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Breaching to win at Highlander Masters Series 2020 February at SpielRaum Vienna

Started by SpielRaumThrias, 16-02-2020, 07:12:58 PM

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Preparing for the tournament

After I took a more or less untested Bant Bogles list for a spin at our last local Highlander tournament in November I decided to approach the first tournament of the new decade more seriously.
The introduction of the Highlander Masters Series 2020 means that there is now more on the line than "just" winning one tournament because naturally I do want to qualify for the end-of-the-year finals and hopefully claim the titel. To qualify for the finals I do have to earn enough points over multiple events and so durdeling around with tier "just for fun" decks is only an option after I have secured one of the precious slots.

My default deck for winning tournaments, which has served my quite well in the past, taking the trophy a total of 4 times already, is my beloved 5C Taking Turns Academy.
Because the metagame had become more hostile for the deck I wanted to test a few of my other options as well, to see which deck would give me the best shot at claiming first place.
With the rise of Blue-based tempo decks and the resurgence of Blue Moon in Vienna I thought that my BG Delirium list might be the best pick to battle in the tournament.

When testing for a tournament, discussing HL related topics or just Magic stuff in general, Markus is my go-to guy. He is not only one of my best friends and nicest guys there is and brewing and tuning decks with him is one of the best ways to spend time but he is also very smart at evaluating cards and decks as well as finding interesting new builds. So when he introduced a new combo brew at one of our Highlander sessions, about 1 1/2 weeks before the tournament I was intrigued.
The list did not only feature my beloved Tolarian Academy (although only in a supporting role) and format all star Oath of Druids, but also the newly released card Underworld Breach.
The combo involved Breach, Lion's Eye Diamond and Brain Freeze. LED would be used to generate mana while Brain Freeze would first fuel your engine and then function as a win condition.
Plan B of the deck was to get out Oath of Druids, milling your entire library, putting Underworld Breach on top of your deck with Memory's Journey and then winning from there.

Even when playing the first few times with the deck it quickly became apparent that the core combo had immense potential so I picked up the deck and started tuning it. I cut the Oath of Druids because I felt it was too easily disrupted and didn't really function as a backup plan because it was using the same resource as the main game plan. Once I cut Oath there wasn't really a point in running green anymore and even though the deck could certainly profit from Veil of Summer I feel like the improved consistency in the mana base more than makes up for that. Because you basically never won through a regular storm kill I cut the expensive Tendrils of Agony as well. I still wanted to have a backup plan for when my graveyard was under attack and as we were already playing Tainted Pact I put Thassa's Oracle and Demonic Consultation in the deck. This change, in my opinion, is what really put the deck over the top.
During our final testing session before the tournament the Breach deck performed very well even against what I thought would be one of the toughest matchups, Grixis Tempo. After losing only 2 games against Markus who had major influence in creating the deck and thus knew the ins and outs of the deck (as opposed to a random opponent at the event itself) I was certain that we had found the right core to win the tournament.

You can find the list I submitted here:

The tournament

23 players showed up for the tournament at SpielRaum. The number of new Highlander players in Vienna is still growing and I am convinced that we haven't reached our full potential yet.

Round 1 was very unexciting for me as I got a Bye. I used the time to check out what the metagame looked like. As expected, there were a lot of blue based decks and I was happy with my last minute inclusion of Thought Erasure.

In Round 2 I was paired against Thomas Fabian on 4C Blood. Although this was Thomas' first Highlander tournament he knows how to play midrange decks very well as he is a regular player at our Modern tournaments.
While Thomas went first and had a decent start with Birds of Paradise into threat in game 1 I managed to cast an Intuition off of a Mox Diamond at the end of his third turn, finding Underworld Breach, Lion's Eye Diamond and Sevinne's Reclamation. Thanks to Wheel of Fortune I was able to keep the fuel flowing and won on my turn 3.
Game 2 on a mulligan to 6 I kept a hand with 2 Lands, Wishclaw Talisman, UB Talisman, Ponder and Treasure Cruise. Thomas, who was on a mulligan as well, went turn 1 Elf into turn 2 Dark Confidant. My Ponder found Demonic Consultation and when my Thoughtseize revealed that there was no interaction to be expected of Thomas, I went for a turn 4 win with Thassa's Oracle that I had tutored for with Wishclaw Talisman.

