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.

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BSK 2017: Organizer’s report

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.

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About to start. I believe. Might be later.

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.

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The standings after the full five rounds of Swiss

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:

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I can’t figure out why Morgan looks almost happy, facing down what appears to be an active Library.
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There’s just something about Sylvan Library that makes me happy. All those books inside, maybe.
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Waiting for some matches to finish
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Quarterfinals: Olle Råde vs Felipe Garcia
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Martin Jordö vs myself (Svante Landgraf) in the quarterfinals
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Semifinals between Mikael Lindén and Martin Jordö.

 

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Finals: Martin Jordö vs Olle Råde, not captured at a particularly exciting point. If any of these fine gentlemen would write a report, I’d happily publish it.
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In the end, it was Olle Råde who got to take down the The Fallen and the championship!

Then, it’s time for the decklists.

 

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Olle Råde, 1st place, UR Burn: a refined version of the deck he’s played with great success many times before, among those winning the exact same tournament two years ago!
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Martin Jordö, 2nd place, MirrorBall: especially intriguing is the use of a full four maindeck mirrors.
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Emil Klintbäck, 3/4th place, The Deck. I think I might have finally convinced Emil to cut that maindeck Lightning Bolt he used to run. :)
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Mikael Lindén, 3/4th place, URb troll burn. The sideboard is missing, but at least it involved some number of Nevinyrral’s Disk, as well as the usual red and blue blasts.
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Åland, 5-8th place, Fantasy Zoo
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Felipe Garcia, 5-8th place, TwiddleVault. A beautiful and interesting deck. I don’t understand how it can win but apparently it does, and that makes me happy. Abusing the restricted list is a viable concept, as Martin Jordö’s 2nd place deck is another example of. The Channel feels a bit sketchy with just one copy of Fireball but I might be missing something here.
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Micke Thai, 5-8th place, The Deck. If you want to go the maindeck Serra route, I think this is a very well-tuned list. I wouldn’t recommend it in an environment with a lot of Swords to Plowshares, though, and I would like a maindeck Moat over one of the Lightning Bolts.
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Svante Landgraf, 5-8th place, Power Monolith hybrid: The approach I chose seemed to be quite solid. I got to do a lot of broken things, including a 3rd turn kill, and despite the only 4-ofs in the 75 being Tundra and City of Brass, it felt remarkably consistent. Not the best against The Deck or UR Burn, though.

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.

 

 

 

 

Drawing cards in Arvika, part 1. Getting there

Please don’t hate me.

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Just look at these beautiful cards. How can you not want to play with them?

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.)

Anyway.

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:

1 ancestral
1 walk
1 timetwister
4 monolith
4 power artifact
4 fireball
2 power sink
1 counterspell
1 mana drain
2 sylvan
2 tome
(0 bolt)
1 regrowth
1 disenchant
1 balance
1 abyss
1 mirror
1 tutor
1 mind twist
1 recall
1 wheel
1 braingeyser
1 chaos orb

1 library
1 strip mine
5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
2 fellwar
15 assorted blue lands: 3 volcanic, 3 tropical, 2 underground, 3 island, 4 city

sb:
1 maze
1 abyss
1 bolt
1 mana short
2 reb
3 beb
1 city in a bottle
1 channel
2 crumble
1 gloom
1 tranquility

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:

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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.

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Upon arrival, Gordon’s pink suit is very fetching

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!