“Open your hand
Take a glass
Don’t be scared
I’m right here
You don’t roll
Trust me girl
You wanna be high for this”
–The Weeknd, High for This
Beijing, and China, has a fairly substantial Legacy scene. All kinds of decks are well represented here, from Nic Fit to Death & Taxes to Delver variants. Although I grew up on the West Coast, I have lived in Beijing for the past five years. As a result, I’ve gotten to know the local Beijing Legacy community.
On this particular weekend – the first weekend of July – a whole bunch of us decided to make the pilgrimage to Guangzhou, China for a special annual Legacy Invitational tournament. Although it was quite a distance from China’s capital city, I decided to make a fun weekend out of it. Players from all over the map — Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and more — were in full attendance.
Having missed out on the glamor and bright lights of Grand Prix Las Vegas, I decided that I would have my Chinese version of a Legacy weekend. Guangzhou is also a sweet city to visit. It’s full of the best types of Cantonese foods I grew up on, as a kid living in Vancouver, Canada. Barbeque pork is quite possibly in my all-time top five. Anyways.
As for the tournament itself, it was great. The prize pool was solid. The weekend consisted of two tournaments over two days. The first tournament had a $35 buy-in and gave out prizes to the top 16. First place received a set of Revised Underground Seas, second place a set of Volcanic Islands, and so forth. All the way down to eighth place were play sets of duals. Ninth to sixteenth place finishers each received a Bayou or Wasteland for their troubles. We had over eighty players for this event.
The second tournament was FREE to enter but required an invitation to attend. The prizes were much smaller (one dual land per top eight finisher), but we were there to play. All through the year, stores in China held qualifier tournaments so that players could earn invitations. We had fifty players for this event.
Evolution of a deck
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to qualify with the weirdest deck ever – a UR pile of cards I lovingly re-dubbed “The Beijing Pile.” It was actually pretty good, but the lack of land disruption and discard meant that it was a huge dog to the actual Czech Pile decks of the day.
I needed to come up with something leaner and low to the ground for the tournament, and my first choice became Team Australia. Playing Tombstalkers and Stifles felt right up my alley, as a card-carrying disciple of Dan Signorini from way back in the day. In testing it felt decent in Delver mirrors, and Stifle can be a great card.
To avoid the temptation of last-minute deck switching, I elected to bring only my Grixis Delver cards with me. No Death & Taxes and no Storm. No Swiftspears, even. I was determined that I would live and die with the current three best colors of Legacy.
Day 1: Tournament 1
Anyways, fast forward to the $35 buy-in crazy Revised duals payout tournament…I got destroyed. No offense to Team Australia, but I drew poorly and lost the majority of my die rolls. I couldn’t get my mental game on track.
When one is on the draw, Stifles quickly lose their power. There’s also a bit of dis-synergy between the Turn 1 Delver/Deathrite play, and holding up mana for Turn 1 Stifle. Well, there was one game where my three copies of Stifle acted as Sinkholes for my opponent’s three fetchlands, but that scenario was few and far between.
I won one round in the first five hours of the tournament…and that’s all she wrote. Losing to Burn was the final draw – it was time to drop. I stuck around to watch some of my Beijing compatriots make top 8. My friend Zilong finished second out of eighty players with Grixis “Honda Civic” Delver. It was a stock list, but he played it well. I took mental notes.
After the first day’s beatings, I asked Zilong for his list. I proceeded to adopt the Honda Civic – 73 out of Zilong’s 75 cards, to be exact.
Day 2: Tournament 2
This is what I registered for the Day 2 Invitational:
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Deathrite Shaman
1 True-Name Nemesis
3 Young Pyromancer
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Force of Will
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Forked Bolt
2 Cabal Therapy
1 Spell Pierce
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Polluted Delta
3 Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Tropical Island
1 Blazing Volley
1 Fatal Push
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Dread of Night
1 Cabal Therapy
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Baleful Strix
A few comments on card choices:
- The first day had plenty of Death & Taxes and Elves decks. Blazing Volley, Darkblast, and Dread of Night are all strong cards to punish the opponents’ X/1s.
