I hope we didn’t fuck up.
Last Friday, I played some Swedish 93/94 at the Danish Old School 3.5 event in Copenhagen, a side event at the Grand Prix taking place during the weekend. This meant no beers, the location being the event hall (and even in Denmark no beers on site, what is up with that? They need to get their shit together. I’ve had beers at GP Prague and it was glorious), and also, it turned out, straight 5 rounds of Swiss as the hall was closing and everybody was tired and hungry at 9 pm, instead of the planned top 4. Fine by me, as that meant braving the torrential thunderstorm for heaps of meat and Warpigs beers at Kødbyen. We had a satisfying 35 players starting to battle.
I played the following list, wanting to try out the recently unrestricted Time Vault and recently having acquired my third. I hadn’t been very happy with transformational sideboards in the past and wanted to try out the straight combo version this time. I pushed this even further by eschewing reactive things like Balance altogether.
Round 1, I face Nicolai Rasmussen, a gentleman telling me he was starting out with the format and didn’t own any power. However, he starts with turn 1 Sol Ring, turn 2 Energy Flux, which poses huge problems for me: I have to find the Chaos Orb to handle it, before being able to go off at all. And I do, as Nicolai is stuck on 1 land as he hadn’t considered his Sol Ring being turned off by his own flux, so he doesn’t do much. But then I miss my orb flip! I really have to fix this, probably by learning the Magrann school of flipping, or just going back to doing those 50 flips every night. Then I have to endure a lot more time until I can find and resolve a Recall, and this time hitting the flip. I then go off in short order, Nicolai just recently having found his second or third land. In game 2, Nicolai is once again stuck on mana. When he gets to 3, he plays a Serendib which I Mana Drain and then easily go off. I think I have a Library active this whole game.
Obviously playing against an unpowered deck makes things much easier for me, as they might have to tap out earlier which might allow me to go off, but it turns out Nicolai was playing the full 4 maindeck fluxes and also 3 maindeck Blood Moons! This is certainly no good matchup then, especially considering all the red blasts and counterspells. He didn’t play Flying Men, however, and thus had problems presenting enough of a clock. That does seem quite necessary here, and I recommend him trying out those in the place of Psionic Blasts if he wants to keep the maindeck hate package.
Round 2, I face Kristoffer Eriksen on The Deck. No breathing room here. I wanted to face some slower midrange decks, believing this like every combo deck being weak to the tier 1 decks like The Deck, UR, Atog, and UWR. But here we are. He wins the die roll and starts with Underground Sea, Sapphire. I have a Sylvan, but Kristoffer manages to Counterspell that, due to having drawn the right Mox. I play a naked Time Vault which is met by Disenchant. I believe Kristoffer taps out for a book, which makes me resolve Timetwister with Library out. I then Mind Twist his whole hand away, leaving him with maybe one card. Still, he has the book, and tries to make a comeback, but I Mana Short him and go off.
Game 2, I start with an Ancestral in his upkeep, but fail to find anything besides lands to play, having to discard two cards. Again, I think Kristoffer gets out a book, with mana up this time, and shortly afterwards a Disrupting Scepter too. But I have found some more cards, playing lands steadily, and resolve a Hurkyl’s Recall, followed by a Wheel, and that’s about it. Kristoffer was tapping out to draw cards with the book quite aggressively, allowing me to resolve more spells than I maybe should have. Having access to the Mana Shorts and Hurkyl’s Recalls make a huge difference, as there are so few threatening instants in the format.
Alright, so I have gotten quite lucky, using multiple pieces of power to beat maindeck Energy Flux and The Deck. When I sit down across from Phillip Kellerstrøm in round 3, and he accidentally reveals a Psionic Blast and a Black Vise while shuffling, I assume my luck is running out. Atog is by far the worst matchup; I’ve said it’s in the 20 % range, quoting this as one of the reasons the unrestriction of Time Vault should be totally safe. (More about this later.) I start out on the Library again and Philip doesn’t have a Vise. He does, however, have an Ankh, but I do have the Chaos Orb. But then I miss the flip again! This is not working. I feel embarrassed. However, as sometimes (or far too often, as some would say) happens with the Atog deck, he doesn’t present much of a clock, and I can take a couple of Ankh hits to develop my mana. Philip kills off my Library in some way. He then Mind Twists me for 4, which I Fork, leaving us both topdecking. I start playing out some Time Vaults, skipping turns, getting one Shattered, but then somehow going off, my notes being a bit sketchy. At one point, either in game 1 or game 2, Philip passes with Library untapped and 7 cards in hand. I skip the turn with my Time Vault, meaning he misses the draw. Had he played more conservatively with his Shatters, saving them for me Twiddling a Vault, he might have won, but probably not. Game 2, I think Philip never finds any blue mana and doesn’t do much aggressive at all, playing out a bunch of artifacts, but me starting with land, mox, mox, Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone, meaning both Ankh and Vise don’t do much. Then I slowly go off with a single Howling Mine, the Time Walk and a Recall, or something. I think I have to let him have a turn with the Howling, once, but then Hurkyl all his artifact lock pieces and kill him.
