(Editor’s note: The latter parts of this report was written under increasing levels of intoxication.)
I should have known better. We’ve been here before.
It’s so much better now: I play both Icy Manipulator and Relic Barrier, making Howling Mine actively good almost every time. And true, that was not the problem. There are others, though. Tons of them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Last week, I was in Hannover, playing in the Appetite for Destruction tournament, the German N00bcon qualifier, co-hosted by Florian von Bredow and Marc Lanigra. Flight, Schiphol, beer, hotel, you know the drill. Suffice to say that Florian picked me up at the airport and had booked a table for us and some assorted Germans and other accomplices at a nice Indian place. Before that, however, him and I played some games at the airport while waiting for Björn Jonnie to arrive from Stockholm. I was on UWx copy prison for the event and Florian was on a Ubr robots build which I think originally was created by Leo Bruder. At one point, I had almost complete control of the game, drawing 3 cards a turn with a couple of howling mines, while tapping down almost everything Florian had with a winter orb and some icys. But I didn’t draw enough factories to kill him quickly, and I never copied the winter orb for extra protection, so when he managed to land a copy of his own, making a barrier, he could get out of the winter orb lock, switfly killing me with something like a bunch of triskelions, copies and animate deads. And another game, as I didn’t play very many counterspells and the lock was only partial, he EOT hurkyl’d me into a mind twist for 7. Not great, Bob. I somewhat solved that with a few more win conditions, like the fourth factory and a titania’s song in place of the strip mine (yeah, I know) and the one kismet I had. At least so I thought. This is what I arrived at:
The event was held at a pirate-themed restaurant, and there were points given out for a number of achievements, like this:
Then, after 5 rounds of swiss, the point winner got an invite, the tournament winner after a top 4 got an invite, and a third invite was given out randomly among the rest of the players. I chose to ignore the points because I like playing with more of the good cards, and I also already have an invite (from writing posts like this one). The first match, I faced Mari Steinhage, playing Uwg merfolk. I did filthy things to him and won very quickly. Then I faced Florian again, and everything went to hell. He deserved that, though, considering all the brokenness I’ve unleashed upon him over the years. I regularly take multiple turns in a row against him, and that is with playing only one recall, maybe a sylvan, no howlings, etc. We both mulligan, I’m on the draw with a library, 2 disenchants and a white source. Turn 2, when I can draw, I’m facing down two su-chis and a sage, not having any mox, so I can’t even draw, having to disenchant twice in a row, falling to 12 in the process. When Florian then plays a triskelion and has a factory, it’s very quickly over. The next game, I believe I am mind twisted. Alright. The lighting was horrible, I couldn’t see my cards, so I was kind of glad I could escape that place. Also Florian did deserve the win from organizing an awesome tournament. Next up was a good schnitzel luch. After that, and after having traded for a beta ankh of mishra (only need 3 more now. why do I do these things?), I face Peter Monten who I know from some skype games way back, I think. Peter is on RG budget aggro and he crushes me. I mind twist his hand of a couple of factories, making my hand of 2 relic barrier worthless. In the end, my hand is 2 relic barrier, a titania’s song and a recall, having an icy in play and getting killed by a llanowar elves and a scryb sprite or something. About the same thing post sideboard. The lock never materialized and I saw 0 abysses. I mean, there isn’t any real lock as long as i have to tap down creatures as i would need a shit ton of icys. Yeah. Not even with kismet. Fuck this.
then I proceed to annihilate THe Deck never seeing a book. So there’ s that
in the last match, I face Bw midrange where I miss an orb flip (for the second time of the day) on a juzam that proceeds to deal 20 to me. Good times were had.
Fuck prison. I hate this deck. The answeres are too narrow (icy against weeneis, relic barrier against anything), the threats are too (takes forever to win, still vulnurable to a random hurkyl or disenchatn or whatever). Compare to The Deck running counterspells, disenchants (versatile answers), books (versatile threats). These things are good against anything. Prison isn’t working.
There might be a version with Nether Void that can actually lock people out. Especially with hurkyl. But that’s a completely different story. Also not for me, at least not right now.
And then we had nice dinner with an impaled chicken and Florian proceeded to lose the finals because it’d look bad if he won his own tournament, and I had some great games of Ice Age/Alliances constructed with David Chambers’s decks, and we left and went to the Dutch guys’s hotel and had some cognac since apparently nobody in Hannover knows how to serve a decently hoppy beer. And I lost some more with prison. And we got some sleep at last, and another great breakfast, and a tour of the city with Florian, and a late flight home, and the weekend was excellent but I’m never playing prison again. Bye.
Tournament report time! 23 people at Biljardpalatset in Stockholm, organized by Gordon Andersson, with a N00bCon invite up for grabs, although it turned out that about ten people attending were already invited. Let’s see if I remember anything about the matches. I was playing Field of Dreams:
It’s basically a Swedish port of this EC deck played by Bryan Manolakos to a 4-2 record in a side event at GP Hartford last spring, I think:
Don’t know where I saw it but it stuck with me so I saved it. The plan is basically 93/94 Lantern Control for those of you who are familiar with new border cards: millstone/field of dreams lock with synergies like field/tax, tax/tower/sylvan, sylvan/millstone etc. You’re building up a board with slowly turns off what the opponent is doing, including moat to completely turn off most creatures. You care about less and less cards and answer them and then mill them out.
It’s an offshoot of the whole tax/tower school. There are so many possibly builds and nobody knows which is the best: midrange with flyers like Will Larson and Bryan Manolakos played at the Summer Derby, combo/prison like Randy Buehler’s winning deck from the same tournament, control like the present deck, probably some prison options with howlings, relic barriers, icys and copies for the towers, maybe even underworld dreams since there’s so much overlap between tax/winds/dreams. I have no idea which one is optimal. The field/millstone lock is strong, and there’s a lot of synergies, but at the same time, many of these cards are weak in themselves. Especially millstone and field which do actual nothing on their own.
What I do like is that much of this is enchantments. Like the Danny Friedman school of enchantments being the best permanents because they can’t really be punished except by tranquility which nobody plays. With tower and millstone, this is still a bit weak to hurkyl and flux, which we well get to. But it’s something to consider. Dreams is a way to make it even more so, possibly. Just that BBB fucks your mana a lot.
For the rest of the deck, it’s usual defensive UW spells and power, up to and including wheel, which is included mostly to jump-start the towers and because you have a lot of cheap permanents to empty your hand of.
But yeah, matches.
There turned out to be a metric ton of underworld dreams decks in the field. Berlin on BW, Pefken on BWu dreams parfait, Gordon on BU prison with candelabra and transmute, Björn Jonnie on classic howling/winds dreams combo, Råberg on the same but with a machinehead transformative sideboard, and probably somebody else, not to forget me on dreams of the fields variety. That’s 5 or 6 out of 23, making over 20 %. Insane. Almost what Danny Friedman claims all Swedish tournaments are. Anyway, Berlin starts with tower but no tax, whereas I have a field and we both start keeping revelead cards face up. I do get millstone and control what he does. Although there’s still plenty of opportunities for me to misplay, when I have a full hand and his is empty (from me grinding through, or just mind twist as a help, maybe), he concedes at 61 life to save time. He did find a greed at one point, but that just drew him one card before I disenchanted it because he was low on black mana most of the game.
