Part 1: The List
The state of Arizona is blessed with a reasonably-functional Legacy tournament scene. A series of qualifiers feeds (both in money and participants) a 16-person end-of-the-year tournament. I had qualified in October by winning an event with RG Combo Lands (4 Depths / 1 Saga, report here). The next month I won a similar event playing RUG Saga lands (No formal report. Deck was a big mess of stuff I wanted to try – the 3-color manabase starts “working” [big quotes] if you cut Grove, and that Ghost Quarter really impressed). So I was going into the December masters event with two consecutive wins in my proverbial cap. The plan was to play a 4 Depths / 4 Endurance RUG list that used Flusterstorms to protect Marit Lage and resolve Minsc and Boo.
Then everything changed when White Plume Adventurer was added to Magic Online.
The Initiative matchup for traditional Lands builds turns out to be truly dreadful. Your removal is quickly outscaled, the deck plays 12ish natural answers to Marit Lage, flying blockers, and quickly bursts through +20 life. Insert the last report’s diatribe about Saga here. Add in a manabase with several basics and the life loss from Trap! going through Glacial Chasm, game 1 was feeling pretty much impossible against any player that knew how to mulligan aggressively enough. The sideboard didn’t offer a lot of help, since they were already adapting to pro-red creatures (trading the Initiative isn’t even good for Lands – we don’t apply enough pressure to stop them from crushing any reasonable race), and so-called hammers like Torpor Orb or Anarchy were too slow and unreliable (not to mention the bad position of giving up game 1 and trying to win a second sideboard game on the draw).
With a sub-30% matchup against the “best deck” and rumors that fast combo was the next level to beat it, I was ready to give up Exploration and got as far as checking if any local shops had Cephalid Illusionists in-stock when I saw an Eternal Weekend report from discord user amalek0. They played an exciting 8-Mulch variant that preached the power of Ghost Wuarter and streamlined deck construction. All credit for the list goes to them – read their report for more insight.
Amalek’s list gave the Mulch deck a dimension I think it had lacked previously – Ghost Quarter denying opponents the safety of basics and leaving them hopelessly exposed to the Tabernacle. Combined with the speed of Manabond, we can present our own subgame that invalidated the massive card advantage of the initiative mechanic. Instead of fighting them on their axis with creature combat, we brought them to our home turf – the battle for lands as a resource.
Cut your Mox Diamonds.
Put your lands into play instead of the graveyard.
Cut every maindeck card that doesn’t say “land” in its oracle text.
Cast your body into a woodchipper.
This is how I learned to stop worrying and love the Mulch.
Starting with Amalek’s list, I did what I do with almost any Lands list and added two untapped green sources. Probably still want ~1 more (cutting stage?). The deck already mulligans extremely hard, and I wanted to reduce unkeepable hands as much as possible. I considered cutting the 2nd Boseiju for a pathway but didn’t. Boseiju was really good so I’m glad I didn’t.
I wasn’t sure about the Hall package, and am really skeptical having time to cast Stoney Silence in any matchup where it matters, but decided to trust the person who actually tested and left it in. I used Hall once all day in a game I had already won, but can see the appeal.
The deck is clean dead to Storm or Omni, which I didn’t expect any of, and also Cephalids, which I was worried other people might pick up after some breakout performances. Sometimes you just have to read a metagame and commit.
I fired off one modo league, going 3-2 with both losses to initiative. But unlike previously, I felt like there was a plan.
Part 2: The Event
The day before the tournament was also my first day off work for the end of the year. I prepared by baking way too many cookies which I drove around delivering to people. Amalek has written a tournament report but it hadn’t been posted yet so I’m hoping to have the element of surprise. I try to get a bit of dex practice flipping cards for Mulch. Apparently not enough since I end up calling a judge on myself twice flipping additional cards.
The morning of the tournament I wake up tired, make some eggs, and pet the cat. I put a gallon of pastries from yesterday into the car and flip through the PUP discography on the drive up. I switch to Squid once I get to Phoenix and manage to not drive my car into a wall while drumming along to GSK.
The tournament format is roughly as follows – everyone is divided into two pods, first two rounds are against your pod, subsequent rounds against the other pod. Everyone plays until they are either 4-0 (immediately making top 8 and getting play/draw option) or takes 3 losses (eliminated). Other than 4-0 players, play/draw in top 8 is determined by die roll. I like this format because it eliminates the scourge of intentional draws and places everything in your luck at winning games of magic.