- There were hardly any Tarmogoyfs to be seen the day before, so I elected for the maindeck Forked Bolt over the Dismember.
- I debated between Grafdigger’s Cage versus Pithing Needle as a flex slot, but ultimately went with the Cage. It’s decent versus Elves and Reanimator, and also does a little bit of work versus Snapcaster Mage decks. Knowing my luck, I wanted to have three pieces of graveyard hate and not rely on just two Surgicals.
- As for the possibility of Pithing Needle – I already had artifact destruction for Death & Taxes/Stoneblade, as well as Cabal Therapy versus Griselbrand decks.
- Counterbalance-Top no longer exists, but Baleful Strix remains a strong card in the Grixis Delver mirror. It’s pseudo-removal and card draw in one. It also answers Goyfs in a pinch.
We had fifty players sign up.
As we wait for pairings, I mentally reviewed the words of a friend. I had just interviewed Will Jonathan of Channel Fireball for my Humans of Magic podcast a few days earlier. While I hadn’t released the episode yet, Will did leave me with some important reminders:
- Think about the outcome you want to achieve.
- The power of habit. I listened to The Weeknd’s Trilogy on repeat leading up to the tournament to pump myself up.
- Shake things off after each round. Win or lose, I went outside the store for a quick walk and to clear my head. I removed all thoughts about results and focused on playing my best.
Spoiler alert: these tips worked. A little too well, actually. Will, your check is in the mail.
Round 1 – Blue-Red Delver
It’s only the first round and I’m playing Taotao, one of my friends from Beijing. Gonna have to break some hearts to win it.
In Game 1, I lose the die roll and he mulls to six cards. I keep a hand with Young Pyromancer, Force of Will, and a few cantrips. I fire off the Gitaxian Probe and see that he has Ponder, Chain Lightning, Force of Will, Lightning Bolt, and lands. No creature.
I play a little bit too conservatively, playing draw-go while he amasses some business. I play True-Name off of four lands to play around the possible Daze, but it’s too conservative a line. I thought the coast was clear with a second Probe, but he cleverly hides his Price of Progresses on top of his library and kills me with it, a Delver and a Swiftspear.
I shake off the missed opportunity – I should have deployed my threats ASAP to make him use burn spells on them – and go to Game 2.
Game 2, he has a great opener. I see Swiftspear, Bolt, Probe, Price, Price. Eventually two Insectile Aberrations join the party and I’m deader than dead.
I feel very calm at this point. Just need to re-focus and get back on track. I didn’t have a lot of experience in this matchup and was punished swiftly – pun intended. Time to move on.
0-2 (for round) | 0-1 (overall record)
Round 2 – Black-Red Punishing Fire Homebrew
I win the die roll.
In the first game he Thoughtseizes me – and takes Daze (??). He then plays Hymn to Tourach and Liliana of the Veil over several turns.
Fortunately for me, I have threats and he is not running Storm combo despite the Turn 1 Badlands-Thoughtseize for Daze leading me to think otherwise. Eventually Delver and Angler take him down without much effort. He does Punishing Fire the Delver, which causes me to scratch my head but prepare accordingly. Surgical Extractions definitely go in here.
For Game 2, I Probe him and see:
2x Grove of the Burnwillows
Some other irrelevant cards
I guess all of my Young Pyros and Delvers are voided now – nice. Fortunately, I topdeck like a champ and find my True-Name and two Anglers to lay the beats. He goes for the Punishing Fire and Lightning Bolt combo to kill an Angler, but it isn’t enough. I kiss my German language Angler for being blessed with five toughness.
2-0 | 1-1
Round 3 – Black-Red Reanimator
I lose the die roll and am immediately concerned when he flashes Chancellor of the Annex in his opening hand. I fail to stop his reanimation shenanigans and a quick Griselbrand kills me.