Game 2, I am expecting some kind of creature but have still kept 1 or 2 swords at most, because I have my own serras as well as balance. I start on a tower. However, his disrupting scepter makes my tower moot when I’m stuck at mana. I do balance his hand away. Then he plays a dreams, and I believe a second one, so my life is dwindling, then a serra. But I do manage to recall the balance and find the cop black and take control. Or at least something along those lines.
Round 2, I face someone I don’t know on arabian aggro. He starts with turn 1 and turn 2 kird apes. I have three mana sources, a couple of swords, a counterspell and a moat. I take the hit once, then I decide to swords one ape should I not draw the 4th source for the moat. But I do, just in time, stopping at 14. He has a dib which I swords. Then I just have to starve off the burn, and I find a tower in time. It’s never close from there on out as I get fields/stone too. At one point, I’m not milling him just to see more of his deck and not make him think I’m in as much control as I am. He is running a hybrid list with both birds and the black splash, as well as chain lightnings. Also a maindeck artifact blast, maindeck crumble and some number of psionic blasts. Post board, I also get moat, I think, at 13, as well as a cop red, but two psionic blasts take me down to 5 right away. I do get out a serra, which really should just get double bolted at this point, but somehow that does not happen. I know I do stabilize at 1 life after having to swords my serra when he finds another psiblast, or something along those lines. The details are a bit fuzzy, but I did have to topdeck exact the answers, like the swords for a mishra with a sylvan. Wait, I can’t have had moat this game, but rather bottle. You see I don’t lie when I say I have a bad memory? I’m writing this literally less than 24 hours later. Anyway, I don’t drop a game. Oh yeah, there’s also an interaction where I have field, he has sylvan in play (of which he’s far too cautious with, never paying life), with my top card being disenchant. I go to demonic, wanting recall to return regrowth and time walk, sealing the race with my serra, but of course I had boarded out recall as I usually do against red decks, anticipating REB. So I go for disenchant instead, as the sylvan needs to go. Sometimes you say the card you tutor for was the top card of the deck, but not often are you aware that is the case before you play it. Oh well.
Round 3, I face Seb who’s on some kind of Eureka build. Game 1, he mostly draws mana, but not lands: sol ring, a mox, an elf and a birds, so my land tax is annoyingly far from being active. It’s one of those insanely complicated games where I try to get above 4 cards in hand while milling him out of threats and taking 1 a turn from the elf, not being able to draw cards or develop my mana base. Eventually, I start getting ahead, probably including time walk/braingeyser which is often the case. He concedes with me at 4 and him at 25.
Game 2, he’s mana screwed, having only a strip mine and a volcanic, I believe, when I play turn 1 field, turn 2 millstone. Easy game, right? Not exactly. I of course try to get rid of some lands first, and I know this will backfire later on, but what should I do? His hand is full of gas, mostly erhnams, and he does get the mana finally, when I’m not doing much. I never find a moat and succumb to random beats in a game it feels like I should have won. When not drawing enough power, this deck is somewhat lacking in the card draw department. One interesting thing is me not fighting over his blood moons. I had an island and I believe a sapphire in play at this point, and could just eventually draw into one of my 4-5 white sources or a blue blast. It definitely was correct once the second moon shows up. Mooning a tax deck is not always the best plan.
And then time is called as we shuffle up for game 3, so a draw it is. I didn’t go to time any of the other rounds, but I still had very little time between rounds to run to the bathroom, order beers or food. I knew this, of course, and that’s why I chose this deck for a tournament like this and not one like Fishliver where I would like to interact a lot with new friends and new environments, but it still kind of sucked. There were lots of people like Slanfan and Berlin I should have hung out with more, and I should have had more beers, not the least because their selection was unexpectedly Omnipollo-heavy and thus excellent.
So, round 4. I think I’m paired down, against Pefken, who’s one of the real old school old schoolers, boasting a Giant Shark and several more big event t8s, among other things. He’s also known for liking Parfait, and this time, he was on a dreams-based version. (Or is is just prison then? We really have to dive into old school deck names at some point.) I’ve been considering a deck like that, myself, but I never thought you could run dreams and factories at the same time, as dreams pushes you towards a mana base with only black-producing lands. Apparently it worked, and Pefken even played the single workshop allowed under Swedish rules.
Game 1, I start out with a turn 1 sylvan, turn 2 paying 8 life just to get more cards as I haven’t found much relevant yet, turn 3 paying 4 more, going down to what felt like a reasonably healthy 8. But I see no tower, and Pefken’s factory is threatening. He plays a steady stream of pieces I have to handle, like icys and howlings, probably allowing relic barriers to resolve, and I run out of answers, making him resolve a winter orb and locking me out. There was more to it than that, a number of hard decisions with a field and/or sylvan, me wanting to mill myself and my opponent simultaneously, being too low in life so I had to keep up white mana during his combat step should he tap a land or artifact before activating the factory, and it just didn’t work out.
Game 2, I think I did broken stuff, something like a turn 1 timetwister off of a land, a mox and a sol ring. I see Pefken having brought in hypnotics. I expected some kind of creature but didn’t keep in many swords even though he had factories, as my own serras can handle that just fine, and also disenchants. His creature plan being trumped by mine is a huge advantage and he can’t find enough swords in time. Game 3, from my life pad it seemed like I got an early Library, supplemented by a tower, just ignoring his dreams and finding a serra, him never really being into the game.
Now I’m 3-0-1 and likely into the top 8 even with a loss. In the last swiss round, I’m paired against Jocke Almelund, the lone 4-0. I didn’t know what he’s playing, but it’s usually some kind of combo deck, Jocke being a man after my own heart. Instead, it appears we’re sharing more tastes than that, as Jocke is on atogs. But what I consider a quite weird build, strictly UR, eschewing all splashes and also probably chain lightnings for mana vaults, su-chis and copy artifacts. Game 1, I mind twist him about three times, turning off his factories (and the rest of his creatures should he ever draw one) with a moat and his burn with a tower. I gain control with field + stone and get to see most of his deck before he concedes. Game 2, I bring in one or two serras but not all of them since I’ve seen a bunch of psionic blasts. This turns out badly as I get him down to 8 with a quick serra which he then kills and it doesn’t really matter anymore. Jocke even copies my tower to get out of reach. He plays a library, and while I manage to mind twist him, I then do nothing for the five turns it takes for him to get back to activating it. I do eventually succumb to that card advantage although both of us drawing mostly lands the entire late game.
Game 3 then. I bring in all the angels. And I never go below 15 life. However, Jocke controls magic one of the angels, and my only real answer is trading with another. Then, however, I recall both of them, and that’s it. It might also have involved some power start from me. I was very good at drawing ancestrals throughout the tournament, and didn’t take a single mulligan until the semis. That’s how you get good results in tournaments, folks. It’s the days the luck breaks your way you get your finishes.
With that, I win the swiss, and it’s on to the top 8 after having had a short break for some decent food. The rest of the top 8 is Jocke, Berlin, Pefken, Li on white weenie, Fork on UR, Micke Thai on The Deck and Råberg on his dreams combo deck. I get a rematch against Pefken in the quarterfinals. I did lose a game where I did have most of what I needed in the swiss, and he’s also a very good player, so it doesn’t feel that good, but I just assemble everything I ever want here. Except the millstone. I have a tower and go above 30 life, then 40, sitting behind a sylvan and a library, and Pefken doesn’t concede until I start librarying in order to have enough time to mill him out before I have to twister or something.
