Last weekend was a very big weekend for me. I flew out to Grand Prix Seattle Tacoma to play Legacy and reached my goal of making Top 8 and earning an invite to the next Pro Tour! I’ve been on the tour before but fell off about a year and a half ago and the road back to the big stage was a long, hard one.
WINNING AGAIN FOR A CHANGE
First of all, at the time I fell off and for much of the time I’ve been trying to grind my way back I knew I wasn’t playing very good Magic. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know how to fix the problem which led to me feeling like I was just spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. I’ve played at a high level before and I know what it feels like to know my deck is going to be great and to know that I’m making good plays every turn of every game.
It’s kind of funny because I never really thought about what I did to get ‘good’ and play at a high level the first time around, but it felt very clear to me when I wasn’t play well. The awkward part was that when I was tailspinning and putting up one mediocre finish after another I didn’t really know what to do in order to get back into the groove of things.
A big key for me was traveling to a few tournaments with a good friend and top notch Magic player Kyle Boggemes to a few tournaments back in the Spring. He had recently got back onto the Pro Tour after taking a break from the game for a while and was basically lighting the world on fire with one fantastic finish after another. I had several conversations with him about how he prepared for events and what he was doing that was helping him to achieve his goals in hopes that I might be able to use some of his strategies to fix my rickety game.
The big takeaways that I took from our discussions were to do make an effort to properly eat and drink more water during events and to read everything on the internet before an event.
The first tip is critical. Nine rounds in one day is hard work and it takes its toll on your body and your mind. Tournament Magic is stressful and requires tons of mental toughness. Kyle told me about this thing that he does called the “Water Bottle Challenge” where you bring a bottle of water and you make an effort to drink it and refill it every single round. Doing this keeps you fully hydrated and feeling really good. It keeps you from feeling tired, irritable, or fatigued.
He also shared with me that he always has plenty of healthy munchies in his backpack for when he feels hungry.
Rather than wait until one feels sluggish or fatigued and deciding to purchase an energy drink or sugary snack to “power up” the goal is to stay alert and feeling good the entire time. If you want to play well you need to feel well.
The second piece of advice “to read every relevant article” on the subject of the format for the event you are planning on attending was just as important. I was never super interested in reading Magic articles. In general, most of them are poorly written, not interesting, and not about decks that I would ever consider playing. Besides, the majority of the “good” players clearly are not going to share their actual good “tech” for an upcoming event, so what’s the point?
Kyle had an ingenious approach. He said that he didn’t read Magic articles from the perspective of needing to know how to build a deck or how to play it, rather he read Magic articles in order to know what other players would be doing. 90% of players don’t actually test and develop their own decks or sideboards and instead they default to doing whatever the writers for the week suggest.
For instance, if Brad Nelson writes an article about Jund for Modern it is safe to say that every single Jund Player in the event has read it and is likely constructing their deck and sideboard very similarly to what he suggests is optimal in his article that week. The key is that if you read all of the weekly articles for the format you will have a very accurate, very reliable guide to how the majority of your opponent’s playing those decks will build their deck and also sideboard against you!
I started doing both of these things a couple of months ago and lo-and-behold I have a SCG Open Trophy, a GP Top 8, and a Pro Tour invite in the span of less than a month.
While the big pay-offs may have come in short span of time this success didn’t just happen all of a sudden. I’ve been working on these things and building one tournament after another all summer long. Inching closer and closer toward how I wanted to be playing. Aside from GP SeaTac and SCG Indy I had made day two and cashed six of the last seven GPs and Opens I had played in. I was winning a high percentage of my matches with consistently and really felt like I was getting better and making improvements every week.
I’m not suggesting that just by eating, drinking, and reading all of the articles will equate to everyone’s dreams coming true. However these were the missing pieces that really brought my tournament performance back to a high level. I already played a lot (even when I wasn’t playing well) but utilizing these strategies made my tournament preparation and play much, much more efficient.
So, all of that and I haven’t even mentioned a Miracle yet!
MY MIRACLES LIST FOR GP SEATAC
Here is the deck that I ended up playing at Grand Prix Seattle Tacoma and ended up finishing 3rd place with:
By Brian DeMars
3rd PLACE GP SEATAC
2 Monastery Mentor
2 Wear // Tear
2 Containment Priest
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Izzet Staticaster
2 Rest In Peace
I wasn’t sure which deck I wanted to playing the week before the event but I had it narrowed down to a few decks that I thought were objectively good: Infect, Storm, Miracles, Lands, and Shardless Sultai.
I had seen that these decks had all made Top 8s and I felt that the things they did were objectively powerful in some sense. The other deck that I that was “good” but I didn’t consider as an option to actually play was Elves. My friend Jon Johnson suggest that I play the deck and that it was great but I simply didn’t have a good enough familiarity with the deck and how to play it to pilot it well enough. To Jon’s credit he put up a very solid 12-3 performance with his deck of choice at GP SeaTac.
