Interview with Don Donelson

Sunday night I had a chance to chat with Don Donelson, pilot of the D&T list that took 13th place at the Legacy Classic on 9/18/16. Don is part of the SFM (Southern Florida Magic) scene, which attracts a variety of very strong players. Accordingly, he has had the opportunity to hone his skills in a very strong Legacy scene. While Don doesn’t always play D&T, it is one of his primary decks (along with RUG Delver), and he’s been playing the deck off and on for years. He doesn’t often have the chance to travel outside of his region for events, and he admitted that this was one of the few big events he had the opportunity to travel for in quite some time. Alrighty, now that we know the man, let’s look at his 75.

Don Donelson's D&T

Creatures (26)
Recruiter of the Guard
Sanctum Prelate
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Mother of Runes
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Phyrexian Revoker
Stoneforge Mystic
Flickerwisp
Serra Avenger

Spells (11)
Batterskull
Umezawa’s Jitte
Aether Vial
Sword of Fire and Ice
Swords to Plowshares

Lands (23)
Plains
Rishadan Port
Cavern of Souls
Wasteland
Karakas
Horizon Canopy
Sideboard (15)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Containment Priest
Council’s Judgment
Rest in Peace
Path to Exile
Ethersworn Canonist
Pithing Needle

As we discussed his decklist, he remarked that he was a little bit unsure on how the deck was supposed to be built these days. Around three years ago, he believed that the lands were really the flex slots of the deck; your tough decisions were about the number of Flagstones of Trokair or Horizon Canopy to put in your deck. These days, the creatures are proving much more difficult to hammer down than ever before. Until the rise of the Eldrazi decks, running three Moms was largely considered foolish; now it’s becoming acceptable, and potentially even correct. He had mixed feelings about Recruiter of the Guard as well. He started by testing three and gradually went down to only a single copy; he feared that adding Recruiter to the deck along with a few bullets would cause the deck to be a touch too slow. He reluctantly trimmed the 4th Mom to make room for the second Recruiter in his 75.

Notably absent from his 75 is Mirran Crusader. He felt that the number of Bolts running around was higher than the number of Goyfs, and made the metagame call appropriately. He did state that if the metagame shifts a bit, this would be one of the first cards to come back. Like many other lists of late, he opted to run two Serra Avenger. His reasoning for it was quite stellar, and I might actually concede that Avenger should be in the deck, something that I’ve been on the fence about for weeks. Don believes that one of the greatest strengths of D&T is the ability to fluidly switch back and forth between the aggressor and the control role. Without a card like Avenger to help make that transition easier, it can be pretty easy to walk a little too far down the path of hard control. When that happens, you may find your board is stalled with a bunch of bears that just can’t break board parity.

Don did say that confirmation bias was a bit of a problem in testing the recent builds of the deck. For the uninitiated, confirmation bias is a process by which you take results and make them fit in with your current beliefs. That tends to end in players thinking things like, “I’m winning with my build, so the build I’m playing must be correct,” or “This card did XYZ cute interaction that no other card could, so it must be worth a slot.” In particular with Recruiter of the Guard and bullets, it’s really hard to tell what is objectively good for the deck versus what happens to be good in the moment. The deck has so many options these days, and the data is still limited, so building good conclusions can be very difficult. If you go really far down the confirmation bias rabbit hole, the more data you have, the greater your results might be skewed depending on how you interpret the data… I’ll leave you to Google confirmation bias if you’re interested, and I’ll just leave the nerdy tangent and get back to D&T stuff.

Don, like many other pilots, also opted to run two Cavern of Souls in his build. He was very happy with how those performed throughout the day, and he ended up 3-0 vs Miracles across the course of the day. He remarked that an active Mom alongside a Prelate on 6 is a soft lock for the Miracles opponent; though it is possible to break through, things are pretty rough at that point. When coupled with 6 bouncable Thalias that often came down as uncounterable threats, the matchup felt like a breeze. This was Don’s first event without Cataclysm in the sideboard, and while he was initially hesitant with that decision, he did not regret it. He enjoyed Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as a midpoint between Cataclysm and Wilt-Leaf Liege, and it certainly won him at least one of his matches over the course of the day.

Don’s other wins were against Storm and Elves, while his losses were to Affinity and Big Red. Echoing many of my own thoughts, he felt that the Elves matchup has gotten much better than it has been previously. While we are still certainly a dog in game 1, Prelate, THC, Canonist, and Containment Priest together form a pretty good package to fight off the little green men in the post-sideboard games. Prelate is a touch awkward against Elves. While the conceptual best thing to do with it is name 4 to shut off Natural Order, Prelate can come down after the Elves deck already reaches four mana. That means it can often be correct to just name one to shut off Glimpse of Nature.

Don was pretty happy with his 75, though he did say that he wanted to experiment with going down to two Karakas like I have been experimenting with. He believes that many of the matchups where Karakas is “necessary” are already so good that trimming one Karakas probably doesn’t matter that much. Reanimator and Sneak and Show are already great matchups, so it may been worth hedging in different directions to improve other matchups.

This is the first of what I hope will become an interview series. If you do well at a major event, feel free to email me if you have some ideas or stories you want to tell. I’d also like to thank a few readers for donating after last week’s articles; every donation pushes me to do more and more with the site!

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Phil Gallagher

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