Instant Analysis – SCG Charlotte $5K Legacy

Instant Analysis Charlotte

As the leaves turn warm shades of yellow, orange, and red, and the temperature cools this early fall, the Legacy scene continues to burn brightly. The StarCityGames Charlotte Legacy $5K tournament was held this weekend, and 147 competitors with decks in hands traveled to Charlotte (North Carolina, USA) to compete for $5,000 in prizes and to earn more SCG Open Series points towards the huge tournament later this year.

Relative SCG circuit newcomer Nicholas Spagnolo fought through 8 rounds of Swiss and then an action packed Top 8 to win the title of SCG Charlotte champion. He did it by piloting an innovative UG Vengevine Survival deck, tricked-out with 4 Trinket Mage and a small package of utility cards that the Mage could fetch. While we are seeing Survival decks continue to mutate and blossom, what else did we learn from this tournament that we can apply in the next couple of months?

On the heels of the increasing success of Survival of the Fittest decks the past month or two, what came away looking the hottest or most interesting at the latest SCG stop? Well it appears that Survival-based decks are rapidly becoming the “hottest” and most played decks, and are also performing very well in addition to being everywhere. If you want to win in today’s Legacy you have to be preparing for Survival as your number one enemy, and then also figure out how to keep decent matchups against Goblins, Merfolk, and the occassional CounterTop or Tendrils combo deck.

Survival is a hot topic because of its impressive performance lately, and it continues to mutate as people seek to innovate or gain that surprise angle of attack that someone might not be ready for in a tournament. If you have something good that can throw an opponent off balance this strategic maneuver can lead to many tactical in-game advantages that come from your opponent not knowing what will or can come next. As an example of this, let’s take a look at the winner Nicholas Spagnolo’s UG Vengevine Survival deck.

UG Vengevine Survival with Trinket Mage, by Nicholas Spagnolo 10-31-2010

Business (39)
Survival of the Fittest
Fauna Shaman
Noble Hierarch
Basking Rootwalla
Shield Sphere
Quirion Ranger
Trygon Predator
Waterfront Bouncer
Eternal Witness
Trinket Mage
Brittle Effigy
Pithing Needle
Lions Eye Diamond
Force of Will
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare

Mana Sources (21)
Tree of Tales
Gaea’s Cradle
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Tropical Island
Sideboard (15)
Basilisk Collar
Tormod’s Crypt
Faerie Macabre
Gilded Drake
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Llawan, Cephalid Empress
Krosan Grip
Spell Pierce

This is a pretty far cry from the standard UG Survival deck, as it is packing the bare minimum of counterspells, with only 4 Force of Will, 1 Daze, 1 Spell Pierce, and 1 Spell Snare. Those might seem like some strange numbers, but I suspect the reason Spagnolo chose singletons was because the threat of having a specific card your opponent has already seen you play is often times nearly as good as having another copy. What that means is that if your opponent suspects you are playing Daze or have seen you play one already, they are more apt to slow down playing out cards from their hand to play around the Daze (or Spell Pierce), which can buy you time. They are also not using all of their available resources to max efficiency each turn, buying you tempo, and in this case at the cost of less card slots in the deck. I think right now maxing out on Spell Snares is probably the way to go with Survival running so rampant, but Stephen’s choice was an interesting one that probably realized a small amount of value during the day.

Trinket MageAside from the slimmed down control package, Spagnolo was running Fauna Shaman to act as additional Survivals, and was also playing Trinket Mages and various Trinket targets, like Shield Sphere, Pithing Needle, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Tree of Tales, and Brittle Effigy. This also opened up his Sideboard to more single bullets like Basilisk Collar and Tormod’s Crypt, because with Survival plus Fauna Shaman plus Trinket Mage he could very reliably search them up. With fewer counterspells more Blue spells elsewhere are necessary to support Force of Will, and Trinket Mage fills this void nicely, while also providing a good amount of card advantage. I think going forward a Sensei’s Divining Top in versions with Trinket Mage would provide great value, as it can search up more gas and dig through an incredible amount of your deck when paired with fetchlands, Fauna Shaman, and Survival. Another cute trick present here is Waterfront Bouncer main (one way to deal with resolved creatures), and when coupled with the Gilded Drake from the sideboard this can combo to steal each one of the opponent’s creatures. Once you’ve Gilded Drake the opposing creature, you then use Waterfront Bouncer to return the Gilded Drake back to owner’s hand (yours) for future use. This isn’t a new trick in Legacy (see: Angry Tradewind Survival), but it is more potent the more creature-centric the format becomes.

Fauna ShamanFauna Shaman is a card that has gotten mixed reviews in Legacy thus far, primarily because of it’s relative lack of speed and power compared to Survival of the Fittest, as well as its fragility (it dies to nearly all commonly played removal in the format). But it is starting to prove itself as a card that must be dealt with immediately, especially as people figure out more ways to abuse the graveyard (Necrotic Ooze anyone?). Not only did Spagnolo’s deck run the full 4 copies (ditching the underpowered Aquamoeba and Wild Mongrel), but Adam Cai’s GW Vengevine Survival and Joel Wright’s GW Vengevine Survival also were rocking Fauna Shaman to supplement Survival. I think moving forward you will start seeing this in more and more builds, as it is another must answer card. I’m a little bit surprised we haven’t started seeing Squee, Goblin Nabob creep into these decks more as people realize that it’s a great way to make up for the heavy mulliganing that these decks frequently do, and it also increases the power of Fauna Shaman (and Survival of course) by providing a reuseable discard outlet every turn.

