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!

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Drawing cards in Arvika, part 2. Almost getting there

Picking up from where we left off last time.

The tournament starts at about 5.40 pm. It’s going to be a long night. About 44 players, I think. Six rounds of Swiss. The winner gets an invite to Noobcon, there’s a prize for best unpowered deck, as well as some other prizes for top 8. My target is set on that invite. No shark this year, but a fake shark, a Clone with a shark picture taped to it. Which was actually hilarious.

Time for the matches. This time, as I was expecting to write a report, I took some notes, mostly some scribblings on my life pad, but I still have a bad memory as I’m old and the days grow short. Also, a couple of weeks have passed when I started writing, and far more of them now that I’m finished. Therefore, I might be mixing up events and generally making things up, most games being quite fuzzy in my mind. We’ll just have to live with it.

Round 1. I’m facing someone I don’t know. We both play some duals and nothing much else, the first spell being played is a Storm Seeker turn 4. I have 20 life and 7 cards, with a counterspell in hand, but I let it resolve. How threatening can it be? 13 life seems plenty. I don’t recall exactly what happens more, but he deals me some more damage, probably with a mishra, until I play Mirror Universe, exchange life, then beat him down with my lands. It turns out he’s on some kind of non-red midrange pile with mid-sized creatures and a random Storm Seeker thrown in, not a howling/vise/underworld dreams deck as I somewhat had expected. The second game is a repeat of the first one: I Swords a couple of creatures, then switch lives. I suppose I just get a book active. 1-0.

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Round 1: Kalle, Mg, Gordon

In the second round, I face goblins. Actual mono-red goblins with Goblin Kings, which isn’t easy to pull off when Fallen Empires isn’t allowed. Awesome. I Fireball two of the little buggers in the first game, which always feels good, then stabilizing on 1 life after allowing some some bolts to resolve, but manage to take it down. The second game is pretty much the same, probably involving an Abyss. No life gain, though; I do go down to 1, but as the lifepad ends with me at 1 and him at 23, but me winning, a mirror is probably involved in a concession here. 2-0

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Some of the top tables round 2. Morgan vs I think KungMarkus, and Kalle vs Gordon. Of note are the Ydwen Efreets, and Gordon’s Fastbond (his Fork Recursion deck ended up at 4-2, narrowly missing the top 8 on tiebreakers).

In round 3, I face Kalle Nord. Kalle is one of the format’s all-time greats, designing playmats, pins and other things, organizing tournaments, frequently winning a lot with innovative decks, including the recent Ivory Cup 2 in Stockholm with some URg monstrosity. He’s also a very good guy. The last time we played, I think it was in Vintage where I managed to screw up my Doomsday piles, killing myself in the process. This time, I knew he was on some kind of Ubw prison deck but I didn’t know any specifics. That would come back to hurt me. In the first game, I resolve a timetwister into a tome, but he gets a howling I should have counterspelled as he has a relic barrier. I draw more cards, but I see only one counterspell and one disenchant in the top half of my deck. Eventually, I misplay on a complicated turn with a demonic tutor for a mind twist which gets power sinked. I was unsure of his counterspell count, putting him on anything from 0 to 4 copies of actual Counterspell. Turns out he ran only 1 mana drain and 1 power sink. Even then, I don’t really know what I was thinking. I went for a mind twist, not defending it enough, just a bad call. Anyway, his array of winter orb, relic barriers, icys and howlings, some being copy artifacts (a card Kalle seems to be a big fan of), disrupted me quite fine, and eventually I succumb to his plan of resolving mirror, burning himself with cities, then tapping his winter orb with a relic barrier and tapping my cities with his icys, destroying my mirror somewhere along the line. It was interesting; Kalle later commented that he forgot to put a Fireball into his deck when the tournament was about to start, having only mishras and mirror as win conditions. I can certainly agree with not running any real wincons but that fireball would speed things up immensely. Kalle’s deck was really sweet, and I’d love to see the list.
I was pretty sure I could have won that first game with better tactics and/or strategy. In the second game, I don’t really know what happened; my notes shows me going from 20 to 19 to 18, then losing, writing “owned” as the only comment. I suppose some abuse of power and/or mana screw was the case. Which is unfortunate, as I think my matchup is quite great once I bring in multiple red blasts and extra artifact destruction. 2-1.

