Breaking the Indy Curse – 4th SCG Open Indy

Introduction

For me, the curse was that in any event in Indianapolis, I was doomed to a terrible finish despite how much work I had put into the deck. In both of the previous SCG events I attended, I was plagued with all of the matches that I didn’t want to see in the early rounds, which left me playing a very slow deck in the brackets where people were desperately scraping to get anything they could to avoid leaving empty-handed. But this time was different; for those events, I had tested my deck extensively and fine-tuned it for the expected metagame, locked in weeks prior. This time, I had positively no idea what I was going to be doing.

Rewind!

Back in the days leading up to the September 20 Banned and Restricted announcement, I was happily playing Reanimator with Misstep, and, as I’ve previously said, that deck was like turning your favorite game on to easy and using a Game Genie for infinite ammo or lives or something. Most of the decks were not able to interact with Reanimator in any meaningful way, and the decks which were, like Stone-Blade and NO R/U/G, really needed very aggressive starts in order to keep up with me, considering that I had access to all of the same counters and a flush suite of draw and tutors to keep opponents on their toes. The loss of Misstep made me uneasy, and I really had no direction in which I wanted to go, but, as always in Legacy, there were plenty of options. Which directions were going to be the best?

For those of you who are newer to competitive Magic, I’d like to impart a bit of wisdom that I learned a while back. In a new format, such as post-rotation Standard or after a huge banning like that of Survival of the Fittest or Mental Misstep, the decks that are the strongest coming out of the gates are the aggro and combo decks. Control decks nearly always need to build to fight these decks, and it seldom works the other way around. So, while I really would have enjoyed playing a deck like U/W Landstill or Counter-Top Thopters, I didn’t know what decks I was going to need to beat, meaning that if I were to take that deck, I’d be coming in with a disadvantage. It’s nearly impossible to play a control deck successfully in a totally unknown metagame.

So, what were the other options? I own a set of Grindstones, and that was a deck that we were seeing in fair numbers prior to Misstep. Storm was a good option as well, especially if people were really going to try to bring back decks like Zoo, Goblins, and other decks that didn’t have relevant plays in the match. The last option I had readily available was Reanimator, but was it going to be viable without Misstep? Jin-Gitaxias really likes it more when you have access to ten to eleven free counters, but at the same time, the Blue decks that were able to interact with me were losing a vital tool against Reanimator as well, not to mention were going to have a lot of matchups change. I decided I needed to figure out the viability of Reanimator without Misstep as the first order of business.

So, step one was to get cracking on MWS. I like to use MWS because no one is generally awake when I’d like to be playing. If I can get any testing done in my free time, that’s great; even if the success rate for real matches is something like one in ten, that’s better than not playing at all. After three days and a number of matches I’d rather not recall, I played against zero tiered decks and decided that, as usual, the players on Workstation were not going to be of help to me. So, we got the Ann Arbor crew together, and we set a date to start rigorous testing for Indianapolis. I had a whole sheet full of decks I knew I’d want to work on and was going to need a lot of time to figure it out.

Testing

We tested against most of the decks that I identified in my article from last week, making sure that the changes from Innistrad, New Phyrexia, and even M12 didn’t change the matchups too much. I first tested Doomsday/Fetch Land/Tendrils (DDFT) after a tip from Ari Lax that the deck was really powerful with the addition of Gitaxian Probe. I’ve played a fair amount of both Storm and Doomsday decks in the past, so I was excited to see if this was truly the new deck to beat. I went to Storm Boards to see if I could find a list that I liked the looks of, but there really had not been much posted since the banning, so I found a list that had sixteen cards that cost 1 mana and said “Draw a card,” then started testing against Merfolk. 0–5 later, I de-sleeved the deck and went back to brainstorming.

Mike Antrim was solidly in about forty-five cards of his list of G/W and needed only to decide which direction to go with his deck, but Ben, Jason, Jordan, and I were all nearly totally undecided. Ben never really strayed from wanting to play a U/W control deck but wasn’t entirely positive on the direction, and Jason had just been playing a slow Rock control deck with Sun Titan (Titan Rock), which actually thrived in the slow metagame with Mental Misstep. Jordan was enjoying Hive Mind in that same field, but rather than getting involved in testing with us, Jordan was more comfortable looking up baseball scores and making sure that there was always music playing while we were trying to test.

