4th at the Legacy Pit Open with RG Saga Lands by Jake Romanski

Introduction

My name is Jacob Romanski (Jake) and I just finished top 4 at The Legacy Pit 20k Legacy Open on 18 September 2021. I’m from Allentown, PA and I started playing Magic around 2007 during my university days after having played Pokemon and Yugioh for quite a few years. I played Magic very casually for a few years before even coming close to the competitive scene. The days of needing to get my hands on every powerful, legendary creature to revolve my decks around still feel very recent, and I find this a bit nutty now since I’m writing an article focusing on a deck with zero creatures in the main list. I have a passion for strategy and card games with Magic settled nearest to my heart.

Lessons Learned

A few months ago a local game shop posted their first paper Legacy event since the start of the COVID lockdowns. I took this as an opportunity to play Lands in my first competitive arena, rather than just a bunch of game 1’s with my friends down the street (thanks for the practice Pat and Ryan). I felt in decent shape for the tournament after watching a few videos from players recently running the deck since the printing of Urza’s Saga and Endurance, both of which had some massive impacts on the new iterations of the deck. I was ready…and I ended 2-4 for the day which felt miserable, however I learned two very valuable lessons: I was not ready, and I needed to do something about all of my dead draws during game play (more on this later). After having played Legacy every week at my LGS pre-COVID I had learned that I was not that familiar with how the meta had shifted. So many powerful, legacy-impacting cards had arrived to the game since the pandemic began. At the end of the tournament The Legacy Pit crew reminded the players about their upcoming Legacy 20k which was to be held about six weeks later. It was settled, I decided there was no room for excuses. I would be ready.

I think the single most important thing I did was create a Magic Online account and jam as many leagues as I could while still maintaining a work and social life. In addition to this I watched about 200 YouTube videos spanning the last 5 years. I read as many articles as I could dig up. I also kept an eye on key websites that would post deck lists every few days for both online and paper in order to see what lists were performing well. About thirty MTGO leagues later I finally locked in a list I was about 95% happy with. Before I go into the list however, I want to quickly discuss the breakdown of this deck for any newer players and what I had learned from my time playing leagues. This type of guide would have been very helpful had there been one when I was learning the deck so I’ll share my thoughts on the matter here.

The Data

It took just a few leagues, and one rather heated Magic-related argument, before I decided that I should start planning a sideboard guide and taking notes if something caught me off guard from an opposing deck. It is these exact sorts of surprises that could spell defeat in a tournament, and this is exactly what happened to me at the local tournament a few weeks prior. My BUG Shadow opponent sideboarded into Smog combo and I had no answers, and it wasn’t even on my radar. The same thing happened again when my Oops All Spells opponent sideboarded into Goblin Charbelcher during a MTGO league. My inexperience with the current meta was what spelled disaster for me early on and I needed to begin to build my defenses against threats my deck couldn’t answer. The following data was more or less what I had gathered complete with some match-up notes to eliminate surprises main or post board and ‘Best WinCons’ in the last column as a way to streamline which method I should focus on in specific matches.

I like sideboard guides to a certain degree but it’s crucial to know what the main deck looks like in order to know how to sideboard based on that criteria. In addition, there are some matchups in which I’ll sideboard differently depending on whether or not I’m on the draw or the play, so the above guide is just that, and should not be taken indefinitely. This sideboard guide however was for me about 5 different iterations of playing Lands online (for example one iteration had 4 Ghost Quarters in the main, so if I sideboarded out all 4 of them with that list against a certain opponent I would have to find 3 different cards to sideboard out if a different list I was using contained a different number of them). I also tried different Urza’s Saga packages with these different iterations so those changed from league-to-league as well. I’ve also learned a lot since then, even though it hasn’t been very long, and may change depending on how lists evolve in the future.

One of the things I focused on was how I was winning games. The deck has the following primary winning strategies:

  1. Create a Marit Lage
  2. Mana denial until the opponent concedes (prison strategy)
  3. Beat down with constructs generated by Urza’s Saga
  4. Punishing Fire or Valakut burn

One of the things that I learned while practicing was I was too mana-hungry. I would try and tap out each and every turn for mana efficiency purposes. I realized very quickly that that isn’t such the case with this deck and that I should learn to keep up Crop Rotation at all times in case I need to grab a critical utility land. More often than not I would start my turn with Mox + land > Loam to get that engine online but then wish that I had kept up Crop, repeatedly getting punished for my mana efficiency addiction. In addition, there was a decent concentration of white decks floating around with the recent printing of Prismatic Ending. Almost every white deck carries a near full playset of Swords to Plowshares, Karakas and possibly some number of Solitude. The Lage line wasn’t winning as many games as I had first expected. The second thing that I noticed was that against another Saga matchup their constructs were generally larger than mine. One of the ways to combat this was the inclusion of Retrofitter Foundry (credit here given to Will Pulliam as he basically solidified my choice with a Tweet stating the card was great for him all day). Not only was the addition of RFF something that quite nicely buffed my constructs but this gave me now a 5th (and arguably better than the Punishing Fire) avenue to win the game, enabling me to generate enough servos to buy time until another engine won me the game or win by creature production. In addition, grabbing a Spellbomb or Map meant that the artifact that I tutored up would almost immediately leave the battlefield, reducing my Saga construct’s power and toughness. Grabbing RFF and having it pump out more permanent artifacts was something that really seemed worth it if I were trying to win with that route. Almost all other games were won using the mana denial strategy; i.e. recurring Wastelands and Ghost Quarters with Life from the Loam. With all of these data, I put together my list for the event.

