I’m strongly convinced this is the best 75 in the format (if playing in a less blue-heavy metagame than N00bCon, feel free to switch places of the Abyss and the maindeck REB):
Still, that is not what I sleeved up for N00bCon. Why? I did put this exact deck together on the Monday before the tournament. I drew some starting hands. Those beta Serras sure are beautiful; but it just didn’t feel right. I got hands with too little colored mana, hands with no power cards. Normal cards just didn’t cut it for me anymore. I needed the kick of maximum power. Mana vaults. Sylvans. Channel. Also, did I really need to win? I wanted to, sure, but I didn’t need to. That’s not really why we play, not in the long run. I wanted to win with combo.
The only real reason for me to go with The Deck was the (at the time quite high) possibility that Jayemdae Tome would get restricted shortly afterwards and this was my last time to play with the four books. But that didn’t weigh heavily enough.
On what I played
This is what I went into battle with:
It builds heavily on my Arvika deck modified by my thoughts after that tournament, some other spice I dreamed up, and general thoughts. Unfortunately, it’s bad. Like, really bad. I went 4-3, but I really don’t know how. The problem is connected to something fundamental of the format: the cost of a dead card. After N00bCon, I tried out the deck I wish I would have played, with more maindeck Hurkyl’s Recall for the Hurkyl/Mana Vault/Fireball/Fork backdoor combo. And things just don’t work. Sometimes Hurkyl works, when you have wheel or twister, or a couple of mana vaults and a fireball and a fork. But a lot of the time, you don’t have those things, and you die to a random Sengir or something. It sucks. You can’t play bad cards. Play good cards and win. Mirrorball is okay, but this list isn’t. And very likely, Mirrorball is just a worse Power Monolith. Mirrorball is good at abusing the power cards, as I will write about more when I get to fleshing out my theories about the Combo School of Magic, but it’s quite bad at converting that power into actual wins, which is a strong suite of the Power Monolith combo. A better version of my Winter Derby list, running 2-3 mana vaults to abuse the restricted list better and accelerate the combo, is likely the best one. I will try that one in the future, for sure. Mirrorball will be put on hold for the time being (also connected, of course, to my bucket list being at least 7 decks deep at this point). There’s also the possibility of using Lich to convert the cards you draw into a game-winning combo, but that’s very much a topic of its own.
On the matches
These are my matches. Here, though, we start falling into the real problems of writing this report a bit over a month afterwards. I’m old and my memory is bad. Huge chunks of it is just gone. So this is a summary, much more than a play-by-play report.
Round 1: Charli Hahn, U artifact midrange, 2-0. This deck is missing from the decklist page, not even labelled as “missing”. I’m still quite sure that it was a blue midrange artifact deck with mana vaults, copy artifacts, and robots, without red but possibly with some other splash. I won the first game, and then this was my turn 1 in the second game:
The question is, of course, how many cards to draw. I chose 12, but I’m far from sure that’s correct. In particular, it’s very good go be able to play some of those cards you draw. I did draw into a bunch of moxes and won easily, but it’s a hard choice to make for sure.
Round 2: Martin Jordö, Mirrorball, 0-2. Yes, the actuall Mirrorball mirror. He drew better than me both games, I think outdrawing me with Library the first game, and me for some reason leaving in the Triskelion the second one.
Round 3: John Grudzina, The Deck, 0-2. I got beaten down by a Mishra’s Factory and didn’t get enough time to get things going. The second game, I had active Library and had to discard twice because I couldn’t find lands and didn’t want to tap out to play stuff with a counterspell in hand. Sure, I can’t complain after having Library, but still.
Round 4: Marcus Strömberg, probably WG berserk, very easy 2-0. The hardest thing was finding a Fireball or something to finish with after trading lives on an early point with a Sylvan out and using Triskelion to clear some attackers postboard. Eventually I believe I found some way to recur the Trike from the graveyard from the win. This matchup is insanely easy.
Round 5: Erik Sundberg, hurkyl/copy/vise/bolt, 2-0. Erik is a good guy I usually face while playing Vintage at BSK or something. This time, my deck does the far more broken things. I’m quite good at emptying my hand from a Vise, and mirrors are excellent here.
Round 6: Daniel Friedman, UWx millstone copy, 2-0. Danny Friedman was a new acquaintance but easily one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever talked to. His deck was some kind of The Deck list but with lots of copy artifacts, millstones, and sweet cards like a time vault. I think I just did dirty Sylvan things to him.
Round 7: Michel Hollenberg, slow UR, 1-2. One game I lost to Blood Moon, the other one to disruption and burn, I think. The game I won, I did get to win with Shivan, although the Triskelion I also had would have sadly been enough.
