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.
Myself, I am running this list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.