Report from The North American Premodern Championship in Boston, May 2022
by Olle Råde
“When you go out on the court, you should say this is great, I’m going to hit the tennis ball, I’m going to try to win every point, and I like to make a good shot. If you don’t think and feel that, it’s very difficult to play.”
Björn Borg being congratulated by the king of Sweden after his win at Wimbledon in 1980.
When Björn Borg retired from professional tennis in 1982 he was almost at the peak of his career. With 11 grand slam wins and a victory at Wimbledon two years earlier he had recently written tennis history as the first player in the history of tennis to win five straight Wimbledons. His world ranking had dropped a few spots from #1, but he was still considered one of the game’s greatest. Yet, by late 1982 he announced to his family, coach, and friends that tennis was no longer fun. The 26-year-old Swede wanted to retire.
Five is the magic number
My Magic career might not be as impressive as Borg’s tennis dito, but there are similarities. I wrote a piece of history in the early days of the game. I was the first person to make top 8 at five Pro Tours (Columbus 1996, Worlds 1996, Dallas and Chicago 1997, Rome 1998), and up until I lost against Tommi Hovi in the semi-finals in Rome I had a good shot at becoming the first player to win two Pro Tours.
I was never actually ranked #1, but when I became the first Player of the year on the Pro Tour and won the first Duelist Invitationals in February 1997 at least some people considered me to be one of the best players in the game.
Another fair-haired Swede who had an impressive career, but in the 1990-ies.
Other than our nationality, our fair blonde hair and somewhat similar resumés in our respective sports, something I’ve always respected and recognized from the tennis legend is the motivation, passion and driving force behind his career. I believe that the love for the game is part of what made us both successful and people may still remember me as an early star. The truth is that my Pro career was quite short, and I left the game, like Borg, due to lack of motivation and feeling that playing the game, even at its highest level, didn’t really compel me anymore.
Sure, I’ve returned to the game, and played more Pro Tours. I’ve even cashed a few, but the truth is I don’t think I have ever gotten back the same feeling of pure joy of traveling to the US for Magic, playing and doing well at the tournaments like I did on those magical journeys in 96-97.
Up until … old school.
“So, Lobstercon in May?”
Old school for me has been both a chance to play the format that once got a lot of us into the game from the beginning. But more than that it has connected me with a community ranging from people that played at the same tournaments that I won in 1996 to new friends that I’ve never met, but it turns out I have so much in common with.
With that in mind there was very little doubt in my mind that I wanted to make the journey to Boston. In fact, it was even I who suggested it in mine, Svante Landgraf’s and Martin Lindström’s Messenger chat six months ago.
Me: “So, Lobstercon in May?”
Svante: “Doesn’t sound bad at all”
Martin: “Sounds sickly nice, only hard to combine with paternity leave”
I guess we mostly traveled for the social experience and to play old school, but since Svante will focus on old school in his report I thought I’d make my report about the premodern. A format that I’ve had almost no experience with earlier. The only games I’ve played was at BSK (a gaming convention in Borås, Sweden) a couple of years ago. There I borrowed Martin’s Full English Breakfast deck, since he was busy playing the top 8 of another tournament. I did go 4-1 I believe, only losing to Anton Glans on The Rock, but had a good time and enjoyed the format.
So once again, I just asked Martin to lend me a deck for the trip, and this is what he gave me to sleeve up at the North American Premodern Championships at Lobstercon 2022.
(Yes, I was of course happy for the nostalgia of playing Fyndhorn Elves for the first time since I won the ALICE Pro Tour in 1996.)
Elves – Olle Rade
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Priest of Titania
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Multani’s Acolyte
4 Wirewood Symbiote
1 Nantuko Vigilante
1 Caller of the Claw
2 Deranged Hermit
1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
1 Yavimaya Granger
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
4 Survival of the Fittest
4 Tangle Wire
4 Gaea’s Cradle
4 Wooded Foothills
1 Elvish Champion
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
2 Null Rod
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Uktabi Orangutan
4 Wall of Blossoms
Morning of Lobstercon outside the Dante Alghieri Society of Boston.
Oh, you want the actual matches from the tournament too?
