This week an interview with The Daily Show's Jon Stewart hit the 'net via The Guardian, in which he called the act of ferreting out the relevant factoids for use in his show "Turd Mining," and relates that this process, along with the overwhelming amount of news-media absorption required to be at the peak of his job, has caused him to live in a constant state of depression. I can relate to that, in a way – the "too much info, not enough time," part, at least.
As a pseudo-journalist who never really sought out that mantle I tend to have a lot to process each weekend myself. What I don't get is how Jon Stewart sees this as a negative thing. He is ostensibly doing the thing he loves to do, and if you can't find the positive in that, where can you find it? Certainly, he's been at it a long time – but I've been writing Magic content for a decade now, and I still manage to see the bright spots even when it feels like a slog. I suppose that's just the Great Pagliacci joke in a nutshell – comedians are often the people who suffer the most as a side effect of observing the world. Because I'm analyzing events and scrutinizing data, rather than finding humor in the morose, I have the privilege of distance from the material and can maintain objectivity in most instances, rather than being asked to invest. The times when I am invested in the material I'm covering usually mean that I'm intimately involved – and that typically correlates with tournament success; whereas for journalists like Stewart, involvement usually means something has gone drastically wrong.
These days, tournament result data is somewhat lacking for a writer who focuses on Legacy. I've seen worse Droughts than this, that's for certain - but we've been in the midst of a Monsoon for the past few years and I must say I've gotten a little used to that kind of riches. Being able to point to a major event each week to track the shape of a metagame is a rare gift for an Eternal player or writer, and unfortunately those days are seemingly behind us. When a weekend arises where a Legacy Grand Prix takes place anywhere in the world, it's worth taking note – not only because they are so rare, but because the money and invites on the line encourage people to put their pet decks down and bring the biggest guns they have to the table.
This weekend in Kyoto Japan, just under 2000 players did exactly that, and the result was 32 copies of Brainstorm in the Top 8 decks. Meanwhile, half a world away in Providence Rhode Island, 155 players sat down to battle, and a slightly less dramatic 24 copies of Brainstorm found their way to the elimination rounds.
Grand Prix Kyoto Top 8, 4/18/2015
StarCity Premier IQ Providence Top 8, 4/18/2015
Sneak and Show
Death and Taxes
Granted, I'm certainly minimizing the strategies of these decks to relegate them all to "Brainstorm decks" versus "not Brainstorm decks," but the distinction is valid. I feel like I've covered this ground recently so I won't belabor my point for too long, but I will state for the record that when real prizes and PT Invites are on the line, the presence of Brainstorm in your decklist is overwhelmingly conducive to your chances of success in a Legacy event.
When Mental Misstep was dominating the Legacy scene, Patrick Chapin famously wrote the following about Maverick (GW Hate Bears, now more prominently seen as Death and Taxes):
"The printing of Mental Misstep turned the format on its head, since the illusion that you can play non-blue Legacy decks was being threatened. Maverick helped Restore that illusion and brought fish back to the table."
There are two key takeaways from this quote – first, Legacy has an identifying characteristic that is "Blue decks are the best." This is not always obvious to the casual observer, because blue decks come in many shapes and sizes. This begets the "illusion" Pat refers to – that other decks are playable. Framing it in this way is somewhat combative, because players who are vocally anti-blue tend to see it as an affront to their particular sensibilities. You can argue about whether the format supports non-blue decks to a specific degree, but an incontrovertible fact remains: blue is best. Second, and probably much more importantly, the presence of good decks that are not blue does not conflict with the first point, rather their existence reinforces the "illusion," convincing many that it is possible to compete in Legacy with non-blue decks.
An interesting byproduct of the nature of Legacy as an Eternal format is the investment – in this case emotional rather than financial – players make in their decks. Many players who see themselves as "Legacy players" do so because they identify with a particular strategy, and feel like it is their duty to represent as flag-bearers for that strategy. You see people pilot the same deck week in and week out, for years on end, until you identify the archetype with the player as much as the inverse. Sometimes that can be a detriment for both, but nowhere more than when it comes to arguing the merits of a specific card or strategy with a player of this type. Often it results in a stalled discussion, as one player or another is unwilling or incapable of taking an alternative perspective on the format outside the scope of their role as "ambassador of ______." If you are a Storm Combo player, and that's all you're ever going to play or have interest in for Legacy, you have a different perspective on what constitutes good and bad for the format than a player who is a dedicated Delver player – or Dredge player, or Death and Taxes player, or someone who simply plays whatever they think will win. This is not to say that one player is better or "more right" than another, but it does color the way discussions of Legacy occur, and it can be an impediment to honest and open discourse.
I empathize with those of you who feel like I've been unfairly hard on Brainstorm. Remember that I've played four Brainstorm in nearly every major event I've entered in which the spell has been legal (we won't talk about the first GP Philly. I was very new to competitive Magic. We all have regrets). I will continue to do so as long as I can. I still question if this is in the best interests for Legacy.
Many of you took to the comments of my last article to express distaste at the idea of Brainstorm being banned (and founded many of these comments in the exact reasons I predicted you would, as outlined in the article). For the record, I wasn't specifically calling for the ban of the spell as much as providing context for a largely academic discussion of the reason such an act could potentially be warranted. I've been around this game, and more importantly the players of this format, long enough to know that there was never going to be a rally behind the idea of banning one of the most-loved and skill testing cards in Legacy, but that doesn't mean that the discussion of doing so isn't worth having, or that the card isn't way beyond the acceptable power level compared to the rest of the format. If anything, this week's results should demonstrate that this discussion is not trivial.
