Rereading Centurion, issue #6

I know it’s been a long time, but I’ve been busy writing about other things, or not writing at all. Now, however, before diving into possible N00bCon reports the upcoming weeks, let’s take the chance to dive into another issue of Centurion.

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The cover illustration this time is from the Kult CCG.

Issue #6, from December of 1995. The news section mentions non-English cards, where Legends was recently released in Italian; whereas an original Legends booster at this point cost about $35, an Italian one could be found for just about $20.

Some new card games are being released: Kult, The Wizards, and Guardians, among others. More important is that a company called Ultra Pro has started making sleeves exclusively for playing with, in sharp contrast to the penny sleeves people have been using up to this point. “They are more expensive than usual penny sleeves, but that should even out in the long run. … Thumbs up!”

The first article concerns how to build tournament decks. Here, Dan Hörning lays down four fundamental principles Magic is about: speed, card advantage, metagaming, and luck. That is actually not a bad analysis. Especially the part about that once you’ve built a good deck, your metagaming decides who gets into the top 8, and then luck decides who actually wins. Not too far off. The rest concerns the usual stuff: can you handle every important kind of threat? Can you beat The Abyss and Blood Moon? And don’t play bad combinations like Stasis/Birds of Paradise/Instill Energy.

Then comes an article that changed my life forever. I had been playing some red-green decks, based on the discussion in Issue #4, for half a year or so. No tournaments or anything, this was just me and four or five of my friends playing in our basements. But I had loads of fun and I won quite a bit; people had eventually to stop playing just enormous monsters and waiting for a big all-out attack to end the game. We were somewhat learning, I think. But then it struck. How to build a blue-white deck. The article, in the same line as the ones on RG and on black discard in the last few issues, starts with a no-rare list and bit by bit upgrading it into a good Type 2 tournament deck. This was something new. Sure, I had seen Leon Lindbäck’s deck from the first Swedish Nationals, but for some reason, it had never really clicked for me. It did now. I have no idea the list I played, I’m sure it was nothing like either of these:

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No matter. It had Counterspell, Power Sink, Control Magic, Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares, Serra Angels. Probably at least some number of Wrath of God. I suddenly countered some spells, let the creatures get played, Wrathed the board, played a Serra and killed them, slowly. I won. A lot. And I was hooked for life. So much that it severely hurt my success in competitive play in the early 2000s, I think, when I always wanted to play control, stubbornly sticking with Nether-Go instead of Fires, for example.

Anyway. The article is not that good, perhaps, but it does have some interesting parts. Don’t miss the Ghost Ships in the beginner’s deck, for example. Or the Jeweled Amulets in the finished type 2 deck. There’s also a part about blue-white in Type 1, detailing how you kill people with Mirror Universe and City of Brass. Those were the days.

Then comes a review of Homelands, concluding that it’s a very bad expansion. Quite right. Except that the writer Dan Hörning thinks Primal Order is way better than Blood Moon. Both Merchant Scroll and Memory Lapse are adequately rated, though. The rest of the article concerns all the fun, bad cards in the expansion. And there’s a lot of them. I had even forgotten most: Roterothopter, Anaba Spirit Crafter, Chain Stasis … Hörning claims that the triple lands are “hard to evaluate”. Not really: they are quite likely the worst multicolor lands ever. Right?

I am going to ignore both the FAQ and the article about deckbuilding for Doomtrooper, not only because it is off-topic here, but because I have never played that game.

There’s another deck-focused Magic article, however, and it’s about Hörning’s favorite deck RG again: this time the Vise Age deck, updated with Ice Age, Chronicles and Homelands since the article two issues back. Channel has just been banned in type 2, which seems like a good thing.

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I did attempt to do a rough translation, but it wasn’t funny enough for the effort.

And now the deck is about Jokulhaups, Orcish Lumberjack, Incinerate and Stormbind, along with Howling Mine and Black Vise. Reading about this almost makes me wish we played Old School 95 instead; Ice Age is surely a sweet expansion.

A short news article reports the winners of the first six BayouCons in Stockholm: type 1 tournaments with a number of participants ranging from 46 to 116 people. I wonder if those numbers were ever surpassed for type 1 tournaments in Sweden.

Then comes an article about “Type n0ll”, translating to “Type Zer0”, a tournament format where almost every good card is banned, including hits like Disintegrate, Disrupting Scepter, Jalum Tome, and Unstable Mutation. To my knowledge, no tournament was ever played in the format; or rather, at least one was probably played, as it was advertised in this issue of the magazine, but no report was ever written. It does not look very interesting to me, but then again, I’m no fan of huge banned lists.

A note about updated official Duelists’ Convocation tournament rules: Zuran Orb is restricted in both Type 1 and Type 2, legends are no longer restricted, and Type 2 is now consisting of every widely available expansion (at the time of writing, 4th Ed., Chronicles, FE, Homelands, Ice Age).

The price list is pretty much unchanged. It is noted that a Beta card is worth about 250 % of its value in Revised and 120 % of its value in Unlimited. Good to know.

A booster box is sold for about $100-150, according to an advertisment. It’s actually amazing that retail prices haven’t risen more over the years, but that’s a topic for someone more financially minded than me.

Well, that’s it. Not the most exciting issue, mostly due to no longer tournament reports at all, but still a few good deckbuilding articles.

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Mirrors in Arvika

I’ve realized I’m not very much into writing tournament reports at the moment. The motivation just isn’t there; the narrative gets repeating, and I’m far too bad at remembering interesting board states and play-by-plays, even when aided by short notes on the life pad. I will return there, I’m sure of it, but for now, I’ll concentrate on other things. Like deck discussions. There will be a gameplay section, but this time, the focus won’t be on that, nor on traveling and beer.

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Except for this photo, taken shortly after leaving Linköping by train.

As I mentioned previously, I played Power Monolith through the Winter Derby. It’s a good deck, one just up my alley, but it has a few problems: drawing dead combo pieces, and getting worse after sideboard as it’s weak to REB, BEB, and all kinds of artifact hate. There’s also more to be explored. I’ve always been a fan of Sylvan Library, ever since using it with Abundance in Extended (or with Pursuit of Knowledge in Standard) way back in 2000 or even earlier. And there’s a deck abusing Sylvan like almost no other: MirrorBall. I also recently got ahold of my third Abyss, and got the idea to try out how good Maze of Ith really is in a Fastbond list.

What really made me want to play the deck, however, was a couple of realizations I had. First, that this deck could use Energy Flux as a sideboard plan against The Deck and artifact-based midrange decks, as it doesn’t really use any artifacts other than the power which isn’t basically sorcery-speed (Mana Vaults, Mirror Universes, Chaos Orb). Second, that there’s a possibility for Verduran Enchantress as a plan against control. I like having some creature in the board when you’re running a creatureless main deck, but playing Abyss eliminates the possibility of Guardian Beast or anything like that, which you’d want against midrange or aggro. Enchantress as a blast- and Disenchant-proof card drawing engine against control seemed alright, and 10-11 enchantments should be enough.

I went back and forth a bit on how the list should be built. Martin Jordö has played the following two builds to the top 8 of different tournaments:

Martin Jordö’s MirrorBall, BSK 2017, 2nd place
Martin Jordö’s MirrorBall, BSK 2015, 4th place

I wanted Sylvans, as mentioned, and I didn’t think a 1/1 split of Dark Hearts of the Wood is enough to make a forest-based mana base for. Also, 4 mirrors seemed like an awful lot, even though I know Jordö said he’d run 5 (along with 5 Mana Vaults) if he could. I settled on the following list:

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In the last minute before the tournament, I went -1 counterspell -1 mana vault +1 power sink +1 balance, but those changes are pretty much horrible.
The mana base is weak to support UU, but multiple power sinks just aren’t good enough. And balance was never close to being useful. I wanted to have it, and it was the last card cut for the longest time, but I used to run the fourth Taiga over the fourth City, which I realized made the mana base a little bit too bad. Still, 5-6 white mana is a bit too little, and the card was never strong enough here with no fellwars. Or maybe it was variance, I don’t know. It might be worth to test out more, but I certainly wasn’t convinced here.

So, to the matches!

In round 1, I faced KungMarkus, the organizer of the event. He always plays mono red, and this time, he was on an Immolation build, using them to kill off opposing Hypnotics as well as making his Ydwen Efreets into 5/4s. Game 1, I took some damage from a turn 1 Goblin Balloon Brigade and assorted burn and a Ball Lightning, playing a Mirror and switching life 20-1, then taking a few more turns of damage before finding a Fireball. Game 2, things went well until Markus played Blood Moon; I had BEB, but he had the REB. I did have Dark Heart of the Wood in play but refused to sacrifice any lands, because I had 10 of them with two fireballs in hand. Unfortunately, a Ball Lightning and a bunch of bolts finished me off before I could do anything about it. The final game, I believe I managed to luckily BEB a moon. I had gambled on not facing many Blood Moons with this build, and considered myself quite lucky to have escaped one such matchup with a win.

