My Introduction, Legacy Stoneblade, and a Wall of Text

Hello readers! My name is Matthew Hoey, some of you from the Midwest might know me from events around here, and others of you may have seen me on coverage, either way, hello again! I’m here today to talk a tad about my deck choice for the StarCity St Louis legacy open, why I chose it, and what I’d expect moving forward, but first a little introduction. I first began playing magic competitively at around the time of Rise of Eldrazi, my first real event was Illinois States in 2010. That isn’t to say that I hadn’t played magic before (I played GP Indianapolis in 2008, but to be honest, I didn’t really know how to play well at all), but this was my first rodeo with the competitive scene. I had played Yu-Gi-Oh since its inception, and a number of years competitively, as well as many other games since I was about 8, but with what I perceived as the game of Yu-Gi-Oh degenerating skill-wise, and not provoking thought within me anymore, in addition to an inequitable gap in prize support between the games, I decided to make the switch to Magic. And boy did I make the right choice (I still try to convince my friends who still play Yugi to switch, and they are unfortunately hesitant and reluctant to let go). Since then, I’ve played magic as much as I can, getting out to every event that I can feasibly drive to with my friends, as well as playing loads of magic online under the “guise” of Hoey07.

Prior to Grand Prix Atlanta, I had been playing RUG. I had a bit of success with the deck, but it just wasn't cutting it, primarily losing to opposing Wastelands and not drawing enough lands. The free wins for my opponent had began to outnumber the free wins I was getting, so I decided to switch to Sneak and Show for the SCG invitational….for another unexciting 2-2 finish, to match up with my 1-2 in the legacy open, putting me out of day two in the invitational, and out of contention in the open. I needed a change, and decided that with the high day two penetration percent and success rate Stoneblade presented at the invitational and in Atlanta, that I would go back to the deck I had played religiously prior to RUG becoming popular.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I jumped ship, I had posted a top 64 in GP Indianapolis with the deck and had a high win-rate with the deck before, I guess I was just disillusioned by RUG and thought Blade wasn’t favored there (which is as far from the truth as possible, but we’ll get to that). I began looking at lists of others, from the invitational and other previous events attempting to put together a deck that effectively fought against primarily RUG and Reanimator. I thought I had solved the problem, and my list was good except for one thing, I was playing Lingering Souls. Now, in the mirror match and against RUG, that card is exceptional and single-handedly wins many a game, but against nearly everything else, the card is so unappealing and weak that likely warrants their exclusion from the deck. Now, I know some Stoneblade masters swear by the card, and at a different time we will assuredly see the card back in the deck.

For reference, here is the list I played in St. Louis:
1 Batterskull
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Sensei's Divining Top

4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Trinket Mage

4 Brainstorm
1 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
3 Spell Pierce
4 Swords to Plowshares

Legendary Artifacts
1 Umezawa's Jitte

Legendary Creatures
2 Vendilion Clique

2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

3 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Thoughtseize

Basic Lands
2 Island
1 Plains
1 Swamp

1 Dust Bowl
4 Flooded Strand
2 Marsh Flats
4 Polluted Delta
1 Scrubland
3 Tundra
2 Underground Sea

Legendary Lands
1 Academy Ruins
1 Karakas

1 Engineered Explosives
1 Grafdigger's Cage
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Pithing Needle
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Tormod's Crypt
1 Disenchant
1 Extirpate
1 Flusterstorm
1 Zealous Persecution
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Perish
1 Terminus
1 Thoughtseize

Continuing with Lingering Souls, when the format is based around creature match-ups, Stoneblade's goal is to bring the game state to one of an attrition battle, in which Lingering Souls, being both two cards and four creatures, gains an extraordinary amount of value. Unfortunately, judging from the results of SCG St. Louis, as well as SCG Las Vegas two weeks ago, we still aren't to that point yet. Between these two tournament's top 8s, we see the following lists:
4 Stoneblade
2 Goblin Charbelcher
2 Dredge
1 Storm
1 Merfolk
1 BUG Control
1 RUG Delver
1 Elves
1 B/W
1 Maverick

1 Goblins

The common denominator? No Grislebrand! While Grislebrand is the card that single-handedly makes Lingering Souls weak, so do Belcher, Dredge, Storm, Merfolk, Elvers, and Goblins. Now that's not to say that these decks define or dominate the metagame, because in all reality, legacy has no true metagame, but we can see a common factor, that being the underwhelming power of the souls which linger. We don't need to win via 1/1s since our plan is to go long anyways, and we want some way to get ahead by being proactive in the late game. When talking about “proactive” in Stoneblade, we are talking about a very different variety of proactive from many other decks in magic. We aren't necessarily attempting to “get em dead,” but instead lock up the game to the point where your opponent is drawing near dead and you have commanding board position and card advantage.

