High Tides Forever

Hello.

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(This was meant to be a photo essay. Then I forgot to take most of the photos.)

It was a day like any other. Meeting David, a friend and business associate at the Stockholm central station, slipping the small white nondescript package into my bag, between a couple of pages of a binder, hardly even looking at it. We briefly discuss its contents, the state of the trade in general; as a courier, I prefer knowing what I carry, how hot it is, was it seven? eight? who benefited from the deal, really. Then a mutual friend, who we can call Johan, shows up, and as always when some of us meet, we share stories about the trade, about the trends, interesting leads we might have, our eternal dream of quitting, liquidating the stock, getting out clean. Like that would ever happen.

We were on our way to the Magic Island Tour III, a cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki and back, a two-day trip sporting two old school tournaments. Anyway, David needed to get back to work, me and Johan having lunch and a couple of excellent Belgian beers at Belgobaren not far from the station. The usual banter about finance, sideboard slots, mana costs. Johan’s approach to mana costs remind me of Cruel Control, which, for those who are blissfully unaware of anything Standard, was a Type 2 control deck sporting the casting costs of WW, UUU, GGGG, and UUBBBRR in the same deck. Johan is a fan of BB, UU, and WW. I’m not. Nothing being settled, we head out to the harbor, me happy for not having to navigate the Stockholm public transit system. I’m honestly more at home in Madrid’s metro system than Stockholm’s, just because when I’m there, I usually either just walk around downtown or go by car to some godforsaken suburb.

Getting off the train, walking for ten minutes through an industrial wasteland, pleasantly drunk, in the end finding a suspect-looking spiral staircase leading up to a covered walkway which seems to head in the right direction towards the ferry terminal. Which turned out to look more like an airport than anything ship-related. Teeming with people everywhere. After some confusion, we find the VIP lounge upstairs, the place for high rollers, big fish. Finally. Sinking down into a comfortable chair, playing a few games where I took 95 % of the game time against a poor casual player who I proceed to avoid as best as I could going forwards. And dropping off the package. No fee for me, just credit in this complicated system of benefits and favors which is a large portion of our trade. But it always feels good. To be relieved of it, no longer carrying the hot stuff on me.

Reuniting with the crew. Keys handled out, some information given, beers were drunk. We enter the ship, which is huge, like a mall with a hotel put on top of it, drop off our stuff at the cabin and head to a bar for the first games. The format of the first tournament was a bit strange: normal 93/94, but with a point system to determine the final scores. I don’t mind too much, as it allows for playing the usual decks in contrast to strange banning lists or otherwise limiting deck building, but I just don’t think it promotes fun gameplay or deck building. Playing mono-colored powerless decks is just not my concept of fun. I’d much rather see a normal tournament with heavy prize emphasis on the most creative builds, for example.

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Not my points, obviously. Image credit to Elias.

Myself, I am running this list.

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Basically, I wanted to try out multiple Recalls since it’s unrestriction a couple of months ago. And Twiddlevault is one of the combo decks I haven’t tried yet. In fact, I hadn’t played Howling Mine at all in the format before. I mostly looked at Felipe Garcia’s lists, and also one list Danny Friedman posted the other week. The main change I did was adding more lands. I also wanted to try out a Fork as Fork + Time Walk + Recall allows you to backdoor into Fork Recursion combo if your Time Vault is unavailable. Finally, I felt really smart when I found the Guardian Beast plan, which I hadn’t seen anyone play. It basically protects the whole combo, both Howling Mine and Time Vault (and also sideboarded Ivory Towers), from artifact destruction. At the time, I had completely missed that the great Martin Berlin had ran both more lands and sideboard Beasts in his Twiddlevault list from the 2016 Fishliver Oil cup.

As usual, my memory isn’t the best, and I’m writing this with no access to my notes because of bad planning on my part. Therefore, lots of details of the matches are lost, even though it’s only been a week this time. You’ll just have to excuse me.

In the first round, I face Mats, to whom I had just lent out a set of unlimited moxes. He turned out to be on mono-red Atog, and he crushed me soundly. I already knew that my deck was weak against lots of stuff, like Underworld Dreams, Energy Flux, and Blood Moon, in addition to the usual countermagic, red blasts, and artifact destruction, but here I got to add Copper Tablet and Winter Orb to that list, as well as Tormod’s Crypts after sideboard. Had Mats not dropped two Tablets the turn before I went off in the first game, I think I would have gotten there. And then I board in the Guardian Beasts, expecting to face 4 Shatters, whereas he actually played zero copies. I wasn’t happy. Especially not losing to my own Moxes. Is it bad manners not to concede to the player who just lent you 8k worth of cards? I don’t know, I certainly didn’t think about asking for it, but it made me feel kind of bad.

