Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made of This

Underworld Dreams Combo is an archetype I haven’t played much myself, but one I believe to be a bit underplayed and underdeveloped. It’s not without its flaws, though. One is a weakness to opposing Lightning Bolts and Chain Lightnings, as you give your opponent cards through Howling Mines and want to strand a bunch of those cards long enough so your Winds of Change can combo with Underworld Dreams to finish the opponent off. Against a player with 8 bolts, that can just mean a swift loss for you. How can we solve this?

One idea I got was to add Dark Heart of the Wood to the deck. It makes perfect sense in theory: green also adds Sylvan Library and Fastbond, which combo with Howling Mine and Winds of Change, as well as Avoid Fate to protect your heavy permanent-based game plan. I arrived at this list:

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Yes, this is a sideboard Mind Twist. It just doesn’t work well enough with your main plan, I think, but I might be wrong here.

Then I sleeved it up and did some battle. Only online against one deck, but out of 5 or 6 games, I won exactly 1, and was never close to winning any other. This deck sucks. And now I’m going to tell you why.

First, there’s the small issue that you want all your lands to be forests producing black mana. Yet you can only run so many Bayous. This leads into the second point: using Dark Rituals to solve the black mana deficiency and power out the Underworld Dreams: that turns your three-card combo (Dreams, Howling, Winds of Change) into a four-card one, and that’s very much harder to assemble.

And the combo is already not the smoothest. It seems like Howlings and Winds should help you find what you need, and that is partly true, but when you finally get and resolve an Underworld Dreams, you have to start comboing for real, surviving several turns while doing so. The deck can be great when you get turn 1 Dreams or draw a bunch of restricted cards, but that’s it. This is very different from the Power Monolith builds where you actually win when you get the combo, and one reason I chose to include a single copy of Lich in there. (No, not really. I included the Lich because it’s sweet. Who am I kidding?) Dreams Combo is a whole other story. It’s about chip damage, which makes me lean towards playing Lightning Bolts. Still I’m not a believer in Black Vise, but we’ll see. I have several versions of this archetype on my bucket list so I’ll make sure to revisit it in the future.

(In fact, I’m having a hard time to decide whether the great divide between different kinds of combo decks is between having and not having Howling Mines or caring or not caring about chip damage. Howling builds have to worry about giving the opponent cards while setting up, but maybe that’s not so different from the draw-7s. I used to think this was a useful differentiation, but now I’m leaning towards chip damage being more important for playstyle and deck building. The problem, then, is that it’s almost only Dreams combo which cards about chip damage, with the possible exception of some Mishra’s Factory-using Candleflare lists. Well, we’ll see, once I get to the Combo School of Magic theory article series. One of these days. :) )

So what lessens can we learn here?

First: when your mana base is actively fighting against you, you might be doing something wrong. It can still be worth it; you have to play a lot of forests for Dark Heart of the Wood in Mirrorball, or a lot of red mana in any Fork deck, or all blue-producing lands and still not having enough blue mana in Twiddlevault or Power Monolith, or just being generally miserable when trying to cram factories or the wrong kind of basics (like plains in Power Monolith or island in Mirrorball). But that is exactly it: the price has to be worth it.

Second: you want to minimize the number of dead or weak cards in your deck. An Underworld Dreams you can’t cast is a dead card. In a similar vein, Winds of Change with 2 or 3 cards in hand is just not a powerful card.

Third: combo decks work on ignoring what the opponent does, by and large. When you win gradually, and depend on the opponent having cards in hand most of the time, you very much can’t ignore that.

And that is in addition to the usual problems of combo decks, like dying to Blood Moon, Energy Flux, Nevinyrral’s Disk, and Underworld Dreams. Some of those can be mitigated in different ways, of course, but their presence has to be considered. And if you die to all of them, you have to do something really powerful in order for it to be worth it. Handling Energy Flux by going for a 3rd turn powerball kill is certainly a plan, for example.

All of these problems can be handled in different ways. But this list is not the one to do it with.

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Nine Notes on N00bCon

On The Deck

I’m strongly convinced this is the best 75 in the format (if playing in a less blue-heavy metagame than N00bCon, feel free to switch places of the Abyss and the maindeck REB):

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Still, that is not what I sleeved up for N00bCon. Why? I did put this exact deck together on the Monday before the tournament. I drew some starting hands. Those beta Serras sure are beautiful; but it just didn’t feel right. I got hands with too little colored mana, hands with no power cards. Normal cards just didn’t cut it for me anymore. I needed the kick of maximum power. Mana vaults. Sylvans. Channel. Also, did I really need to win? I wanted to, sure, but I didn’t need to. That’s not really why we play, not in the long run. I wanted to win with combo.

The only real reason for me to go with The Deck was the (at the time quite high) possibility that Jayemdae Tome would get restricted shortly afterwards and this was my last time to play with the four books. But that didn’t weigh heavily enough.

 

On what I played

This is what I went into battle with:

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It builds heavily on my Arvika deck  modified by my thoughts after that tournament, some other spice I dreamed up, and general thoughts. Unfortunately, it’s bad. Like, really bad. I went 4-3, but I really don’t know how. The problem is connected to something fundamental of the format: the cost of a dead card. After N00bCon, I tried out the deck I wish I would have played, with more maindeck Hurkyl’s Recall for the Hurkyl/Mana Vault/Fireball/Fork backdoor combo. And things just don’t work. Sometimes Hurkyl works, when you have wheel or twister, or a couple of mana vaults and a fireball and a fork. But a lot of the time, you don’t have those things, and you die to a random Sengir or something. It sucks. You can’t play bad cards. Play good cards and win. Mirrorball is okay, but this list isn’t. And very likely, Mirrorball is just a worse Power Monolith. Mirrorball is good at abusing the power cards, as I will write about more when I get to fleshing out my theories about the Combo School of Magic, but it’s quite bad at converting that power into actual wins, which is a strong suite of the Power Monolith combo. A better version of my Winter Derby list, running 2-3 mana vaults to abuse the restricted list better and accelerate the combo, is likely the best one. I will try that one in the future, for sure. Mirrorball will be put on hold for the time being (also connected, of course, to my bucket list being at least 7 decks deep at this point). There’s also the possibility of using Lich to convert the cards you draw into a game-winning combo, but that’s very much a topic of its own.

 

On the matches

These are my matches. Here, though, we start falling into the real problems of writing this report a bit over a month afterwards. I’m old and my memory is bad. Huge chunks of it is just gone. So this is a summary, much more than a play-by-play report.

Round 1: Charli Hahn, U artifact midrange, 2-0. This deck is missing from the decklist page, not even labelled as “missing”. I’m still quite sure that it was a blue midrange artifact deck with mana vaults, copy artifacts, and robots, without red but possibly with some other splash. I won the first game, and then this was my turn 1 in the second game:

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The question is, of course, how many cards to draw. I chose 12, but I’m far from sure that’s correct. In particular, it’s very good go be able to play some of those cards you draw. I did draw into a bunch of moxes and won easily, but it’s a hard choice to make for sure.

Round 2: Martin Jordö, Mirrorball, 0-2. Yes, the actuall Mirrorball mirror. He drew better than me both games, I think outdrawing me with Library the first game, and me for some reason leaving in the Triskelion the second one.

Round 3: John Grudzina, The Deck, 0-2. I got beaten down by a Mishra’s Factory and didn’t get enough time to get things going. The second game, I had active Library and had to discard twice because I couldn’t find lands and didn’t want to tap out to play stuff with a counterspell in hand. Sure, I can’t complain after having Library, but still.

Round 4: Marcus Strömberg, probably WG berserk, very easy 2-0. The hardest thing was finding a Fireball or something to finish with after trading lives on an early point with a Sylvan out and using Triskelion to clear some attackers postboard. Eventually I believe I found some way to recur the Trike from the graveyard from the win. This matchup is insanely easy.

Round 5: Erik Sundberg, hurkyl/copy/vise/bolt, 2-0. Erik is a good guy I usually face while playing Vintage at BSK or something. This time, my deck does the far more broken things. I’m quite good at emptying my hand from a Vise, and mirrors are excellent here.

Round 6: Daniel Friedman, UWx millstone copy, 2-0. Danny Friedman was a new acquaintance but easily one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever talked to. His deck was some kind of The Deck list but with lots of copy artifacts, millstones, and sweet cards like a time vault. I think I just did dirty Sylvan things to him.

Round 7: Michel Hollenberg, slow UR, 1-2. One game I lost to Blood Moon, the other one to disruption and burn, I think. The game I won, I did get to win with Shivan, although the Triskelion I also had would have sadly been enough.