Jason was not liking the idea of playing another Junk deck, but had nearly always just played a deck with some combination of Savannah, Bayou, and Scrubland, so he was going to stay in his comfort zone. We tested a lot of Junk and B/W variants, and after every unsuccessful trial run, I suggested to him that he just play a Storm variant, about the only other archetype that he had familiarity with, and he brushed me off, preferring to play with Dark Confidant. It wasn’t until about 12:00 a.m. Sunday morning that he went on The Source to get a T.E.S. list after finally giving up on B/W aggro. Turned out to be a pretty good idea; Jason and I ran through a few decks before we climbed into bed.

As for me, I had been pretty lost, although I was comfortable with Reanimator’s ability to compete in the new format. Everything was derailed on Thursday before the event when I met up with some friends at BC Comix who just happened to have a playset of Candelabra of Tawnos on them, along with Time Spirals, Meditates, and a stack of Blue commons. In exchange for some of my prize and some collateral to hold the cards, they were willing to let me use the cards. Not only was the deck powerful without Misstep, but it was a flashy deck that you don’t often have an opportunity to play. This entirely derailed my mind-set, which had been leaning heavily toward Reanimator. I started testing High Tide early Friday Morning and was happy with it until I started testing the Storm matches. I knew Storm was going to be coming back, and I really wanted to be sure that I had a game against it. In testing against T.E.S, though, I went something close to 0–10, and every time I came close to winning, he would just kill me the turn before. Had I ever started to combo off, I’d have to deal with Orim's Chant, and it was all just a big mess. I tried adding Mindbreak Trap and a pair of Flusterstorms to the board in hopes of trying to shore it up, but I ultimately decided that I was just going to need to play a deck that could compete with Storm.

Remember: You beat decks with decks, not with cards.

I felt comfortable putting Reanimator together, and while I wasn’t totally sure what my sideboard should be made up of, I counted the cards I wanted to bring in against control and combo versus what I was taking out. Everything seemed to work out, so I went with it.

This is the list I settled on:

Event Day

Jason and I stay up making sure he has his bearings with T.E.S. and go to bed at 4:00 a.m. like the rock stars we are. We wake up early to the alarm clock. Who set it for 7:30? No idea; we turn it off. At 8:01, we hear the most obnoxious song I’ve ever heard coming from Jordan’s phone. It’s so loud no one can think, and in my nearly sleepless stupor, I can’t figure out where the music is coming from. The song ends without Jordan flinching, despite the fact that the phone is right next to his ear. This song plays about seven more times before he finally gets up as a result of me kicking his mattress. We check out and walk to the event. In the event hall, I realize that I’ve left not only my deck list in the car but all of my paper to take notes on. I redo my deck list from memory and try to relax before everything gets started.

[While I did take extensive notes, I left them in a Ritz box that was thrown out at the venue. Lesson: Don’t leave your notes inside trash.]

Round 1 vs. Zoo

Game 1

I lose the roll, and I start on a hand that lets me Exhume Jin-Gitaxias on three with Daze backup if I discard him on my turn, but I’ll get to draw a card so I can evaluate my options. I keep; my opponent mulligans and gets a hand with Taiga into Goblin Guide. The Guide reveals an Island on top of my library so I can both play a land and discard my Jin. Great deal! After discarding, my opponent reads Jin-Gitaxias for a moment and thinks. “I know what you’re doing, and I don’t like you,” he says to me comically, and I laugh. He plays Grim Lavamancer on his turn and attacks again. I Exhume Jin on my turn and discard Sphinx of the Steel Wind to seal things up. He untaps, and I Force his Lightning Bolt on my turn so that Grim Lavamancer can’t take out Jin-Gitaxias, and we go on to Game 2.

Sideboarding:

−1 Animate Dead, −3 Daze, +2 Pithing Needle, +1 Echoing Truth, +1 Thoughtseize

I keep Thoughtseize to try to take a Path to Exile, and the Needles and Echoing Truth come in to take care of any resistance that he tried to put up.

Game 2

My opponent ends up taking a mulligan down to four, which takes us from a place where we were going to have a game to me putting down a turn-two Sphinx of the Steel Wind against very little resistance. Getting a win like this isn’t the most exciting, but it’s still a win.

1–0 (2–0 in games).

Round 2 vs. Mark Sun with U/b/g

This list can be found here.

I like to think that Mark and I are friends, so it sucks when I see that we’re paired in Round 2. Mark and I have never played in an event before, and I’m not looking forward to seeing how it pans out. I see him wandering over to the pairings board and flag him down. “Seriously?” he says.

“I’m not happy about it, either.”

I offer him the draw and he declines, because it will cause all kinds of tiebreaker problems. We shuffle up and get down to it.

