Failing with Fork

I’ve been playing a bunch of Fork combo lately. Mostly this list, which I played at a small gathering the day before Grand Prix Stockholm this past weekend.

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I went 1-3 at the tournament, and I don’t think I won a single game when we were playtesting at Belgobaren over lunch before, so I won’t say much about the individual matches. But the deck is interesting. It started out as Fork Recursion, one of Gordon Andersson’s favourite decks, and one I’ve been itching to try since the unrestriction of Recall. My first stab was in a Mirrorball shell, looking roughly like this:


I tested it a small bit, with limited success. It had too little red mana for the Forks, I think, but in the end, it comes down to one thing: I hate Howling Mine. I know, I played it at both Twiddlevault and Atog at The Boat, but in the former it was a (maybe, somewhat) necessary evil, and in the latter mostly a liability, at least in retrospect. It boils down to this:

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Yeah. Fuck that card. So I wanted to try to build the Fork engine without having to play as many naked Howlings and getting them destroyed. If you play four copies of the card, there will be situations when you just have to jam it and hope. And Relic Barriers just don’t belong in combo decks. Sure, you can tap mana artifacts too, and that makes Mana Short much more of a plan post-board, but it’s so hard to find the slots. I did consider it for Twiddlevault and will continue to do so in the future but I have no high hopes there. Rather, I was looking into other ways of building resources in your time walk turns. One idea I’ve been toying with is going heavy on Transmute and Copy Artifact, so you can search for your one or two copies of Howling Mine when you need them and then copy them a bunch of times. Another thing is regular books, although Jayemdae is very expensive, especially when you have Fork + Time Walk instead of Twiddle + Time Vault. Multiple books is out of the question. Sylvan is still good, of course. Bazaar isn’t bad, but you still need some way of getting actually ahead on resources. (And the additional problem of me not owning any, but those could certainly be borrowed in a tournament and proxied for playtesting.)

So I want to cut some Howlings. Another idea I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind is a Blood Moon-powered combo deck, being heavy red with a bunch of islands, using the Moon to buy time and disrupt control. This should in theory work well with the heavy red mana requirements of the Fork deck. I did something I rarely do: I brewed in physical space. Spreading out the various combo parts I was considering, I went to work. A small Candleflare component could also work here, also defended by Moon making giving opponents mana less dangerous, and allowing for more ways of generating the mana for a large Fireball + Fork. Another option was a small Twiddlevault hybrid package, like a Time Vault and three Twiddles. In the end, what had to go was the disruption. No Counterspells of any kind here besides the Mana Drain.

So what happened? Going off is hard. Sometimes you just never find Time Walk or Demonic Tutor. But there are enough smaller combos to abuse Fork to make that no deal breaker. The mana felt a little bit off, I would have needed 1 or maybe even 2 more Island to support the Blood Moon. I had that initially, but then I felt a bit low on red for Fork. Moons are sometimes great, of course, but maybe they belong only in the board. Speaking of which, I should have more Shivans. Now I never got to board in my sweet Alpha Phantasmal Forces, which are actually not bad against control or non-red midrange, but Shivans are the real deal. Good with Blood Moon and all the acceleration, good against aggro in general, reasonably easy to defend against BEBs with REBs. One Power Sink could have been good, maybe just in the board, as a way to interact more when cutting some of the combo. Maze is laughingly bad with Blood Moon which I should have anticipated. The draw engine seems to work alright when going off. I’d like to take a stab at that Twiddlevault hybrid, I think. Maybe something like this, based on the changes suggested by Mattias Berggren after the tournament:

The deck is still no killer. It’s worse than several other combo decks, I think, not to mention the real tier 1 decks like The Deck and Atog. But it’s sure fun. And the raw power level is high. Having access to Blood Moon and City in a Bottle along with the Shivans might mean this has a better board plan than most other combo decks in the format. The main problem is the lack of interaction or threats against real control or highly disruptive decks, like UR with Counterspells and tons of blasts. Especially with the current board. But that’s a gamble maybe worth taking. Another build would probably cut the Candleflare package for Counterspells and try to fit in Mana Short in the board, for example.