On winning streaks
So I top 8’d every tournament I played in the 17-18 season: N00bCon 9, Ivory Cup 2, Scandinavian Championships, BSK, Lucia Legends, Winter Derby. No win, but that’s okay. I’m very happy with that altogether, especially since I haven’t played The Deck since Scandinavian Championships. But now, that streak is at end. Why? Partly, I think it’s because of boring old variance. In Ivory Cup, for instance, I finished 4-3, losing in the quarterfinals after sneaking into the top 8 at 4-2. That’s the same score as my N00bCon finish this year. It all depends on where you get your losses. I got lucky catching so many good breaks this season, but at the same time, I got unlucky in that I didn’t win any of those tournaments. Now that streak is over and I can relax a bit more. :)
I guess this could be a topic in and of itself, and it’s a bit anachronistic as I add it now, but whatever, time has passed, I’m not publishing anything, I need another point and I need to get it out there. Listen to the episode of ATC where I discuss it if you want to hear more about my thoughts on the unrestriction of Recall, but the short version is that it makes me happy, that it doesn’t affect The Deck in any significant way, and that TwiddleVault might be better now. Also possibly Fork Recursion. However, since doing that interview I’m starting to lean towards a restriction of City in a Bottle making the format better. Currently that is my recommendation for next year’s changes, and nothing else.
This was my third N00bCon so I am by no means a veteran of the format. I also have no nostalgic connections to Rotary pub. But even with those disclaimers, I don’t really think this works anymore. The tournament is just too cramped, the physical atmosphere unpleasant, the tables are bad. I’d much rather move it somewhere else and make it open, even though that might make it 250 or 300 people. The beer is good, sure, but I can live with slightly worse ones if it meant getting to play at a better location. The whole thing about getting awarded a N00bCon slot is also tiresome. It blurs the line between competitiveness in some circles and just community things in others. I wish everybody who wanted to play at N00bCon would be able to do so, and then we could maybe host some kind of smaller Invitational-like tournament some other time. I know this won’t happen, and I’ve since heard Magnus is about to scale down N00bCon a bit for next year, which of course is another way of handling part of the problem. It’s his tournament and he does whatever he pleases, and I always trust him to make a wonderful event anyway. I hope I’ll be able to attend next year as well, somehow, but otherwise I’ll just hang around, play other tournaments and chill.
I’m quite happy about this pile, although I might have to get rid of that Fork again now that I’m unlikely to play this deck very much in the future. Oh, who am I kidding? Never sell.
On Olle Råde
At times, Olle doesn’t care much for the format. He doesn’t brew, he certainly doesn’t playtest. What he does is play UR incredibly well. As we were sitting at a café sipping coffee some hours before the tournament was supposed to start, him borrowing a Badlands from me like so many times before, he reflected on having unexpectedly many sideboard slots open. Then we noticed he had forgotten to add the Blood Moons, beyond the single maindeck copy. Whatever, he said. Let’s just roll with it. And then he comes within striking distance to take it all down. The man is just a master. Still.
On counting to nine
It’s hard. Fuck it.
(I used to have a part about Magnus or Gordon calling me a sober pro player on Flippin Orbs, but I forgot which episode before saving the link. I might be sober compared to Gordon, true, but I like myself a good beer more than most. And I’ve never been a pro. :) But let’s elaborate on this some other time.)
The tournament starts at about 5.40 pm. It’s going to be a long night. About 44 players, I think. Six rounds of Swiss. The winner gets an invite to Noobcon, there’s a prize for best unpowered deck, as well as some other prizes for top 8. My target is set on that invite. No shark this year, but a fake shark, a Clone with a shark picture taped to it. Which was actually hilarious.
Time for the matches. This time, as I was expecting to write a report, I took some notes, mostly some scribblings on my life pad, but I still have a bad memory as I’m old and the days grow short. Also, a couple of weeks have passed when I started writing, and far more of them now that I’m finished. Therefore, I might be mixing up events and generally making things up, most games being quite fuzzy in my mind. We’ll just have to live with it.
Round 1. I’m facing someone I don’t know. We both play some duals and nothing much else, the first spell being played is a Storm Seeker turn 4. I have 20 life and 7 cards, with a counterspell in hand, but I let it resolve. How threatening can it be? 13 life seems plenty. I don’t recall exactly what happens more, but he deals me some more damage, probably with a mishra, until I play Mirror Universe, exchange life, then beat him down with my lands. It turns out he’s on some kind of non-red midrange pile with mid-sized creatures and a random Storm Seeker thrown in, not a howling/vise/underworld dreams deck as I somewhat had expected. The second game is a repeat of the first one: I Swords a couple of creatures, then switch lives. I suppose I just get a book active. 1-0.