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For about five minutes. Then I grabbed a Brewdog Jackhammer (the beer selection at the bar was really quite alright) and went out in the sunshine in the rear of the ship, watching the beautiful Stockholm archipelago drifting past, swapping stories with fellow magicians.

In the second round, I face Simon, a new acquaintance. He’s on some blue-green monstrosity which never really works, but he does present a Fastbond which makes me too scared to ever play the Timetwister in my hand. I do lose one game but take home the other two. I thought he was playing Enchantress but it turned out to be Living Plane–Ashnod’s Altar with lots of lands, Sylvans, and Sindbads.

Then it was time for dinner. A huge buffet in a huge but extremely crowded place. This reminds me why cruises aren’t really my thing: too many people everywhere. The food was alright; as at most buffets I’ve had, the cold stuff much better than the main hot dishes. Also free beer and wine. I’m usually one to complain about tasteless pale lagers, but together with food, especially free, (well, all the buffets were for us included in the total cost for the trip), it was okay.

After dinner, we play three more rounds, this time in the dinner area, which was gradually emptied and eventually closed off for our benefit. I don’t recall the exact order of matches, nor much of the games, but I did face RG land destruction, BR budget pile, and mono-black. All were quite easy wins. I managed to go off from minimal resources multiple times, having a howling, taking another turn, and just snowballing from there. Undisrupted or virtually undisrupted, the combo is powerful. In one game against Björn’s mono black, I played two Twiddles to empty my hand, then Balancing away his board and hand. Many turns of topdecking later, he has drawn lands and I’ve drawn Mana Vaults and finally get a Braingeyser.

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The late-night playing area

So I end up 4-1. Unfortunately, I stopped drinking for a bit after dinner, having a glass of water, and then sobering up before getting into fetching another beer, turning me off the concept altogether. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow. It’s running late, possibly because in planning, they had failed to count for the one-hour time zone difference between Sweden and Finland, so it was decided to cut to top 4 instead of top 8. It didn’t turn out to matter for me, as my 4-1 record netted me a 11th place out of 20 when the above-mentioned points are factored in.

So where does that leave this deck? It’s not bad. It can certainly beat weak and budget decks, even with a sub-optimal sideboard like mine. Because that certainly was weak. Neither Ivory Tower, Guardian Beast nor Fog, my whole plan against different flavors of aggro, worked very well at all. What I do need is 1-2 maindeck copies of Disenchant, and I’d also like another action spell, probably the third Sylvan but possibly a Bazaar. I could also see another land, because I did take a lot of mulligans due to not having enough initial mana sources, even with 14 lands compared to the 11 in some of the crazier lists I’ve seen. Maybe a Fellwar should be a land. I also did take a lot of mulligans for other reasons, but that’s to be expected with a combo deck which both can have very expensive starts and also plays a bunch of dead cards like Twiddle. I do believe the third Recall might be a win-more card and could be cut, and the Fork is likely more cute than necessary (although I did board it out most of the time and rarely drew it, so it might be my fault not giving it enough of a chance).

However, all the time I have to ask myself why I’m playing this deck over something like Powerball (Power Artifact–Basalt Monolith combo), which just wins instead of forcing you into complicated uncertain combo turns. One reason is that you play fewer dead cards. Fireball is almost dead against non-aggro decks, Howling Mine might very well be a better card than Basalt Monolith while not going off, and even Twiddle can be a blue-to-colorless Dark Ritual with a Mana Vault out or at worst a pseudo-Fog or denying the opponent a Howling card. Another is that Twiddlevault is just a blast to play. I enjoy it tremendously and will certainly revisit it in the future. Especially if Time Vault gets unrestricted, which isn’t that unlikely. For the record, I would never play more than two copies.

The sleep was not plentiful. Before heading to the cabin, I played a few more games against Emil’s UWR aggro deck, and I was just too slow to race his Lions and Factories when not getting a very broken start. And this was him not playing any Counterspells. It made me feel a bit worse about the deck in general, but now, when some time has passed, I think that is still something that could be solved with the right board plan. Then I put together my deck for tomorrow and played a few games against Cermak’s mono-blue control list. I didn’t really know which time I should wake up, and the time zone change didn’t make it any easier. Anyway, I woke up too early, before the alarm, I think, with my roommate Mattias/Slanfan still asleep, so I mostly got dressed, headed up to sun deck for some fresh air, seeing Helsinki in the distance, before once again braving the crowds for breakfast.

Breakfast was also alright. The usual inedible stuff they called scrambled eggs at most Swedish hotels, some interesting Finnish dishes like Karelian pierogis, and not terribly inspiring bread, but the bacon was fine, a kind of potato–leek pie quite tasty, and all in all, not bad. We arrived at Helsinki, staying put for seven hours, most people leaving, but we magicians gathered in an empty nightclub for some early games.

