How to Compete Against the Best with Lands by alli

My name is Albert Lindblom (alli) and I just finished 2nd in the Legacy MOCS Qualifier last weekend. This was an event with 27 players, namely the Top 8 of the last 3 Showcase Challenges plus 3 people that had qualified in Last Chance Prelims. Considering that each Showcase Challenge had +200 players you could say that I competed with +600 (with the obvious risk of double counting) of the most fierce online grinders and came in second. I am super proud of this achievement. This is not the first time that I have run deep in a big online tournament. In fact I have a pretty high confidence that I will do well every time that I play in these events because I have found a strategy that allows me to be competitive in Legacy. I will try to share this strategy with you here. This text will be split into two articles. In this first article I will give you my background, and explain what I have done to level up as a Legacy player, and in the second article I will write about how I prepared for the MOCS Qualifier as well as a tournament report. I hope you enjoy this.  

Like most boomers I don’t have unlimited time to devote to magic. I have a busy family life with an amazing wife, two wonderful daughters, and an apartment plus a summerhouse that needs constant care. I am also the coach of my girls football team two days a week, and I was their home schooling teacher for the most part of last year (when we were in lockdown). On top of this I have a very demanding job. I work as the Head of the Front Office Desk Quant Team in Scandinavia’s Largest Bank, and my team implements the new Technology Platform for our Trading activities in Fixed Income and Derivatives. I am not writing all these things to brag and try to paint myself into some sort of super human because I’m not. Most days when I come home from work my brain is completely washed out, I am so tired that I cannot even muster the energy to cook dinner, and I instead order some takeaway and park the girls in front of an iPad while I take a powernap in the sofa. It’s not productive to turn on MODO on these types of days. My brain is just not capable of making good strategic decisions and I won’t remember the games the day after. I have set up the following schedule for my MODO play and I try to make the most of the limited time that I have to play magic.

  1. Every Monday Prelim (and maybe a League afterwards).
  2. 0-2 additional Leagues each week.
  3. As many big tournaments as I can (Showcase Challenges, Eternal Weekend, etc).

Is this enough to compete with young people that have much more time to dedicate to Magic? Well it can be if we focus and use our time wisely.

How It Started

I have played magic since Ice Age came out in 1995. I was 11 years old at that time and I instantly fell in love with the lore of the game. I also fell in love with destroying lands. Me and my friends didn’t really understand the competitive rules, we thought that we could play unlimited copies of every card, and we had a deck with 7-8 Stone Rains in it. I was actively trying to trade more copies of Stone Rain in order to add them to this broken deck until someone found out that we could only play 4 copies if we wanted to play in tournaments.   

This was one of the first cards that I fell in love with

I took a long break from magic after Onslaught was printed but I picked it up again around 2010 when I moved from Stockholm to Copenhagen. I used to play every Tuesday at our LGS and we had some really strong players there. Andreas Petersen (ecobaronen), Hans-Jakob Goddick (HJ_Kaiser), Thomas Enevoldsen (Scabs) and Michael Bonde (lampalot) were just some of the Legacy All Stars that used to play in these weeklies. I initially had some success with UW Landstill and I then managed to build Storm (TES). I was really successful with this deck for a few years. People told me that TES was a hard deck to play but I felt that it was pretty easy because there were only a few cards from my opponent’s deck that I cared about. Instead of learning combat math, or what type of trades that are beneficial, I could focus on mastering my own sequencing and lines.  

I used my winnings with TES to invest in a Legacy collection and after a while I could play any deck that I wanted. At this point I started switching deck every week and my win rate went down. In 2014 I was the kind of player that would show up 2 times a month and go 3-2 (with the occasional spike). I then moved to London to work as a Quant for a Commodity Trading House, and I had to take another long break from magic.

How It Ended – Why Lands?

I moved back to Copenhagen in 2017 as me and my (Danish) wife wanted our kids to start in a Danish school. I wanted to play Legacy again but I found that most of my old friends had stopped going to the LGS and they now played online instead. I installed MODO and bought a Storm deck. I was doing fairly well until Deathrite Piles became the de facto best deck online. I lost so many times to Hymn + Snap + Hymn that I decided that it wasn’t fun to play Storm. I went back to playing a few different decks (to the normal 3-2 score) before I decided that I wanted to level up. It all started with a guy writing on Facebook that he had a NM English Tabernacle for Trade (not for Sale). I met with the guy and we somehow managed to agree on a Trade (it involved me giving him some HP Power). People in my LGS told me “Lands is a very hard deck to play” but I was excited. The main selling points to me were:

  • It was a Tier 1* deck at the time.
  • It did not lose to Hymn to Tourach. In fact Deathrite Piles seemed like great matchups.
  • I got to destroy people’s lands. 
  • It may be a difficult deck to play, but it’s also a hard deck to play against. It’s a non-linear deck with many options and I figured that it would be easy to mess things up when playing against Lands.
  • It was a niche deck and I thought that if I only dedicated enough time to it then I would get an edge as I would know the matchup better than my opponent.