Then I board about the same as before, cutting the moats and all swords but possibly one, bringing in serras, dust to dust, cop black and maybe something more. I could have left two swords to handle any potential hypnotics but they aren’t coming out so fast in his list so I think balance, cop and serras should be enough. Probably cut a tower too, even though he has dreams, as he’s so slow too. I do get an interesting hand on the draw: lotus, ancestral, disenchant, some assorted stuff but no land tax and no other mana source. I keep, of course, but it could backfire. Pefken then plays turn 1 howling mine with some moxes and no barrier, so I draw two. Still no land, but a demonic. So I can ancestral, and then disenchant the howling if I draw either a white or a black source. But I think I’m ahead enough with just the ancestral in hand, being up a bunch of cards, and another disenchant as backup, so I just lotus demonic for tundra and disenchant the mine, then ancestral next turn. Was it correct? I think so. Bricking on the mana on the ancestral seemed like the most likely way to lose that game. But I’m not positive.
Anyway, somehow the game ends up being way closer than anticipated. I have cards, and assemble field+stone, but Pefken keeps drawing only gas: barrier, icy, disenchant, disenchant, and the stone costing me mana all the time, stuck at 4 mana with 4 cards for the tower. He also plays out two hypnotics, to which I have a cop black, but that ties up two mana each turn, and he starts hitting me with a factory. I can disenchant it but don’t want to tap out since he has a disenchant and can break something up, so my life is slowly dwindling. Would have loved to be able to rewatch this game. I also have a sylvan this whole time and am sometimes milling myself instead of him, he tapping my millstone with barrier in my upkeep. Then I can assemble braingeyser + time walk to get above 4 cards, giving me some breathing room, and once I’m on 5 life, Pefken concedes.
Thai has beaten Jocke and is facing Fork in the semis. Actually, this is much later, as the Fork vs Berlin matchup in the quarters takes literal ages. But anyway.
I’m playing Li, who’s new to the format, having played for two months but being an old veteran from the Vintage scene ages ago, apparently. I knew he was on white weenie with a blue splash, which isn’t a very good deck in Swedish, as you have to play cards like tundra wolves to make crusade good enough. I also knew he played energy fluxes so I was already planning to cut most of the millstones as they’re just so expensive to pay for. Towers are another thing, and most of the rest of the deck is enchantments. I’m more scared of hurkyl I think.
Game 1, he plays a lion, which I swords, and then a tundra wolf which starts taking small bites out of my life total. Some other creatures also get sworded or countered. I counter one armageddon and let the second one resolve, as I have pearl, sapphire, and emerald in play at this point, as well as a plains in hand. That turns off my drain in hand, but if I counter it, it’s gone anyway. I do draw a tax, and we do a little dance around that for a while. However, I never see any tower or moat, and eventually, Li resolves a crusade and kills me with some 2/2, either the wolf or a clergy of the holy nimbus he drew afterwards. Had I gotten any kind of permanent defense, even a field, as I had a stone a long time, I would have gotten there, and I was quite close to just milling him out anyway. I milled all four of his disenchants, for example. From this, I also knew he played a bunch of psionic blasts so my serras weren’t safe. But I went for them anyway, as that plays around fluxes so well. Game 2, everything goes according to plan. I resolve a serra with counter backup thanks to a lotus. He has a flux and some small creatures but nothing interacts with the angel at all. Game 3, I finally took my first mulligan, keeping a Library start. Li doesn’t do anything offensive, having a hand full of disenchants and fluxes, so my library does its thing while I take 1 a turn from a tundra wolf. Eventually, a serra arrives backed up by a counterspell or two. Li expertly waits on a swords, trying to get two answers and resolving them, taking some damage, so I counter it when I mind twist his hand away. This leaves a 1-turn window for him to draw another answer but he doesn’t, and I time walk, demonic, time walk for the win.
Time for the finals. And the n00bcon invite was decided by the other semis as I have an invite but nobody else in the top 4 did. I was in something of a hurry, having to leave in less than an hour if I wanted to catch my bus home, and also not playing for much. But maybe I’m just making excuses. I’m facing UR and I’m fairly certain that it’s a bad matchup. Much worse than atog. They have REBs, counterspells and lots of artifact hate to break up any kind of field/stone/sylvan/tax engine, a quick clock to make sylvan bad, moats are only stopping factories, and the serra plan which is my usual defense against reb/flux/shatter etc is horrible against counterspell + psiblast. Sure, they die to bottle, but that’s not game enough. I don’t even know how to solve that. Probably just counting on atog killing them before I face them, but that’s not great Bob. Taking the loss and moving on? Well, I’m getting ahead of myself, but I really just get rolled. The interesting thing is in game 2 where Fork plays a Library with 6 cards in hand. My board is emerald, trop, city, with a hand of bottle, swords, disenchant, serra, probably something else white. He might have a vise in play, with me on a tower. Anyway, I choose to play the bottle, instead of letting him have an extra card and me having white mana for a turn. But then I proceed to miss white for ages, him getting a flux, destroying my stuff, before I can ever kill his vise. That probably lost me the game, although it wasn’t looking great anyway. The deck probably has a white source too few, to be honest. I’m never really into this, flux was too early and too strong there. Those things happen.
Verdict? The deck is fun, slow, and complicated. I didn’t get to drink as much as I had planned, probably because I was just too concentrated on the games, but I also didn’t misplay as much as I had expected. The margins are very small and I did draw a whole lot of power starts and rarely mulliganed. The angels in the board were amazing. Maybe the 4th counterspell isn’t necessary. I’d like to have some more way of turning on ivory tower, possibly even a single book. A third tax is also on the list, along with another basic or two, but can be hard to activate sometimes without something like an armageddon in there. I just don’t know if this kill is the best. Other ways of abusing the engine might be stronger, even if it’s less of a lock without field/stone. I’m kind of curious about trying out a Buehler list in the future. Other random thoughts: REB might be really good as they kill hurkyl and flux and stop counterspell and psiblast for handling serras. Maybe even a fireball somewhere if I do add red. A second recall is not out of the question. The good thing about field is that it’s an enchantment, but as it’s blue it dies to REB, and millstone is bad against hurkyl, flux, and dust to dust. And maybe the lock isn’t powerful enough, as it isn’t a real lock unless you have multiple millstones and a lot of mana, as countless games illustrate. Losing that package also makes wheel better; now I boarded it out most of the time. There’s some work to be done here.
Three weeks ago, I went to Gothenburg to play in a small Old School side event at Swedish Nationals. It was held at GG Bar, Sweden’s first esports bar, a five-minute walk from the Nationals site. Ten people showed up, but it was a great crowd, with many old-timers and some new faces. Organizer was Åland who did a great job. We played four rounds of swiss followed by top 4, with tiebreakers being game-win percentage, beucause nobody bothered with DCI Reporter and we ran the tournament from some crappy website. Nevermind. Let’s get into the matches. I took no notes, as I had forgotten a pen and kept life with dice, but at least I have a few photos as help.
Oh, maybe I should mention what I played. It’s this pile:
Basically a five-color Atog deck with Serendibs, partly in honor of the concurrent Europride event in town. The deck started out as the Combo shell of all the restricted cards and abusing them with several Mana Vaults, but with aggression as the payoff rather than for example the Mirrorball shell. However, along the way I gradually cut all the Mana Vaults, Su-Chis, Triskelions and Copy Artifacts, eventually realizing it’s better to just run straight-up Atogs with Serendibs. Five colors is because Regrowth and Balance are insane when you’re looking to dump your hand and get a draw-7. Balance is a reverse draw-7, and Regrowth is another one once you’ve drawn something like Ancestral, Twister, Wheel or Tutor. Well, Balance wasn’t main, but it could easily have been, over the fourth Serendib. What scared me the most was opposing Atog decks with Blood Moon, as my mana base wasn’t exactly rock solid and I didn’t have enough sideboard cards to take out all the symmetric cards which are bad in the mirror, even with 3 BEBs, but hey, you can’t beat everything.