I actually played Tom Ross’ Infect list at a local tournament and ended up only going 2-2 with it. The upside of the event was that I was playing exclusively against Legacy die hards that really knew what they were doing and I felt like I got lots of really quality games in. I didn’t like that Infect (while extremely powerful) had inconsistent draws and was vulnerable to basically every angle of attack! Counterspells, Removal, Discard, everything plays against Infect. The deck is invariable fast and powerful but a bit of a glass cannon. I really didn’t like that I got beat by a Jitte all by itself!
I crossed Storm off the list when I realized I couldn’t get any of the expensive cards like Infernal Tutor or Lion’s Eye Diamond. I’ve played Lands before and think the deck is amazing but ultimately decided I wanted to play with Brainstorm and Top which narrowed my choices down to play Miracles or build a new Counter Top deck. I brewed some decks but ultimately decided not to get too fancy and just played a tried and true winner.
The way that I went about building my Miracles deck is pretty unexciting but a very useful way to approach deck-building. I went to mtgtop8.com and looked at every single Miracles list that had made a major Top 8 since the banning of Dig Through Time.
As I went through the decklists I made a list of how many copies of every single card each different decklist play and found the average number of every card and that was essentially how I decided the numbers of each card I should play!
I made a few tweaks here and there, but that was how I figured out my exact mana base and the quantities of most of the cards in the main and sideboard. I had no exciting technology and instead had a tried and true deck full of cards that had been proven to get the job done.
DECK CONSTRUCTION SHEET
It is also interesting because I did the exact same thing with this deck list as I did when I built my initial list of Forgemaster MUD and that deck also performed extremely well. I really like using this approach to finding the most ideal versions of proven archetypes.
The sideboard was the place I deviated most from the hard averages to pick cards and quantities. Nearly every single list I encountered played at least 1 Rest In Peace, 1 Containment Priest, and 1 Wear/ Tear. A couple played more than one but nearly every single deck played at least one. Since every single deck played at least one I figured the card must be great when it is relevant and simply opted to play two copies of each.
Most of the decks also seemed to have a lot of random situational “one-ofs” and so instead of playing some assortment of hodge-podge cards I played all cards that seemed really high impact against the decks I expected to have to play against.
The other change I made was to play with Blood Moon even though almost nobody from the Top 8s I played seemed to have it. I tested a little bit against Lands in Seattle and felt like the match-up was a little bit worse than I expected it to be. I knew the deck was great and that I’d likely end up playing against it in the event. Most people seem to shrug it off like Miracles crushes lands but I actually felt that the match-up was pretty close (especially after sideboard when they bring in 4 Krosan Grip which I knew from reading all of the Legacy articles).
Lands was in fact my loss in the Top 8. However, that match was decided by the strength of his draws, untimely mulligans, and relatively poor draws on my part. It makes me feel good that it was the luck of the draw that ended my tournament rather than being put in an important spot and being unprepared.
In addition to being great against Lands the Moons were pretty clutch for me all tournament long. Miracles almost always wants to exclusively fetch out Basics against most of the decks in the format in order to play around Wasteland. The deck has 10 Fetches and 6 Basics which makes it very easy to get 2 Islands and 1 Plains into play. That combination of lands can cast everything in the deck besides a hardcast Terminus.
There are plenty of decks in the format that simply cannot beat a Blood Moon if it comes down when they are tapped out. Many of the Sultai decks do not even have Basic Lands! So they lose on the spot.
A three mana threat that is the best possible sideboard card against Lands (one of the best decks) and literally ends the game on the spot against another handful of Tier 1 and 1.5 decks seemed well worth its weight in the board. Not to mention I had also heard that Reid Duke tends to play Moon in his sideboard, so I figured I could do a lot less than to follow his lead.
If I had to play a Legacy Grand Prix again tomorrow I would runback this exact 75. All of my cards mattered, I liked the numbers of all the cards, and I used my entire sideboard A LOT!
I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the deck since my Sunday performance I felt like the questions I keep getting asked over and over again are the same ones that most of you readers probably have in mind.
I’m not going to bore you guys with tedious tournament play by plays — I’d rather get down to the brass tacks of what people really want to know about the deck and my experience playing it last weekend.
“How come you switched to Miracles?”
I haven’t played Miracles in years. I’ve played plenty of CounterTop decks in the past but I’ve always felt a little bit intimidated by the mirror match. I actually switched off Miracles at some point because I kept losing the mirror. It felt really random and draw dependant.