Round 2, I faced I believe a Norwegian player with some kind of UGW build if I remember correctly (my notes are unfortunately quite bad, and, being old, so is my memory). The interesting thing here is game 1, where I Timetwister, then proceed to Channel-Recall for Timetwister, Ancestral and Black Lotus. The second game involved casting a Braingeyser for 6 after having Mana Drained an Erhnam, followed by Time Walk. 2-0.

Round 3, I face a player I don’t know. He says something to the lines of “nice, I was getting so tired of facing aggro”, to which I reply with a question if he knew what I was playing. He says he wasn’t, but that I always play the same thing. It’s good to have a reputation, I suppose. He casts something like a mox and a fellwar, and I play turn 2 Wheel of Fortune, seeing his hand of Fireball, Fork, Disenchant and a few mana, or something along those lines. In play, he has a bunch of URB mana. I wasn’t expecting that, he said. I mostly smile. He resolves a Jayemdae Tome, but is strapped on mana, so I Power Sink his Mox Ruby to tap him out, letting me resolve a huge Braingeyser, eventually mirroring from 11 life and Fireballing him out. The second game is where it gets interesting, because my sideboard plan works out. Or, well, he was again kind of mana screwed, and I didn’t draw any of my moxen, so when I resolve an Energy Flux, I’m very far ahead. I also get to draw a few cards off of an Enchantress. At this point, Emil walks by, trying to see what I’m playing. He’s one of the best The Deck players in Sweden and certainly in this room and one of the opponents I least want to play. Now he thinks I’m on Enchantress, and I do nothing to dissuade him.

Round 4, I play against Tax Edge, in fact the first time I ever face that deck. In game 1, I play turn 3 Channel Mirror Mind Twist, leaving me at 4 and him with no hand. However, I proceed to draw something like eight straight mana sources, while he’s climbing back with an Ivory Tower. I play a second Mirror which gets disenchanted. However, then I finally find a Sylvan, Regrowth the Mind Twist, getting rid of his 9-card hand before he can find a Land’s Edge, leaving him with something like Ivory Tower, Library of Leng, and two lands in play. Then my third mirror along with a Fireball finishes it. Game 2, I keep a hand of 2 Fireball, Black Lotus, 3 lands, and Chaos Orb, if I recall correctly. I debate on whether to take a mulligan, as I really want to have something proactive, ideally a restricted draw spell or a Sylvan, but I figure I have lots of good draws with the Lotus, as well as time with the Chaos Orb and his deck not being overly fast or aggressive. He also lets me be on the play, which I think is very wrong, as the odds are so big I just do something broken on turn 1 that he can’t do anything about. He plays land, go. I topdeck Channel turn 2. 4-0.

Round 5, we are 3 people undefeated: me, Johan Råberg and Emil Klintbäck. I hope I face Råberg, running BWu midrange, with a slow clock and not a whole lot of disruption, while also being weak to my abyss/maze plan. Instead, I face Emil. On the play, I play turn 1 Mana Vault; he plays Ancestral in my upkeep, and although I have a second Mana Vault and a Mind Twist, I choose not to make him discard 5 cards as he has 9 in hand at the moment. So I Mind Twist for 6 on turn 3, which resolves, leaving him with 1 card in hand. On his turn, he plays land, Time Walk, and on the extra turn, plays Timetwister. I then proceed to draw mostly mana while he plays a bunch of Moxen and a book. Game 2, I once again don’t get an early enough Sylvan, and a swift book from Emil does me in. I can’t count on beating The Deck, especially not with a good pilot like Emil, but as he knocked me out in the quarterfinals of last year’s N00bCon, I would have liked to win this one.

Round 6, I face Odd, a nice Norwegian player who I haven’t met before. I knew he was on some kind of UR Blood Moon deck, but it turned out he’s on a list with 3 main deck moons and no Counterspells, due to a lack of dual lands. Game 1, I win with Mirror, using Dark Heart of the Wood to stay out of harm’s way. Game 2 is very interesting. I get hit by a Blood Moon, but Odd has a very slow clock. Eventually, he Timetwisters with me at 6 life, which I let resolve, even though I have a REB in hand; I need cards, and I just have to take the chance he draws worse than me. He Bolts me and taps out for a Jalum Tome after some deliberation. On my turn, I play Sapphire, some other Moxen, and Timetwister. On the Twister, I draw Chaos Orb, and can finally destroy the Blood Moon. Then I have 9 mana, including a Mana Vault, and Mirror Universe, Demonic Tutor, and 2 Power Sink in hand. If I had one more mana, I could have played Mirror and tutored for Time Walk. Instead, I tutor for Walk, then play Mirror, passing the turn with double Power Sink up. They aren’t very good against Odd’s hand of burn, with me at 3, so I lose. I have no idea why I didn’t tutor for Dark Heart of the Wood instead. Could I really have had so few Forests? I had something like 7 or 8 lands. It must have been a mistake. Then, the final game, I once again take a mulligan and don’t do very much, but Odd’s clock is slow. Maybe because I have an Abyss or something. Eventually, he gets a Jalum Tome, when I need to topdeck something. I’m on 1 life and play a Mirror. Both his draws are blanks. 5-1, and 3rd place before the top 8.

I must mention that the tournament went smoother this time than last year. The Swiss ends about midnight, which is fairly tolerable, whereas last September, the finals was over at 5 a.m.

In the quarterfinals, I face Thomas Nilsen. We played at N00bCon where I beat his Troll Disco with my The Deck. This time, he’s on an interesting Eureka Robots list, with Su-Chi, Colossus of Sardia, Yawgmoth Demon and Copy Artifact. Game 1, I don’t remember what happened, and my notes aren’t telling, but I lost, probably due to a Mishra and a fast Su-Chi while drawing nothing. Game 2, I get out first one, then two Energy Fluxes, and Thomas can’t do much except attack with a Mishra, while I get a Mirror. The last game, I mulligan, and get beaten down by first two, then three Mishras which my Maze isn’t doing much against. Then, when Thomas just plays his third Mishra and the one I can’t maze thus attacks for 4, I miss a Chaos Orb flip on it, leaving me at 9 instead of 13. Because I have the opportunity to do things with Fastbond next turn, that comes back to bite me, and I succumb to the land beats.

A bit disappointing, because I believe this matchup is pretty good for me, but my goal was mostly top 8, partly to keep my streak alive (counting the Winter Derby, I’ve made t8 of the last seven tournaments I’ve played), and partly because I want to continue pushing combo in the format. It was also sweet to be back at the hotel to catch some sleep shortly after 2 a.m., watching Emil take it all down against Odd in the finals on Cermak’s Facebok broadcast.

 

So, after all of that, what do I think about the list?

  • Fastbond isn’t really working. Even when drawing sylvan-fastbond-dark heart, fastbond is close to useless. It’s only really good when doing heavily broken things with Wheel or Twister or Braingeyser. One copy might be fine, but not more. Not even with Mazes.
  • Dark Heart of the Wood is sometimes really good: makes you Mirror safer, helps a lot against burn, lets you Channel-kill people in the midgame against midrange. But the amount of damage it inflicts on your mana base is extensive. I fear the deck is just stronger when ommitting this component. That leaves options of more blue for Transmute, and/or more red for Fork.
  • Sylvan is great. Everybody tells me 4 is too much, but if anything, I was drawing too few copies of the card throughout the tournament, not too many. I could see going to 3 without Dark Heart, but 3 is really strong.
  • Mana Vault is underrated in general. It makes all the broken stuff (Wheel, Twister, Mind Twist, Braingeyser) that much better.
  • Channel is nuts.
  • The Enchantress plan is just too cute. Not worth the slots. Would be better off as something like a Mana Short and the third REB.
  • Energy Flux is great when it works, but against The Deck, you really have to count on not drawing too many moxes yourself. I’m unsure. And without it, you could run Fellwar Stones which fix your mana (as I’ve said countless times).
  • Maze was very underwhelming. You can easily just lose to multiple Mishras anyway. And it ought to be almost at its best here, brought in alongside multiple copies of The Abyss or Energy Flux in a Fastbond deck. Unless you run Candelabras, I suppose. Its unrestriction continues to be proven to be very safe.

So, there’s definitely a build of this deck that’s working, but it feels weaker than Power Monolith in many ways. You do draw more air than I expected, with mirrors, dark hearts, fastbonds, extra sylvans and the likes, especially when boarding in more reactive cards. I think there are ways to fix that, but that mutates the deck into something else. Back to brewing.

