Lighting Up Grand Prix Louisville
If there’s one thing that’s resonated the most with me throughout my 22 off and on years of playing Magic, it’s that you have to put yourself in position to win. Writing this blog and doing a Magic Podcast has been great, but it can be disheartening sometimes when the results don’t come with the effort. Talking with a lot of high level players, I often hear the common phrase of “well the pros test more than we do” but at least for me I know that’s barely true. I usually put in several hours a night of play or research, play in events almost every weekend, and have a team that is similarly minded. I want to make the Pro Tour, and I know part of that is playing even when you don’t want to.
That to me is the biggest step towards trying to make it work. I’ve felt like giving up the game many times, as the cost and time continually build up, but unless you put yourself in the event and put the time in everything else involved is a waste.
Thankfully this weekend I was rewarded for that effort. I took Legacy Burn to a 12-3 finish good for 34th place out of 1600 (tie breakers with about 15 other people). I made some decisions with my list based on testing that paid off handily, and was able to navigate some extremely challenging games from interactions that came about through that practice.
Here was the list that I played:
Burn – by John Galli, 34th GP Louisville (Visual View)
4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lava Spike
4 Price of Progress
2 Searing Blaze
3 Sulfuric Vortex
3 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Leyline of the Void
3 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Smash to Smithereens
2 Exquisite Firecraft
2 Searing Blaze
1 Pyrostatic Pillar
The most notable omission here is Monastery Swiftspear. Current lists you’ll see online are about 50/50 on running him, and it was formerly in my list. I still think the card is great, helping to race combo matchups and occasionally being quite large on turns where you’re able to “combo” off with burn spells. But in testing in the current metagame, I often just wanted either less creatures or the ability to interact more with other creature decks. Grim Lavamancer provides that ability as well as being a thorn in Miracles side when they can’t find a spot removal spell or a Terminus. Starting a game with a turn 1 Lavamancer is often a nail in the coffin versus some decks like Elves, D&T, and occasionally Delver. He also is a deterrent to the natural gameplan of those decks, forcing them to make time delay decisions that give you the critical window to burn them out.
Searing Blaze is another card that I ended up playing on the weekend for the same reasons. It can be a liability against Miracles (sometimes), and non-creature combo, but matchups like Delver and Shardless are very close without it and you don’t have the digging power like they do to get out of difficult spots.
Sulfuric Vortex is a concession to Miracles, it’s the number one card they don’t want to see out of Burn and it’s one of the more difficult cards for them to both counter and remove since it has a three cmc. Playing three means you can draw it fairly reliably and possibly multiples, but also not enough that you have two in your hand very often. I boarded it out a lot on the weekend, but it’s still too powerful in my opinion to omit all-together as it’s repeatable damage and shuts down important cards like Jitte. Usually against most creature decks without a Jitte you’ll just replace it post-board with better options.
The sideboard was where most of the work was put in. My most common losses at local and bigger tournaments were to the unfair combo decks (Storm, Reanimator, Dredge, Belcher). Sometimes as a Legacy Burn pilot you have to just ignore them, hoping you dodge and instead have an insanely good setup for the rest of the field. But this isn’t good for a 15 round Grand Prix. I knew I’d run into those matchups, and I knew that getting a good finish with Burn meant I couldn’t afford that loss when I might have another loss due to play mistakes or close games elsewhere.
I tested option after option here to find what worked best. Mindbreak Trap is functional against Storm, Belcher, and to an extent Reanimator (unless they just Entomb > Reanimate), but it’s still conditional on your opponent’s play and not an answer for Dredge. Furthermore, Storm players can Cabal Therapy it out of your hand and then go off, which is commonly what they’ll do if they expect or probe to see resistance. Pyrostatic Pillar is good versus Storm and other important decks (Alluren, various creature decks or decks that are slower than you, etc), but Storm can Abrupt Decay it, Cabal Therapy it, it’s too slow for Belcher, and does nothing against the graveyard decks. I included one in my board for its importance otherwise and because some of the pros were supposed to be on Alluren.
