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.

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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.)

 

Novicecon. A Day Trip With Two Formats

This is a guest post by Chicago player Matt Moss, a report on a very interesting format and a great trip. Enjoy! /Svante (who will mostly stay quiet throughout, but is inserting a comment or two along the way)

I. Introduction

It is late Saturday afternoon at Eternal Central HQ, located in the industrial heart of West Chicago, and the room has gone eerily quiet to my ears after hours of cheering and shouting. The few remaining souls are turning out the lights and headed to Chinatown for dinner and somehow I’ve ended up wearing a Lord of the Pit jacket that’s not my own. The stale smell of Dude + Jagermeister lingers in my nostrils thanks to the sole source of ventilation today being the cracked-open front windows, and they let in more sound from the passing Green Line than they do fresh air. The lights go out, and the sun is set on another successful Lords event, this one the second installment of the Novicecon. Here, 24 mages met to trade, talk shop, talk shit, raise money for charity, and engage in arcane battle using the Old School ways, albeit this time with a twist…

II. Novicecon 2018: The Rules

The rules for Novicecon II drew from both the EC Old School 93/94 and Old School 95 (adding Ice Age and Homelands) formats. Wizards were charged with building a deck for each format and the day’s program began with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. The extra spice, however, was the unified card pool rule, the result of which (to quote EC’s description) meant that “if you shuffle your two decks and sideboards together, it could be presented as a legal 150+ card deck. The totality of your two decks must follow the appropriate Banned and Restricted List, and must not include more than four of any other than basic lands.”

III. Lead-up: 5 Days, 6 Decks

My previous two experiences playing 95 came at the Madison Offensives, first playing a UW Control list featuring Jester’s Cap and Copy Artifact in 2017, then the mighty Reanimator 95 list in 2018. Both events were a blast to play, but didn’t offer the brewing challenge that the unified card pool would for Novicecon. Now I had to consider how best to deploy my most powerful resources. Which deck would get the Chaos Orb? How would I divide my Moxen? My decision-making process came down to a lot of trial and error, second guessing and last minute scrambling for Ice Age cards.

The week leading up to Novicecon began with an “Earth Day” meet-up of the Lords at a Dungeons & Dragons-themed bar, DMen Tap, where players were encouraged to use green-based decks. I brought a quite sub-optimized Green-Black Arboria Millstone list that I didn’t take too seriously, though I was curious about the brewing potential because my other deck, UW Artifacts, had done well the previous weekend at the Knights TAPlar’s Kumite! event in Jackson, Michigan. My early thinking, considering the unified card pool for Novicecon, was that I could possibly go GB in 95 and keep my UW together for 93/94. I quickly scuttled that idea after discovering that my grindy GB deck wasn’t my cup o’ tea. It was time to brew something new.

The next meet-up was a Wednesday gathering of Lords, again at DMen Tap, where I tried a new pair decks with a unified card pool. I had a Mono Blue build for 93/94, featuring Flying Men, Zephyr Falcon, Serendib and Azure Drakes, plus Unstable Mutations, countermagic and broken blue cards. That deck played pretty damn well! My 95 list, however, was a rather uninspired Naya pile that had lots of removal and a handful of Spiders plus a set of Erhnams to provide some spike value. That list also ran effectively, especially with Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and Lotus all on-hand to power out T1 Ernies. I wasn’t too inspired in the 95 realm, so it was back to the drawing board for a more creative list. I was at mid-week and no clue what to do with Saturday fast approaching.

After a bit of online chat with Svante about the 95 format, particularly the broken combo of Necropotence + Demonic Consultation, I decided to dive into the Land of Combo, with the aforementioned pair of cards being the engine for a Power Monolith list. The end goal of this deck was quite simple: draw a shitload of cards and assemble the Big Fireball. The “getting there” part was tricky for me, mostly because I don’t play much combo and hadn’t played with Necro, outside of a handful of pickup Vintage games, since the original Ice Age days. Svante helped tweak my first draft, and I was ready to test the Grixis-colored list. Because the deck required most of of my Power and restricted cards, and because I also had to consider the unified card pool constraint, I decided to go with White Weenie on the 93/94 side. This was a decision borne mostly out of necessity more than creativity, but I hadn’t played a WW list for a long time, so it would freshen up the 93/94 experience for me. The WW list was mostly garden variety, only I excluded the Crusades, thinking that other players may be on WW. My proclivity for midrange also led me to toss in a pair of Juggernaut as an easy 4-drop (given eight brown lands), and also as a nice hedge against Gloom. Going with WW meant that I only had two real decisions to make regarding the unified card pool: where to put Mox Pearl, and how to divide the Strip Mines. All five cards ended up in WW because a) I opted for on-color Moxen only in the 95 deck and, b) I wanted the Strips to give WW an outsized advantage in 93/94.