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My weapon of choice for the day was Atogs. I’ve discussed the list a lot with Will Magrann and Bryan Manolakos, although they are mostly playing with EC rules where the deck is much stronger (it’s one of the decks most benefiting from unrestricted Strip Mine). I wanted to try out the Howling Mine/Relic Barrier package, omitting Copper Tablet. I’ve also never played Atog, Ankh, Vise or most of those things in a tournament in this format yet.

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Round 1, I face Greg on some kind of budget GW deck. When I play a turn 1 Vise and he just plays land, go, I know I’m way favored here. He never casts any relevant spells except for a Fellwar Stone and maybe a Disenchant, so for the next game, I mostly bring in the Glooms. It turns out he is on Erhnam-Geddon, so not having all the City in the Bottles could hurt, but he takes too much damage and succumbs to the Vises and Atogs quite fast. Interestingly, I get to kill him with a Spirit Linked Atog, due to Spirit Link being a triggered ability, not working like Lifelink, although that didn’t really matter here as I was almost guaranteed the win anyway.

Round 2, I play against Björn. In game 1, he plays something like Plains, Tundra, Disenchant, and a blue restricted card like Ancestral Recall; I probably win with a Black Vise. So what to make of this? I’m putting Björn on some kind of white-based control deck, not The Deck but something more white-heavy, which is wrong but probably because I’ve been watching so much brewing in the Land Tax/Ivory Tower/Dust to Dust space lately. So I sideboard accordingly, and in game 2 Björn plays Moat, Serra Angel, and Serendib Efreet, while I kept in my Atogs and cut my Cities in a Bottle. Still, I manage to come away victorious. After the match, Björn tells me he never drew one of his two maindeck Energy Fluxes. Oops. I hadn’t even boarded in my red blasts. But I think broken Vise/artifact/burn starts go all the way.

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This was a quick match, so I get some time to run ashore during the lunch break. I’ve actually never been to Finland before and would like the chance to actually say I’ve visited the place, if only briefly. It turned out there was a huge Pride parade through the city and everything was insanely crowded, but I still got to grab some lunch from a street vendor and catching a quick glimpse of the city.

Having returned in time, round 3 I face Morgan, who is on a much slower Atog deck with Mana Vaults and Triskelions. He’s Vising me, and on the play I think he got me game 1. He also thinks Blood Moon is good against me because I have all dual lands, not realizing how shallow my splashes are. I wonder if it’s a good plan to board out some of the splash cards like Time Walk when I have reason to suspect my opponent will keep in, or even bring in more, Blood Moons? I do manage to swing one game with a couple of Relic Barriers for his Triskelion and my Howling Mine. There’s also a point in which I have two Black Vises and Morgan has for some reason a Mirror Universe. He asks me how that works. I tell him the Black Vises trigger at the beginning of upkeep but nothing more than that, and he tells me he doesn’t understand what that means. I tell Emil, who is watching, to shut up, and proceed to explain nothing. I don’t really know how much of a douchebag move that is. I’ve known Morgan since the turn of the century when we were grinding the same PTQs, so he’s not some kind of newbie kid. At the same time, old school isn’t supposed to be about powergaming. I just believe in giving players opportunities to misplay. I also don’t think it would have mattered in this game, as I eventually finish Morgan off with something like six straight bolts, including four Chain Lightnings in the same turn. I also got to end of turn Hurkyl him, into my Black Vise and him having attacked me with a Factory, and then topdecking Wheel for the maximum rub-ins. Hurkyl is quite insane in these Vise lists, and if not for me being light on blue mana, I’d certainly run more of them.

Now I’m 3-0, and I face Emil on his usual The Deck. I’ve never beaten Emil. He beat me in the quarterfinals of N00bCon last year, and he was my only loss in the swiss at Arvika in February. I put up a fight, resolving a Relic Barrier which forces him to counter all my Howling Mines, but in the end, The Deck is too much for me. In game 2, I think I start with some Vises while Emil mulligans, but then he proceeds to play something like Ancestral, Time Walk, and three consecutive Disenchants, followed by a Swords for my Atog. Whatever. Starting 3-0 should mean top 8 even with a loss in the last round, and I just move on.

In the last round, I face Jason, another new friend. At some point in game 1, we have something like five copies of Ankh of Mishra on the battlefield. Jason’s also on the Vise/Ankh/burn plan, but he’s UWR to my Rbu, splashing white removal and blue power cards in addition to Psionic Blast, and he’s also creatureless, telling me that he tried out Atogs and Lions but didn’t like it. The result is that Blood Moon is very deadly against him, Gloom is quite strong, whereas he has no such trump on his part. I win fairly convincingly, although he might have Vised me out one game.

