Rereading Centurion, issue #7

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Time to continue the dive into old Swedish magic magazines. This time, from March, 1996. Homelands had been released last fall, Alliances was still just a rumor. What was happening in the Magic world at the time?

Well, straight up, we learn that for the upcoming issue, we would have a report from GothCon and its Nationals qualifier, a report from the Black Lotus Professional Tour (that is, PT1), and an article about Necropotence, “the latest trending card”. But for this issue? The first major article is a report from a Grand Melee tournament held at a convention in Stockholm. It’s a huge multiplayer game with 35 people, where you attack left, affect the players 2 steps in each directions with spells, the rounds are taken somewhat synchronously (one out of every five players were playing at each time), and, quite importantly, Enchant Worlds were global effects. How this works with timing, the story doesn’t tell. All in all, the game took eight hours, and the stories are glorious. Somebody sends a Kudzu around. A couple of players to my taste play Timetwister, Tormod’s Crypt and Argivian Archaeologist to deck people. Somebody else plays Howling Mines and Mana Flares to be friends with his neighbors. Somebody else ran Energy Flux and Blood Moon and Mana Barbs and was promptly killed. Unsurprisingly, the blue-white control decks were the most successful, and in the end, the organizers had to ban Abyss and rule that every creature got +1/+1 each upkeep to put an end to it.

To continue the less serious vibe, there’s an article on Throat Wolves, which are an old Usenet meme, I suppose, about cards which turned out not to exist. I did not know about the meme at the time, so the whole thing felt a bit pointless to me then. Here they are updated to Homelands. They all have Double First Strike, which isn’t doublestrike (something that wouldn’t exist for a long time still) but rather Firstest Strike. And it’s full of interesting jokes like cards with holographic print (how could they every imagine doing such a thing!).

Then comes some of the meat of the issue: a 5-page article about so-called Serendib decks. It’s RUG aggro with Unstable Mutations and Giant Growths and probably Berserk, thus a lot more creature-based than our 93/94 Arabian Aggro decks. First, catering to the budget crowd, there is a list with a wonderful 6/6/5 mana base, made possible (they claim) by 4 Barbed Sextants. Ambitious, to say the least. A much better approach would have to leave the budget version straight UG and splash later.

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the budget list

And there’s sadly no complete list for the power deck presented. Of interest is that they quite correctly prefer Scryb Sprites over Flying Men, even though City in a Bottle seems to be a non-factor. They also recommend no offcolor moxen, and also running a Nevinyrral’s Disk (unclear whether sb or main). And one or two Power Sinks. That is an underused strategy even now. Also Storm World as an answer to The Abyss.

Argothian Pixies is mentioned, but as “generally worse than Elvish Archers”, which is also deemed too weak for this deck, mostly because of Fireball. Juggernaut dies to everything, to nobody’s surprise. Ornithopter isn’t good even with Unstable Mutatins. Thanks. Oh, and Recall is too slow. Something to remember.

Over to the price list. There’s a rumor somebody in Gothenburg bought a Beta Lightning Bolt for $10; other than that, we don’t get any indication of Alpha or Beta prices, sadly. Time Vault is worth $30-40, half as much as Forcefield or Gauntlet of Might. The most expensive cards in Homelands, the newest expansion, are Primal Order at $12-16 and Autumn Willow at $10-12. In general, I don’t think much has changed since last issue.

Oh, there’s also a price guide for Doomtrooper, the most expensive card being Mortifikator Crenshaw at $11-17, except the promo Nepharite Warlord for $30.

In the calendar of upcoming tournaments, we learn that you have to qualify for the 1996 Swedish Nationals for the first time. I know this, since one of those qualifiers was my first sanctioned tournament ever. But that is a story for another time.

There’s also a really strange qualifying system in place where the top 30 in each of four qualifier makes it through, but only if you haven’t played any qualifiers before. Yes, you only got one shot. This should make the last qualifier very easy, I suppose, unless everybody games the system and nobody wants to play the first one. Also that is 30 people regardless of number of players. Weird stuff was going on, all at once, everywhere.

We also learn that the club SPIF in Helsingborg “has activities almost every day”. So much room for them.

Now it’s time to go full on meta: a review of Scrye #1. It somewhat amazes me Scrye isn’t older. After a bunch of information on new games like Spellfire, Jyhad and Sim City (the card game), there follows a bunch of reports from different US stores. “Some of the more sought after cards are Gaea’s Liege, Mindtwist, Island Sanctuary, Will-O’-The-Wisp, Black Lotus and Goblin King with prices in the $50 to $100 range.” Wait, what is this? Alpha Lotus is $25 in the price list. The entire magazine clocks in at 32 pages. Oh, of course. Dan Hörning is trolling the audience, and, consequently, me, 22 years later. They bought the magazine two years earlier, in mid-1994, which he dutifully reveals at the end of the short article.

Then some riddles! How do you make a Maze of Ith into a Juzam Djinn? (Doesn’t really work, but nice try: Living Plane, 2 Giant Strength, Wanderlust, Deathlace. Still is affected by enchantment removal, land destruction and more, but that has to count, I suppose.) How do you make Elves of the Deep Shadow into Castle? (That’s the final one, setting up the joke. The answer? Play Castle. Bolt the elf.)

A short note explains that some players intend to play the best Type 2 decks against each other, 10 games of each, 7 of those postboard. Wow. Playtesting is actually a new concept? In 1996? No wonder the decks were so bad back then.

An article about the Kult CCG, newly released, is probably not very interesting to you.

But then, another short report from “the first event in WotC’s Black Lotus Professional Tour”. The first prize was $12000. A removed from the $50000 you get today. And top 16 gave $500, compared to $5000 today. At least some things are not worse now. More will be said about this tourney in the next issue. The most interesting thing is a note that “a similar series will be held in Europe, organized by the WotC Belgium office”. That never happened; instead we just got a pro tour a year, usually, and even that took a little while to become reality.

Four pages of general advice about organizing a tournament could be relevant even today. Wait, one if the first points is that people will ask about the telephone, so make sure to have access to one, or at least know how to give directions to the nearest pay phone. Yeah, alright. More: somebody should be a “rules guru” or have access to the latest WotC list of errata (can be found on the internet). No mention of actual judges. A tournament should start as early as possible — something I am still missing in old school tournaments today. Direct elimination is recommended if you are tight on space. And if possible, arrange a side event parallel to the top 8. Also, this traditionally has a Bazaar of Baghdad as the prize. Oh, those were the days. Also, 4 or 5 dollars is a fair price of admission to the tournament.

Another curiosity is an ad for a tournament in Fisksätra in the outskirts of Stockholm, where a large part of the ad is a somewhat convoluted description of how to reach the site. “Walk across the bridge until you see a large sculpture, then turn slightly to the right.”

And the final article is about how to build decks in Doomtrooper, a game I’ve never tried. More about that in another issue, I believe.

That’s it for this time. Maybe next issue won’t take quite as long to review, but don’t get your hopes up.

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BSK 2018: Organizer’s Report + Losing with Lich

Organizer’s Report

This past weekend, for the second year in a row, I was the organizer of the 93/94 tournament at the BSK gaming convention in Borås, Sweden. We had 26 players, running 5 rounds of swiss with a top 8, starting at 5 pm. In my opinion, 26 players is maybe the perfect size for a tournament. Top 8 makes sense, it doesn’t take all day, and you can talk to everybody you want to. It is a bit sad that BSK has fallen so much; two years ago, it used to be the second yearly Shark tournament after N00bCon and likely the second largest tournament in Sweden and the world before old school became a thing in the US and Italy. But it still exists and it usually brings out a lot of good people, including parts of the original Gothenburg crowd. There were a large number of Sharks in attendance, I can tell you that.

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Fluffy vs Olle on table 1, eventually ending in a draw
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Stattin vs Lindén
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Two quarterfinals in action

This is the final standings after the swiss:

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Olle Råde decided to drop and have dinner instead (he was playing a straightforward UR serendib/atog burn deck), but these are the decks of the actual top 8:

Stattin
Jonas Stattin’s RUG aggro, 1st place. Note the maindeck Storm Seeker, which was almost as good as a Fireball on several occasions.
Lindstrom
Martin Lindström’s The Deck, 2nd place. The sideboard Tranquilities are the real tech here, as is Icy over maindeck Stone Rain (handles Library a whole lot worse, though).
Karlsson
Micke Thai’s The Deck. Basically Åland’s list from Arvika with the two maindeck Serras and only 3 books, the third being kept in the board.
Schram
Robert Schram’s Lauter.dec. Have I mentioned this is not the spiciest top 8 ever?
Nilsson
Mattias Nilsson’s Underworld Dreams Midrange. I have no idea how that BBBUURR manabase works, but at least it’s a somewhat novel concept.
Lofgren
Hannes Löfgren’s BWu midrange, to further build Danny Friedman’s case that everybody plays Underworld Dreams in Sweden.
Linden
Mikael Lindén’s Fantasy Zoo. So many lightning bolts and disenchants in this top 8!
Jansson
Andreas Jansson’s artifact midrange. Especially note the rare Yawgmoth Demon sighting here.
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In the end, we had one happy Jonas Stattin as the winner. The 2nd place finisher got a Sorrow’s Path, and we also randomly gave out two The Dark boosters, one to somebody in the top 8 and one to somebody outside of it.