 

On winning streaks

So I top 8’d every tournament I played in the 17-18 season: N00bCon 9, Ivory Cup 2, Scandinavian Championships, BSK, Lucia Legends, Winter Derby. No win, but that’s okay. I’m very happy with that altogether, especially since I haven’t played The Deck since Scandinavian Championships. But now, that streak is at end. Why? Partly, I think it’s because of boring old variance. In Ivory Cup, for instance, I finished 4-3, losing in the quarterfinals after sneaking into the top 8 at 4-2. That’s the same score as my N00bCon finish this year. It all depends on where you get your losses. I got lucky catching so many good breaks this season, but at the same time, I got unlucky in that I didn’t win any of those tournaments. Now that streak is over and I can relax a bit more. :)

 

On Recall

I guess this could be a topic in and of itself, and it’s a bit anachronistic as I add it now, but whatever, time has passed, I’m not publishing anything, I need another point and I need to get it out there. Listen to the episode of ATC where I discuss it if you want to hear more about my thoughts on the unrestriction of Recall, but the short version is that it makes me happy, that it doesn’t affect The Deck in any significant way, and that TwiddleVault might be better now. Also possibly Fork Recursion. However, since doing that interview I’m starting to lean towards a restriction of City in a Bottle making the format better. Currently that is my recommendation for next year’s changes, and nothing else.

 

On logistics

This was my third N00bCon so I am by no means a veteran of the format. I also have no nostalgic connections to Rotary pub. But even with those disclaimers, I don’t really think this works anymore. The tournament is just too cramped, the physical atmosphere unpleasant, the tables are bad. I’d much rather move it somewhere else and make it open, even though that might make it 250 or 300 people. The beer is good, sure, but I can live with slightly worse ones if it meant getting to play at a better location. The whole thing about getting awarded a N00bCon slot is also tiresome. It blurs the line between competitiveness in some circles and just community things in others. I wish everybody who wanted to play at N00bCon would be able to do so, and then we could maybe host some kind of smaller Invitational-like tournament some other time. I know this won’t happen, and I’ve since heard Magnus is about to scale down N00bCon a bit for next year, which of course is another way of handling part of the problem. It’s his tournament and he does whatever he pleases, and I always trust him to make a wonderful event anyway. I hope I’ll be able to attend next year as well, somehow, but otherwise I’ll just hang around, play other tournaments and chill.

 

On acquisitions

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I’m quite happy about this pile, although I might have to get rid of that Fork again now that I’m unlikely to play this deck very much in the future. Oh, who am I kidding? Never sell.

 

On Olle Råde

At times, Olle doesn’t care much for the format. He doesn’t brew, he certainly doesn’t playtest. What he does is play UR incredibly well. As we were sitting at a café sipping coffee some hours before the tournament was supposed to start, him borrowing a Badlands from me like so many times before, he reflected on having unexpectedly many sideboard slots open. Then we noticed he had forgotten to add the Blood Moons, beyond the single maindeck copy. Whatever, he said. Let’s just roll with it. And then he comes within striking distance to take it all down. The man is just a master. Still.

 

On counting to nine

It’s hard. Fuck it.

(I used to have a part about Magnus or Gordon calling me a sober pro player on Flippin Orbs, but I forgot which episode before saving the link. I might be sober compared to Gordon, true, but I like myself a good beer more than most. And I’ve never been a pro. :) But let’s elaborate on this some other time.)

 

Novicecon. A Day Trip With Two Formats

This is a guest post by Chicago player Matt Moss, a report on a very interesting format and a great trip. Enjoy! /Svante (who will mostly stay quiet throughout, but is inserting a comment or two along the way)

I. Introduction

It is late Saturday afternoon at Eternal Central HQ, located in the industrial heart of West Chicago, and the room has gone eerily quiet to my ears after hours of cheering and shouting. The few remaining souls are turning out the lights and headed to Chinatown for dinner and somehow I’ve ended up wearing a Lord of the Pit jacket that’s not my own. The stale smell of Dude + Jagermeister lingers in my nostrils thanks to the sole source of ventilation today being the cracked-open front windows, and they let in more sound from the passing Green Line than they do fresh air. The lights go out, and the sun is set on another successful Lords event, this one the second installment of the Novicecon. Here, 24 mages met to trade, talk shop, talk shit, raise money for charity, and engage in arcane battle using the Old School ways, albeit this time with a twist…

II. Novicecon 2018: The Rules

The rules for Novicecon II drew from both the EC Old School 93/94 and Old School 95 (adding Ice Age and Homelands) formats. Wizards were charged with building a deck for each format and the day’s program began with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. The extra spice, however, was the unified card pool rule, the result of which (to quote EC’s description) meant that “if you shuffle your two decks and sideboards together, it could be presented as a legal 150+ card deck. The totality of your two decks must follow the appropriate Banned and Restricted List, and must not include more than four of any other than basic lands.”

III. Lead-up: 5 Days, 6 Decks

My previous two experiences playing 95 came at the Madison Offensives, first playing a UW Control list featuring Jester’s Cap and Copy Artifact in 2017, then the mighty Reanimator 95 list in 2018. Both events were a blast to play, but didn’t offer the brewing challenge that the unified card pool would for Novicecon. Now I had to consider how best to deploy my most powerful resources. Which deck would get the Chaos Orb? How would I divide my Moxen? My decision-making process came down to a lot of trial and error, second guessing and last minute scrambling for Ice Age cards.

The week leading up to Novicecon began with an “Earth Day” meet-up of the Lords at a Dungeons & Dragons-themed bar, DMen Tap, where players were encouraged to use green-based decks. I brought a quite sub-optimized Green-Black Arboria Millstone list that I didn’t take too seriously, though I was curious about the brewing potential because my other deck, UW Artifacts, had done well the previous weekend at the Knights TAPlar’s Kumite! event in Jackson, Michigan. My early thinking, considering the unified card pool for Novicecon, was that I could possibly go GB in 95 and keep my UW together for 93/94. I quickly scuttled that idea after discovering that my grindy GB deck wasn’t my cup o’ tea. It was time to brew something new.

The next meet-up was a Wednesday gathering of Lords, again at DMen Tap, where I tried a new pair decks with a unified card pool. I had a Mono Blue build for 93/94, featuring Flying Men, Zephyr Falcon, Serendib and Azure Drakes, plus Unstable Mutations, countermagic and broken blue cards. That deck played pretty damn well! My 95 list, however, was a rather uninspired Naya pile that had lots of removal and a handful of Spiders plus a set of Erhnams to provide some spike value. That list also ran effectively, especially with Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and Lotus all on-hand to power out T1 Ernies. I wasn’t too inspired in the 95 realm, so it was back to the drawing board for a more creative list. I was at mid-week and no clue what to do with Saturday fast approaching.

After a bit of online chat with Svante about the 95 format, particularly the broken combo of Necropotence + Demonic Consultation, I decided to dive into the Land of Combo, with the aforementioned pair of cards being the engine for a Power Monolith list. The end goal of this deck was quite simple: draw a shitload of cards and assemble the Big Fireball. The “getting there” part was tricky for me, mostly because I don’t play much combo and hadn’t played with Necro, outside of a handful of pickup Vintage games, since the original Ice Age days. Svante helped tweak my first draft, and I was ready to test the Grixis-colored list. Because the deck required most of of my Power and restricted cards, and because I also had to consider the unified card pool constraint, I decided to go with White Weenie on the 93/94 side. This was a decision borne mostly out of necessity more than creativity, but I hadn’t played a WW list for a long time, so it would freshen up the 93/94 experience for me. The WW list was mostly garden variety, only I excluded the Crusades, thinking that other players may be on WW. My proclivity for midrange also led me to toss in a pair of Juggernaut as an easy 4-drop (given eight brown lands), and also as a nice hedge against Gloom. Going with WW meant that I only had two real decisions to make regarding the unified card pool: where to put Mox Pearl, and how to divide the Strip Mines. All five cards ended up in WW because a) I opted for on-color Moxen only in the 95 deck and, b) I wanted the Strips to give WW an outsized advantage in 93/94.

95 Combo (not pictured, 2x Barbed Sextant)
Not pictured: 2 Barbed Sextant (easily the hardest card to track down. Editor’s note)

9394 White Weenie

Now, with my fifth and sixth decks of the week in hand, I opted for a final evening of testing, this time at abode of Lord Petray, aka the MTG Meatball. I insisted on guest DJ’ing that and arrived with a slab of classic rock vinyl to spin. With Donald Fagan’s ‘The Nightly’ on-deck, the 95 Combo build began unleashing terror, consistently by turn 4, even as this unseasoned pilot fumbled through the first couple games’ worth of Necro and DC triggers (mostly getting the exile piles correct). I was convinced that the deck had a high ceiling, though it would be the Blast Wars in SB games that would be its primary challenge. The deck was even able to out-Necro the standard BR Necro list, as it simply ignored the opponent, assembled the combo and dealt the killing blow. I was ready for Novicecon.

IV. Saturday Breakfast + My Chaos Orb Debacle

The Saturday of Novicecon began with a meeting of several Lords at Handlebar in Wicker Park for breakfast. I opted for the breakfast burrito, a solid base for the day’s imbibing, and washed it down with the Bloody Hammer, their take on a Bloody Mary, feat. a fried pickle spear. The breakfast confab soon turned against me, notably because of my absent Chaos Orb Marksman patch. I’d failed the challenge once, at the prior year’s Novicecon, and hadn’t tried it since. Why not? I guess I didn’t enjoy being the center of attention and having a number of dudesweats yelling at me while trying to concentrate. Perhaps it was the Bloody Hammer influencing my decision making, but I agreed to try for the patch first thing when we arrived at EC HQ. After the meal, Lord Agra drove his breakfasting cohort to the secured location where Novicecon would unfold.

