The time of the orc has come

Hello! Two topics today: the process for choosing a deck for N00bCon, and the tournaments at the N00bCon weekend. I won’t, however, spend very much time on the ambience, the hangs, the beers and the misadventures on the way. There’s too much magic to be had now. Listen to some podcasts if you want to know more about what generally happened there. My story wouldn’t be that interesting anyway.

  1. The evolution of burn

This started some time in early fall or late summer last year. At N00bCoM2, I had played Will Magrann’s UWRb midrange deck, and while I concluded after the tournament that it wasn’t my style, being too reactive and basically just too midrange, there was one takeaway: that a few copies of Counterspell were playable with only 11 blue sources. The reason is mainly that Counterspell is a fine card to wait for a while. It’s good on turn 2, sure, but it’s also good on turn 9. And this opens up some opportunities. I think Counterspell is one of the best unrestricted cards, basically better than Disenchant, so getting to try it in some other aggressive deck than only UR was an attractive thought. Namely, the RUG aggro shell I first played in Ivory Cup 4. It has 11 blue natively. I could also add Braingeyser when being at it, and when adding 2 Counterspell, Mana Drain and Braingeyser, it makes sense to add a mana source as well, which could be an Island making the blue count even better. Much later I think I’m cutting back down to 26, since the stock UR lists have always been fine with that, but it’s definitely close. Anyway, that’s how I arrived at the RUG deck from the fall. My second innovation was realizing I didn’t like Energy Flux very much in these lists. Even against The Deck, while it is amazing aganst their best draws, in the midgame I’d rather draw something threatening. Also, I was scared of losing to things like Moat or Circle of Protection: Red. Enter Copper Tablet, along with the fourth Psionic Blast in the sideboard, allowing me to board into a more focused burn plan when needed. That led to this list:

I then tried out the black splash too, with which I won BSK:

This list I didn’t love, despite going 8-0(16-2). Mostly I thought the black wasn’t strong enough, which in retrospect probably was incorrect. Now, my issue is more that Kird Ape is much stronger than Scryb Sprites and 4 City of Brass hurts a lot.

Starting to prepare for N00bCon, I knew I wanted to be on bolt aggro. I was comfortable with it, making me feel at home, and I didn’t think I had an particularly bad matchups, being slightly favored even against The Deck. The question was picking a color combination. I tend to view the bolt aggro decks as two different archetypes: one is the Atog shell that starts with 4 Black Vise, the other one doesn’t play that. And I don’t like Atog currently since there are too many low-curve aggro decks, particularly Chain Lightning bolt decks. Then, of the second branch, there are three decks which are in my mind basically variations of the same shell. There’s the RUG shell above, where I like Counterspells more than going up to 16 creatures. There’s a similar URW shell, probably without the black splash even then but slightly more likely since it doesn’t affect the creature base (RUG has to downgrade the Kird Apes in that case). And there’s the classic URb burn shell. The UR basis has the merit of not losing to Blood Moon, instead getting to play Blood Moon itself. It also gets the black splash while only playing the desired 2 City of Brass, making it actually more powerful than most other options spell-wise. The trade-off is having a weaker creature suite. Flying Men is no Kird Ape, Savannah Lions or Argothian Pixies. Not getting to run more than 8 creatures also bothered me, as well as every creature dying to City in a Bottle. I’m fine with 8 guys dying to that card in the main deck, but I’d prefer to be able to cut a large part of that postboard, and even with access to a few sb Su-Chis, I can’t really cut enough with that maindeck. I then went looking for additional options.

There are a few, but all of them suck: Goblins of the Flarg, Goblin Balloon Brigade, Electric Eel and Ironclaw Orcs. I knew I wanted a 1- or 2-drop, and I rule out double-colored 2-drops like Lord of Atlantis because not getting to play them off of a mox is a huge disadvantage. Out of these, I decided on trying out some Orcs. This also allowed me to increase the creature count, something I’ve been enjoying in RUG as any starting hand really wants a threat. Orcs are bad, but they are not so bad an opponent doesn’t have to bolt them, and that’s really all you can ask for. In testing, they seemed fine, though I was slightly worried about Su-Chi postboard out of the URW or RUG decks as an answer to Blood Moon. Speaking of which, I also think Blood Moon is one of those cards, like Control Magic, that’s much stronger preboard, before the opponent gets to board in specific answers. As Ironclaw Orcs also makes Moon better and merits more answers to Factory, I decided on two maindeck Moons.

