Practical Example: A League Story

Alright, now. Everybody exhale. Last week is over. We can all try to grind our way through the rest of the year. We’ve been through enough already. Now it’s time for some lighter fare, especially the kind that used to be my bread and butter. Then, the lockdown rendered then impossible. I am of course talking about practical metagame experience, meaning a tournament report.

Or a League one, anyway. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to make a Challenge or Prelim on MTGO in a while. That’s how it goes. However, in a lot of ways, this works out for my purposes. Actually playing tournaments is the only way to evaluate the accuracy of metagame predictions, and Leagues show a far greater spread of decks than the premier events. This is at least partially thanks to the League postings being curated, but even those curated results have to be the result of the overall population. And more players participate in Leagues than premier events. So by entering Leagues I may not get hit the most competitive lists, but I will get the most accurate look at what everyone is actually playing.

The Deck

It will probably come as no surprise, but I’m currently playing Death and Taxes on MTGO. I mentioned it back when paper Magic went into quarantine, but I don’t like putting money into digital cards. Even with the rental services, it’s necessary to have a decent collection to readily switch decks, and I don’t want to pay for cards that may disappear one day. So I’ve just been grinding away with the Humans deck I’ve had since 2017. However, I also play Legacy on MTGO, meaning I had just about everything for DnT already. I just needed to buy the new cards and I was ready to go.

Death and Taxes, David Ernenwein (League 4-1)

Creatures (26)
Giver of Runes
Leonin Arbiter
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Stoneforge Mystic
Flickerwisp
Skyclave Apparition
Archon of Emeria

Artifacts (7)
Aether Vial
Sword of Fire and Ice
Maul of the Skyclaves
Batterskull

Instants (4)
Path to Exile

Lands (23)
11 Plains
Horizon Canopy
Ghost Quarter
Field of Ruin
Sideboard (15)
Auriok Champion
Winds of Abandon
Disenchant
Phyrexian Revoker
Rest in Peace
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Aven Mindcensor
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

The maindeck is fairly standard. I know I previously said that I liked Restoration Angel over Archon, but the meta’s changed towards more non-basics and less removal. The land tax is more important.

As for the sideboard, I’ve found playing Humans that Champion does so much in so many matchups that it would take a significant shift towards red sweepers to make me want Burrenton Forge-Tender. Winds of Abandon rounds out the anti-creature package. As I’ve mentioned, if you’re going to run artifact destruction, run spells, not creatures. DnT is already vulnerable to Torpor Orb, so don’t play into it with Leonin Relic-Warder. I’m starting to sour on Gideon as my grindy matchup curve-topper since red spells are so prevalent, but I haven’t found anything better.

The League

For those unaware, MTGO Leagues aren’t tournaments per-se. Rather, you queue up and get matched with another player. MTGO says that matches are made based on record, preferably the same or similar ones. I know from experience that the pairings are closer to random because League composition is pretty random and there isn’t always someone else in matchmaking with a record even similar to yours. Each player gets 5 matches and earns prizes based on final record.

I joined this League on Nov. 1 and finished Nov. 3. During that time I never had to queue for more than 20 seconds. I’m curious what other player’s queue times are: was this good or bad? I genuinely don’t know, but it might help indicate how popular Modern actually is on MTGO. Shorter times should equal more players, just like the tournament practice rooms. The first match launched almost immediately after I hit the button.

Match 1: 5-Color Pile (1-0)

As a reminder since it’s been awhile, I indicate starting hands in parentheses for each game as well as whether I was on the play or the draw. My starting total is first, then the opponent’s.

Game 1, W (Draw, 7-5)

My opponent’s first four turns play out as follows: play Indatha Triome, play Raugrin Triome, play Zagoth Triome, then do nothing twice. I have Vial, Thalia plus Vialed Giver, then Archon. The opponent’s only impact on the board is to play a Teferi, Time Raveler to bounce my Vial after drawing a Forest. They then continue to do nothing until death.

Sideboarding:

-2 Path to Exile
-2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

+2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+2 Rest in Peace

Despite having seen basically nothing from my opponent game 1, I know that they’re on an Uro pile of some description. I also know that it was ridiculously tilted towards beating other piles, because at the end of the game my opponent showed me their hand of 4 Aether Gust, 2 Veil of Summer, and a Remand. They must have really expected a League of midrange matches. All the Triomes means it must also be five-color, so I board for a massive grind-fest.