If you absolutely want to play with Dark Heart of the Wood, I recommend the following changes from the list above:
main: -1 fastbond -1 power sink +1 mana vault +1 counterspell
sb: -1 maze -1 abyss -2 enchantress, +1 reb +1 beb +1 mana short +1 city in a bottle (the 2nd maze could also be cut, if you find anything else you’d want against aggro or midrange)
And also, give the cred to Martin Jordö and not to me, as I just tuned his lists to arrive here.

Next up: N00bCon. If you should see me there and I don’t know you, please say hi!

Building Power Monolith

There are numerous flavors of Power Monolith in 93/94, leaning control, pure combo, or even aggro. That’s not surprising, considering the combo (Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact giving infinite mana, which you usually use for a Fireball, for those who might be unaware) is compact, deadly, and fast, being simpler than the engine-based combos of the format, like MirrorBall, TwiddelVault, CandleFlare (seriously, what is it with combo decks and weird capitalization?) or Fork Recursion. The most successful ones I think are the URb counterspell-heavy lists, but I haven’t been very much drawn to those at first. Instead, I first tried building a combo version with small control elements, in my preparations for last fall’s Arvika tournament, but eventually chickened out. Then, instead, I went towards a heavy control shell with multiple copies of maindeck Jayemdae Tome, Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant, and a Serra Angel board plan, which I played at BSK.

That deck was really strong and I think it has a lot of untapped potential still, but I’m not much for returning to decks these days; there are just too many things I want to test. After having played some aggro skies for a while, I started going back to the pure combo end of things. At this point, I had compiled a huge number of Power Monolith lists in a word document, but the one I was leaning most heavily on was Jaco’s. (I arrived at a very similar list, down to several sideboard choices, as we shall see, but by going a circuitous route through much reasoning, probably just remembering Jaco’s list subconsciously.) In my opinion, what distinguishes the combo lists from control is the absence of real removal, and from the URx lists is the relatively lower number of counterspells. What you have instead is typically Sylvan Library, one of the best unrestricted card draw or library manipulation cards in the format, and also, incidentally, one of my favorite cards ever, hailing back to the days of me grinding the Extended PTQ circuit with Maher Oath. After a bit of thinking, building upon my previous experience with the deck, I arrived at the following list:

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The combo is very powerful, but it can be stopped by Disenchant, Shatter, Blue and Red Elemental Blasts, Chaos Orb, and a plethora of other things. Therefore, it’s much weaker post-sideboard, and I like to have a plan for that. In my BSK build, I had Serra Angels, and I could easily see playing a third copy there. It’s almost perfect, going around all blasts, all artifact removal, and can serve as offensive and defensive at the same time, but the double white casting cost is very restrictive. This time around, I went with Guardian Beasts. They don’t help protect the combo (if you’re surprised by this, just read the card a couple of extra times), but they give you another angle of attack, especially while playing multiple copies of Transmute Artifact: both the Chaos Orb lock, and protecting a Mirror Universe kill. Mirror I found to be especially strong in general, against aggro, as you have Transmutes and Basalt Monoliths to find and power it out. The Guardian Beasts are also the reason that I chose not to play any copies of The Abyss, but they are a bit slow anyway and not as strong when you have hardly no other removal to compliment them. (If you want more of a transformative plan without making the commitment to white mana, I might recommend some combination of Sengir Vampire and Yawgmoth Demon. One of those might even work alongside the Guardian Beasts here, as long as you add some more Underground Seas.)

Transmute Artifact is also a quite underplayed card, as Stephen Menendian has pointed out numerous times. In particular, I chose to run a maindeck copy of City in a Bottle, even though I played the full four City of Brass. The Cities are just too important to get the four- or five-colored mana base to work, at least as long as you want some Islands to protect against Blood Moon. City in a Bottle is a card that’s usually useful and occasionally just game-breaking, and definitely worth the spot. The second sideboard copy is more expendable.

I didn’t run any Rocket Launcher. The card is just too weak, as it has summoning sickness when you go for the combo and it’s still very rare that you have an extra UU to spare after going for it, especially if you have to play some kind of protective spell. Instead, I went for Book of Rass, which can be effective with infinite mana if you’re facing a non-aggro deck. Unfortunately, I think the card is ultimately too weak, and it gets sideboarded out a lot.

Both Sylvan and Transmute are very strong, but neither is very good in multiples; I’d want about 2.5 copies of each, but settled on 2. I could definitely see a third Sylvan in the sideboard, for example.

This was the build I took to the 2018 Winter Derby, a 40-something tournament run over Skype/appear.in on the Facebook group. There’s a report over at wak-wak.se which I highly recommend. I managed a 5-2 record during the group stage, making the top 8 on tiebreakers before succumbing in the semifinals to Bryan Manolakos’ sweet Diamond Valley/Skull of Orm/Control Magic/Rukh Egg brew.

My other losses were to Arabian Aggro, because I missed a Chaos Orb flip and then mismanaged my mana in subsequent turns, and to an unpowered mono-black build where I mulliganed a lot (including going to 4 once) and got hit with a bunch of Hypnotic Specters while not drawing lands. The deck is certainly strong. My updated list has the following changes:

Main: -1 Book of Rass, +1 Mana Vault
Sideboard: -1 Flash Counter, -1 Disenchant, -1 Blue Elemental Blast, +1 Triskelion, +1 Disrupting Scepter, +1 Crumble

The Mana Vault is good for powering out the combo, for Mirror Universe post-board, or for making the broken stuff like Mind Twist, Wheel or Timetwister even more broken; I think it should be good. The sideboard Triskelion is for when I bring in the Mirror plan and want something to Transmute for that kills them. Crumble is better than Disenchant as I have so little white mana and don’t need to kill many enchantments anyway, but it might get cut altogether too. Finally, Disrupting Scepter might be a good Transmute bullet against certain styles of control. Usually, I’m a staunch believer that Jayemdae Tome is just better, but here the mana cost difference might come in more important, as you have more situations when you can choose what you get. Also, the list doesn’t have the kind of reliable mana The Deck sports. And I cut the third BEB because they sit dead in the hand too often, something I’ve experienced in almost every deck lately, including watching Olle Råde win BSK with UR aggro.

I could definitely see sideboarding the third Sylvan, although it’s hard to fit in enough cards against control. I also somewhat like the thought of getting a Counterspell into the maindeck somehow: sometimes you’re a bit weak against non-UR threats when you board in all the blasts (I got Mind Twisted into oblivion in the semifinals), and Counterspell is obviously also just a good card to have access to. You can’t run too many, as the combo is very blue- and colored mana-intensive, but one copy might be good. I don’t really know what to cut, though. The second City in a Bottle in the sideboard might not be necessary if something should be cut.

I’m keeping this list for a later time. Somehow, I’d like to decide which one I like better between this one and the one with white. Both feel like potential top-tier competitors in the format, just below The Deck and UR, probably alongside Arabian Aggro and the URb version of Power Monolith. And maybe some other brews. The white one is probably better against fast aggro, due to the white removal, against UR midrange/aggro, due to books and Serras being a strong plan against loads of REB/BEB, and against some board-centric combos due to having access to Disenchant. The green one is probably better against The Deck, because of Sylvans and the faster combo which is actually desirable preboard, and against some other combos, again because it’s faster. Also better against heavy-Arabian decks due to the virtual three copies of maindeck City in a Bottle.

I was going to run the Sylvan list back at the next event I attend, the Arvika Festivalen in late February, but then I decided to treat the Winter Derby as a real tournament, thus preventing me from playing that deck again in the close future. So I’m working on something else. But that is a tale for another day.

Some notes on NA Eternal Weekend 2017

The Old School tournament at last year’s NA Eternal Weekend sported a whooping 118 players, making it a great snapshot of the EC format metagame, as well as a vast source of interesting decks. Go check out the coverage on Eternal Central on which this article is heavily based. It’s great! All images are curtesy of Eternal Central. (I tried to contact them to get permission, but never got any response. If anyone reads this and want the images removed, I’ll replace them with links instead.)

The EC format and the metagame

I usually play by Swedish 93/94 rules, so the main differences in the EC rules are the inclusion of Fallen Empires, and the unrestrictions of Strip Mine and Mishra’s Workshop. The most important one of these should be Strip Mine by far. Going through the 113 decklists we have, I found 35 decks with fewer than 3 strip mines. That number is likely too high. I suspect that close to 90 % of the decks are better off with a full playset. The card is just busted. It doesn’t seem to have affected the rest of the metagame that much, though. There are a number of control decks in the top 16, and the mana bases aren’t any less greedy than we’re used to in 93/94.

Fallen Empires, however, affect the metagame in a big way. White Weenie-based decks, many splashing red, and some splashing both red and blue, are much more common than they are in Sweden, and Goblins has become an archetype. There’s even a merfolk deck floating around, as well as some reanimator brews. The number of Hymn to Tourach, though, are far lower than might be expected: not a single copy in the top 16. There might be a bit fewer combo decks than in 93/94, but not overwhelmingly so, which was something I feared would happen in a Hymn world.

