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By: RexDart, Chris J. Wynes
Jul 19 2013 1:55pm
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This series will be about "real" Magic. The elegance, the power, and the Power of eternal formats.

I don't always hate playing Standard, I just hate the idea of it. Standard reminds me of the video game demos they show off at E3, it's a small slice of a complete game, just the part that the developer wants to show you. It's a carefully-engineered safe-zone for new players, as long as new players never try to keep playing longer than a year or compete at anything higher than FNM-level. It's an unstable money sink, with a volatile metagame that shifts every weekend as the legion of wanna-be pros and grinders stay glued to the internet for the latest decklists from the weekly 5K's, GP's, and PT's. For an entry-level format, it's nearly impossible to actually play competitively for any serious length of time unless you are 22 years old, unemployed, own a private plane and have a key to Harry Potter's vault of gold coins at Gringott's.

I can still remember when I picked up that issue of Scrye and read, for the first time, about the creation of Type 2. I couldn't even imagine what a "rotation" would be like. "Magic expansions took forever to come out, it'll be ages before this impacts me at all, and I can just keep playing Type 1 anyhow," I thought.

But once they implemented the "block" system, I could read the writing on the wall. The game changed too often now. I'd walk into the weekly tournament and find everybody chasing a new $20 rare I'd never even seen. I could not afford to spend the time or the money keeping up with Type 2, and Type 1 was slowly dying in my area. Honestly, I doubted players would tolerate Type 2 rotations much longer. So without hesitation, I sold out of the game in Summer of 1997. I didn't pick it up again for 13 years.

When nostalgia drew me back in 2010, Type 1 was dead in paper, at least in the American Midwest. But online I could dabble in eternal formats at any hour of the day, and I did. I quickly got into Legacy, and was even able to play a few times a year in paper to put some of this experience to use. Classic, however, was still a mystery to me.

You could be forgiven for not realizing Classic is played competitively at all. Classic in the Casual Room is about 5% Skullclamp Goblins decks and 95% people with 500 card decks filed with white-bordered 8th edition commons and who immediately quit if you cast Counterspell. There are rarely Classic matches in the Tournament Practice room. You have a better chance finding the entrance to the lost valley of Shangri-La than you do finding a Classic Daily Event that fires.

This spring, like many of us who frequent the PRE "circuit" on MTGO, I participated in Ham on Wry II, the Erik Friborg memorial tournament. The prizes were amazing, so why not? But I'd never played Classic in any serious fashion. Where to begin? I had to play something that was at least a little familiar to me as a Legacy player, since I wouldn't have the time or opportunity to practice. So I looked back at some Vintage decklists and remembered having seen the Selkie Strike deck. It falls into the category of "Fish" decks in Vintage, which is a broad term for a family of aggro-control decks (unlike in Legacy, Vintage "Fish" decks don't usually include any actual Merfolk.) It was aggressive, it had a fair shot against various combo decks, and most importantly I felt that I could pilot it reasonably well with no playtesting. So I took it into HoW II and went 2-2 before dropping from the event for time reasons. I hadn't taken the event by storm, but it had sparked my interest in Classic. The problem now was finding more Classic to play.

One of the other PRE regulars pointed me towards the Classic Quarter Invitational Qualifier, and I decided to give it a spin. I made only a few minor adjustments in my list, and registered the following list:

It's fairly close to some of the old "Noble Fish" lists from Vintage, but a bit more aggressive. I dubbed it "Excalibur" after a Legacy Bant deck from a couple years ago that had used Stoneforge Mystic to fetch a Sword. In the following deck tech video, I'll talk about the deck and some particular card choices in more detail:

The tournament was 6 rounds of Swiss, with a cut to Top 8. I will recap the first 4 rounds in text, and I have video replays with my audio commentary to accompany the later rounds.