*I know that Lands is not considered a Tier 1 deck anymore but it’s underrated in my opinion. I think a version of the Prison-Combo-Ramp-Control shell will always be competitive. I have played Lands for 3 years and during this time me and the Lands discord have continuously managed to find a good list for the online meta. Just look at these results from various metas during the last few years.

  • Casey Lancaster won a Starcity Classic at the peak of the RUG W6 Delver meta. 
  • I came in 4th and 10th in the 2 Showcase Challenges where Underworld Breach was legal in Legacy.
  • UG Uro Lands was one of the best decks during the Companion era. Kellen Pastore Top 8’d a Legacy Super PTQ with the deck and I ran fairly deep in one as well.
  • I came 9th (on breakers) in both a Showcase Challenge and an online Eternal Weekend at the peak of the Snowko and RUG Arcanist Delver meta. 
  • I just finished 2nd in the Legacy MOCS Qualifier in the post MH2 UR Delver meta.

Level 0: Grinding Leagues

I have played Lands on MODO for 3 years. During this time I have likely played 4-5 Leagues per week (I play less now but I have also played way more at times). This is 3,000 – 4,000 matches (and +10,000 games) of playing Lands. I have easily played over 100 matches against all common Legacy decks and I have learnt how to approach these matchups and what cards that are good / bad against each of these decks.

Obviously I didn’t play optimally from day one, but I became pretty good rather fast. I was already a decent combo player and the combo aspect of Lands was better and came up more often than I had initially thought. But more importantly, I really enjoyed playing the deck and even when I lost I was learning new lines. At the end of each game I could barely wait to play a new one. I started watching Casey Lancaster (Koleigh1) whenever he streamed Lands and this would teach me a lot. I watched his games and then I played some Leagues and then I rewatched his games. As I watched his stream I used to think for myself what lines I would take if I played instead of him, and at some point I started to realise that many of the lines that he took were also ones that I would have done. This is about the same time as when I started getting 5-0’s in Leagues for myself.

I also realized that jamming games blindfolded wouldn’t get me to the next level. I created a spreadsheet where I kept track of all my results and sideboard plans. I aggregated decks into archetypes that are similar to play against such as Delver, UW, Storm, KoTR, etc. I became more active in the Lands discord and I got help to tune the last open slots in my deck week after week. I wanted to start playing in Challenges but they are at the worst possible time for me. 5pm on a Sunday just doesn’t work for a family guy like myself and I couldn’t make that happen consistently. But around the New Years of 2018 / 2019 I finally had the chance to play in a Challenge and I reached out to Andreas Petersen (ecobaronen) who was the best player that I know from my LGS and I asked him about the expected meta in Challenges. He told me to write down the Top 32 from the last 3 challenges to get my own feeling for the “online winners meta”. I did this, and I am still doing this today, as it’s a great way to learn what decks that are doing well online. 

Example of Challenge Winners Meta during the Underworld Breach era

I was lucky enough to Top 8 this Challenge but I lost to Lands master Dull04 in the Top 8. After this I felt invincible (but that was a false positive) and I wanted to play more High Stake Legacy tournaments. As I couldn’t play in Challenges I organised my own tournament that I called the Nordic Legacy League. I managed to get some very good players to sign up to this one and I got absolutely crushed. This was a true wake up call for me. I remember playing against Death & Taxes and it felt like my opponent knew exactly what to do but I didn’t know what to do. My hands were good and I still lost. I felt truly outplayed.

Level 1: Professional Coaching

After the Nordic Legacy League I decided to try and level up my game. I wanted to play better against better opponents and I wanted to feel like I could compete in premium events such as Showcases and Legacy PTQ’s. I contacted Andreas Petersen and asked him if he wanted to become my coach and he said yes. I didn’t really know what to expect for the first session but it was great. We started by talking about my prerequisites and my goals. I explained that I had a limited amount of time that I could spend on MODO and why I was playing Lands. I also explained that I had no interest in broadening my skills and that I wanted to learn how to play better against better opponents. We talked about how I could make stupid punts in high stake games, or how I could lose the oversight when I was under pressure, or how I could make super risky plays because I thought that I didn’t have a chance to win against a better opponent.