The List

https://mtgmelee.com/Decklist/View/167009

I’m sure most Lands players would agree that the following cards are locked in in the current meta and for me these cards were solidified at their respective number.

  • 1x Blast Zone
  • 1x Bojuka Bog
  • 1x Ghost Quarter
  • 4x Grove of the Burnwillows
  • 1x Karakas
  • 2x Taiga
  • 4x Wasteland
  • 1x The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
  • 4x Thespian’s Stage
  • 4x Crop Rotation
  • 4x Life From the Loam
  • 4x Mox Diamond
  • 4x Exploration

After having gone 2-4 at the local tournament I realized that I was losing a lot of games by drawing dead cards, specifically Mox Diamonds, Explorations and land when I didn’t have a board state I could sink my mana into. My list for that event ran 2x Elvish Reclaimer, 2 Sylvan Library, 2 Valakut Exploration and I ran out of gas in almost every matchup. I wanted to make sure that my deck had something to do every single turn or that I had mana to sink into something every single turn in an attempt to always be progressing my board state. Here are my thoughts on the rest of deck options and the decisions that I wrestled with up to the day of the event.

Ancient Tomb / Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth: I almost considered running Ancient Tomb since I was running 4 Valakut Explorations and 3 Depths but I ultimately decided that there was no room for it. Yavimaya acts as a way to gain mana advantage by turning all of the non-mana producing lands into forests so I felt it a little redundant to run both, but I don’t necessarily disagree with both.

Field of the Dead: I tried this card for many leagues and many practice games in paper and I just never really liked it. The fact that it comes into play tapped and produces colorless mana ended up hurting me way more times than it ended up winning the game for me. I’m pretty anti-field when it comes to Lands but I could see an argument for running 1 copy in the sideboard against control matchups. If the meta ever ends up shifting this way it may make my 75.

Pithing Needle: I found that I was sideboarding this card out in more than 60% of the matches in which I tried running it in the main deck. I understand that Lands is a prison deck with a combo finish and Needle is an excellent prison card but going off of my strategy of eliminating dead draws meant moving this to the sideboard. If the argument is between having a card that’s good in some matchups but dead in most, then to me that’s almost the literal definition of a sideboard card.

2, 3, or 4 Valakut Explorations: As I’ve stated before, I tried 2 copies of this card at the local tournament and found that I rarely drew them (obviously). The turns that I did draw them I really wanted them to resolve to avoid running out of gas, but some of them were inevitably countered and I found myself wishing to draw more copies. I ultimately settled on 4 and found that even if 1 of them did resolve and I didn’t really need another copy that that would be a better position to be in as opposed to hoping to find them and never drawing them.

Sylvan Library / Gamble: As a way to increase my chances of winning Game 1’s I ran 1 to 2 copies of Gamble in the main deck. The thought behind this was that the games I could find Loam should increase my chances of winning before we went to sideboarded matches where my graveyard would have a higher chance of being compromised. Since I was only running up to 2 copies of this card though I didn’t have too much of a chance to really play test it and ultimately cut it for a copy of Sylvan Library. I’ve played 2 copies of Library before but always hated drawing the second copy, so to continue eliminating dead draws from my deck I settled on only 1 copy… but I’ve not determined yet that Gamble should be completely eliminated from this deck!

2 or 3 Green Fetchlands: Since most Lands decks only run on average 3 fetchable lands (1 basic forest, 2 Taiga) fetch lands are very important early game to find the basic forest if needed and also to guarantee the first Loam has an actual target, but quickly run out of targets thereafter. This is one reason I settled on only 2 fetch lands and why I also solidified Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth in my final list. It enabled my fetch lands to tap for green mana if all of the targets for them had been removed from my deck already. In addition, the Urza’s Saga package takes up a lot of slots in this deck and this is usually one place where the cut is made.

Horizon Lands vs. Cycling Lands: I tried both horizon lands and Tranquil Thicket in different iterations of the deck and found a pro and con with each. Tranquil Thicket had some real appeal to me since I could Loam it back and use it as a draw engine without utilizing a land drop and also use it in sideboarded matchups against Surgical Extraction to save my Loams if my opponent wasn’t aware that I had it, however the downside is that if it’s needed as a green source early it enters tapped. I found that having the green source available right away with Horizon Canopy was just better and ended up cutting the Thicket, but I think either are a suitable option.

