On Swedish Tectonic Stability

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Here in Sweden, our mountains are very old, low and eroded, home to various trolls and giants but altogether stable. It’s a very tectonically uninteresting part of the world. No earthquakes anywhere near, not ever.

And it turns out, the same applies to deckbuilding in the 93/94 format under Swedish rules. In the ongoing Winter Derby, an online tournament played over Skype and the second-largest Old School tournament ever with over 140 participants, I faced a gentleman from the United States who was playing URB Troll Disco. He had an Earthquake maindeck. After our match, I told him I didn’t think Earthquake was even a playable card in the Swedish format, whereas it’s an all-star maindeck card in the EC or Atlantic format. Why is that? Everybody knows that the inclusion of Fallen Empires helps aggro decks, be it white weenie or black aggro with the Orders, black with Hymn to Tourach, or goblins getting Goblin Grenade and becoming a real deck. And the EC format has its 4 Strip Mines to further cement an early aggro board advantage. Sure, an anti-aggro card like Earthquake should be less of a necessity under Swedish rules, but unplayable? Don’t you still face aggro sometimes?

You do, but the kind of aggro you’re likely to face isn’t affected by Earthquake very much at all. The thing is, the 1-toughness creatures most affected by Earthquake are all from FE or belong to a FE-based deck: Order of Leitbur, Order of the Ebon Hand, Icatian Javelineers, various Goblins (because of the presence of Goblin Grenade). What do we have in Swedish? Savannah Lion, and that’s it. White Knight and Black Knight are rarely played and very bad anyway, then things like Kird Ape which make Earthquake look quite bad.

So Earthquake goes from being a slam-dunk maindeck card to an almost unplayable sideboard card. What else? A friend played a WGR midrange deck to something like a 0-3 start. Why? It was full of good cards, using Lightning Bolt, Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares and Fireball, and probably some number of Earthquakes, to clear the way for Erhnam Djinn, Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon. What’s wrong with that? Well, this kind of deck really preys upon low-curve creature-based aggro. You have a ton of removal to stay even in the early game and then midrange threats to take over the midgame. When facing Atog, or UR burn, or god forbid The Deck or some combo deck, this just isn’t effective. The weenie aggro decks this sort of deck is meant to prey upon just isn’t there, rending the archetype almost unplayable.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t just consider which cards are available to you. You should consider what this means for the metagame as a whole and what decks you are likely to face. If everybody will play Hymn to Tourach and 4 Strip Mine because it’s a rare EC tournament in Europe and people will want to experience what’s new to them (seriously, at the EC Lighthouse tournament in Genoa, I faced something like 3 Hymn decks in 6 rounds), maybe a Land Tax deck is better than in usual EC. If you’re playing a spiky tournament in Sweden, you should know many of the old ringers like their The Deck and probably shouldn’t bring Troll Disco to beat all the random artifact decks. And please, don’t maindeck Earthquake this side of the pond. It’s just way too tectonically stable here.

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Some notes on NA Eternal Weekend 2017

The Old School tournament at last year’s NA Eternal Weekend sported a whooping 118 players, making it a great snapshot of the EC format metagame, as well as a vast source of interesting decks. Go check out the coverage on Eternal Central on which this article is heavily based. It’s great! All images are curtesy of Eternal Central. (I tried to contact them to get permission, but never got any response. If anyone reads this and want the images removed, I’ll replace them with links instead.)

The EC format and the metagame

I usually play by Swedish 93/94 rules, so the main differences in the EC rules are the inclusion of Fallen Empires, and the unrestrictions of Strip Mine and Mishra’s Workshop. The most important one of these should be Strip Mine by far. Going through the 113 decklists we have, I found 35 decks with fewer than 3 strip mines. That number is likely too high. I suspect that close to 90 % of the decks are better off with a full playset. The card is just busted. It doesn’t seem to have affected the rest of the metagame that much, though. There are a number of control decks in the top 16, and the mana bases aren’t any less greedy than we’re used to in 93/94.

Fallen Empires, however, affect the metagame in a big way. White Weenie-based decks, many splashing red, and some splashing both red and blue, are much more common than they are in Sweden, and Goblins has become an archetype. There’s even a merfolk deck floating around, as well as some reanimator brews. The number of Hymn to Tourach, though, are far lower than might be expected: not a single copy in the top 16. There might be a bit fewer combo decks than in 93/94, but not overwhelmingly so, which was something I feared would happen in a Hymn world.

There are a number of widely different Workshop decks, none of which seem overly powerful.

