Instant Analysis – SCG Indianapolis Legacy Open 2011

Another frigid weekend in the Midwest, another awesome SCG Open. This time the traveling road show made its way to Indianapolis, Indiana. With Snowpocalypse 2011 only a few days prior, weather conditions were tricky but 266 competitors slogged their way to Indy for some rabblerousing and gamesmanship.

After nine rounds of Swiss and three more rounds of single elimination, SCG regular Ben Wienburg stood triumphantly with his UGWR CounterTop deck, modeled after Gerry Thompson’s build from a few weeks ago, but featuring Grim Lavamancer and a small Trinket Mage package. Besides Ben’s deck there were plenty of other cool new decks making their breakout appearance, as well as some old standbys like Goblins and Merfolk.

The Top 16 decklists are up, and there is a ton of technology to break down, so let’s start running through it. Winner Ben Wienburg took GerryT’s list from a few weeks ago and subbed out Repeal and a couple of other cards for a small Trinket Mage package along with Grim Lavamancer, to fight the omnipresent tribal decks. Splashing 2-3 Grim Lavamancer into this type of deck is frequently seen in European decklists, but is new to the SCG circuit (the Top 8, at least). It functions as additional removal and is backbreaking against Merfolk, as it ignores their Spell Pierces and Cursecatchers (unlike Firespout and Swords to Plowshares), and is nearly impossible for them to remove outside of a Hydroblast (which many sideboards have dropped). Most of the rest of the deck and sideboard is pretty standard, but I think as long as the tribal decks continue to be the most played decks in Legacy that Grim Lavamancer is a great option when playing Red in CounterTop. It forces the opponent to over commit guys to the board and walk right into Firespout more than they normally would.

While there were some other CounterTop decks in the Top 16, the only other one that is really worth dissecting is Josh Guibault’s fourth place CounterTop Thopter list. Josh personally handed me my first loss of the tournament in round 5 with his potent version of CounterTop, eschewing many of the instants often associated with the archetype (Spell Snare, Spell Pierce) in favor of cards with more raw power that he could simply Enlightened Tutor for (Blood Moon, Moat, Humility, Ensnaring Bridge, Future Sight). I watched Josh a number of times throughout the day, and this deck can quickly and reliably assemble the Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek combo, while using the Forces, Jaces, and other cards merely as a vehicle to stay alive and provide speed bumps for the opponent at every turn. If you planned on attacking for the win during a game, the odds are you were going to have trouble beating Josh’s sick brew. Worth noting is that Josh also eschewed the current conventional wisdom of using Firespout as the board sweeper in favor of the old school Wrath of God, Wrath of God (which conveniently kills Tarmogoyf and everything that isn’t indestructible). What is most notable about Josh’s deck is that in lieu of worrying about a single spell or two resolving Josh simply played more important and powerful cards, while playing a solid manabase (8 basic lands; very few dual lands). There is a lot of food for thought here, and in a metagame where I have urged people to do something more broken than their opponent, this is a very interesting direction to take CounterTop decks as well. Slim down the control suite and just start landing powerful permanents that affect the game state immediately.

While control was back in the mix, there were also the regular Merfolk and Goblins that we’ve been seeing, along with a new version of Junk. In our previous Instant Analysis we looked at the Green and Taxes deck, and I created a spin-off of that deck called Junk and Taxes, splashing Black for Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant, and posted the decklist in that article. Fellow Chicago native Brian Fischer and I tweaked and playtested the list this past week and he ended up piloting it this weekend to an impressive third place finish! We will be going more in depth about the card choices and performance of the deck in a couple of upcoming articles, but Brian was featured in the Round 8 written coverage beating Christian Valenti’s Green and Taxes, and again in the Round 9 video coverage playing Jason Perry’s UBG Landstill. Brian won both matches to slide into the Top 8 as the top seed after Swiss, where he bested Phil Jones’ RB Goblins deck, before falling to Michael Bomholt in the semi-finals.

Speaking of Michael Bomholt, he played another one of the breakout decks of the tournament, Forgemaster MUD. As the creator of the Legacy deck IggyPop (a Tendrils of Agony deck based on Ill-Gotten Gains and Leyline of the Void), Mike is no stranger to innovation and has been testing various versions of this brew for the past few months. He rode the deck to a Top 8 finish at the last MeanDeck Open on 12-26-2010, and here is the list he used to tear up SCG Indy.