Faerie Macabre is fairly decent against all of these strategies except for Belcher, and is uncounterable (not to mention a surprise), but I really wanted something that could both solve the problem decks as well as slow them down if they have an answer. With Macabre sometimes they can just rebuild depending on the deck, or you don’t get enough cards to stop them / finish them off with your burn. Relic of Progenitus and Grafdigger’s Cage both have their applications as well as the former being a consideration against Tarmogoyf / Deathrite Shaman decks, but are usually too slow vs the actual broken combo turns. When Reanimator puts an Iona or Griselbrand into play on turn 1, that Relic is looking real real bad.
This ultimately led to trying out Leyline of the Void. The two big risks with it are that you could mulligan yourself out of a game in order to find one and that they could have an answer like Nature’s Claim or Reverent Silence to deal with it. But it can be played immediately even when they’re on the play, it delays their gameplan, and it requires them to both have the specific answer card as well as the proper lands to play that answer. And both of those particular answer cards net the Burn player life, which can be a problem for them when trying to close the door.
Ensnaring Bridge falls into this same axis of defense. It’s a lynchpin to putting up a fight versus Show and Tell, Eldrazi, Merfolk, Tarmo-Delver decks, Reanimator, and anything else that wants to throw giant bodies at you. It’s fairly easy for Burn to dump most of its hand by turn 3 or 4 if it wants to, and many decks post-board won’t have too much in the way of artifact destruction. Sure there will be some Abrupt Decays and the like, but you often stretch that kind of removal thin. And when the bridge lands they have to have the answer pretty quick before you draw into more lethal burn while their creatures do nothing. I don’t bring it in versus decks with reach (UR Delver; Lightning Bolt), but otherwise it’s a powerful tool that many don’t even realize exists for Burn.
I felt like the current meta was a good time for Smash to Smithereens, and my teammates convinced me to play a third copy which was definitely the right call for Louisville. Chalice of the Void is one of the toughest cards for Burn to deal with (although certainly not as game over as some think), so to have something capable of dealing with it and at a penalty to the opponent is big game. It also doubles as another Searing Blaze effect in the D&T and Deathblade matchups where your opponent’s sole gameplan is trying to get a Jitte or Batterskull online versus you. Shardless, MUD, Painter, and other archetypes also provide good targets, so the card ends up being quite useful depending on what’s popular. Eldrazi was the biggest threat I was concerned with, where a chalice on 1 can let them end the game fast if you don’t have an answer the turn after they play it.
Team Mox Testing Tournament
On the Thursday before the Grand Prix, my team (Mox Mania ; Madison, WI) had organized a big Legacy tournament. We normally have $5 weekly events at our shop, but we put the word out for this one to try and make it more legitimate practice. We ended up with 32 people, and covered most of the major archetypes outside of Lands (no one on hand had a tabernacle 😛 ). Between that tournament and the week prior I didn’t do very well, going 2-6. It wasn’t that I didn’t have experience with the matchups or that I felt they were awful, but I was trying various cards out and our shop is competitive so it was just how the cookie crumbled.
Truthfully, I was pretty happy after the tournament. It had been a learning experience. I figured out that I was taking some poor lines in certain situations and that some board cards that I had been really attached to in the past weren’t working out properly. Legacy is such an easy format to have your “pet deck” that you believe in so much and don’t want to change very often that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes. I noticed this the week prior in testing, and continually online leading up to Louisville.
I then used that information to improve. This is easy to say and easy to read in an article, but I encourage anyone who plays competitively to keep reminding yourself of the importance of it. It’s one of my biggest flaws as a Magic player at times. We all think that we are good at this game and know what’s best, but listening to others, processing that information with your own views, and taking seen info and applying it to the future is critical to doing better. It also didn’t hurt to play constantly leading up to the event as just having things be second nature in a complicated format is a tangible advantage.