However, I’ve made a very concerted effort to do research about a format and play whatever I think the absolute best deck is no matter what. I really felt that Miracles was the most powerful deck in the format and most of my experiences in Legacy have also reflected this observation. I’ve lost to Miracles a lot in the past few years and have had terrible luck trying to beat it.
I also felt like the banning of Dig Through Time also only benefitted Miracles since various decks wouldn’t be able to Dig through a CounterTop soft like to look for an answer to break up the combo. It was easily one of the best decks before Khans and with the banning of both of the Khans Delve spells it seemed likely it would remain the best deck.
I actually played against Miracles four times in the tournament and went 4-0 in matches and 7-0-1 in games. Not too shabby for a guy who was afraid to play the mirror. Once I actually got rolling and felt like I had a good grasp on how to play the deck it reminded me of a similar experience I had in Magic. For a long time I didn’t want to play Faeries because I felt like I was late to the party on jumping on the bandwagon and would struggle with the mirror (which was said to be one of the hardest possible match ups). In actuality, once I started playing Faeries I absolutely crushed the mirror match the vast majority of the time.
Don’t be afraid of mirror matches. Play the best deck. Worst case scenario the match-up is 50%. I decided to play Miracles because I believed it was the best deck in the format and I made a mental choice to NOT have an irrational fear of losing the mirror.
“WHAT DID YOU PLAY AGAINST?”
ROUND 1: BYE
ROUND 2: BYE
ROUND 3: ELVES (WIN)
ROUND 4: MIRACLES (WIN)
ROUND 5: SULTAI DELVER (LOSS)
ROUND 6: OMNITELL (WIN)
ROUND 7: ESPER DEATH BLADE (WIN)
ROUND 8: LANDS (WIN)
ROUND 9: DEATH AND TAXES (WIN)
RECORD AFTER DAY ONE: 8-1 (Seven different decks!)
ROUND 10: MIRACLES (WIN)
ROUND 11: ELVES (UNINTENTIONAL DRAW)
ROUND 12: MIRACLES (WIN)
ROUND 13: LANDS (WIN)
ROUND 14: MIRACLES (WIN)
ROUND 15: ELVES (WIN)
RECORD AFTER DAY TWO SWISS: 13-1-1
QUARTER FINALS: ALLUREN (WIN)
SEMI FINALS: LANDS (LOSS)
FINAL RECORD: 14-2-1
Day one was pretty diverse but things really condensed as the tournament wore on. I’m sure that getting an unintentional draw certainly helped out with the pairings and match ups I received in the draw bracket.
It is kind of funny because the pace of play in the round that I drew was not slow on either end. It just so happened that my elves opponent and I played two 20 turn games that were very close! He actually said his biggest regret of the event was not conceding to me when we drew because he ended up playing against Miracles three times in a row and losing all three!
Note to the wise, Miracles has a very good Elves match up so if you are playing Elves avoid getting draws at all costs!
“How good was Mentor for you?”
The card was absolutely fantastic in my deck. I don’t think that I’d want to play more than two in Miracles because you almost never want to play the card out early if you have any choice. Monastery Mentor dies to everything so it is important to play the creature and be able to immediately make a few tokens so that you get value.
The card is also great because it has a converted mana cost of three which is an important number for Counterbalance.
The reason the card is good is that it very, very quickly closes out games seemingly out of nowhere and it is very good against opposing Planeswalkers.
In game three of the quarterfinals I was facing down creatures on the board with a blank in my hand with a bunch of lands in play. I topdecked a Jace and +0 into a Mentor and a Sensei’s Divining Top. Two turns later he was dead because I had an army of 9/9s attacking him.
Two Divining Top and a Mentor = 1: Make a 1/1 Prowess Monk Token and +1/+1 to all of your creatures. It kills in two turns from almost any life total.
Against Death and Taxes I won a game in similar fashion. He was attacking with a Batterskull and a flier and got me down to about six life before I made Mentor and dualing Tops. I very easily killed him from 40+ life in two turns.
The other thing that I would suggest is that there is probably some other great Counterbalance Top deck that isn’t based around Terminus that could play four Mentors and push the Mentor package harder.
“What are the best cards against Miracles?”
GOOD CARDS AGAINST MIRACLES
Obviously, Abrupt Decay and Krosan Grip are fantastic because they can deal with the CounterTop soft lock very effectively. If you are in those colors these cards are a necessity for dealing with Miracles. Grip is also great because it can actually take out a Top because of Split Second and a Miracles player without a Top is vulnerable.
Pithing Needle, Null Rod, and Stony Silence are also quite good against Miracles because the most important card in the deck is Sensei’s Divining Top and a copy of one on the battlefield deals with all the Tops forever. I typically didn’t bring in my Wear / Tear for game two against most opponents because I didn’t know whether or not they would have these particular hate cards. I also figured that I’d be able to at least have a chance of countering them even if they did. It is also worth noting that Needle can do double duty by turning of the Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Izzet Staticaster.
