Dreaming of a White Christmas

Tournament report time! 23 people at Biljardpalatset in Stockholm, organized by Gordon Andersson, with a N00bCon invite up for grabs, although it turned out that about ten people attending were already invited. Let’s see if I remember anything about the matches. I was playing Field of Dreams:

20181214_160901.jpg

It’s basically a Swedish port of this EC deck played by Bryan Manolakos to a 4-2 record in a side event at GP Hartford last spring, I think:

mano field with board.png

Don’t know where I saw it but it stuck with me so I saved it. The plan is basically 93/94 Lantern Control for those of you who are familiar with new border cards: millstone/field of dreams lock with synergies like field/tax, tax/tower/sylvan, sylvan/millstone etc. You’re building up a board with slowly turns off what the opponent is doing, including moat to completely turn off most creatures. You care about less and less cards and answer them and then mill them out.

It’s an offshoot of the whole tax/tower school. There are so many possibly builds and nobody knows which is the best: midrange with flyers like Will Larson and Bryan Manolakos played at the Summer Derby, combo/prison like Randy Buehler’s winning deck from the same tournament, control like the present deck, probably some prison options with howlings, relic barriers, icys and copies for the towers, maybe even underworld dreams since there’s so much overlap between tax/winds/dreams. I have no idea which one is optimal. The field/millstone lock is strong, and there’s a lot of synergies, but at the same time, many of these cards are weak in themselves. Especially millstone and field which do actual nothing on their own.

LarsonTower-1024x826
Will Larson’s  Summer Derby deck
Randy_Tax_Deck-1024x686
Randy Buehler’s Summer Derby deck

What I do like is that much of this is enchantments. Like the Danny Friedman school of enchantments being the best permanents because they can’t really be punished except by tranquility which nobody plays. With tower and millstone, this is still a bit weak to hurkyl and flux, which we well get to. But it’s something to consider. Dreams is a way to make it even more so, possibly. Just that BBB fucks your mana a lot.

 

For the rest of the deck, it’s usual defensive UW spells and power, up to and including wheel, which is included mostly to jump-start the towers and because you have a lot of cheap permanents to empty your hand of.
But yeah, matches.

Round 1, I face Martin Berlin. I’m eager to get revenge for my quarterfinals loss to him at the EC tournament at Fishliver Oil Cup, partly on my failing an orb flip. This time, he’s on strictly BW tax/dreams.

20181215_143825.jpg
This is going to be a long game. The cards in the upper right corner, as well as my moats, are cards in hand previously revealed by field of dreams.

There turned out to be a metric ton of underworld dreams decks in the field. Berlin on BW, Pefken on BWu dreams parfait, Gordon on BU prison with candelabra and transmute, Björn Jonnie on classic howling/winds dreams combo, Råberg on the same but with a machinehead transformative sideboard, and probably somebody else, not to forget me on dreams of the fields variety. That’s 5 or 6 out of 23, making over 20 %. Insane. Almost what Danny Friedman claims all Swedish tournaments are. Anyway, Berlin starts with tower but no tax, whereas I have a field and we both start keeping revelead cards face up. I do get millstone and control what he does. Although there’s still plenty of opportunities for me to misplay, when I have a full hand and his is empty (from me grinding through, or just mind twist as a help, maybe), he concedes at 61 life to save time. He did find a greed at one point, but that just drew him one card before I disenchanted it because he was low on black mana most of the game.

 