Round 4, I face some kind of zoo, probably URG. I take a mulligan, but start with lotus, mox, timetwister, into an ancestral, into stone rain and disenchant, forcing a concession with lives still 20-20. In the second game, I play my city in a bottle, turning off most of his offensive. He follows it up with a timetwister which is quite horrible for him, whereas I resolve a tome and take complete control of the game. None of this was remotely close, and I regain some of my confidence. Somewhere along here, the pizza arrives, and along with a beer, I’m starting to feel a lot better. 3-1.

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Cermak vs Kalle on table 2 in round 4

Next, I’m facing Elof the Mighty. He’s a real legend, one of the best players in the format; he has three sharks and was one game away from winning a fourth, being the first to trade them all in for a Leviathan, earlier this year here in Arvika. He seems to be able to win with whatever he plays. He’s even so good he’s doing coverage on Noobcon these days, to give the rest of us more of a chance. This time, he was on UR Artifact Aggro. The games were not very interesting, though. I don’t get any book online, but keep my life reasonably high, but then all of a sudden he’s resolving a su-chi into a triskelion and I just die. The most interesting thing is Elof running Sage of Lat-Nam, even in the main deck, which is surprisingly good, allowing him to get an extra card here and there. But I lose, and feel kind of down. At 3-2, I should be out of it, but there’s still one more match to go.

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Last Swiss round starting

The last round of the swiss, I’m facing some kind of black deck. My notes are kind of faulty and my memory is bad; I’ve let this report lay dormant far too long now. Game 1, I get demolished by a triple Hypnotic draw. Once the first one connects, it’s really hard to get back without some kind of power draw. And I didn’t get that. After sideboard, though, my deck does what it should. Game 2, I get a couple of books online and bury him in card advantage. Game 3, we trade some resources, he plays a Wheel of Fortune, but I draw a lot better than him, involving a tutor into mind twist. Those things happen. Giving cards to The Deck can be dangerous for sure.

Some people tell me I might still get in at 4-2, but I’m unconvinced. One or two people might get in but it feels unlikely it would be me. Then the top 8 is announced, and I’m in 7th place, first of all the people with 12 points (of who there were at least 8 or so).

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Final standings after the Swiss

However, soon things get complicated. Returning from a bathroom break, I learn that a result had been wrongly entered a couple of rounds before, resulting in Kalle having three less points than he should have. Apparently nobody realized he shouldn’t have been sitting so far down in the last round, being 4-0-1 instead of 3-1-1 at that point. After a while, that’s resolved, Kalle taking place 8, which makes me happy, as I’d love to face the 2nd seed.

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Top 8 about to start

Why? Because the opposing deck is Power Monolith, piloted by good guy Jhovalking. That’s a powerful deck, as I detailed in part 1 of this report, but it has one glaring weakness: its The Deck matchup. I shuffle up, feeling confident. And start with a double mulligan. Eventually, he just buries me in card advantage, resolving the combo quite late when I have nothing left. The other two games, however, I just thrash him. There are so many cards in the deck which are dead when not everything is lining up perfectly against hate, and with red blasts and additional artifact removal, nothing much ever happens. One of the games involve a particularly filthy Mind Twist if I recall correctly.

Then, in the semis, I face Morgan, playing the B/u deck that won Noobcon and which people seem to thing beat The Deck. Interesting, as I haven’t faced that deck since the swiss of Noobcon against the eventual winner, where I lost a very tight match. I observe that this could have been a PTQ semis in 2002; we were both hard-time PTQ grinders back then. In the first game, I start with ancestral into library; he rituals an underworld dreams turn 1, which I promptly disenchant, and then just have way more cards than him the rest of the game. I also Abyss all his creatures away. The second game, I got beaten down by a couple of mishras, backed up by Gloom and Energy Flux. One of the many cases where I wish I had access to Moat. Then, in the final game, I pick off the mishras with disenchants and swords, landing an abyss and circle of protection to handle the rest. The black deck is just too weak to books to be really viable in my opinion. There was one really interesting spot, though I do not remember which game. I am beaten down by a Black Knight, being at around 7 or 8 life. I have a recently cast Chaos Orb, one land and a Lotus untapped. In hand I have Counterspell, Recall, and Balance, to Morgan’s two cards. Morgan plays some large threat. I decide to counterspell it, and then hit the Knight with the Orb, using the Recall to seal the deal, getting back some powerful things. Instead, I for some reason let the threat resolve, hitting it with the orb, immediately realizing that I must have been to tired to execute the plan I had decided on. Therefore, I have to cast Balance to kill the Black Knight next turn, losing the mirror I had drawn for the turn. I still manage to squeak it out, but it’s bad nonetheless. I hate making mistakes even if I realize them immediately.