We also played a League together and I specifically remember how we crushed a Grixis Control opponent. It was cool to see how Andreas played our game from our opponents perspective. He would for example say something like “our opponent will try to sneak in a win here by casting Angler and then try to take us down to Bolt + Snap + Bolt range. Can we Gamble for Maze to prevent that from happening?”. This was interesting because it was not something that I had really done before. I had many sessions with Andreas over the next few months and we did dedicated training of Lands vs Delver, and Lands vs Taxes, and Lands vs Maverick. In these sessions Andreas would sometimes stop and ask me “can you guess what cards that are in my hand right now?” This was fantastic training. 

I would also take screenshots of interesting plays and then we would discuss them together. I would explain why I took a certain line and then we discussed if we thought it was the correct play or not. It became quite obvious that I would often base my conclusions on the outcome of my plays and this is a bad idea. I could say things such as “this play was bad because my opponent had Daze and I lost”. Andreas would stop me and say that I need to judge my plays based on the information that I had at the time. Did I make the right play given the context I was in? When trying to improve our ability to see the optimal line, with imperfect information, then it’s not always helpful to draw conclusions based on the actual outcome of a given play.     

These sessions were hard but they really helped me to improve as a player. In January 2020 they paid off big time as I Top 8’d my first Showcase Challenge.

I also became friends with Jörg Heinrich (EronRelentless) around this time. We both had spreadsheets with MODO data and we started sharing these with each other. Jörg asked me if I wanted to do dedicated matchup training and these sessions largely replaced the coaching sessions that I had with Andreas. I still take sessions with Andreas before big events though. Jörg has taught me a great way to do these sessions. We first play 3-6 preboard games and then 3-6 postboard games. This gives a great feeling for the matchup and there is less focus on “who did win”. After each session we discuss the matchup on Discord. I have started doing similar sessions with other Legacy grinders and in my opinion this is a more effective way to improve your skills compared to jamming Leagues.

Level 2: Legacy Podcasts

Another thing that has helped me level up my deck building and also helped me keep me on top of the Legacy meta is to listen to Legacy Podcasts. My favourite Podcasts are Elo Punters, EverydayEternal and Eternal Glory. I try to listen to these when I am alone and have time to focus. Here are two key takeaways that I used in the MOCS Qualifier this last weekend.

  • Be proactive (Daniel Goetschel). Daniel once said something along the lines: “A reactive card such as Mana Leak is only good if you also have a threat that can give you an advantage every turn that it stays in play”. Once I really had understood this sentence then it changed how I build my deck, but also how I mulligan and sequence my plays.
  • Ignore (unpopular) bad matchups (Julian Knab). Julian once said something along the lines that if you want to win a tournament then you have to get lucky also in the matchup lottery. It is therefore better to ignore (unpopular) bad matchups in order to have a better edge against more popular decks. This is something that I used in the MOCS Qualifier. I knew that only 1 Storm player and 2 Show & Tell players had qualified and I built my sideboard to be worse against them but better against Delver and GW Depths.

Level 3: My Current Level

I am currently at a level where I feel that I can compete with the best online players in Legacy. It will never be easy to play against me. I will show up to large online tournaments with a deck that is tuned for the expected meta, and I will know my role in every matchup (and most situations). It is also likely that I have more reps in a given matchup compared to my opponent. I no longer get nervous when playing in PTQ’s or Showcases and it’s unlikely that I will completely punt a game. I still make mistakes of course but I make less mistakes now compared to 2 years ago. Finally, I don’t get tired after 7-8 rounds of high stake Legacy, and I often find myself playing better the longer the tournament goes. 

This does not mean that I expect to Top 8 every tournament that I join, but I will have the basics right, and I expect this to allow me to win most of my matches. If I am then also able to play tight at the right spots, and if I am having a bit of luck, then it will often take me there.

OK, this was all in the history and process section. In the next article I will write about the Showcase Challenge that I Top 8’d in order to qualify for the MOCS Qualifier and what I did to prepare for this high stake event. I will finish that article off with a detailed tournament report including video recordings. Stay tuned!

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