Building Power Monolith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some notes on NA Eternal Weekend 2017

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

The EC format and the metagame

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

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

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

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

Interesting decks

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Concluding thoughts

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

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