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The Cutting Room Floor – NELC Mania

“The Cutting Room Floor – NELC Mania”

The temperature is getting warmer. The smell of spring is in the air, and that means it’s time to get ready for the season heading into this summer with the NELC series! As most of you know, it has been a while since we’ve been able to sling competitive cardboard at Jupiter in an NELC, but it’s coming up again really fast. Whether you’re a Legacy novice or a full-blown expert, get ready to sleeve up your deck and prepare to wage war for your chance to enter the storied legend of champions that has defined the greatest and most intense series of Legacy events in modern history. In honor of the upcoming April edition of the NELC, today we’re going to look ahead to what you can expect from this incredible event.

Choosing Your Deck

As usual, Legacy remains one of the most difficult formats to predict on a regular basis. One day you might have a deck like Goblins raging across peoples’ minds and the next you’ve got decks like High Tide completely washing away those hopes for an aggro deck you once had when facing down the “Big Blue Monster.” Legacy is always in a state of flux, but the format does seem to be in a kind of stasis (no pun intended) as far as competitive frontrunners go. On one hand, you’ve got Storm and Show and Tell decks consistently running the top tables of some of the bigger events such as the Star City Open Series. However, that is to say nothing of Stone Blade variants such as Esper and U/w which appear to be having great success, too.

So the big question remains: What do I choose to play at the NELC in a few weeks?

Well for starters, one of the most important things you need to take into consideration is the varying strategies that exist at a typical NELC. We’ve had decks like Hypergenesis and Mono Red Sneak Attack just come out of nowhere and surprise some of the more notable decks (and players), so you can expect the unexpected. However, when deciding what to play you’re going to need to find your comfort zone and what type of deck you think fares well in an unpredictable meta. For the most part you can expect a large number of Storm-combo decks to have a strong showing at this particular NELC. This may or may not have something to do with the recent success Storm has been having in the hands of more notable players such as Bryant Cook, but let’s not forget that even in the hands of a skilled pilot Storm can be an incredibly hard deck to play.

[Editor’s note – click any of blue card names or featured card images to view and purchase the card from Jupiter Games!]

BreakthroughIf I were to choose what deck to play at this particular NELC, I would look at one of several of the following strategies that may or may not be just the ticket you need to secure that top finish:

  • Reanimator
  • LED Dredge
  • Show and Tell

You might be asking yourself the question, “Why would he be thinking that LED Dredge and Reanimator are good enough strategies to play at this particular event?” Well, the truth of the matter is I don’t know for sure. The last NELC we’ve had to assess any information from was the beginning of March, and times have certainly changed a bit since then. Permanent-based graveyard hate seems to be lesser played these days and eschewed in favor of cards like Surgical Extraction. But even so, one has to wonder if that is simply enough to stop these decks dead in their tracks. Decks like Tin Fins and traditional Reanimator have performed reasonably well lately, with Reanimator even securing a Top Eight finish at the last NELC.

However, what is really startling is LED Dredge taking two of the Top Eight slots at the most recent NELC. As an obvious Dredge lover I can honestly say that was completely unexpected in my eyes. With these finishes still fresh in the annals of NELC history, you can bet that more and more graveyard-based strategies will return to competitive dominance at some point in the near to mid future. It’s no fluke that a card like Shallow Grave shot up so fast either, as we’re obviously dealing with a Reanimator variant that most Storm pilots have difficulty dealing with. If this particular trend continues, you can expect at this NELC a number of graveyard decks to make an appearance. Only the prepared will be saved and likely only the prepared will advance to the elimination rounds.

Show and TellShow and Tell seems to be the one type of deck that people are kind of iffy about. There are people that know how to build and play Show and Tell really well, and those are traditionally the players that make the card (and deck) look better than perhaps it really is. Eli Kassis and James Higginbottom were two of the players that put Sneak and Show on the map at the NELC series when it was really heating up in popularity, yet we haven’t really seen any dedicated Show and Tell decks rock the series as of late. Perhaps it’s the high price tag associated with such a powerful spell that prohibits the casual gamer from getting his or her hands on a set to play with. Or perhaps some people just despise the card all together. Either way, I think the time is ripe for at least one, if not two, Show and Tell decks to put an end to its competitive drought at the NELC series and find a way to crack the Top Eight of this impending event.