Game 1

Mark wins the roll and leads with a fetch. I have another hand that lets me just discard a creature; this time it’s Empyrial Archangel, so I go with it considering that I don’t draw anything better. Mark Hymns me on my turn and misses my good cards. I cast Reanimate on my Empyrial Archangel, and she sticks to the table. Mark does manage to block for a turn with Vendilion Clique but is never able to find Diabolic Edict before the Angel takes him out.

Sideboarding:

−1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, −2 Careful Study, −3 Daze, +1 Thoughtseize, +2 Dispel, +3 Spell Pierce

I want to have the tools to fight his early disruption and removal. He likely won’t be playing any threats in the early game, so battling him like a control deck seems fine. I had gotten to see his board the night before, and it is three Surgical Extraction, two Spell Pierce, and a Liliana as the relevant cards against me. I watch his hands as he sets aside cards from his sideboard: five cards.

I explain to him why it’s such a bad idea to show your opponent, especially one who’s playing a graveyard-based deck, how many cards you’re boarding in. A deck like Reanimator, and especially Dredge, can use this information to predict exactly what you’re going to do. He holds the cards up away from me. “Three Surgical Extraction and two Spell Pierce,” I explain as I gesture at the cards. He boards in one more card after thinking for a bit: Liliana of the Veil. Had Mark hidden his sideboard from me, it likely would not have changed how I boarded, but I do make the suggestion that all of the Surgical Extractions should just become Leyline of the Void, and hiding his sideboard numbers would have made me wonder whether he took my suggestion.

Remember: Don’t let your opponent know how many cards you’re bringing in against him, especially the opponent who is playing with the graveyard.

Game 2

I totally blank on the first few turns of this game. I end up with a Jin-Gitaxias in my graveyard early but am stuck on a single land for a very long time. Mark Surgical Extractions my Reanimates to punish my one land, but he can’t produce a threat. After he has roughly nine lands on the table and is unable to find a threat, we eventually get to a turn where my hand is Force of Will, Dispel, Spell Pierce, and Exhume, and he casts another Surgical Extraction targeting Exhume after I draw my third land. I Dispel Surgical Extraction, and it resolves. I cast Exhume with Force and Spell Pierce left in hand; his last two cards are Force and a Blue card. My Exhume resolves, and I have Jin-Gitaxias to his Sylvan Library. He can’t find an answer, and the game ends.

2–0 (4–0 in games).

Mark was a great guy to play against, but I wish I had been able to play against someone I didn’t know. I comment that I hope this is the last time I’ll have to play against someone I know.

Round 3 vs. Burn

We sit down, and my opponent is a young-looking guy who asks me what my matches have been. I don’t really like answering this question in Game 1, because it gives the opponent clues as to what I’m playing. I politely tell him that I’ll let him know what my matches have been against after our first game.

Game 1

My opponent mulligans and plays a Mountain into Goblin Guide; I don’t reveal a land, and this makes me consider which direction to go with my hand. The hand has Animate Dead and Reanimate to go with my Iona, but I can’t discard her without skipping the turn. The question is, against Burn, do I take the 9 to have her down sooner, or do I give him an extra turn? I draw and discard Iona. He plays a Grim Lavamancer without playing a land and attacks; still not a land. I draw and decide that with the Grim Lavamancer in the equation, it’s better to give him the extra turn than it is to take 9, because now he has a few additional resources and I won’t be able to just attack three times to kill him without retaliation. He attacks me for another 2 and still fails to produce a land. I Exhume my Iona and am at a safe life total, so he concedes.

Sideboarding:

−2 Thoughtseize, −1 Daze, +2 Pithing Needle, +1 Echoing Truth

He may bring in REB, but those really don’t concern me; the goal is to just be sure I can find a guy, and his only cards that can interact with me are handled by Needle and Truth.

Game 2

My opponent decides whether he is going to play or draw; he says that he’s new to the format, and he doesn’t know if you treat Reanimator like Dredge or not. He says that he’ll draw first, but after thinking for a few seconds, decides to play first instead. I tell him that’s fine with me, and we start the game. He starts off with a Relic, and I have a hand with Reanimate, Brainstorm, Entomb, and Pithing Needle, but only a single land. I decide to wait to see what he does with his turn before I try to Needle. He plays Goblin Guide and suspends Rift Bolt on his turn, meaning that the coast is clear for me to Entomb Sphinx of the Steel Wind, considering that Iona is stuck in my hand. He taps his Relic on his end step in hopes of hitting the Sphinx, but I explain that both cards are in the graveyard by the time he has priority, and he accepts it. On my turn, I drop down to 7 to get my Sphinx on the table and hope that his hand can’t handle it. Rift Bolt takes me to 4 and he tries to hit me with a Fireblast, but I Force it. He looks around and can’t produce the last 3 points of damage. I get an attack in, and he draws a card before extending the hand.