So, finals time! It’s 4 a.m. Not feeling too tired though. At this time I’m sober again, and I’m probably more used to playing magic for countless hours in a row than most old school players from my Grand Prix grinding days. I’m facing Jimmie with a mono red pile that apparently is undefeated for some reason. I can’t figure out why. It looks like crap, like any mono-colored deck in the format, and still people claim it beats The Deck, probably due to its prison elements (Black Vise, Winter Orb, Blood Moon, Ankh of Mishra, along with Atogs, Su-Chi, maindeck City in a Bottle, and bolts). People say that all the time. It’s very rarely true. Still, I’m a bit wary when I shuffle up. On the play, he starts with a turn-1 Library. Not the worst, as I have a turn-2 stone rain for it, but still kind of annoying; I also believe I need him to play a red-producing land so my fellwar gives me red mana. On his second turn, he draws a card with the library, then contemplates for a while, finally settling on playing mountain, mox, city in a bottle. I point at his Library. Not terribly happy, he puts it in his graveyard. I later use the Stone Rain to mana screw him almost out of red and take control easily.

How bad was that play? Is that the sign of a bad player? No. Not at all. In fact, I regard my misplay with the sequencing in the semifinals as worse, and faulty strategies as worse still. This was just a swift misplay. It says almost nothing about one’s ability to play the game. Having bad sideboard plans, or wrongly prioritizing what to fight over in a certain matchup, are things I consider far more grave. Of course, being a technically flawless player gives you a lot of percentage points, but that’s a different thing. Mistakes happen.

In the second game, I mulligan a hand with only one mana source. Into a hand with one mana source. Into a hand with 0. Going down to 4 cards, at least his turn-1 Black Vise isn’t threatening, but neither is my hand of two lands, an Ivory Tower and something non-broken very impressive. Less so once Jimmie lands not only one, but two copies of Blood Moon. For the longest time, I am still back in the game if I draw Lotus, as I have multiple Disenchants and Swords in my hand, but it was not to be.

For the final game, I make what is probably the worst mistake of the tournament, but I don’t realize it until far later, when I de-sideboard a couple of days afterward: for some reason I didn’t bring in my Serra Angel. Still, I have those sweet blue blasts and extra artifact removal, and against his slow and underpowered deck, as long as he doesn’t land a Blood Moon, this should be easy, right?

Then it dawns on me. I’m the villain here, playing the deck people love to hate, uncreative, equipped with all the overpowered cards, facing a new and creative deck on an insane winning streak. I’m the end boss. And the end boss always loses. Still, I shuffle up and draw an okay opener. I have to be aware of blood moon at all times, so I can never use my last disenchant/BEB/counterspell on something else. I let a turn 2 ankh of mishra resolve, probably because I only have one answer and I don’t need that many lands. Also, this deck doesn’t pressure me a lot. I take 6 damage from it, developing my mana base. Then things start falling apart. I never really get any card advantage going, and my life slips away a point at a time. I don’t know what happened. Not now and not really then. It’s a game I’d have loved to be able to go back to re-watch, but alas, there was no stream. So I lose. Defeated, I shake Jimmie’s hand, feeling empty. It’s about 5 a.m. Gordon grabs my shoulder, says he knows how much I’d wanted to win, wanted that Noobcon invite. I don’t even know if I respond. I grad the buckle and the prize card, an Ydwen Efreet. Try to look for a cab back to the town center, but the ones ordered seem to be full. I just walk away. A lonely 20-minute walk through the night, feeling empty, like so many times before. I wasn’t feeling especially bad. I’d felt way worse failing to make day 2 of a GP, many times, but that was a long time ago, and I was feeling more back then. Now I’m mostly numb. Walking through deserted streets, a Saturday night so late it has become morning, everybody already home from their parties and drinking.

I get to the hotel at about 5.30 a.m., setting my alarm at about 11 or something, resigning to not getting any breakfast, my train not leaving until 3 p.m. But that’s another story. Or, honestly, not much of a story at all.

