Hello. My name is Anthony, and I have a confession to make.
I like to attack.
For two, for three…it doesn’t matter. I’ve done it for an entire day…an entire weekend! Sometimes I attack with two or more people at the same time. Sometimes I get down with untapping my lands afterwards; sometimes I get freaky with [card Goblin Piledriver]Piledriver[/card] math.
I attack so much that I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’ve been seen on the Internet attacking. I even got paid for it a few times, but that doesn’t matter because I’d do it for free. As a matter of fact, I’ve paid for the right to do it with a bunch of other people in the same room.
I’m AA (Anthony Avitollo), and I belong in AA: Attackers Anonymous.
Imagine my complete and utter dismay when it became very obvious to me and others in my support system that attacking is not the way to win Legacy games right now in the Star City Games Open Series.
What am I supposed to do?
I had both Adam Prosak and Ben Weinburg telling me that I should play Brainstorm (Adam recently added it to the Burn deck in SCG: LA), but I recently tried that and it turned out horribly: I played Team America at SCG Memphis and promptly went 1-3 drop, with three losses to Merfolk. I felt like I got punished for not just playing Goblins since Junk did not turn up in the numbers that I expected and I am just so comfortable and confident playing Goblins in a non-Engineered Plague field.
Distraught, I turned to the Internet for succor. I found Kithkin master Cedric Phillips, and he had this to say:
we are who we are
While Cedric’s comments really did hit the mark (and made me feel worse about not playing Goblins in Memphis), I felt like I was missing out on a big part of Magic. In addition to beating down, I’ve played plenty of combo decks in my career (even going so far as to play Pyromancer’s Ascension in local Legacy tournaments) but I’ve never been able to successfully grasp the ‘control’ deck. Sure, I won a lot with Faeries, but that doesn’t really count since it was much more aggro-control and just had unbeatable draws.
By ‘control’ I mean grind-it-out, card-advantage, prioritizing-threats, pulling-the-trigger-on-removal/countermagic, if-you-mess-up-you-probably-die ‘control’ decks. I wasn’t going to be good at it out of the gate, but I was interested in at least trying it out. Based on previous results, it looked like all the attacking decks were going to suck for the Atlanta Open because of the proliferation of combo decks in the format.
It seemed to me to be a good time to learn how to play a deck like Counterbalance.
Fortunately for me, I have one of the best (if not the best) and most experienced Counterbalance players on speed dial. It was like that scene in movies where the aging bachelor/bachelorette tells their aging mother that they are getting married.
Me: “Hey Adam, I have something to tell you. I’m going to play Counterbalance in Atlanta.”
Prosak: “I’M SO HAPPY! YOU’RE ALL GROWN UP!”
I basked in a warm, proud glow.
After talking to Adam for a while about lists, I decide to try the following for the local $100 Legacy tournament on Wednesday:
[deckbox did="a56" size="small" width="560"]
This is basically Adam’s SCG: DC list, with the Mountain moving to the main deck and the sideboard changing to accommodate the extra slot. We decide that if it went well on (or just felt good about) Wednesday, I’d play the deck on Sunday. (We also decided we would explore other options if that wasn’t the case.)
With deck in hand, I head on over to play 5 rounds with a top 8. Here’s a mini-report:
Round 1 – Lose mirror, but I had a Game 1 loss due to arriving late.
Round 2 – Beat a R/G Madness deck.
Round 3 – Lose to U/G Madness due to a turn 2 Rootwater Thief taking too many win conditions in Game 1 when he swings for lethal with 0 cards left in his library. In Game 2 I am solidly in control, but time runs out. My opponent was leaving, however, so he gave me the win. J
Round 4 – Lose to Iggy Pop because I mistakenly said ‘OK’ to acknowledge a spell when I could have blind-flipped on Counterbalance. Losing is how I decided to learn that lesson instead of trying to explain what I meant by ‘OK’. (See the end of this article for the solution to this problem.)
Round 5 – Concede to the 2-0-2 player since he can make top 8 and I cannot. We play anyway, and he smashes me with his Sneak Attack/Show and Tell deck. Game 1 he had 3-4 counterspells to back up his Sneak, and Game 2 he just S&T’d me on turn 2.