There are a number of widely different Workshop decks, none of which seem overly powerful.

There’s a curious absence of The Deck: just seven copies in the whole tournament and only one in the top 16. One might think this is due to the hymns, but if that is the case, it’s because of fright, not actual oppressing taking place, as the hymns just aren’t out in place. I also refuse to believe strip mine does much if anything to hurt The Deck, a deck with a pretty solid mana base and lots of cheap answers. One reason for the lack of success might be that most The Deck lists are horrible, sporting 3 or just 2 copies of Jayemdae Tome and far too few mana sources in a 4-Strip Mine world, but even a suboptimal copy of The Deck is likely to be favored against a wide variety of decks. And this is in one of the more spikey tournaments around. I think we can firmly state that The Deck isn’t dominating the format anymore and that no further restrictions need to be aimed in its direction.

Interesting decks

There are lots of creative decks at this tournament. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

 

tristandeliegeecosew17deck

First up, there are two UWR shahrazad decks in the top 16! Basically shahrazad aggro burn. I have no idea how it works when time is called in a subgame, or how it affects the timing of the rounds, so I’m not the hugest fan of the logistical problems, but there’s no denying the card is sweet. And the two lists are almost identical so there’s something there when it comes to power as well.

 

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Of the three Stasis decks in the tournament, I think James Easteppe’s is my favorite. The inclusion of Time Vault and the sideboard Paralyzes are beautiful.

 

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Daniel Friedman’s Guardian Beast Control is not only a very beautiful deck, but a clean machine as well. The number of artifacts seems quite low, as is the exclusion of Transmute Artifact and running Spell Blast over the fourth copy of Swords to Plowshares. Also just 25 mana sources, and no Strip Mines! Alright, maybe this list isn’t so good after all. But I think there is something there, in running The Deck with multiple copies of Copy Artifact and Guardian Beast. I’d probably go for a Transmute based build though.

 

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Now here is something I can hardly begin to comprehend. Matt Dennis’ Living Plane-based prison, locking people out with Plane, Drop of Honey, Tabernacle and numerous other interactions. Is it good? I have no idea. But it certainly does something novel, and fairly evil. I like it.

 

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We’ve seen Martin Jordö having success with the MirrorBall archetype, but Chris Pepin’s take on the archetype is far more controlling, sporting full sets of Disenchant and Swords to Plowshares in the main deck, along with two copies of Wrath of God! To fit all of this in, Pepin runs no counterspells besides the single Mana Drain, as well as no Fastbonds and only one Dark Heart of the Wood. But there are Mishra’s Factories as additional win conditions. I love brewing more decks on the spectrum between control and combo, and while I think you need some more disruption than this, it’s got a bunch of interesting ideas. Also, there’s a Presence of the Master in the sideboard.

 

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Continuing the Mirror Universe route, there’s Shane Semmen’s 4C Mirror Control, a bizzarre Workshop-powered monstrosity, again sporting removal (Lightning Bolts and two maindeck Shatters) over counterspells, and a couple of Transmutes along with sweet bullets like Forcefield and Candelabra. I don’t know how the deck wins through removal, and I don’t get the sideboard Clone at all, but it certainly ticks off a number of things I like about the format.

 

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Finally, there’s Charles Rolko’s Reanimator deck, another deck made viable by the inclusion of Fallen Empires, as Deep Spawn is one of the better things to reanimate. I love seeing those Tetravuses here, and obviously the same goes for the actual Nicol Bolas back when he was more about reading books than killing The Avengers. Is it good? I have no idea. Is it optimally built? I can’t even begin to guess. But it’s certainly sweet.

Concluding thoughts

None of the decks above are present in the Top 16, though, with the exception of the Shahrazad decks. Why not? Hard to tell, but none of these lists benefit greatly from Strip Mine, whereas many of them can be hurt by aggression or heavy control backed up by a buch of selective land destruction. I’d argue that midrange and combo are hurt the most by the 4-strip metagame, and that is sad. With Strip Mine restricted, the format gets opened up wider.

So what should be done about the format, then, in my opinion? I think Workshop definitely should be unrestricted, as it just breeds more creativity (and, while being an occasional Vintage player, I’m not playing that format competitively enough to justify playing non-blue decks, thus owning zero copies of the card). Strip Mine should definitely stay restricted; it does little good for the format and just leads to more non-games of Magic. Other than that, Recall could easily be unrestricted, in the way of Fork. It wouldn’t be broken in any existing deck, just opening up more semi-viable strategies. From a pure gameplay scenario, I also like the introduction of Fallen Empires. People love their WW and goblin decks, two archetypes which are horribly underpowered in 93/94. From an aesthetic standpoint, however, the expansion just doesn’t fit, so I’m leaning towards it not being worth the trade-off.

Russian Skies over Stockholm

On December 16th, I went to Stockholm for the Lucia Legends tournament. It was a pretty small local tournament, excellently run by Gordon Andersson, sporting 17 players, but not having played since BSK in early November, I felt the urge to take the 2-hour drive. Also, the last Stockholm N00bcon invite was on the line, to be awarded in some unannounced way. Before sitting down to play, we were faced with a quiz for Legends art: six non-reprinted Legends, and the task was to name them, with their mana cost as tiebreakers. This is the quiz. Take a stab at it!

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I kicked myself for not remembering the name of a card I actually knew what it did, finally getting it with Jacques le Vert, only to find out it was actually Hazezon Tamar. So I only nailed two of them: Boris Devilboon and Lady of the Mountain. I thought I knew Stangg (it was not announced that it was only non-reprinted cards), but it was really Ur-Drago. How many of them did you nail? Reply in the comments!

Later, before the top 8 started, it was announced that I was indeed in the top 4 of the quiz on a score of 2 out of 6. Kids these days have no sense for history. (Mad props to Jesper who got 5 out of 6!) The next trial was Falling Star flipping, in which I hit two creatures out of the maximum three. Then, it was time for a quiz. Legends trivia quiz.

Anyone remembers the old Question Mark quiz on the mothership? I used to be quite good at that, meaning making top 8 in the world or so, a couple of times. Or the Question Mark live show at Pro Tour when Mark Rosewater still went to them, giving out free packs and promo cards? Those were also sweet. So, it was actually not that fair. There were a few questions I wasn’t 100 % sure on, and so didn’t answer, as a wrong answer was awarded with a negative point, but the ones I answered, I knew. Pretty basic stuff, really; some easy things like where Legends stands in the order of expansions, or how many cards each booster contains, and some slightly harder, like what’s special about the print run. (A version of the full quiz will be up on wak-wak some time in the future, I’ve heared. Keep tuned.) When the dust settled, I had won by a reassuringly large margin, and that N00bCon invite was mine. Sweet stuff indeed!

But before all that happened, we played some magic. Four rounds of swiss before a cut to the top 8, to be exact. I don’t feel like doing a play-by-play report, but I like to discuss the deck I played. It was this pile:

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The invisible red card between Fireball and the Lightning Bolts is another Fireball, for those wondering.

The tournament went as follows:
R1: Enchantress, 2-1
R2: UG fliers, 2-0
R3: UBW midrange, 2-0
R4: BGW midrange, 0-2
QF: Rbu burn: 2-0
SF: Big UR: 2-1
Finals: same BGW midrange, 1-2

Some highlights: winning on the next-to-last extra turn of time in round 1, where my opponent (my friend Råberg, playing a sweet Enchantress brew) played a lethal fireball with REB backup against my hand of two BEBs, going to 2 in the process so I could finish him with the last card in my hand, a lightning bolt (so I didn’t even need that second BEB, but it felt good anyway). Taking a game off of Egil with the BGW deck in the finals; he had won every duel before that! It was his first tournament, almost, and his deck was built from Gordon’s leftovers. Makes me wonder how he’d do with a real deck. :) Then I misplayed the last game of the finals, throwing a game that was won, but it wasn’t obvious at the time, and it involved a Berserk, a card I would never expect out of a midrange deck with no pump. (Although still bad. The play was likely strictly wrong, no matter which cards were in my opponent’s deck.) That game, I was also hit by an unexpected Tsunami. One of these days I will close it out with a win, I swear.

So what about the deck I played? 5-2 is a reasonable record, and I liked getting to play with my newly-acquired Serendibs, as well as going aggro with burn for the first time in the format for me, but I’m fairly certain the list is just bad. Probably the archetype as well. Why? Well, for a starter let’s take a look at the mana base.