Another card I got to think about after testing with Seth Roncoroni is Atog. Apparently, one or two Atogs could work with only 4 moxes as artifacts, just the threat of it being a 3/4 being on parity with Factories and potentially having additional utility in the late game. Cutting an Island for another Mox is far from free in this already greedy list, but I wanted to try it out and it seemed to have potential. In the end, I arrived at this list for the Siab00rg event the day before N00bCon. If I placed poorly, I could switch to a more traditional UR list or even RUG or URW for the day after. Åland agreed to run the same list so we could gather more data.

  1. The tournaments

The Siab00rg event, a collaboration between Stockholm in a Bottle (that is, only Elias) and Legion Urborg (Christian Reinhart), was set to be played in Skansen Kronan, an old fort on top of a hill. I walked there just as the rain gradually stopped, and the view over the city was actually quite good even though I failed to take a photo of it. This is a recurring trend, this will not be a photo-heavy post. Anyway, it was fantastic to see everybody again, many good friends I hadn’t met for three years. I chat, have a beer, then the tournament starts.

Round 1, I play Gajol, who’s always on mono black now after he sold his blue power and a bunch of other stuff. I win g1 with some power, lose g2 to a 4-for-1 bottle but then retaliate with a g3 turn-1 Mind Twist for 4.

Round 2, I play Thomas Nilsen, one of the best brewers out there. This time he was on a WUGb Ifh-Biff Efreet/Spirit Link deck. Spirit Link on my dib could definitely hurt, but I Blood Moon him very hard and it’s not really a game.

Round 3, I play against Steffen Sveegaard, who I’ve chatted with a bunch but never met irl. As he’s usually playing with lax reprint rules he doesn’t have many Swedish-legal cards, and so is on mono green. That’s in theory a bad matchup for UR, with their mazes and bottles punishing the creature suit, but green has a lot of problems with power. Here, I draw insane power hands twice, including a Falling Star g2 which is also a power card here, so I win quite easily.

Round 4, I face Henk Willemse, who I’ve also never played, He’s playing URx Robots, and I win two very close races, unleashing about 10 damage straight from hand in the end.

And then in round 5 I face MG on table 1. It’s getting dark outside and inside light is a bit lacking close to the walls and the windows, so we light a candle. He’s on Project M as usual. In game 1, he steals my Atog with a Control Magic, which is a huge issue since Atog is a lot better in his deck than it ever could be in mine. I get Library going but have to do some chump blocking, trading some cards for his artifacts to not randomly die. Then after a long and complicated combat step, I am able to go in for the kill with a bunch of Serendibs. This game took a really long time, though. Game 2, MG starts with Library, but I have a line with Time Walk, Timetwister and Blood Moon which makes me feel like I have things somewhat in control anyway. This all crumbles when he REBs my Time Walk, though, and I lose to the card advantage. This leaves us with about 5 minutes for game 3, and we don’t makt it. It’s a draw.

This was fine for me since I would be in even with a loss now. In the last round, I face the great Jason Schwartz, on the black Dreams Robots list he’s been playing recently. He’s 5-0 at this point so is also in with a loss, which is fantastic. I’m really happy for him to make it onto the big stage. I then proceed to beat him 2-0, as my deck is too fast for Dreams to be very effective and his list is weak to Blood Moon, but I don’t actually remember any details.

The top 8 is anticlimactic. I get a rematch against Henk and his robots burn deck. The only game I remember is the first one, where I keep a hand with Library as my only mana source, and he has the strip mine. Painful but probably still correct. I then win the second but lost the third.

The Robots matchup doesn’t seem great for me. I didn’t think it was, but probably a bit worse than expected. I also didn’t love the Atogs and went back to a more traditional UR list for n00bcon the day before. Åland agreed on this, though he also just liked the deck in general much less than me and opted for Fantasy Zoo (URW) for the next day instead. I played this:

I’ve only been playing since N00bcon 8 (2016). For round 1, I’m paired against a Swedish guy I don’t recognize, Robin Lundberg. But I do catch his nickname on his deck box, Hagelpump, which I do know from invite lists. And it turns out he has played every n00bcon but one! It’s not often I feel like the new kid but this was one such occasion. Robin is so old school I had to teach him the current mulligan rule. No, he did not do scry mulligan, he did straight-up Paris. He was on UR without the black splash and with Su-Chis. While powerful in the bolt mirror, it’s also slower and without black less powerful, so I was able to beat him mostly on power, including a Library.

Round 2 I play against Evert Visser, a player I hadn’t spoken much to before but whose semifinals match I watched yesterday. He was on a very weird four-color midrange deck with counterspells, white removal, Lions, Su-Chi, Serra, Copy Artifact and bolts. So not really a robots list as I had assumed, but a bit of everything. What he doesn’t have, though, is basic lands, and I moon him really hard.