After settling in at EC HQ, I opted to get my Chaos Orb trial out of the way ASAP, and selected as my poison four shots of Jagermeister. My requirement would thus be to hit 50 Chaos Orb flips without missing more than five (4 shots + 1 grace) I figured that if I couldn’t complete the challenge with four shots on the line, I didn’t deserve the patch anyhow. A handful of spectators, perhaps eight or nine, gathered around and I was off… and doing well! I’d worked on a new two-handed technique that seemed to be paying off despite my own nervous energy. I’d missed a couple flips but rolled into the mid-20s and was right on schedule… and that’s when the wheels fell off! I flamed out after a bad sequence around no. 30 and ended at a lousy 31/50 flips, a wretch performance. The yips had gotten me, again, and now it was time to begin Novicecon with a solid buzz from the Bloody Hammer the four Jager and a can of Hamm’s (to console with after my ignominious Orb-flipping exhibition.

V. Novicecon Rounds

The agenda was to proceed with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. Pairings would be based on cumulative record. I chatted with Mike Butzen, a gentleman Thrull who treks in from the hinterlands of Wisconsin for most Lords events, about selling my white-bordered, German Serendib Efreet (nicknamed “Edgar”), and we closed on that transaction. I also engaged with Lord Sanders for a trade; he was in the market for an Oubliette (one of my personal favorite artwork in MTG) of which I had a pair and only needed to keep one for my 93/94 cube. After perusing Sanders’ wares, we settled on a straightaway swap of my Oubliette for his Unlimited Fastbond. Trading closed, and the matches were on!

Novicecon pickups
The Novicecon pickups

Round One vs. M. Butzen (0-1)

It didn’t take long for Dear Edgar to reappear, this time on the opposite side of the battlefield. Butzen was on a UW weenies build that featured Savannah Lions, Dibs and topped out with some Serra Angels. My WW sprinted to a quick 1-0 lead thanks to nice curving, and G2 turned into a meat grinder with too many of my weenies falling prey to Butzen’s boarded Psychic Purges. G3 was an Strip Magic masterpiece featuring seven of our eight Strips being deployed. Unfortunately, I was on the short side of the Strip battle and also fell on the short side of the match, 1-2. It was fine vengeance for Butzen, who had 5-1’d the previous Lords event with his sole defeat at the hands of my GW Shops.

Round Two vs. D. Dunaway (1-1)

If I remember correctly, Danny made the trip in with Butzen. We’d met in passing at a previous event or two, but had never matched up. For the 93/94 portion of this Novicecon, he’d selected a Monoblack list, giving us a classic pairing of Black & White, good & evil. G1 was another well-curved boat race for the WWs, but G2 was an equally vicious beating for the Bad Guys. Dunaway slammed a T2 Gloom onto the battlefield and I had no answer within reach. A Juzam, then a second Juzam quickly brought the game to a close. I saw a hot start in G3 with Plains-Mox-Order of Leitbur, then Dunaway again deployed a fast Gloom, this time on the back of Demonic Tutor. I again had no answer for Gloom, but, fortunately for me, that Order was able to go the entire distance as Dunaway drew no answers of his own. WW scraped by and collected the match win and I was much less gloomy.

9394 - Order of Leitbur vs Juzam Djinn

Round Three vs. M. Sharp (2-1)

I was a few brewskis deeper and into round three and things began to get a bit hazy as I sat across from Matt Sharp. Sharp, hailing from suburban Chicago, is a new-coming Old Schooler that I hadn’t met prior to this Novicecon. The Lords are fortunate to draw on such a dense nexus of players here in the midwest and new faces are always a pleasure to see. Sharp had at a well-tuned Erhnamgeddon list at the ready, but the White Weenies overwhelmed the match. Timely answers for Sharp’s bigger threats (Ernie got sent farming) and my low mana curve powered me to a 2-0 victory and a 2-1 finish in the 93/94 section of Novicecon. I felt pretty good about the first three rounds as we broke for lunch. I also took time to make a deal with Ron Longhi, another suburbanite and Lords regular, for a CE Shivan Dragon.

Round Four vs. S. Maldonado (3-1)

Lord Maldo of Milwaukee is one my dear MTG pals and, as the lunch break ran out, we sat chatting about the brews we’d stewed up for 95 action. I was confident that I’d assembled a potent list and he mentioned thinking about Juzam Djinn for his Monoblack Necro list. I pulled a copy of the Green Guy from my binder and slid it over as the R4 pairings were announced… guess who was coming to dinner! Maldo and I would be pitted in Round 4 and we laughed about having divulged our deck tech. G1 was a glorious debut for my Necro Power Monolith list as I nailed Maldo with the Big Fireball by T4. G2 started with dueling Necropotence before Maldo cast Demonic Consultation. He named Strip Mine. I figured Maldo was gunning to take me off double blue mana to keep Power Artifact at bay as he began exiling cards for DC. He kept flipping… and flipping… and flipping and, then, it was all over and his entire library lay in ruin. He had Consulted for a SECOND Strip Mine while having one in-hand and, uh, zero other copies in his library! The unified card pool had just gifted me the W as Maldo forgot the number of Strips in his deck. Maldo was vanquished 2-0 and we shared a laugh at his misfortune and he took it like a champ. Live like a Lord, Die Like a Lord.

Round Five vs. Jaco (3-2)

I sat with Jaco for the fourth round figuring he would be on Reanimator and, sure enough, he was on Reanimator. For those curious, this harnesses Bazaar of Baghdad and eight Reanimator effects (Animated Dead + Dance of the Dead) to power out big threats quickly. It can also maintain a steady rotation of Ashen Ghouls and Nether Shadows from the graveyard for constant harassment. Finally, having access to four Demonic Consultation makes Bazaar (the deck’s engine, think Dredge here) a consistent early play. Now, as strong as that build is for 95, I thought I could outrace it before Jaco got a big dude or a horde of Ghouls & Shadows online. My hopes were soon dashed in G1 as Animate Dead + Deep Spawn hit the board T1 and the rout was on. I went to my sideboard, loaded up on Blasts and Tormod’s Crypts and we were off on G2. This time, I was able to assemble the combo and deliver the big hurt to tie the match at 1-1. As for G3, well, by this time, the day’s drinking had begun to catch up to me and I don’t quite remember the finish, although I know that a) I lost, and b) there were Blasts involved. Oh well, I thought. I fell to 3-2, but had put up a good fight against one of the stronger 95 lists possible, and only fell a Blast short of a win..

Round Six vs. B. Shriver (3-3)

The final round paired me with Bill, another Chicagolander with a penchant for combo-based strategies. I don’t recall (pun intended) whether it was before or after our match, but Bill gave me a hookup on a Legends Recall. After the card was unrestricted under Swedish rules, Bill had the presence of mind to land a few copies prior their disappearance from the market, and like a true gentleman he passed along the savings. Thanks again, Bill! Now, as for our match, Bill piloted a sweet Necro Land’s Edge combo brew. We split the first two games, my win coming on the back of a giant Fireball and his win on the back Glacial Chasm buying him time to cut me down with Land’s Edge. All four of my Strip Mines were parked in my WW deck so I had no answer for Glacial Chasm! The deciding G3 seemed to be going in my favor. I assembled the Power Monolith and went for for the Big Fireball. Here’s how it played out: Hydroblast, Pyroblast, a second Hydroblast(!), Demonic Consultation naming Pyroblast… Unfortunately, karma came back to bite me in the ass as I had no Pyroblast remaining and my entire library was exiled! Bill got the 2-1 win and I finished the day 3-3 in matches. It was a fitting way to go out, too, because I’d earlier cheaped a win via Lord Maldo’s errant Consultation. The cosmic ledger was now balanced.

VI. Takeaway

I ended up at 3-3, but all three of my match loses came down to close G3s, so I was happy overall with my decks’ performance (notwithstanding the pilot, of course). I was pleased my 95 Combo was able to quickly assemble in most of the games, but it felt a little too light on disruption and could have benefited perhaps from Hymn to Tourach out of the sideboard to try and sweep away Blasts. Or perhaps I was just overanxious in trying to deploy the Big Fireball and needed to get more Blasts in-hand. I will definitely tinker with this list and come back to it in the future. Meanwhile, over in 93/94, White Weenie was fun to take out for a half-day trip, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying to play or win with. That level of aggro just isn’t my general game although it fit nicely here with the unified card pool. I ended up 10/24 players and took home an inked-up Deep Spawn for the day’s effort.

Editor’s note: I think more Barbed Sextants, blasts, and Flash Counters are the way to go, although the possibility of a Hymn plan is certainly interesting as well. There’s also some merit to a more cantrip-heavy shell with Portents.

VII. The Top Decks

Most of my downtime between rounds was spent trading, drinking and bullshitting, so I skipped out on the action at the top tables. but after checking out the lists on the EC site I can confirm there were some juicy cuts. Here were our top four wizards:

1st – Greg Kotscharjan on UW midrange (feat. Preacher/Diamond Valley combo) and Naya.