There’s a curious absence of The Deck: just seven copies in the whole tournament and only one in the top 16. One might think this is due to the hymns, but if that is the case, it’s because of fright, not actual oppressing taking place, as the hymns just aren’t out in place. I also refuse to believe strip mine does much if anything to hurt The Deck, a deck with a pretty solid mana base and lots of cheap answers. One reason for the lack of success might be that most The Deck lists are horrible, sporting 3 or just 2 copies of Jayemdae Tome and far too few mana sources in a 4-Strip Mine world, but even a suboptimal copy of The Deck is likely to be favored against a wide variety of decks. And this is in one of the more spikey tournaments around. I think we can firmly state that The Deck isn’t dominating the format anymore and that no further restrictions need to be aimed in its direction.

Interesting decks

There are lots of creative decks at this tournament. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

 

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First up, there are two UWR shahrazad decks in the top 16! Basically shahrazad aggro burn. I have no idea how it works when time is called in a subgame, or how it affects the timing of the rounds, so I’m not the hugest fan of the logistical problems, but there’s no denying the card is sweet. And the two lists are almost identical so there’s something there when it comes to power as well.

 

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Of the three Stasis decks in the tournament, I think James Easteppe’s is my favorite. The inclusion of Time Vault and the sideboard Paralyzes are beautiful.

 

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Daniel Friedman’s Guardian Beast Control is not only a very beautiful deck, but a clean machine as well. The number of artifacts seems quite low, as is the exclusion of Transmute Artifact and running Spell Blast over the fourth copy of Swords to Plowshares. Also just 25 mana sources, and no Strip Mines! Alright, maybe this list isn’t so good after all. But I think there is something there, in running The Deck with multiple copies of Copy Artifact and Guardian Beast. I’d probably go for a Transmute based build though.

 

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Now here is something I can hardly begin to comprehend. Matt Dennis’ Living Plane-based prison, locking people out with Plane, Drop of Honey, Tabernacle and numerous other interactions. Is it good? I have no idea. But it certainly does something novel, and fairly evil. I like it.

 

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We’ve seen Martin Jordö having success with the MirrorBall archetype, but Chris Pepin’s take on the archetype is far more controlling, sporting full sets of Disenchant and Swords to Plowshares in the main deck, along with two copies of Wrath of God! To fit all of this in, Pepin runs no counterspells besides the single Mana Drain, as well as no Fastbonds and only one Dark Heart of the Wood. But there are Mishra’s Factories as additional win conditions. I love brewing more decks on the spectrum between control and combo, and while I think you need some more disruption than this, it’s got a bunch of interesting ideas. Also, there’s a Presence of the Master in the sideboard.

 

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Continuing the Mirror Universe route, there’s Shane Semmen’s 4C Mirror Control, a bizzarre Workshop-powered monstrosity, again sporting removal (Lightning Bolts and two maindeck Shatters) over counterspells, and a couple of Transmutes along with sweet bullets like Forcefield and Candelabra. I don’t know how the deck wins through removal, and I don’t get the sideboard Clone at all, but it certainly ticks off a number of things I like about the format.

 

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Finally, there’s Charles Rolko’s Reanimator deck, another deck made viable by the inclusion of Fallen Empires, as Deep Spawn is one of the better things to reanimate. I love seeing those Tetravuses here, and obviously the same goes for the actual Nicol Bolas back when he was more about reading books than killing The Avengers. Is it good? I have no idea. Is it optimally built? I can’t even begin to guess. But it’s certainly sweet.

Concluding thoughts

None of the decks above are present in the Top 16, though, with the exception of the Shahrazad decks. Why not? Hard to tell, but none of these lists benefit greatly from Strip Mine, whereas many of them can be hurt by aggression or heavy control backed up by a buch of selective land destruction. I’d argue that midrange and combo are hurt the most by the 4-strip metagame, and that is sad. With Strip Mine restricted, the format gets opened up wider.

So what should be done about the format, then, in my opinion? I think Workshop definitely should be unrestricted, as it just breeds more creativity (and, while being an occasional Vintage player, I’m not playing that format competitively enough to justify playing non-blue decks, thus owning zero copies of the card). Strip Mine should definitely stay restricted; it does little good for the format and just leads to more non-games of Magic. Other than that, Recall could easily be unrestricted, in the way of Fork. It wouldn’t be broken in any existing deck, just opening up more semi-viable strategies. From a pure gameplay scenario, I also like the introduction of Fallen Empires. People love their WW and goblin decks, two archetypes which are horribly underpowered in 93/94. From an aesthetic standpoint, however, the expansion just doesn’t fit, so I’m leaning towards it not being worth the trade-off.