Testing for SCG Philadelphia

Rich Cali
January 23, 2018
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This year, I plan to play in a lot of team events, mostly in the Legacy seat. I will kick it off this weekend at the Star City Games Team Open in Philadelphia. Last time, I settled on Grixis Delver early and didn’t consider many other options. While I still think Grixis Delver is one of the best decks (if not the best deck) I decided to do my due diligence and test a few decks that I thought were strong choices for the field. If I was unable to find a deck that I liked and performed well, I could always come back to Grixis for the event. The Legacy metagame looks fairly diverse at the moment, though, so I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.

For this week, I am going to go over the 3 decks I have been testing. I have a strong preference towards the fairer Blue decks and these are no exception. These decks are Sultai Delver, Bant Deathblade, and New Miracles, all of which I have written about on this site. My goal is to explain why I thought they were good choices, roughly describe how my testing went, and where I ended up on each deck. Almost all of my testing was done in Magic Online leagues. While this does have some limitations, such as allowing for experimentation of card choices and sideboarding plans, field testing has always been more useful to me in gauging a deck’s metagame position and its overall effectiveness.


Sultai Delver

Of all 3 decks, this is the deck I tested the most. I really enjoy playing this deck and it seemed like it would be well-positioned in the metagame. Historically, when there has a Delver deck sitting at the top of the metagame, a common strategy to gain an edge over it has been to go bigger than it. This deck not only has the potential to do that, but has a relatively stable mana base and a wide range of removal spells to answer the various threats. Furthermore, this deck has a lot of the traditional elements of a Legacy midrange deck, thus it seemed like it should have close to even matchups across the field pre-board, and slightly favorable matchups post-board.

As much as I wanted this deck to perform well, my results kept being mediocre. I had a few 5-0s, 4-1s, and 2-3s, but I had a lot of 3-2s. While many games ended up being incredibly close and down to the wire, Sultai Delver failed to really excel in most leagues. I think there are a few reasons for this. The first is that I was unable to get the Grixis Delver matchup to a spot where I felt favored. I tried a lot of different sideboard plans and, at best, the matchup was always extremely close and at worst, they would bury me in efficiency and power. This point feeds into the next reason: This deck isn’t overpowered in the current Legacy metagame.

Many Legacy decks of a similar design have more brute force and card advantage than this deck, while also have a more consistent and clear game plan. This deck attempts to make up for that with versatility and fluidity, but despite all of the cards being powerful, the deck ended up falling a bit short for me. Many of the cards, like Hymn to Tourach, end up being more clunky than powerful. This allows other decks to pull ahead with cheaper, more efficient cards that aren’t actually much less powerful than this deck’s card.

Finally, I generally found that the amount of work it took to win a game with this deck exceeded the payoff. The amount of effort that needed to be put into every game to slightly pull ahead or just barely win a game seemed like too much. Legacy is such a powerful format where even the fair decks can have broken draws that can set a player way ahead as early as turn 2. I often found that this deck’s “nut draws,” often involving Deathrite/Wasteland/Hymn to Tourach were not that oppressive and most decks could find a way to power through. I still really like this deck, honestly, but in the end I decided to put it to the side for now.

Bant Deathblade

This is another deck that I really enjoy playing. This deck exists in much of the same space as Sultai Delver to me, but is much more focused. It is a pure midrange deck with many of Legacy’s most powerful cards and a relatively linear, fair gameplan. In addition, it plays one of my favorite cards in the format, Stoneforge Mystic. Like Sultai Delver, I thought this deck might have a good matchup against Grixis Delver while putting up consistent numbers against the field. I really do tend to gravitate towards decks that have a lot of really close matchups that can break either way.

Unlike Sultai Delver, I do think this deck has an edge against Grixis. Getting to sidestep the mana denial with mana dorks and playing threats that either generate card advantage or are difficult to remove is a solid plan against the deck. However, while the Grixis matchup seemed pretty solid overall, the Czech Pile matchup seemed much more difficult. Kolaghan’s Command seemed like it would be the biggest offender against the Stoneforge deck, but the fact that Bant doesn’t play a clean answer to Jace ended up being a large problem as well. Often times, the strategy that I would end up employing would be to get a True-Name in play and pray it went the distance, which isn’t exactly an effective plan against the deck with 8 cantrips and Snapcaster Mage. The matchup wasn’t horrible, but it seemed about as unfavored as Grixis was favored.