2nd – Chris Bergeson on RUG and 95 Reanimator (feat. Polar Kraken).

3rd – Jaco on Pink Weenie and 95 Reanimator.

4th – Lorien Elleman on Bantgeddon and Necro Land’s Edge (similar to what I saw in R6).

(All deck lists are posted at Eternal Central.)

VIII. Orb Mastery

While I already chronicled my own Chaos Orb follies above, a special mention must be given to three Lords that successfully completed their own challenges: both Kotscharjan and Bergeson added a Chaos Orb Marksman patch to compliment their Top 4 finishes. Lord Sanders took one home. In a display of truly Unholy Strength, Lord Bergeson became the first person to nail all 50 flips with nary a miss! He then celebrated by downing his allotment of shots, Malort no less, in quick succession. Congratulations, gentlemen, may I one day join the ranks of ye mighty!

IX. Closing Thoughts

What a gathering! The split format, inclusion of 95 and the unified card pool gave everyone a chance to innovate and the resulting gameplay was far better for it. That stated, the genius of all Old School MTG lies not within the gameplay, nor even the cards and their nostalgic power, but within the community itself, which was on display in abundance during the second annual Novicecon. The assembled Lords and guests showed up in-force to catch up with friends new and old, toss back drinks and talk, trade and sling cardboard, all while raising money for a good cause. I recommend that all players try the 95 format, or experiment with their own variants, and continue to build and enrich their own Old School MTG community.

Thanks for reading and thanks again to Svante for letting me guest blog!

And thanks Matt for an awesome report of an awesome event. Wish I had been there! /Svante

 

Rereading Centurion, issue #6

I know it’s been a long time, but I’ve been busy writing about other things, or not writing at all. Now, however, before diving into possible N00bCon reports the upcoming weeks, let’s take the chance to dive into another issue of Centurion.

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The cover illustration this time is from the Kult CCG.

Issue #6, from December of 1995. The news section mentions non-English cards, where Legends was recently released in Italian; whereas an original Legends booster at this point cost about $35, an Italian one could be found for just about $20.

Some new card games are being released: Kult, The Wizards, and Guardians, among others. More important is that a company called Ultra Pro has started making sleeves exclusively for playing with, in sharp contrast to the penny sleeves people have been using up to this point. “They are more expensive than usual penny sleeves, but that should even out in the long run. … Thumbs up!”

The first article concerns how to build tournament decks. Here, Dan Hörning lays down four fundamental principles Magic is about: speed, card advantage, metagaming, and luck. That is actually not a bad analysis. Especially the part about that once you’ve built a good deck, your metagaming decides who gets into the top 8, and then luck decides who actually wins. Not too far off. The rest concerns the usual stuff: can you handle every important kind of threat? Can you beat The Abyss and Blood Moon? And don’t play bad combinations like Stasis/Birds of Paradise/Instill Energy.

Then comes an article that changed my life forever. I had been playing some red-green decks, based on the discussion in Issue #4, for half a year or so. No tournaments or anything, this was just me and four or five of my friends playing in our basements. But I had loads of fun and I won quite a bit; people had eventually to stop playing just enormous monsters and waiting for a big all-out attack to end the game. We were somewhat learning, I think. But then it struck. How to build a blue-white deck. The article, in the same line as the ones on RG and on black discard in the last few issues, starts with a no-rare list and bit by bit upgrading it into a good Type 2 tournament deck. This was something new. Sure, I had seen Leon Lindbäck’s deck from the first Swedish Nationals, but for some reason, it had never really clicked for me. It did now. I have no idea the list I played, I’m sure it was nothing like either of these:

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No matter. It had Counterspell, Power Sink, Control Magic, Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares, Serra Angels. Probably at least some number of Wrath of God. I suddenly countered some spells, let the creatures get played, Wrathed the board, played a Serra and killed them, slowly. I won. A lot. And I was hooked for life. So much that it severely hurt my success in competitive play in the early 2000s, I think, when I always wanted to play control, stubbornly sticking with Nether-Go instead of Fires, for example.

Anyway. The article is not that good, perhaps, but it does have some interesting parts. Don’t miss the Ghost Ships in the beginner’s deck, for example. Or the Jeweled Amulets in the finished type 2 deck. There’s also a part about blue-white in Type 1, detailing how you kill people with Mirror Universe and City of Brass. Those were the days.

Then comes a review of Homelands, concluding that it’s a very bad expansion. Quite right. Except that the writer Dan Hörning thinks Primal Order is way better than Blood Moon. Both Merchant Scroll and Memory Lapse are adequately rated, though. The rest of the article concerns all the fun, bad cards in the expansion. And there’s a lot of them. I had even forgotten most: Roterothopter, Anaba Spirit Crafter, Chain Stasis … Hörning claims that the triple lands are “hard to evaluate”. Not really: they are quite likely the worst multicolor lands ever. Right?

I am going to ignore both the FAQ and the article about deckbuilding for Doomtrooper, not only because it is off-topic here, but because I have never played that game.

There’s another deck-focused Magic article, however, and it’s about Hörning’s favorite deck RG again: this time the Vise Age deck, updated with Ice Age, Chronicles and Homelands since the article two issues back. Channel has just been banned in type 2, which seems like a good thing.

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I did attempt to do a rough translation, but it wasn’t funny enough for the effort.

And now the deck is about Jokulhaups, Orcish Lumberjack, Incinerate and Stormbind, along with Howling Mine and Black Vise. Reading about this almost makes me wish we played Old School 95 instead; Ice Age is surely a sweet expansion.

A short news article reports the winners of the first six BayouCons in Stockholm: type 1 tournaments with a number of participants ranging from 46 to 116 people. I wonder if those numbers were ever surpassed for type 1 tournaments in Sweden.

Then comes an article about “Type n0ll”, translating to “Type Zer0”, a tournament format where almost every good card is banned, including hits like Disintegrate, Disrupting Scepter, Jalum Tome, and Unstable Mutation. To my knowledge, no tournament was ever played in the format; or rather, at least one was probably played, as it was advertised in this issue of the magazine, but no report was ever written. It does not look very interesting to me, but then again, I’m no fan of huge banned lists.

A note about updated official Duelists’ Convocation tournament rules: Zuran Orb is restricted in both Type 1 and Type 2, legends are no longer restricted, and Type 2 is now consisting of every widely available expansion (at the time of writing, 4th Ed., Chronicles, FE, Homelands, Ice Age).

The price list is pretty much unchanged. It is noted that a Beta card is worth about 250 % of its value in Revised and 120 % of its value in Unlimited. Good to know.

A booster box is sold for about $100-150, according to an advertisment. It’s actually amazing that retail prices haven’t risen more over the years, but that’s a topic for someone more financially minded than me.

Well, that’s it. Not the most exciting issue, mostly due to no longer tournament reports at all, but still a few good deckbuilding articles.

Mirrors in Arvika

I’ve realized I’m not very much into writing tournament reports at the moment. The motivation just isn’t there; the narrative gets repeating, and I’m far too bad at remembering interesting board states and play-by-plays, even when aided by short notes on the life pad. I will return there, I’m sure of it, but for now, I’ll concentrate on other things. Like deck discussions. There will be a gameplay section, but this time, the focus won’t be on that, nor on traveling and beer.

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Except for this photo, taken shortly after leaving Linköping by train.

As I mentioned previously, I played Power Monolith through the Winter Derby. It’s a good deck, one just up my alley, but it has a few problems: drawing dead combo pieces, and getting worse after sideboard as it’s weak to REB, BEB, and all kinds of artifact hate. There’s also more to be explored. I’ve always been a fan of Sylvan Library, ever since using it with Abundance in Extended (or with Pursuit of Knowledge in Standard) way back in 2000 or even earlier. And there’s a deck abusing Sylvan like almost no other: MirrorBall. I also recently got ahold of my third Abyss, and got the idea to try out how good Maze of Ith really is in a Fastbond list.

What really made me want to play the deck, however, was a couple of realizations I had. First, that this deck could use Energy Flux as a sideboard plan against The Deck and artifact-based midrange decks, as it doesn’t really use any artifacts other than the power which isn’t basically sorcery-speed (Mana Vaults, Mirror Universes, Chaos Orb). Second, that there’s a possibility for Verduran Enchantress as a plan against control. I like having some creature in the board when you’re running a creatureless main deck, but playing Abyss eliminates the possibility of Guardian Beast or anything like that, which you’d want against midrange or aggro. Enchantress as a blast- and Disenchant-proof card drawing engine against control seemed alright, and 10-11 enchantments should be enough.