 

Losing with Lich

Now, over to my personal experience with the tournament. First, the documentation of the necessary pre-event burgers and beer.

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Now, this is the deck I played:

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I have been brewing with Lich for a while and I believe this mirrorball shell is the best home for it. Basically, you just replace Mana Vault with Dark Rituals and play a few more black lands. Lich gives you a true combo finish against control, where the mirror plan is slow, clunky, and vulnerable, as well as another path to brokenness. I’m not saying it’s better than normal mirrorball but at the same time it isn’t strictly worse either.

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I also did get off a Lich kill the very first match of the tournament, against Jocke Almelund’s sweet Enchantress/Mana Flare/Candelabra build. He finished 3-2 on the day.

However, after that round 1 win, the wheels quite literally soon fell off. I did have a combo turn where I went ancestral, wheel, recall wheel, drawing 17 cards and still not finding what I needed. I played against The Deck where he kept in 4 Swords when I brought in my creatures. I also did some grave misplays. These kind of combo decks are some of the harder to play in the format for sure. I ended on a 2-3 record.

I think the list is mostly fine although my cutting of Pearl and Balance are likely wrong. The real bad thing was however the sideboard. I went too deep here, trying the Erhnams against control, the Trolls as additional threats when transforming and also defense against midrange, and finally Disks to get rid of all the troublesome permanents like Underworld Dreams and Blood Moon. But that’s just not good enough. It doesn’t work the way it should. I probably ought to play some other removal, likely a combination of Disenchant and The Abyss, possibly with some Mazes thrown in, and then at least one Mana Short against control. And I need to do more work on how to board in different matchups. I could also see another Fastbond and/or Dark Heart maindeck. The slots are tight but some things will have to go.

I’m not unhappy, though. Maybe with my plays, but not really with the result. I chose the deck because I had played a bunch of very spiky decks the past few events (The Deck, Troll Rack, Dibatog) and wanted to combo a bit, and also that I didn’t really want to try to win the tournament I TO’d that much. Success in that respect at least.

Now a very busy period with 3 events in 4 weeks have passed, and I’ll write about some other things. If nothing else, there’s a half-written Rereading Centurion post laying around here somewhere. Stay tuned.

Pictures of Genoa

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It started way too early, with the customary 6 am flight out of Linköping.
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Then some hours’ layover in Amsterdam, trying to get some final work done, before the weekend’s insanities began. Mostly chatted about the upcoming events though.
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Arriving in Genua, the weather was already a little bit worse than advertised, the sun already mostly gone for the day. It was about to get worse.
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Having checked into my hotel, I wander around in the old town for a while, meeting up with Gordon Andersson at the cathedral.
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I like the city, or at least the old part of it. The amounts of extremely narrow alleyways are approaching infinity. This kind of eclectic architecture, like putting a tower just like the one belonging to the neighboring church on a random residential building just because, is fantastic.
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After lunch, we go for gelato, of course.
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Eventually, we meet up with Jason Schwarz and Björn Jonnie Myrbacka and head for a bar Gordon had found, the Kamun Labs, a sweet brewpub. We have time to get in a few beers.
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Gordon even got to utilize the for-a-Swede strange and wonderful concept of the beer-to-go.
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The last part of that day, being Thursday, was a small dinner with about 30 players, organized by Megu and Lorenzo and the rest of the Fishliver crew. The Tiramisu finish was excellent.
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Friday started with a trek through narrow alleyways in search of a place to have coffee and brew and/or playtest. Eventually, we found Jalapeño, in what appeared to be the red light district, serving bad food and good beers. We also was joined by the excellent Martin Berlin, freshly flown in for the day.
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The main event of the day was the EC tournament at the Lighthouse of Genoa, the third oldest one in the world, built in 1543. Situated at the port, not far from the site of the main Fishliver Cup event hotel but farther from the old town, we split up, some of us (me, Charlie, Jonnie) walking there, others taking a cab.
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It began with a small reception with wine and focaccia, held at the garden at the base of the lighthouse. It hadn’t started raining yet. A great place to meed friends, old and new.

 

 

 

 

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A bit late (and who was surprised?), Lorenzo and Megu announced the structure of the tournament: 6 rounds of swiss, followed by a top 8 to be held at the hotel. Eventually, we got delayed enough that the last round had to be held at the hotel, too.
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This is the deck I played, called Troll Rack, based on the Spice Rack played by Bryan Manolakos at LobsterCon. As I cut the Copy Artifacts and Gwen, it’s not so spicy anymore. (Hit by glare are the 4 City of Brass, and in the upper right corner, it’s 1 Underground Sea and 3 basic Swamps, to battle Blood Moon mostly through my trolls.) The list is strong, but it has some glaring weaknesses. One is its low power level, eschewing Timetwister, Wheel of Fortune, Library of Alexandria, any kind of card draw besides Ancestral Recall, and more. Still, the synergy of its various parts make up for most of this. Worse is a certain weakness to creatures with more than 3 toughness. Serendib can usually be raced, and handled post-board with REB, CiaB and Terror, but a Serra Angel is a nightmare, as is large artifact creatures like Su-Chi, Triskelion, or Tetravus, especially pre-board. To solve this partly, I think the deck wants a few Psionic Blasts maindeck, although that means cutting the basic Swamps for Underground Sea once again. There’s also of course the option of just biting the bullet and running Swords to Plowshares, even if I hate that in chip damage decks like this. Well, I won’t play this anymore in the immediate future, as I play so few EC tournaments and there’s lots more for me to explore in that space (Power Goblins and Atog, especially). To sum up, I think this might be the best Hymn deck, but it isn’t tier 1, more like high tier 2.
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There’s a certain beauty to the symmetry of this game state, I think. I also believe I won this game, despite his start meaning he’s up 20 to 14, as I’m firmly under the Vises at this point. I just wish I had used my own Lotus playmat, identical to his.
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In the end, I managed to go 5-1 in the Swiss, hitting the top 8, before falling to Shark holder Martin Berlin’s Ub robots in the quarterfinals. Now, it was way past 1 am, and I was not unhappy to head back to the hotel for some sleep. Especially not since I had won a quite epic match against reigning 93/94 World Champion Alban Lauter, playing for the top 8 earlier. I did miss an orb flip against Martin, which hurts a bit, but I can live with it. I wished Martin the best of luck and moved on.
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Next morning, we woke up way too late even for the breakfast ending at 10.30, so we headed out for the main event, picking up a quite good Italian lunch along the way. And making the finishing touches on Jonnie’s UWb robots deck which he would eventually play to a 17th place, missing the top 16 on the tiniest amount of tiebreaker. It’s quite interesting, especially with the possibility to board out the Serendibs for The Abyss and City in a Bottle. Also Icy Manipulator/Copy Artifact seemed excellent all day. The picture above is a general view of parts of the venue, a series of linked conference rooms and lobby areas.
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This is what I played to a 4-2 finish with very bad tiebreakers, losing to a turn-1 erhnam and game 2 a fast serra out of some kind of UWG control deck, and once to Arabian Aggro where I couldn’t find a sb City in a Bottle. Again, big creatures is a problem. This deck is a bit too complicated for its own good, having to fight the tension of bottle/city/serendib as well as opposing blood moons. Moving forward, I think I’ll just cut the bottles as well as the white and green splash, being prepared to board out serendibs against bottles, but handling big guys with some combination of control magic and terror. I’m still searching for the optimal Swedish atog deck, and Dibatog like this is just one direction. I’ll test it out a bit more soon.
commentating fishliver
I chose the deck partly so I could finish the rounds quickly and have some time to socialize, and in that regard I was successful. I even had time to get into the coverage booth with Gordon a few times which was awesome. In the future, I need to decide whether I want to play or comment the most. Should the internet work, that is. There were unfortunately recurring internet issues during the event. And that is not even mentioning the blackout caused bu the thunderstorm which I unfortunately didn’t catch on photo.
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The last day, the excellent weather continued. The tournament of the day was the European Championships in Premodern, a format I had never played before, but I borrowed a deck from Jocke Almelund which seemed sweet: four-color control with a UW base, splashing Gaea’s Blessing and Red Elemental Blast. I dropped at 2-2-1 but with some taste developed for the format. I just don’t have the need for more formats to think about, but I’ll very likely be back again.
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Then I was starved for some Old School games, so when we had gathered some good people (Jonnie, Gordon, Erwin, Alexander, Jason) and went to a pub (Kamun Labs once again), I started getting in a match with Gordon. I was playing Bryan Manolakos’s Field of Dreams control deck, which is probably the hardest deck to play in the entire format. Most games are decided by you doing a small mistake on turn 23 and then losing on turn 28 as a result of it.
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Of course, sometimes you can get power starts, too. I proceeded to draw Time Walk and Land Tax off of that Ancestral.
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Meanwhile, they were doing their own kind of broken things at the nearby table. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the part where they were throwing unsleeved alpha lotuses at eachother. Yes, for real.
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Also, this imperial stout panacotta was the best thing I’ve eaten in a long while. All in all, the evening was excellent. All this hanging out with people and having some casual games was really the best thing with the weekend for me, as much of a spike as I am.
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Uncharacteristically, I didn’t buy or sell a single card during the event, so this amazing flask was all the loot I got. I will make sure to put that to good use, though.
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The next day, I managed to get on the last plane out of Genoa before they closed the airport down due to the thunderstorm. Taking off after waiting for a gap in the clouds for 45 minutes was a big relief.
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And once I reached Schiphol, still a 1.5 hour flight from Linköping where I live, felt like coming home. It was over. Tired, but happy. (And I messed up the shot of Linköping being cold, pitch dark, and rainy, when I did land at 11 pm that night. You just have to imagine.)