Round 3 I meed Morgan who’s on a real tear, having lost to me in the finals of BSK, won Arvika and lost in the finals of the tournament the day before. We had been talking about his deck a bit, so I assumed he was still on UWb robots. I lose g1 to a quick Su-Chi, I think. He then proceeds to completely out-level me while sideboarding. I had forgotten he had mentioned Serendibs as a plan, so while he added Dibs and cut Abyss and Bottle, I cut some of my own Dibs in anticipation of those cards. He also had CoP: Red when I cut blue threats. It was just awful and he very deservingly won.

Round 4, feeling a bit down having lost so early, I face my good friend Will Magrann. Very sad it had to end like this for one of us, him having climbed back from a first-round loss. At least I mostly knew his list, the same UWrb midrange LDB build with swords instead of chains that he’s played a bunch and which I played at last year’s n00bcoM 2. Game 1, he plays turn-1 Ancestral, but I have library, and with him on a somewhat reactive hand and never getting rid of the library, I just win quite easily, eventually getting my own Ancestral among other things. Game 2, he plays Ancestral in my upkeep again. But my hand is land, jet, sapphire, wheel, bolt and something else, and I topdeck Demonic. So I go land mox mox bolt tutor lotus wheel, and while he gets out a t2 dib, I mind twist him, then play psiblast chain chain, then wait a turn or two before bolting him out. Just never close. Power is good, sometimes. One of us had to win.

Round 5, I play against Tibia, who’s usually on Fantasy Zoo. Unfortunately, as I write this at Schiphol on my way to Lobstercon, I don’t have my notes with me, so don’t even have life totals to go on, and I don’t remember what happened besides me winning 2-0. Probably Blood Moon was involved, and/or Library. That was the story of the day.

Then in round 6, I play another good friend, Bonnie, who I drove down with the day before. So he’s on some kind of variation on UWb robots/sage/angel midrange somewhere. Unfortunately, I don’t remember anything about it except that I won.

Okay, this is it. I’ve managed to climb back, and not until now does it feel good again, after that third-round loss to Morgan. And it’s against Pez Unholy, who I had met for the first time that day even though I think we played once or twice online before. He’s a very good player at his first n00bcon, but I still need to win. Looking forward to some hard games. I assumed he was on the 5-color lion-based dibless burn deck he and Seth usually plays, and Blood Moon really shines here. However, he was instead on a UWGb aggro list with Lions, Pixies, Dibs, Erhnams and Serras, backed up by Counterspell, white removal and Armageddon. Even weaker to Blood Moon, of course, and game 1, even though he has a Pearl, I land both my Moons after shattering his Sapphire, and he only manages to remove one of them while my Orcs beat him down, him discarding something like seven turns in a row. And game 2, I have Library in the starting hand and he doesn’t kill it. That’s that. Pez wrote his own report which I recommend reading.

That’s done. My third n00bcon top 8. I really need to win out now, but after that early loss, I am honestly just glad I made it this far.

Again, though, my luck runs out. I play against Richard Veenman, who is so drunk he can’t shuffle his cards but still somehow plays almost perfectly, and he’s on the same URb burn robots deck Henk beat me with yesterday. My plan is somewhat better now, but not by enough, and after possibly misboarding by cutting too many threats game 2, I lose a very tight game 3 where he just has it all. Sucks so much since I really wanted to get my chance to face The Deck in the semis, played by Joel Larsson no less, but what can you do. Not complain about my draws for the day, that’s for sure.

Olle and I leave almost right away, taking a cab back to his plays and watch the stream instead, both of us being quite exhausted. Would have liked to watch more, I guess, like the Ante tournament I missed, but it was such a long day and the weekend wasn’t over yet. But mostly, I was just spent. Too bad the stream cut out during some tense moments, but that’s usually something you have to prepare for.

Some people complain about Joel winning, I’ve gathered. Sure, he’s a spike who’s barely played the format before, having borrowed the cards for The Deck and running through the competition. But he was playing with MG’s actual power cards, MG has been inviting him for years, he decided on a whim to take the train down late the day before which shows some devotion, and he’s passionate about another unsanctioned format in Premodern. And he was probably the best player in the room. But mostly, it’s a great story. Everyone will remember that in ten years, and I have to put some value on that.

Right after the tournament, and the day before, and in the coming weeks (as of writing, it’s been three), the pain of losing for me was never too great. Nothing like last time, being one game away from that shark. No, this was mostly fine. Not fantastic, but two t8s of the weekend is certainly okay, as is three n00bcon t8s in five attempts, where I didn’t know much about the format at all the first time. There’s always next year. And WinC0n.

Now, time for lobsters. Stay tuned.

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