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GP Amsterdam, Legacy Brainstorms and a Vintage Sideboarding Guide

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Jonas Walther
Jonas Walther

About Jonas Walther

I started playing Magic when I was 11. Even though always on a tight budget, over the years I’ve managed to assemble the cardpool for pretty much every control- and combodeck available in both Eternal formats. At the age of fourteen, I won my first Power 9 card, a Timetwister, using a Cutpurse Fish deck maindecking Red Elemental Blast to beat the at the time dominant Gifts Ungiven decks. My passion for blue cards is no secret and on the rare occasion that I do play other formats, Mana Leak is probably among the first inclusions to the deck. Currently my main goal is to win the title of Swiss Vintage League champion, finishing 3rd last year.

GP Amsterdam, Legacy Brainstorms and a Vintage Sideboarding Guide

Hello everyone, it’s been a while but I’m still alive. This article is going to be just about EVERYTHING! I will tell you about GP Amsterdam followed by a look at the discussion about Brainstorm. As a cherry on top of the cake, I will explain why Vintage blue is in a tricky situation, but I will share some ideas how to stay one step ahead.

The Magical Trinity of Amsterdam: Magic – Weed – Hookers

If you were wondering why almost 2000 players attended GP Amsterdam, there is your answer. I don’t think there is a better location for a Magic tournament, period. It’s a great city and to everyone travelling Europe, Amsterdam and Berlin are the two cities you definitely want to visit. There is nothing like a four player Draft in an apartment at 5 a.m. after clubbing in the only city where basically everything is legal – sorry to all the guys who made day 2. ;)

Performing Reanimator

But this is a Magic article, so let’s talk about the tournament itself. The majority of the swiss delegation had 3 byes. Sadly, I played two trials and made top 2 and top 4, but didn’t actually win one, so I had to rely on a winning streak to get into the money. I was confident that I would be able to deliver a decent performance if I didn’t get paired against Threshold too often. I played Reanimator and the matchup is virtually impossible to win after sideboarding, which I was well aware of. The last-minute inclusion of Liliana Vess didn’t change that. So I obviously got paired against Canadian Threshold in the first two rounds, twice managing to win game one but getting roflstomped post-board. After that, I won 5 matches in a row without any trouble whatsoever, even defeating another Canadian Thresh (with a Surgical Extraction in game one!) in round seven 2-0, booya! I had good draws and the thing is, if you start a tournament with a negative record, you tend to play people who aren’t on top of the game for a few rounds and winning these matches is easier than with a positive record. So I was 5-2, two matches to go for day 2. Everyone else from our crew was already out of contention, meaning I had about 5 spectators for round 8. I got paired against Adrian Posoiu, a fellow feature writer on Blackborder, playing Merfolk as he discussed here. I am not going to bore you with details, but the games were pretty intense. I had an excellent hand in game one and it took him a Force of Will, a Spell Pierce, a Daze and a Dismember within the first 3 turns. I still had a reanimation spell on my forth turn, but his last card in hand was Phantasmal Image, gladly killing my Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur via Aether Vial in my second main phase. SICK! (Don’t ever make the mistake of dealing with Gitaxias at end of turn. It means the draw 7 trigger still resolves and you will lose the game!) Game two was an easy win on the back of a Blazing Archon. Game 3 I mulliganed to 5 with no protection against his 7, but I had Entomb and Reanimate in hand, so I kept. He opens the game with Relic of Progenitus. My spirit was broken, my hopes lost and if I didn’t draw Pithing Needle soon, I would lose the game. I played a fetchland and passed the turn. He played a Silvergill Adept and passed the turn. I played a land and passed the turn. He untapped and booooom it struck me like a thunder from Zeus himself. He tapped out with Relic on the battlefield and basically threw the game away! If I had played Entomb at end of his second turn on Blazing Archon and Reanimate in my turn, I would’ve won the game (he had no countermagic and no solutions, we discussed that after the game). But I didn’t because I wasn’t paying attention to a seemingly lost game anymore. What to learn? Don’t let yourself get distracted by anything, be it spectators or a board position that seems impossible to break. Because even at this level of play, players are under pressure and they make mistakes. LSV makes mistakes, you make mistakes, your opponent makes mistakes. (Also, don’t play Relic of Progenitus, Tormod's Crypt is roughly a hundred times better, especially in a deck that has 8 one mana drops that it really wants to cast on turn 1…) So I was out of contention with only myself to blame and it took me several hours and beers to recover from the shock.