In game 1, I faced Martin Jordö, of Mirrorball fame. We had discussed his deck not ten minutes earlier as we share a lot of preferences. An interesting one to be sure. He was on a maximally fast Twiddlevault list, with Fastbonds and more lands instead of any Counterspells or Power Sinks, and also a maindeck Fork. In game 1, I have Library on the play. He plays something like land, mox, Mana Vault. I draw, draw with Library, play a Volcanic Island and pass with Ancestral up. It’s slow, sure, but the card advantage is hard to pass on. Martin then proceeds to do something like mana vault, time vault, twiddle, land, mox, braingeyser for 7,fastbond, twiddle. It looked like this:
I did not win that one. Then game 2, I resolve a Blood Moon which Martin can’t really handle outside of maybe Chaos Orb, and just win. Game 3, he plays an early Mirror Universe. I have an Atog and a Serendib, beating him down to 11. He thinks, but does not swap. I have a Factory as well. On my turn, I start by playing Time Walk, which he Forks. Neither of us knows how this works, so we ask around, and everybody tells us they just cancel eachother out. Okay. Then I Chain Lightning him to 8, attack with all and sacrifice an artifact to the Atog for letha. Martin, however, has a BEB on his last mana. I obviously should have saved the Chain Lightning until post-combat. Still, he’s on 3, switching life, with me at 17. I have two more attack steps, and attacking for 6 on each, plus any potential artifact draws; with some good draws, like an artifact and a bolt, I think I take it home. Then Martin draws what is probably his only Fireball in his draw step. Okay. He is good at doing broken things to me, I’ll have to grant him that.
Only that I later realized that the Time Walk ruling is all wrong. The turns are resolved in reverse order, so I would have gotten my extra turn first and won. A bit sad, but that was much later, the next day, on the way home. But now I know for the future, and so do you.
Round 2, if I recall correctly, I’m paired up. Against Olof in any instance, a friend I first met on the Boat a couple of months ago. Now. he’s on some kind of UWB artifact brew with some white removal, Abysses, Transmutes, and the usual power stuff, in addition to Su-Chis and Tetravuses and Triskelions. Game 1, he had a slow start, where I had a turn 3 Timetwister into Vise. That finishes him somehow. Game 2, I think I win off of a Blood Moon as Olof plays no basics as I saw. I don’t remember very much, honestly.
Round 3, I face my old friend Åland. I knew he was on UWGb aggro, having just acquired Savannahs and Tropicals. Game 1, I get two Vises and two Ankhs, apparently, while he plays a Lion, a Pixies and a Serendib. That is not a race I win, I think. Game 2, it looks like this: he played turn 2 serendib off of a mox and a city, and I play a Bottle. That’s pretty much game. Game 3 is the really interesting part. I start with Library and a Vise, keeping it very controlling. Then I keep 2 bottles and 2 moxes in hand, after losing Library. Wait, this doesn’t make sense. Anyway, I know I misplayed. I had the choice between playing out a preemptive Bottle or keeping it in hand, and kept it, wanting to snag something; but I should just have played it, as I had a backup one should he remove it, as I want to keep his hand full when I have a Vise. Instead, he Timetwisters, getting back into the game. Eventually, I am able to land a Gloom to turn off his CoP: Red, as well as a Blood Moon. I also topdeck a Demonic Tutor to find Timetwister when I almost knew he had BEB in hand from the way he played. Could have gotten Wheel, but Twister was the play, and he revealed the BEB. That felt good.
(Sorry, I know this round doesn’t make any sense, but I only have some photos and some short notes to go on, as well as my fractured memory, and both the tournament and most of this writing is done while drunk, so you’ll have to excuse me.)
Anyway. I win that one. Time for round 4. I am facing Kristoffer, a new acquaintance. He’s a Vintage and Legacy player who’s new to the format, and naturally gravitates towards UR although he tells me his tastes really lie elsewhere. He’s 3-0 at this point and a lock for top 4, whereas I feel pretty much out. But I don’t care. Let’s play. Game 1, he plays turn 1 ancestral into turn 2 mox, serendib. That’s pretty much game when I don’t have anything similarly broken myself. Then, game 2, I win on bottle. His deck is UR with 4 flying men, 4 dib, and 0 city, but my bottles still rock. Game 3 I misplay horribly. I have a weird hand with no red mana but bottle and maze. Then he resolves Energy Flux after which I draw Ruby, but I have to choose between keeping the Ruby and the Bottle. I do have a REB but no mana untapped, and choose to keep the Bottle after destroying the Flux. Then I proceed to never draw a red mana again. I should just have kept the Ruby as I had a Maze for any potential Serendibs anyway. That was bad.
So I’m 2-2. Apparently 5th place. Doesn’t matter that much. But the guy who got 4th had already dropped and gone home (I don’t know his name, he was probably the only one in the tournament I never got to speak to or knew before), so I sneak into the top 4. Knowing I had really won that first round against Jordö, that feels a lot better in afterthought when I actually somewhat deserve it.
In the semis, I face Kristoffer again. This time, it wasn’t as close. In both game 1 and 3, I lead on a Library that never gets answered. In game 3, I have library along with Lotus and Wheel. I never play those, having them as backup should he destroy Library or empty his hand while I draw into multiple Vises, but it’s very likely I should just have played those out on turn 1 to get one card ahead and take out his hand. What do you think?
I also end up with 2 serendibs and 2 bottles in the deck post sideboard. I actually think this is correct. Obviously, the plan was to take out the serendibs when bringing in bottles, but I figured that if I had a bottle active I should win against Kristoffer, and if I didn’t, a serendib is actually really good against the red deck.
And then, in the finals, it’s time for a rematch with Olof. Due to Bonnie, this match is actually on video (part 1 and part 2). Not sure if they are public but some of you can probably watch these anyway if you’re interested. It also means I can comment on my plays in far greater detail. Thanks Bonnie!
Olof is on the play, due to finishing higher in the Swiss. He plays turn 1 factory, jet. I play land, mox, vise. He plays tundra, chaos orb. I play city, serendib. End of my turn, where the video starts, Olof flips the orb on my serendib and misses! On his turn, he plays another factory and a Su-Chi. I have a hand of three mana and two bolts; not really what I want. Some way to turn off the Vise would have been great, because this race I’m not winning. I consider double bolting the Su-Chi but decide on potentially doing it in his attack step, otherwise perhaps killing the Factories. And so I do, when he attacks with everything. I then draw an orb and kill the su-chi as well. Olof draws a third factory and passes. I just attack and play a fellwar, but Olof draws Ancestral. Otherwise, I thought I could win this race. He then mind twists my hand, but that just contained two lands. I go down to 9 life, and finally draw something good: a second dib. Attacking Olof down to 6. He then plays Braingeyser for 3, followed by a Time Walk, but takes 2 damage from his cities in the process. On his extra turn, Olof plays a Tetravus. Any damage and I win, but I do draw a factory. I’m on 7, with two serendibs, facing down Tetravus, a factory, and some cards in Olof’s hand. I have to attack. The next turn, Olof can just make tokens to block with, otherwise, and wait for the dibs to kill me together with the backswing if I do attack then. So I do. One dib dies, Olof going to 1.Actually, now I see I’m just dead here: Olof can attack with factory and tetravus, strip mining my factory, getting in for 6, then me dying to the dib in my upkeep. But instead, Olof just attacks with the Tetravus and casts an Abyss. I get another draw step for a bolt, but I do get a mox. On second retrospect, I was dead on board when I attacked with the serendibs into the tetravus, or rather, when I played that factory instead of bluffing removal (which is impossible as every removal would have killed him there, I think). So the correct play from my part should have been to keep the serendibs back and trying to draw into 4 damage, a tall task as Olof would then likely build tokens in his upkeep, putting his number of blockers at 4. I would have had one draw step to get something like a draw-7 or Ancestral before his attacks and my dibs killed me. But it still would have been correct not to attack there.
