Living the Dream: The Journey of Dream Halls
By James Heslip on June 7th, 2012 · Filed in Legacy (Type 1.5) · Comments not available just now
Today we are going to deviate from my usual topic of budget decks, and talk about something special: the Dream Halls Legacy deck. I know, I know, at roughly $1000 for the deck, including sideboard,Dream Halls is nowhere near budget. That being said, I feel as though it’s my responsibility to give my two cents on the archetype that has been gaining popularity and success since I, my brother William Heslip, and Star City Games writer Ari Lax played it at Grand Prix Indianapolis a few months ago. If you have not been paying attention to the Legacy scene, specifically those of the Star City Games tournaments, then you may not have noticed the steady rise in popularity of the Dream Halls archetype. This rise has its origins in the recent Grand Prix Indianapolis, and was started by a few cards collecting dust, a fun idea, and a desire to make people laugh. Hopefully by the end of this article, you will not only gain an appreciation of strange decks, but you will also learn a thing or two about deck construction and what it means to optimize a deck.
Choices Choices Choices:
Roughly a month before the Grand Prix, my brother and I were considering what to play at the event. I knew that Legacy Dredge was a strong choice, but after play-testing it I came to the conclusion that the deck was just not as consistent as I wanted it to be. I always want to have confidence in my deck's consistent performance, whether I play three games in a day, or 20; in a two-day event, consistency is what gives you the chance of a high placing. This was something I was not confidant the new Dredge decks could pull off. It seemed to me that you either had the explosive turn two wins where you puked out some zombies and your opponent went home crying, or, you just died waiting for a key card or dredger and went home crying yourself. This was especially true when playing Dredge against anything that played Force of Will, Daze or Wasteland.
I also considered the Legacy deck Burn, as I had had a lot of success with it in previous tournaments (even dedicating an entire article to it, which was followed by two players winning consecutive SCGs with the archetype). I knew the archetype was strong, and you don’t get much more consistent than Burn--but there was one problem. The decks Burn was supposed to beat had started packing more Green Sun's Zenith, more Scavenging Ooze and even Rhox War Monk. The time had come and gone for Burn, as the surprise factor of the deck was was no longer in effect. Combined with the fact that many of the archetypes the deck preys upon were diminishing, the deck had lost its ability to survive in a meta that was prepared for it. So, despite its crazy consistency factor, I was forced to shelf that idea as well.
It was during this time that we remembered a trade we had done a few weeks prior. For almost nothing of value my brother and I got our hands on a play set of Dream Halls, which had until then sat in our binder collecting dust. Now, if you don’t already know, I love combo decks. Specifically, I love weird combo decks. The kinds of decks that make my opponents' faces contort into crazy “did you really just do that?” shapes. At the time, no one had played Dream Halls in years--so it fit my criteria perfectly.
I Dream of Changes:
We sleeved up a net-decked version from a tournament as recent as we could find. The version was U/B and ran discard as well as our old friends Lim Dul’s Vault and Cruel Ultimatum. The list below is a from memory write up of the list we started with.
After some testing we came to the conclusion that the deck needed a lot of tuning. The black splash, combined with the Sol lands, City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb, left the deck very weak to Wasteland. This was a big deal, as often times the deck needed to hard-cast its Dream Halls, or, at the very least, attempt to race very aggressive archetypes with a Progenitus--something that was impossible when it was losing land drops to Wasteland decks.
We also discovered a major flaw with the Lim Dul’s Vault card that so many people ran. The deck itself is one that runs not only Force of Will, which requires the removal of a color card, but also runs a combo based on Dream Halls, which requires the extra cost of discarding a color card to use its ability. Lim Dul’s Vault is card disadvantage. Every time you cast it, you lose a card. This was extremely relevant, as we often times found ourselves not able to cast the Conflux in our hand after resolving Dream Halls because it was the only card in our hand. This situation--combined with those where we were stuck with a Force of Will and no blue card to pitch in order to protect the combo--came up fairly often.