1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
1 Sol Ring
1 Black Lotus
1 Strip Mine
1 Library
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 City of Brass
4 Tundra
3 Volcanic Island
1 Plateau
1 Underground Sea
2 Plains

That’s 13 U, 12 W, 9 R, 6 B, excluding the Lotus. Imagine a mana base like that in any modern format. (Reminds me of the time I played UG Madness in Standard to a Top 8 in Nationals without Yavimaya Coasts, having the mana base of 11 Island, 9 Forest, 2 City of Brass.) Too little red, a bit too little blue and white as well. I had even cut the Emerald for another colored source, even though my Serras and Serendibs greatly benefit from acceleration! I should have used more Plateaus instead of Plains, ignoring Blood Moon a bit more, but it’s still far from great. Even if you cut the black, which might be worth it. Basically, the complicated mana bases of this format don’t work if you don’t run Fellwar Stones or possibly if you play a combo deck and can cut the Mishra’s. Also, the Moats aren’t just good enough when there’s so few other valuable Disenchant targets. The red addition might make it better than straight-up UW Skies, as the burn certainly was strong in a lot of games, but this deck is just a straight-up worse version of UR Burn. And one of the fundamental truths of Magic is that you shouldn’t run a worse something else. You could also make a case that it’s also a worse Swords/Disenchant/Counterspell/Moat deck than The Deck, but that part is obvious. The deck might even be worse than the UWR Savannah Lion deck that Åland played at BSK, although I stand by the lions just being a generally terrible card in the format.

Unfortunately, I never got to use Rasputin Dreamweaver, but at least I did grind out Gordon’s Big UR with my Jalum Tome one game of the semifinals, so I got to showcase some of my sweeter cards. The burn was fun to play with, as a change to my usual control- or combo-centric play style, but next time I feel that urge, I’ll do it in another shell. UR, or big UR, or Arabian Aggro. Or even some Underworld Dreams burn deck. I have lots of ideas.

The next tournament for me is probably the Arvika Festivalen in February, but I have a bunch of stuff to write about before then. Something about the decks from Eternal Weekend, probably, as well as reviving Rereading Centurion. Also, there’s Skype playing to be done, decks to be built, cards to be acquired. Take care during the holidays, may you always have Library of Alexandria in your starting hand, and see you at N00bCon! Man, that feels great to say.

Brewing 93/94 Team Constructed

When I first saw the announcement of the Old School World Cup in London, I knew I wanted to go. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, but I didn’t let that prevent me from brewing. For those of you unaware, the format was Unified 93/94, meaning that you play as a three-people team, and all the decks have to consist of a legal 93/94 deck when put on top of one another.

What does this mean for deck building?

First, there’s way less power around, so games are slower, non-artifact mana acceleration (elves, birds) is more important, creatures and creature removal is better, land destruction or denial is better.

Second, there are way fewer Mishra’s Factories running around, making smaller creatures better.

Third, there are way less Disenchants, making combos and weird decks very much better. Less counterspells means the same.

Fourth, there are less multicolor decks, making Blood Moon less potent.

After thinking about the format for a while, I concluded there are some basic strategies to approach it. Level one is to split the colors, which means two 2-color decks and one monocolor one. Mono blue and mono green are underpowered, mono white gobbles up the excellent white removal spells which are more powerful in a two-color shell, so I firmly believe the mono-colored deck should be either black or red. This leaves a couple of options: either mono-black, GW Erhnam-Geddon, UR aggro, or mono-red, UW control, BG midrange. Or possibly UW control, mono-B, RG aggro. All of these are fine setups, I think. If you have UW control, I’d probably put all the moxen in that deck, as it makes the books that much better. Any green deck has access to accelerating creatures.

Level two is to maximize the good decks, very likely eliminating the mono-colored options. I’m particularly scared of playing mono-red against CoP: Red. There are good clusters of cards which have no home in the level 1 setup, like the prison shell of Winter Orb, Icy Manipulator, Copy Artifact, potentially Armageddon, maybe artifact creatures like Su-Chi and Triskelion and The Abyss, likely at least some number of Transmute Artifact. Not playing that is leaving a bunch of power unused, especially considering how powerful that would be against unpowered (or almost unpowered) decks. There’s also of course the temptation to start with an almost-fully powered The Deck and try to find two other decks to compliment that, as The Deck almost never should lose against suboptimal decks.

This leads to setups like The Deck, red aggro splashing blue for serendibs, psiblasts, and timetwister, and some black deck, likely monoblack. Or even the above, but with the third deck being Ub artifact prison control, a setup allowing for three blue decks and not a single green card being played other than Regrowth. This is what I’m leaning towards as the most powerful lineup, which I really would have liked to test. There’s also a case for Erhnam-Geddon, UR burn, and some Br underworld dreams combo deck which should be better than mono-black in a vacuum.

So what happened? Go check out Christopher Cooper’s excellent report from the event. My analysis turned out to be quite correct on a lower level. However, there were a lot more sweet stuff around that I’d have expected. Especially the German team’s lineup of 5c MirrorBall, URB Troll Disco, and Mono-Blue Stasis is a thing of pure madness. And they made it to the finals! With a 3-3 record in total, but still. Very sweet. Nobody got into my Ux artifact prison thing, though. I still think that is a very strong thing to be doing. The winners played Rx artifact aggro, GWu Erhnam-Geddon, UW control. Splitting Disenchants and Swords to Plowshares seems like madness to me, but apparently it worked. Hopefully I’ll see those guys at N00bCon this spring. Well played!

BSK 2017: Organizer’s report

This year, I somehow ended up helping organizing the 93/94 event at BSK (Borås Spelkonvent) in Borås, Sweden, this past weekend. In the past, this tournament has had a Shark as the trophy, being what I have understood is the oldest still running 93/94 tournament, but this year, that trophy has moved to Arvika. Still, there was a tradition to uphold and old pieces of cardboard to tap. We ended up being 38 players, although a handful being delayed due to a late flight, and we settled for 5 rounds of Swiss followed by top 8. Which was just as well, considering the finals was finished shortly past 3 a.m. anyway.

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About to start. I believe. Might be later.

The tournament went well, despite a small computer error delaying the start of the top 8. I suggested we ran sudden death chaos orb flips instead of rolling a die to decide between the 8th and 9th place when the tiebreakers appeared to be unavailable, but it got sorted out when the computer restart worked. Maybe unfortunately. There’s a lot of potential there, including gradually increasing heights of the flips and more.

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The standings after the full five rounds of Swiss

I unfortunately did not take nearly as many photos as I had intented (it being one of the duties I got assigned by Mg when I took over as organizer as he was unable to attend), but at least there are some random snapshots of matches in progress:

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I can’t figure out why Morgan looks almost happy, facing down what appears to be an active Library.
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There’s just something about Sylvan Library that makes me happy. All those books inside, maybe.
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Waiting for some matches to finish
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Quarterfinals: Olle Råde vs Felipe Garcia
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Martin Jordö vs myself (Svante Landgraf) in the quarterfinals
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Semifinals between Mikael Lindén and Martin Jordö.

 

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Finals: Martin Jordö vs Olle Råde, not captured at a particularly exciting point. If any of these fine gentlemen would write a report, I’d happily publish it.
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In the end, it was Olle Råde who got to take down the The Fallen and the championship!

Then, it’s time for the decklists.

 

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Olle Råde, 1st place, UR Burn: a refined version of the deck he’s played with great success many times before, among those winning the exact same tournament two years ago!
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Martin Jordö, 2nd place, MirrorBall: especially intriguing is the use of a full four maindeck mirrors.
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Emil Klintbäck, 3/4th place, The Deck. I think I might have finally convinced Emil to cut that maindeck Lightning Bolt he used to run. :)
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Mikael Lindén, 3/4th place, URb troll burn. The sideboard is missing, but at least it involved some number of Nevinyrral’s Disk, as well as the usual red and blue blasts.
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Åland, 5-8th place, Fantasy Zoo
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Felipe Garcia, 5-8th place, TwiddleVault. A beautiful and interesting deck. I don’t understand how it can win but apparently it does, and that makes me happy. Abusing the restricted list is a viable concept, as Martin Jordö’s 2nd place deck is another example of. The Channel feels a bit sketchy with just one copy of Fireball but I might be missing something here.
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Micke Thai, 5-8th place, The Deck. If you want to go the maindeck Serra route, I think this is a very well-tuned list. I wouldn’t recommend it in an environment with a lot of Swords to Plowshares, though, and I would like a maindeck Moat over one of the Lightning Bolts.
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Svante Landgraf, 5-8th place, Power Monolith hybrid: The approach I chose seemed to be quite solid. I got to do a lot of broken things, including a 3rd turn kill, and despite the only 4-ofs in the 75 being Tundra and City of Brass, it felt remarkably consistent. Not the best against The Deck or UR Burn, though.

I want to thank everybody who attended, especially Micke Thai who provided some of the photographs as well as made the top 8 after starting out with a loss due to the late flight, Gordon Andersson for the generally good times, and everybody in the top 8 who managed to provide decklists even though I didn’t grab them all during the night. Maybe I’ll even do more of this organizing thing in the future. Who knows.

 

 

 

 

Drawing cards in Arvika, part 2. Almost getting there

Picking up from where we left off last time.