3–0 (6–0 in games).

Round 4 vs. Donivan with Meat Hooks (Counter-Slivers)

After Round 3, a bunch of the Michigan guys are 3–0, and since I just played Mark Sun, I think that I’m probably not going to be paired against anyone else I know. Wrong. Donivan and I play just about every week. It’s a positive match, but I really didn’t travel from Michigan to come play anyone I knew, let alone people I play with weekly.

Donivan laughs and remarks that as of the fourth round, he has only played against two archetypes: Painter/Grindstone and Reanimator. This trend continues in Round 5, in which he beats another Painter deck.

Game 1

I lose yet another roll, and Donivan opens up with AEther Vial. We fight over an Entomb on his upkeep, and I get to put Elesh Norn into my graveyard. Elesh Norn comes in without any resistance a couple of turns and kills a pair of his guys. On his turn, he Vials in Phantasmal Image to Legend-rule her out, and I can’t make another creature stick before I fall to Mutavault and Sinew Sliver.

Sideboarding:

−1 Angel of Despair, −2 Careful Study, −1 Exhume, −1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind, +1 Thoughtseize, +2 Pithing Needle, +1 Blazing Archon

Luckily, I know his board pretty well considering that we worked on it the night before in the room. This plan is going to put up a good fight, but we’re still going to need to play Magic, and a lot of it.

Game 2

I keep a hand that can produce a creature eventually but has a lot of disruption; Donivan thinks for a while and decides to keep his. Leading on a Thoughtseize, I see his hand: Relic of Progenitus, Brainstorm, Island, and 2-cost creatures. I take his Relic and he frowns. Playing his Island, he passes back. I play another land and wait for his turn. He untaps and Brainstorms, a classic sign that he has not drawn a land; I cast Dispel and then Entomb on his end step. On my turn, I bring Jin-Gitaxias back to the table, and the game ends in short order.

Sideboarding:

−2 Daze, +2 Spell Pierce

Game 3

I keep my seven while Donivan goes looking for a playable hand and finds it at six cards. “Go.” He giggles to himself without making a play. In the past, I’ve kept no-land hands against him, and I’ve even won, but he is playing Belcher, and I have a hand of double Force, Ponder, Brainstorm, Misstep, Entomb, Exhume. His hand is going to need to be extra-strong if he is going to compete with me, and luckily my Thoughtseize is going to let me check it out. Force, a couple of Blue cards, and some creatures that aren’t going to be cast any time soon. I take the Force, he doesn’t draw a land, and on my turn I Entomb and Reanimate Jin-Gitaxias.

4–0 (8–1 in games).

[Donivan and I didn’t get to play skill-intensive games, but I wasn’t really looking for a lot of opportunities to do that with people; I just wanted them dead, which is why I played Reanimator.]

Round 5 vs. Ben Idoini with U/W Landstill

Maybe I’ve started a new curse by telling Mark that I hope I don’t play against anyone else I know. Ben came down with Donivan and is a great player and friend who I see just about every week. Like Donivan, Ben was up late in the night with us brewing his Landstill list, refusing to play my build with Cunning Wish but taking a lot of tips on how to build the main and board without it. Turns out all of that is going to be rather vital information for the coming game. Ben has beaten a Reanimator player earlier in the day, so it isn’t impossible, and we are going to play a real match here: counters and removal versus different counters and huge threats.

Game 1

This round is a victim of my lost notes, but I remember that I am able to drop an early creature, and I use Brainstorm and Ponder to try to find some action. Once he has three lands, I decide that it’s time, and I cast an end-of-turn Brainstorm for one last sculpt. I end up with Force, Blue card, Daze, and both Exhumes and Reanimate to go with my three lands in play, drawing a fourth for the turn. With Jin-Gitaxias in the graveyard, I go for it; Reanimate targeting Jin-Gitaxias meets Counterspell. Exhume meets Spell Snare, I Daze, he Forces, I Force back, and I have a Jin. I draw seven. On his turn, he casts an Enlightened Tutor for Humility, to which I don’t actually have an answer in hand, but he isn’t going to be able to play it this turn. He plays his fourth land and discards his remaining cards. I attack and discard some creatures after drawing a single Daze as my only form of disruption. Ben thinks for some time about whether he wants to walk his Humility into Daze. “You can’t keep it,” I say, as I point to Jin-Gitaxias. “You have to go for it.”