Round 1: vs Darunss My opponent is a player who enters a lot of PRE's, but doesn't really seem to own any Classic or Legacy cards. You could loosely describe it as a "Jund Aggro" deck with mostly Standard-legal cards. Sometimes Eternal-format decks can become so inbred and heavily metagamed that they can lose to something that doesn't fight on the same plane of existence. But that was not the case here and I won fairly easily. 1-0

Round 2: vs Foil Tarmogoyf Owns You (UW Control) My opponent in Round 2 sported a mostly foiled-out U/W deck reminiscent of Stoneblade in Legacy. No actual foil Tarmogoyfs owned me, I'm proud to report, but some foil Jaces did. I didn't have much of a sideboard for this, as I wasn't expecting it, whereas he had some additional sweepers to bring in against me. He was able to effectively fight my creatures, and I recall making at least one mistake over-extending into a Terminus. I think this was a fairly good match for me in theory (and the Quarterfinals re-match turned out differently), but I lost the match 1-2. 1-1

Round 3: vs Gaea (Workshops) For the un-initiated, there are generally two varieties of Mishra's Workshop deck in Classic: Stax (which is generally just called "Shops") and Ravager Affinity. The Stax version doesn't play actual Smokestacks, but does play a lot of Sphere of Resistance effects, as well as Tangle Wire, and has a heavy mana-denial plan. It also uses the "Sol Lands", Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors, to support a turn 1 Chalice of the Void play. I would go on to play a variation of this deck an astonishing four times over the course of the event, as it was clearly deemed the deck to beat. I had expected this, and was maindecking 3 Trygon Predators, with the ability to power them out early via Noble Hierarch. I can tell you that I won this match 2-0, but don't have any replays saved. I'll discuss my general strategy against Shops later in the article. 2-1

Round 4: vs PhilipJFry (No-land Belcher) This is another deck I'm familiar with from Legacy, although it's much more consistent and explosive in Classic. My list was not running as much countermagic as perhaps it should have, so this put me at a disadvantage. My assumption was that I could not beat this deck without Force of Will in the opener, so I determined not to keep a hand without it. My opponent went for the win quickly in Game 1, but I had kept a 7 with FoW. In Game 2, I believe I had to mull to 6 to find it, he held off slightly longer before going for the win, but again he was thwarted. I was also able to get down a Stony Silence to shut off his Belcher and much of his mana. Despite the 2-0 result for me, I don't think this match is necessarily favorable, as he has Pact of Negation to protect the combo and I don't have enough countermagic to fight back. He also has an Empty the Warrens kill that I could do little to stop. Chill out of my sideboard doesn't hit enough to really change that. But sometimes the Force is with you. 3-1

Round 5: vs Nagarjuna (Workshops) Nagarjuna is one of the players who first pointed me in the direction of this tournament. I play against him often in the Tribal Apocalypse PRE, Legacy Tribal Wars format, where he often plays Sneak and Show or Reanimator variants. Since there are a few more matches against Shops yet to come, this is a good point to stop for a second and talk about that deck from the perspective of somebody new to the format like myself. I'll use Nagarjuna's list as an example:

On the play, this deck can immediately take control of the game if you don't have Force of Will. A turn 1 Lodestone Golem that resolves, backed up by a turn 2 taxing effect such as Sphere of Resistance, spells "GG" very quickly. Mishra's Workshop is a card so powerful it was restricted when I played Type 1 in the 90's, despite the absence of most of these powerful spells to abuse with it. In a field without true Moxes, it also has a distinct mana advantage over every other deck, and it uses this to great effect.

That being said, in my matches against it, I felt it had a few flaws. Most critically, it is a relatively threat-light deck that possesses no card draw. There are only 6 creatures that can realistically close out the game, plus 5 clone effects that are only going to win the game if another creature is already on the board. It reminds me of The Rock and Parfait, the Legacy non-blue control decks, in that you have a "draw the wrong half of the deck" problem sometimes. And while the mana denial plan is great, your opponent can always end up drawing out of it if you don't quickly close out the game. This is what makes Lodestone Golem so great, as it advances the mana denial plan while simultaneously presenting a 4 turn clock all on its own.

My plan against Shops was to strongly favor hands with Force of Will on the draw, because I felt that I could lose too easily to a hand with a lot of tax effects and Tangle Wire. But it's possible that this was wrong, since my opponents often kept hands with no threats to put me on a quick clock, and I may have had a much bigger window to get back in the game than I was anticipating. I beat Shops all 4 times I played against it, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't constantly re-assess my game plan, I may have been unnecessarily handicapping myself.