Game 2, I am expecting some kind of creature but have still kept 1 or 2 swords at most, because I have my own serras as well as balance. I start on a tower. However, his disrupting scepter makes my tower moot when I’m stuck at mana. I do balance his hand away. Then he plays a dreams, and I believe a second one, so my life is dwindling, then a serra. But I do manage to recall the balance and find the cop black and take control. Or at least something along those lines.
Round 2, I face someone I don’t know on arabian aggro. He starts with turn 1 and turn 2 kird apes. I have three mana sources, a couple of swords, a counterspell and a moat. I take the hit once, then I decide to swords one ape should I not draw the 4th source for the moat. But I do, just in time, stopping at 14. He has a dib which I swords. Then I just have to starve off the burn, and I find a tower in time. It’s never close from there on out as I get fields/stone too. At one point, I’m not milling him just to see more of his deck and not make him think I’m in as much control as I am. He is running a hybrid list with both birds and the black splash, as well as chain lightnings. Also a maindeck artifact blast, maindeck crumble and some number of psionic blasts. Post board, I also get moat, I think, at 13, as well as a cop red, but two psionic blasts take me down to 5 right away. I do get out a serra, which really should just get double bolted at this point, but somehow that does not happen. I know I do stabilize at 1 life after having to swords my serra when he finds another psiblast, or something along those lines. The details are a bit fuzzy, but I did have to topdeck exact the answers, like the swords for a mishra with a sylvan. Wait, I can’t have had moat this game, but rather bottle. You see I don’t lie when I say I have a bad memory? I’m writing this literally less than 24 hours later. Anyway, I don’t drop a game. Oh yeah, there’s also an interaction where I have field, he has sylvan in play (of which he’s far too cautious with, never paying life), with my top card being disenchant. I go to demonic, wanting recall to return regrowth and time walk, sealing the race with my serra, but of course I had boarded out recall as I usually do against red decks, anticipating REB. So I go for disenchant instead, as the sylvan needs to go. Sometimes you say the card you tutor for was the top card of the deck, but not often are you aware that is the case before you play it. Oh well.

20181215_140707.jpg
A random view of the tournament area, probably before round 1 to be honest. But it fits better here.

Round 3, I face Seb who’s on some kind of Eureka build. Game 1, he mostly draws mana, but not lands: sol ring, a mox, an elf and a birds, so my land tax is annoyingly far from being active. It’s one of those insanely complicated games where I try to get above 4 cards in hand while milling him out of threats and taking 1 a turn from the elf, not being able to draw cards or develop my mana base. Eventually, I start getting ahead, probably including time walk/braingeyser which is often the case. He concedes with me at 4 and him at 25.

Game 2, he’s mana screwed, having only a strip mine and a volcanic, I believe, when I play turn 1 field, turn 2 millstone. Easy game, right? Not exactly. I of course try to get rid of some lands first, and I know this will backfire later on, but what should I do? His hand is full of gas, mostly erhnams, and he does get the mana finally, when I’m not doing much. I never find a moat and succumb to random beats in a game it feels like I should have won. When not drawing enough power, this deck is somewhat lacking in the card draw department. One interesting thing is me not fighting over his blood moons. I had an island and I believe a sapphire in play at this point, and could just eventually draw into one of my 4-5 white sources or a blue blast. It definitely was correct once the second moon shows up. Mooning a tax deck is not always the best plan.

20181215_135819.jpg
Omnipollo Fatamorgana, probably my favorite beer that’s widely available

And then time is called as we shuffle up for game 3, so a draw it is. I didn’t go to time any of the other rounds, but I still had very little time between rounds to run to the bathroom, order beers or food. I knew this, of course, and that’s why I chose this deck for a tournament like this and not one like Fishliver where I would like to interact a lot with new friends and new environments, but it still kind of sucked. There were lots of people like Slanfan and Berlin I should have hung out with more, and I should have had more beers, not the least because their selection was unexpectedly Omnipollo-heavy and thus excellent.
So, round 4. I think I’m paired down, against Pefken, who’s one of the real old school old schoolers, boasting a Giant Shark and several more big event t8s, among other things. He’s also known for liking Parfait, and this time, he was on a dreams-based version. (Or is is just prison then? We really have to dive into old school deck names at some point.) I’ve been considering a deck like that, myself, but I never thought you could run dreams and factories at the same time, as dreams pushes you towards a mana base with only black-producing lands. Apparently it worked, and Pefken even played the single workshop allowed under Swedish rules.

Game 1, I start out with a turn 1 sylvan, turn 2 paying 8 life just to get more cards as I haven’t found much relevant yet, turn 3 paying 4 more, going down to what felt like a reasonably healthy 8. But I see no tower, and Pefken’s factory is threatening. He plays a steady stream of pieces I have to handle, like icys and howlings, probably allowing relic barriers to resolve, and I run out of answers, making him resolve a winter orb and locking me out. There was more to it than that, a number of hard decisions with a field and/or sylvan, me wanting to mill myself and my opponent simultaneously, being too low in life so I had to keep up white mana during his combat step should he tap a land or artifact before activating the factory, and it just didn’t work out.