“You’re right.” Ben sighs as I Daze his Humility, and we go to Game 2.

Sideboarding:

+2 Pithing Needle, +1 Wipe Away, +3 Spell Pierce, +1 Thoughtseize, +1 Inkwell Leviathan, −1 Daze, −1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind, −3 Animate Dead, −2 Careful Study, −1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

[I had to walk away to use the bathroom between games (as I did many times—I drank like three gallons of water), so I had no idea how many cards had been boarded in, but I imagined it was going to be several, and it was going to be best to board for the long game than to try to win quickly.]

Game 2

Ben starts with the classic play of land-go. I Thoughtseize him to see what he has; he reveals a Brainstorm, a lot of land, a Counterspell, and a Swords to Plowshares; looking at my second Thoughtseize in hand, I take the counter. He plays a land and passes again, and when I cast Thoughtseize on my next turn, to my surprise, he casts Enlightened Tutor in response, fetching Humility. I get to see that the rest of his hand is lands and a Swords to Plowshares, which I take. I can’t set up a creature fast enough, so I aggressively play a Ponder, which shuffles and draws into a Careful Study. He plays his third land and passes. I need an answer, so I use my Careful Study to draw two cards. I prefer to use it when I can pitch creatures in hand, but I don’t have that luxury. I’m hoping to draw into a Daze, Thoughtseize, or Spell Pierce to keep him off Humility. Luckily, I find my third Thoughtseize and take Humility, leaving him with only lands. I Entomb on his end step, and on my turn have an Inkwell Leviathan to go the distance.

5–0 (10–1 in games).

Round 6 vs. Kenta Hiroki with U/W Faeries

There is still Ari and Jason left at X–0 coming into Round 6, but I don’t face either of them this round. I am paired down against another Michigan chap, and I have a pretty good idea of what he is going to be playing.

Game 1

Kenta wins the roll and we start. I’ve kept a rather weak hand, and it’s going to be hard if he counters my Entomb, so to minimize the chances of that, I fire it off on my end step, in response to his Brainstorm. It resolves, and I think for a long time before settling on grabbing Empyrial Archangel, a creature that a U/W deck is going to have an exceptionally difficult time killing. We get into a battle over my first reanimation spell, but on turn three, my second one sticks, and in a few turns, he runs out of both blockers and life total.

Sideboarding:

−3 Daze, −1 Careful Study, +1 Thoughtseize, +1 Wipe Away, +2 Pithing Needle

Game 2

I keep what feels like a solid hard: Brainstorm and Ponder along with a land. This game goes short when I can’t find a second land to cast any of my important spells.

Game 3

In this game as well, it takes me a very long time to get lands on the table, and luckily for me, Kenta can’t put any pressure on the board for quite some time. However, my problems are compounded when I draw reanimation spells for five turns in a row while taking one every turn. Eventually, he produces threats, and I just have nothing going on.

5–1 (11–3 in games).

[It always feels bad coming off a loss, but the important thing is not to allow yourself to stay down about it; you have more rounds to play, and if you come into them with the mind-set that you can’t win, you probably won’t.]

Round 7 vs. Stone-Blade

I’m playing against yet another chap from Michigan, although I don’t know him. He seems like a younger kid and is pretty friendly.

Game 1

Predictably, he wins the roll, and we both keep our seven. He starts off with a basic Island, and Spell Pierces my turn-one Entomb, which makes me wonder if he is on MUC. On turn two, he suspends Ancestral Vision and plays a fetch. I Careful Study on my turn, which resolves, but I can only muster an Elesh Norn; this doesn’t excite me against MUC, but my hand is stocked with reanimate spells if we fight. He Vendilion Cliques me and sees this, leaving my hand as-is. I attempt a Reanimate for Elesh Norn on my turn, and he counters it. On my next turn, I try to Exhume, and he Snapcasters back his Brainstorm. He Spell Pierces my Exhume, but I pay for it and Elesh Norn enters the battlefield. I Reanimate his Snapcaster Mage and then flash back my Reanimate on his Vendilion Clique, targeting him, he doesn’t have anything happening, so he keeps his hand. I add a couple more creatures to the mix, but he isn’t able to get back in the game.