Game 2, W* (Draw, 7-7)

And game two does not disappoint. My opponent has fetchlands for untapped mana, then curves Wrenn and Six into Liliana of the Veil, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Omnath, Locus of Creation. I grind back with Stoneforge and Apparations, answering every card and playing around removal on my Apparitions during combat as much as possible. Eventually my opponent Supreme Verdicts, clearing the board. At this point, they have ~10 lands and six cards in hand with Wrenn and Six on the board. I also have ~10 lands, two Vials, a Maul of the Skyclaves, Rest, and no cards in hand. I’m pretty unlikely to win this game. But so is my opponent, and that’s far more relevant here.

See, at this point, my opponent has ~20 cards left in their deck. Due to attrition from the long, hard grind, they can have at most 2 Cryptic Command and 2 Omnath left in their deck. Two each are already exiled. I’ve killed three T3feris, two Lilianas, a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and two Jace, the Mind Sculptors. I’ve also destroyed two Field of the Deads. This is important because my opponent is playing like they have multiple Uro in hand and like that’s their only way to win now. And that’s really important because I have 10 minutes left on my clock, while they have less than three. I’m out of Apparations and Paths, so any threat they have will stick. I’ll concede to a win condition, but not to nothing. I never get to stick another threat, but they never found a way to make the Uro’s live, and they time out. So that’s technically a win for me.

Match 2: Jeskai Control (2-1)

Game 1, W (Play, 6-7)

I lead with Vial. Things are looking bad for me when my opponent goes Steam Vents into Sacred Foundry to Bolt my Stoneforge Mystic and the Giver I Vialed in. Jeskai’s wall of cheap removal is very hard for a deck like DnT to beat. However, I get lucky. Either my opponent doesn’t know the matchup, has actual nothing, or is on autopilot, because they lose after going for Cleansing Wildfire on their Flagstones of Trokair, with mana for my Vialed in Arbiter. Sword of Fire and Ice cleans up afterwards.

Sideboarding:

-4 Skyclave Apparition
-3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
-1 Path to Exile

+4 Auriok Champion
+2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+1 Aven Mindcensor
+1 Rest in Peace

I’ve learned over the years that most creatures are just going to die against Jeskai and Jund. Thus, it’s best to bring in creatures that have protection from most of the removal. Thalia’s tax isn’t too effective, especially when Jeskai tends to board in Flame Slash. Apparition is actually a liability since Jeskai doesn’t have many permanents I want to exile, those that do are big enough that the illusion will kill my creatures in combat, and Jeskai always seems to have the removal at the most devastating moment.

Game 2, L (Draw 7-7)

My opponent curves their removal perfectly, lands Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and never looks back. I have a decent hand, but it lined up exactly perfectly for my opponent to one-for-one me to death.

Game 3, W (Play 7-7)

This time it’s my turn to curve out with Vial into Arbiter with Giver followed by Vialed Stoneforge with Arbiter payment. My opponent goes tapped Hallowed Fountain into two fetchlands. Had I ever seen Ghost Quarter, I think that’s game. As is, eventually another Fountain is found, letting my opponent Path both Giver and Arbiter to unlock their mana. However, it’s too late, and Sword on a Champion runs away with the game. Gideon was hit the board too late to do anything.

Match 3: Scourge Shadow (2-1)

Game 1, L (Draw 7-5)

My blind keep has no Path. This proves fatal, since my opponent curves a perfect turn three kill with Scourge of the Skyclaves and Temur Battle Rage thanks to their opening hand being Monastery Swiftspear, Blood Crypt, and three Mishra’s Bauble, with Bolt on the lethal turn. Them’s just the breaks sometimes.

Sideboarding

-4 Thalia
-2 Flickerwisp

+4 Auriok Champion
+2 Winds of Abandon

I always reduce my vulnerability to Lava Dart in this matchup. Flickerwisp is has more utility than Thalia, so I keep some of them.

Game 2, W (Play 7-7)

I open with Vial. My opponent Thoughtseizes, taking Stoneforge. I draw and play Champion. My opponent Inquisitions twice, stripping the rest of my hand. I draw and play Sword of Fire and Ice. My opponent misses a land drop and plays two Swiftspears. I then equip the Champion and play another one and my opponent concedes. They must have had the Kozilek’s Return in hand, but couldn’t cast it.