At 4-1, I finish the swiss in third place. There are announcements, about prizes and shit, but I’m skipping that now just like I skipped all the other preliminaries. That’s not why you’re here. Suffice to say there are some prizes, the tournament is really well organized, and you all should come next year. So, time for the top 8, for real this time. In the quarterfinals, I face Jason again. A bit boring, and we were discussing our sideboard plans not ten minutes ago, but whatever, it’s a good matchup. Consequently, I Vise and Blood Moon Jason out in two quick games.

In the semifinals, however, I get another rematch, and this time it’s against Emil. He’s on the play due to finishing higher in the swiss, and has a starting hand of land, Lotus, at least 1 Fellwar Stone, and Disenchant, planning to Disenchant my first play and play a Fellwar. Unfortunately for him, I start on Library on the draw, and he bricks on lands for a couple of turns, so that game was pleasantly unfair from my side. I then lose game 2 to some The Deck things, maybe involving me mulliganing. But I am on the play in the final, most important game. I don’t think I have a Vise, nor an insanely broken start, but keep anyway. Emil has Library, but I get to resolve a Gloom, and then, barring a BEB, will get to resolve Blood Moon as well next turn, as Emil just has a single blue mana up. I have no blue or black mox, though, and my hand has just a Demonic and a Timetwister (yeah, okay, my hand was fine this game), except for possibly a bolt. If he has the BEB, I might want to tutor for another Moon, but if he doesn’t, I can’t cast the Tutor. So I float B and play the moon. I tutor, having a single mana left. What to get? I have two options: either a Black Vise, with Emil at 8 cards and 17 or so life, and likely not many outs to the Blood Moon except for 2 moxes and 1 or 2 basics. Or I can get Lotus and cast Twister with one mana floating, likely drawing into a Vise and a bunch of other good cards.

I choose the latter, drawing no Vise, with Emil getting both Sapphire and Pearl on the Twister, killing off the Blood Moon and Toming me to death quite quickly afterwards. Was it a mistake to go for the Twister? Very likely. Even had I gotten the Vise, the odds are so high it would draw Emil into the answers he needs. It’s not guaranteed, and everybody doesn’t agree, but I think it’s pretty bad played by me. So Emil gets a well-deserved win, facing Alban Lauter in the finals and securing that much-coveted N00bCon invite. I need one myself, but there’s lots of time left, and I’m pretty sure Emil wanted it many orders of magnitude more than I do. That he failed to stop the German for taking another Swedish trophy is a greater problem, though.

Before calling it a day, Daniel asked me if I wanted to play a match for 3/4th place. Sure, why not, it’s not like if the prizes matter anyway (if we didn’t play I would likely get 3rd on higher Swiss standing). Daniel is on Vises, bolts, some other Atog stuff, Islands, and Blood Moons. I lost game 1, probably due to him being on the play and leading with Vise. Then, having seen Island and Blood Moon but no other blue cards, I fail to catch he’s on Serendibs, even boarding out one City in a Bottle instead of bringing in the third copy, and losing a very tight game to a couple of the Sri Lanka natives despite me leading with dual Vises on turn 1. Oh well, that’s one is totally on me.

The night is finished off with dinner, drafting a very unbalanced Revised cube, and some clubbing, watching the red sea horizon of the Nordic summer night non-darkness. The next day, there’s just time for breakfast before reaching Stockholm, me rebooking to an earlier train and getting home in the early afternoon.

Oh, what about the deck? I really like it, and it’s quite strong, definitely one of the better Lightning Bolt decks out there. I’ll likely keep it as my aggro deck of choice for the times when I just want to watch the world burn. For possible improvements of the exact list, I did feel a bit low on wincons sometimes, so I will try out 2 Copper Tablets over one Howling Mine and one Relic Barrier, but the Howling plan worked out fine, too. The sideboard might see some small improvements, and I should get a Mind Twist into the 75, Howlings or no. But that’s a topic for another day.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend. Next year, if there’s another cruise, you should all go.

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Ivory Cup 2

Nobody writes tournament reports anymore. Not in the old style, with tales of travelling, mishaps, playtesting, anecdotes, props and slops. And especially not of old school tournaments. I can’t guarantee all of the above, but I’ll take a stab at most. I’ll probably fail.

However, when this tournament started, I still had no plans to write a report, no matter how I finished. I hadn’t got the idea of starting this blog, besides some vague plans for writing more about Magic that I’ve entertained for the last several years. Thus, I took no notes at all, and very few photos, and as I’m old as fuck and my memory is growing bad, lots of details are lost. I won’t let that stop me, but keep in mind that some events (especially when it comes to details of gameplay, or names) might not be quite accurately described.