It was due to these factors that my brother William decided that we should try to play a mono blue version of the deck. This is something that, to the best of our knowledge, had never been done before. Using only islands and Sol lands meant the deck was both less susceptible to Wasteland and had an easier time casting Dream Halls through double blue. This also allowed us to play not only the full 12 cantrips if we wanted, but also the incredibly powerful blue Demonic Tutor known as Intuition. The cantrips themselves, Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm, all replace themselves when you cast them. This means we were never punishing ourselves for trying to find combo pieces, lands, or protection. The fact that they were all blue only helped the Force of Will situation as well.
The next major decision in the deck's construction came when we looked at the win condition. Running four Cruel Ultimatums was certainly fun and interesting, but overall they clogged your hand like a toilet gets clogged after a bad burrito night. There was no reason to run a total of eight cards that are completely dead without Dream Halls in play (12 if you count Progenitus). Our ultimatum? They had to go. Running a win condition that consisted of only two cards meant we could spend more slots on protection and searches rather than flashy kills that sat in your hand doing nothing for the majority of the game. Does the Cruel Ultimatum kill work? Yes, but that’s not the point. The best decks in the format are considered such because they are streamlined. Just because a card or set of cards works does not mean they should be included in any given archetype. You have to ask, “Is this better than what is already being played?” and “Is this better than my other options?”. If a card is not strictly better than what is already in a deck, or what can be put in the deck, then it is simply not worth your time. It is through this logic that we decided on a kill that took up much less space in the deck and worked under any life total conditions: Beacon of Immortality in combination with False Cure.
Keep in mind that even at this point in the game we were only trying to make the deck better than what previous lists had to offer. We had no idea if the changes we were making actually helped the deck, or if our logic was flawed and the deck would fall short in practice.
The First Tournament:
Things went better than expected. We decided to put our creation up against what at the time was considered the best deck in the format, RUG. Much to our surprise, our deck won. Nothing crazy, mind you, as it was what seemed to be a 50/50 matchup. Nonetheless, it was much better than we thought it would be. We decided to scrap the whole “having fun” aspect, (because hey, that's not what this game is about) and seriously test the deck against the best the field had to offer. U/W Blade and Maverick were added to the gauntlet, as well as a large number of other decks that we had lying around.
Dream Halls dominated. Maverick and U/W Blade were miserable against it. Gaddock Teeg, Force of Will, whatever, it didn’t matter. The deck was just so consistent and resilient that nothing really stopped it. It was as if Dream Halls was Cesar Millan and Maverick and U/W Blade were two little Pugs with attitude issues. When he walked into the room it was mere minutes before he had them whimpering in the corner and pleading for mercy. To add to all of this, the deck almost never mulliganed, which was a great plus that came with running a mono color deck with 11 cantrips and four Intuition. We also discovered that it was very difficult for the other decks to sideboard against us, as no one card really dealt with both combos the deck presented. Gaddock Teeg does not stop Show and Tell, and Wing Shards does not stop Conflux. If a player brought in Oblivion Ring, we just went the Progenitus route. If we expected a Progenitus answer, or race that we could not win, Dream Halls and Conflux became our kill of choice.
This is when we decided to take the deck to a Grand Prix trial. Even at the start of the event we were not entirely sure the deck would perform as well as it had in testing. This was the first tournament we had taken it to, and it was a big one. If anything would put the deck to the test and make it really prove itself, we knew it would be this.
Round one proved to be exactly that. Our Dream Halls list was paired up against what at the time was considered one of the best decks in the format: Maverick. The match went the way our testing had foretold: we creamed it. With a round one win under our belt, we felt a surge of confidence that ran with us all the way to the finals, as we sat down against the same opponent that stood in our way round one. Three games later, our “fun” deck had just gone undefeated and won me three byes at the upcoming Grand Prix. Cesar Millan: 2, Maverick: 0.
That was it. We knew the deck was the real deal. After more testing, which resulted in no changes to the main deck, I handed the list over to my brother, who took it to another Grand Prix trial and proceeded to mimic my performance, going undefeated and getting his own shiny set of three byes only a week after I did. This is around the time we started talking with fellow Ann Arbor player Ari Lax, who became very interested in our list.