Now it’s time to experiment with some Lich, I think. If anything interesting turns up I’ll be sure to write about it. See you around.

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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.

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.

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!

Catching a BUG

So, how about building a deck based on some color combination? How about BUG?

Sure, sounds fun.

What’s BUG about? What are the first things which come to mind?

Juzam, serendib, erhnam. Elves of deep shadow, for some reason.

Okay, let’s go with that. First shell. What’s the mana like? With full power, we can’t fit too many elves in. Birds have to be better. How many duals? Let’s start with the other stuff. Moxen, lotus, sol ring, 4 city, 4 mishra, strip mine; that’s 16 already. Probably not library. Maybe 30 mana including 4 mishras and a strip mine (which do something else than produce mana) and 4 birds (which die a lot) seems reasonable. That leaves about 10 duals. Should be workable. Not great when the birds die, but it will have to do. One color will have to be the splash, and it’s likely it’s blue, as we want juzams and birds.

After the mana, let’s add the broken stuff. 3 blue cards and braingeyser (which should be good with all that mana). Tutor and mind twist. Regrowth. A couple of sylvans seem like a good idea when we’re aggressive. Chaos orb. That’s 10 more cards. 20 more to go.
A couple of nether voids seems like a good plan with all this acceleration and heavy board presence. Some removal maybe? Two or three psionic blasts, maybe we have to run a crumble. A couple of sinkholes might be good. Not a full set, just two, to handle mishras, kill library and as general tempo. We don’t want to flood on non-impactful cards late game. 13 more to go.

We probably want something like 10 or 11 creatures; the full eight djinns are too much, I think, but 4 serendibs seems good. Add a mirror for some extra reach and life gain against aggro; we have enough acceleration to get it down early enought, I think.
What is missing now? No rituals, no hypnotics, no argothian pixies. Rituals don’t go too well with birds and serendibs, and they cause us to lose cards too much (cf. the Handleman school). I prefer not to have any important creatures to die to lightning bolts, I think that is a real plan. Not very much removal, but we have giant creatures. If we really need to kill some permanent, we have an orb and a tutor and a bunch of card draw to find it with. No recall, but I doubt we have enough cards in hand to use it effectively most of the time.

So something like this:

5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
4 birds
4 mishra
1 strip mine
4 city
4 bayou
4 tropical
2 underground sea
1 ancestral
1 time walk
1 timetwister
1 braingeyser
1 regrowth
1 demonic tutor
1 mind twist
2 sylvan
1 chaos orb
2 nether void
2 sinkhole
2 psionic blast
1 crumble
4 serendib
4 juzam
3 erhnam
1 mirror universe
1 mystery card

This actually sounds sweet. Too bad getting juzams is far away in the future for me. What could I use instead? Oh yeah, su-chi is quite good, also not dying to lightning bolt.
Wait. What are we using black for, exactly? Why are we not just splashing nether void and the broken cards? Sinkhole is hardly important. That would help the mana base a bit, possibly freeing up a mana drain.

Thinking about the mana base: we have 4 cities, 4 birds and moxen and lotus. That’s roughly enough to play any splash we’d want. A fireball or two would probably be good as a way of utilizing all that mana. And upgrading the crumble to a disenchant can be useful.

This, then:

5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
4 birds
4 mishra
1 strip mine
4 city
2 bayou
2 forest
4 tropical
2 underground sea
1 ancestral
1 time walk
1 timetwister
1 braingeyser
1 regrowth
1 demonic tutor
1 mind twist
2 sylvan
1 chaos orb
2 nether void
2 psionic blast
1 disenchant
4 serendib
4 erhnam
3 su-chi
1 mirror universe
1 fireball
1 control magic
1 mana drain

What about sideboard? 4 blue blasts to handle blood moon and burn. Some terror maybe, another control magic against midrange. A crumble. Gloom, probably. Maybe a concordant crossroads as more removal for the abyss. An avoid fate or two. Something along these lines:

4 beb
1 terror
1 control magic
1 crumble
1 steal artifact
2 gloom
1 concordant crossroads
2 avoid fate
2 whirling dervish
Man, this looks kind of good. Now I need to start aquiring serendibs, and erhnams, and birds and nether voids and …