While Wednesday was not great, I felt as though I could have won almost all of the matches if I had more experience with the deck and seen slightly better cards (In one of the games vs. Iggy Pop, I saw about 18 different cards without seeing a non-land when I needed an answer to 6 goblin tokens). I felt good about playing the deck, and decided that I will indeed run it on Sunday.
Quick aside: It is amazing how easy it is to play a new deck at a big event when you can drive to the tournament that morning, and it doesn’t cost anything to sign up. Hooray for Player’s Club levels!
After picking up the last couple cards I needed for the sideboard, accidentally slow-rolling someone on an ANT deck (Sorry, Matt!), and trying to find people to Cube after my inevitable round 5 drop, the pairings go up and it is game time. HOOGH!
Round 1 (vs. Team America) – Game 1 I get attacked down to 1 by around turn 8, but I worked hard to stay alive while slowly seizing control of the game. I finally draw a Jace, and activate his ultimate with about 12 minutes left on round clock.
In Game 2 I am able to get the soft lock in play fairly quickly, and time is called while I am working on getting Jace up to that lucky 13 loyalty.
Round 2 (vs. Counterbalance w/green) – I am playing J.T., a friend who I know is a good player with a lot of experience playing the deck. Game 1 I had Sensei's Divining Top and Counterbalance in play, but I was outmaneuvered into putting my Top on top of my library, while he has both in play along with a Tarmogoyf. I stuck a Jace, the Mind Sculptor to keep the Tarmogoyf off my back but I never see a spell of converted mana cost two to get rid of it for good with Counterbalance.
I also dropped a Vedalken Shackles, which looked good for me until J.T. plays not one, but two Shackles of his own! Game over, man, game over.
Game 2 I had a good anti-spell draw with Spell Pierces and such, but he sticks an early Tarmogoyf and Trygon Predator which ran me over pretty quickly.
Round 3 (vs. White Stax) – Game 1 I [card Force of Will]Force[/card]’d a turn 2 Trinisphere, counter a turn 3 Metalworker, counter a turn 4 Smokestack, counter a turn 5 Armageddon, and play a Jace afterwards. He drew nothing else relevant, and then died to Jace’s ultimate.
Game 2 my opponent tried to resolve some Suppression Fields but I counter them and I have Top/Counterbalace/Jace in play by turn 4. Nice cards, real fair.
Round 4 (vs. Tempo Faeries) – He resolved two Tombstalkers because even though I have the soft lock, I didn’t have any hard counters due to losing a counter war over a Bitterblossom (that seems really bad for me). I resolved a Jace, and he pushed the Tombstalkers off the board for a while (since my opponent’s graveyard was empty), but he Stifle’d the bounce trigger and I die to the extra attack he gets in.
Game 2 he plays an early Bitterblossom with multiple counter backup, managing to counter everything else I do to answer it. I died to Faerie tokens and another Tombstalker easily.
Round 5 (vs. a Kuldotha Forgemaster deck) – I [card Swords to Plowshares]Sword[/card]ed a turn 2 Lodestone Golem and a turn 4 Wurmcoil Engine, much to my opponent’s chagrin (“That card is so bad right now!”), before I find a Counterbalance to go with my Top. I countered his other relevant spells, and Jace fatesealed the win.
He sided in about 10 cards for Game 2, and got a pretty disruptive start including a turn 1 [card Chalice of the Void]Chalice[/card] for 1 (my hand at the time was 3 lands and 3 1-drops) and a Defense Grid. He eventually wound up with a Blightsteel Colossus in play off of a Forgemaster and 2 artifact lands. Two turns later, I hadn’t found a Swords (Chalice had been destroyed by a Disenchant).
In Game 3 his only lands are Ancient Tombs so he took a ton of damage, which let an early Vendilion Clique finish him off before he could get anything going. The final damage is actually done by Ancient Tomb as my opponent decided to commit seppuku instead of having a deck with Swords to Plowshares beat him.
Round 6 (vs. Burn) – In Game 1 I take some early damage but stabilize at 9 life, and Jace ensures the victory while my opponent gets mana flooded.
Game 2 he plays two Grim Lavamancers and a Figure of Destiny by turn 2, and I felt great knowing that the Trinket Mage in hand will be crushing when it finds Engineered Explosives…until I actually I search my library and find that the EE somehow it didn’t make it into my deck! I have 6 basics in play as lands (shutting off Price of Progress), but the Lavamancers do too much damage.
