Weekend Update – GP Denver and SCG Columbus

Welcome back! After a few weeks off for the winter holidays, tournament Magic is back in full swing, and we had two big tournaments to kick off the new year.

First up, we had Legacy at GP Denver. If you’ll recall, the last few events of 2012 saw the emergence of a number of BUG decks. Control, midrange, aggro – players of all types wanted in on the Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay action. At the SCG Invitational we saw the debut of the Shardless Agent version that sought to Cascade into Ancestral Vision. While there was no generally agreed-upon BUG list, the colors were fast becoming the boogieman of the format, pushing the formerly dominant RUG Delver down the ladder. Other top decks were Esper Stoneblade, UW Miracles, and Sneak & Show/OmniShow.

As one might expect from its past results, BUG was a powerful force this past weekend, with a number of high-level pilots at the top tables, though the other top decks – particularly Esper Stoneblade – put up high numbers as well. The breakout decks of the weekend, however, were without a doubt Elves! and Jund. Both were fringe strategies going into this tournament – Elves! has constantly lurked in the tier 1.5-2 range of Legacy, while Jund just recently began to emerge as a possible deck, again on the back of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay (and old standby Bloodbraid Elf).

Elves! is more or less the same deck it has been ever since the Heritage Druid/Nettle Sentinel engine emerged at Pro Tour: Berlin back in 2008 – the only thing that changes is the win condition. Most recently, that win condition has been Mirror Entity or Emrakul, but Avacyn Restored brought the deck an exciting new monster – Craterhoof Behemoth (and Natural Order). With four (non-summoning sick) creatures in play, the Elf deck can Natural Order for Behemoth and deal 20 damage on the spot. In a deck filled with 1cc creatures, this is not particularly difficult to do, and can kill on turn 3 quite consistently. If the Natural Order plan doesn’t work, the Elf player can still cast Glimpse of Nature to draw its entire deck, and has Green Sun’s Zenith to dig up whatever piece of the combo is missing. Additionally, Elves has now added Deathrite Shaman to its list of creatures, and as a result now runs three Bayous and only one basic Forest – previously the deck was nearly impervious to Wasteland, with only a Dryad Arbor and 1-3 Gaea’s Cradle’s as targets.¬†Fortunately, most of the top decks (RUG Delver being the exception) tend not to run Wasteland, as three colors generally doesn’t allow room for four colorless lands. Of course, this could also mean that the format might be ripe for a return of an aggressive Wasteland strategy like Goblins or Merfolk… Matt Nass has quite a bit to say about Elves! in the official coverage, so if you’re interested in learning more about the green men, it would behoove you to check it out.

Jund, as previously mentioned, has only recently started to appear in Legacy, but if you are familiar with the current Modern list (or even the old Standard lists) you should have some idea of what to expect. While some cards have been upgraded to more powerful versions of themselves, Legacy Jund is basically everything we’ve come to expect from the GRB colors – the best cards at every point on the mana curve, topped out by Bloodbraid Elf. However, unlike past iterations, Legacy Jund has excellent mana thanks to the original dual lands (and of course Deathrite Shaman) – in fact, the mana is so good that top 8 competitor Pat Cox cut two Treetop Villages and two spells to add four Wastelands to the deck. The BG core is incredibly powerful, and with many BUG decks cutting back on Force of Will, or even moving it to the sideboard entirely, it’s very reasonable to choose red as your third color instead of blue. While combo decks are far from nonexistent in Legacy, the current environment is filled with grindy creature-based midrange decks, and cards like Lightning Bolt and Grim Lavamancer are far more powerful against those decks than Force of Will and Spell Pierce. Additionally, you get Pyroblast out of the sideboard, which is a powerful answer to any blue-based deck.

Looking at the top 8, we see an incredibly diverse set of decks – Elves!, UW (RiP) Miracles, BUG Delver, 2 Esper Stoneblade, RUG Delver, and 2 Jund. Ultimately, Vidianto Wijaya won the event with Stoneblade, a deck that in his own words was about 50/50 against the field, but that he selected because BUG decks were very weak to Lingering Souls. Additionally, his deck possesses inevitability via Academy Ruins, which can recur Batterskull, Umezawa’s Jitte, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Engineered Explosives. Other interesting cards in his sideboard include Cabal Therapy, which works quite nicely with Lingering Souls, and three Geist of Saint Traft. Geist is a card that sees occasional Legacy play, and can be a fast clock against combo decks (slotting in for Souls), as well as an incredibly difficult to answer threat against any creature-light deck that relies on targeted removal to stay safe. While not as powerful as Vendilion Clique against combo (the card it most often competes against), Stoneblade’s hand disruption allows the pilot to find out if it’s safe to tap out for a turn, and Geist will end the game promptly after.