The Grand Prix
Our crew left on Friday at 9am, two cars from Madison, one flying in from Seattle, and all total 10 people to arrive at a comfortable Air B&B townhouse in Louisville. I had never used Air B&B before, and after this weekend I hope to use it everytime. For $85 per person which covered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, we had a sweet two-story townhouse with full amenities and a 2 minute walk from the grocery store. Nerding it up to the fullest was our game, board games and Magic till 2am was our shame.
7am the alarm goes off, my housemate and I start making some breakfast for the early risers. I had two byes but I wake up early for work everyday so it was no sweat to chip in and start the morning with the usual rhythm. Piles of eggs, sausage patties, granola, bananas, and coffee, everyone was going to have fuel for their best game at this tournament.
Round 1 & 2: Bye. That was easy.
Round 3: BUG Delver
A forecast of the days to come vs Blue decks, where the play / draw is quite different. On the play you get to lead with Grim Lavamancer or Goblin Guide blind versus everyone, while on the draw you’re usually hoping to have a Rift Bolt so you can play around Daze and deter them from dropping a Delver or Deathrite Shaman, letting you deploy your creatures on the 2nd turn.
Playing around counters is so important versus Delver. It’s a constant stream of thought during every turn, making sure you keep in mind what each list usually has. Daze, Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm, Force of Will. Brainstorm / Ponder into these. It’s just so easy for them, and so hard for you. Oh, they got to Git Probe you and now know your lines? Happy Day. Too bad you’re still gonna suck down this Exquisite Firecraft at 4 life in game 3.
Round 4: Dredge
I google my opponent as I walk to the table. He has 5-6 quality finishes with Legacy Dredge, so I know it’s going to be an uphill battle. Let’s hope this sideboard tech pays off.
Game 1 I keep a hand that would be loose versus just about anyone. I don’t know what happened. I just found out my opponent is on Dredge and yet my brain glosses over that thought and waits for the demolition crew to arrive. Sure enough, they do, he goes off Turn 2 and I scoop it up while he counts his Bridge triggers. Nice guy, but sorry papa don’t have time for that.
Game 2 I open with a great Burn hand. But no Leyline or Bridge. Mull. Mull again. ANNNND Mull again. Maybe this plan wasn’t that hot. But wait, this 4 card hand has Double Leyline, a Guide, and a Mountain. Rolling Stones Start Me Up starts playing in my head, let’s do this thing. My opponent has no answer and folds like a house of cards.
Game 3, similar but different. I see my opponent furiously boarding in cards. I’m concerned he has Nature’s Claim, but what can I do but stay to the plan. I have to mull to 4 again but have Leyline, Bridge, Mountain, Bolt. Sure. Turn 1 he Claim’s my Leyline. Uh Oh. He starts to get his engine going but I’m able to rip a few lands and get the Bridge down. Then the Burn starts flowing and the rest is history. Last words “I never thought I’d lose to Burn at this tournament”. Hasta La Vista Baby.
Round 5: Sneak & Show
I’m paired against East-West Bowl Pro Mark Jacobson. We have some small chit-chat and he starts going on about how he’s really a good guy despite some maniacal article from E-Fro. Alright bud, I don’t even know the article but glhf.
Game 1 is uneventful, he lands a turn 3 Emrakul and I have barely scratched his life total. This matchup stinks and while I know it’s a “big” deck in Legacy I didn’t expect it to be too popular as its numbers in the last few years have dipped.
Game 2 he plays a turn 2 Show and Tell off of Ancient Tomb and I put an Ensnaring Bridge in play versus his Griselbrand. He pays some life to draw cards and I wish I had kept my Sulfuric Vortexes in to prevent him from continually reloading. He gets a swing in, I’m able to get him back down to 5 life, but just don’t have enough left in the tank to finish the job. Pyroblast can be helpful in this matchup (except against Sneak Attack), but I just didn’t have room this tournament. It’s Legacy, you have to make your concessions sometimes. Also Ashen Rider is way too narrow, so please don’t run that card unless your meta is just infested with this deck.