The tournament starts at about 5.40 pm. It’s going to be a long night. About 44 players, I think. Six rounds of Swiss. The winner gets an invite to Noobcon, there’s a prize for best unpowered deck, as well as some other prizes for top 8. My target is set on that invite. No shark this year, but a fake shark, a Clone with a shark picture taped to it. Which was actually hilarious.

Time for the matches. This time, as I was expecting to write a report, I took some notes, mostly some scribblings on my life pad, but I still have a bad memory as I’m old and the days grow short. Also, a couple of weeks have passed when I started writing, and far more of them now that I’m finished. Therefore, I might be mixing up events and generally making things up, most games being quite fuzzy in my mind. We’ll just have to live with it.

Round 1. I’m facing someone I don’t know. We both play some duals and nothing much else, the first spell being played is a Storm Seeker turn 4. I have 20 life and 7 cards, with a counterspell in hand, but I let it resolve. How threatening can it be? 13 life seems plenty. I don’t recall exactly what happens more, but he deals me some more damage, probably with a mishra, until I play Mirror Universe, exchange life, then beat him down with my lands. It turns out he’s on some kind of non-red midrange pile with mid-sized creatures and a random Storm Seeker thrown in, not a howling/vise/underworld dreams deck as I somewhat had expected. The second game is a repeat of the first one: I Swords a couple of creatures, then switch lives. I suppose I just get a book active. 1-0.

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Round 1: Kalle, Mg, Gordon

In the second round, I face goblins. Actual mono-red goblins with Goblin Kings, which isn’t easy to pull off when Fallen Empires isn’t allowed. Awesome. I Fireball two of the little buggers in the first game, which always feels good, then stabilizing on 1 life after allowing some some bolts to resolve, but manage to take it down. The second game is pretty much the same, probably involving an Abyss. No life gain, though; I do go down to 1, but as the lifepad ends with me at 1 and him at 23, but me winning, a mirror is probably involved in a concession here. 2-0

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Some of the top tables round 2. Morgan vs I think KungMarkus, and Kalle vs Gordon. Of note are the Ydwen Efreets, and Gordon’s Fastbond (his Fork Recursion deck ended up at 4-2, narrowly missing the top 8 on tiebreakers).

In round 3, I face Kalle Nord. Kalle is one of the format’s all-time greats, designing playmats, pins and other things, organizing tournaments, frequently winning a lot with innovative decks, including the recent Ivory Cup 2 in Stockholm with some URg monstrosity. He’s also a very good guy. The last time we played, I think it was in Vintage where I managed to screw up my Doomsday piles, killing myself in the process. This time, I knew he was on some kind of Ubw prison deck but I didn’t know any specifics. That would come back to hurt me. In the first game, I resolve a timetwister into a tome, but he gets a howling I should have counterspelled as he has a relic barrier. I draw more cards, but I see only one counterspell and one disenchant in the top half of my deck. Eventually, I misplay on a complicated turn with a demonic tutor for a mind twist which gets power sinked. I was unsure of his counterspell count, putting him on anything from 0 to 4 copies of actual Counterspell. Turns out he ran only 1 mana drain and 1 power sink. Even then, I don’t really know what I was thinking. I went for a mind twist, not defending it enough, just a bad call. Anyway, his array of winter orb, relic barriers, icys and howlings, some being copy artifacts (a card Kalle seems to be a big fan of), disrupted me quite fine, and eventually I succumb to his plan of resolving mirror, burning himself with cities, then tapping his winter orb with a relic barrier and tapping my cities with his icys, destroying my mirror somewhere along the line. It was interesting; Kalle later commented that he forgot to put a Fireball into his deck when the tournament was about to start, having only mishras and mirror as win conditions. I can certainly agree with not running any real wincons but that fireball would speed things up immensely. Kalle’s deck was really sweet, and I’d love to see the list.
I was pretty sure I could have won that first game with better tactics and/or strategy. In the second game, I don’t really know what happened; my notes shows me going from 20 to 19 to 18, then losing, writing “owned” as the only comment. I suppose some abuse of power and/or mana screw was the case. Which is unfortunate, as I think my matchup is quite great once I bring in multiple red blasts and extra artifact destruction. 2-1.

Round 4, I face some kind of zoo, probably URG. I take a mulligan, but start with lotus, mox, timetwister, into an ancestral, into stone rain and disenchant, forcing a concession with lives still 20-20. In the second game, I play my city in a bottle, turning off most of his offensive. He follows it up with a timetwister which is quite horrible for him, whereas I resolve a tome and take complete control of the game. None of this was remotely close, and I regain some of my confidence. Somewhere along here, the pizza arrives, and along with a beer, I’m starting to feel a lot better. 3-1.

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Cermak vs Kalle on table 2 in round 4

Next, I’m facing Elof the Mighty. He’s a real legend, one of the best players in the format; he has three sharks and was one game away from winning a fourth, being the first to trade them all in for a Leviathan, earlier this year here in Arvika. He seems to be able to win with whatever he plays. He’s even so good he’s doing coverage on Noobcon these days, to give the rest of us more of a chance. This time, he was on UR Artifact Aggro. The games were not very interesting, though. I don’t get any book online, but keep my life reasonably high, but then all of a sudden he’s resolving a su-chi into a triskelion and I just die. The most interesting thing is Elof running Sage of Lat-Nam, even in the main deck, which is surprisingly good, allowing him to get an extra card here and there. But I lose, and feel kind of down. At 3-2, I should be out of it, but there’s still one more match to go.

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Last Swiss round starting

The last round of the swiss, I’m facing some kind of black deck. My notes are kind of faulty and my memory is bad; I’ve let this report lay dormant far too long now. Game 1, I get demolished by a triple Hypnotic draw. Once the first one connects, it’s really hard to get back without some kind of power draw. And I didn’t get that. After sideboard, though, my deck does what it should. Game 2, I get a couple of books online and bury him in card advantage. Game 3, we trade some resources, he plays a Wheel of Fortune, but I draw a lot better than him, involving a tutor into mind twist. Those things happen. Giving cards to The Deck can be dangerous for sure.

Some people tell me I might still get in at 4-2, but I’m unconvinced. One or two people might get in but it feels unlikely it would be me. Then the top 8 is announced, and I’m in 7th place, first of all the people with 12 points (of who there were at least 8 or so).

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Final standings after the Swiss

However, soon things get complicated. Returning from a bathroom break, I learn that a result had been wrongly entered a couple of rounds before, resulting in Kalle having three less points than he should have. Apparently nobody realized he shouldn’t have been sitting so far down in the last round, being 4-0-1 instead of 3-1-1 at that point. After a while, that’s resolved, Kalle taking place 8, which makes me happy, as I’d love to face the 2nd seed.

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Top 8 about to start

Why? Because the opposing deck is Power Monolith, piloted by good guy Jhovalking. That’s a powerful deck, as I detailed in part 1 of this report, but it has one glaring weakness: its The Deck matchup. I shuffle up, feeling confident. And start with a double mulligan. Eventually, he just buries me in card advantage, resolving the combo quite late when I have nothing left. The other two games, however, I just thrash him. There are so many cards in the deck which are dead when not everything is lining up perfectly against hate, and with red blasts and additional artifact removal, nothing much ever happens. One of the games involve a particularly filthy Mind Twist if I recall correctly.

Then, in the semis, I face Morgan, playing the B/u deck that won Noobcon and which people seem to thing beat The Deck. Interesting, as I haven’t faced that deck since the swiss of Noobcon against the eventual winner, where I lost a very tight match. I observe that this could have been a PTQ semis in 2002; we were both hard-time PTQ grinders back then. In the first game, I start with ancestral into library; he rituals an underworld dreams turn 1, which I promptly disenchant, and then just have way more cards than him the rest of the game. I also Abyss all his creatures away. The second game, I got beaten down by a couple of mishras, backed up by Gloom and Energy Flux. One of the many cases where I wish I had access to Moat. Then, in the final game, I pick off the mishras with disenchants and swords, landing an abyss and circle of protection to handle the rest. The black deck is just too weak to books to be really viable in my opinion. There was one really interesting spot, though I do not remember which game. I am beaten down by a Black Knight, being at around 7 or 8 life. I have a recently cast Chaos Orb, one land and a Lotus untapped. In hand I have Counterspell, Recall, and Balance, to Morgan’s two cards. Morgan plays some large threat. I decide to counterspell it, and then hit the Knight with the Orb, using the Recall to seal the deal, getting back some powerful things. Instead, I for some reason let the threat resolve, hitting it with the orb, immediately realizing that I must have been to tired to execute the plan I had decided on. Therefore, I have to cast Balance to kill the Black Knight next turn, losing the mirror I had drawn for the turn. I still manage to squeak it out, but it’s bad nonetheless. I hate making mistakes even if I realize them immediately.