Will it be in the company of Sneak Attack, Dream Halls or Omniscience with Show and Tell that wins it all? That remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: wherever Show and Tell goes, Griselbrand is sure to follow. So expect that when seeing Ancient Tombs and Lotus Petals early on.

Preparing for the Event

Travel Preparations

A good portion of players underestimate the power a healthy night’s sleep, a good diet and plenty of practice has on a player’s performance at one of these NELC events. A lot of folks tend to travel from outside the area and drive lots of hours on fumes. I highly discourage this practice and although I’ve been guilty of it myself before, I think every player who anticipates winning a set of Underground Seas should have all phases of their game locked into place before even stepping foot in that tournament center. This also means being ready physically as well as mentally prepared if you want to be in contention eight to ten hours after arriving.

Sure, Monsters and other energy drinks may save you from feeling drowned out early on by fatigue, but understand the momentum you need to carry you into the Top Eight of a serious event like an NELC will come with the things I’ve already mentioned here. I like to see people healthy, alert and making good choices when playing at this event. After all, that’s what makes competitive Magic fun to watch: a healthy balance of fewer mistakes, tight play and potent strategies all coming together to create an entertaining set of circumstances for others to enjoy.

Speaking of preparation, keep in mind that you really don’t want to feel rushed when you get to the tournament and need to get a hundred different things together at the last second. Doesn’t it feel so much better when you have your list in hand and deck ready to go right when you walk through the door? It sure does! Jupiter does have lots of amazing singles to choose from at the venue, so just make sure you’re not throwing together something at the last second unless you absolutely have to or just want to play for the fun of it. Rarely does an unprepared player have the advantage over others at an event like an NELC, so make sure you know what you need to do when you get there.

No matter what though, the feeling of walking into the tournament center with an heir of quiet confidence will do you well when readying yourself for battle.

Expect the Unexpected

That’s pretty much the case no matter what Legacy event you play in. It’s one of the format’s greatest strengths, but it’s also the players playing in a Legacy tournament’s greatest weakness. There’s absolutely no telling what decks you’ll have to play against in a given round, so going into the NELC you need to do your homework and prepare for fringe strategies that could very well define this event. Now, I’m not saying you need to go out and get your City in a Bottles ready for those Juzam Djinns you’re unlikely to run into; all I’m saying is have a sideboard plan that compliments your main-deck strategy well. When deciding what works best for the deck, think about cards and card quantities and what you think your deck’s inherent weaknesses are.

There’s a good chance that if you can find a way to mitigate the issues you’ll face against more common, competitive strategies at a given tournament then you may be able to shore up the same issues that exist from similar (yet likely unorthodox) strategies. Think of it kind of like Elves: Does your deck already get its butt kicked by Elves? In the event there’s a resounding “Yes,” then it’s also likely that Elf cards that are suboptimal can pose similar issues to you because it’s all still technically an overly aggressive-combo strategy at heart. The point is that it’s not necessarily the cards that pose problems to you but the overall strategies they fit into that can cause you problems.

It’s possible if you blink for one second at an event like an NELC, you’ll miss decks with Inferno Titan winning the entire thing…and that has happened before.

Deep Rounds

Deep WaterIs your deck well-rounded or is it more of a “glass cannon” that aims to win and win fast with no protection? Either way, these are things you want to consider when thinking about what it will take to navigate you deck into the deeper rounds of an event like the NELC. As we’ve really already covered what decks I think will work best this event, I think it’s also imperative to talk about the thought that goes into the choices a player makes when choosing his or her deck. There is a stark difference in being confident you can win and piloting a deck that actually can win. What’s the difference you ask? Look at it this way.

Let’s say I walk into a tournament like the upcoming NELC and assume I’ll be playing a deck like High Tide (which I’m not, as this is only an example). I’m really confident and have been beating up on locals winning tournaments left and right. I am quiet, confident and prepared to play tight and win big. (I’m starting to resemble a Hatfield here!) Now, I know this tournament is going to have scant numbers of combo players as it’s typically an aggro field with a bit of control tossed in the mix. Sure enough, I wash away those aggro decks early on and now I’ve put myself at least in contention for a Top Eight slot in round six.