R1 v Food Chain Goblins (WLW)
Round 1 I sit down against one of two Goblins players at the event. This matchup is reasonably good but has gotten a lot harder with the innovation of the Food Chain combo making them faster and less dependent on the combat step. Also I’m playing zero removal spells.
Game 1: I have a fast Exploration hand with Loam, waste them a few times and Boseiju the Food Chain. My opponent has mountain forest in play when I draw Ghost Quarter and enter one of my favorite parts of paper magic by asking them how many basics Food Chain Goblins plays. It’s always nice to ask first, but they hedge around saying “oh a few.” I play my Ghost Quarter, hit their Mountain and ask them to show me. They would rather scoop.
Sideboard: – Karakas, Bog, 2 Winding Way; + Drop, 3 Force
Game 2: I have another solid hand but get greedy Mulching and don’t hold up Boseiju for a turn which allows them to combo kill me. They almost whiff with some exceptionally poor Muxus flips and reveal that they brought in both Leylines and Magus of the Moon (which I am 100% stone dead to), but eventually get enough nonsense in play with Conspicuous Snoop to one-shot me. In retrospect they had telegraphed the combo pretty hard by matroning for Matron the turn before so I should have known to play around it.
Game 3: I make 14 zombies on turn 2 and murder them.
Opponent Basic Count: 2
R2 v White Initiative (WLL)
Round 2 I play against the same opponent from round 2 of my last report, who I also played in round 3 of the last event. Both times they were on blue artifacts and I beat them cleanly. This time I saw in round 1 that they had switched to White Initiative. I lose the die roll which shaves probably 30% off my chances for the match.
Game 1: They don’t appear to have mulliganed enough so when I answer their “Cavern, pass” start with “Exploration, Waste” I establish “tempo” and they never recover, scooping to Ghost Quarter lock
Sideboard: – Karakas, Bog, Depths, Stage; + Drop, Maze, 2 Force
Amalek takes in Stoney Silence but I think it’s too hard to cast for the impact level and Force is really important to answer Chalice on 1 and 2. Think it’s possible you want all 3 Forces on the draw since t1 Chalice usually ends the game. Eventually Boseiju or Force can answer Chrome Mox to complete the lock.
Game 2: They keep a better hand with turn 1 Archon which obliterates my development. A few turns later Anointed Peacekeeper on Maze of Ith shuts me down and I die without putting up any serious opposition
Game 3: I keep the nuts on 7 with t1 Manabond into double Mulch, but after resolving both Mulches I still can’t trigger my Field of the Dead with a 6-land hand of only Maze, Wastelands, Ghost quarter and Field of the Dead. I finally get the 7th name a few turns later and make 14 zombies but a timely Seasoned Dungeoneer ends the game.
Opponent Basic Count: 3
I’m a bit frustrated with the loss so I go to my car and get my giant tupperware of baklava et al and start trying to feed the poor souls in the standard RCQ that’s sharing the same store. They have less players than the 16-cap legacy event.
R3 v Jeskai Cards (LWL)
I sit down for round three against an opponent I haven’t met but saw winning round 1 against Doomsday with a hand of cards that looked like Iteration Jeskai.
Game 1: I keep a really speculative 6 with Field, 3 other colorless lands, and two Mulches. Really indefensible keep that I justify by thinking Jeskai takes years to kill and guaranteeing my Field is in play matters. The biggest thing to learn with this deck is that with so few green sources and so many draw-threes you really want to mull to hands that are guaranteed functional. My opponent reveals themselves to not be on the stock list by curving Fable into Mentor and I die when my first spell – a hail-mary Crop for Yavimaya on turn 6 – is Forced.
Sideboard: – Karakas, Bog, Depths, Tabernacle, Maze; + Surgical, 2 Choke, 2 Force
I think this is the wrong sideboard plan and I should have shaved at least one Crop and skipped the Forces.
Game 2: I make 12 zombies on turn 2, Quarter their plains and murder them.
Game 3: My hand is fine but they curve Ashiok into Ruinition and I am ruined.
Opponent Basic Count: Too Many
I see both Doomsday players leaving the building so I’m at least safe from that. The only players I don’t want to be matched with at this point are the one Balustrade Spy gamer and my Reanimator opponent from the semis of October’s report, who has switched to some sort of knight /green sun pile. I think the mulches really help that matchup but he’s played a lot of unique tech in the past and I don’t want to have to find out about it in medias res.