I went back and forth a bit on how the list should be built. Martin Jordö has played the following two builds to the top 8 of different tournaments:

Martin Jordö’s MirrorBall, BSK 2017, 2nd place
Martin Jordö’s MirrorBall, BSK 2015, 4th place

I wanted Sylvans, as mentioned, and I didn’t think a 1/1 split of Dark Hearts of the Wood is enough to make a forest-based mana base for. Also, 4 mirrors seemed like an awful lot, even though I know Jordö said he’d run 5 (along with 5 Mana Vaults) if he could. I settled on the following list:

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In the last minute before the tournament, I went -1 counterspell -1 mana vault +1 power sink +1 balance, but those changes are pretty much horrible.
The mana base is weak to support UU, but multiple power sinks just aren’t good enough. And balance was never close to being useful. I wanted to have it, and it was the last card cut for the longest time, but I used to run the fourth Taiga over the fourth City, which I realized made the mana base a little bit too bad. Still, 5-6 white mana is a bit too little, and the card was never strong enough here with no fellwars. Or maybe it was variance, I don’t know. It might be worth to test out more, but I certainly wasn’t convinced here.

So, to the matches!

In round 1, I faced KungMarkus, the organizer of the event. He always plays mono red, and this time, he was on an Immolation build, using them to kill off opposing Hypnotics as well as making his Ydwen Efreets into 5/4s. Game 1, I took some damage from a turn 1 Goblin Balloon Brigade and assorted burn and a Ball Lightning, playing a Mirror and switching life 20-1, then taking a few more turns of damage before finding a Fireball. Game 2, things went well until Markus played Blood Moon; I had BEB, but he had the REB. I did have Dark Heart of the Wood in play but refused to sacrifice any lands, because I had 10 of them with two fireballs in hand. Unfortunately, a Ball Lightning and a bunch of bolts finished me off before I could do anything about it. The final game, I believe I managed to luckily BEB a moon. I had gambled on not facing many Blood Moons with this build, and considered myself quite lucky to have escaped one such matchup with a win.

Round 2, I faced I believe a Norwegian player with some kind of UGW build if I remember correctly (my notes are unfortunately quite bad, and, being old, so is my memory). The interesting thing here is game 1, where I Timetwister, then proceed to Channel-Recall for Timetwister, Ancestral and Black Lotus. The second game involved casting a Braingeyser for 6 after having Mana Drained an Erhnam, followed by Time Walk. 2-0.

Round 3, I face a player I don’t know. He says something to the lines of “nice, I was getting so tired of facing aggro”, to which I reply with a question if he knew what I was playing. He says he wasn’t, but that I always play the same thing. It’s good to have a reputation, I suppose. He casts something like a mox and a fellwar, and I play turn 2 Wheel of Fortune, seeing his hand of Fireball, Fork, Disenchant and a few mana, or something along those lines. In play, he has a bunch of URB mana. I wasn’t expecting that, he said. I mostly smile. He resolves a Jayemdae Tome, but is strapped on mana, so I Power Sink his Mox Ruby to tap him out, letting me resolve a huge Braingeyser, eventually mirroring from 11 life and Fireballing him out. The second game is where it gets interesting, because my sideboard plan works out. Or, well, he was again kind of mana screwed, and I didn’t draw any of my moxen, so when I resolve an Energy Flux, I’m very far ahead. I also get to draw a few cards off of an Enchantress. At this point, Emil walks by, trying to see what I’m playing. He’s one of the best The Deck players in Sweden and certainly in this room and one of the opponents I least want to play. Now he thinks I’m on Enchantress, and I do nothing to dissuade him.

Round 4, I play against Tax Edge, in fact the first time I ever face that deck. In game 1, I play turn 3 Channel Mirror Mind Twist, leaving me at 4 and him with no hand. However, I proceed to draw something like eight straight mana sources, while he’s climbing back with an Ivory Tower. I play a second Mirror which gets disenchanted. However, then I finally find a Sylvan, Regrowth the Mind Twist, getting rid of his 9-card hand before he can find a Land’s Edge, leaving him with something like Ivory Tower, Library of Leng, and two lands in play. Then my third mirror along with a Fireball finishes it. Game 2, I keep a hand of 2 Fireball, Black Lotus, 3 lands, and Chaos Orb, if I recall correctly. I debate on whether to take a mulligan, as I really want to have something proactive, ideally a restricted draw spell or a Sylvan, but I figure I have lots of good draws with the Lotus, as well as time with the Chaos Orb and his deck not being overly fast or aggressive. He also lets me be on the play, which I think is very wrong, as the odds are so big I just do something broken on turn 1 that he can’t do anything about. He plays land, go. I topdeck Channel turn 2. 4-0.

Round 5, we are 3 people undefeated: me, Johan Råberg and Emil Klintbäck. I hope I face Råberg, running BWu midrange, with a slow clock and not a whole lot of disruption, while also being weak to my abyss/maze plan. Instead, I face Emil. On the play, I play turn 1 Mana Vault; he plays Ancestral in my upkeep, and although I have a second Mana Vault and a Mind Twist, I choose not to make him discard 5 cards as he has 9 in hand at the moment. So I Mind Twist for 6 on turn 3, which resolves, leaving him with 1 card in hand. On his turn, he plays land, Time Walk, and on the extra turn, plays Timetwister. I then proceed to draw mostly mana while he plays a bunch of Moxen and a book. Game 2, I once again don’t get an early enough Sylvan, and a swift book from Emil does me in. I can’t count on beating The Deck, especially not with a good pilot like Emil, but as he knocked me out in the quarterfinals of last year’s N00bCon, I would have liked to win this one.

Round 6, I face Odd, a nice Norwegian player who I haven’t met before. I knew he was on some kind of UR Blood Moon deck, but it turned out he’s on a list with 3 main deck moons and no Counterspells, due to a lack of dual lands. Game 1, I win with Mirror, using Dark Heart of the Wood to stay out of harm’s way. Game 2 is very interesting. I get hit by a Blood Moon, but Odd has a very slow clock. Eventually, he Timetwisters with me at 6 life, which I let resolve, even though I have a REB in hand; I need cards, and I just have to take the chance he draws worse than me. He Bolts me and taps out for a Jalum Tome after some deliberation. On my turn, I play Sapphire, some other Moxen, and Timetwister. On the Twister, I draw Chaos Orb, and can finally destroy the Blood Moon. Then I have 9 mana, including a Mana Vault, and Mirror Universe, Demonic Tutor, and 2 Power Sink in hand. If I had one more mana, I could have played Mirror and tutored for Time Walk. Instead, I tutor for Walk, then play Mirror, passing the turn with double Power Sink up. They aren’t very good against Odd’s hand of burn, with me at 3, so I lose. I have no idea why I didn’t tutor for Dark Heart of the Wood instead. Could I really have had so few Forests? I had something like 7 or 8 lands. It must have been a mistake. Then, the final game, I once again take a mulligan and don’t do very much, but Odd’s clock is slow. Maybe because I have an Abyss or something. Eventually, he gets a Jalum Tome, when I need to topdeck something. I’m on 1 life and play a Mirror. Both his draws are blanks. 5-1, and 3rd place before the top 8.

I must mention that the tournament went smoother this time than last year. The Swiss ends about midnight, which is fairly tolerable, whereas last September, the finals was over at 5 a.m.

In the quarterfinals, I face Thomas Nilsen. We played at N00bCon where I beat his Troll Disco with my The Deck. This time, he’s on an interesting Eureka Robots list, with Su-Chi, Colossus of Sardia, Yawgmoth Demon and Copy Artifact. Game 1, I don’t remember what happened, and my notes aren’t telling, but I lost, probably due to a Mishra and a fast Su-Chi while drawing nothing. Game 2, I get out first one, then two Energy Fluxes, and Thomas can’t do much except attack with a Mishra, while I get a Mirror. The last game, I mulligan, and get beaten down by first two, then three Mishras which my Maze isn’t doing much against. Then, when Thomas just plays his third Mishra and the one I can’t maze thus attacks for 4, I miss a Chaos Orb flip on it, leaving me at 9 instead of 13. Because I have the opportunity to do things with Fastbond next turn, that comes back to bite me, and I succumb to the land beats.

A bit disappointing, because I believe this matchup is pretty good for me, but my goal was mostly top 8, partly to keep my streak alive (counting the Winter Derby, I’ve made t8 of the last seven tournaments I’ve played), and partly because I want to continue pushing combo in the format. It was also sweet to be back at the hotel to catch some sleep shortly after 2 a.m., watching Emil take it all down against Odd in the finals on Cermak’s Facebok broadcast.

 

So, after all of that, what do I think about the list?

  • Fastbond isn’t really working. Even when drawing sylvan-fastbond-dark heart, fastbond is close to useless. It’s only really good when doing heavily broken things with Wheel or Twister or Braingeyser. One copy might be fine, but not more. Not even with Mazes.
  • Dark Heart of the Wood is sometimes really good: makes you Mirror safer, helps a lot against burn, lets you Channel-kill people in the midgame against midrange. But the amount of damage it inflicts on your mana base is extensive. I fear the deck is just stronger when ommitting this component. That leaves options of more blue for Transmute, and/or more red for Fork.
  • Sylvan is great. Everybody tells me 4 is too much, but if anything, I was drawing too few copies of the card throughout the tournament, not too many. I could see going to 3 without Dark Heart, but 3 is really strong.
  • Mana Vault is underrated in general. It makes all the broken stuff (Wheel, Twister, Mind Twist, Braingeyser) that much better.
  • Channel is nuts.
  • The Enchantress plan is just too cute. Not worth the slots. Would be better off as something like a Mana Short and the third REB.
  • Energy Flux is great when it works, but against The Deck, you really have to count on not drawing too many moxes yourself. I’m unsure. And without it, you could run Fellwar Stones which fix your mana (as I’ve said countless times).
  • Maze was very underwhelming. You can easily just lose to multiple Mishras anyway. And it ought to be almost at its best here, brought in alongside multiple copies of The Abyss or Energy Flux in a Fastbond deck. Unless you run Candelabras, I suppose. Its unrestriction continues to be proven to be very safe.