It’s about metagaming, folks; it really is. If you come to this tournament with a deck that has the ability to fight some of the format’s most prolific choices without remaining susceptible to a broad array of hate cards, then you will be successful. But that’s the real trick, isn’t it? It’s much easier said than done, but if you’ve ever played in a Jupiter Games event you’ll have an idea at least of what to expect from certain players. Navigating into the deeper rounds of a tournament requires mastery of both the deck you’re playing and the meta you’re playing in, which is why you’ll often see a number of the same players constantly winning at these events because of familiarity.

If you’re not familiar with the territory you’re playing in, talking to people and getting a feel for what’s out there might be a better indicator than walking around and gawking over peoples’ lists before the event begins – which generally rubs people the wrong way to begin with. (It is, however, their own fault they weren’t prepared so it’s your prerogative to do whatever’s necessary if you feel like it will help you.)

The Top Eight

I know a lot of great players that have yet to Top Eight a Jupiter Games event. The same can be said for a number of you reading this that may know someone who has worked hard and played tight, yet always winds up just short of achieving their goals. This is what I have to say to those people: don’t give up. The Top Eight of an event in a series like the NELC requires a little bit of luck but a hell of a lot of skill. Think about what it is you’re doing wrong and work on those errors to better yourself as both a player and person and use that to your advantage. But under no circumstances should you ever feel less than your opponent when sitting across the table from them.

If you do, you’ve already lost before the match has begun.

ReanimateWith that being said, what can we expect from the Top Eight at this chapter in the NELC series? Boy, that’s a tough question. I think a defining aspect of this event will be the obvious quantity of a particular deck played, but I think that could be a deceiving factor of what deck will actually win the entire thing. By this I mean that there could very well be twenty Goblin decks at this event and sure enough one or two will place. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will win the entire thing. I have a feeling the Top Eight of this NELC event is going to pan out resembling something like this (in no particular order):

  • Reanimator
  • LED Dredge
  • Sneak and Show
  • Shardless BUG
  • Esper-Blade
  • Esper-Blade
  • RUG
  • Storm

I’m basically predicating this particular list on a number of factors, but my gut tells me that this event will be a tell-tale sign that dedicated graveyard hate in droves will soon return and the NELC meta will make a wild shift before the summer season takes on full steam ahead. Since it has been a while since the previous NELC, and I think people will be returning to this event unsure of what to expect and playing their safe bets from the last tournament. I could be wrong about this, but typically when there is a longer “cool down” time in between events, people have a tendency to return to familiarity.

It’s much harder to gauge the unexpected when you are already comfortable and familiar with a deck you’ve done well with, and I think this philosophy will take on some new meaning at this particular event.

The Fallout

GriselbrandIt’s anyone’s guess as to what’s going to happen after this month’s NELC is in the books. At this point with Griselbrand doing a serious amount of damage on the format, it’s probably a safe bet that a deck with Griselbrand will wind up taking this event down. It’s just such a hard card to beat when it hits the table, which in turns drives winning percentages by players not running Griselbrand way down – in the event one sticks. I have a feeling that is going to happen quite a bit at this particular event – no matter how much hate is involved – which will in turn continue the trend of Griselbrand decks with cheat spells like Show and Tell being powered to more big finishes.

Will history repeat itself? Only time will tell. I do have a feeling that this event will speak volumes about the current state of Legacy, as it’s highly likely a battlefield peppered with good players and good decks will make a case for the strongest decks currently in the (at the very least Northeastern) competitive Legacy scene. It will come as no surprise to many that a deck with Griselbrand could very well win this tournament, but have we actually come to the point of acceptance that this format is about decks that do or don’t run Griselbrand? Kind of makes you wonder what the field will look like at the April NELC when the big fellow takes center stage and a chance to take home with him (or her) a set of blue Dual Lands.

The one thing I can say for certain is that this NELC should be one of the greatest we’ve seen in a long time. There will be hungry newcomers and old faces alike chomping at the bit for their chance to take home the championship. To be an NELC Champion is a truly rewarding and deserving accomplishment with so much talent saturating these events.

I myself am looking for my first NELC title, and I look forward to meeting and competing against all of you in less than two weeks!

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