Now I’m starting to feel invincible, having just totally crushed my very worst matchup. Round 4, I face the great Jesper Ejsing, whom I lost to in the swiss at Danish Old School 3. We had spoken briefly before and I knew he was at the same deck, his UWx robots deck with Counterspells and white removal. Game 1, he draws way too many Swords to Plowshares and Abysses and I start drawing extra cards with a Sylvan Library, it seems like. He has a Library but then I do this:
Game 2, I play Ancestral and a mox or something, him playing Wheel but tapping out in the process, undoing some of the Ancestral. But then I unload with more artifact mana and a Wheel of my own, both of us having drawn something like 15-18 extra cards on the second turn. I love this format. He doesn’t draw very well, killing some of my baiting Time Vaults with Divine Offering, me Counterspelling a Su-Chi that does present a clock, and eventually finding a Mana Short when he’s down to 2 mana (and thus at most 1 piece of interaction, barring REB + other blast), subsequently going off.
In the last round, which turns out to be the finals, I face Marc Modin on Troll Disco; it turns out it’s the same list I recommend in my Winter Derby article, minus some small adjustments to the Danish meta (the second City in a Bottle in the main, and something else). I know (and do point out) that it’s really more Marc Lanigra’s list, but it’s good to know I have readers. The games are long and complicated, but unfortunately, my notes are lacking and my memory bad. In game 1, I Mind Twist Marc for his whole hand, but having not much action on my own and a Mana Vault ticking away at my life. I never get anything going and succumb to first one, then two Mishra’s Factories. In game 2, I combo off quite easily, once again having Mind Twisted, this time backed up by I think a Library. In game 3, time is running somewhat short, forcing me to bring in both the Fireball and the Shivan, which I hate. I then draw both, not having enough cards to go off, as I’m missing black mana for my Demonic in hand, and the Shivan being BEBd as the ultimate insult. So 4-1 it is, good for second place.
4-1 in matches, 9-2 in duels, facing only decent, good or great decks, and the same for the players. Too little data to say anything for certain, surely, but there’s still more testing than just theorizing. And this deck feels really, really good. Better than I had expected. Possibly even much more so. I believe I have found something close to the perfect list, down to not boarding any creatues, not playing white, not playing any wincons (see my last Twiddlevault post for details about this). The only cards I dislike are Fork, which was there to speed up the kill but never was necessary since everybody conceded once I went off hard enough, and still doesn’t fill a vital role, and damages the mana base a bit, and possibly the Fellwar Stone. The number of lands are probably correct but I could lose the stone. These two slots could be filled by something like the third Sylvan, the third Counterspell, or maybe a Bazaar. The last board slots are the Glooms and the Shivan; maybe also the third REB should I cut a Volcanic or two from the main. I could also see trimming the third City of Brass, adding another Tropical Island and Underground Sea to reduce pain and damage against Bottle. But there’s not much I want in the board. I even considered another Island against Blood Moon just because I have the space, since it’s very hard to take out many cards while keeping the combo.
So was the unrestriction a mistake? I must admit the multiple Time Vaults were better than expected. Shaving the UU(U) requirement of going off improves the speed and the resilience a lot, making Counterspell somewhat better. The deck is fast, consistent, threatening against everything, having a good mana base unlike most decks in the format and playing all the best cards. The Hurkyls are good answers to the hate out of Atog, and against The Deck, you have a lot of time to sculpt a good hand. I did draw well above average, not taking a single mulligan until the finals and playing lots and lots of Libraries, but the deck is very good at abusing all these restricted cards. We might finally have a tier 1 combo deck, but that was somewhat my goal when advocating the unrestricting. I still think it’s in the lower part of tier 1, if it’s even there, Atog and The Deck and likely also UWR and UR being slightly stronger, both in general and in the current metagame, and Twiddlevault is also a bit hard to play. And it’s awesome, finally a combo deck that is good and somewhat similar to Legacy’s ANT or Modern’s UR Storm. I certainly love it.
So no mistake. And there’s still the possibility that the deck is quite a bit weaker than it felt like. I have been wrong before.