To do this, I axed the souls package (again, moving away from the aggressive route) and added in a copy of Trinket Mage, Engineered Explosives, and Sensei's Divining Top. With this we add a self contained package that is never dead (considering should you have drawn both of the artifacts prior to the Mage, you can just flip the top with the mage's ability on stack and get a free draw and shuffle for a one-mana cost to recast the top) and works to shore up some of the match-ups which you are bad against. The creature decks that Lingering Souls is theoretically strong against, you can generally beat given enough time anyways, considering Jitte plus Batterskull goes a long way to taking over a game. The matches you want the Mage package against vary greatly, combo decks, the mirror, as well as creature match-ups to be able to reset their board with an explosives.

Against combo we gain access game one to nothing exceptional, but in post-board games we gain an incredibly powerful and diverse sideboard package that is difficult for them to play around. We gain Grafdiffer's Cage, Nihil Spellbomb, Pithing Needle, Tormod's Crypt, as well as a second copy of Engineered Explosives. Here is where the Trinket Mage package really shines, as we gain what is essentially a second copy of each and every one of these spells, all of which are exceptionally high impact against the given decks they come in against. Have the third turn Trinket Mage against Dredge? After ascertaining your opponents plan, you get to choose the best possible piece of hate to hinder them. Need to stop them the following turn, well you have Tormod's Crypt. Have another turn or two before they are going to be able to get you? Well you can take the Cage or the Spellbomb, depending on what you already see in their grave. Playing against storm? Well we have the same pair of anti-grave artifacts to bring in to hinder their critical turn, in addition to the fact that we have five spot discard spells to see what the plan is beforehand! Additionally, against the slower decks, we gain a piece of card advantage that allows us tutor up whichever piece will further our game plan. Generally this card is the Top, as with 10 fetch lands we gain access to one of the best card selection spells ever printed, drawing the best card possible every turn.

The rest of the sideboard is fairly self explanatory, Terminus, two Perish, and Zealous Persecution are extremely strong against the creature match-ups, and generally win the game in which they resolve shortly thereafter, given that they lose their board. We gain disenchant against random match-ups playing artifacts, and primarily against the mirror where Batterskull is the hotbed of contention. Jace also comes in versus the mirror, as well as other decks that try to grind you out, such as the B/W (Dead Guy Ale) decks, but is primarily there to have an additional win condition in the mirror. Thoughtseize, Flusterstorm and Extirpate are also there to help with combo match-ups where the Trinket package is not enough, such as Show and Tell where we wish to contend over a single card and preferably prevent it from ever resolving (via discard). Thoughtseize also comes in against the mirror as discarding a Jace is very important. Note, some players bring in Extirpate against the mirror, and I think this is incorrect, given the diverse amount of win conditions this deck puts forth, removing one at the cost of a card is not stellar (which is why we board out Force of Will in the mirror match!). And finally we have Sword of Feast and Famine, the back-up equipment against combo decks in order to be able to hold up mana while limiting their options, and a third piece of equipment to try to force through the green decks which traditionally try to combat you by destroying your equipment or killing you quickly (which you seldom allow).

But enough about the deck itself, I'm sure I'll have an opportunity to write about it more in the future. Instead of breaking down each of the matches, I’ll give a list of what I played broken down into category and discuss the match-up (as well as the match-ups that I did not have a chance to play against).

Combo Decks (TES, Charbelcher, Show and Tell, Food Chain, etc)
My tournament was very fortunate in the fact that I got paired against six combo decks in eleven rounds of play. Stoneblade is generally very favored against this variety of deck, and I had not planned on playing any of these match-ups at all, but was very glad to sit across from them. TES, Legacy Storm, whatever you’d like to call it, is easily the most difficult combo deck for Blade to battle against, given that they are attempting to Chant/Silence you in order to combo off, as well as disrupt you with spot discard such as Duress. The key dynamic of this match-up generally comes down to you as the Stoneblade player making the correct choices with your discard spells, and being able to present an early and fast clock against them. Against TES, it is imperative to prevent them from Silencing you so you can counter their critical threshold mana spell on the turn that they are going off, or prevent them from tutoring in the first place. Silence, Chant, and the Tutor and Wish are generally your only targets you should be picking with a Thoughtseize or Inquistion.