For Game 2, I bring in my grave hate and am grateful that I chose to play Cage over Needle. Even though I’m on the play, he flashes a Chancellor in hand once again. I play a turn one Ponder that gets countered. I don’t care. When he tries to go for it, my Dazes and Surgical Extractions lie in wait. I lay on the Delver beats to take it.
In Game 3, he shows Chancellor once again in the opener. I ask if he’s running eight copies of the 5/6 flyer and we share a collective laugh. Fortunately for me, he does not have the turn 1 kill and I start destroying all of his lands. I have Surgical in hand, but it’s not needed as the ends with him on zero lands.
Tempo Delver deck does its thing. Honda Civic rolls down the street and takes no prisoners, yo.
2-1 | 2-1
Round 4 – BUG Control
I can’t remember if I won the die roll here or not.
Game 1 is pretty interesting. My hand isn’t very quick, and a Gitaxian Probe shows me my opponent’s hand:
Diabolic Edict (maindeck? WTF!)
Force of Will
Well – there goes the “there are no Goyfs to be seen” theory. We start playing a battle of attrition until we’re down to his Goyf versus my True-Name, staring each other down. I’ve already discarded his Edict with Therapy, so he doesn’t have that. He’s also managed to Wasteland me down to a single Tropical Island, but I manage to get back into it and take the match after going down to ten life from Goyf beats.
Tight play does get rewarded, sometimes.
In Game 2, I Gitaxian Probe once again and see:
Force of Will
Liliana of the Veil
I look pretty silly now with my hand of Delver, Young Pyro, zero counters, and two Lightning Bolts.
But…I manage to win the match.
At one point I have to use both of my Bolts on a Goyf after Fatal Pushing the first one. He must have been too scared of True-Name, because he Surgicals me (???) for True-Name in the graveyard and finds out I run one total copy of the 3/1. It’s nice to have my opponent play a card that says “you lose two life,” I guess.
We go to time (he plays quite deliberately) and I would’ve won given one more turn by taking him down to one life. I had the Deathrite, Delver, and Angler to his Leovold. It doesn’t matter, though, since I still win the round.
1-0 | 3-1
Round 5 – Turbo Depths
It’s the guy from Day 1! Vincent from Hong Kong finished in the Top 8 the day before with The Epic Storm, and I’m expecting him to play the same deck.
For Game 1, I keep a hand full of cantrips, Delver, and one Daze, expecting to negate everything he tries to do after some setup. Only problem is – he plays turn one Tomb of Yawgmoth.
“I should have known, by the different sleeves you’re using. And you pile shuffled differently!” I was in full Sherlock Holmes detective mode.
“Yeah,” Vincent says. “I like to mix it up.” He has a wide grin on his face.
He Duresses me and takes one of my two Brainstorms after seeing that I have not much else.
I play Delver, pass.
A few turns later, he has Thespian’s Stage, Dark Depths, and casts Vampire Hexmage. With Hexmage on the stack, I Brainstorm in response – and find the Force of Will. I mentally fist-pump and then proceed to win. Better lucky than good.
Game 2, I make a whole bunch of mistakes. For some stupid reason, I think he has artifact and graveyard shenanigans – maybe Turbo Depths plays Loam? I am inexperienced in the matchup, that’s for sure.
Fortunately, I never see my sideboarded Surgical Extractions – they would have been 90% dead cards if I don’t Wasteland his Dark Depths first. Had I seen them in any shape or form, I might have been put on some sort of Magical life tilt. Nonetheless, he quickly sets up the 20/20 Marit Lage and kills me through flying Delver by giving it protection from Blue. There goes the neighborhood.
On to Game 3. Surgicals go out, obviously.
This time, I have the advantage of being on the play. And I have what Vincent later dubs the “God hand” – Deathrite, Delver, Angler, Ponder, Force, and two lands. He plays another turn 1 Duress and takes Force. It isn’t enough. I topdeck a Wasteland and blow up his Tomb of Yawgmoth. Delver is quickly joined by another Delver, and they naturally flip like the bosses they are — to a revealed Force of Will.