Round One – Dennis “Sped” Spiegel with Mono-Red Burn
Going into the tournament I only really knew one thing about Elves matchups. That Mono-Red Burn was the worst one. So what better way to start off than to play against it, right?
It was also the only deck I had played any games against, since my fellow travel companion Svante Landgraf was running it and we got some games in during the week leading up to the tournament.
From my testing and … well honestly Mike Flores’ episode of All Tings Considered I learned that the only way to handle Mono-Red is to get Anger in your graveyard with Survival of the Fittest, find the basic Mountain and haste out a bunch of guys, ideally elves and a Wellwisher. Since just a single activation of Wellwisher can buy enough time to be able to find lethal damage with hasty creatures like Deranged Hermit or Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and enough mana to activate it.
Game 1 was a nail-biter, as “Sped” led with Jackal Pup, Mogg Fanatic and Shocks for my first couple of elves. He didn’t have Ball Lightning however, so it felt like his clock might be a turn too slow. I slammed a Survival of the Fittest somewhere in the mix and activated it with spare mana after filling the board with creatures. And before he could finish me off with two Fireblasts I managed to get out an elf or two and Wellwisher, which complicated the burn math enough that I could attack for lethal with a Deranged Hermit and tokens.
Game 2 my gracious opponent kept a risky hand with Jackal Pup, Grim Lavamancer, but with just a single fetchland for mana. And as he missed his second land for a few turns I could flood the board with Wall of Blossoms and assorted elves before he could squeeze through enough damage to even make me scared of getting burned out when he eventually drew lands 2 and 3.
In the end I got a bit lucky, but a great match and smiles were all around.
Round Two – Tim Moran with Recur-Survival
Sometimes it’s hard to know the decisions to make when you aren’t sure of what your opponent is playing. This match was a perfect illustration of my lack of knowledge of the format or perhaps it was just the weird order the cards in Tim’s deck came up. In game 1 he started with Duress and/or Cabal Therapy, Wall of Roots and not much else. He discarded my Survival of the Fittest and I couldn’t really get an offense going past his walls. I had something like Multani’s Acolyte, Wirewood Symbiote and a Squee that I ended up casting to block his creatures when he suddenly started beating me down with squirrel tokes from a Deranged Hermit and an Avalanche Riders.
I also drew and played Anger that traded with one of his tokens, but since his offense was slowly grinding down my life total and I had to draw into Survival of the Fittest or a huge threat to stabilize.
We drew back and forth and he kept chipping in a few points a turn until I finally drew a Deranged Hermit, which after some previous 2 for 1 trades was enough to stabilize and even take over the board and attack for lethal with the remaining squirrels a few turns later.
Game 2 was also a weird one. Since I hadn’t really seen much that indicated otherwise I sideboarded against The Rock, and was hoping that I could either draw enough non-elves to mount an offense or answer any Engineered Plague my opponent might cast.
Duress and Cabal Therapy once again took care of my hand which may have contained a Survival of the Fittest. Engineered Plague made its debut performance of the tournament on turn 3, which wasn’t great. Tim was however a bit short on lands and mana creatures, so before he could hit land 4 I had a Genesis, an Anger and a Wirewood Symbiote in play, putting me in a decent spot to steal a game through the Plague.
Until Tim drew … Wall of Roots, which both stopped my offense, and bought him time to hit lands and cast Phyrexian Plaguelord. Before I could find an answer to the Engineered Plague he finished the game in style with Recurring Nightmare, sacrificed a Wall of Roots to flashback Cabal Therapy – targeting himself, discarding Akroma, Angel of Wrath and reanimating it with the Recurring Nightmare.
Game 3 was similar to the second as Tim had Plague on turn 3 again and this time all I had was … elves. It seems like when the Green-Black decks get enough discard to strip you of Survival of the Fittest or answers to Plague and they cast turn three Engineered Plague they are favored. But they kind of have to get all of the above AND enough pressure to keep you from drawing into either. So overall I think the Elves deck is in surprisingly good shape against the archetype.
Once again the dynamic duo of Plague and Plaguelord (with hard cast Squee, Goblin Nabob) kept my creatures off the board and Tim could finish the game with a random assortment of creatures.