Game 2, I think I did broken stuff, something like a turn 1 timetwister off of a land, a mox and a sol ring. I see Pefken having brought in hypnotics. I expected some kind of creature but didn’t keep in many swords even though he had factories, as my own serras can handle that just fine, and also disenchants. His creature plan being trumped by mine is a huge advantage and he can’t find enough swords in time. Game 3, from my life pad it seemed like I got an early Library, supplemented by a tower, just ignoring his dreams and finding a serra, him never really being into the game.
Now I’m 3-0-1 and likely into the top 8 even with a loss. In the last swiss round, I’m paired against Jocke Almelund, the lone 4-0. I didn’t know what he’s playing, but it’s usually some kind of combo deck, Jocke being a man after my own heart. Instead, it appears we’re sharing more tastes than that, as Jocke is on atogs. But what I consider a quite weird build, strictly UR, eschewing all splashes and also probably chain lightnings for mana vaults, su-chis and copy artifacts. Game 1, I mind twist him about three times, turning off his factories (and the rest of his creatures should he ever draw one) with a moat and his burn with a tower. I gain control with field + stone and get to see most of his deck before he concedes. Game 2, I bring in one or two serras but not all of them since I’ve seen a bunch of psionic blasts. This turns out badly as I get him down to 8 with a quick serra which he then kills and it doesn’t really matter anymore. Jocke even copies my tower to get out of reach. He plays a library, and while I manage to mind twist him, I then do nothing for the five turns it takes for him to get back to activating it. I do eventually succumb to that card advantage although both of us drawing mostly lands the entire late game.

Game 3 then. I bring in all the angels. And I never go below 15 life. However, Jocke controls magic one of the angels, and my only real answer is trading with another. Then, however, I recall both of them, and that’s it. It might also have involved some power start from me. I was very good at drawing ancestrals throughout the tournament, and didn’t take a single mulligan until the semis. That’s how you get good results in tournaments, folks. It’s the days the luck breaks your way you get your finishes.
With that, I win the swiss, and it’s on to the top 8 after having had a short break for some decent food. The rest of the top 8 is Jocke, Berlin, Pefken, Li on white weenie, Fork on UR, Micke Thai on The Deck and Råberg on his dreams combo deck. I get a rematch against Pefken in the quarterfinals. I did lose a game where I did have most of what I needed in the swiss, and he’s also a very good player, so it doesn’t feel that good, but I just assemble everything I ever want here. Except the millstone. I have a tower and go above 30 life, then 40, sitting behind a sylvan and a library, and Pefken doesn’t concede until I start librarying in order to have enough time to mill him out before I have to twister or something.

Then I board about the same as before, cutting the moats and all swords but possibly one, bringing in serras, dust to dust, cop black and maybe something more. I could have left two swords to handle any potential hypnotics but they aren’t coming out so fast in his list so I think balance, cop and serras should be enough. Probably cut a tower too, even though he has dreams, as he’s so slow too. I do get an interesting hand on the draw: lotus, ancestral, disenchant, some assorted stuff but no land tax and no other mana source. I keep, of course, but it could backfire. Pefken then plays turn 1 howling mine with some moxes and no barrier, so I draw two. Still no land, but a demonic. So I can ancestral, and then disenchant the howling if I draw either a white or a black source. But I think I’m ahead enough with just the ancestral in hand, being up a bunch of cards, and another disenchant as backup, so I just lotus demonic for tundra and disenchant the mine, then ancestral next turn. Was it correct? I think so. Bricking on the mana on the ancestral seemed like the most likely way to lose that game. But I’m not positive.