 

 

Consider The Deck

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I think I will try to write something on the blog about my complicated relationship with The Deck

It takes me into weird territories on the spike/fun scale

It’s not even a scale really, it’s a map of a roadless country, with weird places to disappear into

(I played it at the Scandinavian Championships in Arvika a week ago, trying to win that Giant Shark, finishing in 10th place, at 5-2. And not having the best of times really)

Is the deck fun to play? Do I have fun while playing it? Do I care enough or too much? Do I want to drink? These questions are so hard now.

They used to be easy.

I basically want to maximize my fun in any tournament. That’s the great goal. But so many different things are fun, and some are conflicting

If I feel like I have to win, and I don’t win, I’m not having fun. But winning is fun, so it’s not fun to lose. Etc.

The answer might be that I should continue to play The Deck a bit more, and lower my expectations a bit, so I can be totally satisfied by going 5-2.

I mean, there were several great players playing The Deck at 4-3 at n00bcon.

(I’m never fully satisfied when I miss top 8 in any tournament, but still. A bit more than I was.)

Just that those things happen

I think the problem is my attitude to the deck. If I think it’s tier 0 and I ought to win the whole thing when I play it, I’m setting up for disappointment

So maybe I should not just save it for the tournaments I really want to spike, but just randomly play it sometimes. If I win, cool. If I don’t, I’m not more of a failure than usual

Sure, it’s better than Lich, but not that much better than Powerball or Atog

Almost all of this is just about my attitudes, I believe

If I take The Deck a little bit less serious, and play it and drink a bit and see what happens, I might be happier

Might not be that I should play the deck less, at all

Heh. Might skip writing that blog post altogether. I might have solved it here, instead

Just ranting is good sometimes

Solving it by caring less. I like the sound of that

Also maybe that The Deck is a bit worse than we thought as of late

Lots of things can go wrong. Especially the mana base isn’t so good. Playing the epic 9-game set against ErhnamGeddon at the post-Arvika lobby games and going 4-5 proved that a lot. The Ice Storms did a lot of work

(Also his Library)

But I felt that during the tournament as well. It’s easy to miss UU, or WW, or something like UUR postboard

Somebody raised the point: that The Deck might not just be quite as good as we make it out to be

It has the results, sure. Even here. But in general.

I’m not so sure it’s the consistency. Lots of hands don’t do anything as you draw the wrong reactive cards against the wrong threat, or too much or too little mana. It’s the combination of all the power and all the acceleration and an almost unbeatable late game.

There’s a midgame point around turn 3-5 where The Deck isn’t very consistent at all, I’d argue

before the books are really online, and after the first answer has dealt with the first threat

A deck like UR or Arabian Aggro is more consistent

maybe not Atog, as it’s so dependent on vises and power for the good starts. but those other Rx aggro decks

hmm

maybe I should just copy this conversation, remove the names and some lines by other people, and post it as a blog post on The Deck

edit into a true monologue

might even be fun, if just a little bit demented

 

Failing with Fork

I’ve been playing a bunch of Fork combo lately. Mostly this list, which I played at a small gathering the day before Grand Prix Stockholm this past weekend.

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I went 1-3 at the tournament, and I don’t think I won a single game when we were playtesting at Belgobaren over lunch before, so I won’t say much about the individual matches. But the deck is interesting. It started out as Fork Recursion, one of Gordon Andersson’s favourite decks, and one I’ve been itching to try since the unrestriction of Recall. My first stab was in a Mirrorball shell, looking roughly like this:


I tested it a small bit, with limited success. It had too little red mana for the Forks, I think, but in the end, it comes down to one thing: I hate Howling Mine. I know, I played it at both Twiddlevault and Atog at The Boat, but in the former it was a (maybe, somewhat) necessary evil, and in the latter mostly a liability, at least in retrospect. It boils down to this:

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Yeah. Fuck that card. So I wanted to try to build the Fork engine without having to play as many naked Howlings and getting them destroyed. If you play four copies of the card, there will be situations when you just have to jam it and hope. And Relic Barriers just don’t belong in combo decks. Sure, you can tap mana artifacts too, and that makes Mana Short much more of a plan post-board, but it’s so hard to find the slots. I did consider it for Twiddlevault and will continue to do so in the future but I have no high hopes there. Rather, I was looking into other ways of building resources in your time walk turns. One idea I’ve been toying with is going heavy on Transmute and Copy Artifact, so you can search for your one or two copies of Howling Mine when you need them and then copy them a bunch of times. Another thing is regular books, although Jayemdae is very expensive, especially when you have Fork + Time Walk instead of Twiddle + Time Vault. Multiple books is out of the question. Sylvan is still good, of course. Bazaar isn’t bad, but you still need some way of getting actually ahead on resources. (And the additional problem of me not owning any, but those could certainly be borrowed in a tournament and proxied for playtesting.)

So I want to cut some Howlings. Another idea I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind is a Blood Moon-powered combo deck, being heavy red with a bunch of islands, using the Moon to buy time and disrupt control. This should in theory work well with the heavy red mana requirements of the Fork deck. I did something I rarely do: I brewed in physical space. Spreading out the various combo parts I was considering, I went to work. A small Candleflare component could also work here, also defended by Moon making giving opponents mana less dangerous, and allowing for more ways of generating the mana for a large Fireball + Fork. Another option was a small Twiddlevault hybrid package, like a Time Vault and three Twiddles. In the end, what had to go was the disruption. No Counterspells of any kind here besides the Mana Drain.

So what happened? Going off is hard. Sometimes you just never find Time Walk or Demonic Tutor. But there are enough smaller combos to abuse Fork to make that no deal breaker. The mana felt a little bit off, I would have needed 1 or maybe even 2 more Island to support the Blood Moon. I had that initially, but then I felt a bit low on red for Fork. Moons are sometimes great, of course, but maybe they belong only in the board. Speaking of which, I should have more Shivans. Now I never got to board in my sweet Alpha Phantasmal Forces, which are actually not bad against control or non-red midrange, but Shivans are the real deal. Good with Blood Moon and all the acceleration, good against aggro in general, reasonably easy to defend against BEBs with REBs. One Power Sink could have been good, maybe just in the board, as a way to interact more when cutting some of the combo. Maze is laughingly bad with Blood Moon which I should have anticipated. The draw engine seems to work alright when going off. I’d like to take a stab at that Twiddlevault hybrid, I think. Maybe something like this, based on the changes suggested by Mattias Berggren after the tournament:

The deck is still no killer. It’s worse than several other combo decks, I think, not to mention the real tier 1 decks like The Deck and Atog. But it’s sure fun. And the raw power level is high. Having access to Blood Moon and City in a Bottle along with the Shivans might mean this has a better board plan than most other combo decks in the format. The main problem is the lack of interaction or threats against real control or highly disruptive decks, like UR with Counterspells and tons of blasts. Especially with the current board. But that’s a gamble maybe worth taking. Another build would probably cut the Candleflare package for Counterspells and try to fit in Mana Short in the board, for example.

Now it’s time to experiment with some Lich, I think. If anything interesting turns up I’ll be sure to write about it. See you around.

Atog Pride

Three weeks ago, I went to Gothenburg to play in a small Old School side event at Swedish Nationals. It was held at GG Bar, Sweden’s first esports bar, a five-minute walk from the Nationals site. Ten people showed up, but it was a great crowd, with many old-timers and some new faces. Organizer was Åland who did a great job. We played four rounds of swiss followed by top 4, with tiebreakers being game-win percentage, beucause nobody bothered with DCI Reporter and we ran the tournament from some crappy website. Nevermind. Let’s get into the matches. I took no notes, as I had forgotten a pen and kept life with dice, but at least I have a few photos as help.