While on the topic of called shots, we can look back a little further in the archives and find the deck I've stated quite liberally to be the best Dig Through Time deck in Legacy, and my personal weapon of choice for events with any actual stakes on the line: Omni-Tell. Despite the marginally less impressive showing of Brainstorm in the Top 8 of SCG Providence (only 6/8 decks ran it), Omni-Tell managed an even better showing there than it did in Kyoto – the two events combined to have 5/16 slots in single elim for the combo deck.
Interestingly, out of the five copies of the deck to succeed, only one copy of the spell Enter the Infinite was present total, and only in the sideboard at that. It seems we've reached the point where Dig Through Time is sufficient as an engine to allow for churning through the deck without needing to draw the entire library. This is, in no small part, due to Brainstorm allowing you to put Emrakul, the Aeons Torn back on top of your library once you find it with Dig or other cantrips. Just saying.
Each of the pilots of Omni-Tell this weekend demonstrated a ton of innovation and variety in their lists. Kenta Harane, whose list is shown here, included interesting sideboard technology like Snuff Out as an answer to problematic creatures getting in the way of comboing. To some extent I question the relevance of that specific spell in comparison to something like Massacre, which would answer quite a few of the same spells from an opponent along with a combination of hate bears; but it answers Tarmogoyf just as easily as Eidolon of the Great Revel, neither of which can be Massacred. The inclusion of the Underground Sea for specifically that spell is quite innovative, as most of the lists I've seen that include a black source include some number of spells you intend to actually cast with the Sea – much like the Pyroclasms and Pyroblast in Harane's list. I suppose it does give you access to Engineered Explosives for three (possibly for a Detention Sphere imprisoning an Omniscience?) but I would assume the more likely scenario is just to turn on your hard removal spell.
Speaking of Massacre, it was included as a two-of in Cory Abrams's Top 8 list from Providence, along with a slew of interesting tech. Cory also included a maindeck Snapcaster Mage in the slot where many put Impulse, as a way to re-buy spent cantrips or as a fifth Show and Tell in blue or black matchups. It also combines with a singleton Gifts Ungiven in the board to act as a pseudo-Recoup, giving you a better chance of setting up the combo with that spell. Cory also played a singleton Iona, Shield of Emeria as another Show and Tell target (or Omniscience spell) to lock out other combo players.
Daniel Hall, who also made the elimination rounds in Providence, included a pair of Izzet Charms in his maindeck (facilitated off a red splash similar to Harane's) as a split Careful Study/Spell Pierce. His list eschewed the Cunning Wish package of all of the other lists in favor of Burning Wish, which acts as extra copies of both Show and Tell and Enter the Infinite. His was the only list that ran that card, and only as a Wish target. At Grand Prix New Jersey last year, Max Brown ran a similar UR Omni-Tell list, and was satisfied with his build. He and I spoke at length about the different options with the deck, but ultimately I remain unconvinced that the strengths offered by Burning Wish outweigh the consistency of the mono or nearly-monoblue version.
Most interesting of the lists in my opinion, and to no one's surprise given the names associated with these lists, was Shota Yasooka's build from GP Kyoto. Shota had a fairly stock maindeck, but included the following sideboard:
2 Lightning Bolt
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Surgical Extraction
2 Young Pyromancer
1 Eladamri's Call
1 Release the Ants
1 Wipe Away
1 Through the Breach
1 Firemind's Foresight
Many of these spells are traditional Wish targets for Omni-Tell, but this is certainly the first time I've seen a player prepared to board into a Young Pyromancer man-plan. It's also one of the first times I've seen Through the Breach in an Omni-Tell board – which is basically insane given that you can actually Cunning Wish for it and circumvent many hate cards that otherwise frustrate a player trying to resolve Show and Tell. Haste is a huge deal, as many a wannabe Emrakul controller would confirm. The difference between attacking for 15 now and next turn is quite literally the difference between victory and Defeat in many scenarios.
Of all the lists from this weekend, only a single one – the Providence IQ winner Adam Brennan – eschewed a splash entirely, and opted for the monoblue version of the deck. In fact, Adam's list is actually the least interesting of all the competitors, as it was essentially the stock list. And yet, despite the tricks and flair of the other pilots, Adam was the one that managed to take home the top prize in his respective event, though in fairness he battled through a field one tenth the size of Kyoto.
What these results tell me is that perhaps finally we may see Omni-Tell getting the respect it deserves, as the most powerful home for Dig Though Time and one of the best decks Legacy has to offer. With the deck having such a strong showing on the weekend there will probably be some discussion of whether this is a fluke or the beginning of a trend. Further results in the coming weeks will sort that debate. Perhaps, if it does become a trend, discussions would crop up regarding the strength of Show and Tell in comparison with the rest of Legacy, and whether a look from a B&R perspective is warranted. When and if that should occur – if another blue spell is deemed too powerful for the format to adapt to it – remember this conversation, and ask yourself if we're banning Necropotence, or if we're merely banning Zuran Orb.