Anyway, somehow the game ends up being way closer than anticipated. I have cards, and assemble field+stone, but Pefken keeps drawing only gas: barrier, icy, disenchant, disenchant, and the stone costing me mana all the time, stuck at 4 mana with 4 cards for the tower. He also plays out two hypnotics, to which I have a cop black, but that ties up two mana each turn, and he starts hitting me with a factory. I can disenchant it but don’t want to tap out since he has a disenchant and can break something up, so my life is slowly dwindling. Would have loved to be able to rewatch this game. I also have a sylvan this whole time and am sometimes milling myself instead of him, he tapping my millstone with barrier in my upkeep. Then I can assemble braingeyser + time walk to get above 4 cards, giving me some breathing room, and once I’m on 5 life, Pefken concedes.
Thai has beaten Jocke and is facing Fork in the semis. Actually, this is much later, as the Fork vs Berlin matchup in the quarters takes literal ages. But anyway.

20181215_221739.jpg
Semis ongoing

I’m playing Li, who’s new to the format, having played for two months but being an old veteran from the Vintage scene ages ago, apparently. I knew he was on white weenie with a blue splash, which isn’t a very good deck in Swedish, as you have to play cards like tundra wolves to make crusade good enough. I also knew he played energy fluxes so I was already planning to cut most of the millstones as they’re just so expensive to pay for. Towers are another thing, and most of the rest of the deck is enchantments. I’m more scared of hurkyl I think.

Game 1, he plays a lion, which I swords, and then a tundra wolf which starts taking small bites out of my life total. Some other creatures also get sworded or countered. I counter one armageddon and let the second one resolve, as I have pearl, sapphire, and emerald in play at this point, as well as a plains in hand. That turns off my drain in hand, but if I counter it, it’s gone anyway. I do draw a tax, and we do a little dance around that for a while. However, I never see any tower or moat, and eventually, Li resolves a crusade and kills me with some 2/2, either the wolf or a clergy of the holy nimbus he drew afterwards. Had I gotten any kind of permanent defense, even a field, as I had a stone a long time, I would have gotten there, and I was quite close to just milling him out anyway. I milled all four of his disenchants, for example. From this, I also knew he played a bunch of psionic blasts so my serras weren’t safe. But I went for them anyway, as that plays around fluxes so well. Game 2, everything goes according to plan. I resolve a serra with counter backup thanks to a lotus. He has a flux and some small creatures but nothing interacts with the angel at all. Game 3, I finally took my first mulligan, keeping a Library start. Li doesn’t do anything offensive, having a hand full of disenchants and fluxes, so my library does its thing while I take 1 a turn from a tundra wolf. Eventually, a serra arrives backed up by a counterspell or two. Li expertly waits on a swords, trying to get two answers and resolving them, taking some damage, so I counter it when I mind twist his hand away. This leaves a 1-turn window for him to draw another answer but he doesn’t, and I time walk, demonic, time walk for the win.
Time for the finals. And the n00bcon invite was decided by the other semis as I have an invite but nobody else in the top 4 did. I was in something of a hurry, having to leave in less than an hour if I wanted to catch my bus home, and also not playing for much. But maybe I’m just making excuses. I’m facing UR and I’m fairly certain that it’s a bad matchup. Much worse than atog. They have REBs, counterspells and lots of artifact hate to break up any kind of field/stone/sylvan/tax engine, a quick clock to make sylvan bad, moats are only stopping factories, and the serra plan which is my usual defense against reb/flux/shatter etc is horrible against counterspell + psiblast. Sure, they die to bottle, but that’s not game enough. I don’t even know how to solve that. Probably just counting on atog killing them before I face them, but that’s not great Bob. Taking the loss and moving on? Well, I’m getting ahead of myself, but I really just get rolled. The interesting thing is in game 2 where Fork plays a Library with 6 cards in hand. My board is emerald, trop, city, with a hand of bottle, swords, disenchant, serra, probably something else white. He might have a vise in play, with me on a tower. Anyway, I choose to play the bottle, instead of letting him have an extra card and me having white mana for a turn. But then I proceed to miss white for ages, him getting a flux, destroying my stuff, before I can ever kill his vise. That probably lost me the game, although it wasn’t looking great anyway. The deck probably has a white source too few, to be honest. I’m never really into this, flux was too early and too strong there. Those things happen.

