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Ewlandon Talks Legacy


Known as “ewlandon” in the world of Magic Online, Eric Landon has been the Legacy Trophy Leader for the last two years by a substantial margin. His incredibly high 80% win rate with Black / Red Reanimator is so famous in the Legacy community that when the pros were preparing for the Legacy event of the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour, they called up Eric for Reanimator advice. 

Eric is currently in the process of moving back to the United States after being abroad for eight years, most of which were spent teaching English in Asia. Once back in the US, Eric will dedicate his time to streaming Magic content on Twitch at twitch.tv/ewlandon.

The following is excerpted from a phone call with Eric on April 16. 

In Legacy, right now, what do you see as the most underrated card? 

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Thalia, Heretic Cathar. It’s really strong if you can get it out early. Your opponent’s fetch lands come into play tapped, and their dual lands come into play tapped, so they don’t really get to play. Even against decks with basic lands, it is incredibly taxing on what the opponents can do, being forced to fetch basics. Basically, they have to answer that card. 

What do you think about the high-variance cards like Hymn to Tourach or Stifle? You hear mixed opinions when these cards are discussed, which is frequently. Some players—pro players— say that Hymn is a good card or that Hymn is a bad card. Of course in a vacuum, no card is good or bad; it depends on the meta. So what are your thoughts on Hymn right now? Which meta situations make Hymn good? 

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I didn't like Hymn back when it was more popular. I didn't like the randomness of the card, and I didn't like what it did as a two-mana spell. I thought it was too much of a “let's see how this thing plays out now” kind of card. 

More recently, I cast Hymns when I built a Blue / Black control deck to play Thief of Sanity. Obviously, in Blue / Black control, you’ve got to play Hymn to Tourach, and casting Hymn to Tourach felt really strong. I'm not really sure when or why or what about a metagame would make that card strong. Maybe I wasn't doing it right in the past. 

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You don't even want to look at the cards that they discarded with Hymn. You want to look at how many cards they have in their hand and what kind of things they're able to do to stop your game plan. Say they have three cards in their hand and you have a Delver; if they answer Delver, now they have two cards in their hand. So, what can you do to beat their deck, whatever it is—combo, control—when they only have two cards? Hymn puts you into these positions, rather than their having five cards and you just having to hope they don't have good things. 

Rather than thinking about the variance of the cards that it hits, Hymn helps you to think about how to shape the game based on how many cards they have left in their hand. If they are Storm and they have three cards, you’re like, "Okay, so these are the exact three cards they need to beat me. I need to figure out a way with my cantrips to stop them from doing that one thing." But if they have five cards, it's a lot harder to shape that game because you're like, "Well, if they have five cards, they have all these different ways of beating me."

It reminds me of a podcast I was listening to about risk. They talked about the games played at military schools for developing strategic thinking. One of the journalists said, “It's just all randomness.” And the response was, “Well, that's because you don't understand it.” In that example, it was about making decisions under uncertainty to give yourself the best position possible. It's exactly like you're saying; you're not hoping to hit the two cards that destroy them. You're reducing the options, reducing a certain amount of risk, and most importantly, putting yourself in a position where decisions are easier to make. 

Sometimes you’re going to hit the best two cards in their hand and ruin their entire game plan, but that is the variance that they see, not the variance that you see. You’re playing with the information of how many cards they have in their hand, and Hymn reduces that by two. And then you should know which ones beat you, and you can use your cantrips to help build your game plan better. 

I like that. I think that's a really good explanation. And your thoughts on Stifle, another card that polarizes players on whether it is good or bad? 

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I haven't been a big fan of Stifle since people learned how to play against it. Stifle started to be played outside of RUG Delver when Grixis Delver first became a thing, and it was insane. People didn’t know how to play against Stifle. You’d play Turn 1 Deathrite Shaman, Turn 2 Wasteland, Stifle. And you had Daze too. Nobody could beat that. It was like, “So what do I do? Do I not fetch? Do I fetch? Do they have Wasteland? Do they have Stifle?"

