Michael Bonde said on Skype the other day that Kolaghan’s Command has pushed his favorite deck all the way to the edge of playability and that every time he beats 4 Color Control, he feels like the luckiest man on the planet.

People tried their hardest to come up with a playable Blood Moon deck to fight the heavy amount of nonbasic lands in the format. Maybe this Chandra deck is the answer?

Grixis Delver players started experimenting with grindy sideboard plans that included Kolaghan’s Command and Painful Truths among other typical controllish cards.Nic Fit, a Green/Black/X based ramp built around Veteran Explorer and Cabal Therapy synergies, has started to pick up steam lately. In a world where Swords to Plowshares is running rampant, the Explorer simply is not a playable Magic card.

The only answer for this card out of 4 Color Control is usually Force of Will and possibly a singleton Abrupt Decay, which is good news. Having Sylvan Library in play will generate a ton of card advantage because you don’t really care about your life total when playing against 4 Color Control. Most of their cards create card advantage, and now you can fight on even terms instead of bringing a knife to a gunfight. This card’s stock is way up these days.

Green/Black Turbo Depths, which only route to victory is the 20/20 indestructive Marit Lage token, is a natural predator of 4 Color Control due to the lack of exile-based removal. In a world of Wasteland and Terminus, this deck was hardly a factor.

Some Delver pilots switched to a more burn-heavy version playing only Blue and Red to punish the mana base of 4 Color Control with Price of Progress.

Lately I’ve been playing against a few Eldrazi decks, but I don’t have enough data to call it a metagame reaction. One thing is for sure: if that deck is climbing to 5% of the metagame, I will have to re-evaluate my removal suite to combat Reality Smasher better.

My Version of 4 Color Control – October 2017

Recently I played the deck to a top 4 finish at the weekly Legacy Challenge on Magic Online, and here is my list. Allow me to talk about a few interesting card choices.

I like two copies of Diabolic Edict in the deck mainly because of Gurmag Angler, True-Name Nemesis and the Marit Lage token. If your opponent Show and Tells a Griselbrand into play, the Edict can do great things combined with Leovold. This slot is definitely a hedge, because most of the time you will be spending two mana to kill a creature and wish it was a Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt.

This is fairly controversial, and those who follow my stream will know how I feel about this. Ponder is better in a deck where you are looking for specific cards and in decks where you play a low number of lands. However, in a deck with 20 or more lands like this one, I’m mostly looking to keep the engine running not looking for anything specific most of the time. The trade off is that you avoid the awkward situations where Ponder reveals one card you want and two cards you don’t want which leads to shuffling a lot of the time unless you have an uncracked fetch land at the ready. With Preordain you lose some potential upside, but you’re getting a much more consistent cantrip for your control deck. Needless to say, I suggest at least giving Preordain a try in this archetype.

I recently added a second copy of this effect, and it performed right from the start. Aside from the obvious function of dealing with Blood Moon, hasty creatures and a lethal Price of Progress, this little gem works wonders in the mirror match. In games two and three, Pyroblast play a huge role and looping Kolaghan’s Command with Snapcaster Mage is a great way to win a close game. Furthermore, you can counter opposing Sneak Attack or Burning Wish at a cheap cost.

Another great tool to fight the inevitable mirror match when entering a Legacy tournament. She can buy back your creatures that your opponent already spent resources killing, and she can ping Baleful Strix and Snapcaster Mage while ticking up. Not a lot of cards are worth using to deal with resolved Strixes and Snapcasters, but this Liliana qualifies. Making your life easier vs. Elves and Death & Taxes is just gravy.

Chandra has made her way into Legacy because she’s a house in the mirror. She dodges Pyroblast and can be very tough to deal with for the opponent unless they have a huge board presence or two burn spells in hand – something that is very hard to accomplish in the mirror match where you have basically the same cards. Deathrites getting killed, Hymn to Tourach both directions, Leovold or Jace, the Mind Sculptor being countered by Pyroblast is how a lot of games go. In these situations, Chandra will be a huge draw thanks to her ability to draw extra cards and deal with a single creature at the time. Maybe it’s off topic, but I won a game vs. Blood Moon thanks to her.

The rest of the list speaks for itself, but please feel free to ask if I missed something interesting.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading about my thought on 4 Color Control. If you have anything to add or think I’m telling lies, let me know in the comments and let’s have a great discussion!

In the coming weeks I will be publishing two or three articles about “Beating Legacy“, so make sure you don’t miss those.