Forgemaster MUD, by Michael Bomholt 02-06-2011 - 1st Place

Business (30)
Goblin Welder
Voltaic Key
Senseis Divining Top
Lightning Greaves
Crucible of Worlds
Lodestone Golem
Kuldotha Forgemaster
Steel Hellkite
Wurmcoil Engine
Myr Battlesphere
Sundering Titan

Mana Sources (30)
Grim Monolith
Mox Opal
Mox Diamond
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
Great Furnace
Sideboard (14)
Chalice of the Void
Pithing Needle
Tormods Crypt
Steel Hellkite

I have been encouraging Legacy players everywhere to do broken things, and Mike’s deck does some gross unfair things with frequency and should be applauded. The interactions with Grim Monolith + Voltaic Key, Metalworker by himself (or with Key), Kuldotha Forgemaster, and Goblin Welder are all bonkers, not to mention that any of the creatures equipped with a Lightning Greaves is nasty. Sensei’s Divining Top can dig for more lands and goodies, and the interactions with both Goblin Welder and Voltaic Key are pure gasoline. While I’m not wild about the manabase in this deck, it worked well enough for Mike to crush all but one of his opponents on the day, when he lost to Ben Wienburg in the finals. There are just so many decks being played right now in Legacy that a deck like this does not care about, because most of what it does is more broken. Do not overlook this deck, as it and variants of it should be a force this year as it gets even more tools as the Mirrodin redux artifact block continues to give us gems like Kuldotha Forgemaster, Myr Battlesphere, Mox Opal, Wurmcoil Engine, and Phyrexian Revoker. Get your Null Rods out of storage, because you need to be preparing for this deck heading into the coming months, and Null Rod is great at combating this, Affinity, ThopterSword, and even Storm combo decks (shutting off their artifact mana).

One thing that Null Rod will not stop is the other hot combo deck in the Top 8 piloted by Josh Rayden.

Show and Tell NOPro, by Josh Rayden 02-06-2011

Business (40)
Force of Will
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Show and Tell
Natural Order
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch

Mana Sources (20)
Ancient Tomb
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Tropical Island
Dryad Arbor
Sideboard (15)
Pithing Needle
Blue Elemental Blast
Krosan Grip
Llawan, Cephalid Empress
Vendilion Clique

This beastly little number uses both Show and Tell and Natural Order to dump a huge fatty into play immediately, and the rest of the deck is basically just mana sources, search, and protection. It’s a pretty straight forward deck, and seeks to abuse two of the most powerful cards in Legacy (Natural Order and Show and Tell), providing you with 8 Tinker type effects. Progenitus is the typical Natural Order target, but the single Terastodon provides outs to things like Moat or Ensnaring Bridge, because it can blow up anything that might prevent you from winning. This is a very cool deck, but I’m not wild about Daze in here, and that would probably be better suited as Spell Pierce. I’d also rock the fourth Ancient Tomb in here, because you want to see it very early to turbo out your 3 and 4 drops while still being able to play around Daze, Spell Pierce, and the like.

This Top 16 is actually very encouraging to the health and growth of the format, as there are a number of different decks present, and no two are just the same. Goblins seemed to be the most played deck in the room, but after winning the last two SCG Legacy Opens it barely slid into 8th place here on tiebreakers. Merfolk is always heavily played and placed just one player (perennial SCG All-Star Alex Bertoncini) in the Top 8/Top 16. Dredge made a Top 16 appearance for the third consecutive Open in a row, as did Affinity. This was a tournament of innovation and some of the more powerful cards in Legacy starting to rise to the top.

While we’re seeing some of the traditional things like Natural Order in a Bant CounterTop shell (like Drew Levin’s NOPro Bant, we’re also seeing it in Josh Rayden’s deck mentioned above. We’re seeing Show and Tell not only in Caleb Durward’s Painter deck from the last SCG Open, but in Josh Rayden’s Show and Tell NOPro deck, and Matt McCullough’s Sneak and Show deck (a deck that’s been abuzz on TheSource for a couple of months now, having Top 8 at GP Columbus and then placed highly in some large European tournaments recently). We’re seeing Reanimator and ANT come back into the mix after the dismissal of Mystical Tutor. New cards like Signal Pest and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas are giving Affinity more tools, and Scars of Mirrodin and Mirrodin Besieged just loaded up Mike Bomholt’s deck above with a ton of powerful new goodies to play with. In post-banning formats we usually see a slight standstill in development (November 2010 to January 2011), but now I think we’re starting to see the format heat up again. As we head into spring I think we’ll continue to see Legacy blossom (oh I’m so clever!), and I think the hybridization of powerful strategies will start taking over as the year progresses. What I mean by that is you’ll start seeing more powerful cards (Show and Tell, Grindstone, Natural Order, Scapeshift, etc.) start popping up in new places you wouldn’t have seen before.

Check back on EC soon, as I’ll be hitting you up with a bunch of new articles, including an interview with SCG Indy third place finisher Brian Fisher, an extended article on the Junk and Taxes deck we developed, as well as some hot new deck tech and a couple of joint articles with other authors. I expect it to be a busy month so keep it locked here on Eternal Central!