Sideboarding:

I again have to run off to the bathroom, and when I come back, my opponent is pile-shuffling his deck, counting it out: fifty-nine. Where is the other card? He looks around and checks his deck box. As he’s digging around for the last card, I try my best to politely ask him to hold what he’s doing after he finds his sixtieth card. He’s confused, and I leave him to finish what he’s doing. I talk to the judge who’s next to me and ask him to confirm that my opponent’s deck box contains only sideboard and token cards, seeing as how I can’t check it. My attention is caught when he is digging through cards; it seems like there are a lot of cards in his box: sleeved cards that match his deck, token cards in other sleeves, and then just a few extra cards. The judge sees the cards and asks him about them: “Proxy cards, they’re written on.” The judge explains that he thinks the head judge is fine with unsleeved cards being in deck boxes, but wants to ask to confirm. My opponent and his friend, who I’m acquainted with, explain to me that the cards are a few Goblin Pikers and some other cards that have been written on; if that’s the case, there really isn’t any room for abuse and it’s fine, but I couldn’t be sure, as it’s not within my rights to check that sort of thing. We start resolving mulligans waiting for him to return. As we’re about to start the game, he asks my opponent to come to the side. The floor judge issues him a game loss. The first time I got this penalty, I was pretty sore about it, and I knew he was angry with me, so I suggested that he appeal it to the head judge—some chance is better than no chance, right? She comes over and examines the cards and determines that while some of the cards are clearly innocent, there are a few cards that have the potential to be abused. I know I saw an Island and Spell Pierce, and I suppose there may have been more cards.

I feel guilty about the situation, but I’m not trying to be hostile about it. I’m sure he is still upset with me, but I feel that if you’re in a situation where you’re not totally sure what is happening, you should have a judge sort it out, which is what I did here.

6–1 (13–3 in games).

Round 8 vs. Cat Sligh

This is the round in which winners will be able to ID into Top 8, and losers are playing for Top 16 in Round 9. My opponent this time around remembers me; he ID’ed with me in the last round of GP: Columbus so we could both make Day 2. I have seen him play a few games earlier, and know he’s on Zoo of some sort, so the match isn’t going to be a slam-dunk, but we’re going to play some Magic and have a winner, considering that we both want to make Top 8.

Game 1

I lose roll number eight of the day and keep a hand that’s somewhat slow versus Zoo. I just hope he isn’t playing a hyperaggressive build. I can Entomb Sphinx after I Brainstorm it away, but I won’t have it until turn three off Exhume. I’ll need also Brainstorm and Ponder to help in finding an answer to Path to Exile considering I don’t have one. He opens with Steppe Lynx, and I play Underground Sea and pass. His 4/5 Lynx hits me, and he plays another Lynx. I Brainstorm on the end step, and in my upkeep Entomb Sphinx of the Steel Wind; I draw and Ponder into nothing and pass. He gets me for 8 more off two Steppe Lynxes and casts Tarmogoyf, leaving Plateau open. I untap and draw a Daze, and feel all right as I go to cast Exhume for Sphinx. He reads it; people always read Sphinx, and they always miss an ability on him. He makes sure to read it twice and instantly notices that he missed Lifelink. He doesn’t Path at end of turn, which makes me concerned he is playing around Daze, but when he empties his hand of Kird Ape and Grim Lavamancer on his turn, I can breathe a sigh of relief; he’ll have to top-deck it if he has it. Sphinx takes a couple of hits, and as he draws his final card, he packs it in.

Sideboarding:

−3 Daze, −1 Careful Study, −1 Animate Dead, −1 Reanimate, +1 Echoing Truth, +2 Pithing Needle, +1 Thoughtseize, +2 Dispel

I’m not totally excited about the life loss from Thoughtseize, but I need to have access to it to cut him off of things like slow-rolled graveyard hate, Knight of the Reliquary, or Path to Exile.

Game 2

We both keep seven, and he starts off with Tormod's Crypt and Goblin Guide. Turn two, he has Sylvan Library but seems to be floundering for other threats. I find a Needle for his Crypt and am able to bring back a creature, but he has a Pridemage from the Animate Dead. Goblin Guide eventually takes me out of a very long game.

Sideboarding:

+1 Careful Study, +1 Animate Dead, −2 Dispel

I just want to pressure him into having Tormod's Crypt as much as possible with this change.

