Has it really been two years?
My very first tournament report on this blog covered Ivory Cup 2, and a couple of weeks ago, I played Ivory Cup 4 (having missed last year’s tournament due to vacation-based scheduling conflicts). Apparently, yes. Two years. Time flies, huh.
Ivory Cup is Gordon Andersson’s annual large summer tournament in Stockholm. This year, it was preceded by a small gathering in his apartment, where 16 brave souls set out to play one of the most degenerate formats since late-1998 Type 2. I’m talking about Singleton, but not the balanced Beasts singleton, not even the mox-filled Hajjaj Highlander that we played at the Magic Island Tour one week earlier. No, Gordon’s format had a banned list consisting solely of Mind Twist, Library of Alexandria, City in a Bottle and Merchant Scroll. Merchant Scroll? Yes, to spice it up further, Homelands was allowed, but otherwise the rules were standard Swedish, so no Fallen Empires.
So what is so broken? In normal 93/94, the restricted cards are somewhat kept in check by Counterspell, Disenchant, sideboard cards (many which are also maindeckable) such as Red Elemental Blast, Blood Moon, Underworld Dreams, and Energy Flux, and general aggression like Black Vise, Ankh of Mishra, and 1-drop-heavy aggressive decks. Nothing of that exists in great amounts in this format. You can’t really be aggressive or disruptive. The options are midrange, slow control, or combo, and one of those strategies is superior to the other. I ran this list:
It’s definitely not optimal. Mana Flare and Candelabra are too cute, Candelabra being too bad in itself. I should probably have played Power Sink and Mana Short. 61 cards isn’t great, Bob. The mana base has a few too many mountains. Splashing Untamed Wilds was ambitious to say the least. That said, the deck has a plan, and that plan is playing all the combos at the same time, letting them help each other. There’s a decent amount of overlap here, and most of all, I’m playing almost only cards I’d be happy to play in a normal 93/94 deck.
Let’s turn to the matches. 16 players, 5 rounds of Swiss with no cutoff. Not 40-minute rounds best of 1, here, but normal best of 3, 55 or 60 minutes, but no sideboard. Still was going to be pretty late, as we started somewhere after 7, due to some people being slightly delayed. Including me, and Timo and Stebbo I had dragged along, but at least we weren’t the last ones to arrive.
Round 1, I play against Knaz. He plays some blue lands, so I have to be wary of any potential counterspell, but no threat at all. I take 8 damage from my Mana Vault and probably a City of Brass before he finally taps out for something, when I Fireball + Fork him for lethal, having drawn lots and lots of mana. I really love Fork, and getting to play it to good result here is fantastic. Game 2, he doesn’t play any blue lands, I believe, and I do the same as in game 1. No fast wins, but no real opposition either. Knaz was on some kind of UWR(x?) midrange build.
Round 2, I face Kalle. I lose game 1 to nobody doing anything, but then Kalle Fireballing me out, me having a hand of things that don’t really correspond to a win. Game 2, I think I Channel him out quite early, and then in game 3, broken things happen:
Round 3, I play against Gordon, who’s also on combo. But, as it turns out, with far too few red mana in his deck. We had chatted a bit about this, as we both share a general love of the combo archetype. As he had to make everything work for the tournaments, he hadn’t really had time to build a deck, so I sent him my list on my way up on the train. So he had something close, but with a few spice cards changed up, of course. I lose the first game to him Fireballing me to 7 with no cards in hand but Sylvan in play, himself being at 8 after sylvaning, me choosing to untap my Time Vault by skipping the turn, and him of course having the Disintegrate on top. I should just have tried to draw a mana source so I could have Disintegrated him for his 8. Then I mulligan to 3 in game 2, keeping a hand of Island, Mountain, Howling Mine. I figured, if I’m winning this, I need him to brick quite hard, and having a Howling means I could potentially draw into something. He mulligans once. And then he does nothing, and nothing, and nothing, because, as it turns out, he was missing at least red mana, and probably something else as well. I eventually combo him out. And in game 3, he gets Power Monolith online, but I Mana Drain his x-spell and throw it right back at him. One interesting play was when I had four mana in play, Gordon having Icy on his turn, and I know he wants to resolve something blue. I Recall for REB, leaving a blue mana up instead of a red. Since I had Twiddle in hand! That was the only way to make sure I could REB through the Icy. 3 for 1, but it turned out to be worth it. Twiddle leads to such weird lines.