Verdict? The deck is fun, slow, and complicated. I didn’t get to drink as much as I had planned, probably because I was just too concentrated on the games, but I also didn’t misplay as much as I had expected. The margins are very small and I did draw a whole lot of power starts and rarely mulliganed. The angels in the board were amazing. Maybe the 4th counterspell isn’t necessary. I’d like to have some more way of turning on ivory tower, possibly even a single book. A third tax is also on the list, along with another basic or two, but can be hard to activate sometimes without something like an armageddon in there. I just don’t know if this kill is the best. Other ways of abusing the engine might be stronger, even if it’s less of a lock without field/stone. I’m kind of curious about trying out a Buehler list in the future. Other random thoughts: REB might be really good as they kill hurkyl and flux and stop counterspell and psiblast for handling serras. Maybe even a fireball somewhere if I do add red. A second recall is not out of the question. The good thing about field is that it’s an enchantment, but as it’s blue it dies to REB, and millstone is bad against hurkyl, flux, and dust to dust. And maybe the lock isn’t powerful enough, as it isn’t a real lock unless you have multiple millstones and a lot of mana, as countless games illustrate. Losing that package also makes wheel better; now I boarded it out most of the time. There’s some work to be done here.

Advertisements

Rereading Centurion, issue #7

20181205_102237.jpg

Time to continue the dive into old Swedish magic magazines. This time, from March, 1996. Homelands had been released last fall, Alliances was still just a rumor. What was happening in the Magic world at the time?

Well, straight up, we learn that for the upcoming issue, we would have a report from GothCon and its Nationals qualifier, a report from the Black Lotus Professional Tour (that is, PT1), and an article about Necropotence, “the latest trending card”. But for this issue? The first major article is a report from a Grand Melee tournament held at a convention in Stockholm. It’s a huge multiplayer game with 35 people, where you attack left, affect the players 2 steps in each directions with spells, the rounds are taken somewhat synchronously (one out of every five players were playing at each time), and, quite importantly, Enchant Worlds were global effects. How this works with timing, the story doesn’t tell. All in all, the game took eight hours, and the stories are glorious. Somebody sends a Kudzu around. A couple of players to my taste play Timetwister, Tormod’s Crypt and Argivian Archaeologist to deck people. Somebody else plays Howling Mines and Mana Flares to be friends with his neighbors. Somebody else ran Energy Flux and Blood Moon and Mana Barbs and was promptly killed. Unsurprisingly, the blue-white control decks were the most successful, and in the end, the organizers had to ban Abyss and rule that every creature got +1/+1 each upkeep to put an end to it.

To continue the less serious vibe, there’s an article on Throat Wolves, which are an old Usenet meme, I suppose, about cards which turned out not to exist. I did not know about the meme at the time, so the whole thing felt a bit pointless to me then. Here they are updated to Homelands. They all have Double First Strike, which isn’t doublestrike (something that wouldn’t exist for a long time still) but rather Firstest Strike. And it’s full of interesting jokes like cards with holographic print (how could they every imagine doing such a thing!).

Then comes some of the meat of the issue: a 5-page article about so-called Serendib decks. It’s RUG aggro with Unstable Mutations and Giant Growths and probably Berserk, thus a lot more creature-based than our 93/94 Arabian Aggro decks. First, catering to the budget crowd, there is a list with a wonderful 6/6/5 mana base, made possible (they claim) by 4 Barbed Sextants. Ambitious, to say the least. A much better approach would have to leave the budget version straight UG and splash later.

20181205_102303.jpg
the budget list

And there’s sadly no complete list for the power deck presented. Of interest is that they quite correctly prefer Scryb Sprites over Flying Men, even though City in a Bottle seems to be a non-factor. They also recommend no offcolor moxen, and also running a Nevinyrral’s Disk (unclear whether sb or main). And one or two Power Sinks. That is an underused strategy even now. Also Storm World as an answer to The Abyss.

Argothian Pixies is mentioned, but as “generally worse than Elvish Archers”, which is also deemed too weak for this deck, mostly because of Fireball. Juggernaut dies to everything, to nobody’s surprise. Ornithopter isn’t good even with Unstable Mutatins. Thanks. Oh, and Recall is too slow. Something to remember.