Time to be on the play. Olof takes a mulligan. I keep. No Vise, but Island into Ancestral in Olof’s upkeep. Olof has land, two moxen, Sol Ring and a book. Good thing I didn’t have a Vise hand here, huh. But it’s my time to play some power. On the second turn, I play emerald, factory, sol ring, time walk, chaos orb. Next turn, I play lotus and shatter the tome, having basically infinite mana, but just attacking for 2 with the factory. Olof plays a Transmute for a Su-Chi, which I promptly Orb and hit. I play another Factory and attack for 3. Olof has no play. I attack for 4 with the factories. Same next turn. Olof is at 6. Hitting his 6th land (a second City), Olof still has no play. That seals it. He must have been heavily flooded here.
Okay. On the draw, my Vises are so much less effective. We both keep, but I dearly wish I was had been on the play. Olof plays factory, ruby. I play island, jet, sapphire, 2 vise. Getting in for 2 damage is alright, I guess, but it would have been 6 on the play. Oh well. Olof just plays another factory and attacks for 3. Okay, that means I get in another 2 damage. I don’t have another play and just pass. However, I have a Hurkyl’s Recall in hand.
And Olof bites. He plays a third factory, attacking with the other two. I for some reason play Hurkyl in the combat phase, effectively trading 4 life for 2 damage as Olof can replay his Ruby, which is horrible. But, as it turns out, still quite good. Next turn, I Orb Olof’s remaining Factory. Olof finally plays a book, but the Vises take it down, about four damage a turn. I have a REB and a wheel in hand, never drawing red mana, but that doesn’t matter. Vise + Hurkyl against the artifact deck is too strong. 500 SEK in bar credit is mine, and I buy beer for everyone and some snacks for my non-oldschool-playing friend who arrived late, waiting for me to finish so we could check into our hotel.
Conclusions? This is close to the best Atog deck in the Swedish format, I think. With 4 Strip Mines, it’s better to minimize the splashes, but in Swedish, Serendib is almost too strong not to play. I really like this list if I want to play aggro and will likely run it back with minimal changes at some point in the future. It also felt great to finally win a tournament in the format after something like 9 top 8s (or top 4s) in total, even though it was only 10 players. Good times were had. Thanks to everybody who attended and especially to Åland and GGBar for organizing and hosting.
It was a day like any other. Meeting David, a friend and business associate at the Stockholm central station, slipping the small white nondescript package into my bag, between a couple of pages of a binder, hardly even looking at it. We briefly discuss its contents, the state of the trade in general; as a courier, I prefer knowing what I carry, how hot it is, was it seven? eight? who benefited from the deal, really. Then a mutual friend, who we can call Johan, shows up, and as always when some of us meet, we share stories about the trade, about the trends, interesting leads we might have, our eternal dream of quitting, liquidating the stock, getting out clean. Like that would ever happen.
We were on our way to the Magic Island Tour III, a cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki and back, a two-day trip sporting two old school tournaments. Anyway, David needed to get back to work, me and Johan having lunch and a couple of excellent Belgian beers at Belgobaren not far from the station. The usual banter about finance, sideboard slots, mana costs. Johan’s approach to mana costs remind me of Cruel Control, which, for those who are blissfully unaware of anything Standard, was a Type 2 control deck sporting the casting costs of WW, UUU, GGGG, and UUBBBRR in the same deck. Johan is a fan of BB, UU, and WW. I’m not. Nothing being settled, we head out to the harbor, me happy for not having to navigate the Stockholm public transit system. I’m honestly more at home in Madrid’s metro system than Stockholm’s, just because when I’m there, I usually either just walk around downtown or go by car to some godforsaken suburb.
Getting off the train, walking for ten minutes through an industrial wasteland, pleasantly drunk, in the end finding a suspect-looking spiral staircase leading up to a covered walkway which seems to head in the right direction towards the ferry terminal. Which turned out to look more like an airport than anything ship-related. Teeming with people everywhere. After some confusion, we find the VIP lounge upstairs, the place for high rollers, big fish. Finally. Sinking down into a comfortable chair, playing a few games where I took 95 % of the game time against a poor casual player who I proceed to avoid as best as I could going forwards. And dropping off the package. No fee for me, just credit in this complicated system of benefits and favors which is a large portion of our trade. But it always feels good. To be relieved of it, no longer carrying the hot stuff on me.
Reuniting with the crew. Keys handled out, some information given, beers were drunk. We enter the ship, which is huge, like a mall with a hotel put on top of it, drop off our stuff at the cabin and head to a bar for the first games. The format of the first tournament was a bit strange: normal 93/94, but with a point system to determine the final scores. I don’t mind too much, as it allows for playing the usual decks in contrast to strange banning lists or otherwise limiting deck building, but I just don’t think it promotes fun gameplay or deck building. Playing mono-colored powerless decks is just not my concept of fun. I’d much rather see a normal tournament with heavy prize emphasis on the most creative builds, for example.
Myself, I am running this list.
Basically, I wanted to try out multiple Recalls since it’s unrestriction a couple of months ago. And Twiddlevault is one of the combo decks I haven’t tried yet. In fact, I hadn’t played Howling Mine at all in the format before. I mostly looked at Felipe Garcia’s lists, and also one list Danny Friedman posted the other week. The main change I did was adding more lands. I also wanted to try out a Fork as Fork + Time Walk + Recall allows you to backdoor into Fork Recursion combo if your Time Vault is unavailable. Finally, I felt really smart when I found the Guardian Beast plan, which I hadn’t seen anyone play. It basically protects the whole combo, both Howling Mine and Time Vault (and also sideboarded Ivory Towers), from artifact destruction. At the time, I had completely missed that the great Martin Berlin had ran both more lands and sideboard Beasts in his Twiddlevault list from the 2016 Fishliver Oil cup.
As usual, my memory isn’t the best, and I’m writing this with no access to my notes because of bad planning on my part. Therefore, lots of details of the matches are lost, even though it’s only been a week this time. You’ll just have to excuse me.
In the first round, I face Mats, to whom I had just lent out a set of unlimited moxes. He turned out to be on mono-red Atog, and he crushed me soundly. I already knew that my deck was weak against lots of stuff, like Underworld Dreams, Energy Flux, and Blood Moon, in addition to the usual countermagic, red blasts, and artifact destruction, but here I got to add Copper Tablet and Winter Orb to that list, as well as Tormod’s Crypts after sideboard. Had Mats not dropped two Tablets the turn before I went off in the first game, I think I would have gotten there. And then I board in the Guardian Beasts, expecting to face 4 Shatters, whereas he actually played zero copies. I wasn’t happy. Especially not losing to my own Moxes. Is it bad manners not to concede to the player who just lent you 8k worth of cards? I don’t know, I certainly didn’t think about asking for it, but it made me feel kind of bad.