Oh, maybe I should mention what I played. It’s this pile:

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Basically a five-color Atog deck with Serendibs, partly in honor of the concurrent Europride event in town. The deck started out as the Combo shell of all the restricted cards and abusing them with several Mana Vaults, but with aggression as the payoff rather than for example the Mirrorball shell. However, along the way I gradually cut all the Mana Vaults, Su-Chis, Triskelions and Copy Artifacts, eventually realizing it’s better to just run straight-up Atogs with Serendibs. Five colors is because Regrowth and Balance are insane when you’re looking to dump your hand and get a draw-7. Balance is a reverse draw-7, and Regrowth is another one once you’ve drawn something like Ancestral, Twister, Wheel or Tutor. Well, Balance wasn’t main, but it could easily have been, over the fourth Serendib. What scared me the most was opposing Atog decks with Blood Moon, as my mana base wasn’t exactly rock solid and I didn’t have enough sideboard cards to take out all the symmetric cards which are bad in the mirror, even with 3 BEBs, but hey, you can’t beat everything.

In game 1, I faced Martin Jordö, of Mirrorball fame. We had discussed his deck not ten minutes earlier as we share a lot of preferences. An interesting one to be sure. He was on a maximally fast Twiddlevault list, with Fastbonds and more lands instead of any Counterspells or Power Sinks, and also a maindeck Fork. In game 1, I have Library on the play. He plays something like land, mox, Mana Vault. I draw, draw with Library, play a Volcanic Island and pass with Ancestral up. It’s slow, sure, but the card advantage is hard to pass on. Martin then proceeds to do something like mana vault, time vault, twiddle, land, mox, braingeyser for 7,fastbond, twiddle. It looked like this:

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The tapped Demonic Attorney was a proxy for the Time Vault at that time.

I did not win that one. Then game 2, I resolve a Blood Moon which Martin can’t really handle outside of maybe Chaos Orb, and just win. Game 3, he plays an early Mirror Universe. I have an Atog and a Serendib, beating him down to 11. He thinks, but does not swap. I have a Factory as well. On my turn, I start by playing Time Walk, which he Forks. Neither of us knows how this works, so we ask around, and everybody tells us they just cancel eachother out. Okay. Then I Chain Lightning him to 8, attack with all and sacrifice an artifact to the Atog for letha. Martin, however, has a BEB on his last mana. I obviously should have saved the Chain Lightning until post-combat. Still, he’s on 3, switching life, with me at 17. I have two more attack steps, and attacking for 6 on each, plus any potential artifact draws; with some good draws, like an artifact and a bolt, I think I take it home. Then Martin draws what is probably his only Fireball in his draw step. Okay. He is good at doing broken things to me, I’ll have to grant him that.

Only that I later realized that the Time Walk ruling is all wrong. The turns are resolved in reverse order, so I would have gotten my extra turn first and won. A bit sad, but that was much later, the next day, on the way home. But now I know for the future, and so do you.

Round 2, if I recall correctly, I’m paired up. Against Olof in any instance, a friend I first met on the Boat a couple of months ago. Now. he’s on some kind of UWB artifact brew with some white removal, Abysses, Transmutes, and the usual power stuff, in addition to Su-Chis and Tetravuses and Triskelions. Game 1, he had a slow start, where I had a turn 3 Timetwister into Vise. That finishes him somehow. Game 2, I think I win off of a Blood Moon as Olof plays no basics as I saw. I don’t remember very much, honestly.

Round 3, I face my old friend Åland. I knew he was on UWGb aggro, having just acquired Savannahs and Tropicals. Game 1, I get two Vises and two Ankhs, apparently, while he plays a Lion, a Pixies and a Serendib. That is not a race I win, I think. Game 2, it looks like this: he played turn 2 serendib off of a mox and a city, and I play a Bottle. That’s pretty much game. Game 3 is the really interesting part. I start with Library and a Vise, keeping it very controlling. Then I keep 2 bottles and 2 moxes in hand, after losing Library. Wait, this doesn’t make sense. Anyway, I know I misplayed. I had the choice between playing out a preemptive Bottle or keeping it in hand, and kept it, wanting to snag something; but I should just have played it, as I had a backup one should he remove it, as I want to keep his hand full when I have a Vise. Instead, he Timetwisters, getting back into the game. Eventually, I am able to land a Gloom to turn off his CoP: Red, as well as a Blood Moon. I also topdeck a Demonic Tutor to find Timetwister when I almost knew he had BEB in hand from the way he played. Could have gotten Wheel, but Twister was the play, and he revealed the BEB. That felt good.

(Sorry, I know this round doesn’t make any sense, but I only have some photos and some short notes to go on, as well as my fractured memory, and both the tournament and most of this writing is done while drunk, so you’ll have to excuse me.)

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A rare Ali from Cairo sighting.

Anyway. I win that one. Time for round 4. I am facing Kristoffer, a new acquaintance. He’s a Vintage and Legacy player who’s new to the format, and naturally gravitates towards UR although he tells me his tastes really lie elsewhere. He’s 3-0 at this point and a lock for top 4, whereas I feel pretty much out. But I don’t care. Let’s play. Game 1, he plays turn 1 ancestral into turn 2 mox, serendib. That’s pretty much game when I don’t have anything similarly broken myself. Then, game 2, I win on bottle. His deck is UR with 4 flying men, 4 dib, and 0 city, but my bottles still rock. Game 3 I misplay horribly. I have a weird hand with no red mana but bottle and maze. Then he resolves Energy Flux after which I draw Ruby, but I have to choose between keeping the Ruby and the Bottle. I do have a REB but no mana untapped, and choose to keep the Bottle after destroying the Flux. Then I proceed to never draw a red mana again. I should just have kept the Ruby as I had a Maze for any potential Serendibs anyway. That was bad.

So I’m 2-2. Apparently 5th place. Doesn’t matter that much. But the guy who got 4th had already dropped and gone home (I don’t know his name, he was probably the only one in the tournament I never got to speak to or knew before), so I sneak into the top 4. Knowing I had really won that first round against Jordö, that feels a lot better in afterthought when I actually somewhat deserve it.

In the semis, I face Kristoffer again. This time, it wasn’t as close. In both game 1 and 3, I lead on a Library that never gets answered. In game 3, I have library along with Lotus and Wheel. I never play those, having them as backup should he destroy Library or empty his hand while I draw into multiple Vises, but it’s very likely I should just have played those out on turn 1 to get one card ahead and take out his hand. What do you think?

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This is a totally fair game.

I also end up with 2 serendibs and 2 bottles in the deck post sideboard. I actually think this is correct. Obviously, the plan was to take out the serendibs when bringing in bottles, but I figured that if I had a bottle active I should win against Kristoffer, and if I didn’t, a serendib is actually really good against the red deck.

And then, in the finals, it’s time for a rematch with Olof. Due to Bonnie, this match is actually on video (part 1 and part 2). Not sure if they are public but some of you can probably watch these anyway if you’re interested. It also means I can comment on my plays in far greater detail. Thanks Bonnie!

Olof is on the play, due to finishing higher in the Swiss. He plays turn 1 factory, jet. I play land, mox, vise. He plays tundra, chaos orb. I play city, serendib. End of my turn, where the video starts, Olof flips the orb on my serendib and misses! On his turn, he plays another factory and a Su-Chi. I have a hand of three mana and two bolts; not really what I want. Some way to turn off the Vise would have been great, because this race I’m not winning. I consider double bolting the Su-Chi but decide on potentially doing it in his attack step, otherwise perhaps killing the Factories. And so I do, when he attacks with everything. I then draw an orb and kill the su-chi as well. Olof draws a third factory and passes. I just attack and play a fellwar, but Olof draws Ancestral. Otherwise, I thought I could win this race. He then mind twists my hand, but that just contained two lands. I go down to 9 life, and finally draw something good: a second dib. Attacking Olof down to 6. He then plays Braingeyser for 3, followed by a Time Walk, but takes 2 damage from his cities in the process. On his extra turn, Olof plays a Tetravus. Any damage and I win, but I do draw a factory. I’m on 7, with two serendibs, facing down Tetravus, a factory, and some cards in Olof’s hand. I have to attack. The next turn, Olof can just make tokens to block with, otherwise, and wait for the dibs to kill me together with the backswing if I do attack then. So I do. One dib dies, Olof going to 1.Actually, now I see I’m just dead here: Olof can attack with factory and tetravus, strip mining my factory, getting in for 6, then me dying to the dib in my upkeep. But instead, Olof just attacks with the Tetravus and casts an Abyss. I get another draw step for a bolt, but I do get a mox. On second retrospect, I was dead on board when I attacked with the serendibs into the tetravus, or rather, when I played that factory instead of bluffing removal (which is impossible as every removal would have killed him there, I think). So the correct play from my part should have been to keep the serendibs back and trying to draw into 4 damage, a tall task as Olof would then likely build tokens in his upkeep, putting his number of blockers at 4. I would have had one draw step to get something like a draw-7 or Ancestral before his attacks and my dibs killed me. But it still would have been correct not to attack there.