3 or 4 Dark Depths: I was dead set on 4 copies of this card before I started playing leagues online but the same thing kept happening to me; I would draw multiple copies of this card and hate it every time. I don’t necessarily think that 4 copies is wrong, seeing as how drawing one to pitch to a Mox Diamond and drawing a second one to play isn’t the worst, but again trying to streamline and tighten up the deck to eliminate bad draws meant cutting down to 3 copies. This is the card I think I pitched the most to Mox Diamond if I didn’t have a Stage in hand but with 4 copies of Loam and 4 copies of Crop Rotation I could find another Depths if I really felt the need to.

1 or 3 Rishadan Port: I started off playing the non-Urza’s Saga list of this deck and ran with 3 Ports which was pretty stock. In order to make room for the Saga package this was the next viable cut. While this card is one of my favorite cards in the deck, Wasteland does a fine-enough job at the mana denial strategy that cutting a few Ports doesn’t really hurt the deck too badly. I settled on 1 Port but could have been easily swayed into playing more copies if testing proved worthwhile. 

1 or 3 Urza’s Saga: Not many lists up to this point run 2 or 4 copies although this might change as the meta progresses. I tried playing 2 at the local tournament and looked forward to drawing them every single game. I’m not sure if 4 is correct but because this is 1 of 3 ways the deck has to win I could see this card catching on with a full playset if more answers to Marit Lage deem it necessary or better Saga targets are printed that slot in nicely with this deck. 

Urza’s Saga Package: I settled on Expedition Map as a makeshift 5th copy of Crop Rotation because this allowed me to keep hands more often with Saga and no colored source since I could tutor up the map and find whatever I needed if that need arose. In addition, since Lands is effectively a ‘land toolbox’ deck, Map just makes sense. Pyrite Spellbomb is in the deck for 2 main reasons: the first is that it is an answer to Sanctum Prelate. A Prelate on 2 is almost impossible for this deck to beat since it tags Loam and Punishing Fire, but the addition of Spellbomb gives me an out (and obviously it’s great against creature matchups in general). The second is that once it’s on the field it nullifies any attempt to Surgical Loam due to the draw ability, and if it’s not great in the matchup it just serves as a cycler. Not including Mox Diamonds the last Piece I settled on is Retrofitter Foundry for reasons already discussed. 

Elvish Reclaimer: I tried 2 copies of this card in earlier iterations of the deck and didn’t hate it, as it served as a mana sink and a threat that had to be answered early, but I really liked the idea of having no creatures in the main deck to fog some creature removal spells that normally run around in Legacy. The fact that the lands enter play tapped is a big deal that did weigh in on my final deck list choice. 

2 or 3 Punishing Fire / Lightning Bolt: If a deck doesn’t run the Pyrite Spellbomb as part of the Saga package then the deck generally runs 3 copies of this card, otherwise it’s 1 Spellbomb + 2 Punishing Fire. I like having options available and as I’ve already discussed the upsides to Spellbomb I ended up with 2 Punishing Fires. I have not tried running Lightning Bolts in this deck but thought that they would ultimately dilute what the deck is trying to do so I decided on 0 copies in my 75, however this is another answer for Chalice or Prelate. Since Dreadhorde Arcanist isn’t running around in Legacy anymore I’m not sure that this card is needed.

2 or 3 Maze of Iths: Since Delver is a matchup I expected to play against at least once in the tournament I ended up on 3 copies of this card over 2, but almost all decks play either 2 or 3. It might be personal preference but 3 feels correct. It can pitch to a Mox Diamond if needed and tap for green under the presence of Yavimaya so I don’t think that 3 is too detrimental even in non-creature matchups.

Glacial Chasm: This is a card that I considered running in the sideboard but it never ended up making the 75. I’m not opposed to running this card and I like the interaction with this and Stage but I just chose not to run it. If you’re going to consider running this card you need to make sure you’re very familiar with this interaction and be aware of your time because this can soak up a lot of it. Lands is a deck that can very easily go to time in a regular 50-minute match and this card will absorb a lot of that time if no progressive game actions are taken.

Sideboard choices

Most sideboard lists are pretty equivalent with only a few flex slots. Most players I think would agree on the following in the current meta, but the rest of the sideboard choices are preferential:

  • 4x Sphere of Resistance
  • 3x Force of Vigor
  • 3x Endurance

2 or 4 Red Elemental Blast / Pyroblast: This card is great against blue combo decks (Sneak and Show, Echo of Eons decks, etc) and Delver decks as it’s an efficient answer to Delver and Murktide Regent. Since I chose to play the Pithing Needle in the sideboard and I was pretty set on the above choices I decided to cut one of the blast slots. I also chose to play 2 REB over Pyroblasts solely because of the amazing artwork and dark color of the Beta blasts, although it would probably be more correct to play Pyroblast in case you need to target a non-blue permanent or spell. But since I’m bringing this card in to strictly counter/destroy a blue spell/permanent I didn’t see a reason not to play them.