Round 4, I face Mitja. Game 1, my turn 1 is Lotus, Sylvan, Fastbond, three more lands, Timetwister. He got to play one turn, but then I just went off. Game 2, I mulligan twice. Mitja plays a Serendib and a Sylvan Library, starting to draw some cards. I have a Disintegrate, but it’s going to be very tight. He also has a Llanowar Elves, so when I’m at 4 life, I have to go for it, Disintegrating him for 7 when he’s at 8. He has the Memory Lapse (remember, Homelands was allowed, and I should probably have played Lapse myself), though, but I can use my land drop for the turn for the Maze. He then Swords his own Serendib, continuing to beat me down with the Elf, before I can start Mazing that. I then develop my mana a bit before I can Disintegrate his last life too, him being very confused for a second, having forgotten I had it back because of the Memory Lapse.
Okay, 4-0, and I’m the only one. So if I win round 5, I’m the champion, and if I lose, I still have a shot. I get paired against Paddan. He’s on a black deck, the first one I’ve seen. I lose game 1, due to misplaying something with a Mirror, switching when I’m at 12 and he’s on 23, facing down a Hypnotic, a Juzam and a Su-Chi, I believe, him only attacking with the Specter. That was really good against me, I can say. I proceed never find the necessary mana + x-spell to kill him before his guys do me in. Then, in game 2, I once again mulligan to 3. Keeping a hand of Badlands, Sylvan, REB. I could have kept another land, but I figured I had to draw green mana to get into this, and the REB could save me more than a random Mountain as Paddan played his share of blue power. Then it turns out he has misread one card in his hand, keeping a hand with nothing but 3 Swamps for mana. He’s starting to discard while I still don’t have any green, but I am drawing into cards. When we’re about evenly matched, his mana starts working, but so does mine at that point, and my deck is just stronger so I do something bad to him. Okay. All in now, one final game. I think he’s a bit stuck on mana, so when he finally draws his 4th land for a Juzam, I land an Abyss; he kills it and play another guy, but then I Recall the Abyss and play it again. It buys me a whole lot of time and I think I eventually Channel him out. He just doesn’t play enough disruption (and that’s hard to do in this format).
So I win, being the only one on 5-0; and it turns out Gordon is the only one on 4-1. Let’s say combo is good in this format. I took extra turns with Twiddle + Time Vault, I played Ancestral multiple times, I Channeled people, I Forked my Demonic Tutor and a bunch of Fireballs. The strategy is just broken. I’m happy I played it; the format was a joke, but a fun one, and I feel only me and Gordon really got it. Good times. :)
I do get into bed some time after 2 in the morning. But, staying at a hotel, the breakfast is open untill 11, and the tournament isn’t scheduled to start until 2 pm, so all is well. Loading up on breakfast so I won’t have to get any real lunch, heading out towards the metro, I decide to rock a 90s outfit for the day:
I am also playing an old classic, one that I had never tried in a tournament before, namely Arabian Aggro. The format for the day is standard Swedish rules with a gentleman’s twist, in that Library of Alexandria and Mind Twist are banned. I had been thinking about that deck for a while, aiming to make it sleeker, more aggressive, by replacing Erhnam Djinn and some mana with Scryb Sprites and maybe a Control Magic. It felt perfect for this tournament since I wasn’t sure I wanted to be playing the banned cards anyway. I settled on this list:
Completely untested, I head to Gordon’s by-now familiar event site in Gubbängen, running into Yann on the train. As I meet up with lots of other great and familiar characters outside of the tournament hall, I’m slightly dejected that we only end up being 29 players, but positively surprised by the very best beer list I’ve ever seen at a tournament. Just take a look at this:
Wonderful stuff. I get an Apocalyptic Thunder Juice, my current favorite NEIPA, from Amundsen brewery, lamenting them having had to stop using their patented tin-can style opening device, and lounge for a while.