In the second round, I face goblins. Actual mono-red goblins with Goblin Kings, which isn’t easy to pull off when Fallen Empires isn’t allowed. Awesome. I Fireball two of the little buggers in the first game, which always feels good, then stabilizing on 1 life after allowing some some bolts to resolve, but manage to take it down. The second game is pretty much the same, probably involving an Abyss. No life gain, though; I do go down to 1, but as the lifepad ends with me at 1 and him at 23, but me winning, a mirror is probably involved in a concession here. 2-0
In round 3, I face Kalle Nord. Kalle is one of the format’s all-time greats, designing playmats, pins and other things, organizing tournaments, frequently winning a lot with innovative decks, including the recent Ivory Cup 2 in Stockholm with some URg monstrosity. He’s also a very good guy. The last time we played, I think it was in Vintage where I managed to screw up my Doomsday piles, killing myself in the process. This time, I knew he was on some kind of Ubw prison deck but I didn’t know any specifics. That would come back to hurt me. In the first game, I resolve a timetwister into a tome, but he gets a howling I should have counterspelled as he has a relic barrier. I draw more cards, but I see only one counterspell and one disenchant in the top half of my deck. Eventually, I misplay on a complicated turn with a demonic tutor for a mind twist which gets power sinked. I was unsure of his counterspell count, putting him on anything from 0 to 4 copies of actual Counterspell. Turns out he ran only 1 mana drain and 1 power sink. Even then, I don’t really know what I was thinking. I went for a mind twist, not defending it enough, just a bad call. Anyway, his array of winter orb, relic barriers, icys and howlings, some being copy artifacts (a card Kalle seems to be a big fan of), disrupted me quite fine, and eventually I succumb to his plan of resolving mirror, burning himself with cities, then tapping his winter orb with a relic barrier and tapping my cities with his icys, destroying my mirror somewhere along the line. It was interesting; Kalle later commented that he forgot to put a Fireball into his deck when the tournament was about to start, having only mishras and mirror as win conditions. I can certainly agree with not running any real wincons but that fireball would speed things up immensely. Kalle’s deck was really sweet, and I’d love to see the list.
I was pretty sure I could have won that first game with better tactics and/or strategy. In the second game, I don’t really know what happened; my notes shows me going from 20 to 19 to 18, then losing, writing “owned” as the only comment. I suppose some abuse of power and/or mana screw was the case. Which is unfortunate, as I think my matchup is quite great once I bring in multiple red blasts and extra artifact destruction. 2-1.
Round 4, I face some kind of zoo, probably URG. I take a mulligan, but start with lotus, mox, timetwister, into an ancestral, into stone rain and disenchant, forcing a concession with lives still 20-20. In the second game, I play my city in a bottle, turning off most of his offensive. He follows it up with a timetwister which is quite horrible for him, whereas I resolve a tome and take complete control of the game. None of this was remotely close, and I regain some of my confidence. Somewhere along here, the pizza arrives, and along with a beer, I’m starting to feel a lot better. 3-1.
Next, I’m facing Elof the Mighty. He’s a real legend, one of the best players in the format; he has three sharks and was one game away from winning a fourth, being the first to trade them all in for a Leviathan, earlier this year here in Arvika. He seems to be able to win with whatever he plays. He’s even so good he’s doing coverage on Noobcon these days, to give the rest of us more of a chance. This time, he was on UR Artifact Aggro. The games were not very interesting, though. I don’t get any book online, but keep my life reasonably high, but then all of a sudden he’s resolving a su-chi into a triskelion and I just die. The most interesting thing is Elof running Sage of Lat-Nam, even in the main deck, which is surprisingly good, allowing him to get an extra card here and there. But I lose, and feel kind of down. At 3-2, I should be out of it, but there’s still one more match to go.
The last round of the swiss, I’m facing some kind of black deck. My notes are kind of faulty and my memory is bad; I’ve let this report lay dormant far too long now. Game 1, I get demolished by a triple Hypnotic draw. Once the first one connects, it’s really hard to get back without some kind of power draw. And I didn’t get that. After sideboard, though, my deck does what it should. Game 2, I get a couple of books online and bury him in card advantage. Game 3, we trade some resources, he plays a Wheel of Fortune, but I draw a lot better than him, involving a tutor into mind twist. Those things happen. Giving cards to The Deck can be dangerous for sure.
Some people tell me I might still get in at 4-2, but I’m unconvinced. One or two people might get in but it feels unlikely it would be me. Then the top 8 is announced, and I’m in 7th place, first of all the people with 12 points (of who there were at least 8 or so).
However, soon things get complicated. Returning from a bathroom break, I learn that a result had been wrongly entered a couple of rounds before, resulting in Kalle having three less points than he should have. Apparently nobody realized he shouldn’t have been sitting so far down in the last round, being 4-0-1 instead of 3-1-1 at that point. After a while, that’s resolved, Kalle taking place 8, which makes me happy, as I’d love to face the 2nd seed.
Why? Because the opposing deck is Power Monolith, piloted by good guy Jhovalking. That’s a powerful deck, as I detailed in part 1 of this report, but it has one glaring weakness: its The Deck matchup. I shuffle up, feeling confident. And start with a double mulligan. Eventually, he just buries me in card advantage, resolving the combo quite late when I have nothing left. The other two games, however, I just thrash him. There are so many cards in the deck which are dead when not everything is lining up perfectly against hate, and with red blasts and additional artifact removal, nothing much ever happens. One of the games involve a particularly filthy Mind Twist if I recall correctly.