Round 6: Shardless BUG
Game 1 I keep a one lander on the draw that looks like pure gasoline if I can draw out of it within a few turns (three playable 1 CMC cards). I don’t draw another land for 9 turns and my opponent glacially nickel and dimes my life total away.
Game 2 we spar for what seems like an hour, trading card for card, turn after turn, until finally I have no choice but to “go for it” on a lethal Fireblast that he has the second copy of Force of Will for.
Round 7: Reanimator
Another chance to see if the sideboard tech train keeps on choo-choo’ing. Game 1 Griseldaddy says hello on Turn 1. Hair grows longer on chest.
Game 2 I mull to 4 and Leyline him out of the game.
Game 3, mull to 5, Leyline, he plays 3 Faithless Lootings, shakes his head, dies.
Hot damn this sideboard is good. Some Reanimator boards have hate, this guy had none. Lesson Learned for the future.
Round 8: Bant Stoneblade / Deathblade
I’m not really sure what my opponent is playing, but it’s not too hard to figure out the things that matter. He has Deathrite Shaman, Stoneforge Mystic, True Name Nemesis, and Umezawa’s Jitte. All of his cards are annoying and I try to put up a fight for a while but he’s able to get in an attack with Jitte at 4 life and it’s a wrap after that.
Game 2 is more of the same, except this time it’s another “go for it” Fireblast versus Force of Will. I don’t try to play into Forces, but sometimes you have no choice.
Man, where is all this D&T and Miracles that I expected?
Round 9: Belcher (Ryan Solave, Top 8 GP Indianapolis Competitor)
Normally I’m the bigger guy at the table but my opponent this round looks like a younger version of the Hulk. He has a beanie cap on and a snide grin and doesn’t look like he’s messing around. Turn 1 he git probes me, and I never see my turn. Seriously, this is the end of Day 1?
I have nothing for Belcher and I’m fine with that. It’s a fringe matchup and you have to pick a deck to just be stone cold to in Legacy, so this one is my poison. Sure, Pyrostatic Pillar would be great if I could play it, but Game 2 is a repeat of Game 1, only this time Goblin Guide gets to grin while 14 of his kin get put into play on the other side of the table. Play Mindbreak Trap if you really care about this matchup. Fortunately for me before my opponent swings for lethal he asks me if I care about playing Day 2. I tell him yes, and he can see I’m pretty bummed so he concedes to let me continue on.
Sweet! He elaborates, telling me about how he crushed the Modern side events at the last GP and walked away with a couple of cases worth of booster packs and would rather try for that then grind Day 2 at X-3. Definitely understandable, and a much appreciated gift.
Ryan Solave, I solute you. I hope that karma comes back ten-fold after what happened with the rest of my tournament.
We did it! (sort of). Only 1 of the other people in our 10 person group made day 2 (Zac Forshee ; Storm). Yikes. Thankfully everyone is still in good spirits and we go have a quality dinner in downtown Louisville. This is followed by Super Smash Melee and Cube, mostly going strong into the wee hours of the night as I snooze in the downstairs den.
Round 10: Goblin Stompy
Mountain, Chrome Mox, Exile Simian Spirt Guide, Seething Song, Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Wow. That’s a nice Turn 1 sir, I’d shake your hand if I wasn’t about to unravel that opener like it’s my job. Goblin Guide into Searing Blaze for his Turn 2 creature and redirect to Chandra makes him virtually hellbent against my full grip of photon torpedoes. Bombs away, let’s play again.
Game 2 I Smash to Smithereens his Chalice and Blaze his Goblin Rabblemaster. Part of me is really happy, part of me is really sad. This guy is kind of my hero with these cards, and afterwards we have a good talk about our love for Red and the beauty of a life full of Mountains.