Anyway. Let’s go.

I play far too little old school magic. In the city of Linköping, where I live, nobody but me is even remotely interested in the format. Almost nobody plays Vintage, and what’s worse, there’s hardly more than one magic player in town I ever have a beer with. So when I heard about Ivory Cup 2, the second installment of a yearly tournament in Stockholm, being held in early June, I know I had to try to go. Stockholm is a bit less than two hours away by train; too much for regular pub play, but easy enough for a larger tournament, also certainly the closest of any serious accessible games. The event was also run by the excellent Gordon Andersson, of Wak-Wak fame, and was bound to attract most of the Stockholm crew along with some notable out-of-towners like Mg, Kalle and a small Arvika contingent.

My first thought was trying to stay at my good friend Olle’s place, maybe hanging out with him and his wife the day before and/or the day after the tournament. He used to live in Linköping and we get to see each other far too rarely these days. However, it turned out that he was bound to be at some kind of family gathering at Linköping that day, but I could borrow his flat anyway. I had done likewise last summer, during Grand Prix Stockholm. So I meet him at the train station in Linköping on Friday night and get the key, and all is set. The flat is even just a couple of stops on the subway away from the site.

Then there’s the question of what to play. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I’m playing The Deck. This pile, to be more specific:

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The Deck, Ivory Cup 2

After N00bCon, I figured I wanted something more against all the midrange decks there, stuff like Serras, Serendibs, and Juzams. I wanted Abyss again; I had a Moat then, but I rarely wanted to bring it in. I also figured that a maindeck Amnesia could be quite strong; it’s only really bad against REB and fast decks, and with no more basic Plains in the deck, I could probably get the UUU cost to work. The Sylvan was for some extra cheap threat in the mirror. Did it work? Read and find out!

So I boarded a train at 8:39 the morning of June 11th. It appears to be summer. Consequently, I had to batter through a light rain to get to the station. Once in Stockholm, I checked out the used book store next door to where August Strindberg spent his last years in life, which turned out to be very bad, before catching a metro train to the site. I got there just before noon, the tournament starting at 13, so first I grabbed lunch at the combined pizza and Indian food place nearby. I was the only customer but their channa masala was fine (and to be fair, they had opened ten minutes earlier, and it was Saturday, so it could hardly be expected to be busy). While eating outside, the rain having stopped long ago and the day turning out to be quite pleasantly warm, I saw a guy wearing a white shirt with a tie crossing the road a few blocks down, heading in what I figured was the direction of the site. It certainly looked a lot like Gordon.

Shortly thereafter, I went that way myself. And lo and behold, outside a building, I saw a number of familiar faces, some smoking, some holding cans of beer, sitting or standing around a bench: Mg, his girlfriend Øyann, Kalle, and some other people. I stop and chat for a while. Magnus says he enjoys an article I wrote for his blog, submitted just the day before, which makes me happy. We talk about the old rumors of an alpha volcanic and other oddities a bit. Then I head inside. There, after climbing half a flight of stairs, I find a bit of a crowd. The tournament would start soon, mostly everybody is here already. I register and get my complimentary beer for having paid in advance (a Brewdog Punk IPA, a pretty good run-of-the-mill IPA as far as I’m concerned). I find some people I should lend cards to, relieving myself of three moxes, a sylvan and a timetwister. I’ve been borrowing cards so many times before in my career, it feels good to be able to give something back, working on that karma for a bit.

 

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Gordon in charge

 

 

Then Gordon gathers everyone, announcing the structure of the tournament (6 rounds of swiss followed by a top 8, no IDs), of the beer system (buying tickets with 10 stamps for 100 kr, then different beers costing different amounts of stamps, leading to myself having a couple of unused stamps at the end of the night; but sponsoring the tournament felt fine at that point, as we shall see), that we’re ordering pizza before the t8, and that there’s a legends single lottery for which everybody got one slot. A few happy people got a Sol’kanar, a Mirror Universe or some other rare I don’t remember. Me, I got an Untamed Wilds, preferring to save my luck for later; it was also oddly fitting as my just-submitted article to Mg’s blog concerned among other things the use of said card in The Deck, and I didn’t even own a single copy of it before.

And we’re off. Cramped seats, hard-to-read pairings, and an ocean of N00bCon playmats. It felt like home. Here, though, things start getting a bit murky. A month has passed, almost, and I did not take any notes at the tournament, just some brief sketches a week later. Details of gameplay are a bit fuzzy.