Then, in the semis, I face Morgan, playing the B/u deck that won Noobcon and which people seem to thing beat The Deck. Interesting, as I haven’t faced that deck since the swiss of Noobcon against the eventual winner, where I lost a very tight match. I observe that this could have been a PTQ semis in 2002; we were both hard-time PTQ grinders back then. In the first game, I start with ancestral into library; he rituals an underworld dreams turn 1, which I promptly disenchant, and then just have way more cards than him the rest of the game. I also Abyss all his creatures away. The second game, I got beaten down by a couple of mishras, backed up by Gloom and Energy Flux. One of the many cases where I wish I had access to Moat. Then, in the final game, I pick off the mishras with disenchants and swords, landing an abyss and circle of protection to handle the rest. The black deck is just too weak to books to be really viable in my opinion. There was one really interesting spot, though I do not remember which game. I am beaten down by a Black Knight, being at around 7 or 8 life. I have a recently cast Chaos Orb, one land and a Lotus untapped. In hand I have Counterspell, Recall, and Balance, to Morgan’s two cards. Morgan plays some large threat. I decide to counterspell it, and then hit the Knight with the Orb, using the Recall to seal the deal, getting back some powerful things. Instead, I for some reason let the threat resolve, hitting it with the orb, immediately realizing that I must have been to tired to execute the plan I had decided on. Therefore, I have to cast Balance to kill the Black Knight next turn, losing the mirror I had drawn for the turn. I still manage to squeak it out, but it’s bad nonetheless. I hate making mistakes even if I realize them immediately.
So, finals time! It’s 4 a.m. Not feeling too tired though. At this time I’m sober again, and I’m probably more used to playing magic for countless hours in a row than most old school players from my Grand Prix grinding days. I’m facing Jimmie with a mono red pile that apparently is undefeated for some reason. I can’t figure out why. It looks like crap, like any mono-colored deck in the format, and still people claim it beats The Deck, probably due to its prison elements (Black Vise, Winter Orb, Blood Moon, Ankh of Mishra, along with Atogs, Su-Chi, maindeck City in a Bottle, and bolts). People say that all the time. It’s very rarely true. Still, I’m a bit wary when I shuffle up. On the play, he starts with a turn-1 Library. Not the worst, as I have a turn-2 stone rain for it, but still kind of annoying; I also believe I need him to play a red-producing land so my fellwar gives me red mana. On his second turn, he draws a card with the library, then contemplates for a while, finally settling on playing mountain, mox, city in a bottle. I point at his Library. Not terribly happy, he puts it in his graveyard. I later use the Stone Rain to mana screw him almost out of red and take control easily.
How bad was that play? Is that the sign of a bad player? No. Not at all. In fact, I regard my misplay with the sequencing in the semifinals as worse, and faulty strategies as worse still. This was just a swift misplay. It says almost nothing about one’s ability to play the game. Having bad sideboard plans, or wrongly prioritizing what to fight over in a certain matchup, are things I consider far more grave. Of course, being a technically flawless player gives you a lot of percentage points, but that’s a different thing. Mistakes happen.
In the second game, I mulligan a hand with only one mana source. Into a hand with one mana source. Into a hand with 0. Going down to 4 cards, at least his turn-1 Black Vise isn’t threatening, but neither is my hand of two lands, an Ivory Tower and something non-broken very impressive. Less so once Jimmie lands not only one, but two copies of Blood Moon. For the longest time, I am still back in the game if I draw Lotus, as I have multiple Disenchants and Swords in my hand, but it was not to be.
For the final game, I make what is probably the worst mistake of the tournament, but I don’t realize it until far later, when I de-sideboard a couple of days afterward: for some reason I didn’t bring in my Serra Angel. Still, I have those sweet blue blasts and extra artifact removal, and against his slow and underpowered deck, as long as he doesn’t land a Blood Moon, this should be easy, right?
Then it dawns on me. I’m the villain here, playing the deck people love to hate, uncreative, equipped with all the overpowered cards, facing a new and creative deck on an insane winning streak. I’m the end boss. And the end boss always loses. Still, I shuffle up and draw an okay opener. I have to be aware of blood moon at all times, so I can never use my last disenchant/BEB/counterspell on something else. I let a turn 2 ankh of mishra resolve, probably because I only have one answer and I don’t need that many lands. Also, this deck doesn’t pressure me a lot. I take 6 damage from it, developing my mana base. Then things start falling apart. I never really get any card advantage going, and my life slips away a point at a time. I don’t know what happened. Not now and not really then. It’s a game I’d have loved to be able to go back to re-watch, but alas, there was no stream. So I lose. Defeated, I shake Jimmie’s hand, feeling empty. It’s about 5 a.m. Gordon grabs my shoulder, says he knows how much I’d wanted to win, wanted that Noobcon invite. I don’t even know if I respond. I grad the buckle and the prize card, an Ydwen Efreet. Try to look for a cab back to the town center, but the ones ordered seem to be full. I just walk away. A lonely 20-minute walk through the night, feeling empty, like so many times before. I wasn’t feeling especially bad. I’d felt way worse failing to make day 2 of a GP, many times, but that was a long time ago, and I was feeling more back then. Now I’m mostly numb. Walking through deserted streets, a Saturday night so late it has become morning, everybody already home from their parties and drinking.