However, if you can take away the Miracles player to use Top for the game they are in a lot of trouble. However, it is important to note that you need to take away Top and pressure them. I won against Elves even though he Needled my Tops (and I had no way to remove the Needle) simply because I made multiple creatures and attacked him to death before he could rebuild his board.
Pyroblasts and Red Elemental Blasts are also among the best cards against Miracles because they stop Counterbalance and Jace, the Mind Sculptor from ever getting onto the battlefield for only one mana.
Vendilion Clique is another card that is absolutely amazing against Miracles. I was caught aware in one of the early rounds when an opponent cast Vendilion Clique when I was attempting to Miracle a Terminus and used Clique’s ability to put the Terminus on the bottom of my library. I didn’t actually realize that there is a period of time where the Terminus is being “miracled” before it goes on the stack where it is stuck in your hand. It was a pretty nifty little trick that I’m glad I am aware of.
Miracles is a very mana hungry deck and needs to use its mana to spin Top and cast spells in order to get and stay ahead. Cards that can really disrupt Miracles mana are going to be very effective against it. Two options that I didn’t play against but that would have been very strong against me are Choke (which locks down every land in the deck besides for the two Basic Plains and Winter Orb which puts a real cost on spinning those Tops!
Regardless of what hate my opponent’s end up throwing at me I’m going to be playing Miracles in Legacy for a while. The deck is absolutely outstanding, very powerful, and has a ton of play to it. The fact that it has four one mana, instant speed, wrath effects makes it very difficult to actually kill it! Not to mention the fact that the deck has a two card combo that soft locks many opponents out of ever casting spells!
Grand Prix Seattle Tacoma was an absolute blast and ended with me achieving a goal that I set for myself a year ago: to play on another Pro Tour.
Aside from qualifying there were a ton of other fantastic highlights to the event. I spent Friday hanging out in the Vintagemagic.com booth and got to meet many of the West Coast Eternal players, which was very cool! There are a lot of really awesome Eternal enthusiasts on the coast and I’m glad that I got to meet some of them.
I also got to room with Mark Poole for the event. He’s the guy that drew a bunch of my favorite cards:
How cool is that!? It also turns out that he is one of the coolest people I’ve met in a while.
What a crazy event. So much fun! I’m very happy to finally get another chance to play on the Pro Tour. I’ve been really working toward this and it is so awesome that it actually ended up happening for me.
As for Legacy. I had a blast playing in the event. Miracles is clearly a contender at any tournament. The deck is extremely powerful and has the most library manipulation of any deck in the format, not to mention multiple little “combos” that equate to a ton of value. I’m also very interested to see where else Mentor is going to show up next in Legacy.
You recently described Legacy as "terrible" and your "disgust" at the recent B/R list changes…adding that playing Top was "flushing an hour of everyone's life down the toilet." Yet less than a month later you were playing Top in a deck you describe as "fantastic" at a Legacy event you called a "blast" and "so much fun."
Is it true that you only consider a format to be good when you are winning in it? 🙂
Brian DeMars says:
Fair question: I think the DCI's stewardship of Legacy is pretty bad. I didn't like the B&R changes and I think Legacy could be much more interesting and exciting if some realistic changes were made to the B&R List and the format was allowed to grow and change.
That being said, nothing about playing this CounterTop deck made me feel like Top is an even remotely reasonable card to be Legal in Legacy. It is overpowered AND wastes a ton of time with tedious actions.
To answer your last question: Any format where I'm allowed to play with dual lands and Force of Will is already something I'm programmed to like. I'm a huge fan of getting to play with the cards I liked when I was a kid. Also, I'm not sure I've ever written an article that references an event I attended and was like "Man, I didn't have any fun at that GP playing MTG and hanging out with my friends…"
So, playing in a Magic event it typically going to be something where I have a lot of fun almost regardless of what format I'm playing (and especially if I'm playing well). Just because I had fun playing Magic doesn't mean that I wouldn't like to see some cards banned!
Haha, thanks for the response…my question was mostly tongue in cheek but I thought it was kinda funny to point out the gap in tone between this article and others you've written recently. Nice to see you writing again as I missed reading your SCG columns!
Steven Hendrickson Jr says:
Awesome article and invaluable information on deck selection. I would really enjoy a more clear picture of the average numbers to incorporate that process in my tournament prep. People should take to heart the refuel and reading material before any format. Thank you
Brian DeMars says:
No problem! And I appreciate the feedback and comments! Some of these articles haven't generated a lot of "comment traffic" which is a shame because there has been some really solid content the past month.
Keep reading and sharing your thoughts and I'll be happy to respond. Cheers,
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