Then it’s time to play, and lo and behold, I face André round 1 again. This time, the odds are more on my side. I forgot to mention that his UR version included maindeck Goblin Balloon Brigades last time which was actually kind of relevant here, but Scryb Sprites and Argothian Pixies are more efficient beaters. He has Counterspells which are bad, but also Blood Moon which just knocks me out, so the matchup is close. Mostly, it’s about who draws better, less lands in the endgame for example, and twice in a row, this time that was me. I think he lands a Moon in the postboard game but I have my Emerald and can play some green beaters. When sideboarding, my first instinct is to cut Chain Lightnings, but on closer thoughts, I want to keep them to have more game against Moon. Instead, I shave dibs and Psionic Blasts as they aren’t so good when racing.
Round 2, I have to play against Brother Stebbo, one of the best players in the room, having flewn here from the UK and being last year’s champion. I guess he’s on some kind of Atog list, and game 1, he bottles me twice. Maybe the first bottle would have been enough tempo loss, because even as I Crumble that and play out a couple of Serendibs, I might just have lost the race to his two Atogs at that point, though some chump blocking could have made it close. Game 2, he Bottles me again, followed by a Balance, but he does not have any red mana. I topdeck enough green beaters to take it home at a very comfortable life total. Then in game 3, I bring in my Energy Fluxes. I had opted not to do so in game 2, mostly because when he’s on the draw, he’s likely to cut all his Ankhs and likely shave a Vise too, but they do actually handle Bottle a bit as well. It turns out that he’s on a weird Twiddlevault hybrid, running some Time Vaults and some Twiddles although no Howling Mines or anything like that, but I never saw this until way later.
Now Stebbo starts with land, mox, two Vises, so I’m at 14 right away. I do take two more damage from those, and then two single points of damage (presumably from a City of Brass on my side), but never any more than that, forcing him to burn my creatures, a Flux doing some work. With Stebbo at 2 and me at 10, but no creatures in play on either side except for some Factories, he lands a Blood Moon. I don’t have any relevant Moxes, but I feel the odds should be quite heavily in my favor here. But I brick, and brick, and brick, Stebbo not drawing anything relevant either, except for possibly burn he doesn’t have to cast yet. Then I get Psionic Blast, followed by Black Lotus. Do I go for it now? I win if he doesn’t have REB, but if I should draw another blue card, I could cast both off of the Lotus mana should I wait. No way that’s correct, though. I go for it, but he has the blast! So back to waiting. Then I draw my Mox Emerald, and cast a Scryb Sprite. Stebbo doesn’t have any burn (or maybe an uncastable Chain Lightning, who knows) and dies to the flier in two turns. Huh.
Round 3, it’s time to face Jimme Hansen, who I lost to in the finals of the Scandinavian Championships way back in 2017 (before there was a Shark on the line in that tournament). Game 1, I mulligan, and keep a 1-lander with an Ancestral. However, I brick on lands on the Ancestral, making me miss a land drop for a turn. Meanwhile, Jimmie has a Swords to Plowshares for first my Pixies, then a Dib. He’s on UW fliers, and lands a Dib, then a Serra, which I can’t really race. Game 2 and 3, however, Jimme draws City of Brass-heavy starts and I go to town with my small creatures, always being on the offensive. It’s never really close. After the match, he tells me he forgot to pack a bunch of cards for his deck as he’s traveling a lot for work, thus missing among others the necessary dual lands and some other stuff, unfortunately. Game 2, he leads on an Ivory Tower, but that doesn’t do anything without card draw when he has to play out all his cards.
After a dinner break, it’s time for round 4. I play my new acquaintance Timo Ikonen, having traveled here from Finland, whom I had dinner with (along with Stebbo) before the tournament yesterday. Game 1, I play some quick creatures, Timo plays a Prodigal Sorcerer and some red lands, and I run him over very quickly. I supposed that means Living Plane, but don’t know much else about what to expect. Then in game 2, my start is alright, but Timo has a bunch of removal for what I do, including a City in a Bottle, and then a Shivan Dragon that quickly does me in from 15 life, backed up by a Time Walk. Game 3, I board better, I think, not having gone for all my Blue Blasts before. Maybe it was the beer setting in. Now, again, I’m able to mount an offensive Timo just couldn’t stop, and he was never close to doing any kind of Living Plane things. He probably boarded that part out for more control cards, I assume. He did have a Bottle again, I think, but I don’t draw the Arabian part of my deck. It’s good to have more green threats for sure.