Choke: This is a card that can just win a game for you, however since you’re brining it in in only blue matchups and it costs 3 mana it’s likely to get countered. If you’re running it against a Daze deck then this card effectively costs 4 mana. It’s a card that either absorbs a counter spell (or 2 if it gets FOW’d), or wins the game. I considered going down to 1 to open up another slot but I ultimately ended on 2 copies. With that being said, I have certainly lost games where I’ve successfully resolved this card, so while I like the option of running it this was definitely a card I could see cutting over other options.

Crucible of Worlds: I’ve seen some players sideboarding with 1 of these for matchups where Surgical Extraction on Loam can be an issue or in a heavy Wasteland mirror (D&T, mirror, etc.) but this is a card I haven’t play tested with prior to the event. I wanted to be very familiar with every card I chose for my 75 so it didn’t make the cut, but I don’t hate seeing it in sideboards and I completely understand the efficacy of the card. 

Tournament Weekend

I’m feeling pretty good the morning of the tournament after coming off 2 12-hour work shifts the previous days, and I’m just hoping that if I can’t make Top 8 I lose quickly and make it home in order to wake up for another 4am 12-hour shift the next day. As I’m shuffling up, I try and keep 2 thoughts in my mind that weren’t there at the local tournament a few weeks ago:

  1. Figure out what my opponent is playing no later than turn 2
  2. Strategize the best win condition for that deck and sideboard appropriately

These are likely the thoughts of all advanced magic players, however it’s really easy to forget that at the start of a big tournament when anxiety is at its highest I think. 

The pairings for the first round is announced, someone makes a joke about Legacy being a dead format as almost 400 people struggle to move around each other, and the first match begins.

Match 1: BUG Reanimator w/ Smog Combo (WW)

Game 1: My opponent leads on Bloodstained Mire > Badlands > Faithless Looting. I put him on either Reanimator or a Hogaak-type deck. He discards Griselbrand + X  and passes to me. Having been a Reanimator player for a number of years I feel like I know exactly where this is going, and I distinctly remember saying to myself, “I’ll keep up Crop Rotation for Maze of Ith or Karakas even though there’s no way he’ll be able to attack me next turn.” On his turn he casts a second Looting and discards X + Shallow Grave, and at this point I feel like all of the testing I’ve been doing online was almost for nothing and that everyone at the tournament is just playing a pile of cards to 1-up their opponents. The lesson that I’ve learned to try and always keep up Crop Rotation however has already pulled through for me and it’s only turn 2 of Match 1.

He casts Dark Ritual into a second Shallow Grave and puts Griselbrand onto the battlefield and I’m very happy that I’ve kept up the ability to Maze. My fear at this point is that he gets Archon of Cruelty next turn, as that is a card that’s very difficult for me to beat unless I make Lage after its trigger resolves, assuming I have enough resources by that time. He attacks, I maze and he passes back exiling G at EOT. He casts some Lotus Petals and Entombs again, this time for Witherbloom Apprentice. I’m having vivid flashbacks to the last tournament where I lost to this card out of a BUG Shadow sideboard so I keep in mind to keep my Punishing Fires in my deck post-board. If this were straight Reanimator, there may be a reason to cut them, but I hope to not be caught off guard again. He’s at 4 life at this point and decides to Reanimate the Apprentice going to 2. I have a Punishing Fire in my hand and cast it on the end of his turn.

WINCON: Punishing Fire damage

Game 2: I keep a hand with turn 1 Mox + Sphere since I’m able to get it out early. He plays a land and passes and I drop Sphere and pass back. He doesn’t do anything turn 2 except tap a land and play Lotus Petal and on my next turn I start Wastelanding him. He misses a land drop (Reanimator generally plays ~15 land) and I draw Rishadan Port for the basic he finds. A few turns later he concedes after I get GQ online with Loam. 

WINCON: Mana Denial

Match 2: Mono Red Painter (WW)

Game 1: Opponent begins his turns with Great Furnace + Goblin Engineer and pitches a Grindstone. I Wasteland his Furnace and he misses his next land drop while I start Loaming back a bunch of lands. He packs it in.

WINCON: Mana denial

Game 2: We play back and forth for a bit but on turn 3 I use Stage to copy his Urza’s Saga and then proceed to Wasteland all of his lands (including his Saga before it goes off). Normally I like destroying all lands except the Saga, since the Saga will destroy itself but in this type of deck the Saga can fetch up a large variety of hate plus combo pieces and I don’t want any part of that. He eventually gets some lands out along with Grindstone and on my turn my Valakut Exploration finds a Force of Vigor. I use it to destroy Grindstone + something else and he concedes.