People eventually learned how to play against Stifle. I haven’t really liked it since then—it doesn't do enough outside of hitting fetch lands, and you can generally fetch for your lands when they don't have Stifle mana up. And if they leave stifle mana up forever, then you are just drawing cards every turn while your opponent does nothing because they’re leaving up Stifle mana. Either it builds bad game play for the people playing it or Stifle becomes a dead card—one or the other. I haven't liked Stifle for that reason. 

That being said, I recently tried Stifle. Everybody puts me on Black / Red Reanimator, and if nobody has any idea that you could possibly be playing Stifle, the card becomes really strong. I played some Delver decks recently with Stifle just to play something different. Stifle becomes really strong if they don't play around it. If people have forgotten how to play against Stifle, then maybe it's good again. 

What got you into playing Reanimator? 

As an experiment, I wanted to see the difference in tickets I could make with a lower win percentage with Reanimator than Delver but with a faster league. I played nothing but Reanimator for a week, keeping track of my win percentage and the speed of the leagues, to compare to Delver’s win percentage and speed and to see which one would make more tickets in a week. At the end of that week, my win percentage was pretty darn close to what it was with Delver. My win percentage with Delver at the time was 70%, and after a week of Reanimator, my win rate was 68%. The win percentage was almost exactly the same, but leagues took a good half an hour shorter. I was averaging $20 per hour with Reanimator. 

After about a month, my win percentage ended up being higher than what it was with Delver. I played a lot of Delver, and then I played a lot of Reanimator. And by the end of me getting good at Reanimator, I felt like Reanimator was hands down the best deck in the format. 

Would you say it's harder or easier to play Reanimator in paper than online? 

In paper, it's really obvious when they have Surgical Extraction. When they do have it, they try and pretend that they don’t, but they look really happy, like they won the game. When they don’t have it, they look really sad. If they look like they're going to cry, then they don't have it. But I don’t think it actually changes much. You're making the same decisions. 

Is there a deck that you enjoy online but not in paper, or vice versa, because of the different nature of having to remember all your triggers?

I played a bit of Dredge online. I thought it was pretty strong. I visited Korea recently, and a friend put together Dredge for me. Online, all the triggers are just there for you. In paper, you’re looking through the whole deck and your graveyard, and it's not like playing Magic; it is like sorting cards. Going through a deck box and sorting cards; that’s how you play dredge. I don’t like playing that deck in paper. 

I guess I have to ask this: do you have any advice for Black / Red Reanimator players? 

You don't have to win on Turn 1. You don't have to win as quickly as possible. The thing that really turned the corner for me was to play Reanimator the way that I saw Storm players playing Storm. You don't have to play where you cast your spells and see if they have it every time. You can play a longer game as long as you get Griselbrand into to play. 

Why do you think the deck has a reputation for being easy? 

It is very easy to cast Entomb, Reanimate, but actually winning with the deck is a lot harder. If you play a combo deck like it's easy, then it’s also easy to beat. You're going to lose to any interaction. Hall of Famers and some of the best Magic players you’ve ever heard of agree with me that Reanimator is harder than a deck like Delver—harder to win with and harder to get good at. 

I get that. I’ve only played Reanimator once, for a small tournament. I found the deck gave me much less information about what I should be doing. In Miracles, for example, you have your cantrips, you have your answers, you make your land drops, then you win. It's not that hard to figure out what your role is and what you should be doing. 
What did you contribute to the Reanimator deck?
 

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Oh! [excited] Fourteen lands in Reanimator, that was me. It was a 12-land deck to start. I went up to 13, and then I went up to 14. You can keep more speculative openers if you have more land drops in your deck. 

And I cut the Chrome Mox. Chrome Mox isn't a good top-decked mana source when you already have the cards you need in your hand because you kept a low-land opening hand. The deck is so explosive as it is. I think if you're trying to make it more explosive, you're losing percentage points and making it more fragile. 

Any other Reanimator innovations? 

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Adding Cabal Therapy over Thoughtseize was me. I thought the deck should be played like Storm. Maybe we don't need to go off on Turn 1. Maybe we can wait until we beat counterspells and then go off like Storm does. I thought a good way to do that might be Cabal Therapy. It turned out that Therapy had a bunch of other applications in the deck other than just beating Force of Will in game one. 

Can you give one or two sentences of advice about using Cabal Therapy correctly? 