Ironically I don’t think it was until after the match when he made a comment about neither of us casting Survival of the Fittest any of the games that I realized what deck he was on.
Oh well …
Round Three Gerrod Heise with Dead Guy Ale
Sadly the match that I remember the least from. But I do remember seeing a Tainted Field for the first time. Somehow I had forgotten this cycle from Scourge.
In Game 1 Gerrod went something like turn 2 Dark Ritual, Duress, Nantuko Shade. But didn’t really interact with the board much, other than a Vindicate (on a Cradle?). And when you don’t interact with elves, the deck does what it usually does – go wide with a million creatures and attack for lethal.
Game 2 I do remember keeping a weird one. My hand had Mountain, Forest, Wirewood Symbiote, 2 Multani’s Acolyte, Naturalize and some non-Survival of the Fittest card. Gerrod went land, pass. And I drew … Anger. Which made for an interesting decision. Well, maybe there wasn’t really a decision, but I sometimes, especially when up a game, like to make the unintuitive play and see where they lead. So I didn’t play a land, and discarded Anger to hand size and passed.
Gerrod had turn 2 Spectral Lynx, and the race was on. I cast Wirewood Symbiote and then it turned out my keep might have been a bit too risky when Garrod cast Vindicate on my only Forest.
The good news was that Gerrod didn’t do much either, other than attack with Lynx and take damage from a Cave of Koilos to cast stuff like Duress and two copies of Gerrard’s Verdict. Ironically his Duress took a Survival of Fittest that I had just drawn, rather than my Naturalize. Just for him to draw and cast Engineered Plague next turn.
Every turn he would attack for two, and take one from the Caves. I would attack back for 1, and the life totals looked quite close, despite that I didn’t cast a single spell after my Symbiote.
When I was at like 4 I finally drew a Gaea’s Cradle that allowed me to Naturalize the Engineered Plague, and next turn cast enough creatures to fuel up a Deranged Hermit that could attack for lethal.
Garrod shrugged and showed me his hand of all Disenchants that he had drawn right after discarding my Survival of the Fittest.
Round Four Jared Lentz with Suicide Black
I win the die roll and cast turn one Llanowar Elf. Jared opens on Swamp, Carnophage. On my turn I develop with a Multani’s Acolyte and a random 1-drop. When Jared plays Swamp, Lotus Petal and attacks I kinda sense what he’s up to and naturally block. His deck doesn’t seem to play great when behind, or without Engineered Plague, so an assortment of elves wear him down quite quickly.
Game 2 however, he’s on the play and opens with Sarcomancy. I cast my turn 1 elf and can’t really chump block when he attacks, so he smiles and shows me Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual and Hatred for the full amount.
Game 3 I keep an interesting hand, that in hindsight was probably a mulligan. On the play I have Fyndhorn Elves, Wooded Foothills, Wellwisher, Anger, Multani’s Acolyte, Nantuko Vigilante and Caller of the Claws (that I’m not even sure should have been in my deck post board).
A risky keep, but I figured it had potential. Wellwisher seems strong in the matchup and Acolyte gives me an extra look for a second land if I play that rather than Wellwisher on turn 2.
I cast Fyndhorn Elves, and Jared has a hand that doesn’t seem to contain Hatred as he goes turn one Swamp, Lotus Petal, Dauthi Slayer and follows it with a second turn Dark Ritual into two more shadow creatures.
I draw a non-land, and decide to go for Wellwisher since it doesn’t look like he’ll explode into Hatred, and Acolyte can’t block Dauthy Slayer regardless. My next draw is Gaea’s Cradle, which is obviously insane, but any land really would have bailed me out and Wellwisher closes the race in a few turns as well as puts me out of range for any Hatred shenanigans.
Round Five Rich Shay with Oath Parfait
A great opponent that I’ve never actually had the chance to play against. But we are both excited both about the format and to finally get a chance to sit on opposite sides of the table rather than comment on each other’s matches in the Vintage Super League that Rich was in a few years back and that I played in a qualifier to join. Not only is Rich Shay a great player, but he also has a brilliant sense of humor that really matches my love for bad puns.