I get to the hotel at about 5.30 a.m., setting my alarm at about 11 or something, resigning to not getting any breakfast, my train not leaving until 3 p.m. But that’s another story. Or, honestly, not much of a story at all.
So what does this entail to? My third straight top 8, the first time going beyond the quarterfinals, but still failing to close. Like so many times before. I really should play something else than The Deck. I want to win on my own, not just because I play an overpowered archetype. Drawing cards kind of makes me happy, but you can draw cards in other ways as well. Next time, I’ll be piloting something else, I swear.
– The Arvika crew, organizing a large recurring tournament in the middle of nowhere
– Everybody else in the 93/94 community. It’s impossible to not have a good time at one of these tournaments.
– The town of Arvika, an infinitely depressing backwater. Seriously, that Sunday morning after four hours of sleep, the town was almost more than I could bear.
– The beer selection on site. The only IPA was both bad and sold out quickly.
– Myself, for failing to close once again.
– Myself, for making huge misplays throughout the tournament. At least I didn’t miss any chaos orb flip this time. :)
– Myself, for waiting a month to finish this report, losing a lot of details in the process.
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!
Nobody writes tournament reports anymore. Not in the old style, with tales of travelling, mishaps, playtesting, anecdotes, props and slops. And especially not of old school tournaments. I can’t guarantee all of the above, but I’ll take a stab at most. I’ll probably fail.
However, when this tournament started, I still had no plans to write a report, no matter how I finished. I hadn’t got the idea of starting this blog, besides some vague plans for writing more about Magic that I’ve entertained for the last several years. Thus, I took no notes at all, and very few photos, and as I’m old as fuck and my memory is growing bad, lots of details are lost. I won’t let that stop me, but keep in mind that some events (especially when it comes to details of gameplay, or names) might not be quite accurately described.
Anyway. Let’s go.
I play far too little old school magic. In the city of Linköping, where I live, nobody but me is even remotely interested in the format. Almost nobody plays Vintage, and what’s worse, there’s hardly more than one magic player in town I ever have a beer with. So when I heard about Ivory Cup 2, the second installment of a yearly tournament in Stockholm, being held in early June, I know I had to try to go. Stockholm is a bit less than two hours away by train; too much for regular pub play, but easy enough for a larger tournament, also certainly the closest of any serious accessible games. The event was also run by the excellent Gordon Andersson, of Wak-Wak fame, and was bound to attract most of the Stockholm crew along with some notable out-of-towners like Mg, Kalle and a small Arvika contingent.
My first thought was trying to stay at my good friend Olle’s place, maybe hanging out with him and his wife the day before and/or the day after the tournament. He used to live in Linköping and we get to see each other far too rarely these days. However, it turned out that he was bound to be at some kind of family gathering at Linköping that day, but I could borrow his flat anyway. I had done likewise last summer, during Grand Prix Stockholm. So I meet him at the train station in Linköping on Friday night and get the key, and all is set. The flat is even just a couple of stops on the subway away from the site.
Then there’s the question of what to play. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I’m playing The Deck. This pile, to be more specific:
After N00bCon, I figured I wanted something more against all the midrange decks there, stuff like Serras, Serendibs, and Juzams. I wanted Abyss again; I had a Moat then, but I rarely wanted to bring it in. I also figured that a maindeck Amnesia could be quite strong; it’s only really bad against REB and fast decks, and with no more basic Plains in the deck, I could probably get the UUU cost to work. The Sylvan was for some extra cheap threat in the mirror. Did it work? Read and find out!
So I boarded a train at 8:39 the morning of June 11th. It appears to be summer. Consequently, I had to batter through a light rain to get to the station. Once in Stockholm, I checked out the used book store next door to where August Strindberg spent his last years in life, which turned out to be very bad, before catching a metro train to the site. I got there just before noon, the tournament starting at 13, so first I grabbed lunch at the combined pizza and Indian food place nearby. I was the only customer but their channa masala was fine (and to be fair, they had opened ten minutes earlier, and it was Saturday, so it could hardly be expected to be busy). While eating outside, the rain having stopped long ago and the day turning out to be quite pleasantly warm, I saw a guy wearing a white shirt with a tie crossing the road a few blocks down, heading in what I figured was the direction of the site. It certainly looked a lot like Gordon.
Shortly thereafter, I went that way myself. And lo and behold, outside a building, I saw a number of familiar faces, some smoking, some holding cans of beer, sitting or standing around a bench: Mg, his girlfriend Øyann, Kalle, and some other people. I stop and chat for a while. Magnus says he enjoys an article I wrote for his blog, submitted just the day before, which makes me happy. We talk about the old rumors of an alpha volcanic and other oddities a bit. Then I head inside. There, after climbing half a flight of stairs, I find a bit of a crowd. The tournament would start soon, mostly everybody is here already. I register and get my complimentary beer for having paid in advance (a Brewdog Punk IPA, a pretty good run-of-the-mill IPA as far as I’m concerned). I find some people I should lend cards to, relieving myself of three moxes, a sylvan and a timetwister. I’ve been borrowing cards so many times before in my career, it feels good to be able to give something back, working on that karma for a bit.