The third game he starts off the same opening as the second, but this time I have a Fire//Ice to blow out his early creatures (“I did not see that coming”) and I stabilize with the lock in play at a healthy 12 life.
Round 7 (vs. NO Bant) – Game 1 I get stuck on three lands, while he floods a bit in the early going. The only action in the first eight turns or so involved casting a Swords on an early Noble Hierarch to prevent a turn 3 or4 Natural Order with counter backup, and a second Swords on a Rhox War Monk. While he continued to flood, I managed to draw some land to help set up Top/CB without tapping out then started looking for a win condition.
He played a Dryad Arbor, which I promptly Shackled, and started beating (I had to get my fix somehow!). He then played a Tarmogoyf (to block or Natural Order I wasn’t sure), and I decided that it was a better target for Shackles. I resolved a Jace and was able to keep blockers off the field long enough for a Fire/Ice to deal the final two points of damage.
In Game 2 I Swords another early Hierarch to keep him off of a green creature, and I establish control of the board with the soft lock + counters in hand by turn five. Jace briefly makes an appearance before time is called in the round, and my opponent couldn’t win quickly enough since he boarded the combo out anyway.
Round 8 (vs. Reanimator) – For Game 1 I mulligan down to five cards on the play, but that hand is three lands, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Counterbalance! I played the Top, but he untapped and Thoughtseized me and took the Counterbalance. Frown.
Unfortunately for him I’m a “master” and draw another Counterbalace, and played it. Smile. He doesn’t resolve another meaningful spell for the rest of the game.
Game 2 I counter an early spell or two, then assemble the lock and just float cards with converted mana cost 1 and 2 on top of my deck until I find Jace. It was all academic from that point.
Round 9 (vs. [card Painter’s Servant]Painter[/card]/Grindstone – In Game 1 we play cat and mouse for a while, but Jace eventually forced him to combo off while I have a Swords in hand to break up his combo. Game 2 he landed a turn 1 Goblin Welder and I could not kill it. This caused problems as all I had were Disenchants to break up his combo; he could just activate Welder to get back his Servant to keep the combo going. As it turned out he also had more counterspells than I did too!
Game 3, much like an earlier match, was a race between Ancient Tomb damage and Vendilion Clique beats to see which would kill my opponent first. Together, however, they worked even better as a path to victory. He did manage to assemble the combo anyway, but I broke it up with another Swords to Plowshares.
Nine rounds, nine different decks. The top 16 consisted of eight distinct archetypes, even though High Tide appears to be the big winner overall (wish I would have played it!). What about me?
The final result:
16 DeAngelo, John P 21 53.6390
17 Avitollo, Anthony 21 52.7704
18 Braverman, Phillip T 19 45.5306
I missed an extra $50 and an additional 2 Open Series points by 0.8686%, and am the only 21-pointer outside of top 16. This was nothing new for me, unfortunately. In Philadelphia last season, this happened:
17 Avitollo, Anthony 19 67.0209
I had drawn unintentionally in the last round when a win would have put me solidly in the Top 8. Back in those days, you didn’t even get fifty bucks for being 17; all you got was a thank you for playing, and slap on the rear, and a deep-down longing for what could have been.
The real final result?
I played a deck that was outside of my comfort zone, played it pretty well all day (outside of the mirror), won $50 for my efforts, and walked away with some large tournament experience, a sense of accomplishment, and a healthy dose of confidence that I could play Counterbalance/control decks in future tournaments and be successful.
The biggest lessons I took from my experience was to use your life as a resource freely (the first 15 points or so don’t matter as much as the last 5), identify which threats need to be countered and which can be handled in permanent form, and to never give up on a bleak-looking game when you are playing powerful cards like Jace and Top in your deck.
If a lifelong AA member like me can do it, you too can break the addiction of turning guys sideways.
P.S. I hope I can play Goblins again sometime in Legacy. I miss those crazy guys. (Sniffle)
Bonus: Saying ‘OK’
David Mayer had a great solution to this problem which I’d like to share with all of you. Once it is obvious that you are playing control, tell your opponent that you will tell them that the phrase “OK” is only an acknowledgement of their casting of a spell, and that “Resolves” or “It resolves” is the only way you will communicate that their spell is resolving.
Clarifying your intent with your statements will keep you and your opponent in line!