If there’s a Legacy tournament somewhere near Chicago, the odds are pretty good that you’ll find Peter Tragos there.
While Peter is known for playing any of the competitive Constructed formats — and playing them well — he makes no secret of the fact that his first love is Legacy. It’s also the format that has earned him a spot in each of the first two Nerd Rage Gaming Championships; he won last October’s Legacy CT to qualify for the 2016 Championship, and he won March’s CT+. In both cases, he won with his mono-White Eldrazi deck, which he developed in conjunction with Chicago-area grinder Joe Bernal.
Peter took the time to answer some questions about his history as a Magic player, his mono-white Eldrazi deck and the NRG Championship. First, his winning deck from March:
Mono-white Eldrazi, by Peter Tragos
1st place, NRG CT+, March 2017
Casey Laughman (CL): How long have you been playing Magic? What got you into the game in the first place, and what keeps you interested in playing it?
Peter Tragos (PT): I learned to play in mid-2002; Onslaught was the first set printed after I learned. I saw some cards at a friend’s house a few years before I learned how to play but wasn’t interested in them; it wasn’t until I saw some friends at school playing games of Magic that I wanted to learn.
I’m very competitive in nature. When I learn a new game I want to figure out the best strategy to win, to “solve” the game. When I learned Magic and saw the depth it had I was hooked, it was a game you couldn’t just “solve”; you have to constantly be in practice and evaluating your play to improve and win consistently.
Magic being a great competitive outlet got me into the game, but I’ve been playing for almost 15 years without really stopping, and that is because of the community. I have an extremely hard time meeting or talking to people that I don’t know. Almost all of my friends are people I met through Magic. Magic was a perfect way to build relationships with people that I otherwise never would have. I’ve never taken a real break from the game because there are too many awesome people that I wouldn’t be reasonably able to interact without Magic. Sometimes Magic isn’t good, but the people are always great.
CL: You’ve won back-to-back Legacy CTs with mono-white Eldrazi. How did the deck first come together? How has it changed from its inception to now?
PT: Joe Bernal had it in his mind that Eldrazi Stompy should be playing white in it and I agreed. I had seen this random deck on Magic Online that was a white stompy deck with a full 8 Thalias and ways to accelerate them into play on turn 1 or 2 that really intrigued me, but I felt it was a ways off of being optimal. It was running four Ancient Tomb, three City of Traitors, four Mox Diamond, and four Lotus Petals, but zero Chalice of the Void and only one Reality Smasher. I thought to myself that if you were going to go all in on the Sol lands and mana accelerators then you should just be playing the full Eldrazi package, as that was the premier stompy deck in the format.
Cutting the bad cards in Eldrazi Stompy and adding the good cards from Thalia Stompy, we came to this unholy amalgam that we know as Mono-White Eldrazi. When I was going to play this deck I’d just send Joe a list and he’d have it built for me. I went through many iterations of the deck, some with Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull, some with no Mystic package and with Eldrazi Mimic and Endless One, others with a combination of them all. You can definitely see a large difference just between the two lists I won the CTs with. Stoneforge Mystic is bad, Smuggler’s Copter is the truth, and I love the weird looks I get when I play it on turn 1.
CL: What makes the deck a good choice for a Legacy tournament in the current state of the format? What are the best and worst match-ups, and why?
PT: This is a Chalice of the Void deck. Any time Chalice of the Void is well-positioned, then this is a great choice to bring to an event, as I believe this is the best Chalice of the Void deck. The best match-ups are decks that fold to a turn 1 Chalice followed by significant pressure. This includes many Delver variants and combo decks.
Turn 1 Chalice into turn 2 Thalia or Thought-Knot Seer is just game over vs. many decks. Most blue-based Legacy decks only play 14ish lands that aren’t Wasteland, and rely on things like Brainstorm, Ponder, or Deathrite Shaman to operate effectively. This deck attacks those decks by landing a Chalice or Thalia early and killing them with Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers before they can stabilize from the early disruption. Miracles is also a slightly to reasonably positive matchup as four Cavern of Souls plus high mana-cost threats make Counterbalance an ineffective card.
From my experience, the worst match-ups are decks that contain Baleful Strix and Tarmogoyf together. Both of these creatures are road blocks versus us and while beating one Strix or one Tarmogoyf a game is easy, it starts getting overwhelming when the opponent has both and we can’t just Displacer one blocker and attack. Once they start playing Strix into Goyf into Strix into Goyf we lose the ability to reasonably win. We have no card advantage in the deck; our first few threats have to be good enough vs. other decks with a clock as we have no reload mechanic, so decks that present multiple creatures that we cannot attack through are difficult to beat.
CL: Do you feel like the list is pretty much set in stone at this point, or are you still tinkering around the margins? Including the sideboard, what are the untouchable cards and what are the flex spots? How do you adjust from tournament to tournament?