For about five minutes. Then I grabbed a Brewdog Jackhammer (the beer selection at the bar was really quite alright) and went out in the sunshine in the rear of the ship, watching the beautiful Stockholm archipelago drifting past, swapping stories with fellow magicians.
In the second round, I face Simon, a new acquaintance. He’s on some blue-green monstrosity which never really works, but he does present a Fastbond which makes me too scared to ever play the Timetwister in my hand. I do lose one game but take home the other two. I thought he was playing Enchantress but it turned out to be Living Plane–Ashnod’s Altar with lots of lands, Sylvans, and Sindbads.
Then it was time for dinner. A huge buffet in a huge but extremely crowded place. This reminds me why cruises aren’t really my thing: too many people everywhere. The food was alright; as at most buffets I’ve had, the cold stuff much better than the main hot dishes. Also free beer and wine. I’m usually one to complain about tasteless pale lagers, but together with food, especially free, (well, all the buffets were for us included in the total cost for the trip), it was okay.
After dinner, we play three more rounds, this time in the dinner area, which was gradually emptied and eventually closed off for our benefit. I don’t recall the exact order of matches, nor much of the games, but I did face RG land destruction, BR budget pile, and mono-black. All were quite easy wins. I managed to go off from minimal resources multiple times, having a howling, taking another turn, and just snowballing from there. Undisrupted or virtually undisrupted, the combo is powerful. In one game against Björn’s mono black, I played two Twiddles to empty my hand, then Balancing away his board and hand. Many turns of topdecking later, he has drawn lands and I’ve drawn Mana Vaults and finally get a Braingeyser.
So I end up 4-1. Unfortunately, I stopped drinking for a bit after dinner, having a glass of water, and then sobering up before getting into fetching another beer, turning me off the concept altogether. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow. It’s running late, possibly because in planning, they had failed to count for the one-hour time zone difference between Sweden and Finland, so it was decided to cut to top 4 instead of top 8. It didn’t turn out to matter for me, as my 4-1 record netted me a 11th place out of 20 when the above-mentioned points are factored in.
So where does that leave this deck? It’s not bad. It can certainly beat weak and budget decks, even with a sub-optimal sideboard like mine. Because that certainly was weak. Neither Ivory Tower, Guardian Beast nor Fog, my whole plan against different flavors of aggro, worked very well at all. What I do need is 1-2 maindeck copies of Disenchant, and I’d also like another action spell, probably the third Sylvan but possibly a Bazaar. I could also see another land, because I did take a lot of mulligans due to not having enough initial mana sources, even with 14 lands compared to the 11 in some of the crazier lists I’ve seen. Maybe a Fellwar should be a land. I also did take a lot of mulligans for other reasons, but that’s to be expected with a combo deck which both can have very expensive starts and also plays a bunch of dead cards like Twiddle. I do believe the third Recall might be a win-more card and could be cut, and the Fork is likely more cute than necessary (although I did board it out most of the time and rarely drew it, so it might be my fault not giving it enough of a chance).
However, all the time I have to ask myself why I’m playing this deck over something like Powerball (Power Artifact–Basalt Monolith combo), which just wins instead of forcing you into complicated uncertain combo turns. One reason is that you play fewer dead cards. Fireball is almost dead against non-aggro decks, Howling Mine might very well be a better card than Basalt Monolith while not going off, and even Twiddle can be a blue-to-colorless Dark Ritual with a Mana Vault out or at worst a pseudo-Fog or denying the opponent a Howling card. Another is that Twiddlevault is just a blast to play. I enjoy it tremendously and will certainly revisit it in the future. Especially if Time Vault gets unrestricted, which isn’t that unlikely. For the record, I would never play more than two copies.
The sleep was not plentiful. Before heading to the cabin, I played a few more games against Emil’s UWR aggro deck, and I was just too slow to race his Lions and Factories when not getting a very broken start. And this was him not playing any Counterspells. It made me feel a bit worse about the deck in general, but now, when some time has passed, I think that is still something that could be solved with the right board plan. Then I put together my deck for tomorrow and played a few games against Cermak’s mono-blue control list. I didn’t really know which time I should wake up, and the time zone change didn’t make it any easier. Anyway, I woke up too early, before the alarm, I think, with my roommate Mattias/Slanfan still asleep, so I mostly got dressed, headed up to sun deck for some fresh air, seeing Helsinki in the distance, before once again braving the crowds for breakfast.
Breakfast was also alright. The usual inedible stuff they called scrambled eggs at most Swedish hotels, some interesting Finnish dishes like Karelian pierogis, and not terribly inspiring bread, but the bacon was fine, a kind of potato–leek pie quite tasty, and all in all, not bad. We arrived at Helsinki, staying put for seven hours, most people leaving, but we magicians gathered in an empty nightclub for some early games.
My weapon of choice for the day was Atogs. I’ve discussed the list a lot with Will Magrann and Bryan Manolakos, although they are mostly playing with EC rules where the deck is much stronger (it’s one of the decks most benefiting from unrestricted Strip Mine). I wanted to try out the Howling Mine/Relic Barrier package, omitting Copper Tablet. I’ve also never played Atog, Ankh, Vise or most of those things in a tournament in this format yet.
Round 1, I face Greg on some kind of budget GW deck. When I play a turn 1 Vise and he just plays land, go, I know I’m way favored here. He never casts any relevant spells except for a Fellwar Stone and maybe a Disenchant, so for the next game, I mostly bring in the Glooms. It turns out he is on Erhnam-Geddon, so not having all the City in the Bottles could hurt, but he takes too much damage and succumbs to the Vises and Atogs quite fast. Interestingly, I get to kill him with a Spirit Linked Atog, due to Spirit Link being a triggered ability, not working like Lifelink, although that didn’t really matter here as I was almost guaranteed the win anyway.
Round 2, I play against Björn. In game 1, he plays something like Plains, Tundra, Disenchant, and a blue restricted card like Ancestral Recall; I probably win with a Black Vise. So what to make of this? I’m putting Björn on some kind of white-based control deck, not The Deck but something more white-heavy, which is wrong but probably because I’ve been watching so much brewing in the Land Tax/Ivory Tower/Dust to Dust space lately. So I sideboard accordingly, and in game 2 Björn plays Moat, Serra Angel, and Serendib Efreet, while I kept in my Atogs and cut my Cities in a Bottle. Still, I manage to come away victorious. After the match, Björn tells me he never drew one of his two maindeck Energy Fluxes. Oops. I hadn’t even boarded in my red blasts. But I think broken Vise/artifact/burn starts go all the way.
This was a quick match, so I get some time to run ashore during the lunch break. I’ve actually never been to Finland before and would like the chance to actually say I’ve visited the place, if only briefly. It turned out there was a huge Pride parade through the city and everything was insanely crowded, but I still got to grab some lunch from a street vendor and catching a quick glimpse of the city.