In this game against Nagarjuna, he leads on a turn 1 Thorn of Amethyst, and consequently my hand with Noble Hierarch, Goyf and Trygon Predator doesn't really seem that bad on the draw. I also turn the tables back on him by attacking his mana -- the Thorn is symmetrical and hurts more of his deck than it does mine in truth.

I went on to win the match 2-0. 4-1

Round 6: vs FishyFellow Show and Tell My opponent this round had hideous breakers and I expected he might scoop despite the good chance a 4-2 would get in. However he decided to play it out, and I can't fault him for that.

While I expected to see a lot of Oath decks in the field, Show and Tell was a surprise. Thankfully, I can fight it in much the same way, and the maindeck Karakas gave me some ability to fight it even if I got caught without a Force of Will. Still, that is not particularly effective against Griselbrand, since they can always draw into more gas with his card-draw ability -- this is why Show and Tell suddenly became Tier 1 in Legacy, and why Vintage Oath decks have incorporated Griselbrand as well.

I took game 1. In game 2, FishyFellow S&T's for Griselbrand, Tinkers for a Blightsteel Colossus, and still I manage to hang on for several turns by drawing three cards a turn with Cold-Eyed Selkie. I tried desperately to stay alive to the point where he nearly decked himself with Griselbrand, but eventually he found enough removal and bounce to clear out my flying blockers and take the win. You can see Game 2 with my audio commentary in this replay video:

FishyFellow took Game 3, and I thought I was out of the tournament. 4-2

However, when the numbers were crunched, I had barely snuck in on breakers. Whew! Top 8, good prizes, everything was gravy from here on out. I didn't really expect to do even that well in my first big Classic event.

Quarterfinals: vs Foil Tarmogoyf Owns You (UW Control) Having lost Round 2 to this opponent, but in a good and competitive match, I was looking forward to the rematch. I knew the Selkies would really shine here, they were good in Game 1 of our Round 2 match and easily the reason I had won that game. Plus, I usually feel pretty good in general about being the aggro-control player in a matchup against true control. I identified Jace as the biggest threat, and keeping my opponent from resolving Jace was a top priority. In my experience from Legacy, if you have a lot of threats you can grind it out slowly and fight through the removal spells and still win, but if they land Jace while you're lacking pressure, it's lights out.

I won the match 2-0. You can see Game 1 of the match in this video, with my audio commentary:

Semifinals: vs Bliven731 (Workshops) At this point the Top 4 was my Fish deck, two Workshop Stax decks, and one Ravager Affinity Workshops deck. So I'm the only one left who is not jamming a playset of Mishra's Workshop. Bliven's deck is very similar to Nagarjuna's which I faced in Round 5, and I am able to win 2-0.

FINALS: vs enderfall (Workshops) My final opponent was the tournament organizer, enderfall, who is an experienced Classic player and writes a regular column for another MTGO website. He apparently had avoided playing with Shops earlier in the season, opting for other decks he enjoyed more, but decided to run a variation of Shops in this qualifier since it was the last chance to qualify for the upcoming Invitational. Of the four Shops decks I played against, I liked his list the best. He dumped the (in my admittedly format-novice opinion) unreliable Metalworker in favor of more threats such as 3 maindeck Wurmcoil Engine and one Precursor Golem. He has a set of Phyrexian Revoker and two maindeck Null Rods, undoubtedly a big part of why he got past the Ravager Affinity deck in the semifinals.

In Game 1, I'm on the draw. My 7-card hand contains a Knight of the Reliquary and a Noble Hierarch and a Swords to Plowshares, maybe a Wasteland and a few other land. I was pretty sure this couldn't win, though as it turned out I may have been wrong. I mulled to 5 to find Force of Will, was able to Force his opening. I had a pretty solid hand for 5 cards, and was able to play a Noble Hierarch and a Knight of the Reliquary. My opponent was able to dump a Wurmcoil Engine and a Precursor Golem onto the table. An alpha strike forced me to chump with my Hierarch, and block a golem with KotR. I fetched post-block to get him to 4/4 and survive the block, but had a decision to make. I could Wasteland my opponent's Mishra's Workshop to keep his mana in check, but with my Hierarch biting the dust I would have no white mana if I drew Swords to Plowshares, which was pretty much my only way of getting out of this mess. So I got a fetchland instead. He puts down a Tangle Wire postcombat and I scoop.