Time to be on the play. Olof takes a mulligan. I keep. No Vise, but Island into Ancestral in Olof’s upkeep. Olof has land, two moxen, Sol Ring and a book. Good thing I didn’t have a Vise hand here, huh. But it’s my time to play some power. On the second turn, I play emerald, factory, sol ring, time walk, chaos orb. Next turn, I play lotus and shatter the tome, having basically infinite mana, but just attacking for 2 with the factory. Olof plays a Transmute for a Su-Chi, which I promptly Orb and hit. I play another Factory and attack for 3. Olof has no play. I attack for 4 with the factories. Same next turn. Olof is at 6. Hitting his 6th land (a second City), Olof still has no play. That seals it. He must have been heavily flooded here.

Okay. On the draw, my Vises are so much less effective. We both keep, but I dearly wish I was had been on the play. Olof plays factory, ruby. I play island, jet, sapphire, 2 vise. Getting in for 2 damage is alright, I guess, but it would have been 6 on the play. Oh well. Olof just plays another factory and attacks for 3. Okay, that means I get in another 2 damage. I don’t have another play and just pass. However, I have a Hurkyl’s Recall in hand.

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And Olof bites. He plays a third factory, attacking with the other two. I for some reason play Hurkyl in the combat phase, effectively trading 4 life for 2 damage as Olof can replay his Ruby, which is horrible. But, as it turns out, still quite good. Next turn, I Orb Olof’s remaining Factory. Olof finally plays a book, but the Vises take it down, about four damage a turn. I have a REB and a wheel in hand, never drawing red mana, but that doesn’t matter. Vise + Hurkyl against the artifact deck is too strong. 500 SEK in bar credit is mine, and I buy beer for everyone and some snacks for my non-oldschool-playing friend who arrived late, waiting for me to finish so we could check into our hotel.

Conclusions? This is close to the best Atog deck in the Swedish format, I think. With 4 Strip Mines, it’s better to minimize the splashes, but in Swedish, Serendib is almost too strong not to play. I really like this list if I want to play aggro and will likely run it back with minimal changes at some point in the future. It also felt great to finally win a tournament in the format after something like 9 top 8s (or top 4s) in total, even though it was only 10 players. Good times were had. Thanks to everybody who attended and especially to Åland and GGBar for organizing and hosting.

Total Recall

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Recall has been unrestricted in the Swedish format for a couple of months now, but there haven’t been many tournament results or even published decklists sporting multiple copies yet. I’m mostly aware of this Instagram post by Danny Friedman and my own report from the Boat. Even missing much data, I think there’s some merit to discussion the correct number of copies of the card in various decks. Specifically, I think a lot of decks used to run Recall since it was on the restricted list, and since it’s there, it should be played, right? And now, you have to instead justify why you want exactly 1, why not 2, or 0? So let’s look at why you would want Recall and why you would not.

  • Recall is good when you have powerful cards to return. The more restricted cards you play, the better Recall gets. Specifically, running Wheel of Fortune and the black cards is important here.
  • Recall is only good when you have access to a lot of mana. Unless you regularly want to spend 5 mana on a sorcery, it’s not so good, and you want to be able to play it for 7 sometimes as well. This makes it better in Fellwar- or Mana Vault-powered lists, and way worse in low-curve aggro decks.
  • Recall is only good when you have cards to discard. It’s better with Howling Mines or Jayemdae Tomes or Land Taxes, and worse in aggro or midrange decks where every card is useful. It’s also better when you play many situational cards, so better in Swords to Plowshares or Abyss decks than Lightning Bolt decks.
  • Recall is particularly good when acting as a win condition in very slow decks, allowing you for more copies of single cards than would otherwise be possible. Most The Deck lists only run the 5 hard counters (the 1 Mana Drain and 4 actual Counterspells) but with a late-game Recall, you can get complete control by returning three more in exchange for lands, often sealing the deal.

So where does this leave us? Recall is definitely good in slow control decks like The Deck. I could even see the correct number be somewhere between 1 and 2 copies, so experimenting with 2 certainly has some merit. However, it is a very bad draw early in the game, and I frequently board it out against red decks anyway (because it’s so bad to play expensive blue spells against Red Elemental Blasts), so for now, at least, I’m sticking to the one copy in my lists. It might also be good in Troll Disco as you have cards like Lightning Bolts against control to discard, a lot of mana, and a lot of restricted cards, often including Wheel of Fortune. The new wave of Land Tax/Ivory Tower decks could also potentially use more than one copy, but that is mostly a thing in EC at this point.

Recursing-based combo decks, like the above-mentioned Twiddlevault lists or Fork Recursion combo, obviously want more than one Recall. In Twiddlevault, I am unsure whether you want 2 or 3, leaning towards the former. Other combo decks, like Powerball, Mirrorball, or Dreams, might benefit from 2 copies, but that is not really a high priority and likely won’t make the cut. In Reanimator, Recall has the additional benefit of being a discard outlet, but Reanimator sucks in 93/94. If there was a format with Recall unrestricted and Fallen Empires legal, maybe?

Then there are decks which should consider cutting Recall altogether, now that it’s less of a given as it’s not restricted anymore. (And should obviously have done so years ago, too, then.) I’m thinking of the old UR Serendib Efreet/Flying Men/8 bolt deck. It doesn’t run too much mana or card draw, so I can imagine cutting Recall here. In general, if you do fair things, you might not want any Recalls at all.

But then again, who wants to do fair things anyway. Right?

(And finally, please tell me if I missed something or if I’m just plain wrong in any respect. There might definitely be decks I haven’t thought of which should play more or less Recalls than currently is the case.)

High Tides Forever

Hello.

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(This was meant to be a photo essay. Then I forgot to take most of the photos.)

It was a day like any other. Meeting David, a friend and business associate at the Stockholm central station, slipping the small white nondescript package into my bag, between a couple of pages of a binder, hardly even looking at it. We briefly discuss its contents, the state of the trade in general; as a courier, I prefer knowing what I carry, how hot it is, was it seven? eight? who benefited from the deal, really. Then a mutual friend, who we can call Johan, shows up, and as always when some of us meet, we share stories about the trade, about the trends, interesting leads we might have, our eternal dream of quitting, liquidating the stock, getting out clean. Like that would ever happen.

We were on our way to the Magic Island Tour III, a cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki and back, a two-day trip sporting two old school tournaments. Anyway, David needed to get back to work, me and Johan having lunch and a couple of excellent Belgian beers at Belgobaren not far from the station. The usual banter about finance, sideboard slots, mana costs. Johan’s approach to mana costs remind me of Cruel Control, which, for those who are blissfully unaware of anything Standard, was a Type 2 control deck sporting the casting costs of WW, UUU, GGGG, and UUBBBRR in the same deck. Johan is a fan of BB, UU, and WW. I’m not. Nothing being settled, we head out to the harbor, me happy for not having to navigate the Stockholm public transit system. I’m honestly more at home in Madrid’s metro system than Stockholm’s, just because when I’m there, I usually either just walk around downtown or go by car to some godforsaken suburb.

Getting off the train, walking for ten minutes through an industrial wasteland, pleasantly drunk, in the end finding a suspect-looking spiral staircase leading up to a covered walkway which seems to head in the right direction towards the ferry terminal. Which turned out to look more like an airport than anything ship-related. Teeming with people everywhere. After some confusion, we find the VIP lounge upstairs, the place for high rollers, big fish. Finally. Sinking down into a comfortable chair, playing a few games where I took 95 % of the game time against a poor casual player who I proceed to avoid as best as I could going forwards. And dropping off the package. No fee for me, just credit in this complicated system of benefits and favors which is a large portion of our trade. But it always feels good. To be relieved of it, no longer carrying the hot stuff on me.

Reuniting with the crew. Keys handled out, some information given, beers were drunk. We enter the ship, which is huge, like a mall with a hotel put on top of it, drop off our stuff at the cabin and head to a bar for the first games. The format of the first tournament was a bit strange: normal 93/94, but with a point system to determine the final scores. I don’t mind too much, as it allows for playing the usual decks in contrast to strange banning lists or otherwise limiting deck building, but I just don’t think it promotes fun gameplay or deck building. Playing mono-colored powerless decks is just not my concept of fun. I’d much rather see a normal tournament with heavy prize emphasis on the most creative builds, for example.

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Not my points, obviously. Image credit to Elias.

Myself, I am running this list.