WINCON: Mana denial + construct beats

Match 3: 5-C Storm (LWW)

Game 1: My opponent starts off by Duress’ing me on Underground Sea and the only deck I can put him on is Storm with a possibility of Doomsday. He starts combo’ing off by turn 3 but I do notice he’s playing the Echo of Eons version of this deck which tells me to bring in both of my REB’s for Game 2. He also shows me Burning Wish so I remember to keep in Tabernacle as I suspect he may have Empty the Warrens in his sideboard. Blasting an Echo off of LED mana is generally game over for them. He wins Game 1 easily however. 

As we’re shuffling he tells me that he’s very familiar with the Lands matchup as his friend runs Lands all the time and that his friend won’t play this matchup anymore. I tell him that I don’t blame his friend in the least and was hoping to avoid this matchup all day as well. He obviously agrees but is thrilled I’m sitting across from him.

Game 2: We play a few lands back and forth, he cantrips a bit and I set up some stuff. I keep FOV in my hand along with a Loam which I feel won’t do too much right now. I have 4 mana-producing lands on my side of the field and I draw a second copy of Crop Rotation. I pass back and hope that he doesn’t kill me this turn as I have the win wrapped up if he passes. He thinks a bit… and then starts storming off. He leads with Chrome Mox > LED > LED, but before the second LED resolves I FOV both the LED and the Chrome Mox hoping he doesn’t have enough mana to win. FOV resolves and he floats no mana off of them. The second LED resolves and he passes to me. I double Crop Rotation for Stage + Depths and present lethal. We go to Game 3.

WINCON: Lage

Game 3: I didn’t do any sideboarding differently than Game 2 since my entire sideboard is now basically in my deck. I start Wastelanding him early on and I believe he was on a mulligan this game so I’m just trying to slow him down until I can make Lage, which I believe is my best win condition. I make sure to leave up Crop Rotation at all times and a few turns later he starts storming off. He Wish’s for Empty and puts out 8 goblin tokens. One of his friends is now standing behind him watching the match as we’re close to time in the round at this point and on his EOT I Crop for a Tabby. His face fills with dread as he only has 2 lands on his side of the field and he says to me “That’s still in your deck?” To which I reply “Yeaaaa,” trying to sound empathetic but feeling like I have the game wrapped up. His friend walks away from the table and I’m about to tell him that Tabby is pitch-able to Mox Diamond as the very least and that I’d rather have it as an option in case my opponent is playing Empty than not have it but I don’t say anything else to him (plus he showed me Burning Wish). On my turn I wasteland him down to 1 land and take a few hits from 1 goblin until I work up getting a Saga online and start beating down with a construct. He now has a full grip of 8 cards the turn before I’m about to win and casts a Brainstorm. I REB it and he concedes.

He tells me that his friend probably won’t let him live down the fact that he lost to Lands and I explained then that he just shouldn’t tell him anything. He then tells me that he’s sure that that was the reason he friend left the table and the blasphemy within his group of friends was already being spread. I wished him luck and walked away feeling unbeatable, and hungry. I walked to my car, ate half of a meal I had prepared and waited for my next match.

WINCON: Mana denial + Construct beats

Match 4: Yorion Death and Taxes (WW)

Game 1: I know what my opponent is playing because he sat next to me last round, and he presented Yorion as we shuffled for the first game. I generally don’t like this match up since they have tons of answers to Lage (4 Karakas, 4 Swords to Plowshares, 4 Solitude, 4 Flickerwisp, Sanctum Prelate on 2, and Wastelands). The best way I’ve found to beat this deck is get ahead on resources through Exploration/Valakut Exploration, while using Tabernacle and Wastelands to stifle their mana. As soon as they pull ahead on cards it’s generally impossible to win from the Lands side. We go back and forth for a while but I’m able to pull ahead exactly this way with Valakut Exploration and Retrofitter Foundry.

WINCON: Valakut + Retrofitter damage

Game 2: This game goes almost the same way as Game 1. I Crop for Tabby early on and make him use his mana to keep his creatures alive and he falters on his 4th land drop. He works his way up to Stoneforge + Kaldra but I have a Maze to contend with that. I then copy a Stage into another Maze just in case he finds Port or Wasteland. He ends up paying the Tabernacle tax on his Kaldra token which I am ecstatic about since he doesn’t have to do that. I work on generating thopters with Retrofitter and tap out for another Valakut. At this point all of my lands and creatures are tapped but I have RFF untapped, which has the ability to turn a thopter into a 4/4 just by tapping it. He taps both of creatures to attack me and then untaps them to think about it. I don’t see his eyes moving to the side of the field where RFF is so encourage him to attack me by picking up my pen as if to broadcast that I’m ready to take the damage. He turns his creatures sideways and declares them attacking. I immediately put my pen down activate RFF making a 4/4 and block one of his creatures. He concedes next turn. 

I give him the friendly advice after the game that he doesn’t need to pay for the Tabernacle tax for Kaldra tokens since they’re indestructible and he, along with a lot of other players, tend to think Tabernacle says ‘sacrifice’ while it actually says ‘destroy.’ 