My lack of knowledge of the format again puts me a little at unease when I cast turn 1 Llanowar Elves and he starts with Plains, Land Tax, Zuran Orb. I am old school enough to know that it’s a bad idea to play a second land, but I really have no idea what could be in his deck. I cast a Llanowar Elf, attack and pass.
On his turn Rich exclaims: “Now I have to think”, before playing and sacrificing Archaeological Dig to cast an Oath of Druids.
Smelling trouble, I debated with myself what he might find with Oath, suspecting something like Phantom Nishoba that I’ve seen when I’ve watched others play the format. I cast Survival of the Fittest, and a Multani’s Acolyte and passed with the plan to set up Anger and see how the board evolves. I also play a second land since I don’t think I can race a Nishoba without going wide and exploding with stuff like Priest of Titania and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa.
Rich finds a Triskelion with Oath, and gets Island, Forest, Plains with Land Tax. I activate Survival a few times on his turn to set up Anger, but am not quite sure how to win or even if I can through his counter on Triskelion before he can Oath again. On my upkeep Rich kills my mana elves and I activate Survival some more. I get a Wirewood Symbiote, since it sort of forces him to use his last counter to kill it, and also get a Priest of Titania.
My turn takes probably 10 minutes, and I start with no creatures in play against his Triskelion, but after jumping through a lot of hoops I somehow manage to get enough mana by casting Priest of Titania and enough Quirion Rangers and Wirewood Symbiotes to find lethal with Kamal. I guess I should have taken notes, and I am as surprised as Svante Landgraf, who was watching the match when I actually attacked for lethal, despite Rich killing my first Symbiote with Triskelion.
Game 2 is a bit more straightforward as I meet Rich’s first turn Land Tax with t1 Llanowar, t2 Cradle, Fyndhorn, Naturalize. Rich plays a second land and when I morph a Nantuko Vigilante he knows what’s up and correctly decides not to play either Oath of Druids or another Land Tax into it. I attack for a few turns and Rich finds himself stuck on two lands. On his very last turn he draws a third, but could only cast Scroll Rack, digging for 2 Mox Diamonds to be able to cast the Pyroclasm that he’s been holding all game.
Here’s Rich’s decklist for those curious.
Round Six – Michael Heup with The Rock
Game 1 my curve was a bit off, not sure if he discarded my Survival of the Fittest or not (Green-Black tends to do), but I curved t1 Llanowar Elves, t2 Multani’s Acolyte and Quirion Ranger. On turn three I opted to not pay echo since a Wall of Blossoms halted my offense. Instead I cast Masticore to be able to attack and followed it with turn 4 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa (with the help of Llanowar Elves + Quirion Ranger).
Somehow all Heup had was smaller creatures and no spot removal for either my Masticore or Kamahl. When he chose to double block Masticore with 2 Wall of Blossoms I chose not to activate Kamahl to instead fill my board with more creatures and attacking for more than lethal next turn with a Gaea´s Cradle fuelling Kamahl.
Game 2 was quite interesting. Not only in the way it played out, but also in how me and Svante, who was watching, had a totally different idea both about how I should have played and who he thought was favored the way the board state ended up.
Heup opened on land – go. And since he didn’t seem to have a discard spell I put him on Engineered Plague and simply passed on turn one. He once again played land and passed. I slammed Survival of the Fittest, with Genesis in my hand I figured this would give me a pretty good shot at beating Engineered Plague. (Here Svante would have just passed, fearing Naturalize). Turns out Heup did have Engineered Plague on his third turn, but no answer to Survival of the Fittest. So I discarded Genesis, fetched Squee and cast a Wirewood Symbiote, setting up for some serious Graveyard action, with the plan to eventually search for Nantuko Vigilante to answer the Plague.
Heup mounted an offense on turn 4 in the shape of Blastoderm, but I fetched Yavimaya Granger with Survival of the Fittest, which paired with the Wirewood Symbiote already in play allowed me to block Blastoderm every turn, and keep casting it to further develop my mana.
A turn or two later, with Heup not doing much other than casting a discard spell or two and attacking with a Treetop Village and the Blastoderm he finally found a Pernicious Deed to stop the Survival of the Fittest getting out of hand. But not before I had gotten Anger in my graveyard along with Squee and the Genesis that was already threatening value post Deed. I also did get in a final activation to find the Nantuko Vigilante.