Having returned in time, round 3 I face Morgan, who is on a much slower Atog deck with Mana Vaults and Triskelions. He’s Vising me, and on the play I think he got me game 1. He also thinks Blood Moon is good against me because I have all dual lands, not realizing how shallow my splashes are. I wonder if it’s a good plan to board out some of the splash cards like Time Walk when I have reason to suspect my opponent will keep in, or even bring in more, Blood Moons? I do manage to swing one game with a couple of Relic Barriers for his Triskelion and my Howling Mine. There’s also a point in which I have two Black Vises and Morgan has for some reason a Mirror Universe. He asks me how that works. I tell him the Black Vises trigger at the beginning of upkeep but nothing more than that, and he tells me he doesn’t understand what that means. I tell Emil, who is watching, to shut up, and proceed to explain nothing. I don’t really know how much of a douchebag move that is. I’ve known Morgan since the turn of the century when we were grinding the same PTQs, so he’s not some kind of newbie kid. At the same time, old school isn’t supposed to be about powergaming. I just believe in giving players opportunities to misplay. I also don’t think it would have mattered in this game, as I eventually finish Morgan off with something like six straight bolts, including four Chain Lightnings in the same turn. I also got to end of turn Hurkyl him, into my Black Vise and him having attacked me with a Factory, and then topdecking Wheel for the maximum rub-ins. Hurkyl is quite insane in these Vise lists, and if not for me being light on blue mana, I’d certainly run more of them.
Now I’m 3-0, and I face Emil on his usual The Deck. I’ve never beaten Emil. He beat me in the quarterfinals of N00bCon last year, and he was my only loss in the swiss at Arvika in February. I put up a fight, resolving a Relic Barrier which forces him to counter all my Howling Mines, but in the end, The Deck is too much for me. In game 2, I think I start with some Vises while Emil mulligans, but then he proceeds to play something like Ancestral, Time Walk, and three consecutive Disenchants, followed by a Swords for my Atog. Whatever. Starting 3-0 should mean top 8 even with a loss in the last round, and I just move on.
In the last round, I face Jason, another new friend. At some point in game 1, we have something like five copies of Ankh of Mishra on the battlefield. Jason’s also on the Vise/Ankh/burn plan, but he’s UWR to my Rbu, splashing white removal and blue power cards in addition to Psionic Blast, and he’s also creatureless, telling me that he tried out Atogs and Lions but didn’t like it. The result is that Blood Moon is very deadly against him, Gloom is quite strong, whereas he has no such trump on his part. I win fairly convincingly, although he might have Vised me out one game.
At 4-1, I finish the swiss in third place. There are announcements, about prizes and shit, but I’m skipping that now just like I skipped all the other preliminaries. That’s not why you’re here. Suffice to say there are some prizes, the tournament is really well organized, and you all should come next year. So, time for the top 8, for real this time. In the quarterfinals, I face Jason again. A bit boring, and we were discussing our sideboard plans not ten minutes ago, but whatever, it’s a good matchup. Consequently, I Vise and Blood Moon Jason out in two quick games.
In the semifinals, however, I get another rematch, and this time it’s against Emil. He’s on the play due to finishing higher in the swiss, and has a starting hand of land, Lotus, at least 1 Fellwar Stone, and Disenchant, planning to Disenchant my first play and play a Fellwar. Unfortunately for him, I start on Library on the draw, and he bricks on lands for a couple of turns, so that game was pleasantly unfair from my side. I then lose game 2 to some The Deck things, maybe involving me mulliganing. But I am on the play in the final, most important game. I don’t think I have a Vise, nor an insanely broken start, but keep anyway. Emil has Library, but I get to resolve a Gloom, and then, barring a BEB, will get to resolve Blood Moon as well next turn, as Emil just has a single blue mana up. I have no blue or black mox, though, and my hand has just a Demonic and a Timetwister (yeah, okay, my hand was fine this game), except for possibly a bolt. If he has the BEB, I might want to tutor for another Moon, but if he doesn’t, I can’t cast the Tutor. So I float B and play the moon. I tutor, having a single mana left. What to get? I have two options: either a Black Vise, with Emil at 8 cards and 17 or so life, and likely not many outs to the Blood Moon except for 2 moxes and 1 or 2 basics. Or I can get Lotus and cast Twister with one mana floating, likely drawing into a Vise and a bunch of other good cards.
I choose the latter, drawing no Vise, with Emil getting both Sapphire and Pearl on the Twister, killing off the Blood Moon and Toming me to death quite quickly afterwards. Was it a mistake to go for the Twister? Very likely. Even had I gotten the Vise, the odds are so high it would draw Emil into the answers he needs. It’s not guaranteed, and everybody doesn’t agree, but I think it’s pretty bad played by me. So Emil gets a well-deserved win, facing Alban Lauter in the finals and securing that much-coveted N00bCon invite. I need one myself, but there’s lots of time left, and I’m pretty sure Emil wanted it many orders of magnitude more than I do. That he failed to stop the German for taking another Swedish trophy is a greater problem, though.
Before calling it a day, Daniel asked me if I wanted to play a match for 3/4th place. Sure, why not, it’s not like if the prizes matter anyway (if we didn’t play I would likely get 3rd on higher Swiss standing). Daniel is on Vises, bolts, some other Atog stuff, Islands, and Blood Moons. I lost game 1, probably due to him being on the play and leading with Vise. Then, having seen Island and Blood Moon but no other blue cards, I fail to catch he’s on Serendibs, even boarding out one City in a Bottle instead of bringing in the third copy, and losing a very tight game to a couple of the Sri Lanka natives despite me leading with dual Vises on turn 1. Oh well, that’s one is totally on me.
The night is finished off with dinner, drafting a very unbalanced Revised cube, and some clubbing, watching the red sea horizon of the Nordic summer night non-darkness. The next day, there’s just time for breakfast before reaching Stockholm, me rebooking to an earlier train and getting home in the early afternoon.
Oh, what about the deck? I really like it, and it’s quite strong, definitely one of the better Lightning Bolt decks out there. I’ll likely keep it as my aggro deck of choice for the times when I just want to watch the world burn. For possible improvements of the exact list, I did feel a bit low on wincons sometimes, so I will try out 2 Copper Tablets over one Howling Mine and one Relic Barrier, but the Howling plan worked out fine, too. The sideboard might see some small improvements, and I should get a Mind Twist into the 75, Howlings or no. But that’s a topic for another day.
All in all, it was an excellent weekend. Next year, if there’s another cruise, you should all go.
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.)
This is a guest post by Chicago player Matt Moss, a report on a very interesting format and a great trip. Enjoy! /Svante (who will mostly stay quiet throughout, but is inserting a comment or two along the way)
It is late Saturday afternoon at Eternal Central HQ, located in the industrial heart of West Chicago, and the room has gone eerily quiet to my ears after hours of cheering and shouting. The few remaining souls are turning out the lights and headed to Chinatown for dinner and somehow I’ve ended up wearing a Lord of the Pit jacket that’s not my own. The stale smell of Dude + Jagermeister lingers in my nostrils thanks to the sole source of ventilation today being the cracked-open front windows, and they let in more sound from the passing Green Line than they do fresh air. The lights go out, and the sun is set on another successful Lords event, this one the second installment of the Novicecon. Here, 24 mages met to trade, talk shop, talk shit, raise money for charity, and engage in arcane battle using the Old School ways, albeit this time with a twist…
II. Novicecon 2018: The Rules
The rules for Novicecon II drew from both the EC Old School 93/94 and Old School 95 (adding Ice Age and Homelands) formats. Wizards were charged with building a deck for each format and the day’s program began with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. The extra spice, however, was the unified card pool rule, the result of which (to quote EC’s description) meant that “if you shuffle your two decks and sideboards together, it could be presented as a legal 150+ card deck. The totality of your two decks must follow the appropriate Banned and Restricted List, and must not include more than four of any other than basic lands.”