Game 3

I keep my seven, and my opponent mulligans. I Careful Study away Sphinx of the Steel Wind on turn one, but he has a Tormod's Crypt to call and a Kird Ape to boot. On my turn, I Brainstorm and Ponder, looking for the reanimation spell and protection I don’t find with Careful Study. I dig up Exhume, exactly what I need. He plays Sylvan Library on his turn and passes back to me. I cast Exhume with Underground Sea open, and he thinks about his Tormod's Crypt. “But why do you have to have that Entomb?” he asks me. I smirk. He decides that he can’t handle Sphinx, so I may as well go get another creature. I grab Jin-Gitaxias after some consideration and draw my seven, discarding Empyrial Archangel while holding the reanimation to get it back. He tried to burn out Jin; I counter the spell that would kill him. The game ends shortly after I bring back Empyrial Archangel.

7–1 (15–4 in games).

We have three minutes to check standings. It’s looking good, and Jason and I are very likely paired considering that we are fifth and sixth place.

For the first time in the day, I’m paired against a friend and happy about it. Jason and I, who did extensive testing for this event and both flip-flopped around on decks, are able to ID with some security into the Top 8.

Top 8 vs. Merfolk

I get to look at this guy’s list before we play, as is the policy of SCG events. Four Force, four Daze, three Spell Pierce, three Dismember—all in the main. Holy crap. Really? Post-board, he has another Dismember and three Relics. How did this guy beat the Zoo decks with only twenty creatures? Well, I guess it doesn’t matter in this Top 8.

Game 1

I keep a hand that lets me Entomb Elesh Norn rather quickly; from there, I just have to hope that my Brainstorm, Ponder, and Exhume are able to do the job. He keeps as well, and, of course, has won the die roll. He leads off with a Vial, and I go for Entomb as soon as possible; he lets it resolve. I walk my Exhume into Daze, since I’ve drawn an Animate Dead. He has the counter for that as well, and he begins to amass his creatures while I’m floundering in blanks. Ponder finds me another reanimation spell; it’s countered. Finally, a Brainstorm digs me into two more, and one of them sticks, returning Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. This kills all of his creatures, and his only out is double Dismember, which doesn’t seem too likely. I add Jin-Gitaxias to the mix, and that seals it up.

Sideboarding:

+2 Pithing Needle, +1 Show and Tell, +1 Thoughtseize, +1 Wipe Away, −3 Daze, −1 Angel of Despair, −1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind, −1 Careful Study

Game 2

I draw my hand: land, land, land, land, land, Entomb, Brainstorm. I keep it, because I’m Christopher Walton. I am actually quite hazy on what happens in this match, but I know he has a turn-one Relic of Progenitus, and I top-deck a Ponder into Pithing Needle. He plays Cursecatcher. On my turn, I Brainstorm, shuffle away a couple of lands, and play my Needle; he exiles Relic in response, so I name Cursecatcher. He plays Lord of Atlantis and attacks for 2. A couple of turns later, we come to a point at which he has Coralhelm Commander (0 counters), Lord of Atlantis, Cursecatcher, and four lands. He can level the Coralhelm to 4 to put me to 1 life, or level it to 2, and it will be able to live through Elesh Norn and likely kill me before I can kill him, meaning that I’ll need to Entomb Blazing Archon over Elesh Norn. He elects to not level at all, leaving up all his mana, attacking me down to 4 life and passing the turn.

At his end step, I Brainstorm to get Elesh Norn out of my hand and then cast Entomb. It resolves, so I put her into my graveyard. I Brainstorm again, seeing if I can bait a counter; it resolves. I think for a while because I’m on the penultimate turn, and I may not get another chance to see one of these cards. I tap my final land to fire off my third Brainstorm on the end step, and it resolves, meaning he was unwilling to Daze it with his four cards in hand. I sculpt the following hand as of my main phase:

Exhume
Animate Dead
Thoughtseize
Underground Sea
Daze

I have four lands on the battlefield. I lead the turn with Thoughtseize, and he thinks for quite some time before letting it resolve. His hand is Coralhelm Commander, Merrow Reejerey, Force of Will, Spell Pierce. I take his Force of Will and play my Underground Sea. “So you did have the land,” he sighs, as this land lets me play around Spell Pierce. I cast Exhume, and Elesh Norn kills all of his creatures. He takes a couple of turns without a play and eventually extends the hand.

9–1–1 (17–4 in games).

Top 4 vs. NO Bant

As I look over his list, I think to myself, “How am I expected to beat this?” Four Vendilion Clique, four Daze, three Jace, four Force of Will, three Knight of the Reliquary—which finds Karakas—four Green Sun's Zenith—which finds Knight—not to mention four Swords to Plowshares. That’s a lot of cards. And then, after boarding, he has Maze of Ith, four Meddling Mage, and . . . four Leyline of the Void?!