Out in top 16 we see a Dredge deck at 9th place – while many people felt like maindeck graveyard hate in the form of Deathrite Shaman would make life difficult for graveyard decks, Timothy Froelig clearly didn’t have much trouble. Preparing a sideboard for a format as wide open as Legacy can be difficult, and if people skimp on their hate Dredge will eat them alive. We also have 2 Stoneblade decks, Maverick, 2 RUG Delver, Shardless BUG, and BUG Control. While this would seem to hint at a decline in UW Miracles, we see that there were in fact multiple copies at the top tables according to the metagame breakdown, but presumably two lost their final rounds and finished outside top 16 (with one making t8). What we do see, however, is that combo decks are almost nonexistent at the top tables – a few Show and Tell decks occasionally appear, but this was apparently not the tournament to be Storming or cheating huge monsters into play. While the amount of discard might make things difficult for combo decks looking to sculpt a perfect hand, something that can ignore it (Dredge, or access to Leyline of Sanctity) or kill incredibly quickly (Charbelcher) might be a reasonable place to go moving forward. With decks relegating Force of Will to the sideboard, or removing it entirely, a deck that can punish people for making that choice seems poised to do well moving forward. The new build of Elves! actually fits these requirements very well, as it has a number of redundant pieces, and can play a much better long-game than decks like Sneak and Show or Storm. It didn’t win the tournament, and only had one deck in the t16, so it might still not be taken seriously, but most of ChannelFireball was on it, so if you trust their judgment, you might want to give this deck a look if you’re planning on attending a Legacy event in the near future.

GP Denver Coverage

Moving on to SCG Columbus, Kevin Brumley and Red Deck Wins took down the largest Standard Open in history, with almost 700 players. The top 8 was filled out by a number of Naya midrange decks, Naya Humans, Naya control splashing Blue, RB Zombies, and the BG Aggro deck created by Brian Kibler. While the main takeaway here is that Farseek-powered Naya midrange strategies are incredibly strong, but this new iteration of mono-red is far more exciting. With 16 haste creatures (4 of them being Lightning Mauler), and 3 copies of Pyreheart Wolf, this deck is looking to smash fast and hard, and its creatures will probably hit you at least once thanks to their combination of pseudo-unblockability and haste. Keeping with the theme, he even has a Hellion Crucible! The sideboard is mainly filled with additional removal for creatures that would otherwise brickwall his team. Kevin Brumley wanted you dead, and he was going to make sure that happened.¬†In top 16, we see a number of additional aggro and midrange decks, as well as an Esper Control deck in 10th, so if you want to cast Jace, Architect of Thought, you might want to give that a look. Conspicuously absent is any variation of UW Flash, with the first (available) list being Dan Jordan’s in 78th place. While it’s too early to declare the deck dead, as it could simply not be popular in this region, Hallowed Fountain fans will want to make sure they have a solid plan to beat these Naya decks going forward.

SCG Columbus Standard Open

As for Legacy, we see that word on the internet spreads fast, as the event was won by the new Elves! list that debuted at GP Denver. BUG, RUG Delver, Jund, and Esper Stoneblade all appear as well, along with OmniShow and Charbelcher, and Reanimator stubbornly insisting that it’ll take more than Deathrite Shaman to keep Griselbrand buried. The three Pithing Needles and the Darkblast in the sideboard are presumably to keep the Shaman in check, while a full nine reanimation targets, including Elesh Norn, Iona, and Angel of Despair, in addition to Griselbrand and Jin-Gitaxias give the deck a large toolbox of creatures to dig up depending on the situation. There are also two (very different) Painter’s Servant decks in the top 16, which is an impressive showing for what is a fringe Legacy deck at best, as well as Metalworker Combo in 9th. While playing a combo deck with a piece that dies to Abrupt Decay is risky, Goblin Welder allows you to return both Grindstone and Painter’s Servant to play at your leisure – and artifacts are conveniently completely unharmed by Deathrite Shaman, so this interaction takes advantage of people skimping on graveyard hate. Additionally, both decks opted to play Blood Moon in their sideboard, and Eric Palmateer even had four Magus of the Moon maindeck! BUG simply can’t beat a Blood Moon once it is in play, thanks to having zero basics, and many other decks can find themselves similarly locked out. One fun interaction is that with Painter’s Servant in play, your maindeck (!) Red Elemental Blasts become completely ridiculous. The decks at the Legacy Open were far more varied than those in the top 16 of the GP, so if you’re looking for something a bit more under the radar, check them out.

SCG Columbus Legacy Open

Congratulations to Vidianto Wijaya, Kevin Brumley, and Riley Curran!