So what does this entail to? My third straight top 8, the first time going beyond the quarterfinals, but still failing to close. Like so many times before. I really should play something else than The Deck. I want to win on my own, not just because I play an overpowered archetype. Drawing cards kind of makes me happy, but you can draw cards in other ways as well. Next time, I’ll be piloting something else, I swear.

Props:
– The Arvika crew, organizing a large recurring tournament in the middle of nowhere
– Everybody else in the 93/94 community. It’s impossible to not have a good time at one of these tournaments.

Slops:
– The town of Arvika, an infinitely depressing backwater. Seriously, that Sunday morning after four hours of sleep, the town was almost more than I could bear.
– The beer selection on site. The only IPA was both bad and sold out quickly.
– Myself, for failing to close once again.
– Myself, for making huge misplays throughout the tournament. At least I didn’t miss any chaos orb flip this time. :)
– Myself, for waiting a month to finish this report, losing a lot of details in the process.

Next thing up: BSK. See you there!

Drawing cards in Arvika, part 1. Getting there

Please don’t hate me.

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Just look at these beautiful cards. How can you not want to play with them?

Or if you do, hate me because I take all the fun in the format and use it for myself; hate me because I’m the villain, because I’m Magneto or Ozymandias, don’t hate me because I’m a boring old fucker with no regards for the true soul of the format.

(As everybody know, the format is about drawing cards. All the cards.)

Anyway.

I did try to play something novel this time, I really did. First of all, I wasn’t really sure I was even going; the tournament, the newly-insituted 93/94 Scandinavian Championships in Arvika, Sweden, is what will confer the Arvika Giant Shark in the future, but not this year, as that one has already been given out at the February tournament, the Arvika Festivalen. Also, Arvika is a shithole in the middle of nowhere and traveling is boring when you’re going alone (and as my loyal readers probably know by now, I’m sitting alone in an ivory tower on the eastern plains of Sweden with no fellow 93/94 player within a hundred miles). I was considering going but didn’t really put my heart into it. Until, about a month ago, I was going to Oslo by train on a business trip, and the train suddenly passed through Arvika. Wait, getting here doesn’t seem so bad after all. Maybe I should go. Looking into tickets, finding them not too expensive and finding a hotel room even though most of the town seemed to be booked already, I suddenly found myself with a trip.

I’ve been meaning to buy into at least one other old school deck for quite a while now; some readers might remember me talking about different options at the Ivory Cup 2 in Stockholm in early June. In particular, I’m always drawn to the combo macro-archetype, being an avid Storm player in Legacy and having had some undeserved success with Doomsday in Vintage. (My history of drawing obscene amounts of cards early on is the topic for another day, harking back to the days of casting Windfall in Standard.) I have a feeling combo decks can be better than they currently are in old school. They are played so rarely that the lists are far from optimized, and that’s attracting the deck tuner in me. For an overview, I recommend Stephen Menendian’s excellent combo primer at Vintage Magic. Most of all, I’d love a chance to play Fastbond again (now that the Gush restriction has basically killed the card in Vintage), but I fear that Fork Recursion might just not be good enough. That is still on the list of decks to get the cards for and try out. However, I’m still regretting me selling a playset of Power Artifact pre-spike a year ago, so when I got the chance, I bought them again, before they rise even higher. I start looking through deck lists, comparing them, seeing what can be done. What are the different ways of building the deck? What is the core? How much mana do you need? I’m using the lists in Menendian’s article above, as well as the one on wak-wak and Jaco’s article on Eternal Central.

Chiefly, I find one big divide: whether to play more control card, Swords to Plowshares, Disenchants, and things like Jayemdae Tome, or whether to go more all-in on the combo. There are still overlaps, of course. One such is whether to play Transmute Artifact. I like that card a lot, but it forces you into some uncomfortable spots. In particular, Rocket Launcher is just a terrible card. Not only does it cost 4; for some unfathomable reason, it has summoning sickness. Book of Rass might be a better way to actually end the game if you get the combo while having a Transmute available. Also, Triskelion isn’t the best card when you’re not aggressive.