Cabal Therapy is tricky. [laughter] I feel like I'm pretty good at Cabal Therapy. Ask yourself what you lose to, first of all. Game one on Reanimator, when you’re targeting your opponent, don’t get tricky with it. On Reanimator, if you’re playing against a blue deck, you almost always want to just name Force of Will game one. 

Especially against Storm or Show and Tell, when you see that they're going to be able to beat you and you can stop that by sacking your own creature, just sac your own creature to cast Therapy. 

Cabal Therapy, oh my goodness. There's just so many things to say. One sentence, you asked for? 

I don't want to restrain you. Just keep going. 

As far as trying to guess what your opponent has... You have to look at what they've cast, how they've tapped their mana. What information do you already have? If you've already discarded them, and they have one or two unknowns but they haven't tapped any mana, then you can narrow down what they could have drawn. 

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There was one really funny example against Bahra. He's convinced I'm a stream sniper because of this. [laughter] He had a Sylvan Library in play. I unmasked him, and his hand was nothing and a Lingering Souls. So I discarded the Lingering Souls because it was the only thing in his hand. Then he untapped, used his Sylvan Library, putting one card from the top of his library into his hand, and then flashed back the Lingering Souls that I had discarded. On my next turn, I cast a Therapy, and I named Lingering Souls, which doesn't make any sense at all, but it was the only card he could have possibly put in his hand from the top of his library and not cast. There were certain cards that could have been good against me that he would have put in his hand, and then he would not have tapped his mana to flashback the Lingering Souls. For me, I just wanted a Young Pyromancer token, so I was going to cast my Therapy anyway. I was going to name the thing he might possibly put in his hand, which was Lingering Souls, which wasn’t a good thing for me to hit at all, but I did end up hitting. He was upset, and he still calls me a stream sniper because of it. There's a video of me doing it on my YouTube. 

You're going beyond the standard heuristic, which is name what beats you, which works, which is the first thing you said, but now you've gone a lot beyond that to really analyzing what the game state is and what cards could be in hand. Is there another simple heuristic that you could come up with to add onto the standard one? 

You need to narrow down what they could have drawn based on the way they tapped their mana and what they played. 

I have another really good example of a Therapy that I will always remember—one of my best Therapies ever, and I wish I had a screenshot of it because it was so amazing. I knew every card in my opponent's hand except for one. And one of the cards in their hand was a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and one of the other cards was a land, and they already had three lands in play. I fired off my Therapy, and I named Snapcaster Mage. This was a what-do-I-lose-to name because they had a Surgical in the graveyard and I was about to get Griselbrand and win. My opponent got really mad at me and called me a lucksack. They could have flashed in the Snapcaster in response to the Therapy, but in their mind, there was no way I would name anything but Jace, the Mind Sculptor because I knew every card in their hand except for one. I hit the Snapcaster they drew, and I won. You don't need to name the stuff you know. If you're only losing to one card, name the card that you're losing to. 

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Another example of the other heuristic: what could they have? The opponent was playing Blue / White tempo. It was game one, and they played a Mausoleum Wanderer and a Force of Will. They didn't play any Stoneforge Mystics at all. But they took a couple of turns to do literally nothing. They had two cards in their hand, and they didn't do anything except for play out lands. I cast Therapy, and I named Batterskull. That was the only card in their hand. And they were just like, “What the fuck is that? How did you do that?” Just narrowing it down: what could they have and done nothing these last couple of turns? They didn't play Stoneforge Mystic, but this is a deck that could easily play Stoneforge Mystic. Batterskull is the best card that they could have that they wouldn't have cast the last few turns. No cantrips, nothing. So what could it be? Batterskull. And the guy was like, "What?!" [laughter] 

It is important to remember that it is not always right to name a known card. Is Cabal Therapy your favorite card? If not, what is? 

Griselbrand. [laughter] Getting this card out early in the game, nobody even has a chance against it. I don't even know why it's legal in Magic at all. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Huge thanks to both Graham Ezzy and ewlandon for putting together this interview. You can catch ewlandon live on his Twitch stream and also on YouTube, or support his content through his Patreon. Meanwhile, if you're looking for Graham, you can find him on his Instagram.


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