It’s not enough to God hand — thou shall also God draw. I kill him through an instant-speed Crop-Rotated Marit Lage by burning him for the last two points of damage…with an active Deathrite Shaman. Skill game.
2-1 | 4-1
At this point, I’m running pretty hot. I am losing Game 1s, but manage to maintain enough composure to bounce back in Games 2 and 3. I really thought I was done for a round earlier, when the Reanimator player had Chancellor in all three games. But I just gritted it out and tried to play tight. Can’t complain about my draws, either.
Round 6 – Elves
There is a case to be made here for an intentional draw. I’m not feeling comfortable with it, however, because 13-pointers are not guaranteed to make top eight. I ask my friend Zilong for advice and he tells me to play it out. And so I do, much to my opponent’s chagrin.
In Game 1, I see my opponent has Craterhoof Behemoth, Glimpse of Nature, Natural Order, and random scrubs in hand. Completely fine. I Force the Glimpse and make him discard the Natural order. Angler and Delver get there, with a little bit of land disruption thrown into the mix.
Game 2 is a lot more interesting. I’ve sided in a million kill spells, but I don’t find much in the way of land destruction. He’s at nineteen life for basically the whole match, because I spend all my effort burning his mana dorks and little green men. I don’t have counters, so I need to stop his Natural Order from taking effect. In the meantime, he manages to go on the beatdown plan because I have no threats of my own.
Eventually I get some dudes into play, but he has enough to Natural Order. He plays around Stifle by Natural Ordering for Progenitus, which is a nice move since I’m already in single digit life totals. He kills me a turn later. MVP of the match is his singleton Deathrite Shaman, draining me for four to six life a turn through untap shenanigans.
Game 3 is, unfortunately for my opponent, a complete “God hand” scenario for me. He mulligans to five cards. I’m on the play with Delver, Bolt, Daze, Force, Wasteland, Brainstorm, fetchland. A flipped Delver goes the distance after I Daze his Green Sun for zero and blow up his Bayou. He’s never in it.
I think about what my friend Julian Knab says – Elves might have the worst mana base of any “mono-colored” deck. Once in a blue (red?) moon, it comes back to haunt them. C’est la vie.
2-1 | 5-1
Top 8 Playoffs
I get the benefit of going first in matches, due to points. I end up playing two (!) friends from Beijing in the top eight, so I’m happy whether I win or lose.
Quarterfinal: Jing playing 4 color control
My friend Jing enjoyed a top-16 finish yesterday with Grixis Delver, and has decided to mix it up today by running the Czech Pile. This is definitely not an easy matchup for me, because he’s a strong player. I believe that my lifetime win % against him is somewhere around 20-30%.
In Game 1, he plays the control role to perfection. I threaten him with an Angler and some aggression, but he has too much gas with Abrupt Decays, Baleful Strix, and Snapcaster buyback. I get him down to nine life, but it’s never close. Even though I have three Wastelands in the game, he has infinite removal and draws lands to replace the ones he’s lost.
Game 2, however, is completely out of left field. I decide to side out Cabal Therapy in place of some Pyroblasts, Strixen of my own, and GRAFDIGGER’S CAGE. I mulligan to a five card hand that looks completely vanilla (or should I say, Honda Civic-ish?). I Probe him in the opener and see:
Our mutual friend Taotao walks by, sees his hand, and says “you can’t lose.” At this point I’m feeling the downward spiral. He is a bit concerned about the Cabal Therapy 3-for-1 special from me, but I pass the turn and he’s back to confidence mode.
But he ends up cantripping/drawing a million cards…and finding…nothing?
I manage to land an Angler with Force backup and he has zero answers for the 5/5 fish. I have enough removal to clear out the death-touching owls in the Angler’s way. I take Game 2 in surprising fashion.
And we are on to Game 3. It’s getting a bit ridiculous in terms of how well I am running right now. But it’s also because I’m putting myself mentally in a position to get lucky. Lose the first game and soldier on – that’s the narrative for today.