R4 Delver (WW)
Now facing elimination (reminder that the tournament format is play-to-3-losses), I’m paired against the Delver player from top 8 of the last report. I had also defeated them in the semis of last month’s event so we’d joked about meeting in finals this time. Neither of us are so lucky. The last two matches were very long three-game sets in which I played a very controlling blasts-and-endurance configuration postboard, so I’m hoping I can juke them with my new all-prison approach to the matchup.
Game 1: Manabond resolves and my Loam flips Ghost Quarter and they scoop rapidly to my new all-prison approach to the matchup.
Sideboard: – Karakas, Depths, Stage, Brushland; + Drop, Maze, 2 Choke
Game 2: They reveal Price of Progress with Delver when I’m at 12 so I have to play very slow until I can find a window to wipe them off red. They have Hearse which slows me down for a bit while Maze holds off the Delver. Eventually I Boseiju the Hearse but lose my Loam to a Force of Negation which opens me up to resolve Choke. I have three Crop Rotations but not enough mana to feel confident rotating without risking losing the Maze that is keeping me out of Price range. Eventually I think they get antsy and tap out for a Borrower eot which allows me to Crop twice to get through their Force and get the Tabernacle on the field for a concession.
Opponent Basic Count: Just One
R5 4-Color Control (WW)
This round decides who makes top 8. The lone 4-0 is Goblins expert Dan Ford, also on Food Chain, who has beaten Initiative 3 times already today. I watched him trigger Forge targeting a Fury. Maybe people should check out this Goblins deck. My opponent is on 4-Color Control, a matchup I’m usually very worried about. I think their Loam is better and easier to protect than ours, Uro gives them an Exploration effect that is also a win condition, and they eventually Waste-lock us. Thankfully, this is another matchup where playing Mulches greatly improves things.
Game 1: I Manabond in 2 Wastes and a Ghost Quarter discarding Loam on the first turn and my opponent concedes. Easy.
Sideboard: – Depths, Tabernacle, Maze; +2 Choke, 1 Surgical
Game 2: My Exploration gets Forced but my opponent naturally draws and plays their Island so we enter like 20 turns of the Ghost Quarter lock. I have Boseijus to break their Fetches and am keeping them off two lands. My Loam gets surgicalled so I have to rely on Stage copies of Ghost Quarter to keep it up. They’re missing land drops without the ability to cantrip as I slowly build up to trigger Field of the Dead without any enchantments. I draw my Surgical to take their Wastelands revealing a hand of Force/Iteration/Uro/Loam/Brainstorm and a huge amount of Saga hate in the deck – once again getting equity from surprise factor. When they scoop to my naturally-drawn Bog wiping half their deck, I have two Chokes in hand vs their zero lands.
We’re on to top8.
Opponent Basic Count: One
Quarters v Elves WLW
Top 8 is myself, Dan Ford on Goblins, my Jeskai opponent from round 3 (also playing White Plume Adventurer), four copies of mono-W Initiative, and my opponent, known Lands player Anthony Rivera, on combo Elves.
He won last year’s event on his clever saga Lands build with 3 Expedition Maps (report here ) but had been playing around with Elves lately. When we talked earlier in the event he said he’d thought about bringing his old Lands deck and decided against it because the Initiative matchup looked “tricky”. This was a good decision. I’m a little worried because I hadn’t really thought about my Elves plan – the Mulches make the deck worse compared to a Depths-heavy build with removal.
Game 1: I win the die roll and keep a skeptical 7 with Yavimaya/Tabernacle/Crop/Depths. The plan works and turn 2 Tab into turn 3 token is good enough.
Sideboard: – Karakas, Bog; + Chasm, Drop
Game 2: I keep a Manabond hand but their start is fast enough I have to Manabond before I can make zombies. I eventually get Field online and have forty-some power that holds the elves at bay for a few turns (I think me bluffing +3 zombies with an uncracked fetch that had zero remaining targets saves me here), we futz around a bit more, they say “like 5” when I ask how many basics they have (in retrospect I think the number is likely much lower), then I die to double Craterhoof.
Game 3: I foolishly keep the same hand as game 1 without the Tabernacle. On 7 this was a clear mull but I think I’m overcompensating for my worries about assembling a win with a 2/3 combo setup instead of my usual 4/4. I have two Crops so I rationalize by saying I can get the Tabernacle or Chasm if needed. On turn 2 I should have rotated for the Tabernacle then used the 2nd Crop to combo after they tapped out on turn 3, replicating game 1. Instead I just pass on turns 2 and 3 and let them get 5 or 6 creatures in play, with my combo face up on the field.