Through talks with Ari, as well as a few good nights of testing, gaming, and drinking with some of the Ann Arbor players, we settled on what we believed to be the optimal main board and sideboard lists for the deck. We went over specific play strategies versus the different decks of the meta and basically played our butts off in preparation. It was through this testing that we clarified which match-ups we had to be worried about. RUG was shown to be a 50/50, as we'd thought, while the U/W Blade and Maverick match-ups were shown to be as good as we believed. This was also when we discovered just how bad our Dredge match-up was. The combination of Speed and Cabal Therapy seemed to be just too much for our slower combo deck to handle. We came to the conclusion at the time that our only shot against the archetype was our sideboard, something that was no longer true for many decks. We figured that because the at the time new Faithless Looting Dredge decks were equipped with zero answers to Leyline of the Void, we would use that to our advantage. This became our main answer to Dredge, with the plan that even if the Leyline was not in our opening hand, we could Dream Halls or Show and Tell the card into play early enough to stay alive and cripple our opponent after we found it through cantrips. Not optimal in any way, but good nonetheless.
This was all true until the morning of the Grand Prix. After meeting up with Ari and talking about the deck we decided at the last minute that relying on Leyline of the Void for a two day event was just not realistic. It was for this reason that we swapped the Leylines for a few Ravenous Traps and Surgical Extractions, keeping in mind that it was very important to keep our graveyard hate spells colored, so that they could be pitched to our Dream Halls. This change was also something that we would regret later. For whatever reason the meta of Grand Prix Indianapolis was riddled with Dredge. Our initial thoughts were that people would not want to play a deck that had not had a month or so of testing to back it up in a tournament as big as the GP. We were wrong. The deck--as well as a surprising number of Reanimator decks, another terrible match up for Dream Halls--was everywhere.
When it was all said and done my brother was knocked out of day two because of Dredge, going 5-3-1. The Ari Lax story ended in a similar way. I ended in top 64, 52nd if I remember correctly, with all of my losses for the tournament being against Dredge. I spent the whole day wishing my board was better prepared for the wave of graveyard decks that were seen there, but there was just no way we could have reliably predicted Dredge in such numbers. Overall the deck performed exactly how we thought it would. We won all the match-ups we should have, and lost all the match-ups we thought we would. The only problem was the combination of a last minute sideboard change and our unsurprising inability to predict a surge of Dredge. All in all though, we were happy with at least one of us making top 64, and if nothing else, we certainly got people talking. By the middle of day two we were told that many of the vendors had sold out of Dream Halls and Conflux and that the prices of both had doubled at all the vendors that attended.
Beyond the GP:
After Indianapolis the deck saw success at a few local tournaments, going undefeated in at least one. There was also a third place finish and our first tournament win against Dredge in the top eight of the largest Legacy SCG invitational the state has ever seen. Because of these successes we held our confidence in the deck. This is when we turned our eyes to the first-ever SCG to be held in our home state of Michigan: SCG Detroit. My brother and I had planned to make SCG Detroit our “second chance” at showing our creation in the eye of the public. Detroit was, is our minds, our chance to prove to ourselves and the community that Dream Halls was here to stay.
Little did we know, however, that this line of thinking was no longer required. Since the Grand Prix Dream Halls has started showing up in top 16 and top eight lists in quite a few SCG opens, all of them based on our shell, which was written about by Ari Lax in a Star City Games article as well as Caleb Durward of ChannelFireball.com. Because of this we have come to see that it is no longer about us proving the deck to be powerful, as the community has already began to recognize this. Now, it is simply a matter of using that power for as long as possible. As long as the deck is strong in the meta you can be sure I will be playing it. Look for me at SCG Detroit. I'll be the one casting zero cost Confluxs while waving my hands and singing Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics.
This is my current list and the one I will most likely be taking to SCG Detroit. There is not much to discuss that has not already been said by other people, save for the sideboard and the win condition.
I believe the Coalition Victory + Prismatic Omen kill is strictly better than the popular False Cure + Beacon of Immortality kill simply because it does not target. This means it is weak to fewer hate cards in addition to its other bonuses. There is also the inherent life gain flaw of the Beacon kill, which brings the potential to lose game one to a burn player who lands a Sulfuric Vortex through casting or through your own Show and Tell.
As you can see there is much more graveyard hate in the sideboard, as well as protection from discard, namely Divert and Spell Pierce. This is the board that won me my first tournament victory against Dredge and I could not be happier with it.
