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:
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.
This is a guest post by Chicago player Matt Moss, a report on a very interesting format and a great trip. Enjoy! /Svante (who will mostly stay quiet throughout, but is inserting a comment or two along the way)
It is late Saturday afternoon at Eternal Central HQ, located in the industrial heart of West Chicago, and the room has gone eerily quiet to my ears after hours of cheering and shouting. The few remaining souls are turning out the lights and headed to Chinatown for dinner and somehow I’ve ended up wearing a Lord of the Pit jacket that’s not my own. The stale smell of Dude + Jagermeister lingers in my nostrils thanks to the sole source of ventilation today being the cracked-open front windows, and they let in more sound from the passing Green Line than they do fresh air. The lights go out, and the sun is set on another successful Lords event, this one the second installment of the Novicecon. Here, 24 mages met to trade, talk shop, talk shit, raise money for charity, and engage in arcane battle using the Old School ways, albeit this time with a twist…
II. Novicecon 2018: The Rules
The rules for Novicecon II drew from both the EC Old School 93/94 and Old School 95 (adding Ice Age and Homelands) formats. Wizards were charged with building a deck for each format and the day’s program began with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. The extra spice, however, was the unified card pool rule, the result of which (to quote EC’s description) meant that “if you shuffle your two decks and sideboards together, it could be presented as a legal 150+ card deck. The totality of your two decks must follow the appropriate Banned and Restricted List, and must not include more than four of any other than basic lands.”
III. Lead-up: 5 Days, 6 Decks
My previous two experiences playing 95 came at the Madison Offensives, first playing a UW Control list featuring Jester’s Cap and Copy Artifact in 2017, then the mighty Reanimator 95 list in 2018. Both events were a blast to play, but didn’t offer the brewing challenge that the unified card pool would for Novicecon. Now I had to consider how best to deploy my most powerful resources. Which deck would get the Chaos Orb? How would I divide my Moxen? My decision-making process came down to a lot of trial and error, second guessing and last minute scrambling for Ice Age cards.
The week leading up to Novicecon began with an “Earth Day” meet-up of the Lords at a Dungeons & Dragons-themed bar, DMen Tap, where players were encouraged to use green-based decks. I brought a quite sub-optimized Green-Black Arboria Millstone list that I didn’t take too seriously, though I was curious about the brewing potential because my other deck, UW Artifacts, had done well the previous weekend at the Knights TAPlar’s Kumite! event in Jackson, Michigan. My early thinking, considering the unified card pool for Novicecon, was that I could possibly go GB in 95 and keep my UW together for 93/94. I quickly scuttled that idea after discovering that my grindy GB deck wasn’t my cup o’ tea. It was time to brew something new.
The next meet-up was a Wednesday gathering of Lords, again at DMen Tap, where I tried a new pair decks with a unified card pool. I had a Mono Blue build for 93/94, featuring Flying Men, Zephyr Falcon, Serendib and Azure Drakes, plus Unstable Mutations, countermagic and broken blue cards. That deck played pretty damn well! My 95 list, however, was a rather uninspired Naya pile that had lots of removal and a handful of Spiders plus a set of Erhnams to provide some spike value. That list also ran effectively, especially with Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and Lotus all on-hand to power out T1 Ernies. I wasn’t too inspired in the 95 realm, so it was back to the drawing board for a more creative list. I was at mid-week and no clue what to do with Saturday fast approaching.
After a bit of online chat with Svante about the 95 format, particularly the broken combo of Necropotence + Demonic Consultation, I decided to dive into the Land of Combo, with the aforementioned pair of cards being the engine for a Power Monolith list. The end goal of this deck was quite simple: draw a shitload of cards and assemble the Big Fireball. The “getting there” part was tricky for me, mostly because I don’t play much combo and hadn’t played with Necro, outside of a handful of pickup Vintage games, since the original Ice Age days. Svante helped tweak my first draft, and I was ready to test the Grixis-colored list. Because the deck required most of of my Power and restricted cards, and because I also had to consider the unified card pool constraint, I decided to go with White Weenie on the 93/94 side. This was a decision borne mostly out of necessity more than creativity, but I hadn’t played a WW list for a long time, so it would freshen up the 93/94 experience for me. The WW list was mostly garden variety, only I excluded the Crusades, thinking that other players may be on WW. My proclivity for midrange also led me to toss in a pair of Juggernaut as an easy 4-drop (given eight brown lands), and also as a nice hedge against Gloom. Going with WW meant that I only had two real decisions to make regarding the unified card pool: where to put Mox Pearl, and how to divide the Strip Mines. All five cards ended up in WW because a) I opted for on-color Moxen only in the 95 deck and, b) I wanted the Strips to give WW an outsized advantage in 93/94.