There, I’m 4-0 and a lock for top 8, but there’s still round 5 to play out, for the right to play first in the t8 if nothing else. I think we were three people with that record, and I end up facing Jonas Stattin, who’s on some kind of Juzam brew. I turned out his deck was splashing blue, white, and red, for Wheel, power, and white removal. Game 1, I draw two or three City of Brass, and Jonas lands an Underworld Dreams. I then proceed to miss a Chaos Orb flip on his Juzam, but I think I’d have lost that game anyway. Possibly. Game 2 is a long and grindy affair, in which I finally get in the last damage with a Psionic Blast along with his Juzam, although he had Spirit Linked my quick Serendib straight from the start. Then Spirit Link again did a lot of work in game 3, this time enough for him to take the match, when he started to Link his own Juzam and attacked. I was never really in the race at that point. My deck might have a certain weakness to that card, I came to realize.
I was slightly bummed to find out I had the worst record of the 4-1s, ending up in 5th place and thus being on the draw in many of the upcoming potential t8 matches. But when I get the quarterfinals pairing of Knaz, I’m less disappointed. He’s on an interesting Underworld Dreams build, with Black Vise, Ankh of Mishra, Copper Tablet and burn, including Psionic Blast. Being on the play, he starts with Ritual, Vise, Vise, but that’s about the extent of his damage. I empty my hand easily, he can’t deal with my small creatures, and that’s it. Game 2, he once again plays a Vise, and then a Copper Tablet. I’m pretty sure Tablet is just worse than a blank at this point, and he can never win the race against me. In order to win, he probably needs to go t1 ritual dreams, t2 draw-7, or just two dreams into a draw-7. Without those kinds of starts, even a Balance or City in a Bottle can save him from me. I would think the matchup is 93 % in my favor. These numbers are scientifically determined.
The semifinals, however, would be much less of a bye, I’d think. I get a rematch vs Stattin, the only one I’ve lost to. However, preboard the matchup is really good for me, although it didn’t felt like that in the Swiss: his deck is full of Hypnotic Specters, Sinkholes, and Underworld Dreams, which don’t line up very well against Kird Ape, Argothian Pixies, and Chain Lightning. I win quite easily. Then I found out a better board plan for game 2: I took out all my Serendibs, making his Spirit Links much less effective; still very nice as an answer to a Juzam I might Control Magic, but not crippling like on a t2 Dib. Mazes and Control Magics are also really good in general against his Ritual-Juzam-Sengir package. Nothing of this matters as Jonas mulligans to 4 and never really does anything, although he does have to Spirit Link a Pixies as I don’t have anything bigger in my deck.
So, on to the finals. Gordon had asked me whether I would make the finals when he pondered who to put on camera for the semis (the tournament wasn’t streamed but there was a feature match table for later Youtube content), and I replied of course I would be there since I always lose in the finals. Well, it’s time to change that. I play against Kalle who had just beaten Åland playing Fantasy Zoo in the other semis. Kalle was on something close to what he usually plays: Su-Chi, Icy, Serra, Erhnam, white removal, counterspells. Importantly, I had seen Circle of Protection: Red against somebody else earlier, so I knew I wanted to cut Kird Ape along with Chain Lightnings for the post-board games. I very much respect Kalle as a player, I think he’s one of the better ones in the format, even though I know he doesn’t agree with that himself (at least not from when he was on ATC). Last time we played outside of singleton, he beat me in Arvika when I was on Twiddlevault. Time for revenge. We both get a free beer ticket from Gordon, and I choose an Old Foghorn barley wine to sip on during the finals. Game on.