PT: Definitely not set in stone. As I said before, I’ve tried many different variations that all have their own merits, and the two lists I won with have significant differences. The list I played in the team constructed CTQ was different from the list I won the last CT with, and I feel like I’ll always be changing a few cards here and there due to what I perceive the expected field to be.
Having said that, I do feel like the majority of the deck is “untouchable” and it’s in the last 10 cards that I do my tinkering. What I consider to be untouchable are:
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Eldrazi Displacer
4 Thought-Knot Seer
3 Reality Smasher
4 Chalice of the Void
3 Mox Diamond
The last Reality Smasher is usually in my lists, but it’s not sacred. I would never go under 25 lands, especially with three Mox Diamonds. I tried to play 24 lands before and would not recommend.
In the sideboard I’ve tried a wide range of cards, but the cards that always make the cut are the Rest in Peaces, Disenchants, and Containment Priests. I’ve played varied counts of all of those, but they are there in some number all the time. Swords to Plowshares is a card I originally did not play with, but have included it lately as something to bring in against the creatures decks that Chalice of the Void is ineffective against. This includes Abrupt Decay decks and Death and Taxes.
Any given Legacy event is going to have a plethora of archetypes as possible opponents but we can make educated assessments of the metagame from Opens, GPs, and Magic Online. I’m always going over Magic Online data to help me make decisions for the last few maindeck and sideboard cards. For example, I’ve had the 4-color Czech deck on my radar for some time now due to its presence on Magic Online, and that was the weapon of choice for many of the top players in the SCG Tour Legacy Open that just happened in Worcester.
CL: What sort of meta shift in Legacy would make mono-white Eldrazi a bad choice?
PT: When Chalice of the Void is not good, this deck is not good. Also, if Shardless Sultai saw a large resurgence I would reevaluate my decision to play this deck in a large event. It’s okay if Abrupt Decay is the popular removal spell; it may invalidate your Chalices but it does not invalidate the threats in the deck. The problem comes when your opponent can operate around a Chalice and be able to handle your creatures with their creatures. This is why Shardless Sultai can be problematic, as you can’t reasonably control their card advantage engines because any Chalice on 1 or Chalice on 0 can be answered by Abrupt Decay, while at the same time they are playing 4/5 or 5/6 Tarmogoyfs that are larger than your Eldrazi, and Baleful Strixes that give them the time necessary to reach the late game where they are advantaged.
CL: What advice can you offer to someone who is picking up this deck for the first time?
PT: Really take the time to evaluate your opening hand with regard to the lands that are in it. It’s very easy in this deck to sequence your lands improperly and sometimes the correct sequence is not intuitive. I’ve come across hands where it’s correct to play City of Traitors on the first turn even though you will have to sacrifice it on the second turn because you need to make a turn 1 Chalice and a turn 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Cavern of Souls is sometimes the only white source we have and we need to name Human even though we really want to make our Eldrazi uncounterable.
Also, I would say you need to take risks when playing this deck. In game 1, you need to be aggressive with your mana and aggressive with your plays. We are not interested in playing fair games of Magic with our opponent. We want to prevent them from doing whatever it is their deck is supposed to do and killing them dead. An example would be the previously mentioned Turn 1 City of Traitors. The win percentage of this deck goes down when you are not making a Turn 1 play. Get aggressive with that City and kill your opponent.
CL: You qualified for last year’s championship as well. How has your perspective changed on the championship and how you will approach it differently with last year’s experience under your belt?
PT: For me, the goal for any event of this nature is come out victorious. In that sense, my perspective hasn’t changed. I’m not satisfied just being there or being an also-ran. I’m in it to win it. I would have been disappointed last year had I not had a strong showing in the championship. I went over the decks I expected my competitors to play, going over the decks they qualified with, decks they played in various CTs, and any decks they are personally known to be proficient with. I expect I’ll be doing the same this year.
The one fault I had last year, though, was I did not respect all three formats equally. I did not give any time to Standard and just decided to “YOLO Marvel” in the Standard portion. This ended up being the death of me, as I was basically forced to choose Standard as the format for my semi-final match so I could have a positive match-up in the finals with my Modern deck, as Modern was the only format my potential finals opponents had left to play if I chose Standard in the semis. I was quickly bounced from the semis in a lopsided match by skilled Magican Noah Cohen and that was the end of my championship event.
I love invitational-style events where every opponent I play is likely to be a strong opponent, as we all had to show some sort of merit to be in the event. I love being put to the test and I will do my best to improve on last year’s top 4 and come out champion this time around.
Peter Tragos was a competitor in the inaugural Nerd Rage Gaming Championship and qualified for this year’s championship by winning the March CT+. Casey Laughman is editor of Nerd Rage Gaming. Email comments and questions to email@example.com.