I am also very much enjoying the small changes some other Dream Halls Pilots have made, consisting mostly of removing the miser Spell Pierce in the main deck and replacing it with a single Pact of Negation. While I have admittedly not tested the change, it seems very strong and is something I will consider in the weeks leading up to SCG Detroit.
Bonus! A Lesson in Deck Construction:
Recently, Caleb Durward has written an article about our Dream Halls shell. He made a few changes to the deck, specifically the addition of the new and very controversial card Temporal Mastery, and went so far as to call the deck the “best combo deck in Legacy.” I love his enthusiasm, and you can be sure that I agree with that statement, Mono-Blue Dream Halls is indeed the current best combo deck in Legacy. However, his list is not.
I hope you remember that little statement I gave at the beginning of the article about adding new cards to decks. Need a refresher? That’s okay, this is a Magic: the Gathering article, not a college lecture.
So, with that being said, let’s look at the changes Durward made to the list:
“The best decks in the format are considered such because they are streamlined. Just because a card or set of cards works does not mean they should be included in any given archetype. You have to ask, 'Is this better than what is already being played?' and 'Is this better than my other options?'. If a card is not strictly better than what is already in a deck, or what can be put in the deck, then it is simply not worth your time.”
While the statements I am making are my opinions, I want to point out that they are based on what I believe to be sound logic. The changes Durward made to the deck make it strictly worse than previous versions. He has sacrificed the protection of his combo and consistency in finding it--or other protection cards--for speed and flashy kills, two things the deck was never lacking in the first place. The Lotus Petals that have been added make the deck a glass cannon. Less protection for a quicker kill means that if your key pieces, say Dream Halls or Show and Tell, get countered, you must work to find more lands before you can try again, simply because you are sacrificing your mana sources just to try and cast a card. This also means no counter spell baiting, which makes control match-ups worse. This scenario is made more likely simply because you have replaced protection spells with speed spells. Should this situation arise, this--coupled with the fact that less cantrips means it will take you longer to find the lands you need--shows just how bad Durward's ideas can be in practice. In addition to the obvious hindrances to combo decks that are running around in today’s meta, we have Maverick, which can stick a Thalia, Guardian of Threban as early as turn 2. Along with this, RUG, UR Delver and even Nic Fit are all playing Red Elemental Blast now because of Sneaky Show decks gaining in popularity. Less protection in a hate-gaining meta is just asking for a loss that shouldn't happen.
This brings me to the new win condition as well. In case you don't know how it works, the idea is simple. Conflux chain into multiple Temporal Mastery plus Progenitus and use your extra turns to swing away with the hydra. Does it work? Yes, of course. Is it cool? Yes, you get to take extra turns while playing a new card that has everyone talking. Is it better than the kills already being played in the archetype? Well, no. The kill that Durward is suggesting uses up more slots in the deck than the Beacon and Coalition kills. In addition, it does something no combo deck ever wants to do: it relies on the battle phase. This opens up the deck to weaknesses that it otherwise would not have to worry about, including the new and improved Wrath of God known as Terminus, which is in fact an Instant. Another example is the Enchantress match-up, which goes from easily defeated to very difficult simply because Progenitus is black and bounce spells don’t work when your opponent has Sterling Grove. The list of added weaknesses actually goes on. Think Moat, Blazing Archon, etc.
I’m not trying to tell you that this kill condition or the cards it uses are bad. I simply want to make clear a very important rule when it comes to competitive deck construction. As someone who’s entire magic career is and has been centered on budget decks, I would like to think that I know a thing or two about what is optimal and what is not. The Temporal Mastery kill in Dream Halls is both strong and flashy, but it is far from optimal.
I know many of you will disagree with many of the things I have said in this article, and despite what you may think, I am okay with this. The only way I or anyone else can learn or get better at something is by being told or shown that they are wrong. Feel free to send me a message or comment in this article's comment section and let me know what's up. Whether you think I am right or wrong, I would love to hear feedback from you guys.
I promise that with the next article we will get back to budget building, with a series of articles I know you will all enjoy! Beyond that, I hope to see many of you at SCG Detroit!
By James Heslip on June 7th, 2012 · Filed in Legacy (Type 1.5) · Comments not available just now