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Basically, I wanted to try out multiple Recalls since it’s unrestriction a couple of months ago. And Twiddlevault is one of the combo decks I haven’t tried yet. In fact, I hadn’t played Howling Mine at all in the format before. I mostly looked at Felipe Garcia’s lists, and also one list Danny Friedman posted the other week. The main change I did was adding more lands. I also wanted to try out a Fork as Fork + Time Walk + Recall allows you to backdoor into Fork Recursion combo if your Time Vault is unavailable. Finally, I felt really smart when I found the Guardian Beast plan, which I hadn’t seen anyone play. It basically protects the whole combo, both Howling Mine and Time Vault (and also sideboarded Ivory Towers), from artifact destruction. At the time, I had completely missed that the great Martin Berlin had ran both more lands and sideboard Beasts in his Twiddlevault list from the 2016 Fishliver Oil cup.

As usual, my memory isn’t the best, and I’m writing this with no access to my notes because of bad planning on my part. Therefore, lots of details of the matches are lost, even though it’s only been a week this time. You’ll just have to excuse me.

In the first round, I face Mats, to whom I had just lent out a set of unlimited moxes. He turned out to be on mono-red Atog, and he crushed me soundly. I already knew that my deck was weak against lots of stuff, like Underworld Dreams, Energy Flux, and Blood Moon, in addition to the usual countermagic, red blasts, and artifact destruction, but here I got to add Copper Tablet and Winter Orb to that list, as well as Tormod’s Crypts after sideboard. Had Mats not dropped two Tablets the turn before I went off in the first game, I think I would have gotten there. And then I board in the Guardian Beasts, expecting to face 4 Shatters, whereas he actually played zero copies. I wasn’t happy. Especially not losing to my own Moxes. Is it bad manners not to concede to the player who just lent you 8k worth of cards? I don’t know, I certainly didn’t think about asking for it, but it made me feel kind of bad.

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For about five minutes. Then I grabbed a Brewdog Jackhammer (the beer selection at the bar was really quite alright) and went out in the sunshine in the rear of the ship, watching the beautiful Stockholm archipelago drifting past, swapping stories with fellow magicians.

In the second round, I face Simon, a new acquaintance. He’s on some blue-green monstrosity which never really works, but he does present a Fastbond which makes me too scared to ever play the Timetwister in my hand. I do lose one game but take home the other two. I thought he was playing Enchantress but it turned out to be Living Plane–Ashnod’s Altar with lots of lands, Sylvans, and Sindbads.

Then it was time for dinner. A huge buffet in a huge but extremely crowded place. This reminds me why cruises aren’t really my thing: too many people everywhere. The food was alright; as at most buffets I’ve had, the cold stuff much better than the main hot dishes. Also free beer and wine. I’m usually one to complain about tasteless pale lagers, but together with food, especially free, (well, all the buffets were for us included in the total cost for the trip), it was okay.

After dinner, we play three more rounds, this time in the dinner area, which was gradually emptied and eventually closed off for our benefit. I don’t recall the exact order of matches, nor much of the games, but I did face RG land destruction, BR budget pile, and mono-black. All were quite easy wins. I managed to go off from minimal resources multiple times, having a howling, taking another turn, and just snowballing from there. Undisrupted or virtually undisrupted, the combo is powerful. In one game against Björn’s mono black, I played two Twiddles to empty my hand, then Balancing away his board and hand. Many turns of topdecking later, he has drawn lands and I’ve drawn Mana Vaults and finally get a Braingeyser.

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The late-night playing area

So I end up 4-1. Unfortunately, I stopped drinking for a bit after dinner, having a glass of water, and then sobering up before getting into fetching another beer, turning me off the concept altogether. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow. It’s running late, possibly because in planning, they had failed to count for the one-hour time zone difference between Sweden and Finland, so it was decided to cut to top 4 instead of top 8. It didn’t turn out to matter for me, as my 4-1 record netted me a 11th place out of 20 when the above-mentioned points are factored in.

So where does that leave this deck? It’s not bad. It can certainly beat weak and budget decks, even with a sub-optimal sideboard like mine. Because that certainly was weak. Neither Ivory Tower, Guardian Beast nor Fog, my whole plan against different flavors of aggro, worked very well at all. What I do need is 1-2 maindeck copies of Disenchant, and I’d also like another action spell, probably the third Sylvan but possibly a Bazaar. I could also see another land, because I did take a lot of mulligans due to not having enough initial mana sources, even with 14 lands compared to the 11 in some of the crazier lists I’ve seen. Maybe a Fellwar should be a land. I also did take a lot of mulligans for other reasons, but that’s to be expected with a combo deck which both can have very expensive starts and also plays a bunch of dead cards like Twiddle. I do believe the third Recall might be a win-more card and could be cut, and the Fork is likely more cute than necessary (although I did board it out most of the time and rarely drew it, so it might be my fault not giving it enough of a chance).

However, all the time I have to ask myself why I’m playing this deck over something like Powerball (Power Artifact–Basalt Monolith combo), which just wins instead of forcing you into complicated uncertain combo turns. One reason is that you play fewer dead cards. Fireball is almost dead against non-aggro decks, Howling Mine might very well be a better card than Basalt Monolith while not going off, and even Twiddle can be a blue-to-colorless Dark Ritual with a Mana Vault out or at worst a pseudo-Fog or denying the opponent a Howling card. Another is that Twiddlevault is just a blast to play. I enjoy it tremendously and will certainly revisit it in the future. Especially if Time Vault gets unrestricted, which isn’t that unlikely. For the record, I would never play more than two copies.

The sleep was not plentiful. Before heading to the cabin, I played a few more games against Emil’s UWR aggro deck, and I was just too slow to race his Lions and Factories when not getting a very broken start. And this was him not playing any Counterspells. It made me feel a bit worse about the deck in general, but now, when some time has passed, I think that is still something that could be solved with the right board plan. Then I put together my deck for tomorrow and played a few games against Cermak’s mono-blue control list. I didn’t really know which time I should wake up, and the time zone change didn’t make it any easier. Anyway, I woke up too early, before the alarm, I think, with my roommate Mattias/Slanfan still asleep, so I mostly got dressed, headed up to sun deck for some fresh air, seeing Helsinki in the distance, before once again braving the crowds for breakfast.

Breakfast was also alright. The usual inedible stuff they called scrambled eggs at most Swedish hotels, some interesting Finnish dishes like Karelian pierogis, and not terribly inspiring bread, but the bacon was fine, a kind of potato–leek pie quite tasty, and all in all, not bad. We arrived at Helsinki, staying put for seven hours, most people leaving, but we magicians gathered in an empty nightclub for some early games.

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My weapon of choice for the day was Atogs. I’ve discussed the list a lot with Will Magrann and Bryan Manolakos, although they are mostly playing with EC rules where the deck is much stronger (it’s one of the decks most benefiting from unrestricted Strip Mine). I wanted to try out the Howling Mine/Relic Barrier package, omitting Copper Tablet. I’ve also never played Atog, Ankh, Vise or most of those things in a tournament in this format yet.

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Round 1, I face Greg on some kind of budget GW deck. When I play a turn 1 Vise and he just plays land, go, I know I’m way favored here. He never casts any relevant spells except for a Fellwar Stone and maybe a Disenchant, so for the next game, I mostly bring in the Glooms. It turns out he is on Erhnam-Geddon, so not having all the City in the Bottles could hurt, but he takes too much damage and succumbs to the Vises and Atogs quite fast. Interestingly, I get to kill him with a Spirit Linked Atog, due to Spirit Link being a triggered ability, not working like Lifelink, although that didn’t really matter here as I was almost guaranteed the win anyway.

Round 2, I play against Björn. In game 1, he plays something like Plains, Tundra, Disenchant, and a blue restricted card like Ancestral Recall; I probably win with a Black Vise. So what to make of this? I’m putting Björn on some kind of white-based control deck, not The Deck but something more white-heavy, which is wrong but probably because I’ve been watching so much brewing in the Land Tax/Ivory Tower/Dust to Dust space lately. So I sideboard accordingly, and in game 2 Björn plays Moat, Serra Angel, and Serendib Efreet, while I kept in my Atogs and cut my Cities in a Bottle. Still, I manage to come away victorious. After the match, Björn tells me he never drew one of his two maindeck Energy Fluxes. Oops. I hadn’t even boarded in my red blasts. But I think broken Vise/artifact/burn starts go all the way.

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This was a quick match, so I get some time to run ashore during the lunch break. I’ve actually never been to Finland before and would like the chance to actually say I’ve visited the place, if only briefly. It turned out there was a huge Pride parade through the city and everything was insanely crowded, but I still got to grab some lunch from a street vendor and catching a quick glimpse of the city.