Nevertheless, the first round I’m paired against UR burn, a matchup I haven’t really faced enough. Probably the hardest matchup for the deck as well, possibly (as Randy Buehler claims) excluding the mirror. I faced it only once at N00bCon this year, and then we didn’t even play it out because Olle needed to go home and get some sleep before doing coverage for fake Nationals the next day. The first game, I take a bunch of damage, keeping the creatures mostly at bay, then narrowly stabilizing after drawing a huge amount of cards with a tome. Possibly involving plowing my own mishra, which for some reason always makes me feel good. The second game, he plays first turn volcanic, sapphire, jet, blood moon. My hand is something like a counterspell, a disenchant, an off-color mox and lands, so I can’t cast anything. I proceed never to do anything at all, flooding badly, not even losing to the blood moon, as my draw just did nothing. Still, I’m prepared to lose to that start; that’s a gamble I gladly take. For the third game, my opponent keeps, reluctantly; I think I mulligan. He shows his hand to his neighbor, not looking very happy. The other guy does something to the extent of rolling his eyes. I’m prepared for first turn wheel or something equally high variance. Instead, he plays lotus, serendib, go. A risky keep against The Deck postboard if I ever saw one. My only piece of removal is a Chaos Orb that I’d love to use once he draws a land, though, but I can just kill that serendib and take the game, right? Wrong. It turns out I miss the flip, the first missed flip in my five 93/94 tournaments. I blame a combination of the beer and it being the first round of the day. Okay … but he still doesn’t draw any lands. And I have two mishras. Let’s see what happens here! It’s a very tight race. He eventually get some islands, but doesn’t cast much; I counterspell a flying men. He attacks, so I attack; in the end, he dies exactly on the point, including me plowing one of my mishras to stay alive. Punishing that keep felt good, but I was still kind of mad at myself for failing the flip, breaking my previously perfect flipping record. Oh well. Just moving on.

The next round, I face Mällroth for the first time ever. The man was the head DCI rep in Sweden for a long time, but those were the years I didn’t play many tournaments, so we never got to interact then. Now I mostly know he wears a kilt, plays the flute and organizes 93/94 in Karlstad. It turns out he’s also very good at trouncing The Deck players with his Lestree Zoo list. I start with a Library on the play; he has a first-turn Sylvan, as well as a Library of his own soon enough. He plays an Argothian Pixies that starts dealing some damage while I first get rid of his Library, then much later the Sylvan, but the damage had been done. My removal lines up poorly with his threats, forcing me to plow his mishras, then drawing dead disenchants against his pixies and apes. The second game, I stabilize on 5 life to his 3 lands, no creatures, 2 cards. Those cards are both bolts. At some point, I get my Lotus shattered, not having any expensive spells in hand but then later drawing into an Abyss I can’t cast on time. Still think it was right to play it, though, against a potential Timetwister or Wheel. The matchup could really use a City in a Bottle, a card I cut from the list I used at N00bCon. As well as more lifegain, possibly even in the main deck. Preparing for The Deck mirrors with two maindeck Stone Rains might have been a bad idea.

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Top tables, round 2

Oh well. My beer is done at this point so I get another one. Nothing too heavy, though. The plan here is to win, not primarily to drink. At least not yet. I settled for another Punk IPA as the session IPA they used to have was already sold out. Not alone in craving lighter beers, obviously. Much later, I believe I get a third one, but I don’t recall what kind, unfortunately.

I was distinctly disappointed in my lack of brokenness so far. At N00bCon, I had had several turn 1 mind twists or balances. Here, I had had a Mind Twist in hand against Mällroth, never getting the time to cast it. That was about to change. The next round, I face another URG aggro deck, but this time with Giant Growths and Berserks. That is obviously a much better matchup for me. It helps that I start with a couple of moxes and a Fellwar Stone, leading into a turn 3 Amnesia for four or five cards. None of the games are close. I move on to 2-1, a somewhat respectable record.

Between rounds, people tend to gather outside, smoking, drinking, enjoying the weather, usually occupying some chairs which turn out to belong to some kind of social enterprise next door. I don’t smoke but I always prefer catching some non-magic tournament air. At one of these times, I meet Micke Thai. We share records, both being either 1-1 or 2-1 at that point, I think. What are you running, I ask. I’m playing your deck, he says. Really? Yeah. It turns out he’s on the exact The Deck list I played to the quarterfinals at N00bCon this year, having only changed a few cards in the sideboard. I think my current list is superior, but the old version has some merit, and it’s certainly a lot better against Blood Moon, sporting a total of three basic lands to my none. It always makes me happy to have another horse in the race, so to speak, and discussing The Deck is always good times. Micke is also a fun guy to hang out with.