WINCON: Retrofitter damage

Match 5: Izzet Delver (WW)

Game 1: I don’t really remember Game 1 so much but I do remember that I Wastelanded and GQ’d my opponent out of the game. It’s very important to be ahead on card advantage through Exploration and Loam in this match up. One main way to win this game is to destroy all of their lands and then put out a Tabernacle to destroy their creatures keeping a Stage as backup in case they try and Wasteland it. And even if they do it’s not the end of the world since the deck runs 4 Loams. Maze does a great job at holding the opponent off until this line can be set up. It was over quickly.

WINCON: Mana denial

Game 2: The next game my opponent puts out a DRC on turn 1 that hangs around the entire game and almost kills me. I end up drawing Endurance and holding it up for a few turns to try and play around Daze. DRC has been a 3/3 for a few turns now and I finally get to the point where I have 4 mana. DRC attacks and I fire off a Crop Rotation that gets FOW’d. I then flash out Endurance in hopes that my opponent doesn’t have another counter spell. He doesn’t, and a 1/1 DRC crashes into my Endurance. I set up generating servos with Retrofitter to hold off a dashed Ragavan since I’m at a low life total and that coupled with a Bolt would be enough to win. My Endurance gets there.

WINCON: Endurance beats with Retrofitter backup

Match 6: Yorion Aluren (WLL)

Game 1: At this point I’m 1st seed (5-0 in matches and 10-1 in games), playing at Table 1. It’s a great feeling until I see where Table 1 is located. There’s about 1 foot between me and the roped off point for the feature match area and all traffic is funneled through this space. It’s extremely hard to concentrate when you’re being bashed by a bookbag to the shoulder or face every 30 seconds and my opponent feels the same. He presents Yorion and I put him on D&T. He wins the die roll and starts off by playing basic Forest into Birds of Paradise. I feel my mind rewire itself as I actually have no idea now what he’s on. I play Tabernacle and pass, he then plays a dual land and passes back. I Wasteland the dual and eventually lock him out of the game since he missed a few land drops. He concedes and for the first time in the tournament I have no idea what I’m playing against or how to sideboard and I feel like that could spell disaster.

WINCON: Mana Denial

Game 2: My opponent more or less starts off the same way and a few back and forth turns later he casts Aluren. I did not see this coming whatsoever and I’ve only played against it online once in my testing so I really wasn’t prepared for it. I did end up bringing in 1 FOV because I feel like I have to if I don’t really know what my opponent is on but I never found it. He proceeds to combo kill me and we go to Game 3.

Game 3: The only outs I have to this other than denying my opponent mana are the REB’s on the Strix or FOV when he’s about to combo off (and I suppose a Blast Zone on 4 but that’s unlikely). We go back and forth for a few turns and my draws are terrible. He combo kills me and my streak is broken. I have a vivid fear that at this point I’m going to lose my next 3 matches and finish 5-4 (all 6-3 records were guaranteed to pay out). I tell him that it’s him that’s the unfortunate one since he’ll have to be at Table 1 the next round and we both laugh. I head out to my car, finish the last of the meals that I brought with me, chug some water, wash my face and try to reset. My mind isn’t feeling as sharp as it was a few hours ago but I presume most people are starting to feel it at this point.

Match 7: Elves (WLW)

Game 1: My opponent leads on fetch > Forest > Green Sun into Dryad arbor. I play out Tabernacle and assume, incorrectly, that they’re on a Depths/Maverick deck. My opponent then plays out a second Dryad and hits me with the first one. I set up my mana and pass back. In the upkeep after Tabernacle tax is paid for, I punishing fire one of the Dryads. A land drop is missed followed quickly by a concession. I do not pick up that my opponent is on Elves (even though this is probably the only deck in the format that plays 2 Dryad Arbors) at this point and end up sideboarding out all but 1 of my Depths, which is a crucial mistake against this deck.

WINCON: Mana denial

Game 2: I mulligan to 5 and keep a sketch hand but feel it’s probably better than a decent 4. My draws were horrible as I drew multiple Mox Diamonds after having played all of my lands. I also quickly realize that I sideboarded incorrectly as my opponent plays turn 1 Allosaurus Shepherd. I die to a couple of 5/5’s.

Game 3: I’m ready now for Game 3 and I’ve re-boarded appropriately. I play land + Mox and hold up Punishing Fire and pass. I destroy their first elf and present Lage next turn off of Exploration. My opponent concedes.

WINCON: Lage

It’s worth noting at this point that, other than dying to Storm on the play, both of my other loses have come from not sideboarding correctly or knowing what I was playing against. A crucial piece of information needed to do well in these tournaments. 

Match 8: Karn Echos (WLW)

Game 1: I knew my next opponent was on Karn Echos. I’ve played against this deck a few times online and the only real threat is Karn. Tabernacle does a great job at keeping Sai’s thopters at bay and Maze can handle their constructs. This is exactly how I win Game 1 and my opponent concedes stating that he thinks we should go immediately to Game 2 and hurry with sideboarding due to time. The clock still shows a healthy 35 minutes however, so I’m guessing that he knows this match up can take a while if the pilots are slow.