So, finals time! It’s 4 a.m. Not feeling too tired though. At this time I’m sober again, and I’m probably more used to playing magic for countless hours in a row than most old school players from my Grand Prix grinding days. I’m facing Jimmie with a mono red pile that apparently is undefeated for some reason. I can’t figure out why. It looks like crap, like any mono-colored deck in the format, and still people claim it beats The Deck, probably due to its prison elements (Black Vise, Winter Orb, Blood Moon, Ankh of Mishra, along with Atogs, Su-Chi, maindeck City in a Bottle, and bolts). People say that all the time. It’s very rarely true. Still, I’m a bit wary when I shuffle up. On the play, he starts with a turn-1 Library. Not the worst, as I have a turn-2 stone rain for it, but still kind of annoying; I also believe I need him to play a red-producing land so my fellwar gives me red mana. On his second turn, he draws a card with the library, then contemplates for a while, finally settling on playing mountain, mox, city in a bottle. I point at his Library. Not terribly happy, he puts it in his graveyard. I later use the Stone Rain to mana screw him almost out of red and take control easily.

How bad was that play? Is that the sign of a bad player? No. Not at all. In fact, I regard my misplay with the sequencing in the semifinals as worse, and faulty strategies as worse still. This was just a swift misplay. It says almost nothing about one’s ability to play the game. Having bad sideboard plans, or wrongly prioritizing what to fight over in a certain matchup, are things I consider far more grave. Of course, being a technically flawless player gives you a lot of percentage points, but that’s a different thing. Mistakes happen.

In the second game, I mulligan a hand with only one mana source. Into a hand with one mana source. Into a hand with 0. Going down to 4 cards, at least his turn-1 Black Vise isn’t threatening, but neither is my hand of two lands, an Ivory Tower and something non-broken very impressive. Less so once Jimmie lands not only one, but two copies of Blood Moon. For the longest time, I am still back in the game if I draw Lotus, as I have multiple Disenchants and Swords in my hand, but it was not to be.

For the final game, I make what is probably the worst mistake of the tournament, but I don’t realize it until far later, when I de-sideboard a couple of days afterward: for some reason I didn’t bring in my Serra Angel. Still, I have those sweet blue blasts and extra artifact removal, and against his slow and underpowered deck, as long as he doesn’t land a Blood Moon, this should be easy, right?

Then it dawns on me. I’m the villain here, playing the deck people love to hate, uncreative, equipped with all the overpowered cards, facing a new and creative deck on an insane winning streak. I’m the end boss. And the end boss always loses. Still, I shuffle up and draw an okay opener. I have to be aware of blood moon at all times, so I can never use my last disenchant/BEB/counterspell on something else. I let a turn 2 ankh of mishra resolve, probably because I only have one answer and I don’t need that many lands. Also, this deck doesn’t pressure me a lot. I take 6 damage from it, developing my mana base. Then things start falling apart. I never really get any card advantage going, and my life slips away a point at a time. I don’t know what happened. Not now and not really then. It’s a game I’d have loved to be able to go back to re-watch, but alas, there was no stream. So I lose. Defeated, I shake Jimmie’s hand, feeling empty. It’s about 5 a.m. Gordon grabs my shoulder, says he knows how much I’d wanted to win, wanted that Noobcon invite. I don’t even know if I respond. I grad the buckle and the prize card, an Ydwen Efreet. Try to look for a cab back to the town center, but the ones ordered seem to be full. I just walk away. A lonely 20-minute walk through the night, feeling empty, like so many times before. I wasn’t feeling especially bad. I’d felt way worse failing to make day 2 of a GP, many times, but that was a long time ago, and I was feeling more back then. Now I’m mostly numb. Walking through deserted streets, a Saturday night so late it has become morning, everybody already home from their parties and drinking.

I get to the hotel at about 5.30 a.m., setting my alarm at about 11 or something, resigning to not getting any breakfast, my train not leaving until 3 p.m. But that’s another story. Or, honestly, not much of a story at all.

So what does this entail to? My third straight top 8, the first time going beyond the quarterfinals, but still failing to close. Like so many times before. I really should play something else than The Deck. I want to win on my own, not just because I play an overpowered archetype. Drawing cards kind of makes me happy, but you can draw cards in other ways as well. Next time, I’ll be piloting something else, I swear.

Props:
– The Arvika crew, organizing a large recurring tournament in the middle of nowhere
– Everybody else in the 93/94 community. It’s impossible to not have a good time at one of these tournaments.

Slops:
– The town of Arvika, an infinitely depressing backwater. Seriously, that Sunday morning after four hours of sleep, the town was almost more than I could bear.
– The beer selection on site. The only IPA was both bad and sold out quickly.
– Myself, for failing to close once again.
– Myself, for making huge misplays throughout the tournament. At least I didn’t miss any chaos orb flip this time. :)
– Myself, for waiting a month to finish this report, losing a lot of details in the process.

Next thing up: BSK. See you there!

Drawing cards in Arvika, part 1. Getting there

Please don’t hate me.

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Just look at these beautiful cards. How can you not want to play with them?

Or if you do, hate me because I take all the fun in the format and use it for myself; hate me because I’m the villain, because I’m Magneto or Ozymandias, don’t hate me because I’m a boring old fucker with no regards for the true soul of the format.

(As everybody know, the format is about drawing cards. All the cards.)

Anyway.

I did try to play something novel this time, I really did. First of all, I wasn’t really sure I was even going; the tournament, the newly-insituted 93/94 Scandinavian Championships in Arvika, Sweden, is what will confer the Arvika Giant Shark in the future, but not this year, as that one has already been given out at the February tournament, the Arvika Festivalen. Also, Arvika is a shithole in the middle of nowhere and traveling is boring when you’re going alone (and as my loyal readers probably know by now, I’m sitting alone in an ivory tower on the eastern plains of Sweden with no fellow 93/94 player within a hundred miles). I was considering going but didn’t really put my heart into it. Until, about a month ago, I was going to Oslo by train on a business trip, and the train suddenly passed through Arvika. Wait, getting here doesn’t seem so bad after all. Maybe I should go. Looking into tickets, finding them not too expensive and finding a hotel room even though most of the town seemed to be booked already, I suddenly found myself with a trip.

I’ve been meaning to buy into at least one other old school deck for quite a while now; some readers might remember me talking about different options at the Ivory Cup 2 in Stockholm in early June. In particular, I’m always drawn to the combo macro-archetype, being an avid Storm player in Legacy and having had some undeserved success with Doomsday in Vintage. (My history of drawing obscene amounts of cards early on is the topic for another day, harking back to the days of casting Windfall in Standard.) I have a feeling combo decks can be better than they currently are in old school. They are played so rarely that the lists are far from optimized, and that’s attracting the deck tuner in me. For an overview, I recommend Stephen Menendian’s excellent combo primer at Vintage Magic. Most of all, I’d love a chance to play Fastbond again (now that the Gush restriction has basically killed the card in Vintage), but I fear that Fork Recursion might just not be good enough. That is still on the list of decks to get the cards for and try out. However, I’m still regretting me selling a playset of Power Artifact pre-spike a year ago, so when I got the chance, I bought them again, before they rise even higher. I start looking through deck lists, comparing them, seeing what can be done. What are the different ways of building the deck? What is the core? How much mana do you need? I’m using the lists in Menendian’s article above, as well as the one on wak-wak and Jaco’s article on Eternal Central.

Chiefly, I find one big divide: whether to play more control card, Swords to Plowshares, Disenchants, and things like Jayemdae Tome, or whether to go more all-in on the combo. There are still overlaps, of course. One such is whether to play Transmute Artifact. I like that card a lot, but it forces you into some uncomfortable spots. In particular, Rocket Launcher is just a terrible card. Not only does it cost 4; for some unfathomable reason, it has summoning sickness. Book of Rass might be a better way to actually end the game if you get the combo while having a Transmute available. Also, Triskelion isn’t the best card when you’re not aggressive.

I’m immediately attracted to Sylvan Library, one of my all-time favorite cards. I mean, I even tried to play it in the sideboard of The Deck once. Transmute gives you a shuffle effect here, but I’m still not convinced. If you play Sylvan, you want more green mana, which makes you shy away from white. I’m also very tempted to play the Channel in the sideboard, using that two-card combo as an out to opponents overloading on artifact removal post-sideboard. I get the idea of running Lightning Bolts over swords as creature removal, allowing the white to be minimized to just Balance and a Disenchant or two. Then I could even board Gloom against Disenchant-based opposition. The Guardian Beast plan I’m more skeptical about. Most people would probably expect it, leaving some swords in, and it’s still not very impactful in the horrible The Deck matchup. Also, I don’t own any, but I still don’t really like them.