Svante’s take on the game here was “You had one or two cards in hand and he blew up your entire board with Deed and had Engineered Plague in play. How could you possibly win?”.
My take is that Heup was also low on cards after casting discard spells and creatures like Blastoderm who didn’t really do much, and I had something like five or six lands in play and could start returning creatures, whereas he didn’t really have anything to stop Genesis.
A few turns later I had both blown up his Engineered Plague with the Vigilante and developed my board with creatures to attack for lethal with haste creatures in a game that both Svante and people watching the game looked unwinnable. Like I mentioned earlier it feels hard for The Rock or any Green-Black deck to have ALL the answers, especially when they even need to answer your graveyard. At one point I felt like Heup might have won if he had something like Tormod’s Crypt after blowing up the Pernicious Deed, but other than that it felt like smooth sailing all the way.
Super nice to play against someone that is apparently well known and respected in the premodern community. Sure, I’ve seen the name Cloudgoat Ranger in my social media feed, but I had not watched his stream, nor talked to Michael Heup previously.
Couldn’t have met a nicer guy in a match that must have been frustrating for him the way it played out and being such a decider for a potential top 8 finish.
Round Seven – Aaron Dicks with Mono-Red Burn
Bad news! For the second time in the tournament I was matched up against Elves arch nemesis Mono-Red Burn.
I won the die roll and cast turn 1 Llanowar Elves and Aaron thought for the longest time before deciding between Grim Lavamancer and to kill my Elf on turn one. It might seem like an easy play to get Lavamancer down to be able to activate it as soon as possible, but from the Elf perspective it’s way worse when they kill your mana elf on the first turn. As you can’t go wide in the same way and out tempo Lavamancer, or have fast mana to both cast Survival of the Fittest and activate it on turn 2.
The good news was that I did indeed have Survival, but the bad news was that Aaron killed most of my creatures, while attacking with a Jackal Pup. I did enjoy playing against Urza’s Bauble for the first time in decades though, so it wasn’t completely feel bad.
I did get to set up Anger, but it felt like between the hunger of 7 pm Magic and a room loud as a football crowd I had a hard time to play optimally and when I finally went for Wellwisher I probably did it a turn too early, and cast it before casting a Wirewood Symbiote, where the opposite would have been better, to force a burn spell on the Symbiote rather on the Wellwisher.
From 15 life Aaron aimed 2 Lightning Bolts at me, I could only answer with Tangle Wire, as I earlier felt like I didn’t have the mana and time to fetch Squee, I also ran out of creatures.
Aaron had 4 Mountain in play, a Jackal Pup and a Grim Lavamancer. And for some reason he decided to float 4 red in response to the Tangle Wire trigger, and sacrifice all his lands to Fireblast me twice, dropping me to 1. I guess he was also feeling the drain of a long day of Magic as this made Tangle Wire tap both his creatures, and putting him in a situation with no cards in hand, having to draw a land next turn to have lethal with Grim Lavamancer.
He drew … Wooded Foothills, which bailed him right out of jail, since I couldn’t attack for lethal on my turn even if I drew a creature since my mana was a bit crippled by Tangle Wire too.
In Game 2 I mulliganed to 5, and despite getting early on board with Elves, even trading with a Grim Lavamancer by attacking it was all uphill from there. I also chose to cast my last creature, Priest of Titania, just to be on board so Aaron would have to aim burn at my creatures rather than me. Which was instantly punished when my next draw was Survival of the Fittest.
Aaron had done his homework though, and cast a Sulphuric Vortex, to stop a future Wellwisher from getting me back in the game.
Life totals were kind of equal, but as I had no cards in hand it just took me too long to develop once I drew Survival of the Fittest and a creature to start getting Wall of Blossoms to stabilize or a Masticore to deal with his creatures and attack.
Oh well, if you gotta lose, it makes sense for it to be against one of the few bad matchups. Also Aaron was a great opponent, and kinda hinted that he didn’t really want to take an intentional draw, since it would be nice to get to beat me playing for the top 8.
I guess I got to fulfill that wish at least!