Next round, I have the somewhat mixed pleasure of playing against Mg, Magnus De Laval, the man, the myth, the legend. It’s great because Mg is a great guy, one of my all-time favorite magic players, which I get to interact with far too seldom. It’s good because I have never lost to him (having played twice in the unofficial Swedish Vintage nationals 2015, including in the finals, as well as in last year’s N00bCon, my decks tending to have an advantage against the midrange builds he usually prefers). But it’s bad because it would suck to knock a good guy out of contention, and one of us will leave this round at a less than stellar 2-2 record. Magnus is also a very good player, so even if I’ve won in the past and might have a decklist advantage, any match will be hard fought.

Magnus is on his signature deck, Project M, built around a bunch of midrange blue and black cards, like Guardian Beast and Vesuvan Doppleganger, power cards, artifacts, and a small red splash. It’s a sweet pile with a number of different interactions and angles of attack. It’s also quite weak against The Deck which can use its removal to get ahead on mana, trading swords for guardian beasts and disenchants for disks or icys (especially if they’re transmuted out), all the while getting ahead on books as UB isn’t the best color combination for removing artifacts. However, what the games were really about was me getting ahead in the power card war. Things like time twistering into lotus + mind twist, just mind twisting and amnesiaing entire hands, and so on. It was not the most fun I’d ever had. Especially not after the last exchange the second game, when Mg has sweet tech like Steal Artifact but I have red blasts, and one mind twist too much leaves him just fed up so he concedes. I felt kind of bad. Casual play is not really my thing, to say the least; if it’s not about winning, I have a hard time caring. Which is a bit odd, considering I’m a huge fan of RPGs where nobody really wins. But anyway. I never ever feel bad about winning. I’ve beaten small children, disabled people, unlucky people, people being far better players than me. But here, I came close. Magnus leaves, telling me he can’t take anymore, going outside for some fresh air. I go get another beer.

Mg returns later, having cooled off, no longer feeling as bad. That helps a bit. We chat a bit about pre-alpha playtest cards and things feel okay. Looking at the store’s inventory, I see some Power Artifacts for about 50 euros. Damn. I sold three copies for 22 a year ago, and I miss them. Some day now, it’s time to start getting the cards for some other deck, and Power Monolith combo is on the short list.

The next round, however, brings another disappointment: I face Micke Thai, probably the only other player running The Deck at the tournament. His only loss is also against Mällroth. And we finish our match in 14 minutes total. That must be some kind of record. In the first game, I believe he stone rains me down to 1 mana source, ancestrals and develops a tome, to which I concede. In the second game, he has two mishras where I draw nothing but counterspells. I die with a hand of 3 counterspells and a mana drain and at least 5 mana, but no removal for the mishras. Oh well. The mirror is what it is, possibly the worst matchup (depending on how confident you really are that The Deck is the best deck in the format by far), and sometimes it can be quite one-sided. 3-2 now, though, which should mean game over. Still one match to go, which I will obviously play out, but it looks grim.

The last round, I face a BRu aggro deck, with erg raiders, underworld dreams, I belive sedge trolls, bolts and blue power cards. The interesting game is I think the second one (I probably win the first one with removal into a book). He plays a midgame blood moon, to which I draw a card with a book. I was considering letting it resolve, having a counterspell, but him hitting me with a mishra I had no answer for. The only problem is me having an Abyss in hand with no black mana once the bloon moon resolves. So when I draw the Mox Jet on the book, I let the moon resolve. I play the abyss, then later I draw into Mox Pearl. In the meantime, he has played another Blood Moon, but he’s not dealing any real damage to me, me getting a CoP: Black out at some point, counteracting his Underworld Dreams. The books do their thing, and I eventually disenchant one copy of the enchantment, then orb or blast the second one, winning on the back of the tome and a bunch of counterspells.

 

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Top 8 announcment

 

 

Pizzas are delivered, and then it’s time for the top 8 annoncement. Gordon does it in style, first calling out some prizes for 9th place. And the rag man for last place. Interestingly enough, there’s a tie for that. It turns into a battle for last place, getting a bit more spicy as a N00bCon slot is awarded to the winner! A somewhat excellent idea, even though I’m a bit jealous, lacking a slot for next year and very likely not getting one, missing even a real community to play in unless I start travelling more to the Stockholm events (there’s not even any more sharks awarded before next spring). Anyway. Micke Thai is 5-1, I believe, and thus locked. I tried to do some math, something I should be okay at, meaning something like 2 or 3 out of 6 4-2’s could make top 8. When I’m not in 9th place, or even in 10th (as the 9th place prize got knocked down to 10th, because the 9th place finisher was Gordon’s co-organizer, Paddan), I get my hopes up a bit. Then Gordon announces that there’s a special prize for the top 8, besides the winner getting an Ivory Cup and the runner-up getting if I remember correctly a bagged Duelist life counter: it’s a Black Lotus playmat randomly awarded to someone in the t8, in order to not to make it too much about winning. It’s worth about $200 or so, he tells us, for some reason I fail to comprehend. Gordon is rolling a die. The playmat is awarded to … Svante Landgraf. Wow. Not only do I know I got into the top 8, I even got the best price without having played another game. It turns out Per, who got 7th or 6th place, had already left, needing to get home to Uppsala in time, so one other player was awarded a top 8 spot, meaning I really got 7th and not 8th, giving me a bit of breathing room. Still, it felt great. I even needed some old school playmat, only having this year’s N00bcon playmat when it comes to that.