Sideboarding -- I didn't believe Stony Silence would do enough to warrant bringing it in, since he was not on the Metalworker plan nor using Staff of Domination like the other Shops decks were (he had maindeck Null Rods of his own.) I wanted the two Steel Sabotage obviously. I decided to bring in the two Tormod's Crypt because I expected him to bring in more Crucible of Worlds which was powerful both offensively and defensively for him against my deck. IN: 2x Tormod's Crypt, 2x Steel Sabotage. OUT: 3x Cold-Eyed Selkie, 1x Sword of Fire and Ice.

Game 2 I'm on the play and keep a 7-card hand of Jace, Force, Trygon Predator, Brainstorm, and some land. I play a fetch, Force his Turn 1 Sphere, play just another fetch, then he plays Chalice set to 1. I fetch and Brainstorm in response, shuffling away a couple chaff and getting basic Island and Forest in the process. I untap, and think for a minute before playing Wasteland and casting the Trygon Predator. I was a bit concerned about a Tangle Wire from my opponent, and considered Wasting his City of Traitors and dropping the Predator next turn. In the end I decided Predator was just clearly the best play, since he had a good chance of having another Sol Land and casting Tangle Wire anyhow. Instead he just had another Sphere, and along with my land destruction, the Predator mopped up the game.

For Game 3 I had the most beautiful hand staring at me from the screen. I seriously cannot imagine losing to Shops with this opener:

Even worse for my opponent, he mulls to 5. He has Ancient Tomb and Mana Crypt, then I Force his Turn 1 Sphere of Resistance, fetch a basic Forest, cast Hierarch. His second turn he has Crucible of Worlds, plays a Wasteland, and passes back. This time I just slam the Predator. He has a Mishra's Factory to hit 6 mana and drops a Steel Hellkite, which is among the best things he could have there... if I weren't still holding that Swords to Plowshares. After that, Predator starts beating in and once again owns the board. He is able to slow me down with a Tangle Wire, but I have a Wasteland and Strip Mine to keep him from getting off the ground, and a Tormod's Crypt nails the lands in his yard before I blow up the Crucible the following turn.

So I win the finals 2-1, and take home a very nice selection of prizes, including a couple foil Noble Hierarchs, very appropriately since they just won me the tournament!

So where do I go from here? Depending on when you read this, I have the Classic Quarter Invitational coming up on July 20th, and I will certainly put up some coverage for that event. The folks at the Classic Quarter Forums are going all-out producing the coverage, and will be livestreaming the event. For more information about that, see their thread here:

For the near future, this article series will cover both Legacy and Classic. I'll look at recent Legacy events (and Classic events when they happen), brew and develop decks, and share video replays and deck techs. The eventual goal is to be in position to grab my Power cards as soon as they are online and begin covering Vintage as soon as it begins, which should be the most exciting development in recent MTGO history. Truly, it's one of the few things encouraging me to stick it out through this upcoming client change. I believe there are many people like myself who would love to play Vintage but who can't, not necessarily because of the price of Power (most paper tournaments allow enough proxies for any Legacy player to jump to Vintage), but because we honestly have nowhere to play. MTGO could change all that, bring back the old days, and I'm looking forward to seeing it unfold. 


Congratulation Rex for the by romellos at Fri, 07/19/2013 - 16:14
romellos's picture

Congratulation Rex for the first place.

I'm personally looking forward for your next articles for Legacy & Classic & Vintage...

And for the first article! :) by Kumagoro42 at Sun, 07/21/2013 - 09:52
Kumagoro42's picture

And for the first article! :)

Great article! I like your by GainsBanding at Sat, 07/20/2013 - 02:42
GainsBanding's picture

Great article! I like your outsider viewpoint. I usually don't like replay videos (compared to live recordings) but you added good commentary. Good luck in the Invitational. Welcome to Classic! We just need 30 more people like you and we'd have a format again.

Great report! :) And grats on by Paul Leicht at Sun, 07/21/2013 - 18:01
Paul Leicht's picture

Great report! :) And grats on the win vs some very tough opponents.