Then Gordon gathers everyone, announcing the structure of the tournament (6 rounds of swiss followed by a top 8, no IDs), of the beer system (buying tickets with 10 stamps for 100 kr, then different beers costing different amounts of stamps, leading to myself having a couple of unused stamps at the end of the night; but sponsoring the tournament felt fine at that point, as we shall see), that we’re ordering pizza before the t8, and that there’s a legends single lottery for which everybody got one slot. A few happy people got a Sol’kanar, a Mirror Universe or some other rare I don’t remember. Me, I got an Untamed Wilds, preferring to save my luck for later; it was also oddly fitting as my just-submitted article to Mg’s blog concerned among other things the use of said card in The Deck, and I didn’t even own a single copy of it before.
And we’re off. Cramped seats, hard-to-read pairings, and an ocean of N00bCon playmats. It felt like home. Here, though, things start getting a bit murky. A month has passed, almost, and I did not take any notes at the tournament, just some brief sketches a week later. Details of gameplay are a bit fuzzy.
Nevertheless, the first round I’m paired against UR burn, a matchup I haven’t really faced enough. Probably the hardest matchup for the deck as well, possibly (as Randy Buehler claims) excluding the mirror. I faced it only once at N00bCon this year, and then we didn’t even play it out because Olle needed to go home and get some sleep before doing coverage for fake Nationals the next day. The first game, I take a bunch of damage, keeping the creatures mostly at bay, then narrowly stabilizing after drawing a huge amount of cards with a tome. Possibly involving plowing my own mishra, which for some reason always makes me feel good. The second game, he plays first turn volcanic, sapphire, jet, blood moon. My hand is something like a counterspell, a disenchant, an off-color mox and lands, so I can’t cast anything. I proceed never to do anything at all, flooding badly, not even losing to the blood moon, as my draw just did nothing. Still, I’m prepared to lose to that start; that’s a gamble I gladly take. For the third game, my opponent keeps, reluctantly; I think I mulligan. He shows his hand to his neighbor, not looking very happy. The other guy does something to the extent of rolling his eyes. I’m prepared for first turn wheel or something equally high variance. Instead, he plays lotus, serendib, go. A risky keep against The Deck postboard if I ever saw one. My only piece of removal is a Chaos Orb that I’d love to use once he draws a land, though, but I can just kill that serendib and take the game, right? Wrong. It turns out I miss the flip, the first missed flip in my five 93/94 tournaments. I blame a combination of the beer and it being the first round of the day. Okay … but he still doesn’t draw any lands. And I have two mishras. Let’s see what happens here! It’s a very tight race. He eventually get some islands, but doesn’t cast much; I counterspell a flying men. He attacks, so I attack; in the end, he dies exactly on the point, including me plowing one of my mishras to stay alive. Punishing that keep felt good, but I was still kind of mad at myself for failing the flip, breaking my previously perfect flipping record. Oh well. Just moving on.
The next round, I face Mällroth for the first time ever. The man was the head DCI rep in Sweden for a long time, but those were the years I didn’t play many tournaments, so we never got to interact then. Now I mostly know he wears a kilt, plays the flute and organizes 93/94 in Karlstad. It turns out he’s also very good at trouncing The Deck players with his Lestree Zoo list. I start with a Library on the play; he has a first-turn Sylvan, as well as a Library of his own soon enough. He plays an Argothian Pixies that starts dealing some damage while I first get rid of his Library, then much later the Sylvan, but the damage had been done. My removal lines up poorly with his threats, forcing me to plow his mishras, then drawing dead disenchants against his pixies and apes. The second game, I stabilize on 5 life to his 3 lands, no creatures, 2 cards. Those cards are both bolts. At some point, I get my Lotus shattered, not having any expensive spells in hand but then later drawing into an Abyss I can’t cast on time. Still think it was right to play it, though, against a potential Timetwister or Wheel. The matchup could really use a City in a Bottle, a card I cut from the list I used at N00bCon. As well as more lifegain, possibly even in the main deck. Preparing for The Deck mirrors with two maindeck Stone Rains might have been a bad idea.
Oh well. My beer is done at this point so I get another one. Nothing too heavy, though. The plan here is to win, not primarily to drink. At least not yet. I settled for another Punk IPA as the session IPA they used to have was already sold out. Not alone in craving lighter beers, obviously. Much later, I believe I get a third one, but I don’t recall what kind, unfortunately.
I was distinctly disappointed in my lack of brokenness so far. At N00bCon, I had had several turn 1 mind twists or balances. Here, I had had a Mind Twist in hand against Mällroth, never getting the time to cast it. That was about to change. The next round, I face another URG aggro deck, but this time with Giant Growths and Berserks. That is obviously a much better matchup for me. It helps that I start with a couple of moxes and a Fellwar Stone, leading into a turn 3 Amnesia for four or five cards. None of the games are close. I move on to 2-1, a somewhat respectable record.