Brainstorming

So let’s talk about Brainstorm. There has been a storm of discussions within the community. Here is my attempt to show why roughly 75% are not in favor of banning Brainstorm (number taken from mtgthesource.com). In the top 32 of GP Amsterdam, 9 decks were NOT playing the blue drawspell. I don’t have to tell you why BS is such an incredibly strong card and currently some players would appreciate to see it getting the axe because it gives blue such a huge edge over the rest of the colors. But the dominance didn’t seem to upset hardly anyone until recently and the reason is that Snapcaster Mage gives you potentially 8 copies of the powerhouse that is Brainstorm, as well as Delver of Secrets, which is basically an evasive 3/2 for one mana, making even Goblin Guide and Wild Nacatl jealous. In my opinion, that is exactly the problem – not Brainstorm itself. Brainstorm is played in all blue decks (Merfolk being the exception) and a lot of decks play blue. Storm, Reanimator, Stoneblade, BUG Tempo, Canadian Thresh, Bant and all sorts of controldecks to name just a few jumping to my mind. These decks have something in common: They use blue for utility, to smooth out the draw, to counter etc., but the offensive pressure is generated by a different color. Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets are a clear violation of that rule. Blue is not supposed to do that; just like black is not supposed to deal with artifacts and white is not supposed to deal direct damage. Of course a Snapcaster Mage doesn’t compare to a Tarmogoyf in power level and a Delver of Secrets won’t win the race against a Zoo deck, but they are fast enough to provide something blue usually doesn’t have access to: Affordable board presence in the early game! Nothing compares to the utility and selection of Jace, the Mindsculptor and Brainstorm in the late game, but unlike Snapcaster Mage (it’s a Demonic Tutor on legs, really), they don’t generate pressure on the battlefield.

I think I can state quite objectively that all these facts do make blue the best color in the format. Does that mean every blue deck should play Snapcaster, Delver and Jace? Hell no! There are so many different decks that play blue (and Brainstorm), but the reasons are diverse and the aforementioned cards are just a fraction. To name a few examples: Bant uses it to find Natural Order and to shuffle Progenitus into your deck. Reanimator has a bunch of potentially dead cards, so it requires at the very minimum 8 card selection spells. Storm uses it to dig through the library to find the kill, making it a lot more consistent. Control decks use it to find specific answers and to replace dead cards (control decks tend to have that, especially game 1) with cards that do something. All it does in these archetypes, is allowing the decks to do what they are supposed to do! Brainstorm is EXTREMELY important in the metagame, but it’s not broken. It just allows specific decks to get their cards and to play the game. Since a majority of decks are blue (which is no different from the recent years), this is perfectly fine and fair. I believe what offends people most is that they keep losing to the blue tempo decks and Stoneblade (well, it isn’t like it’s the first format to have this problem…). Considering Ugx Tempo and Stoneblade both play Snapcaster Mage and have made the most T8 appearances recently (on par with Maverick, mind you) YES, that is a problem, but it’s far too early to do something about it. If at all, do something about the blue tempo cards, not Brainstorm. Imagine how many decks would start having terribly awkward draws (or become unplayable entirely) just from the loss of Brainstorm. This would only enhance tempodecks (counting aggro decks as well) which would change the Legacy metagame even more than the printing of Mental Misstep! In my personal opinion, Brainstorm is a very, very important card. It smoothes out draws, allowing the players to play with their deck instead of just the random cards off the top of their deck. Less awkward draws means fewer lost games to bad luck, therefore games tend to be more intense, more often decided by skill and more exciting! I don’t know, but to me that sounds like Balance, NOT unbalance. The format has had Brainstorm in it for many, many years and will continue do so, for the sake of the spirit of Legacy, hopefully for many years to come. If you are from R&D and reading this, please let the game take care of itself, people will start figuring out how to beat the top decks. If they don’t, ban Snapcaster Mage or Delver or whatever necessary, but Brainstorm is a card that keeps the format interesting and different from the other formats like no other. Otherwise we might just be playing Modern with expensive Lands =(