Over to the price list. There’s a rumor somebody in Gothenburg bought a Beta Lightning Bolt for $10; other than that, we don’t get any indication of Alpha or Beta prices, sadly. Time Vault is worth $30-40, half as much as Forcefield or Gauntlet of Might. The most expensive cards in Homelands, the newest expansion, are Primal Order at $12-16 and Autumn Willow at $10-12. In general, I don’t think much has changed since last issue.

Oh, there’s also a price guide for Doomtrooper, the most expensive card being Mortifikator Crenshaw at $11-17, except the promo Nepharite Warlord for $30.

In the calendar of upcoming tournaments, we learn that you have to qualify for the 1996 Swedish Nationals for the first time. I know this, since one of those qualifiers was my first sanctioned tournament ever. But that is a story for another time.

There’s also a really strange qualifying system in place where the top 30 in each of four qualifier makes it through, but only if you haven’t played any qualifiers before. Yes, you only got one shot. This should make the last qualifier very easy, I suppose, unless everybody games the system and nobody wants to play the first one. Also that is 30 people regardless of number of players. Weird stuff was going on, all at once, everywhere.

We also learn that the club SPIF in Helsingborg “has activities almost every day”. So much room for them.

Now it’s time to go full on meta: a review of Scrye #1. It somewhat amazes me Scrye isn’t older. After a bunch of information on new games like Spellfire, Jyhad and Sim City (the card game), there follows a bunch of reports from different US stores. “Some of the more sought after cards are Gaea’s Liege, Mindtwist, Island Sanctuary, Will-O’-The-Wisp, Black Lotus and Goblin King with prices in the $50 to $100 range.” Wait, what is this? Alpha Lotus is $25 in the price list. The entire magazine clocks in at 32 pages. Oh, of course. Dan Hörning is trolling the audience, and, consequently, me, 22 years later. They bought the magazine two years earlier, in mid-1994, which he dutifully reveals at the end of the short article.

Then some riddles! How do you make a Maze of Ith into a Juzam Djinn? (Doesn’t really work, but nice try: Living Plane, 2 Giant Strength, Wanderlust, Deathlace. Still is affected by enchantment removal, land destruction and more, but that has to count, I suppose.) How do you make Elves of the Deep Shadow into Castle? (That’s the final one, setting up the joke. The answer? Play Castle. Bolt the elf.)

A short note explains that some players intend to play the best Type 2 decks against each other, 10 games of each, 7 of those postboard. Wow. Playtesting is actually a new concept? In 1996? No wonder the decks were so bad back then.

An article about the Kult CCG, newly released, is probably not very interesting to you.

But then, another short report from “the first event in WotC’s Black Lotus Professional Tour”. The first prize was $12000. A removed from the $50000 you get today. And top 16 gave $500, compared to $5000 today. At least some things are not worse now. More will be said about this tourney in the next issue. The most interesting thing is a note that “a similar series will be held in Europe, organized by the WotC Belgium office”. That never happened; instead we just got a pro tour a year, usually, and even that took a little while to become reality.

Four pages of general advice about organizing a tournament could be relevant even today. Wait, one if the first points is that people will ask about the telephone, so make sure to have access to one, or at least know how to give directions to the nearest pay phone. Yeah, alright. More: somebody should be a “rules guru” or have access to the latest WotC list of errata (can be found on the internet). No mention of actual judges. A tournament should start as early as possible — something I am still missing in old school tournaments today. Direct elimination is recommended if you are tight on space. And if possible, arrange a side event parallel to the top 8. Also, this traditionally has a Bazaar of Baghdad as the prize. Oh, those were the days. Also, 4 or 5 dollars is a fair price of admission to the tournament.

Another curiosity is an ad for a tournament in Fisksätra in the outskirts of Stockholm, where a large part of the ad is a somewhat convoluted description of how to reach the site. “Walk across the bridge until you see a large sculpture, then turn slightly to the right.”

And the final article is about how to build decks in Doomtrooper, a game I’ve never tried. More about that in another issue, I believe.

That’s it for this time. Maybe next issue won’t take quite as long to review, but don’t get your hopes up.