95 Combo (not pictured, 2x Barbed Sextant)
Not pictured: 2 Barbed Sextant (easily the hardest card to track down. Editor’s note)

9394 White Weenie

Now, with my fifth and sixth decks of the week in hand, I opted for a final evening of testing, this time at abode of Lord Petray, aka the MTG Meatball. I insisted on guest DJ’ing that and arrived with a slab of classic rock vinyl to spin. With Donald Fagan’s ‘The Nightly’ on-deck, the 95 Combo build began unleashing terror, consistently by turn 4, even as this unseasoned pilot fumbled through the first couple games’ worth of Necro and DC triggers (mostly getting the exile piles correct). I was convinced that the deck had a high ceiling, though it would be the Blast Wars in SB games that would be its primary challenge. The deck was even able to out-Necro the standard BR Necro list, as it simply ignored the opponent, assembled the combo and dealt the killing blow. I was ready for Novicecon.

IV. Saturday Breakfast + My Chaos Orb Debacle

The Saturday of Novicecon began with a meeting of several Lords at Handlebar in Wicker Park for breakfast. I opted for the breakfast burrito, a solid base for the day’s imbibing, and washed it down with the Bloody Hammer, their take on a Bloody Mary, feat. a fried pickle spear. The breakfast confab soon turned against me, notably because of my absent Chaos Orb Marksman patch. I’d failed the challenge once, at the prior year’s Novicecon, and hadn’t tried it since. Why not? I guess I didn’t enjoy being the center of attention and having a number of dudesweats yelling at me while trying to concentrate. Perhaps it was the Bloody Hammer influencing my decision making, but I agreed to try for the patch first thing when we arrived at EC HQ. After the meal, Lord Agra drove his breakfasting cohort to the secured location where Novicecon would unfold.

After settling in at EC HQ, I opted to get my Chaos Orb trial out of the way ASAP, and selected as my poison four shots of Jagermeister. My requirement would thus be to hit 50 Chaos Orb flips without missing more than five (4 shots + 1 grace) I figured that if I couldn’t complete the challenge with four shots on the line, I didn’t deserve the patch anyhow. A handful of spectators, perhaps eight or nine, gathered around and I was off… and doing well! I’d worked on a new two-handed technique that seemed to be paying off despite my own nervous energy. I’d missed a couple flips but rolled into the mid-20s and was right on schedule… and that’s when the wheels fell off! I flamed out after a bad sequence around no. 30 and ended at a lousy 31/50 flips, a wretch performance. The yips had gotten me, again, and now it was time to begin Novicecon with a solid buzz from the Bloody Hammer the four Jager and a can of Hamm’s (to console with after my ignominious Orb-flipping exhibition.

V. Novicecon Rounds

The agenda was to proceed with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. Pairings would be based on cumulative record. I chatted with Mike Butzen, a gentleman Thrull who treks in from the hinterlands of Wisconsin for most Lords events, about selling my white-bordered, German Serendib Efreet (nicknamed “Edgar”), and we closed on that transaction. I also engaged with Lord Sanders for a trade; he was in the market for an Oubliette (one of my personal favorite artwork in MTG) of which I had a pair and only needed to keep one for my 93/94 cube. After perusing Sanders’ wares, we settled on a straightaway swap of my Oubliette for his Unlimited Fastbond. Trading closed, and the matches were on!

Novicecon pickups
The Novicecon pickups

Round One vs. M. Butzen (0-1)

It didn’t take long for Dear Edgar to reappear, this time on the opposite side of the battlefield. Butzen was on a UW weenies build that featured Savannah Lions, Dibs and topped out with some Serra Angels. My WW sprinted to a quick 1-0 lead thanks to nice curving, and G2 turned into a meat grinder with too many of my weenies falling prey to Butzen’s boarded Psychic Purges. G3 was an Strip Magic masterpiece featuring seven of our eight Strips being deployed. Unfortunately, I was on the short side of the Strip battle and also fell on the short side of the match, 1-2. It was fine vengeance for Butzen, who had 5-1’d the previous Lords event with his sole defeat at the hands of my GW Shops.