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The Christopher Rush Black Lotus playmat

 

Maybe that makes me not want to win my quarterfinals enough. I don’t know. If Per’s absence had bumped me up to 7th place, I would have faced the #2 ranked player, Andreas Cermak, who is on some kind of insane streak and whom I had never played. Instead, I stay at 8th, Paddan, who took Per’s place, got 7th, and I’m facing Jonas Lefvert. Now, after having all our decks photographed and the top 8 starting, being bad at both names and faces, I ask Jonas if he’s played a long time, somewhat recognizing his name. He tells me we played in the top 8 of an Odyssey block PTQ in Uppsala back in the days. I remember that tournament; I played UG threshold/madness with Grizzly Fate and Catalyst Stone, losing to Johan Sadeghpour on madness (I think) in the semis, and apparently I demolished Jonas in the quarterfinals. Let’s hope for a repeat here, just fifteen years later. Sadly, that was not to come. Jonas is on Atog Aggro, red with bolts and Su-Chi, I believe splashing blue and black just for power cards, not at all the usual UR aggro style. The first game I don’t remember much of, but I lose somehow. The second one, I keep strip mine, tundra, 2 fellwars. I play a land. He plays land, mox, sol ring, chaos orb, orb my land. I never draw another mana source.

That happens, I suppose.

The rest of the top 8 is Micke Thai on The Deck, Cermak on his signature white zoo, Lefvert with the abovementioned Atog Aggro, Kalle on big URg aggro/midrange, Paddan on a WB deck splashing Erhnams and some red cards, Mällroth on Lestree zoo, and probably a straight deadguy (WB) deck (this will get clarified once the top 8 decks are posted on www.wak-wak.se). I play a casual match against Cermak, who also lost his quarterfinals, me losing 0-2 after having declined his offer for ante, explaining that I’m not really a gambler; for me, ante is -EV, as losing would hurt more than winning would help. Argothian Pixies is a hell of a card, that’s for sure.

I round up my things, get to cheer a bit for Micke in the semis but he loses to Paddan playing the BWrg deck. I don’t understand anything. (It turns out Kalle managed to defeat that deck in the finals later. Congrats!) Then I follow Seb, Micke and some other good guys from the Stockholm crowd out in the light summer night drizzle, catching the metro for just a few short stops before getting off, heading towards my friend’s apartment and some much-needed sleep. The next day I spend buying books, among those Titus Chalk’s excellent Generation Decks about the history of Magic, visiting an art exhibition, grabbing some food and a beer before hitting the train back home. Summer had just begun. Life was good.

So what about the deck I played? Amnesia wasn’t really good enough. UUU is restrictive, and as planned, you need to board it out against anything with red blasts. Life gain would be good. It’s probably time to listen to the Stockholm guys (Berlin and Seb) and add some Ivory Towers back in. I like Abyss over Moat and extra Serras, though, and basic lands aren’t very important. If you play in a casual environment (one where you don’t really need to beat the mirror), one Stone Rain main is enough. So, I’d cut the Amnesia for a maindeck Mirror, in the board cutting the mirror, the cop:red and the sylvan for two Ivory Towers and a City in a Bottle. You don’t need too much sideboard cards for the mirror anyway. Getting early green for the Sylvan is too hard, and you pretty much board out good cards anyway, at least as long as you’re not positive they don’t have Serras, and even then you have enough cards to take out, you just have to keep in some more big blue stuff, or board in a blue blast or two. Beating URx is more important by far.

That’s it. Thanks for reading. Please comment, share, like, scream random profanities at the world, buy me a beer, or just drink a good one yourself. Take care, see you around.

Props:

Gordon, for arranging an awesome tournament, and for that Rag Man match.
The Deck, for being love and life. You know, end of turn, draw a card.
Mg, for confirming my status as his nemesis (and of course creating the format), giving me another reason to carry on.

Slops:

Brewdog Bar, for being all out of Omnipollo Tjockis IIPA when I got there on Sunday afternoon just before catching my train.
Myself, for failing to take notes and pictures, making this report a bit more fictional in places that it really ought to have been.
Myself, for needing a month to write a tournament report. Boy, get your shit together.
Myself, for failing that orb flip. Just unacceptable.