Between rounds, people tend to gather outside, smoking, drinking, enjoying the weather, usually occupying some chairs which turn out to belong to some kind of social enterprise next door. I don’t smoke but I always prefer catching some non-magic tournament air. At one of these times, I meet Micke Thai. We share records, both being either 1-1 or 2-1 at that point, I think. What are you running, I ask. I’m playing your deck, he says. Really? Yeah. It turns out he’s on the exact The Deck list I played to the quarterfinals at N00bCon this year, having only changed a few cards in the sideboard. I think my current list is superior, but the old version has some merit, and it’s certainly a lot better against Blood Moon, sporting a total of three basic lands to my none. It always makes me happy to have another horse in the race, so to speak, and discussing The Deck is always good times. Micke is also a fun guy to hang out with.
Next round, I have the somewhat mixed pleasure of playing against Mg, Magnus De Laval, the man, the myth, the legend. It’s great because Mg is a great guy, one of my all-time favorite magic players, which I get to interact with far too seldom. It’s good because I have never lost to him (having played twice in the unofficial Swedish Vintage nationals 2015, including in the finals, as well as in last year’s N00bCon, my decks tending to have an advantage against the midrange builds he usually prefers). But it’s bad because it would suck to knock a good guy out of contention, and one of us will leave this round at a less than stellar 2-2 record. Magnus is also a very good player, so even if I’ve won in the past and might have a decklist advantage, any match will be hard fought.
Magnus is on his signature deck, Project M, built around a bunch of midrange blue and black cards, like Guardian Beast and Vesuvan Doppleganger, power cards, artifacts, and a small red splash. It’s a sweet pile with a number of different interactions and angles of attack. It’s also quite weak against The Deck which can use its removal to get ahead on mana, trading swords for guardian beasts and disenchants for disks or icys (especially if they’re transmuted out), all the while getting ahead on books as UB isn’t the best color combination for removing artifacts. However, what the games were really about was me getting ahead in the power card war. Things like time twistering into lotus + mind twist, just mind twisting and amnesiaing entire hands, and so on. It was not the most fun I’d ever had. Especially not after the last exchange the second game, when Mg has sweet tech like Steal Artifact but I have red blasts, and one mind twist too much leaves him just fed up so he concedes. I felt kind of bad. Casual play is not really my thing, to say the least; if it’s not about winning, I have a hard time caring. Which is a bit odd, considering I’m a huge fan of RPGs where nobody really wins. But anyway. I never ever feel bad about winning. I’ve beaten small children, disabled people, unlucky people, people being far better players than me. But here, I came close. Magnus leaves, telling me he can’t take anymore, going outside for some fresh air. I go get another beer.
Mg returns later, having cooled off, no longer feeling as bad. That helps a bit. We chat a bit about pre-alpha playtest cards and things feel okay. Looking at the store’s inventory, I see some Power Artifacts for about 50 euros. Damn. I sold three copies for 22 a year ago, and I miss them. Some day now, it’s time to start getting the cards for some other deck, and Power Monolith combo is on the short list.
The next round, however, brings another disappointment: I face Micke Thai, probably the only other player running The Deck at the tournament. His only loss is also against Mällroth. And we finish our match in 14 minutes total. That must be some kind of record. In the first game, I believe he stone rains me down to 1 mana source, ancestrals and develops a tome, to which I concede. In the second game, he has two mishras where I draw nothing but counterspells. I die with a hand of 3 counterspells and a mana drain and at least 5 mana, but no removal for the mishras. Oh well. The mirror is what it is, possibly the worst matchup (depending on how confident you really are that The Deck is the best deck in the format by far), and sometimes it can be quite one-sided. 3-2 now, though, which should mean game over. Still one match to go, which I will obviously play out, but it looks grim.
The last round, I face a BRu aggro deck, with erg raiders, underworld dreams, I belive sedge trolls, bolts and blue power cards. The interesting game is I think the second one (I probably win the first one with removal into a book). He plays a midgame blood moon, to which I draw a card with a book. I was considering letting it resolve, having a counterspell, but him hitting me with a mishra I had no answer for. The only problem is me having an Abyss in hand with no black mana once the bloon moon resolves. So when I draw the Mox Jet on the book, I let the moon resolve. I play the abyss, then later I draw into Mox Pearl. In the meantime, he has played another Blood Moon, but he’s not dealing any real damage to me, me getting a CoP: Black out at some point, counteracting his Underworld Dreams. The books do their thing, and I eventually disenchant one copy of the enchantment, then orb or blast the second one, winning on the back of the tome and a bunch of counterspells.