Round Two vs. D. Dunaway (1-1)

If I remember correctly, Danny made the trip in with Butzen. We’d met in passing at a previous event or two, but had never matched up. For the 93/94 portion of this Novicecon, he’d selected a Monoblack list, giving us a classic pairing of Black & White, good & evil. G1 was another well-curved boat race for the WWs, but G2 was an equally vicious beating for the Bad Guys. Dunaway slammed a T2 Gloom onto the battlefield and I had no answer within reach. A Juzam, then a second Juzam quickly brought the game to a close. I saw a hot start in G3 with Plains-Mox-Order of Leitbur, then Dunaway again deployed a fast Gloom, this time on the back of Demonic Tutor. I again had no answer for Gloom, but, fortunately for me, that Order was able to go the entire distance as Dunaway drew no answers of his own. WW scraped by and collected the match win and I was much less gloomy.

9394 - Order of Leitbur vs Juzam Djinn

Round Three vs. M. Sharp (2-1)

I was a few brewskis deeper and into round three and things began to get a bit hazy as I sat across from Matt Sharp. Sharp, hailing from suburban Chicago, is a new-coming Old Schooler that I hadn’t met prior to this Novicecon. The Lords are fortunate to draw on such a dense nexus of players here in the midwest and new faces are always a pleasure to see. Sharp had at a well-tuned Erhnamgeddon list at the ready, but the White Weenies overwhelmed the match. Timely answers for Sharp’s bigger threats (Ernie got sent farming) and my low mana curve powered me to a 2-0 victory and a 2-1 finish in the 93/94 section of Novicecon. I felt pretty good about the first three rounds as we broke for lunch. I also took time to make a deal with Ron Longhi, another suburbanite and Lords regular, for a CE Shivan Dragon.

Round Four vs. S. Maldonado (3-1)

Lord Maldo of Milwaukee is one my dear MTG pals and, as the lunch break ran out, we sat chatting about the brews we’d stewed up for 95 action. I was confident that I’d assembled a potent list and he mentioned thinking about Juzam Djinn for his Monoblack Necro list. I pulled a copy of the Green Guy from my binder and slid it over as the R4 pairings were announced… guess who was coming to dinner! Maldo and I would be pitted in Round 4 and we laughed about having divulged our deck tech. G1 was a glorious debut for my Necro Power Monolith list as I nailed Maldo with the Big Fireball by T4. G2 started with dueling Necropotence before Maldo cast Demonic Consultation. He named Strip Mine. I figured Maldo was gunning to take me off double blue mana to keep Power Artifact at bay as he began exiling cards for DC. He kept flipping… and flipping… and flipping and, then, it was all over and his entire library lay in ruin. He had Consulted for a SECOND Strip Mine while having one in-hand and, uh, zero other copies in his library! The unified card pool had just gifted me the W as Maldo forgot the number of Strips in his deck. Maldo was vanquished 2-0 and we shared a laugh at his misfortune and he took it like a champ. Live like a Lord, Die Like a Lord.

Round Five vs. Jaco (3-2)

I sat with Jaco for the fourth round figuring he would be on Reanimator and, sure enough, he was on Reanimator. For those curious, this harnesses Bazaar of Baghdad and eight Reanimator effects (Animated Dead + Dance of the Dead) to power out big threats quickly. It can also maintain a steady rotation of Ashen Ghouls and Nether Shadows from the graveyard for constant harassment. Finally, having access to four Demonic Consultation makes Bazaar (the deck’s engine, think Dredge here) a consistent early play. Now, as strong as that build is for 95, I thought I could outrace it before Jaco got a big dude or a horde of Ghouls & Shadows online. My hopes were soon dashed in G1 as Animate Dead + Deep Spawn hit the board T1 and the rout was on. I went to my sideboard, loaded up on Blasts and Tormod’s Crypts and we were off on G2. This time, I was able to assemble the combo and deliver the big hurt to tie the match at 1-1. As for G3, well, by this time, the day’s drinking had begun to catch up to me and I don’t quite remember the finish, although I know that a) I lost, and b) there were Blasts involved. Oh well, I thought. I fell to 3-2, but had put up a good fight against one of the stronger 95 lists possible, and only fell a Blast short of a win..