So with all of the Survival decks out there was anyone actually playing anything else? The breakout deck (performance-wise) from Charlotte seems to be BWG Junk. Utilizing a bunch of good cards like Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Swords to Plowshares, and Thoughtseize, Junk is filled with cards that provide a high return on investment (ROI) ratio. These are many of the most efficient spells for the mana available in Legacy, and the heavy presence of discard in the form of Thoughtseize, Hymn to Tourach, and Gerrard’s Verdict can really punish the Survival decks that are frequently mulliganing. The BWG Junk decks can also punish land-light decks and draws by not only making the opponent discards lands with Hymn and Verdict, but then also destroying key lands once they come into play with Wasteland and Vindicate. Any mulligan, weak draw, weak manabase, or slight misstep will be punished by this deck. Ryan Pawlik, Phillip Braverman, and Kenny Mayer piloted near identical versions of the deck to 4th, 5th, and 12th place finishes respectively. I’m not wild about Mox Diamond in this deck, but they do a decent job to providing more powerful first turn plays, which helps speed things up slightly. They make for terrible topdecks though, and if you don’t have a Sensei’s Divining Top in play you really have no way of avoiding this or ditching them afterwards.

While this deck performed well, I think it can be polished a bit more for the current metagame. I’d like to see another Pernicious Deed main and potentially replace the 2 Gerrard’s Verdict with 2 Duress. While the potential lifegain from Verdict is nice to offset Confidant and Thoughtseize lifeloss, letting the opponent choose what to discard in a field full of Vengevines and Basking Rootwallas isn’t the greatest. The pinpoint ability of Duress to nab a Survival of the Fittest or Aether Vial on the first turn is more attractive to me at the moment. Another way this deck could be tweaked is by adding a small Stoneforge Mystic package with Umezawa’s Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice main, and any other goodies in the sideboard. Not only is this additional card advantage, but you gain reliable access to two very powerful pieces of equipment. Jitte dominates ground battles, and Sword of Fire and Ice can singlehandedly destroy Merfolk or Goblins, and can also provide another card drawing mechanism. This would probably provide a nice helping hand against all of the aggressive strategies that seem to be dominating the tournament circuit right now, without being dead against Blue decks. If I was looking to playing BWG Junk at the moment based on the past two months of results I would probably use this as my jumping point:

BWG Junk EC Remix, by Jaco 11-01-2010

Business (37)
Hymn to Tourach
Swords to Plowshares
Pernicious Deed
Dark Confidant
Stoneforge Mystic
Knight of the Reliquary
Umezawas Jitte
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sensei’s Divining Top

Mana Sources (23)
Bojuka Bog
Horizon Canopy
Verdant Catacomb
Marsh Flats
Sideboard (15)
Pernicious Deed
Diabolic Edict
Path to Exile
Qasali Pridemage
Krosan Grip
Ray of Revelation
Sword of Light and Shadow

You’ve got about the same amount of first turn plays, less card disadvantage and dead draws from the lack of Mox Diamond, and the Stoneforge package to help aggainst mindless aggro. Between main deck and sideboard this packs tons of various removal for current threats.

The other thing that I noticed about the SCG results besides more Survival variants was the lack of combo decks to beat up on these aggro decks. Brad Shappard’s Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) in 10th place was the only combo deck in the Top 16. There was no other Storm decks, no other Painter decks, no other anything. Just a bunch of aggro and aggro control decks. I’ve said it before and I will say it again here, this is the prime opportunity to blow through these kinds of fields with a Ritual deck or other combo deck, because you’re just not playing against much opposition. In an 8 round tournament right now you’re going to face what, maybe 2 decks with Force of Will and Brainstorm? Has the field ever been more ripe for the picking?

Imperial RecruiterAs we look ahead to the SCG Boston $5K Legacy this coming weekend another deck that stands out to me as being in prime position is Ken Adams’ winning Imperial Painter deck from the Minneapolis $5K event. This deck can win extremely quickly on its own, but can also throw a bunch of chump blockers in the way (Imperial Recruiter and Trinket Mage) that have already accomplished their purpose; fetching up a combo piece or a solution. Trinket Mage can fetch a Pithing Needle and/or Tormod’s Crypt that you can install maindeck to fight Survivals and Vengevines if you need to stay alive, or you can just go on and fetch out combo pieces to kill your opponent. When you have the searching power of Mage and Recruiter you can really tailor your deck with whatever silver bullets you want to combat the hottest decks (cough*Survival*cough). One thing I would like to see this deck also pack is a few copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the sideboard for even more game against Landstill and the remaining Blue CounterTop decks you might see from time to time. These along with Red Elemental Blast can really help to dominate those matchups rather than treading water in a toss up match. This deck is pretty powerful in Legacy and has gone undiscussed for the most part, but right now it is particularly well suited to trump the field.

So will the Survival menace continue next week? If Survival decks are the most played decks you can expect to continue to see a good amount of them in the coming Top 8s. But if people start packing more hate or playing combo decks you may start to see Ritual decks (or other underexplored combo decks) ending up in first place in these tournaments. There aren’t enough Force of Wills and Brainstorms in these recent Top 8s to hold combo in check if people actually play it.