I want a lot of card draw to make sure I hit the combo, more than any list above, at least 2 sylvans and 2 books, I think. The mana base is actually fine as you don’t run Mishra’s Factories. I’m also not convinced Power Sink is better than Counterspell and decide to run a split, allowing for better defenses at the expense of some combo potential. After having made some hard cuts, I arrive at this:

1 ancestral
1 walk
1 timetwister
4 monolith
4 power artifact
4 fireball
2 power sink
1 counterspell
1 mana drain
2 sylvan
2 tome
(0 bolt)
1 regrowth
1 disenchant
1 balance
1 abyss
1 mirror
1 tutor
1 mind twist
1 recall
1 wheel
1 braingeyser
1 chaos orb

1 library
1 strip mine
5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
2 fellwar
15 assorted blue lands: 3 volcanic, 3 tropical, 2 underground, 3 island, 4 city

sb:
1 maze
1 abyss
1 bolt
1 mana short
2 reb
3 beb
1 city in a bottle
1 channel
2 crumble
1 gloom
1 tranquility

It actually looks quite good. At this point, about two weeks before the tournament, somehow I’ve convinced myself I should play this in Arvika. I’m itching to play something new, so I start acquiring the cards I miss, two Tropical Islands the hardest thing by far, only owning a Beta and four FBB ones. Then, over a week later, last Monday or Tuesday, it dawns on me: I can have both the green and the white if I cut down on the black. Running crumble (against books) and tranquility (against Underworld Dreams) is hard to justify, after all. It’s hipster but hardly good. So I rebuild the deck, playing some swords and disenchants in the sideboard. It looks great. It feels great.

Then I assemble the deck and goldfish for a while. I know I should get into the habit of playing over Skype but I just haven’t bothered to make a working setup yet, so this is the first non-theory I do. And man, does it suck. Nothing works. Assembling a three-card combo without cantrips is harder than I’d imagine. The deck has every problem of The Deck, such as drawing too much or too little mana, or just not getting any action, increased by having a whole lot of air in the deck. Maybe, it would be possible to play a smaller combo in a more full The Deck shell, using monoliths for mana, Power Artifacts for tome fuel, and fireballs as removal, cutting some flex defensive slots. Then, the transformative sideboard plan of Guardian Beasts should probably be two or three Serras, being both defensive and aggressive. But that is far less sweet: no sylvans, no wheel, no channel.

I just can’t do it. Not at this time. I still bring the cards for the deck (missing a few pieces, but those could probably be borrowed on site), but I resign to assembling The Deck again, this time with the changes I mentioned in my Ivory Cup report. For reference:

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Then it’s Saturday, autumn, everything is gray with clouds hanging very low, the alarm going of at 6, the train leaving at 8. Even though not working set hours especially often, I often have trouble sleeping, waking up too early even though never going to bed early enough, so I’m running up a bit of a fatigue tap already. The tournament starting at 4 pm (as if anybody ever expects a Magic tournament to start on time), it’s looking to be a long day. Still, I feel kind of good. I haven’t played more than a few stray and boring games of Modern since early summer and I’m almost itching to draw some cards. I want to win this one; the winner doesn’t get a shark, but he gets a Noobcon slot, something I dearly crave. And it’ll be great to see a bunch of the 93/94 crew again.

So, a fairly eventless train ride, checking into the hotel, eating lunch, relaxing for a bit, then walking to the site about a kilometer away from the town center.

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Upon arrival, Gordon’s pink suit is very fetching

I get there, greet a lot of good people, discuss The Deck with Emil, discuss combo decks with Gordon, grab a beer (the beer selection was bad, bordering on the horrible, but at least it’s cheap, right? I’m not much for playing tournaments while being real drunk, but one beer to start things off is great, as well as having one or two to take some edge off losing later on), collect some cards I’ve bought beforehand, and wait. As usual, we wait, the tournament finally starting at about 5:30, including printer problems.

But that’s a story for next time. To be continued!

Rereading Centurion, issue #5

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I’ve put off writing about issue #5 because nothing in it really interests me. There’s the same price guide with mostly identical prices as in #4; there’s an introduction to Marvel OverPower and a long FAQ for the newest expansion for Doomtrooper; a guide on how to build budget mono-black discard, similar to the treatment of R/G aggro in issue #4 (hint: it sucks, Mindstab Thrull being one of the better cards in the list), a review of Chronicles (Erhnam Djinn is a good card! So is City of Brass! But not Giant Slug!); an article about nonbasic lands (also surprisingly correct; Library is broken, as is Strip Mine, and Tabernacle is heralded as the big thing in mana denial decks); and some terminology for Magic drinking games (Mahamoti Djinn is 5-6 different kinds of gin in a beer glass, Berserk is 20 beers, Leviathan is 200 litres of water, Firebreathing is a Bloody Mary with extra tabasco) …

There is, however, one substantial article, and that is about the 1995 World Championship. As you all remember from last time, Dan Hörning won the 1995 Swedish Nationals, thus qualifying him and the rest of the top 4 of that tournament for Worlds. The Swedes going were Hörning, Leon Lindbäck, Neil Guthrie, Kim Hassellund, Johan Nilsson, Johan Disenborg and Johan Andersson. (Who can say the Swedes don’t have sense for diversity in names?) The format was Type 2 again, this time consisting of 4th Edition, Fallen Empires and Ice Age. (Smallest standard format ever?) Poor Hörning; his Nationals-winning deck, built around Blood Moon and Channel, was not close to being legal. Instead, he plans to play B/W discard, until finding out on the plane, after careful playtesting, that he lost all three games to UW control. Time to start thinking for real. He had played too much “normal typ 1 gaming” and neglected type 2. Oh, the times.

Worlds was played in Seattle, at WotC, where the players were given a guided tour of the headquarters. At an information meeting the night before the tournament, they got told they would play five rounds of sealed day 1, followed by five rounds of typ 2 the next day, before a cut to top 8. Apparently that information wasn’t given beforehand. The sealed deck format, however, was a bit odd: the product consisted of two 4th ed. starters, four Fallen Empires boosters, one 4th Ed. booster, and one Ice Age booster. That is a lot of cards, even considering Fallen Empires is only 8 cards to the pack. Nobody seemed to know very much what they were doing. Hörning writes that his deck “might seem quite mana heavy”, playing 17 out of 40.

In the first round of the day, Lindbäck beats reigning world champion Zak Dolan, who seems even more clueless about the format. None of the Swedes reached any kind of satisfying result day 1. During that night, at a dinner for the players, Hörning decided to play UW control, just like Lindbäck. Classic multi-format tournament practice of choosing decks in the last minute. Two other observations of note about the first day: the swiss here is based on duels, which makes 2-1 a lot worse than 3-0, something that appeared to be quite common in those early years of organized play, and likely creating interesting collusion opportunities. And secondly, at one point time is called in Hörning’s match, leading to both players being awarded a loss. That is some hardcore ID prevention going on, I tell you.

During day 2, Hörning beats a Greek player with mono-blue control with no Jayemdae Tomes, Zak Dolan on RG land destruction, then losing and winning some rather pointless matches. One of the other Swedes distinguish himself by losing every match of the tournament by 1-2. Skillful.

So, who won? Alexander Blumke from Switzerland, running a black-based discard deck with small blue and white splashes. His price was “a lot of cards, a t-shirt and a Hurloon Minotaur jacket”. (Truth to be told, it is a very sexy jacket.) The real story was the success of red-based Black Vise, Howling Mine, Stormbind, burn decks. Necro was legal, but I’m not even sure how good that would have fared against all of those Black Vises; the Black Summer is still one year away.

Anthing else about that Worlds trip? Magic drinking games, the differences between Swedish and US gaming conventions (the players all headed to GenCon some days later), some uninspired type 1 games.

One interesting thing, however, is one casual format mentioned in the report and fleshed out in a small article later in the issue: Alphabet Magic. I’m not much of a casual player myself, have never been, but Alphabet is something I’ve tried and enjoyed back in the days. In short, you build a deck of 40 cards, and no cards other than basic lands can share a beginning letter. So you have to choose between Armageddon and Ancestral Recall, between Black Lotus and Balance, and so on. Everything is restricted, obviously, although I’ve seen later versions of the format where this isn’t true and the decks contain 60 cards. At some Invitational, maybe? Anyway, the format kind of balances itself, and rewards deck building. Maybe that could be something for an Old School version? This is the deck Hörning played:

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Is Air Elemental better than Ancestral Recall? (No.) Is Maze better than Mox? Obviously, mono-colored decks are encouraged, which I always dislike; it could possibly be averted by allowing a single dual land as a 4-of (but still eating up an alphabet slot, of course). I somewhat feel like brewing.

That’s it for this issue. The next post will likely be a report on the Scandinavian Championship, held in Arvika, Sweden, the coming weekend, unless I completely embarrass myself there. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @SvanteLandgraf for some live coverage this Saturday. Take care, and may your orbs always flip and hit, unless you’re facing me.