Beating MUD

I will try to do my best to not rant about how unbalanced MUD is this time, and rather provide some constructive ideas on how to beat it. I tested Gushstorm very heavily lately and played it in a tournament last weekend. I thought I was prepared for the MUD matchup with 2 Lightning Bolts and 2 Ancient Grudges mainboard and 4 Ingot Chewers and 3 Pithing Needles in the sideboard (which greatly exceeds what I had against Dredge or any other matchup). I lost to MUD in swiss, defeating everything else and lost again to MUD in the T8. The problem with this sideboard is that, even though the cards are extremely good, they trade 1 vs. 1 and don’t really get you ahead, which is a problem most sideboard strategies I see have. While Gush (and every other blue deck actually) needs to invest A LOT of cards into this matchup, they don’t do nearly as much against MUD as let’s say a Yixlid Jailer does against Dredge. What you need is something like Energy Flux or Trygon Predator, but since MUD virtually has more Sphere effects than you have lands, you also need cards that take you to a game state where you are able to play cards like this. So here are some general plans you can use:

Red: Lightning Bolt, PULVERIZE, Crucible of Worlds. This may seem excessive and I don’t recommend doing this in Gush because you need 4 Volcanic Islands which is a heavy commitment. However, Lightning Bolt is just amazing maindeck right now and I highly recommend playing 2-3 copies no matter what. 4 Pulverize and 1-2 Crucible of Worlds (+ possibly Pithing Needle) in the SB is by far the greatest counter to MUD there is. Pulverize exceeds both Trygon Predator and Energy Flux in effect at the cost of 0 mana. I highly recommend you try this out if you manage to make the manabase work! Also, the MUD player can’t play around it because he can’t afford to hold back Spheres and Chalice of the Void @6 is well.. Not something you see too often. Pulverize is so ridiculously good because it doesn’t cost mana. I have had many, many games where I wasn’t even able to play Ancient Grudge. Oh god, Pulverize is strong!

Green (+red): Gush has proven to be most effective with a red splash for Lightning Bolt and fancy sideboard stuff. However, Trygon Predator should be the core strategy and I recommend you revolve the plan around this guy. Recent MUD lists play neither Duplicant nor Triskelion to counter it. Keep in mind that you need to be able to get to 3 mana, which is quite a big deal. 2-3 Pithing Needle and 3-4 Ingot Chewer or (if not playing red for some reason) a combination of Steel Sabotage and Hurkyl's Recall is absolutely necessary to deal with Spheres. The needle is both protection from Wasteland and a permanent to tap for Tangle Wire, which is a virtual additional land when trying to cast things in your mainphase. Oh and Jester's Cap and Kuldotha Forgemaster don’t see much play anymore, but you never know. The point is, it’s never a dead card, even shutting down Mishra's Factory can make a difference. Gush (the card, not the archetype) is NOT to be considered a counter to Wasteland because in most situations, bouncing two lands is too much of a setback and turns his Wasteland into a double Wasteland.