Now, with my fifth and sixth decks of the week in hand, I opted for a final evening of testing, this time at abode of Lord Petray, aka the MTG Meatball. I insisted on guest DJ’ing that and arrived with a slab of classic rock vinyl to spin. With Donald Fagan’s ‘The Nightly’ on-deck, the 95 Combo build began unleashing terror, consistently by turn 4, even as this unseasoned pilot fumbled through the first couple games’ worth of Necro and DC triggers (mostly getting the exile piles correct). I was convinced that the deck had a high ceiling, though it would be the Blast Wars in SB games that would be its primary challenge. The deck was even able to out-Necro the standard BR Necro list, as it simply ignored the opponent, assembled the combo and dealt the killing blow. I was ready for Novicecon.
IV. Saturday Breakfast + My Chaos Orb Debacle
The Saturday of Novicecon began with a meeting of several Lords at Handlebar in Wicker Park for breakfast. I opted for the breakfast burrito, a solid base for the day’s imbibing, and washed it down with the Bloody Hammer, their take on a Bloody Mary, feat. a fried pickle spear. The breakfast confab soon turned against me, notably because of my absent Chaos Orb Marksman patch. I’d failed the challenge once, at the prior year’s Novicecon, and hadn’t tried it since. Why not? I guess I didn’t enjoy being the center of attention and having a number of dudesweats yelling at me while trying to concentrate. Perhaps it was the Bloody Hammer influencing my decision making, but I agreed to try for the patch first thing when we arrived at EC HQ. After the meal, Lord Agra drove his breakfasting cohort to the secured location where Novicecon would unfold.
After settling in at EC HQ, I opted to get my Chaos Orb trial out of the way ASAP, and selected as my poison four shots of Jagermeister. My requirement would thus be to hit 50 Chaos Orb flips without missing more than five (4 shots + 1 grace) I figured that if I couldn’t complete the challenge with four shots on the line, I didn’t deserve the patch anyhow. A handful of spectators, perhaps eight or nine, gathered around and I was off… and doing well! I’d worked on a new two-handed technique that seemed to be paying off despite my own nervous energy. I’d missed a couple flips but rolled into the mid-20s and was right on schedule… and that’s when the wheels fell off! I flamed out after a bad sequence around no. 30 and ended at a lousy 31/50 flips, a wretch performance. The yips had gotten me, again, and now it was time to begin Novicecon with a solid buzz from the Bloody Hammer the four Jager and a can of Hamm’s (to console with after my ignominious Orb-flipping exhibition.
V. Novicecon Rounds
The agenda was to proceed with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. Pairings would be based on cumulative record. I chatted with Mike Butzen, a gentleman Thrull who treks in from the hinterlands of Wisconsin for most Lords events, about selling my white-bordered, German Serendib Efreet (nicknamed “Edgar”), and we closed on that transaction. I also engaged with Lord Sanders for a trade; he was in the market for an Oubliette (one of my personal favorite artwork in MTG) of which I had a pair and only needed to keep one for my 93/94 cube. After perusing Sanders’ wares, we settled on a straightaway swap of my Oubliette for his Unlimited Fastbond. Trading closed, and the matches were on!
Round One vs. M. Butzen (0-1)
It didn’t take long for Dear Edgar to reappear, this time on the opposite side of the battlefield. Butzen was on a UW weenies build that featured Savannah Lions, Dibs and topped out with some Serra Angels. My WW sprinted to a quick 1-0 lead thanks to nice curving, and G2 turned into a meat grinder with too many of my weenies falling prey to Butzen’s boarded Psychic Purges. G3 was an Strip Magic masterpiece featuring seven of our eight Strips being deployed. Unfortunately, I was on the short side of the Strip battle and also fell on the short side of the match, 1-2. It was fine vengeance for Butzen, who had 5-1’d the previous Lords event with his sole defeat at the hands of my GW Shops.
Round Two vs. D. Dunaway (1-1)
If I remember correctly, Danny made the trip in with Butzen. We’d met in passing at a previous event or two, but had never matched up. For the 93/94 portion of this Novicecon, he’d selected a Monoblack list, giving us a classic pairing of Black & White, good & evil. G1 was another well-curved boat race for the WWs, but G2 was an equally vicious beating for the Bad Guys. Dunaway slammed a T2 Gloom onto the battlefield and I had no answer within reach. A Juzam, then a second Juzam quickly brought the game to a close. I saw a hot start in G3 with Plains-Mox-Order of Leitbur, then Dunaway again deployed a fast Gloom, this time on the back of Demonic Tutor. I again had no answer for Gloom, but, fortunately for me, that Order was able to go the entire distance as Dunaway drew no answers of his own. WW scraped by and collected the match win and I was much less gloomy.