Having returned in time, round 3 I face Morgan, who is on a much slower Atog deck with Mana Vaults and Triskelions. He’s Vising me, and on the play I think he got me game 1. He also thinks Blood Moon is good against me because I have all dual lands, not realizing how shallow my splashes are. I wonder if it’s a good plan to board out some of the splash cards like Time Walk when I have reason to suspect my opponent will keep in, or even bring in more, Blood Moons? I do manage to swing one game with a couple of Relic Barriers for his Triskelion and my Howling Mine. There’s also a point in which I have two Black Vises and Morgan has for some reason a Mirror Universe. He asks me how that works. I tell him the Black Vises trigger at the beginning of upkeep but nothing more than that, and he tells me he doesn’t understand what that means. I tell Emil, who is watching, to shut up, and proceed to explain nothing. I don’t really know how much of a douchebag move that is. I’ve known Morgan since the turn of the century when we were grinding the same PTQs, so he’s not some kind of newbie kid. At the same time, old school isn’t supposed to be about powergaming. I just believe in giving players opportunities to misplay. I also don’t think it would have mattered in this game, as I eventually finish Morgan off with something like six straight bolts, including four Chain Lightnings in the same turn. I also got to end of turn Hurkyl him, into my Black Vise and him having attacked me with a Factory, and then topdecking Wheel for the maximum rub-ins. Hurkyl is quite insane in these Vise lists, and if not for me being light on blue mana, I’d certainly run more of them.

Now I’m 3-0, and I face Emil on his usual The Deck. I’ve never beaten Emil. He beat me in the quarterfinals of N00bCon last year, and he was my only loss in the swiss at Arvika in February. I put up a fight, resolving a Relic Barrier which forces him to counter all my Howling Mines, but in the end, The Deck is too much for me. In game 2, I think I start with some Vises while Emil mulligans, but then he proceeds to play something like Ancestral, Time Walk, and three consecutive Disenchants, followed by a Swords for my Atog. Whatever. Starting 3-0 should mean top 8 even with a loss in the last round, and I just move on.

In the last round, I face Jason, another new friend. At some point in game 1, we have something like five copies of Ankh of Mishra on the battlefield. Jason’s also on the Vise/Ankh/burn plan, but he’s UWR to my Rbu, splashing white removal and blue power cards in addition to Psionic Blast, and he’s also creatureless, telling me that he tried out Atogs and Lions but didn’t like it. The result is that Blood Moon is very deadly against him, Gloom is quite strong, whereas he has no such trump on his part. I win fairly convincingly, although he might have Vised me out one game.

At 4-1, I finish the swiss in third place. There are announcements, about prizes and shit, but I’m skipping that now just like I skipped all the other preliminaries. That’s not why you’re here. Suffice to say there are some prizes, the tournament is really well organized, and you all should come next year. So, time for the top 8, for real this time. In the quarterfinals, I face Jason again. A bit boring, and we were discussing our sideboard plans not ten minutes ago, but whatever, it’s a good matchup. Consequently, I Vise and Blood Moon Jason out in two quick games.

In the semifinals, however, I get another rematch, and this time it’s against Emil. He’s on the play due to finishing higher in the swiss, and has a starting hand of land, Lotus, at least 1 Fellwar Stone, and Disenchant, planning to Disenchant my first play and play a Fellwar. Unfortunately for him, I start on Library on the draw, and he bricks on lands for a couple of turns, so that game was pleasantly unfair from my side. I then lose game 2 to some The Deck things, maybe involving me mulliganing. But I am on the play in the final, most important game. I don’t think I have a Vise, nor an insanely broken start, but keep anyway. Emil has Library, but I get to resolve a Gloom, and then, barring a BEB, will get to resolve Blood Moon as well next turn, as Emil just has a single blue mana up. I have no blue or black mox, though, and my hand has just a Demonic and a Timetwister (yeah, okay, my hand was fine this game), except for possibly a bolt. If he has the BEB, I might want to tutor for another Moon, but if he doesn’t, I can’t cast the Tutor. So I float B and play the moon. I tutor, having a single mana left. What to get? I have two options: either a Black Vise, with Emil at 8 cards and 17 or so life, and likely not many outs to the Blood Moon except for 2 moxes and 1 or 2 basics. Or I can get Lotus and cast Twister with one mana floating, likely drawing into a Vise and a bunch of other good cards.

I choose the latter, drawing no Vise, with Emil getting both Sapphire and Pearl on the Twister, killing off the Blood Moon and Toming me to death quite quickly afterwards. Was it a mistake to go for the Twister? Very likely. Even had I gotten the Vise, the odds are so high it would draw Emil into the answers he needs. It’s not guaranteed, and everybody doesn’t agree, but I think it’s pretty bad played by me. So Emil gets a well-deserved win, facing Alban Lauter in the finals and securing that much-coveted N00bCon invite. I need one myself, but there’s lots of time left, and I’m pretty sure Emil wanted it many orders of magnitude more than I do. That he failed to stop the German for taking another Swedish trophy is a greater problem, though.

Before calling it a day, Daniel asked me if I wanted to play a match for 3/4th place. Sure, why not, it’s not like if the prizes matter anyway (if we didn’t play I would likely get 3rd on higher Swiss standing). Daniel is on Vises, bolts, some other Atog stuff, Islands, and Blood Moons. I lost game 1, probably due to him being on the play and leading with Vise. Then, having seen Island and Blood Moon but no other blue cards, I fail to catch he’s on Serendibs, even boarding out one City in a Bottle instead of bringing in the third copy, and losing a very tight game to a couple of the Sri Lanka natives despite me leading with dual Vises on turn 1. Oh well, that’s one is totally on me.

The night is finished off with dinner, drafting a very unbalanced Revised cube, and some clubbing, watching the red sea horizon of the Nordic summer night non-darkness. The next day, there’s just time for breakfast before reaching Stockholm, me rebooking to an earlier train and getting home in the early afternoon.

Oh, what about the deck? I really like it, and it’s quite strong, definitely one of the better Lightning Bolt decks out there. I’ll likely keep it as my aggro deck of choice for the times when I just want to watch the world burn. For possible improvements of the exact list, I did feel a bit low on wincons sometimes, so I will try out 2 Copper Tablets over one Howling Mine and one Relic Barrier, but the Howling plan worked out fine, too. The sideboard might see some small improvements, and I should get a Mind Twist into the 75, Howlings or no. But that’s a topic for another day.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend. Next year, if there’s another cruise, you should all go.

Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made of This

Underworld Dreams Combo is an archetype I haven’t played much myself, but one I believe to be a bit underplayed and underdeveloped. It’s not without its flaws, though. One is a weakness to opposing Lightning Bolts and Chain Lightnings, as you give your opponent cards through Howling Mines and want to strand a bunch of those cards long enough so your Winds of Change can combo with Underworld Dreams to finish the opponent off. Against a player with 8 bolts, that can just mean a swift loss for you. How can we solve this?

One idea I got was to add Dark Heart of the Wood to the deck. It makes perfect sense in theory: green also adds Sylvan Library and Fastbond, which combo with Howling Mine and Winds of Change, as well as Avoid Fate to protect your heavy permanent-based game plan. I arrived at this list:

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Yes, this is a sideboard Mind Twist. It just doesn’t work well enough with your main plan, I think, but I might be wrong here.

Then I sleeved it up and did some battle. Only online against one deck, but out of 5 or 6 games, I won exactly 1, and was never close to winning any other. This deck sucks. And now I’m going to tell you why.

First, there’s the small issue that you want all your lands to be forests producing black mana. Yet you can only run so many Bayous. This leads into the second point: using Dark Rituals to solve the black mana deficiency and power out the Underworld Dreams: that turns your three-card combo (Dreams, Howling, Winds of Change) into a four-card one, and that’s very much harder to assemble.

And the combo is already not the smoothest. It seems like Howlings and Winds should help you find what you need, and that is partly true, but when you finally get and resolve an Underworld Dreams, you have to start comboing for real, surviving several turns while doing so. The deck can be great when you get turn 1 Dreams or draw a bunch of restricted cards, but that’s it. This is very different from the Power Monolith builds where you actually win when you get the combo, and one reason I chose to include a single copy of Lich in there. (No, not really. I included the Lich because it’s sweet. Who am I kidding?) Dreams Combo is a whole other story. It’s about chip damage, which makes me lean towards playing Lightning Bolts. Still I’m not a believer in Black Vise, but we’ll see. I have several versions of this archetype on my bucket list so I’ll make sure to revisit it in the future.

(In fact, I’m having a hard time to decide whether the great divide between different kinds of combo decks is between having and not having Howling Mines or caring or not caring about chip damage. Howling builds have to worry about giving the opponent cards while setting up, but maybe that’s not so different from the draw-7s. I used to think this was a useful differentiation, but now I’m leaning towards chip damage being more important for playstyle and deck building. The problem, then, is that it’s almost only Dreams combo which cards about chip damage, with the possible exception of some Mishra’s Factory-using Candleflare lists. Well, we’ll see, once I get to the Combo School of Magic theory article series. One of these days. :) )

So what lessens can we learn here?

First: when your mana base is actively fighting against you, you might be doing something wrong. It can still be worth it; you have to play a lot of forests for Dark Heart of the Wood in Mirrorball, or a lot of red mana in any Fork deck, or all blue-producing lands and still not having enough blue mana in Twiddlevault or Power Monolith, or just being generally miserable when trying to cram factories or the wrong kind of basics (like plains in Power Monolith or island in Mirrorball). But that is exactly it: the price has to be worth it.