Round 11: Painter’s Servant
Sweet, another cool Red deck. Also another one that is quite vulnerable to Searing Blaze and Smash to Smithereens, albeit the combo is still scary. Game 1 he gets it online early and activates Grindstone, but sadly for him it’s too late. My Grim Lavamancer exiles the last two cards in my yard and his last two life points. Game 2 he makes a nice play with Painter calling blue followed by Red Elemental Blast on my Lightning Bolt, but he is buried by extra sideboard Blazes and Smashes. He admits this is a bad matchup, and it certainly seemed so most of the times I’ve played it. Perfect example why Burn can be great in Legacy, people just aren’t prepared for it since it isn’t on the radar.
Round 12: Infect
In Modern, Burn has a fairly good advantage vs Infect despite the matchup still being close because of how powerful some of their openers are. In Legacy that advantage mostly disappears as Infect gains better counterspells and a more reliable clock, so you really have to assume the control role entirely as the Burn pilot. This match was one where my 3 maindeck Grim Lavamancers and 2 Searing Blazes (over Swiftspears) paid off, as I was able to get a Turn 1 Lavamancer out both games. Each games is hair-raising, I have to fireblast myself out of lands in the first just to stay alive and get his last Infect creature off the board, and game 2 I punt viciously three times in a row while Adrian Sullivan watches over my opponent’s shoulder.
It was especially bad when he swings in with an Inkmoth Nexus, and instead of waiting for him to use a pump spell so I can Blaze in response, I just fire off the Blaze. I mutter swears under my breath (temper, temper) and try to pull myself together. No John, you don’t want to be “THAT GUY“. I tap the rest of my lands and cast my second copy of Searing Blaze, knowing he has a Daze in hand but not having any other option other than lose.
He doesn’t Daze. What? “I brainstormed and put it back on top of my library” says my opponent. Hallelujah, praise be to the gods of fire.
Round 13: Shardless BUG
My opponent is on the play for game 1, but I have a solid opener of Lavamancer, Bolts, Fireblast, etc. I’m able to cast Price of Progress for 6 after waiting for him to tap out, and he’s not able to recover later from it.
Game 2 he has a 2/3 Goyf with Instant/Sorcery in the yard and he’s on the backfoot. I play a fetchland for my third land, immediately crack it, and then realize I’m a dummy. The Searing Blaze I meant to play is now no longer going to kill the Goyf, and instead I have to ram a Goblin Guide into said Goyf followed by Blazing it off the board. I get him down to 1, and then he fades death three turns in a row before getting a Batterskull and battering my skull in with it.
Game 3 my play is again fairly loose, but I’m able to work out a spot where I can cast a bolt and then two Fireblasts, the second of which can’t be Forced because he’s at 1 life after the first Blast. He looks at it and sees this, shakes his head and extends the hand.
Round 14: UR Delver (Emma Handy)
By far my most interesting match of the entire tournament. UR Delver was a tough matchup for me in testing despite one thinking that the deck that has burn spells in place of draw spells would be more efficient. Game 1 I am put into a hole early and am forced to bolt a Swiftspear to keep things from getting out of control. Emma has a good board against me farther into the game with Stormchaser Mage and a second Swiftspear, and a card in hand. I have Sulfuric Vortex, Fireblast, Bolt. Prior to that turn I had been thinking through when to land Vortex if at all since it’s such a liability in this matchup, and fortunately I’m able to do it at just the right moment so I can Fireblast on my turn, have her untap, and die on upkeep with me at 1 life. Did I mention Fireblast was a broken card?
Game 2 I take the initiative, landing early Guides and Eidolons to quickly put her down to 13 life. She’s able to crawl back into it a bit, but about midway through the game I look over the cards in my hand and realize that I have her dead in my sights. I know she has a Daze that was revealed off Goblin Guide, so I extend a Grim Lavamancer into it to draw it out. I can still pay the “one” for Daze, but she also knows it will cut me off a bolt that turn. She does Daze, I pay for it, and then later am able to play around the rest of her counters so that I can finish her last 4 life points with an Exquisite Firecraft.
We talk for a while after as she mentions she used to play Burn a lot and overall both of us seemed to enjoy the back and forth of the match. Definitely one of those that turns the treadmill up to 11.