Game 3, W (Draw 7-6)

My opponent leads with Swiftspear and Bauble. And then another Swiftspear, but no land drop. I get Stoneforge and then a turn 3 Batterskull plus Giver. My opponent finally gets their second land, an Agadeem, the Undercrypt, but it doesn’t matter and ‘Skull runs away with the game. I think my opponent had a lot of Scourge and Battle Rages based on their not casting anything.

Match 4: Mardu Shadow (0-2)

Game 1, L (Draw 7-7)

Once again, my opponent has the turn 3 Scourge kill, but with Mutagenic Growth for the Swiftspear instead of many Baubles. I didn’t have a Path.

Sideboarding

-4 Thalia
-2 Flickerwisp

+4 Auriok Champion
+2 Winds of Abandon

Basically the same matchup demands basically the same sideboard. I know I’m against Mardu thanks to the lands that got played, which makes me wonder about Rest in Peace. However, I haven’t seen decks that are as big on the graveyard synergy recently, so I decide against it.

Game 2, L (Play 7-7)

I have a turn 2 Champion. My opponent Thoughtseizes me, taking my only Path. Then I get double-Bolted turn 2. Turn 3 is for another Thoughtseize taking Winds and two Death’s Shadows. On turn 4 my opponent plays Agadeem, and attacks with two 6/6 Shadows. I block with my two Champions. My opponent cycles two Street Wraith then double Battle Rages. Just nothing you can do, there.

Match 5: 4-Color Copycat(2-1)

Game 1, W (Play 6-6)

Over the course of this game, my opponent will resolve Oath of Nissa six times. They will hit lands three times, find the first Felidar Guardian, and whiff completely twice. Given the typical composition of that deck, such a result is statistically implausible. Everything just seems to be misfiring for my opponent and I win easily.

Sideboarding

-4 Thalia

+2 Winds of Abandon
+2 Phyrexian Revoker

Being on the draw in this matchup makes Thalia pretty weak thanks to Wrenn and Six. It’s also a lot more likely that they’ll get Omnath out, so I need the extra removal. Revoker is a necessity in a planeswalker- heavy matchup.

I’ve thought a lot about bringing in Champion to negate the combo. It has never worked out for me because of T3feri bouncing Champion and Uro value. There’s definitely an argument to go for it anyway, but I didn’t here.

Game 2, L (Draw 7-6)

My opponent curves out, I assume, ideally: Oath, Wrenn, Uro, Omnath with fetchland into Felidar Guardian flickering Oath and finding Saheeli Rai. I fight back with Vial, Arbiter and Giver, then Path the Guardian when they go to combo and follow up with Apparation on Omnath. The game goes very long as I gain life with Batterskull while my opponent gets every fetchable land from their deck, most of them with a follow-up Omnath out. I have my opponent down to 6 life with lethal several ways next turn thanks to Sword when my opponent draws their last Saheeli Rai to combo for the win.

Sideboarding

-2 Winds

+2 Thalia

I’m on the play, so Thalia can keep Wrenn off the board for a turn. I’m also the aggressor so less sorcery speed removal is better.

Game 3, W (Play 7-6)

For the first time this League, I lock out my opponent. I have Vial turn one, Thalia turn two, and two Arbiters plus Ghost Quarter on a Raugrin Triome to lock my opponent’s mana. They die with four fetchlands and a Breeding Pool in play, showing me a hand of Paths and Fiery Justice.

Overall Impressions

If my first match is any indication, there is a perception that Uro piles are dominating the online metagame. However, my experience and the data alike don’t back up that conclusion. Players are clearly playing a very wide array of decks and are still brewing around, looking for edges and better options. The format feels very dynamic, which is a good thing.

As for Death and Taxes, the margins have gotten a little smaller over the past month as more players have grown accustomed to the deck. Apparition has also lost some potency as playstyles, though not deck composition, changes. DnT should maintain a place and presence in the metagame, but it will be reduced. And you’ll really need to put in the time and effort to make it work. You really can’t skimp on practice with a deck that requires extensive format knowledge to play correctly.

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