I complain after the match about how slow he was, but Marsh is a very good and deliberate player. I just wish he would have beaten me more quickly. Video coverage of this match should be available soon; look for it on the Internet.

Game 1

I have a rather strong hand that has Iona, which isn’t totally safe, but is good enough. I win my first die roll of the night and ship her to the graveyard immediately, along with an Animate Dead. This is actually the play that loses me the game. The entire rest of the game, I sit here wishing that I had access to that Animate Dead, because it makes his Goyf able to race my Iona, so I need to Daze it on his second turn, and it makes it so that I’m not able to Animate Dead his Tarmogoyf after Dazeing it to push through the last couple points of damage. Marsh is able to Clique to buy a turn and then GSZ for {3} to get Knight of the Reliquary, who saves him from Iona. I’m not able to draw a Blue card for my Force of Will or get any other action happening, so the game ends.

Sideboarding:

+1 Thoughtseize, +1 Wipe Away, +1 Echoing Truth, +1 Blazing Archon, +1 Inkwell Leviathan, −1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind, −2 Careful Study, −1 Angel of Despair, −1 Animate Dead

Game 2

I’m exceptionally tired at this point. He starts the game with Leyline of the Void, so I have to sit back for a couple of turns. I Echoing Truth it to his hand, and an Inkwell ends up in my graveyard and then on the battlefield, so I start hitting him with it. At one point, I see his life total is 12, and I think, “I can deal 12 next turn if I put this Angel of Despair in my graveyard.” The problem is, I can’t get it out of my graveyard that turn, so rather than making a safe or correct play, I target myself and give him a turn to perhaps Natural Order. Fortunately, he’s unable to and Inky takes him out.

Game 3

I become trapped in a hand that’s way too slow to fight him but solid enough to play. I discard Inkwell on my turn, and he has a turn-two Knight. I hope he has boarded out the Natural Order combo for his infinite hate cards. I realize he hasn’t when I Thoughtseize him on turn two and he Dazes it. I count the mana; he has four for his Natural Order, and I just have a Swamp, so he doesn’t need to play around Daze. Since I’m dead, I make it a goal to Wipe Away something. I Reanimate his Noble Hierarch and send it back to his hand before he can do anything about it. It is a well-fought match and a good end to the day.

10–2–1 (18–5 in games).

Closing Thoughts

I would have liked to have taken a trophy home with me, but at least I finally made the Top at one of these events. For the most part, I had no hard decisions to make, and most of my matches were fairly easy. I was glad to see that the deck I’ve come to love so much is still a power player after Misstep and would really love to see it stay in contention as a top deck, although for Nashville, people will certainly be gunning for the faster decks.

So, while people were talking about bringing back Merfolk, Goblins, Lands, and other decks, the format essentially did what I expected it to for the primer event; the broken, noninteractive decks came out to play, and most people were not prepared for it. In fact, I think it will happen yet again in Nashville and perhaps for one or two more weeks after that. The format is still in flux, and if control strategies are going to emerge, they’re going to need a bit larger of a sample size to figure out what to beat.

There were a fair number of tempo decks with Stifle and Snapcaster in the event, but they didn’t fare very well. In fact, only seven copies of Snapcaster were in the Top 16 from an event that was saturated with the card. While some people were quite impressed with Snapcaster’s power, I’m not sold on it. I feel the card is a bit slow and isn’t really giving tempo decks an edge in matches they were weak in before, although I could certainly be wrong.

So, if you’re going to play in a GPT or another large event in the coming weeks, remember that SCG: Indianapolis is only one event, not indicative of the new format, although I think it will lay some of the groundwork for trends that we’ll be seeing for the first few weeks. Keep this result in mind, but don’t let it skew your decision-making process. I heard a rumor that Reanimator was the most-played archetype. I’m not sure if that’s true, but Reanimator, Storm, Painter, and decks that can combat them are the decks you need to be keeping in mind when you’re picking a deck.

I want to thank and congratulate Jason Golembeski and Ari Lax, players from Get Your Game On who made up three-eighths of the Top 8 and half of the Top 4. Had Jason and I done just a little better, we could have had a finals where the participants had slept in the same bed the night before, but as it is, we’ll have to settle for the Ann Arbor crew making a great showing and finally putting some force behind the idea that Michigan has one of the most competitive and serious Legacy scenes in the world.

~ Christopher Walton in the real world
im00pi at gmail dot com
Master Shake on The Source
@EmperorTopDeck on Twitter