Pizzas are delivered, and then it’s time for the top 8 annoncement. Gordon does it in style, first calling out some prizes for 9th place. And the rag man for last place. Interestingly enough, there’s a tie for that. It turns into a battle for last place, getting a bit more spicy as a N00bCon slot is awarded to the winner! A somewhat excellent idea, even though I’m a bit jealous, lacking a slot for next year and very likely not getting one, missing even a real community to play in unless I start travelling more to the Stockholm events (there’s not even any more sharks awarded before next spring). Anyway. Micke Thai is 5-1, I believe, and thus locked. I tried to do some math, something I should be okay at, meaning something like 2 or 3 out of 6 4-2’s could make top 8. When I’m not in 9th place, or even in 10th (as the 9th place prize got knocked down to 10th, because the 9th place finisher was Gordon’s co-organizer, Paddan), I get my hopes up a bit. Then Gordon announces that there’s a special prize for the top 8, besides the winner getting an Ivory Cup and the runner-up getting if I remember correctly a bagged Duelist life counter: it’s a Black Lotus playmat randomly awarded to someone in the t8, in order to not to make it too much about winning. It’s worth about $200 or so, he tells us, for some reason I fail to comprehend. Gordon is rolling a die. The playmat is awarded to … Svante Landgraf. Wow. Not only do I know I got into the top 8, I even got the best price without having played another game. It turns out Per, who got 7th or 6th place, had already left, needing to get home to Uppsala in time, so one other player was awarded a top 8 spot, meaning I really got 7th and not 8th, giving me a bit of breathing room. Still, it felt great. I even needed some old school playmat, only having this year’s N00bcon playmat when it comes to that.
Maybe that makes me not want to win my quarterfinals enough. I don’t know. If Per’s absence had bumped me up to 7th place, I would have faced the #2 ranked player, Andreas Cermak, who is on some kind of insane streak and whom I had never played. Instead, I stay at 8th, Paddan, who took Per’s place, got 7th, and I’m facing Jonas Lefvert. Now, after having all our decks photographed and the top 8 starting, being bad at both names and faces, I ask Jonas if he’s played a long time, somewhat recognizing his name. He tells me we played in the top 8 of an Odyssey block PTQ in Uppsala back in the days. I remember that tournament; I played UG threshold/madness with Grizzly Fate and Catalyst Stone, losing to Johan Sadeghpour on madness (I think) in the semis, and apparently I demolished Jonas in the quarterfinals. Let’s hope for a repeat here, just fifteen years later. Sadly, that was not to come. Jonas is on Atog Aggro, red with bolts and Su-Chi, I believe splashing blue and black just for power cards, not at all the usual UR aggro style. The first game I don’t remember much of, but I lose somehow. The second one, I keep strip mine, tundra, 2 fellwars. I play a land. He plays land, mox, sol ring, chaos orb, orb my land. I never draw another mana source.
That happens, I suppose.
The rest of the top 8 is Micke Thai on The Deck, Cermak on his signature white zoo, Lefvert with the abovementioned Atog Aggro, Kalle on big URg aggro/midrange, Paddan on a WB deck splashing Erhnams and some red cards, Mällroth on Lestree zoo, and probably a straight deadguy (WB) deck (this will get clarified once the top 8 decks are posted on www.wak-wak.se). I play a casual match against Cermak, who also lost his quarterfinals, me losing 0-2 after having declined his offer for ante, explaining that I’m not really a gambler; for me, ante is -EV, as losing would hurt more than winning would help. Argothian Pixies is a hell of a card, that’s for sure.
I round up my things, get to cheer a bit for Micke in the semis but he loses to Paddan playing the BWrg deck. I don’t understand anything. (It turns out Kalle managed to defeat that deck in the finals later. Congrats!) Then I follow Seb, Micke and some other good guys from the Stockholm crowd out in the light summer night drizzle, catching the metro for just a few short stops before getting off, heading towards my friend’s apartment and some much-needed sleep. The next day I spend buying books, among those Titus Chalk’s excellent Generation Decks about the history of Magic, visiting an art exhibition, grabbing some food and a beer before hitting the train back home. Summer had just begun. Life was good.
So what about the deck I played? Amnesia wasn’t really good enough. UUU is restrictive, and as planned, you need to board it out against anything with red blasts. Life gain would be good. It’s probably time to listen to the Stockholm guys (Berlin and Seb) and add some Ivory Towers back in. I like Abyss over Moat and extra Serras, though, and basic lands aren’t very important. If you play in a casual environment (one where you don’t really need to beat the mirror), one Stone Rain main is enough. So, I’d cut the Amnesia for a maindeck Mirror, in the board cutting the mirror, the cop:red and the sylvan for two Ivory Towers and a City in a Bottle. You don’t need too much sideboard cards for the mirror anyway. Getting early green for the Sylvan is too hard, and you pretty much board out good cards anyway, at least as long as you’re not positive they don’t have Serras, and even then you have enough cards to take out, you just have to keep in some more big blue stuff, or board in a blue blast or two. Beating URx is more important by far.
That’s it. Thanks for reading. Please comment, share, like, scream random profanities at the world, buy me a beer, or just drink a good one yourself. Take care, see you around.
Gordon, for arranging an awesome tournament, and for that Rag Man match.
The Deck, for being love and life. You know, end of turn, draw a card.
Mg, for confirming my status as his nemesis (and of course creating the format), giving me another reason to carry on.
Brewdog Bar, for being all out of Omnipollo Tjockis IIPA when I got there on Sunday afternoon just before catching my train.
Myself, for failing to take notes and pictures, making this report a bit more fictional in places that it really ought to have been.
Myself, for needing a month to write a tournament report. Boy, get your shit together.
Myself, for failing that orb flip. Just unacceptable.