So, there’s definitely a build of this deck that’s working, but it feels weaker than Power Monolith in many ways. You do draw more air than I expected, with mirrors, dark hearts, fastbonds, extra sylvans and the likes, especially when boarding in more reactive cards. I think there are ways to fix that, but that mutates the deck into something else. Back to brewing.

If you absolutely want to play with Dark Heart of the Wood, I recommend the following changes from the list above:
main: -1 fastbond -1 power sink +1 mana vault +1 counterspell
sb: -1 maze -1 abyss -2 enchantress, +1 reb +1 beb +1 mana short +1 city in a bottle (the 2nd maze could also be cut, if you find anything else you’d want against aggro or midrange)
And also, give the cred to Martin Jordö and not to me, as I just tuned his lists to arrive here.

Next up: N00bCon. If you should see me there and I don’t know you, please say hi!

Building Power Monolith

There are numerous flavors of Power Monolith in 93/94, leaning control, pure combo, or even aggro. That’s not surprising, considering the combo (Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact giving infinite mana, which you usually use for a Fireball, for those who might be unaware) is compact, deadly, and fast, being simpler than the engine-based combos of the format, like MirrorBall, TwiddelVault, CandleFlare (seriously, what is it with combo decks and weird capitalization?) or Fork Recursion. The most successful ones I think are the URb counterspell-heavy lists, but I haven’t been very much drawn to those at first. Instead, I first tried building a combo version with small control elements, in my preparations for last fall’s Arvika tournament, but eventually chickened out. Then, instead, I went towards a heavy control shell with multiple copies of maindeck Jayemdae Tome, Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant, and a Serra Angel board plan, which I played at BSK.

That deck was really strong and I think it has a lot of untapped potential still, but I’m not much for returning to decks these days; there are just too many things I want to test. After having played some aggro skies for a while, I started going back to the pure combo end of things. At this point, I had compiled a huge number of Power Monolith lists in a word document, but the one I was leaning most heavily on was Jaco’s. (I arrived at a very similar list, down to several sideboard choices, as we shall see, but by going a circuitous route through much reasoning, probably just remembering Jaco’s list subconsciously.) In my opinion, what distinguishes the combo lists from control is the absence of real removal, and from the URx lists is the relatively lower number of counterspells. What you have instead is typically Sylvan Library, one of the best unrestricted card draw or library manipulation cards in the format, and also, incidentally, one of my favorite cards ever, hailing back to the days of me grinding the Extended PTQ circuit with Maher Oath. After a bit of thinking, building upon my previous experience with the deck, I arrived at the following list:

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The combo is very powerful, but it can be stopped by Disenchant, Shatter, Blue and Red Elemental Blasts, Chaos Orb, and a plethora of other things. Therefore, it’s much weaker post-sideboard, and I like to have a plan for that. In my BSK build, I had Serra Angels, and I could easily see playing a third copy there. It’s almost perfect, going around all blasts, all artifact removal, and can serve as offensive and defensive at the same time, but the double white casting cost is very restrictive. This time around, I went with Guardian Beasts. They don’t help protect the combo (if you’re surprised by this, just read the card a couple of extra times), but they give you another angle of attack, especially while playing multiple copies of Transmute Artifact: both the Chaos Orb lock, and protecting a Mirror Universe kill. Mirror I found to be especially strong in general, against aggro, as you have Transmutes and Basalt Monoliths to find and power it out. The Guardian Beasts are also the reason that I chose not to play any copies of The Abyss, but they are a bit slow anyway and not as strong when you have hardly no other removal to compliment them. (If you want more of a transformative plan without making the commitment to white mana, I might recommend some combination of Sengir Vampire and Yawgmoth Demon. One of those might even work alongside the Guardian Beasts here, as long as you add some more Underground Seas.)

Transmute Artifact is also a quite underplayed card, as Stephen Menendian has pointed out numerous times. In particular, I chose to run a maindeck copy of City in a Bottle, even though I played the full four City of Brass. The Cities are just too important to get the four- or five-colored mana base to work, at least as long as you want some Islands to protect against Blood Moon. City in a Bottle is a card that’s usually useful and occasionally just game-breaking, and definitely worth the spot. The second sideboard copy is more expendable.

I didn’t run any Rocket Launcher. The card is just too weak, as it has summoning sickness when you go for the combo and it’s still very rare that you have an extra UU to spare after going for it, especially if you have to play some kind of protective spell. Instead, I went for Book of Rass, which can be effective with infinite mana if you’re facing a non-aggro deck. Unfortunately, I think the card is ultimately too weak, and it gets sideboarded out a lot.

Both Sylvan and Transmute are very strong, but neither is very good in multiples; I’d want about 2.5 copies of each, but settled on 2. I could definitely see a third Sylvan in the sideboard, for example.

This was the build I took to the 2018 Winter Derby, a 40-something tournament run over Skype/appear.in on the Facebook group. There’s a report over at wak-wak.se which I highly recommend. I managed a 5-2 record during the group stage, making the top 8 on tiebreakers before succumbing in the semifinals to Bryan Manolakos’ sweet Diamond Valley/Skull of Orm/Control Magic/Rukh Egg brew.

My other losses were to Arabian Aggro, because I missed a Chaos Orb flip and then mismanaged my mana in subsequent turns, and to an unpowered mono-black build where I mulliganed a lot (including going to 4 once) and got hit with a bunch of Hypnotic Specters while not drawing lands. The deck is certainly strong. My updated list has the following changes:

Main: -1 Book of Rass, +1 Mana Vault
Sideboard: -1 Flash Counter, -1 Disenchant, -1 Blue Elemental Blast, +1 Triskelion, +1 Disrupting Scepter, +1 Crumble

The Mana Vault is good for powering out the combo, for Mirror Universe post-board, or for making the broken stuff like Mind Twist, Wheel or Timetwister even more broken; I think it should be good. The sideboard Triskelion is for when I bring in the Mirror plan and want something to Transmute for that kills them. Crumble is better than Disenchant as I have so little white mana and don’t need to kill many enchantments anyway, but it might get cut altogether too. Finally, Disrupting Scepter might be a good Transmute bullet against certain styles of control. Usually, I’m a staunch believer that Jayemdae Tome is just better, but here the mana cost difference might come in more important, as you have more situations when you can choose what you get. Also, the list doesn’t have the kind of reliable mana The Deck sports. And I cut the third BEB because they sit dead in the hand too often, something I’ve experienced in almost every deck lately, including watching Olle Råde win BSK with UR aggro.

I could definitely see sideboarding the third Sylvan, although it’s hard to fit in enough cards against control. I also somewhat like the thought of getting a Counterspell into the maindeck somehow: sometimes you’re a bit weak against non-UR threats when you board in all the blasts (I got Mind Twisted into oblivion in the semifinals), and Counterspell is obviously also just a good card to have access to. You can’t run too many, as the combo is very blue- and colored mana-intensive, but one copy might be good. I don’t really know what to cut, though. The second City in a Bottle in the sideboard might not be necessary if something should be cut.

I’m keeping this list for a later time. Somehow, I’d like to decide which one I like better between this one and the one with white. Both feel like potential top-tier competitors in the format, just below The Deck and UR, probably alongside Arabian Aggro and the URb version of Power Monolith. And maybe some other brews. The white one is probably better against fast aggro, due to the white removal, against UR midrange/aggro, due to books and Serras being a strong plan against loads of REB/BEB, and against some board-centric combos due to having access to Disenchant. The green one is probably better against The Deck, because of Sylvans and the faster combo which is actually desirable preboard, and against some other combos, again because it’s faster. Also better against heavy-Arabian decks due to the virtual three copies of maindeck City in a Bottle.

I was going to run the Sylvan list back at the next event I attend, the Arvika Festivalen in late February, but then I decided to treat the Winter Derby as a real tournament, thus preventing me from playing that deck again in the close future. So I’m working on something else. But that is a tale for another day.

Some notes on NA Eternal Weekend 2017

The Old School tournament at last year’s NA Eternal Weekend sported a whooping 118 players, making it a great snapshot of the EC format metagame, as well as a vast source of interesting decks. Go check out the coverage on Eternal Central on which this article is heavily based. It’s great! All images are curtesy of Eternal Central. (I tried to contact them to get permission, but never got any response. If anyone reads this and want the images removed, I’ll replace them with links instead.)

The EC format and the metagame

I usually play by Swedish 93/94 rules, so the main differences in the EC rules are the inclusion of Fallen Empires, and the unrestrictions of Strip Mine and Mishra’s Workshop. The most important one of these should be Strip Mine by far. Going through the 113 decklists we have, I found 35 decks with fewer than 3 strip mines. That number is likely too high. I suspect that close to 90 % of the decks are better off with a full playset. The card is just busted. It doesn’t seem to have affected the rest of the metagame that much, though. There are a number of control decks in the top 16, and the mana bases aren’t any less greedy than we’re used to in 93/94.

