"The joke last round was that I'm 3-0, so it's time to play against the big kids," said Allen Snell as he shuffled for his match against No. 3 Ranked Reid Duke. "I guess it's time to quit joking."
Getting paired against Duke this early in the tournament was certainly no joke. The Platinum Pro was on everyone's short list of players who had a handle on the tournament, so much so that when I asked deckbuilder extraordinaire and No. 10 ranked Sam Black what he was playing, he essentially said "Whatever Reid told me to play."
Duke was playing a version of the Bant list that he had recently taken to an SCG Open win in Indianapolis. He made some tweaks in the meantime, but the strategy—Stoneforge Mystic, Knight of the Reliquary, and a suite of ways to disrupt opponents in small but significant ways—was the same.
"The Open was a dress rehearsal for this deck. When I saw True-Name Nemesis, I definitely wanted to play it and thought Bant was a good home for it, since it could often cast it on turn two," Duke said. "The Nemesis also gives you enough Blue cards to play Force of Will."
That let Duke adjust several other numbers in his deck, changes we won't spoil just yet.
Snell had a similar strategy but with very different colors. His RUG deck looked to keep players off balance early and often with Wasteland, Stifle, Daze, Spell Pierce and Force of Will, all while beating down with some of the most efficient creatures ever printed. It was one of the best decks in Legacy...
...and, according to Duke, one of his best matchups. Knight of the Reliquary is very difficult for the RUG decks to deal with, and Jitte is pretty close to unbeatable as well. Duke liked his matchup, but RUG had enough tricks up its sleeve that Snell certainly could have some game against one of the big kids.
Both players started with one drops—Noble Hierarch for Duke, Delver of Secrets for Snell—and began to develop their hands and board positions, upping the ante with Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf staring each other down.
The key early moment was when Duke attempted to get an Umezawa's Jitte going. Snell Brainstormed in response, then attempted a Spell Pierce into Duke's two open mana. If nothing else, it would keep Duke from equipping that turn.
But Snell also had a Daze to follow up, hoping to catch Duke off-guard. Instead, Duke used Knight of the Reliquary to search up a Wasteland and find the requisite mana to pay. Duke couldn't equip Jitte that turn, but it resolved without him expending any more resources.
Reid Duke gave Allen Snell plenty to Ponder in Game 1.
However, that turn was often what RUG Delver needed to stay ahead, as it let Snell attack for six damage and cast a Nimble Mongoose, pushing Duke to eight life and on the edge of needing the Jitte active to stay in the game. And when Snell didn't fight over Jitte or the Knight of the Reliquary in any way, that was exactly the position Duke found himself in.
However, the Platinum Pro was still under the gun. Snell swung in with his team and forced Duke to chump block with Noble Hierarch in order to stay alive. The next turn brought more of the same as Jitte plus a Stonefoge Mystic chump block kept Duke as a precarious two life with only one counter on Jitte.
"That was a really complex and challenge sequence," Duke said after the match. "I was overwhelmingly behind, except I had my two best cards."
Those two cards, Knight of the Reliquary and Umezawa's Jitte, put Duke in a position to swing for Snell's final 10 life points. However, even though the battlefield was open, that didn't make things much simpler for Duke.
"The very final turn I had one Jitte counter and 2 Force of Will and I'm at two life," Duke said. "If I do things in the wrong order, I lose."
Staring hard at the counter on his Knight of the Reliquary, Duke thought and thought before ultimately deciding he had to go for it. He used Wasteland in his attack step on Snell's only Red source, a mistake Duke pointed out after the match. If he uses it in his main phase, he forces Snell to use the Lightning Bolt right then and there.
But it turned out Snell didn't have the Bolt or the Stifle, so when Duke removed his last counter and pumped his Knight to a lethal 10 damage, Duke narrowly took game one.
Duke 1 – Snell 0
Duke, however, worked his way to a Knight of the Reliquary before things got too far out of hand, putting the breaks on any Tarmogoyf beats. A second Knight followed the very next turn, giving Duke firm control over the board and a pair of monsters at the ready.
Meanwhile, Snell was clearly not happy with his draws. Ponder shuffled away useless spells, but the shuffled didn't offer much help as Snell simply loaded his board with more Nimble Mongeese—smaller creatures equally unable to attack into the ever-growing Knights.
With a Legacy Open already under his belt with Bant, Duke was on his way to staking an early lead at GP DC as well.
A few Wastelands and some Battlerskull and Knight beats later, and Duke moved on to 4-0 over Snell who, despite his strong play, was not as experienced as he seemed.
"I didn't want to tip my hand at the beginning, but this is my first Legacy event," Snell said.
Some introduction to the format.