Round Three vs. M. Sharp (2-1)
I was a few brewskis deeper and into round three and things began to get a bit hazy as I sat across from Matt Sharp. Sharp, hailing from suburban Chicago, is a new-coming Old Schooler that I hadn’t met prior to this Novicecon. The Lords are fortunate to draw on such a dense nexus of players here in the midwest and new faces are always a pleasure to see. Sharp had at a well-tuned Erhnamgeddon list at the ready, but the White Weenies overwhelmed the match. Timely answers for Sharp’s bigger threats (Ernie got sent farming) and my low mana curve powered me to a 2-0 victory and a 2-1 finish in the 93/94 section of Novicecon. I felt pretty good about the first three rounds as we broke for lunch. I also took time to make a deal with Ron Longhi, another suburbanite and Lords regular, for a CE Shivan Dragon.
Round Four vs. S. Maldonado (3-1)
Lord Maldo of Milwaukee is one my dear MTG pals and, as the lunch break ran out, we sat chatting about the brews we’d stewed up for 95 action. I was confident that I’d assembled a potent list and he mentioned thinking about Juzam Djinn for his Monoblack Necro list. I pulled a copy of the Green Guy from my binder and slid it over as the R4 pairings were announced… guess who was coming to dinner! Maldo and I would be pitted in Round 4 and we laughed about having divulged our deck tech. G1 was a glorious debut for my Necro Power Monolith list as I nailed Maldo with the Big Fireball by T4. G2 started with dueling Necropotence before Maldo cast Demonic Consultation. He named Strip Mine. I figured Maldo was gunning to take me off double blue mana to keep Power Artifact at bay as he began exiling cards for DC. He kept flipping… and flipping… and flipping and, then, it was all over and his entire library lay in ruin. He had Consulted for a SECOND Strip Mine while having one in-hand and, uh, zero other copies in his library! The unified card pool had just gifted me the W as Maldo forgot the number of Strips in his deck. Maldo was vanquished 2-0 and we shared a laugh at his misfortune and he took it like a champ. Live like a Lord, Die Like a Lord.
Round Five vs. Jaco (3-2)
I sat with Jaco for the fourth round figuring he would be on Reanimator and, sure enough, he was on Reanimator. For those curious, this harnesses Bazaar of Baghdad and eight Reanimator effects (Animated Dead + Dance of the Dead) to power out big threats quickly. It can also maintain a steady rotation of Ashen Ghouls and Nether Shadows from the graveyard for constant harassment. Finally, having access to four Demonic Consultation makes Bazaar (the deck’s engine, think Dredge here) a consistent early play. Now, as strong as that build is for 95, I thought I could outrace it before Jaco got a big dude or a horde of Ghouls & Shadows online. My hopes were soon dashed in G1 as Animate Dead + Deep Spawn hit the board T1 and the rout was on. I went to my sideboard, loaded up on Blasts and Tormod’s Crypts and we were off on G2. This time, I was able to assemble the combo and deliver the big hurt to tie the match at 1-1. As for G3, well, by this time, the day’s drinking had begun to catch up to me and I don’t quite remember the finish, although I know that a) I lost, and b) there were Blasts involved. Oh well, I thought. I fell to 3-2, but had put up a good fight against one of the stronger 95 lists possible, and only fell a Blast short of a win..
Round Six vs. B. Shriver (3-3)
The final round paired me with Bill, another Chicagolander with a penchant for combo-based strategies. I don’t recall (pun intended) whether it was before or after our match, but Bill gave me a hookup on a Legends Recall. After the card was unrestricted under Swedish rules, Bill had the presence of mind to land a few copies prior their disappearance from the market, and like a true gentleman he passed along the savings. Thanks again, Bill! Now, as for our match, Bill piloted a sweet Necro Land’s Edge combo brew. We split the first two games, my win coming on the back of a giant Fireball and his win on the back Glacial Chasm buying him time to cut me down with Land’s Edge. All four of my Strip Mines were parked in my WW deck so I had no answer for Glacial Chasm! The deciding G3 seemed to be going in my favor. I assembled the Power Monolith and went for for the Big Fireball. Here’s how it played out: Hydroblast, Pyroblast, a second Hydroblast(!), Demonic Consultation naming Pyroblast… Unfortunately, karma came back to bite me in the ass as I had no Pyroblast remaining and my entire library was exiled! Bill got the 2-1 win and I finished the day 3-3 in matches. It was a fitting way to go out, too, because I’d earlier cheaped a win via Lord Maldo’s errant Consultation. The cosmic ledger was now balanced.