Fallen Empires, however, affect the metagame in a big way. White Weenie-based decks, many splashing red, and some splashing both red and blue, are much more common than they are in Sweden, and Goblins has become an archetype. There’s even a merfolk deck floating around, as well as some reanimator brews. The number of Hymn to Tourach, though, are far lower than might be expected: not a single copy in the top 16. There might be a bit fewer combo decks than in 93/94, but not overwhelmingly so, which was something I feared would happen in a Hymn world.

There are a number of widely different Workshop decks, none of which seem overly powerful.

There’s a curious absence of The Deck: just seven copies in the whole tournament and only one in the top 16. One might think this is due to the hymns, but if that is the case, it’s because of fright, not actual oppressing taking place, as the hymns just aren’t out in place. I also refuse to believe strip mine does much if anything to hurt The Deck, a deck with a pretty solid mana base and lots of cheap answers. One reason for the lack of success might be that most The Deck lists are horrible, sporting 3 or just 2 copies of Jayemdae Tome and far too few mana sources in a 4-Strip Mine world, but even a suboptimal copy of The Deck is likely to be favored against a wide variety of decks. And this is in one of the more spikey tournaments around. I think we can firmly state that The Deck isn’t dominating the format anymore and that no further restrictions need to be aimed in its direction.

Interesting decks

There are lots of creative decks at this tournament. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

 

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First up, there are two UWR shahrazad decks in the top 16! Basically shahrazad aggro burn. I have no idea how it works when time is called in a subgame, or how it affects the timing of the rounds, so I’m not the hugest fan of the logistical problems, but there’s no denying the card is sweet. And the two lists are almost identical so there’s something there when it comes to power as well.

 

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Of the three Stasis decks in the tournament, I think James Easteppe’s is my favorite. The inclusion of Time Vault and the sideboard Paralyzes are beautiful.

 

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Daniel Friedman’s Guardian Beast Control is not only a very beautiful deck, but a clean machine as well. The number of artifacts seems quite low, as is the exclusion of Transmute Artifact and running Spell Blast over the fourth copy of Swords to Plowshares. Also just 25 mana sources, and no Strip Mines! Alright, maybe this list isn’t so good after all. But I think there is something there, in running The Deck with multiple copies of Copy Artifact and Guardian Beast. I’d probably go for a Transmute based build though.

 

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Now here is something I can hardly begin to comprehend. Matt Dennis’ Living Plane-based prison, locking people out with Plane, Drop of Honey, Tabernacle and numerous other interactions. Is it good? I have no idea. But it certainly does something novel, and fairly evil. I like it.

 

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We’ve seen Martin Jordö having success with the MirrorBall archetype, but Chris Pepin’s take on the archetype is far more controlling, sporting full sets of Disenchant and Swords to Plowshares in the main deck, along with two copies of Wrath of God! To fit all of this in, Pepin runs no counterspells besides the single Mana Drain, as well as no Fastbonds and only one Dark Heart of the Wood. But there are Mishra’s Factories as additional win conditions. I love brewing more decks on the spectrum between control and combo, and while I think you need some more disruption than this, it’s got a bunch of interesting ideas. Also, there’s a Presence of the Master in the sideboard.

 

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Continuing the Mirror Universe route, there’s Shane Semmen’s 4C Mirror Control, a bizzarre Workshop-powered monstrosity, again sporting removal (Lightning Bolts and two maindeck Shatters) over counterspells, and a couple of Transmutes along with sweet bullets like Forcefield and Candelabra. I don’t know how the deck wins through removal, and I don’t get the sideboard Clone at all, but it certainly ticks off a number of things I like about the format.

 

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Finally, there’s Charles Rolko’s Reanimator deck, another deck made viable by the inclusion of Fallen Empires, as Deep Spawn is one of the better things to reanimate. I love seeing those Tetravuses here, and obviously the same goes for the actual Nicol Bolas back when he was more about reading books than killing The Avengers. Is it good? I have no idea. Is it optimally built? I can’t even begin to guess. But it’s certainly sweet.

Concluding thoughts

None of the decks above are present in the Top 16, though, with the exception of the Shahrazad decks. Why not? Hard to tell, but none of these lists benefit greatly from Strip Mine, whereas many of them can be hurt by aggression or heavy control backed up by a buch of selective land destruction. I’d argue that midrange and combo are hurt the most by the 4-strip metagame, and that is sad. With Strip Mine restricted, the format gets opened up wider.

So what should be done about the format, then, in my opinion? I think Workshop definitely should be unrestricted, as it just breeds more creativity (and, while being an occasional Vintage player, I’m not playing that format competitively enough to justify playing non-blue decks, thus owning zero copies of the card). Strip Mine should definitely stay restricted; it does little good for the format and just leads to more non-games of Magic. Other than that, Recall could easily be unrestricted, in the way of Fork. It wouldn’t be broken in any existing deck, just opening up more semi-viable strategies. From a pure gameplay scenario, I also like the introduction of Fallen Empires. People love their WW and goblin decks, two archetypes which are horribly underpowered in 93/94. From an aesthetic standpoint, however, the expansion just doesn’t fit, so I’m leaning towards it not being worth the trade-off.

Russian Skies over Stockholm

On December 16th, I went to Stockholm for the Lucia Legends tournament. It was a pretty small local tournament, excellently run by Gordon Andersson, sporting 17 players, but not having played since BSK in early November, I felt the urge to take the 2-hour drive. Also, the last Stockholm N00bcon invite was on the line, to be awarded in some unannounced way. Before sitting down to play, we were faced with a quiz for Legends art: six non-reprinted Legends, and the task was to name them, with their mana cost as tiebreakers. This is the quiz. Take a stab at it!

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I kicked myself for not remembering the name of a card I actually knew what it did, finally getting it with Jacques le Vert, only to find out it was actually Hazezon Tamar. So I only nailed two of them: Boris Devilboon and Lady of the Mountain. I thought I knew Stangg (it was not announced that it was only non-reprinted cards), but it was really Ur-Drago. How many of them did you nail? Reply in the comments!

Later, before the top 8 started, it was announced that I was indeed in the top 4 of the quiz on a score of 2 out of 6. Kids these days have no sense for history. (Mad props to Jesper who got 5 out of 6!) The next trial was Falling Star flipping, in which I hit two creatures out of the maximum three. Then, it was time for a quiz. Legends trivia quiz.

Anyone remembers the old Question Mark quiz on the mothership? I used to be quite good at that, meaning making top 8 in the world or so, a couple of times. Or the Question Mark live show at Pro Tour when Mark Rosewater still went to them, giving out free packs and promo cards? Those were also sweet. So, it was actually not that fair. There were a few questions I wasn’t 100 % sure on, and so didn’t answer, as a wrong answer was awarded with a negative point, but the ones I answered, I knew. Pretty basic stuff, really; some easy things like where Legends stands in the order of expansions, or how many cards each booster contains, and some slightly harder, like what’s special about the print run. (A version of the full quiz will be up on wak-wak some time in the future, I’ve heared. Keep tuned.) When the dust settled, I had won by a reassuringly large margin, and that N00bCon invite was mine. Sweet stuff indeed!

But before all that happened, we played some magic. Four rounds of swiss before a cut to the top 8, to be exact. I don’t feel like doing a play-by-play report, but I like to discuss the deck I played. It was this pile:

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The invisible red card between Fireball and the Lightning Bolts is another Fireball, for those wondering.

The tournament went as follows:
R1: Enchantress, 2-1
R2: UG fliers, 2-0
R3: UBW midrange, 2-0
R4: BGW midrange, 0-2
QF: Rbu burn: 2-0
SF: Big UR: 2-1
Finals: same BGW midrange, 1-2

Some highlights: winning on the next-to-last extra turn of time in round 1, where my opponent (my friend Råberg, playing a sweet Enchantress brew) played a lethal fireball with REB backup against my hand of two BEBs, going to 2 in the process so I could finish him with the last card in my hand, a lightning bolt (so I didn’t even need that second BEB, but it felt good anyway). Taking a game off of Egil with the BGW deck in the finals; he had won every duel before that! It was his first tournament, almost, and his deck was built from Gordon’s leftovers. Makes me wonder how he’d do with a real deck. :) Then I misplayed the last game of the finals, throwing a game that was won, but it wasn’t obvious at the time, and it involved a Berserk, a card I would never expect out of a midrange deck with no pump. (Although still bad. The play was likely strictly wrong, no matter which cards were in my opponent’s deck.) That game, I was also hit by an unexpected Tsunami. One of these days I will close it out with a win, I swear.

So what about the deck I played? 5-2 is a reasonable record, and I liked getting to play with my newly-acquired Serendibs, as well as going aggro with burn for the first time in the format for me, but I’m fairly certain the list is just bad. Probably the archetype as well. Why? Well, for a starter let’s take a look at the mana base.