I keep a deece hand. I take a look at his hand and see:
It’s a good keep on his part. But Probe is just too good, and allows me to plan my attack. I manage to kill both Deathrites and eventually land a GRAFDIGGER’S CAGE and Angler with Flusterstorm backup for his Force. Once again, he can’t answer the Angler after I kill some more mechanical owls on the warpath.
I extend the hand. He’s a bit peeved with Game 2, but we congratulate each other for getting this far.
Semifinal: Zilong playing Grixis Delver
Well, now it’s time for the pupil (me) to face the master (Zilong). Zilong gave me the exact decklist, and we’re running the same 75 cards save for a two-card difference. It all comes down to tight play and execution now.
I don’t remember much of Game 1. Zilong played really well and had an answer for all my threats. He manages to Wasteland me into oblivion, and I scoop fairly quickly.
Game 2 is a lot more dynamic and interesting. I mull to five cards on the play and he mulls down to six. We start tempo’ing each other, but I keep my Dazes in and it helps me a lot. I draw a bit better and am threatening him with Young Pyromancer, Deathrite, Angler, and a horde of Elemental tokens. My Baleful Strix allows me draw into more gas and he never finds Blazing Volley, while I sandbag another Young Pyromancer in hand just in case. He does a great job of reading my soul and Wastelanding the right colored mana sources, but I keep drawing into more fetchlands.
And we’re on to Game 3. I look at my opening hand and see:
Delver of Secrets
Wow. I think this is a keep. And yet, I lose this game.
I Probe him and see that he has a land and a Wasteland. The other cards are irrelevant as long as I can play the mana denial game. I cantrip into another Probe, and go with Probe #2 for the extra card. I know that he knows that I know he has a Wasteland, so I have two choices here:
- Play Underground Sea, Delver, pass.
- Play Underground Sea, Ponder (find my second land), pass.
I decide to go with the second option, because if I find my second land, I win the game. Unfortunately, the Ponder doesn’t deliver and I have to shuffle-draw. No land. I’m five cards deep without a second land.
On his turn, he draws into Gitaxian Probe and Probes me. Sees that I have no other mana-producing land and rightfully Wastelands me. I lose a few turns after with two Delvers stranded in hand. Since he draws the Probe, playing Delver would have yielded little benefit. The chances of him not having an answer to a flipped Delver over five turns would be slim-to-none.
A little bittersweet, but them’s the breaks. It’s all about variance. Given the same hand and situation, I think I would 100% keep the same hand and roll with it.
Zilong goes on to the Finals and wins the whole thing, effectively managing to Top-2 both events. Now that is some kind of Delver mastery!
I had a great time, played some challenging matches, and hung out with a bunch of Beijing players. I really can’t complain about the weekend overall.
The mindset advice from Will Jonathan really made the difference in day 2. I didn’t beat myself up over play mistakes and started “clean” each round. No frustration and no entitlement of winning. It felt great and I hope to duplicate the same mentality in future tournaments.
Next stop – Eternal Weekend! It’s gonna be a long flight, but I look forward to it. And learning how to Vintage is going to be a lot of fun.
Obligatory props and slops
- Yuan Tian, the tournament organizer, for running such an awesome tournament with stacked prizes. Check out the Facebook page for more info!
- Will Jonathan for being an awesome advisor. Check out his CFB content if you haven’t already!
- Zilong, for hooking me up with the sweet Honda Civic Delver decklist!
- Gitaxian Probe. This card waaaaaaay overperformed in the tournament. Being able to see your opponent’s card at effectively no cost feels…overpowered.
- Guangzhou food and drinks. BBQ pork and bubble tea were delicious.
- “God hands.” LOL.
- Airlines, for cancelling all flights on Sunday from Guangzhou to Beijing due to light rain. Come on, now. Rebooking flights between rounds was not exactly a pleasant activity.
- Nothing else, really. The tournament itself was awesome!
If you’ve read this far, thank you for tolerating my heavy-handedness and propensity to rant. If you’re ever in China, hit me up and I’ll introduce you to some Legacy tournaments!