Round Six vs. B. Shriver (3-3)

The final round paired me with Bill, another Chicagolander with a penchant for combo-based strategies. I don’t recall (pun intended) whether it was before or after our match, but Bill gave me a hookup on a Legends Recall. After the card was unrestricted under Swedish rules, Bill had the presence of mind to land a few copies prior their disappearance from the market, and like a true gentleman he passed along the savings. Thanks again, Bill! Now, as for our match, Bill piloted a sweet Necro Land’s Edge combo brew. We split the first two games, my win coming on the back of a giant Fireball and his win on the back Glacial Chasm buying him time to cut me down with Land’s Edge. All four of my Strip Mines were parked in my WW deck so I had no answer for Glacial Chasm! The deciding G3 seemed to be going in my favor. I assembled the Power Monolith and went for for the Big Fireball. Here’s how it played out: Hydroblast, Pyroblast, a second Hydroblast(!), Demonic Consultation naming Pyroblast… Unfortunately, karma came back to bite me in the ass as I had no Pyroblast remaining and my entire library was exiled! Bill got the 2-1 win and I finished the day 3-3 in matches. It was a fitting way to go out, too, because I’d earlier cheaped a win via Lord Maldo’s errant Consultation. The cosmic ledger was now balanced.

VI. Takeaway

I ended up at 3-3, but all three of my match loses came down to close G3s, so I was happy overall with my decks’ performance (notwithstanding the pilot, of course). I was pleased my 95 Combo was able to quickly assemble in most of the games, but it felt a little too light on disruption and could have benefited perhaps from Hymn to Tourach out of the sideboard to try and sweep away Blasts. Or perhaps I was just overanxious in trying to deploy the Big Fireball and needed to get more Blasts in-hand. I will definitely tinker with this list and come back to it in the future. Meanwhile, over in 93/94, White Weenie was fun to take out for a half-day trip, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying to play or win with. That level of aggro just isn’t my general game although it fit nicely here with the unified card pool. I ended up 10/24 players and took home an inked-up Deep Spawn for the day’s effort.

Editor’s note: I think more Barbed Sextants, blasts, and Flash Counters are the way to go, although the possibility of a Hymn plan is certainly interesting as well. There’s also some merit to a more cantrip-heavy shell with Portents.

VII. The Top Decks

Most of my downtime between rounds was spent trading, drinking and bullshitting, so I skipped out on the action at the top tables. but after checking out the lists on the EC site I can confirm there were some juicy cuts. Here were our top four wizards:

1st – Greg Kotscharjan on UW midrange (feat. Preacher/Diamond Valley combo) and Naya.

2nd – Chris Bergeson on RUG and 95 Reanimator (feat. Polar Kraken).

3rd – Jaco on Pink Weenie and 95 Reanimator.

4th – Lorien Elleman on Bantgeddon and Necro Land’s Edge (similar to what I saw in R6).

(All deck lists are posted at Eternal Central.)

VIII. Orb Mastery

While I already chronicled my own Chaos Orb follies above, a special mention must be given to three Lords that successfully completed their own challenges: both Kotscharjan and Bergeson added a Chaos Orb Marksman patch to compliment their Top 4 finishes. Lord Sanders took one home. In a display of truly Unholy Strength, Lord Bergeson became the first person to nail all 50 flips with nary a miss! He then celebrated by downing his allotment of shots, Malort no less, in quick succession. Congratulations, gentlemen, may I one day join the ranks of ye mighty!

IX. Closing Thoughts

What a gathering! The split format, inclusion of 95 and the unified card pool gave everyone a chance to innovate and the resulting gameplay was far better for it. That stated, the genius of all Old School MTG lies not within the gameplay, nor even the cards and their nostalgic power, but within the community itself, which was on display in abundance during the second annual Novicecon. The assembled Lords and guests showed up in-force to catch up with friends new and old, toss back drinks and talk, trade and sling cardboard, all while raising money for a good cause. I recommend that all players try the 95 format, or experiment with their own variants, and continue to build and enrich their own Old School MTG community.

Thanks for reading and thanks again to Svante for letting me guest blog!

And thanks Matt for an awesome report of an awesome event. Wish I had been there! /Svante

 

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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20180326_203302.jpg

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.

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:

20180122_221106.jpg

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.