Goblin Charbelcher is a quite difficult match to lose for the Blade deck. On the play, you have spot discard spells as well as three Spell Pierces to hit their critical mana spell, and on the draw your range of hands which you keep should generally contain a Force of Will plus blue spell as they will have to re-combo after you stop their initial attempt. Many people will attempt to counter the Goblin Charbelcher itself, but many times this is incorrect. Having played Charbelcher myself a year and a half ago when I first started playing the game, as well as having played a large sample size of games with modern Storm, the card players should likely be targeting is the mana spell that moves the combo player from 3 into a higher mana amount. The first ritual doesn’t matter, if they have one, it is almost assured that they have more since they are attempting to hit this mana threshold (for Belcher, seven, and for Warrens four). By countering the first spell you leave them with a near-critical amount of mana in their hand, while by countering the kill condition you risk them having the alternative win condition which isn’t affected in any way by the counter spell (this assumes you aren’t holding something to kill the Goblins, I.e. Engineered Explosives, in which case you should just counter the Charbelcher and force them to waste their hand).

As for Reanimator and Show and Tell, you have a plethora of sideboard options against them, most of which are tutorable via Trinket Mage. Your game plan is to get a Mystic down early, and then prevent their game plan for the rest of the game. These types of decks have a difficult time dealing with a four turn clock backed up by counter magic and spot discard, especially post board where your four turn clock slows down and makes them discard spells from their hand. Given that they often have more counter magic than you, you should only tap out during your main phase in order to further your board position with Mystics/Jaces, especially considering Show and Tell lists are moving away from Grislebrand and towards Progenitus, since that guy is impossible to answer and nearly impossible to race.

Storm and Charbelcher:
-4 Swords to Plowshares
-1 Top
-1 Trinket Mage
-1 Jitte
+1 Sword of Feast and Famine
+1 Engineered Explosives
+1 Zealous Persecution
+1 Flusterstorm
+1 Thoughtseize
+1 Extirpate and Nihil Spellbomb (against storm)/+1 Pithing Needle and Disenchant (against Belcher)

Show and Tell:
-4 Swords to Plowshares
-1 Engineered Explosives
-1 Trinket Mage
+1 Thoughtseize
+1 Extirpate
+1 Jace the Mind Sculptor
+1 Sword of Feast and Famine
+2 Perish (If you see Progenitus)

-2 Swords to Plowshares
-1 Engineered Explosives
-1 Jitte
-1 Snapcaster Mage
-2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor (Neither this nor Snap is bad, they are just too slow generally)
+1 Thoughtseize
+1 Grafdiggers Cage
+1 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Tormod's Crypt
+1 Flusterstorm
+1 Extirpate
+1 Sword of Feast and Famine

Stone Blade Mirror and Miracles
While these decks have a very different dynamic and are played against very differently, I’ve grouped them together as your strategy is generally similar. The big difference between the two is your sideboard plan, where as against the mirror you are removing all four Force of Wills and attempting to stick a Jace or attain equipment dominance and grind them out, against UW Miracles you are removing all your Swords to Plowshares and attempting to disrupt their potential Counterbalance lock and counter their one card win conditions such as Jace and Entreat. Both of these games are prone to go long, and as such you need to make sure each of your spells resolves. There is no reason to run a Mystic down on the second turn if you can protect it later on, her staying around is integral to making this matchup easy.

Against the mirror you're looking to stay at parity with the opponent, trade cards whenever possible, and if possible, NEVER resolve Force of Will until you actually pay five mana for it. Swords to plowshares should be used on the first Mystic you see, as them cheating an equipment into play is generally game over on turn three. Besides that, absolutely don't play your brainstorms until you can shuffle back two dead cards and shuffle them away with a fetch land, keeping your card quality high is absolutely imperative and brainstorming incorrectly is a sure fire way to fall behind.

Against the miracles matchup you will generally want to play the mystic as soon as possible. Should they opt to force of will it, you gain a card and remove a layer of protection from the actual problematic cards such as Jace, Counterbalance and Entreat. You should be saving your Force of Wills for these cards at all cost, as they will all put you very far behind and Stoneblade generally has a difficult time catching up against non-creature permanents.

-4 Swords to Plowshare
-1 Umezawa's Jitte
+1 Disenchant
+1 Jace the Mind Sculptor
+1 Sword of Feast and Famine
+1 Thoughtseize
+1 Pithing Needle/Engineered Explosives/Flusterstorm (Any of these is correct, needle stops Top and Jace, explosives breaks up the combo, and Flusterstorm forces through their counters, depends on what you see past the standard cards which of these you should bring in)

Mirror Match:
-4 Force of Will
+1 Thoughtseize
+1 Disenchant
+1 Jace the Mind Sculptor
+1 Engineered Explosives (Again, this could also be a Pithing Needle for Jaces)