On top of that, much like Sultai, my testing ended up giving me a lot of mediocre results. While I don’t mind having a lot of 3-2 records, Grixis consistently performs better than that, so that becomes my baseline. I wouldn’t mind playing this deck at a 2 day Legacy event, honestly, and I think I could do reasonably well with it, but the way the matchups ended up breaking, in addition to the overall average testing, left me setting this deck aside for the time being, as well.


Miracles

While in many ways this might seem like an obvious choice for me, until recently I had a relatively low opinion of the deck. However, as I mentioned last time , with both the printing of Search, and the reintroduction of Counterbalance to the deck, I began to like the way the deck looked. I figured it warranted another attempt, but of all of the decks was testing, I was expecting the least of Miracles. Much to my surprise, however, the deck has been performing incredibly well. With the first version of new Miracles, I thought the amount of work that had to be put in to make it work wasn’t worth the payoff. Now, though, it seems much easier to pull ahead and stay ahead. The reintroduction of 2 mana enchantments that generate card advantage is such a huge boon for this deck. Specifically, the ability to either aggressively deploy these cards on turn 2 when nothing else is going on, or deploy them later with protection up, can really allow Miracles to set up a comfortable lead.

Beyond the deck design, this version of Miracles seems to have a relatively good matchup against Grixis Delver, which is the number one quality I look for in a deck in this metagame. This is consistent with how difficult I found the match up from the Grixis side. The combination of diverse, powerful removal, basic lands, and powerful, cheap sources of card advantage are all amazing in the match up. Grixis is still a powerful, proactive deck so it can definitely still win, of course. Furthermore, if Miracles becomes more popular I can imagine a world in which powerful hate cards, like Winter Orb, could make the match up much more difficult. As it stands, though, I think the Grixis Delver match up alone could be a good enough reason to pick Miracles for any given event.

Moving past Grixis Delver, this version of the deck seems to have a lot of game against most of the field. Elves still seems like a great matchup. Czech Pile, Lands, and Death and Taxes seem to be relatively close and intricate matchups for Miracles, in which I would prefer to be in the Miracles seat. The mirror match is about as swingy and interesting as it was before. Even the more difficult matchups, like Storm and Sneak and Show, which Miracles still has some game against pre-board, get much better in the post-board games. Combine all of this with my own personal comfort with the archetype, and I think somehow I found a winner.

This is the list I am planning on playing:


MiraclesRich Cali Snapcaster Mage Volcanic Island Tundra Scalding Tarn Plains Island Flooded Strand Arid Mesa Search for Azcanta Counterbalance Swords to Plowshares Predict Force of Will Counterspell Brainstorm Terminus Portent Ponder Entreat the Angels Council's Judgment Jace, the Mind Sculptor Surgical Extraction Red Elemental Blast Pyroblast Monastery Mentor Flusterstorm Engineered Explosives Disenchant Containment Priest Back to Basics


For the most part, this is relatively stock, based on what some of the dedicated Miracles community has been playing (like MTGO player Whitefaces). My only real change is in cutting an Entreat the Angels for an extra Predict. I have always liked maxing out on card advantage in this deck and winning through inevitability. Without Top, I found the 2nd Entreat to be too much of a liability, while also not feeding into most of my game plans against the field. There’s a ton of variations out there with this deck right now, though, and I am pretty certain that the best version hasn’t been found yet. However, not being much of an innovator myself, I am content to wait to see what conclusions the community comes to on the deck.

All that being said, I am excited to play this Open. While my teammates aren’t fond of slow, blue control decks, I think they like me enough to put up with my antics. This is the first time in the new metagame that I have played a non-Grixis deck in a major tournament, too. This deck seems very good, though, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a risk. It is also nice to be playing Miracles again, as most of my mechanical operations seem to still be there. Hopefully I can pilot the deck well enough to do it credit, but the search for another deck choice has been a blast, regardless!

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