WINCON: Mana denial

Game 2: My opponent is really playing quickly now and I’m still unsure why but he begins rushing me a bit too, which I countered by not acknowledging. I played at a healthy speed and kept an eye on the clock throughout the entire match and guess that it may be a tactic to try and rush his opponent into playing sloppy. I attempt to set up a Lage kill but he plays Thought Monitor into Thought Monitor and my Lage is blocked both times. He eventually creates enough servos and constructs to secure Game 2.

Game 3: My opponent barely shuffles and appears to be in a real hurry even though we’re at 17 minutes left on the clock. I tell him that even if we go to time we won’t be on time anymore but he appears not to hear me. The game goes to a healthy 7ish turns and he plays Emry, milling over Aether Spellbomb. I have exactly enough mana to create Lage and play Pithing Needle to name either Emry or Spellbomb. I create Lage, he blocks with his only remaining flier and I slam Needle naming Emry. He draws his final card after being hellbent, looks around at the board state and concedes the game. 

WINCON: Lage

Match 9: Izzet Delver (ID)

We’re finally in the crucial last match of the night and I’m on Table 2. My record is 7-1 with my only loss going to the only undefeated person in the room. My current opponent also has the highest breakers in the room (>70%), so I assume that I’m able to ID into the Top 8. My opponent was extremely confident that only the top 2 tables were mathematically allowed to ID and guarantee to make Top 8. I didn’t see how he could be wrong.

I sit anxiously refreshing the stats to see if I made Top 8 and it finally shows that I have come in 6th place. I’m pretty happy and think to myself that if we can wrap this up quickly I can still make it home before midnight and sneak in 4 hours of sleep before my next day of work. I look over at my friend who’s still with me, ending his day at a cool 6-3 and tell him that I’m going to split if given the option so we can get the heck out of there. We still have a 3 hour drive home and my mind is gone at this point (it’s now 9pm and we’ve been playing for 11 hours).

We get our pictures taken and congratulations are all accounted for and we get the news that we will be entering Top 8 momentarily (someone anonymously submitted that they wanted to play it out). I decide my options might be to use a sick day as there was no feasible way I’d make it home on time anymore, even if I lost my next match, and contemplated which energy drink I would have to consume to stay awake for the drive home.

Quarter Finals: Affinity (LWW)

This match was at the backup feature table and was streamed live on Twitch after the first feature match had concluded. As of this article is has not yet been posted to YouTube but I presume that it will be in the near future. For now, the vod is here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1152873734

Game 1: I don’t remember much of this game but I remember enough to know that I lost.

Game 2: As we begin shuffling for Game 2 we hear that the feature match is over and our match would begin streaming. The Twitch video can be seen in the link above.

My starting hand was nuts as I lead on Mox > Exploration and fetch land. I then Loam back both of my lands and pass turn. My opponent leads on Karakas and passes back. I Loam on my turn, fetch again to get back as many lands as possible for my Loam, and play Blast Zone and pass back deciding to keep up Crop Rotation. My opponent plays Ethersworn Cannonist which doesn’t do too much against me so I’m happy to see it, and passes back. I Rotate EOT for a Wasteland and tick up Blast Zone to 2 in order to answer his threat if needed and also set up Wasteland + Loam next turn to destroy all of his permanents. I know that the Cannonist isn’t really much of a threat but I figured that if I destroyed all of his permanents he would concede and that’s exactly what happens. I play a Maze of Ith to further lock him out and he concedes. These are the kinds of games I signed up for when I registered this deck. 

WINCON: Mana denial

Game 3: My opponent leads on Saga > Retrofitter and passes to me. I lead on Taiga with a few options but find it’s best to pass turn and tag both of his permanents with my FOV. I’m hoping for a quick concession but he ends up playing another Saga > Retrofitter. On my turn I Wasteland his Saga because I don’t want him to play a sol-land and start pumping out servos. He then plays a Walking Ballista on X=1 and passes back. I decide to keep him off of permanents until I can draw into a Loam and start attacking his lands so I keep Grove hidden and play Stage > Punishing Fire to destroy his Ballista. Over the next few turns I continue to buy back Punishing Fire and take care of his threats before they become something I can’t deal with. My opponent plays Pithing Needle naming Stage and passes back. I draw REB and end up holding it mainly for Emry or Thought Monitor, basically anything that can put him ahead on card advantage. I don’t really have anything going on at this point so I play a Saga myself in hopes to fetch up my Map which would take me from having almost no options to having a bunch of options, hence a better board state. My Saga ticks up to 3 and my mind is just gone at this point as I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. It’s going on midnight and I’m fried. I end up floating mana for Map, however I take a step back as I’m going through my deck and notice that if I just lock up his RFF and play the Maze in my hand his board is essentially null. I end up getting Needle for this reason and miss making a construct as well as waste the floating mana.