Round 3 I sat down across from Joachim who was playing 5C Scapeshift. He is usually on a 4C version but went to try out all colours this time. In game 1 Joachim leads with tapped Land into turn 2 ramp for untapped Plains. I have a very strong opening hand with turn 1 Wishclaw Talisman and when my drawstep yields LED I combo on turn 2 thanks to the Brain Freeze in my hand. Game 2 Joachim starts with Thoughtseize for my Wishclaw Talisman and follows that up with a Teferi, Time Raveler to bounce back my Dimir Signet. Thanks to the plus ability of the Planeswalker he is able to flash in another discard spell after my draw phase to take away my Dig Through Time and the Intuition I can resolve that sets up my win for the next turn is one turn too late as he kills me with Scapeshift. In Game 3 my Gitaxian Probe reveals that Joachim has yet another Thoughtseize lined up for turn 1 but this time I can put my Wishclaw Talisman onto the battlefield beforehand thanks to a Mox Diamond. We both resolve discard spells the following turns and we play "draw-land-go" for a few turns. At a point where Joachim knows the content of my hand (LED and Mystical Dispute) he decided that he has to start pressuring me somehow because his soft counters don't protect him any longer and runs his Titania into my counterspell. This sets him up to potentially resolve some more threats next turn. Unfortunately for him, the top of my deck offers me a Ponder that finds a Tainted Pact. I generously grant Joachim my Wishclaw Talisman and a few seconds later Thassa's Oracle grants me the matchwin.

In Round 4 I unfortunately get paired against Markus on his Grixis deck. My plan to meet him in the finals and draw with him for the shared tournament win didn't work out.
Game 1 is a drawn out battle where we trade resources early and Markus pressures me with a Brazen Borrower. At a key moment I decide to forego casting LED because Markus can respond with a Vendilion Clique to take out my Wheel of Fortune which is my only business spell at that point. I rather run the Wheel straight out, he responds with Vendilion Clique to remove my LED and my Karakas "kills" the Clique by sending it back to the now-to-be-discarded hand. Although Markus went on to resolve a Dig Through Time and hit me with both a Hymn and a Fall, I managed to win the following turn thanks to Sevinne's Reclamation getting back Underworld Breach.
I win a shorter, but not by any means less intense, game 2 after Markus fails to find any discard spells while my deck provides me an Inquisition of Kozilek at a critical point to break through his counter defense.

Markus and I are already joking with Stefan Klein, who is my Finals opponent on 4C Blood that I will probably lose to insane topdecks by Stefan even though the matchup is supposed to be very good for me, when Mr. Little indeed wins game 1 after hitting me with Tidehollow Sculler into Gerrard's Verdict. My deck doesn't let me down though and delivers as I win game 2 with a line that includes me using Wishclaw Talisman 3 times in one turn by bouncing it back to my hand with Chain of Vapor. While Stefan is forced to mulligan in the deciding game and can only come up with a Courser of Kruphix, I meet his turn 3 play with an end of turn Lim-Dul's Vault, that puts a Thassa's Oracle on top of my library. With the Oracle's ability on the stack I do ponder a moment but fail to come up with anything other to name than the classic "Abandon Hope" for the game winning Demonic Consultation.

I am very happy that the tuning and testing payed off and I could transition the positiv testing results to real tournament play. Although the competition was tough and a few of the games came down to the wire I think I played the most broken deck in the room and that gave me the edge over the field.

You can find all the decklists of the tournament here:

After-tournament thoughts on the deck

Although the core of the deck is very powerful and Markus and I certainly managed to come up with a great decklist even though we didn't have that much time to prepare I still think there is room for improvement. Pact of Negation is a great card to protect you during the combo turn because you can play it for free out of the graveyard but Force of Will was just outright horrible and I never wanted to cast it. It feels like the deck needs less counterspells and more discard, as you can no longer protect yourself once you binned your whole hand with LED.
Tolarian Academy was good in one game as it provided 3 mana but was otherwise just a one mana land and even almost cost me one game because I didn't have any artifacts at all. I might try a version without it in the future.

I can only recommend to try out the deck yourselfs if you have any upcoming tournaments as I feel like this might be the most powerful thing you can be doing in all of Highlander right now!