I ended up at 3-3, but all three of my match loses came down to close G3s, so I was happy overall with my decks’ performance (notwithstanding the pilot, of course). I was pleased my 95 Combo was able to quickly assemble in most of the games, but it felt a little too light on disruption and could have benefited perhaps from Hymn to Tourach out of the sideboard to try and sweep away Blasts. Or perhaps I was just overanxious in trying to deploy the Big Fireball and needed to get more Blasts in-hand. I will definitely tinker with this list and come back to it in the future. Meanwhile, over in 93/94, White Weenie was fun to take out for a half-day trip, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying to play or win with. That level of aggro just isn’t my general game although it fit nicely here with the unified card pool. I ended up 10/24 players and took home an inked-up Deep Spawn for the day’s effort.
Editor’s note: I think more Barbed Sextants, blasts, and Flash Counters are the way to go, although the possibility of a Hymn plan is certainly interesting as well. There’s also some merit to a more cantrip-heavy shell with Portents.
VII. The Top Decks
Most of my downtime between rounds was spent trading, drinking and bullshitting, so I skipped out on the action at the top tables. but after checking out the lists on the EC site I can confirm there were some juicy cuts. Here were our top four wizards:
1st – Greg Kotscharjan on UW midrange (feat. Preacher/Diamond Valley combo) and Naya.
2nd – Chris Bergeson on RUG and 95 Reanimator (feat. Polar Kraken).
3rd – Jaco on Pink Weenie and 95 Reanimator.
4th – Lorien Elleman on Bantgeddon and Necro Land’s Edge (similar to what I saw in R6).
While I already chronicled my own Chaos Orb follies above, a special mention must be given to three Lords that successfully completed their own challenges: both Kotscharjan and Bergeson added a Chaos Orb Marksman patch to compliment their Top 4 finishes. Lord Sanders took one home. In a display of truly Unholy Strength, Lord Bergeson became the first person to nail all 50 flips with nary a miss! He then celebrated by downing his allotment of shots, Malort no less, in quick succession. Congratulations, gentlemen, may I one day join the ranks of ye mighty!
IX. Closing Thoughts
What a gathering! The split format, inclusion of 95 and the unified card pool gave everyone a chance to innovate and the resulting gameplay was far better for it. That stated, the genius of all Old School MTG lies not within the gameplay, nor even the cards and their nostalgic power, but within the community itself, which was on display in abundance during the second annual Novicecon. The assembled Lords and guests showed up in-force to catch up with friends new and old, toss back drinks and talk, trade and sling cardboard, all while raising money for a good cause. I recommend that all players try the 95 format, or experiment with their own variants, and continue to build and enrich their own Old School MTG community.
Thanks for reading and thanks again to Svante for letting me guest blog!
And thanks Matt for an awesome report of an awesome event. Wish I had been there! /Svante
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.
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:
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:
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!
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:
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.
This year, I somehow ended up helping organizing the 93/94 event at BSK (Borås Spelkonvent) in Borås, Sweden, this past weekend. In the past, this tournament has had a Shark as the trophy, being what I have understood is the oldest still running 93/94 tournament, but this year, that trophy has moved to Arvika. Still, there was a tradition to uphold and old pieces of cardboard to tap. We ended up being 38 players, although a handful being delayed due to a late flight, and we settled for 5 rounds of Swiss followed by top 8. Which was just as well, considering the finals was finished shortly past 3 a.m. anyway.
The tournament went well, despite a small computer error delaying the start of the top 8. I suggested we ran sudden death chaos orb flips instead of rolling a die to decide between the 8th and 9th place when the tiebreakers appeared to be unavailable, but it got sorted out when the computer restart worked. Maybe unfortunately. There’s a lot of potential there, including gradually increasing heights of the flips and more.
I unfortunately did not take nearly as many photos as I had intented (it being one of the duties I got assigned by Mg when I took over as organizer as he was unable to attend), but at least there are some random snapshots of matches in progress:
Then, it’s time for the decklists.
I want to thank everybody who attended, especially Micke Thai who provided some of the photographs as well as made the top 8 after starting out with a loss due to the late flight, Gordon Andersson for the generally good times, and everybody in the top 8 who managed to provide decklists even though I didn’t grab them all during the night. Maybe I’ll even do more of this organizing thing in the future. Who knows.
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.)
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:
4 power artifact
2 power sink
1 mana drain
1 mind twist
1 chaos orb
1 strip mine
1 sol ring
15 assorted blue lands: 3 volcanic, 3 tropical, 2 underground, 3 island, 4 city
1 mana short
1 city in a bottle
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:
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.
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!