Second: you want to minimize the number of dead or weak cards in your deck. An Underworld Dreams you can’t cast is a dead card. In a similar vein, Winds of Change with 2 or 3 cards in hand is just not a powerful card.

Third: combo decks work on ignoring what the opponent does, by and large. When you win gradually, and depend on the opponent having cards in hand most of the time, you very much can’t ignore that.

And that is in addition to the usual problems of combo decks, like dying to Blood Moon, Energy Flux, Nevinyrral’s Disk, and Underworld Dreams. Some of those can be mitigated in different ways, of course, but their presence has to be considered. And if you die to all of them, you have to do something really powerful in order for it to be worth it. Handling Energy Flux by going for a 3rd turn powerball kill is certainly a plan, for example.

All of these problems can be handled in different ways. But this list is not the one to do it with.

Nine Notes on N00bCon

On The Deck

I’m strongly convinced this is the best 75 in the format (if playing in a less blue-heavy metagame than N00bCon, feel free to switch places of the Abyss and the maindeck REB):

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Still, that is not what I sleeved up for N00bCon. Why? I did put this exact deck together on the Monday before the tournament. I drew some starting hands. Those beta Serras sure are beautiful; but it just didn’t feel right. I got hands with too little colored mana, hands with no power cards. Normal cards just didn’t cut it for me anymore. I needed the kick of maximum power. Mana vaults. Sylvans. Channel. Also, did I really need to win? I wanted to, sure, but I didn’t need to. That’s not really why we play, not in the long run. I wanted to win with combo.

The only real reason for me to go with The Deck was the (at the time quite high) possibility that Jayemdae Tome would get restricted shortly afterwards and this was my last time to play with the four books. But that didn’t weigh heavily enough.

 

On what I played

This is what I went into battle with:

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It builds heavily on my Arvika deck  modified by my thoughts after that tournament, some other spice I dreamed up, and general thoughts. Unfortunately, it’s bad. Like, really bad. I went 4-3, but I really don’t know how. The problem is connected to something fundamental of the format: the cost of a dead card. After N00bCon, I tried out the deck I wish I would have played, with more maindeck Hurkyl’s Recall for the Hurkyl/Mana Vault/Fireball/Fork backdoor combo. And things just don’t work. Sometimes Hurkyl works, when you have wheel or twister, or a couple of mana vaults and a fireball and a fork. But a lot of the time, you don’t have those things, and you die to a random Sengir or something. It sucks. You can’t play bad cards. Play good cards and win. Mirrorball is okay, but this list isn’t. And very likely, Mirrorball is just a worse Power Monolith. Mirrorball is good at abusing the power cards, as I will write about more when I get to fleshing out my theories about the Combo School of Magic, but it’s quite bad at converting that power into actual wins, which is a strong suite of the Power Monolith combo. A better version of my Winter Derby list, running 2-3 mana vaults to abuse the restricted list better and accelerate the combo, is likely the best one. I will try that one in the future, for sure. Mirrorball will be put on hold for the time being (also connected, of course, to my bucket list being at least 7 decks deep at this point). There’s also the possibility of using Lich to convert the cards you draw into a game-winning combo, but that’s very much a topic of its own.

 

On the matches

These are my matches. Here, though, we start falling into the real problems of writing this report a bit over a month afterwards. I’m old and my memory is bad. Huge chunks of it is just gone. So this is a summary, much more than a play-by-play report.

Round 1: Charli Hahn, U artifact midrange, 2-0. This deck is missing from the decklist page, not even labelled as “missing”. I’m still quite sure that it was a blue midrange artifact deck with mana vaults, copy artifacts, and robots, without red but possibly with some other splash. I won the first game, and then this was my turn 1 in the second game:

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The question is, of course, how many cards to draw. I chose 12, but I’m far from sure that’s correct. In particular, it’s very good go be able to play some of those cards you draw. I did draw into a bunch of moxes and won easily, but it’s a hard choice to make for sure.

Round 2: Martin Jordö, Mirrorball, 0-2. Yes, the actuall Mirrorball mirror. He drew better than me both games, I think outdrawing me with Library the first game, and me for some reason leaving in the Triskelion the second one.

Round 3: John Grudzina, The Deck, 0-2. I got beaten down by a Mishra’s Factory and didn’t get enough time to get things going. The second game, I had active Library and had to discard twice because I couldn’t find lands and didn’t want to tap out to play stuff with a counterspell in hand. Sure, I can’t complain after having Library, but still.

Round 4: Marcus Strömberg, probably WG berserk, very easy 2-0. The hardest thing was finding a Fireball or something to finish with after trading lives on an early point with a Sylvan out and using Triskelion to clear some attackers postboard. Eventually I believe I found some way to recur the Trike from the graveyard from the win. This matchup is insanely easy.

Round 5: Erik Sundberg, hurkyl/copy/vise/bolt, 2-0. Erik is a good guy I usually face while playing Vintage at BSK or something. This time, my deck does the far more broken things. I’m quite good at emptying my hand from a Vise, and mirrors are excellent here.

Round 6: Daniel Friedman, UWx millstone copy, 2-0. Danny Friedman was a new acquaintance but easily one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever talked to. His deck was some kind of The Deck list but with lots of copy artifacts, millstones, and sweet cards like a time vault. I think I just did dirty Sylvan things to him.

Round 7: Michel Hollenberg, slow UR, 1-2. One game I lost to Blood Moon, the other one to disruption and burn, I think. The game I won, I did get to win with Shivan, although the Triskelion I also had would have sadly been enough.

 

On winning streaks

So I top 8’d every tournament I played in the 17-18 season: N00bCon 9, Ivory Cup 2, Scandinavian Championships, BSK, Lucia Legends, Winter Derby. No win, but that’s okay. I’m very happy with that altogether, especially since I haven’t played The Deck since Scandinavian Championships. But now, that streak is at end. Why? Partly, I think it’s because of boring old variance. In Ivory Cup, for instance, I finished 4-3, losing in the quarterfinals after sneaking into the top 8 at 4-2. That’s the same score as my N00bCon finish this year. It all depends on where you get your losses. I got lucky catching so many good breaks this season, but at the same time, I got unlucky in that I didn’t win any of those tournaments. Now that streak is over and I can relax a bit more. :)

 

On Recall

I guess this could be a topic in and of itself, and it’s a bit anachronistic as I add it now, but whatever, time has passed, I’m not publishing anything, I need another point and I need to get it out there. Listen to the episode of ATC where I discuss it if you want to hear more about my thoughts on the unrestriction of Recall, but the short version is that it makes me happy, that it doesn’t affect The Deck in any significant way, and that TwiddleVault might be better now. Also possibly Fork Recursion. However, since doing that interview I’m starting to lean towards a restriction of City in a Bottle making the format better. Currently that is my recommendation for next year’s changes, and nothing else.

 

On logistics

This was my third N00bCon so I am by no means a veteran of the format. I also have no nostalgic connections to Rotary pub. But even with those disclaimers, I don’t really think this works anymore. The tournament is just too cramped, the physical atmosphere unpleasant, the tables are bad. I’d much rather move it somewhere else and make it open, even though that might make it 250 or 300 people. The beer is good, sure, but I can live with slightly worse ones if it meant getting to play at a better location. The whole thing about getting awarded a N00bCon slot is also tiresome. It blurs the line between competitiveness in some circles and just community things in others. I wish everybody who wanted to play at N00bCon would be able to do so, and then we could maybe host some kind of smaller Invitational-like tournament some other time. I know this won’t happen, and I’ve since heard Magnus is about to scale down N00bCon a bit for next year, which of course is another way of handling part of the problem. It’s his tournament and he does whatever he pleases, and I always trust him to make a wonderful event anyway. I hope I’ll be able to attend next year as well, somehow, but otherwise I’ll just hang around, play other tournaments and chill.

 

On acquisitions

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I’m quite happy about this pile, although I might have to get rid of that Fork again now that I’m unlikely to play this deck very much in the future. Oh, who am I kidding? Never sell.

 

On Olle Råde

At times, Olle doesn’t care much for the format. He doesn’t brew, he certainly doesn’t playtest. What he does is play UR incredibly well. As we were sitting at a café sipping coffee some hours before the tournament was supposed to start, him borrowing a Badlands from me like so many times before, he reflected on having unexpectedly many sideboard slots open. Then we noticed he had forgotten to add the Blood Moons, beyond the single maindeck copy. Whatever, he said. Let’s just roll with it. And then he comes within striking distance to take it all down. The man is just a master. Still.

 

On counting to nine

It’s hard. Fuck it.

(I used to have a part about Magnus or Gordon calling me a sober pro player on Flippin Orbs, but I forgot which episode before saving the link. I might be sober compared to Gordon, true, but I like myself a good beer more than most. And I’ve never been a pro. :) But let’s elaborate on this some other time.)