Sadly not even my Wall of Blossoms tech could get me out of this one.
In the end 5-2 was good for 10th place, but looking back I certainly could have drawn into the top 8 in the last round. But even though it would have been nice to play more matches I don’t blame myself too much. After all, who would have wanted a European to win the North American Premodern Championships?
Like Björn Borg, I’ve always played for the love of the game, and I was excited to have fun matches and great opponents all day, and in my book, that’s a big win regardless of final record.
After the tournament I goldfished the deck for an hour or so at breakfast to see just how much I got the explosive hands wrong, and came to a scenario that I found so interesting that I thought I should include it in the report. A sort of “Magic – the puzzling” if you may.
On turn three you have the following board and your opponent is on 20. The quest is to deal lethal damage. But there are also lines that deal way more than that. See what you can come up with before you scroll down to the answer!
Hey – no cheating. Give it five minutes and try to find lethal damage. I will say that it took me several tries, and I wasn’t even sure that the deck even could win on turn 3.
Lobstercon ended in style – oyster lunch with organizer and community pillar Dave Firth Bard. Thanks for an amazing event!
Thoughts on the format
After proofreading, Svante asked me to include some general thoughts on the format in the report. He thought it might be interesting to get an outside look from someone who hasn’t played the format before.
I guess my first take is that the metagame was extremely diverse. I played against six different decks in seven rounds, and with Mono-Red Burn being the most popular deck in the room it made sense to face it twice. I’m not sure if my recollection of the games portray it that well, but it also felt like there was a lot of play to the games. Even though I won most of my games I rarely ran over my opponent and it felt like there was plenty of interaction and strategic decisions that ended up deciding, rather than just lopsided matchups.
I know that the format gets a lot of appreciation, but I really couldn’t agree more. It feels like a fairly balanced format with plenty of good decks to choose from to do well. Even if you don’t want to spend six thousand bucks on building the elf deck, that many say is the “best deck” in the format. In the end I think only four people played it at Lobstercon.
I had an interesting discussion with Rich Shay about how Survival of the Fittest is the most powerful card in the format. But did it dominate the top 8? No? And does it need a ban? Not really. It just goes in so many decks and sort of does different things in each of them. And between discard, artifact removal and fast combo decks there just seems to be enough factors that keeps the survival decks in check. And I don’t think a banning should be warranted because of the power level of a single card, but rather if it goes in a deck that dominates the format, and/or is incredibly boring to play against.
Looking forward I certainly want to play the format again. If nothing else because I felt like I learned a lot about the deck I played. No better testing than tournaments, right? I guess I can just hope that the growth of the format in the US rubs off to Sweden and Europe so we can have a 100+ players Swedish National Premodern Championship eventually.
Solution to the elf puzzle
Since I borrowed the elf deck from N00bcon shark winner, Martin “Fluffy” Lindström, I sent him the picture for an answer. He was so intrigued, or bored from being on paternal leave that he came up with a series of lines. The first and easiest is to just survival for two copies of Deranged Hermit, cast one, then cast the second with Gaea’s Cradle and attack for 26. But there is actually a much more elegant line that deals way more than that.
Martin was kind enough not only to teach me, but also included a spreadsheet.
I guess that’s all for now. I wish I had more time to write about all the nice people I met on the trip, but I’d like to especially thank Seth Roncoroni for being a great host for me and Svante in New York the week leading up to the tournament. And of course to Bryan Manolakos for throwing in a mini Sped weekend on the Saturday me and Svante arrived. Oh, and the whole Sisters of the Flame crew in NYC who I got to meet at their local meet-up.
Also it was nice to draft with and play with Jon Finkel, Lan D Ho, Mark Lepine and others at Mano’s, not to mention grabbing lunch with Chris Pikula in East Village, and even convincing him to come cube at the Sisters of the Flame meet-up. Oh, and drafting with some of Team Sped and the NYC-crew after the premodern finished.
Honestly, the social aspect of this trip is worth a report of its own, and I hope that Svante will include more of it in his report.
So until next time me and Svante cross the pond to sling some cards.
Take care of yourselves, and each other!
Nothing like a good NEIPA after a weekend of Magic!