My opponent starts counting his artifacts and plays a Thought Monitor and I just immediately let it resolve, as I already have an answer for it in my graveyard and I’d rather try to answer a larger threat with it. My opponent draws into Disenchant and blows up my Needle putting RFF back online. I Fire the Thought Monitor and buy it back EOT, drawing into another Saga, which feels great knowing I can find Map with this one and generate some blockers to hold him off. My opponent is in top deck mode and I put down my defenses by tapping all of my Groves only to have my Punishing Fire Surgical’d.

I draw and play GQ on his Ancient Tomb to take him off of his mana since incremental damage by servos is a way I can lose this game and decide that this is the best option I have at slowing him down. He draws a land, plays it and passes, I make another construct and fetch up Map to get Blast Zone to put my Stage back online. I’m hoping to set up a Depths kill or have the ability to copy one of our Sagas since I’m out of gas. I pass back and my opponent creates a construct with RFF. He attacks with both and I calculate what feels like the hardest math I’ve ever had to do in my entire life. I’m pretty sure double blocking won’t kill both of my creatures…but I can’t be sure since my brain has long since checked out. I double block the construct with my constructs and maze his big creature. I am relieved when the ashes clear.

My turn and I pop the Blast Zone before playing the Tabernacle that I drew to hide information, destroying his Needle and RFF, along with my Exploration that really isn’t doing anything, and pass back after playing Tabernacle. He hits me for 1 and I Stage my Maze. My turn and I draw another Maze and pass back. My opponent then plays a Ballista on X=3 tapping out and everyone at the table (including me) forgets about Tabernacle. The judges step aside and we realize what has happened. I close my eyes for a bit in hopes of recharging and they rule that the creatures are destroyed. My turn and I FORGET AGAIN to pay for Tabernacle since the construct isn’t really on my mind. I pass back and clap my hands when my opponent remembers the Tabernacle tax on his next turn.

I evaluate the board state at this point and realize that I’m dead to this Ballista unless I find an answer and at the moment I draw into Crop Rotation to set up for Lage. My opponent is empty-handed and I make Lage EOT for the win.

WINCON: Lage

Semi Finals: Jeskai Midrange (LL)

I look over at my friend who’s still with me and his eyes are as bloodshot as mine. I tell him he’s a trooper for hanging in there.

Game 1: I don’t remember much of this game but I know that my opponent created a bunch of constructs and killed me exactly even though I made Lage and was about to win the next turn. Incremental damage is surely a way Lands can lose a game.

Game 2: I really don’t remember anything at all about this game except that I made a crucial misplay. My opponent had a Murktide Regent and two dual lands. I had Stage + 2 mana producing lands with a Tabernacle in hand. I drew Wasteland for the turn and immediately used it. As soon as it was in the graveyard I asked if I could take it back as I saw that I had moved too quickly and wanted to copy it with my Stage before using it. I was denied, and played Tabernacle anyway. My opponent misses his next land drop which tells me that if my Stage was a Wasteland I would have been able to destroy his only threat and have a great chance at winning the game. I die to Murktide and my tournament is over.

Final Thoughts

In general I had a great run in the tournament and finished 8-2-1 if you include all of my matches. Although it might be a bit arbitrary to firmly state the exact win conditions for each game since certain strategies may have prevailed at different points in each game my main win conditions were as follows (25 total games):

  • Mana denial: 9 games
  • Marit Lage: 4 games
  • Retrofitter beats: 3 games
  • Construct beats: 2 games
  • Damage through Punishing Fire/Valakut: 2 games

I’m sure there’s a deeper evaluation that can be made here with this data but it’s nice to see how often certain strategies play out and how crucial the new additions of the deck have become compared to older win conditions. 

As a reflection, I asked myself why I thought I did better in this tournament versus the local tournament, which is a fair question that anyone should ask themselves that wish to get better, and the answers that I think make the most sense are familiarity with the meta (and of course variance likely plays a role in there somewhere too) and better sideboarding discipline. Most of the games I lost at the local tournament were due to poor sideboarding choices and a lack of focus on how to best win the game. As I stated earlier, the deck only has a few win conditions and generally speaking 1 or 2 of these win conditions are best versus certain decks so they should be your main focus. You should of course not abandon other lines if the opportunity to win presents itself, but you should know what your deck is weak against and ensure your post board games follow suit. Since most Lands sideboards are roughly identical the only real thing that differs from deck to deck is the quantity of each card each player prefers and almost all of the cards presented there are reactive (except Sphere). This generally leads to a greater focus on either the mana denial or Lage route to victory since the cards that are cut in sideboarding are usually cards that are strictly blank in the match up, which makes sense since Lands is essentially a toolbox style deck and looks to answer everything on Game 1. All things considered it was a hell of a weekend for a dead format.

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