BSK 2018: Organizer’s Report + Losing with Lich

Organizer’s Report

This past weekend, for the second year in a row, I was the organizer of the 93/94 tournament at the BSK gaming convention in Borås, Sweden. We had 26 players, running 5 rounds of swiss with a top 8, starting at 5 pm. In my opinion, 26 players is maybe the perfect size for a tournament. Top 8 makes sense, it doesn’t take all day, and you can talk to everybody you want to. It is a bit sad that BSK has fallen so much; two years ago, it used to be the second yearly Shark tournament after N00bCon and likely the second largest tournament in Sweden and the world before old school became a thing in the US and Italy. But it still exists and it usually brings out a lot of good people, including parts of the original Gothenburg crowd. There were a large number of Sharks in attendance, I can tell you that.

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Fluffy vs Olle on table 1, eventually ending in a draw
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Stattin vs Lindén
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Two quarterfinals in action

This is the final standings after the swiss:

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Olle Råde decided to drop and have dinner instead (he was playing a straightforward UR serendib/atog burn deck), but these are the decks of the actual top 8:

Stattin
Jonas Stattin’s RUG aggro, 1st place. Note the maindeck Storm Seeker, which was almost as good as a Fireball on several occasions.
Lindstrom
Martin Lindström’s The Deck, 2nd place. The sideboard Tranquilities are the real tech here, as is Icy over maindeck Stone Rain (handles Library a whole lot worse, though).
Karlsson
Micke Thai’s The Deck. Basically Åland’s list from Arvika with the two maindeck Serras and only 3 books, the third being kept in the board.
Schram
Robert Schram’s Lauter.dec. Have I mentioned this is not the spiciest top 8 ever?
Nilsson
Mattias Nilsson’s Underworld Dreams Midrange. I have no idea how that BBBUURR manabase works, but at least it’s a somewhat novel concept.
Lofgren
Hannes Löfgren’s BWu midrange, to further build Danny Friedman’s case that everybody plays Underworld Dreams in Sweden.
Linden
Mikael Lindén’s Fantasy Zoo. So many lightning bolts and disenchants in this top 8!
Jansson
Andreas Jansson’s artifact midrange. Especially note the rare Yawgmoth Demon sighting here.
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In the end, we had one happy Jonas Stattin as the winner. The 2nd place finisher got a Sorrow’s Path, and we also randomly gave out two The Dark boosters, one to somebody in the top 8 and one to somebody outside of it.

 

Losing with Lich

Now, over to my personal experience with the tournament. First, the documentation of the necessary pre-event burgers and beer.

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Now, this is the deck I played:

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I have been brewing with Lich for a while and I believe this mirrorball shell is the best home for it. Basically, you just replace Mana Vault with Dark Rituals and play a few more black lands. Lich gives you a true combo finish against control, where the mirror plan is slow, clunky, and vulnerable, as well as another path to brokenness. I’m not saying it’s better than normal mirrorball but at the same time it isn’t strictly worse either.

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I also did get off a Lich kill the very first match of the tournament, against Jocke Almelund’s sweet Enchantress/Mana Flare/Candelabra build. He finished 3-2 on the day.

However, after that round 1 win, the wheels quite literally soon fell off. I did have a combo turn where I went ancestral, wheel, recall wheel, drawing 17 cards and still not finding what I needed. I played against The Deck where he kept in 4 Swords when I brought in my creatures. I also did some grave misplays. These kind of combo decks are some of the harder to play in the format for sure. I ended on a 2-3 record.

I think the list is mostly fine although my cutting of Pearl and Balance are likely wrong. The real bad thing was however the sideboard. I went too deep here, trying the Erhnams against control, the Trolls as additional threats when transforming and also defense against midrange, and finally Disks to get rid of all the troublesome permanents like Underworld Dreams and Blood Moon. But that’s just not good enough. It doesn’t work the way it should. I probably ought to play some other removal, likely a combination of Disenchant and The Abyss, possibly with some Mazes thrown in, and then at least one Mana Short against control. And I need to do more work on how to board in different matchups. I could also see another Fastbond and/or Dark Heart maindeck. The slots are tight but some things will have to go.

I’m not unhappy, though. Maybe with my plays, but not really with the result. I chose the deck because I had played a bunch of very spiky decks the past few events (The Deck, Troll Rack, Dibatog) and wanted to combo a bit, and also that I didn’t really want to try to win the tournament I TO’d that much. Success in that respect at least.

Now a very busy period with 3 events in 4 weeks have passed, and I’ll write about some other things. If nothing else, there’s a half-written Rereading Centurion post laying around here somewhere. Stay tuned.

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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.