In game 1 I get a good offensive going, with a Pixies Kalle really coudln’t answer, but then I proceeded to randomly Chain Lightning him without noticing he had a City and a Mox Ruby untapped. Oops. I manage to stay on the offensive, though, winning with I believe my maindeck Control Magic. I know it was involved, but it might have been more of a formality, removing Kalle’s last blocker when my apes and pixies came crashing through. Game 2, he ties it up, racing me with a couple of large beaters backed up by an Icy. I hadn’t brought in Energy Flux, since it isn’t great against Su-Chi and I was more worried about other big guys and removal, but being reminded of Icy, I do bring in two Fluxes for the last game of the day.
I do get some early damage in with a Factory that goes unopposed three times. Then we both start playing creatures, Kalle has a Serra that can start attacking, me having some smaller stuff, as well as a Maze at this point, I think. The Icy makes an appearance, but I do draw a Flux, restricting Kalle’s mana. Then I draw my second one, and the Icy goes away. At one point, either in this game or an earlier one, Kalle has to Counterspell a Scryb Sprite, which to me felt like a win already. Kalle Mana Drains my Timetwister I think, that I probably could have sequenced better, then drops an Erhnam and a Su-Chi. I had sent at least one bolt to his face earlier, as well as one or two to a Factory, and when he taps his City for the second fattie, he goes quite low, to 6 or something. This gives me a plan, at least. My Maze keeps one attacker at bay, and I do have something like 3 Scryb Sprites in play at one point. Kalle had Control Magiced one of them, but they had already done some damage. I do have two Scryb Sprites and a Serendib, along with a Maze, facing down a Serra, an Erhnam, my Controled Scryb Sprite and maybe something else. Kalle is on 4, I’m on I think 14. I can attack Kalle to 3 with the forestwalking Scryb Sprite at this point, and then maybe try to chump block over two turns so he eventually has to give the Dib forestwalk; or I can just try to survive and attack three times with the Sprite. It’s going to be close. Kalle has two or three cards in hand, but they can’t be too good. Then I draw Regrowth. I think a lot of what to do. If he has BEB, which is quite possible, I could Regrowth my Ancestral to try to find something. But if he doesn’t, I should just get the Lightning Bolt and finish him off. Casting it in his upkeep, of course, so he would have to tap some mana on his turn for the potential Counterspell; he had 4ish mana untapped on my turn, but still tapped down a bit, probably from the Flux upkeep for a Su-Chi. Well, whatever. Fuck it. I Regrow the Bolt, and Kalle looks at it, then scoops up his cards. (Apologies for everybody involved if this is just flat-out wrong. It’s been a couple of weeks, my memory is spotty, and soon Gordon will release the video of this match. But I wanted to get my impression out there.)
I had won! Finally managed to win something larger than a 10-person event. That felt really good.
After the finals finished, uncharacteristically early, only about 11 pm, Gordon wanted to play a champion’s competition, as all the winners of the first four Ivory Cups were in attendance and he wanted to crown a champion’s champion of sorts. To test out a new idea he had, he distributed five Vintage cards to be Rochester drafted by us, twice, and put into our decks. That way, we did get 2-3 new and powerful cards to incorporate into our existing 93/94 decks. The idea is great but our hearts weren’t really in it, at least not mine and Kalle’s. And even though I got Dack Fayden and Umezawa’s Jitte, I lost to Max’s Troll Disco with Tinker, while Stebbo beats Kalle with Twiddlevault/Atog sporting Yawgmoth’s Will and Time Spiral. Jesus. But let me reiterate, the idea is fantastic, and it could be used for other events in other ways, later on.
I was thoroughly impressed by my deck. I’m pretty sure it’s Tier 1, being slightly advantaged against The Deck, about even against Eyetog, slightly ahead vs Dibatog and probably even against UR. The Deck might be a bit better against the field, but it’s up there. The curve and the mana felt really smooth, Scryb Sprites are the real deal, and I was only really scared of Blood Moon and City in a Bottle. I will probably return to this deck at some point in the future. But now, I’ll continue my summer break. No more events until September at the earliest, as it looks right now. That doesn’t mean I won’t write anything, though. I have things in the pipeline, don’t worry.