1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
1 Sol Ring
1 Black Lotus
1 Strip Mine
1 Library
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 City of Brass
4 Tundra
3 Volcanic Island
1 Plateau
1 Underground Sea
2 Plains

That’s 13 U, 12 W, 9 R, 6 B, excluding the Lotus. Imagine a mana base like that in any modern format. (Reminds me of the time I played UG Madness in Standard to a Top 8 in Nationals without Yavimaya Coasts, having the mana base of 11 Island, 9 Forest, 2 City of Brass.) Too little red, a bit too little blue and white as well. I had even cut the Emerald for another colored source, even though my Serras and Serendibs greatly benefit from acceleration! I should have used more Plateaus instead of Plains, ignoring Blood Moon a bit more, but it’s still far from great. Even if you cut the black, which might be worth it. Basically, the complicated mana bases of this format don’t work if you don’t run Fellwar Stones or possibly if you play a combo deck and can cut the Mishra’s. Also, the Moats aren’t just good enough when there’s so few other valuable Disenchant targets. The red addition might make it better than straight-up UW Skies, as the burn certainly was strong in a lot of games, but this deck is just a straight-up worse version of UR Burn. And one of the fundamental truths of Magic is that you shouldn’t run a worse something else. You could also make a case that it’s also a worse Swords/Disenchant/Counterspell/Moat deck than The Deck, but that part is obvious. The deck might even be worse than the UWR Savannah Lion deck that Åland played at BSK, although I stand by the lions just being a generally terrible card in the format.

Unfortunately, I never got to use Rasputin Dreamweaver, but at least I did grind out Gordon’s Big UR with my Jalum Tome one game of the semifinals, so I got to showcase some of my sweeter cards. The burn was fun to play with, as a change to my usual control- or combo-centric play style, but next time I feel that urge, I’ll do it in another shell. UR, or big UR, or Arabian Aggro. Or even some Underworld Dreams burn deck. I have lots of ideas.

The next tournament for me is probably the Arvika Festivalen in February, but I have a bunch of stuff to write about before then. Something about the decks from Eternal Weekend, probably, as well as reviving Rereading Centurion. Also, there’s Skype playing to be done, decks to be built, cards to be acquired. Take care during the holidays, may you always have Library of Alexandria in your starting hand, and see you at N00bCon! Man, that feels great to say.

Brewing 93/94 Team Constructed

When I first saw the announcement of the Old School World Cup in London, I knew I wanted to go. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, but I didn’t let that prevent me from brewing. For those of you unaware, the format was Unified 93/94, meaning that you play as a three-people team, and all the decks have to consist of a legal 93/94 deck when put on top of one another.

What does this mean for deck building?

First, there’s way less power around, so games are slower, non-artifact mana acceleration (elves, birds) is more important, creatures and creature removal is better, land destruction or denial is better.

Second, there are way fewer Mishra’s Factories running around, making smaller creatures better.

Third, there are way less Disenchants, making combos and weird decks very much better. Less counterspells means the same.

Fourth, there are less multicolor decks, making Blood Moon less potent.

After thinking about the format for a while, I concluded there are some basic strategies to approach it. Level one is to split the colors, which means two 2-color decks and one monocolor one. Mono blue and mono green are underpowered, mono white gobbles up the excellent white removal spells which are more powerful in a two-color shell, so I firmly believe the mono-colored deck should be either black or red. This leaves a couple of options: either mono-black, GW Erhnam-Geddon, UR aggro, or mono-red, UW control, BG midrange. Or possibly UW control, mono-B, RG aggro. All of these are fine setups, I think. If you have UW control, I’d probably put all the moxen in that deck, as it makes the books that much better. Any green deck has access to accelerating creatures.

Level two is to maximize the good decks, very likely eliminating the mono-colored options. I’m particularly scared of playing mono-red against CoP: Red. There are good clusters of cards which have no home in the level 1 setup, like the prison shell of Winter Orb, Icy Manipulator, Copy Artifact, potentially Armageddon, maybe artifact creatures like Su-Chi and Triskelion and The Abyss, likely at least some number of Transmute Artifact. Not playing that is leaving a bunch of power unused, especially considering how powerful that would be against unpowered (or almost unpowered) decks. There’s also of course the temptation to start with an almost-fully powered The Deck and try to find two other decks to compliment that, as The Deck almost never should lose against suboptimal decks.

This leads to setups like The Deck, red aggro splashing blue for serendibs, psiblasts, and timetwister, and some black deck, likely monoblack. Or even the above, but with the third deck being Ub artifact prison control, a setup allowing for three blue decks and not a single green card being played other than Regrowth. This is what I’m leaning towards as the most powerful lineup, which I really would have liked to test. There’s also a case for Erhnam-Geddon, UR burn, and some Br underworld dreams combo deck which should be better than mono-black in a vacuum.

So what happened? Go check out Christopher Cooper’s excellent report from the event. My analysis turned out to be quite correct on a lower level. However, there were a lot more sweet stuff around that I’d have expected. Especially the German team’s lineup of 5c MirrorBall, URB Troll Disco, and Mono-Blue Stasis is a thing of pure madness. And they made it to the finals! With a 3-3 record in total, but still. Very sweet. Nobody got into my Ux artifact prison thing, though. I still think that is a very strong thing to be doing. The winners played Rx artifact aggro, GWu Erhnam-Geddon, UW control. Splitting Disenchants and Swords to Plowshares seems like madness to me, but apparently it worked. Hopefully I’ll see those guys at N00bCon this spring. Well played!

BSK 2017: Organizer’s report

This year, I somehow ended up helping organizing the 93/94 event at BSK (Borås Spelkonvent) in Borås, Sweden, this past weekend. In the past, this tournament has had a Shark as the trophy, being what I have understood is the oldest still running 93/94 tournament, but this year, that trophy has moved to Arvika. Still, there was a tradition to uphold and old pieces of cardboard to tap. We ended up being 38 players, although a handful being delayed due to a late flight, and we settled for 5 rounds of Swiss followed by top 8. Which was just as well, considering the finals was finished shortly past 3 a.m. anyway.

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About to start. I believe. Might be later.

The tournament went well, despite a small computer error delaying the start of the top 8. I suggested we ran sudden death chaos orb flips instead of rolling a die to decide between the 8th and 9th place when the tiebreakers appeared to be unavailable, but it got sorted out when the computer restart worked. Maybe unfortunately. There’s a lot of potential there, including gradually increasing heights of the flips and more.

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The standings after the full five rounds of Swiss

I unfortunately did not take nearly as many photos as I had intented (it being one of the duties I got assigned by Mg when I took over as organizer as he was unable to attend), but at least there are some random snapshots of matches in progress:

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I can’t figure out why Morgan looks almost happy, facing down what appears to be an active Library.
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There’s just something about Sylvan Library that makes me happy. All those books inside, maybe.
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Waiting for some matches to finish
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Quarterfinals: Olle Råde vs Felipe Garcia
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Martin Jordö vs myself (Svante Landgraf) in the quarterfinals
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Semifinals between Mikael Lindén and Martin Jordö.

 

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Finals: Martin Jordö vs Olle Råde, not captured at a particularly exciting point. If any of these fine gentlemen would write a report, I’d happily publish it.
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In the end, it was Olle Råde who got to take down the The Fallen and the championship!

Then, it’s time for the decklists.

 

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Olle Råde, 1st place, UR Burn: a refined version of the deck he’s played with great success many times before, among those winning the exact same tournament two years ago!
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Martin Jordö, 2nd place, MirrorBall: especially intriguing is the use of a full four maindeck mirrors.
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Emil Klintbäck, 3/4th place, The Deck. I think I might have finally convinced Emil to cut that maindeck Lightning Bolt he used to run. :)
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Mikael Lindén, 3/4th place, URb troll burn. The sideboard is missing, but at least it involved some number of Nevinyrral’s Disk, as well as the usual red and blue blasts.
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Åland, 5-8th place, Fantasy Zoo
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Felipe Garcia, 5-8th place, TwiddleVault. A beautiful and interesting deck. I don’t understand how it can win but apparently it does, and that makes me happy. Abusing the restricted list is a viable concept, as Martin Jordö’s 2nd place deck is another example of. The Channel feels a bit sketchy with just one copy of Fireball but I might be missing something here.
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Micke Thai, 5-8th place, The Deck. If you want to go the maindeck Serra route, I think this is a very well-tuned list. I wouldn’t recommend it in an environment with a lot of Swords to Plowshares, though, and I would like a maindeck Moat over one of the Lightning Bolts.
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Svante Landgraf, 5-8th place, Power Monolith hybrid: The approach I chose seemed to be quite solid. I got to do a lot of broken things, including a 3rd turn kill, and despite the only 4-ofs in the 75 being Tundra and City of Brass, it felt remarkably consistent. Not the best against The Deck or UR Burn, though.

I want to thank everybody who attended, especially Micke Thai who provided some of the photographs as well as made the top 8 after starting out with a loss due to the late flight, Gordon Andersson for the generally good times, and everybody in the top 8 who managed to provide decklists even though I didn’t grab them all during the night. Maybe I’ll even do more of this organizing thing in the future. Who knows.