If you don’t like Trygon Predator (like me ^^), I recommend Oath of Druids in your sideboard. While this tech is nothing new, I like it a lot for a couple of reasons. 1) Most games are won on the back of Tinker against MUD, having 5 Tinkers is a huge deal. 2) Costing 2 mana means 1 less than Trygon Predator while dodging Chalice of the Void @1. 2) Unlike Ancient Grudge, you only need one specific color for a single turn, after that, he may Wasteland you as often as he wants to. 3) Oath tends to win the game, while Ancient Grudge and similar cards aren’t nearly enough on their own most of the time. I suggest 2 Molder Slugs as Oath targets and no, I’m not kidding. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn may seem like the best creature because it wins fast, but Tangle Wire can keep it at bay and every Phyrexian Metamorph he has delays you for another turn. Did I mention Duplicant? Yea, you just lose to it. I mean sure, you may flip Blightsteel Colossus a turn after, but if he has other creatures, he might just race you. But there is NOTHING he can do about Molder Slug. Tangle Wire -> So what, sacrifice first. 6 toughness -> beats every creature he has. Duplicant -> Okay so you have a 4/6, but I have a second Slug to block it and yours won’t live forever. Phyrexian Metamorph -> please, by all means! :D Steel Sabotage and possibly Ancient Grudge don’t hurt if you have them for support though. The only downside is that it requires a lot of sideboard space.

Blue Black: Don’t play UB without a splash, just don’t. If your mom forbid you to play anything else, try 4 Steel Sabotage and 4 Hurkyl's Recall spread across your 75, but you better have that kill ready after Hurkyl's Recall!

Landstill: I’m not saying this deck is a counter to MUD, because that’s what Pulverize does, but having over 20 lands, including Wasteland, as well as Crucible of Worlds (+Mana Drain) already mainboard is quite a big deal. There is plenty of room to find ways to use that advantage. Most decks could have 15 sideboard cards against MUD and may still lose because MUD simply resolves more Sphere effects than you draw lands, but not this one. Keep an eye on it!

Beating Blue

If you don’t know very well what you’re doing, don’t play blue at the moment. And I’m not talking about skill here, I’m talking about deckbuilding. You can be the master of next level plays, but it won’t matter if your deck isn’t extremely well built. MUD is one thing, but playing against blue with blue certainly got to a different level now that Mental Misstep, Mindbreak Trap and Flusterstorm are seeing play – even maindeck! Don’t forget about Mystic Remora as well. So for quite some time people have been putting all these cards (and Red Elemental Blast) into their sideboards to beat other blue decks. While these cards are all good, they aren’t… well, how do I put this? They don’t always do what you think. For example, Remora is really strong, but people started to figure out how to play against it (most still make mistakes, but whatever) or drop a Trygon Predator or Dark Confidant and win the game. Flusterstorm is insanely strong, but in a counterwar still loses to your opponent’s Flusterstorm if he has more mana open than you do and Mindbreak Trap can counter it as well. Mindbreak Trap is sometimes broken, sometimes it does nothing. Okay sure, all these cards are better than Spell Pierce or whatever, but your opponent will probably have them too and playing against Flusterstorm and Trap is a huge pain in the ass. Also, all these cards are very specific and many players are putting Flusterstorm and Mindbreak Trap into their maindeck. I really, really don't recommend doing this, even though many players have had success with it recently. The draws you get with such specific hate cards can be really awkward, decreasing consistency, increasing mulligan ratio, generating dead cards in matchups you don't want to lose to, and so forth. It's just an awkward situation for blue decks in general, because if you don't play Flusterstorm and you opponent does, he will have an edge in the matchup. The solution to that problem is quite simple: Duress and/or Xantid Swarm. Old school, simple, but brilliant. Both straight up counter everything they side in and, except for Mental Misstep, what can they do about it? What?

Summary - What to Learn From This Article

  • Nerves: Never lose them.
  • Brainstorm: Don’t ban.
  • Drugs: Don’t ever do them kids, not even in Amsterdam.
  • Pulverize: Pwnage.
  • Ozora: The best festival.
  • Xantid Swarm: Pwnage.
  • Itachi: The coolest Naruto character.
  • MUD: The best deck.
  • Chuck Testa: The most lifelike dead animals around.
  • Author: Jonas Walther aka black lotus (on cockatrice)

Peace out

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