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.