My opponent tells me he has Natural Order + Boseiju. They then enter the tank.
I don’t remember the exact configuration of the board but he’s convinced that he can’t keep enough attackers for hoof to be lethal WHILE holding up Boseiju due most of his mana being stuck in one phase with Gaea’s Cradle. It is to my obvious benefit for this to be the case, and I refuse to do math of any kind, but a watching player with elves experience insists afterward I was dead. My opponent tanks for around twenty minutes (which I do not recommend actually letting your opponent do) and decides to play around two Crop Rotations and Glacial Chasm (which I in fact have) by swinging with some dorks and passing. I untap, Ghost Quarter their Cradle, and do what I should have done two turns ago by rotating for Tabernacle. They Boseiju my Tabernacle, then flash in Endurance targeting me. I show them how skilled I am by using my second Crop Rotation to spin the Tabernacle back into play, and they scoop to the combo a few turns later.
We’re both convinced he didn’t have the mana to kill me that turn but I still think forcing me to enter the Chasm would have been better, since I would have had to sacrifice both combo pieces to do it. Magic is hard and I am lucky.
Opponent Basic Count: “Like Five”
Semis v Initiative (WW)
Top four is me, 2x Initiative and Goblins, who has just defeated his fourth consecutive Initiative player. As I sit down my Initiative opponent’s friend (who also made top 8 with the deck) begs me to finish him off so they can go home. I win the die roll and tell them I’ll try my best.
Game 1: I’m pretty sure the texture of this matchup is mostly decided by the die roll and how aggressively both players are willing to mulligan. I’m willing to put my tournament on the line for this by shipping any game 1 hand without green source + Manabond. This heuristic gets me to four cards, but they’re all I need – Forest, Manabond, Wasteland, Mulch. My first mulch is gas and I draw a second one on turn 3 that flips Loam and they concede as the zombies start rolling in. My opponent had turn 1 White Plume and it didn’t seem close.
Sideboard same as last
Game 2: We play a bit of back-and-forth with Maze and Tabernacle v their Peacekeepers and fliers when I draw a Ghost Quarter. They have two Plains in play and are about to get a third from re-entering the undercity so I decided to deny them card advantage by Ghost Quartering preemptively. My opponent puts their Plains into the graveyard and starts untapping their other lands. I quickly stop them and try to explain how Ghost Quarter works. They look at me and say “oh yeah I cut the third Plains for another Eiganjo, fail to find.” Next turn I Loam back the Ghost Quarter and they concede.
Opponent Basic Count: TWO????
We’re done pretty quick so I watch the end of the other semifinals – Goblins v the Initiative player I lost to in round 2. Goblins resolves Virtue’s Ruin but can’t secure five consecutive wins against initiative, so it’s a rematch in finals.
Finals v Initiative (WLW)
I lose the die roll which bodes poorly. Thankfully based on our last game I’m pretty sure my opponent has Swords over Chalice main, which really lessens the play/draw disparity. Dan comments on how after reading my rant about Saga v Depths against combo decks in the last report he was pretty sure I’d play Mulch at this event. Always nice to hear from a fan – and an impressive, if retroactively coherent, read.
Game 1: My opponent goes to 5, while I keep my first good 7 of the event – Fetch, Tabernacle, Waste, Stage, Manabond, Mulch, Loam.
They lead on Petal, Tomb, Spellbinder, and tank for a surprising amount of time before taking my Manabond. They question if Mulch was the right choice. I’m pretty tired so I just sort of wave them off but in retrospect that would have given me access to a special zone just to avoid discarding my Mulch to Manabond which would have been really good for me.
I go Tabernacle pass which locks them for a few turns until I find a Maze to stabilize and run them out of mana sources.
Sideboard same as previous
Game 2: I keep a fine Manabond hand but they have turn 1 Chalice on 1 and I’m locked out. White people beat me down until I find a Boseiju but I can’t figure out a line to survive even breaking the Chalice. If I had Chasm in the deck I could have deployed multiple enchantments then used Rotation to enter the Chasm which might have given me time to build to Field but I think that’s narrow to want over anything else in the deck on the play. It’s very possible Chasm ends up being worth it on the draw with more practice.
Game 3: On the play again – I keep a solid Manabond hand that gets answered by turn 1 Lorin. I play my second Manabond, pray they don’t have Karakas, untap, cast Mulch and they scoop a few turns later when I Loam back my Ghost Quarter. Exactly how we drew it up.
Opponent Basic Count: Overall Not Enough
Hat Trick: Secured.
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