Round 15: Shardless Alluren (Pascal Maynard)
Here it was for all the marbles. The combo deck I heard the pros would be on, versus a famous pro, my little tugboat of confidence pushing along. I don’t get that nervous anymore, but my hands were definitely shaking during this match. Game 1 Pascal is on the play and I of course don’t know he’s on Alluren yet. I see some Shardless cards and think sweet this isn’t too bad. Then he plays a Turn 4 Alluren. Shit.
He tries to play a Shardless Agent. In hindsight I should have been more patient and waited for Cavern Harpy, but alas, Bolt, Bolt, Fireblast, GG.
Game 2, I think I have a great hand as I’m able to resolve both a Turn 2 Eidolon and a Turn 3 Pyrostatic Pillar. But then he starts to build an army of creatures, beating me down with Deathrite Shaman activations, a Parasitic Strix, and holding the fort with Glint-Nest Crane. I’m forced to either Fireblast or Firecraft the Strix (can’t remember which) and then realize I’m still dead to a few more Shaman activations.
Game 3. Please. Don’t put my fire out just yet.
I draw my opening seven.
Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Fireblast, Fireblast, Mountain, Fetch. YES. My draw the next turn is a Grim Lavamancer. Pascal is immediately on the backfoot, only being able to deal with my Eidolon to see the second one immediately replace it. He is able to play Alluren. He goes for the combo. . .
Activate Grim Lavamancer, Bolt you, Fireblast, Fireblast. Take 13 Homie.
12-3, 34th Place. Tie breakers for X-3’s went all the way from 12th – 36th place, so unfortunately my early losses bumped me just out of top 32, but this tournament was about way more than that. It was about effort, concentration, working through every difficult situation to put Burn on the map where it needs to be again. It was about being able to do something like this when no one around you thinks you can, when every odd maker is stacked up against you. This one is for the underdog. This one is for our Readers, our Podcast listeners.
Keep Tapping Those Mountains
– Red Deck Winning
- Kendrick, for driving us 7 hours without complaint. Your turbo button around turns was great, and you’re always an intelligent ear of wisdom to bounce thoughts off of
- Colin, because shorts rule, winter drools. Respectful, cheerful, and ready to Flickerwisp my Sulfuric Vortexes whenever I get too cocky
- William, team draft homie and a perfect knack for dropping F bombs at the exact appropriate time to make all of us crack up
- Kyle, team draft homie part deux, keeping our crew looking stylish and helping me break both EDH and Modern in one car ride
- Hannah, my encyclopedia for Legacy questions, Super Smash button masher extraordinaire, and good at reverberating chairs when excited
- Matt, the go-to guy when I need to know if my play is suspect. Teaching me to play faster, better, and have a no bullshit acceptance for what’s good / not good. Team is much better because of you
- Pavle, a smart young mage on the rise. I see a lot of my early years with Magic in you, and I mean that in a good way. You’re putting yourself in a position to move towards better days, and winning at life too. Cheers to your approaching graduation and quality Chicago employment.
- Zac, if there’s a question about Storm, and what it can or can’t do, you will know the answer. The playtesting was helpful, the Pike’s Place coffee was clutch, and I’m very jelly of your Seattle residency
- Brendan, despite being able to derail any facebook post at the drop of a hat like the best of trolls, we always seem to get along well in person. You always are fun, relaxed, and able to switch gears about things which I appreciate as that’s usually how I try to approach life. That hoody doe
- Donald, we lit fam.
- Kentucky Expo Center, your bathroom situation is ridiculous. Please add extra troughs next time you decide to host a tournament and good god spray some febreeze or something.
- Judges, when I ask where I can find standings, please don’t talk about me behind my back right in front of me and within ear shot, help your players. I don’t care if you put up a sign that you think is obvious that no one can see. To the other judges that didn’t do that, you’re cool
- The guy next to me in round 14. Bro, showers are not optional.
- My round 6. Has some good conversation with me, beats me, and then asks me if I could tell he was sick. What? Dude come on man. Please don’t make GP Plague Great Again.