I’m immediately attracted to Sylvan Library, one of my all-time favorite cards. I mean, I even tried to play it in the sideboard of The Deck once. Transmute gives you a shuffle effect here, but I’m still not convinced. If you play Sylvan, you want more green mana, which makes you shy away from white. I’m also very tempted to play the Channel in the sideboard, using that two-card combo as an out to opponents overloading on artifact removal post-sideboard. I get the idea of running Lightning Bolts over swords as creature removal, allowing the white to be minimized to just Balance and a Disenchant or two. Then I could even board Gloom against Disenchant-based opposition. The Guardian Beast plan I’m more skeptical about. Most people would probably expect it, leaving some swords in, and it’s still not very impactful in the horrible The Deck matchup. Also, I don’t own any, but I still don’t really like them.

I want a lot of card draw to make sure I hit the combo, more than any list above, at least 2 sylvans and 2 books, I think. The mana base is actually fine as you don’t run Mishra’s Factories. I’m also not convinced Power Sink is better than Counterspell and decide to run a split, allowing for better defenses at the expense of some combo potential. After having made some hard cuts, I arrive at this:

1 ancestral
1 walk
1 timetwister
4 monolith
4 power artifact
4 fireball
2 power sink
1 counterspell
1 mana drain
2 sylvan
2 tome
(0 bolt)
1 regrowth
1 disenchant
1 balance
1 abyss
1 mirror
1 tutor
1 mind twist
1 recall
1 wheel
1 braingeyser
1 chaos orb

1 library
1 strip mine
5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
2 fellwar
15 assorted blue lands: 3 volcanic, 3 tropical, 2 underground, 3 island, 4 city

sb:
1 maze
1 abyss
1 bolt
1 mana short
2 reb
3 beb
1 city in a bottle
1 channel
2 crumble
1 gloom
1 tranquility

It actually looks quite good. At this point, about two weeks before the tournament, somehow I’ve convinced myself I should play this in Arvika. I’m itching to play something new, so I start acquiring the cards I miss, two Tropical Islands the hardest thing by far, only owning a Beta and four FBB ones. Then, over a week later, last Monday or Tuesday, it dawns on me: I can have both the green and the white if I cut down on the black. Running crumble (against books) and tranquility (against Underworld Dreams) is hard to justify, after all. It’s hipster but hardly good. So I rebuild the deck, playing some swords and disenchants in the sideboard. It looks great. It feels great.

Then I assemble the deck and goldfish for a while. I know I should get into the habit of playing over Skype but I just haven’t bothered to make a working setup yet, so this is the first non-theory I do. And man, does it suck. Nothing works. Assembling a three-card combo without cantrips is harder than I’d imagine. The deck has every problem of The Deck, such as drawing too much or too little mana, or just not getting any action, increased by having a whole lot of air in the deck. Maybe, it would be possible to play a smaller combo in a more full The Deck shell, using monoliths for mana, Power Artifacts for tome fuel, and fireballs as removal, cutting some flex defensive slots. Then, the transformative sideboard plan of Guardian Beasts should probably be two or three Serras, being both defensive and aggressive. But that is far less sweet: no sylvans, no wheel, no channel.

I just can’t do it. Not at this time. I still bring the cards for the deck (missing a few pieces, but those could probably be borrowed on site), but I resign to assembling The Deck again, this time with the changes I mentioned in my Ivory Cup report. For reference:

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Then it’s Saturday, autumn, everything is gray with clouds hanging very low, the alarm going of at 6, the train leaving at 8. Even though not working set hours especially often, I often have trouble sleeping, waking up too early even though never going to bed early enough, so I’m running up a bit of a fatigue tap already. The tournament starting at 4 pm (as if anybody ever expects a Magic tournament to start on time), it’s looking to be a long day. Still, I feel kind of good. I haven’t played more than a few stray and boring games of Modern since early summer and I’m almost itching to draw some cards. I want to win this one; the winner doesn’t get a shark, but he gets a Noobcon slot, something I dearly crave. And it’ll be great to see a bunch of the 93/94 crew again.

So, a fairly eventless train ride, checking into the hotel, eating lunch, relaxing for a bit, then walking to the site about a kilometer away from the town center.

IMG_20170923_160924
Upon arrival, Gordon’s pink suit is very fetching

I get there, greet a lot of good people, discuss The Deck with Emil, discuss combo decks with Gordon, grab a beer (the beer selection was bad, bordering on the horrible, but at least it’s cheap, right? I’m not much for playing tournaments while being real drunk, but one beer to start things off is great, as well as having one or two to take some edge off losing later on), collect some cards I’ve bought beforehand, and wait. As usual, we wait, the tournament finally starting at about 5:30, including printer problems.

But that’s a story for next time. To be continued!