Creature Matchups (RUG, Maverick, Merfolk)
Here we come to the matchups that are generally more tricky from the Stoneblade perspective. All of these decks have the potential to run you over in the first few turns of the game without you having much to say about it. Our goal, as the Blade player, is to live past these few crucial turns of the game, stem the bleeding as much as possible, and give ourselves some breathing room and space. Against RUG, sometimes this is near impossible, given that they have Nimble Mongoose, a card that only Engineered Explosives and combat can deal with in your main deck, but generally against all three of these decks, they will present pressure in the form of creatures which you can Swords to Plowshare away. RUG, you take the opportunity to Plow their creature when you can get it, since both of their targetable creatures are inherently powerful and need to be dealt with at the first juncture. While you need to be proactively killing all their creatures when the option presents itself, you must remember that they are a Daze/Stifle deck. Being that our plan is attrition based, making it to the late game in order to blank a large percent of their spells, you should be playing around Daze whenever you have the luxury, especially with your removal spells, since your density of removal is lesser than their density of threats, and they have the ability to find them easier than you can find your removal spells. The second key to this matchup is how you use your fetchlands, playing around their potential stifles, and always searching up the appropriate basic lands to cast your spells is imperative considering the longer the game goes on the less value their Wastelands get (same theory at attempting to blank their dazes). Here you'll end up bringing in Perish, Explosives, Terminus and possibly Zealous Persecution considering 8 out of 12 of their creatures enter as 1/1s (You probably also want Nihil Spellbomb to make this doable and slow them down greatly). Batterskull and Jitte will be your main routes to victory as they'll stabilize you from a low life total and put you out of range of their reach, them getting you down to three doesn't matter if you're just going back up to seven on the swing back.

Merfolk is slightly different than RUG, every creature in their deck is answerable, but the problem is nearly every one of them NEEDS to be answered by you, or else they will just walk over your Islands for a quick victory. You unfortunately can't just sit back and attempt to Plow all of their creatures, that will never work, and as such Merfolk is pretty much the only deck in the format where you need to at least TRY to be the beatdown. Resolving Stoneforge early and often is the key to winning this matchup, Jitte is your best card against them, with Batterskull being a close second. Jitte needs to act as your fifth through infinite Swords to Plowshares, and as such should be grabbed first. On the play, resolving a Mystic turn two is almost a sure way to win, getting ahead with the Jitte, only to follow it up with Batterskull or really any other type of pressure is the best way to attack this matchup. Post board you unfortunately don't gain a ton, Terminus, Engineered Explosives, and possibly a Thoughtseize are the only cards that come in, as trading two life and a card for any Lord is always going to be a winning trade.

The final creature matchup is Maverick, the one deck which we really wish we had Lingering Souls against. You should view the Maverick deck as such, 4 Knight of the Reliquary, 4 Mother of Ruins (If they have them in their decks at the moment), 4 Green Sun's Zenith, X artifact removal, and filler. Our goal here is to aim for these creatures, counter or kill them, and ride the equipment to victory. If you can't Plow the Mother of Runes turn one and have the opportunity to Force of Will it in game ones, you generally should, as it is near impossible to win the game once they attain an active Mom, your removal is all dead, your creatures can never attack or block profitably, and most importantly, your creatures with equipment on them can never connect. The important cards to play around here are these two aforementioned cards as well as their pieces of artifact removal. These are usually Qasali Pridemages, many of the current lists are packing between two and four copies of this card and are given further redundancy through the Zenith's. Post board we lose all eight of our counter spells, in exchange for the extra equipment, as well as Zealous Persecution, Perish, Terminus, Explosives, as well as Disenchant and Thoughtseize to take out their power cards as well as their potential Chokes out of their sideboard.

Three thousand words later....Truthfully there is a lot more to say about this deck, but I'm going to cut it short since my fingers hurt and this wall of text will likely hurt many eyes. Moving forward, I expect to see this deck, if not this particular variant, see more play. This will also lend to decks beginning to go back to playing Spell Snare, but legacy as a format is cyclical and things such as card choices come and go as the format shifts. If you want to change things, I would suggest adding in a third Engineered Explosives or Path to Exile in your sideboard in order to help fight against the creature decks, particularly Merfolk which seems to be picking up a bit of steam lately.

I wanted to start off talking about this deck as it was, as I said earlier (just in case you've forgotten 3,000 words ago....), something I played religiously from the time I started playing legacy competitively. Next week, I'll be back talking about something a little bit more relevant to competitive tournament players and FNM regulars alike, Standard! I have a deep dark secret that I want to tell you all now....I truly, from the bottom of my heart, LOVE Delving! I know many of you naysayers hate it and as such I'll try to bring you something which a distinct lack of the little buggy guy, but I can't promise I won't slip a RUG Delver deck or two that I've been testing in there. Until next time, feel free to contact me via comments, facebook or on Modo!