III. Lead-up: 5 Days, 6 Decks
My previous two experiences playing 95 came at the Madison Offensives, first playing a UW Control list featuring Jester’s Cap and Copy Artifact in 2017, then the mighty Reanimator 95 list in 2018. Both events were a blast to play, but didn’t offer the brewing challenge that the unified card pool would for Novicecon. Now I had to consider how best to deploy my most powerful resources. Which deck would get the Chaos Orb? How would I divide my Moxen? My decision-making process came down to a lot of trial and error, second guessing and last minute scrambling for Ice Age cards.
The week leading up to Novicecon began with an “Earth Day” meet-up of the Lords at a Dungeons & Dragons-themed bar, DMen Tap, where players were encouraged to use green-based decks. I brought a quite sub-optimized Green-Black Arboria Millstone list that I didn’t take too seriously, though I was curious about the brewing potential because my other deck, UW Artifacts, had done well the previous weekend at the Knights TAPlar’s Kumite! event in Jackson, Michigan. My early thinking, considering the unified card pool for Novicecon, was that I could possibly go GB in 95 and keep my UW together for 93/94. I quickly scuttled that idea after discovering that my grindy GB deck wasn’t my cup o’ tea. It was time to brew something new.
The next meet-up was a Wednesday gathering of Lords, again at DMen Tap, where I tried a new pair decks with a unified card pool. I had a Mono Blue build for 93/94, featuring Flying Men, Zephyr Falcon, Serendib and Azure Drakes, plus Unstable Mutations, countermagic and broken blue cards. That deck played pretty damn well! My 95 list, however, was a rather uninspired Naya pile that had lots of removal and a handful of Spiders plus a set of Erhnams to provide some spike value. That list also ran effectively, especially with Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and Lotus all on-hand to power out T1 Ernies. I wasn’t too inspired in the 95 realm, so it was back to the drawing board for a more creative list. I was at mid-week and no clue what to do with Saturday fast approaching.
After a bit of online chat with Svante about the 95 format, particularly the broken combo of Necropotence + Demonic Consultation, I decided to dive into the Land of Combo, with the aforementioned pair of cards being the engine for a Power Monolith list. The end goal of this deck was quite simple: draw a shitload of cards and assemble the Big Fireball. The “getting there” part was tricky for me, mostly because I don’t play much combo and hadn’t played with Necro, outside of a handful of pickup Vintage games, since the original Ice Age days. Svante helped tweak my first draft, and I was ready to test the Grixis-colored list. Because the deck required most of of my Power and restricted cards, and because I also had to consider the unified card pool constraint, I decided to go with White Weenie on the 93/94 side. This was a decision borne mostly out of necessity more than creativity, but I hadn’t played a WW list for a long time, so it would freshen up the 93/94 experience for me. The WW list was mostly garden variety, only I excluded the Crusades, thinking that other players may be on WW. My proclivity for midrange also led me to toss in a pair of Juggernaut as an easy 4-drop (given eight brown lands), and also as a nice hedge against Gloom. Going with WW meant that I only had two real decisions to make regarding the unified card pool: where to put Mox Pearl, and how to divide the Strip Mines. All five cards ended up in WW because a) I opted for on-color Moxen only in the 95 deck and, b) I wanted the Strips to give WW an outsized advantage in 93/94.
Now, with my fifth and sixth decks of the week in hand, I opted for a final evening of testing, this time at abode of Lord Petray, aka the MTG Meatball. I insisted on guest DJ’ing that and arrived with a slab of classic rock vinyl to spin. With Donald Fagan’s ‘The Nightly’ on-deck, the 95 Combo build began unleashing terror, consistently by turn 4, even as this unseasoned pilot fumbled through the first couple games’ worth of Necro and DC triggers (mostly getting the exile piles correct). I was convinced that the deck had a high ceiling, though it would be the Blast Wars in SB games that would be its primary challenge. The deck was even able to out-Necro the standard BR Necro list, as it simply ignored the opponent, assembled the combo and dealt the killing blow. I was ready for Novicecon.
IV. Saturday Breakfast + My Chaos Orb Debacle
The Saturday of Novicecon began with a meeting of several Lords at Handlebar in Wicker Park for breakfast. I opted for the breakfast burrito, a solid base for the day’s imbibing, and washed it down with the Bloody Hammer, their take on a Bloody Mary, feat. a fried pickle spear. The breakfast confab soon turned against me, notably because of my absent Chaos Orb Marksman patch. I’d failed the challenge once, at the prior year’s Novicecon, and hadn’t tried it since. Why not? I guess I didn’t enjoy being the center of attention and having a number of dudesweats yelling at me while trying to concentrate. Perhaps it was the Bloody Hammer influencing my decision making, but I agreed to try for the patch first thing when we arrived at EC HQ. After the meal, Lord Agra drove his breakfasting cohort to the secured location where Novicecon would unfold.
After settling in at EC HQ, I opted to get my Chaos Orb trial out of the way ASAP, and selected as my poison four shots of Jagermeister. My requirement would thus be to hit 50 Chaos Orb flips without missing more than five (4 shots + 1 grace) I figured that if I couldn’t complete the challenge with four shots on the line, I didn’t deserve the patch anyhow. A handful of spectators, perhaps eight or nine, gathered around and I was off… and doing well! I’d worked on a new two-handed technique that seemed to be paying off despite my own nervous energy. I’d missed a couple flips but rolled into the mid-20s and was right on schedule… and that’s when the wheels fell off! I flamed out after a bad sequence around no. 30 and ended at a lousy 31/50 flips, a wretch performance. The yips had gotten me, again, and now it was time to begin Novicecon with a solid buzz from the Bloody Hammer the four Jager and a can of Hamm’s (to console with after my ignominious Orb-flipping exhibition.
V. Novicecon Rounds
The agenda was to proceed with three rounds of 93/94 followed by three rounds of 95. Pairings would be based on cumulative record. I chatted with Mike Butzen, a gentleman Thrull who treks in from the hinterlands of Wisconsin for most Lords events, about selling my white-bordered, German Serendib Efreet (nicknamed “Edgar”), and we closed on that transaction. I also engaged with Lord Sanders for a trade; he was in the market for an Oubliette (one of my personal favorite artwork in MTG) of which I had a pair and only needed to keep one for my 93/94 cube. After perusing Sanders’ wares, we settled on a straightaway swap of my Oubliette for his Unlimited Fastbond. Trading closed, and the matches were on!
Round One vs. M. Butzen (0-1)
It didn’t take long for Dear Edgar to reappear, this time on the opposite side of the battlefield. Butzen was on a UW weenies build that featured Savannah Lions, Dibs and topped out with some Serra Angels. My WW sprinted to a quick 1-0 lead thanks to nice curving, and G2 turned into a meat grinder with too many of my weenies falling prey to Butzen’s boarded Psychic Purges. G3 was an Strip Magic masterpiece featuring seven of our eight Strips being deployed. Unfortunately, I was on the short side of the Strip battle and also fell on the short side of the match, 1-2. It was fine vengeance for Butzen, who had 5-1’d the previous Lords event with his sole defeat at the hands of my GW Shops.
Round Two vs. D. Dunaway (1-1)
If I remember correctly, Danny made the trip in with Butzen. We’d met in passing at a previous event or two, but had never matched up. For the 93/94 portion of this Novicecon, he’d selected a Monoblack list, giving us a classic pairing of Black & White, good & evil. G1 was another well-curved boat race for the WWs, but G2 was an equally vicious beating for the Bad Guys. Dunaway slammed a T2 Gloom onto the battlefield and I had no answer within reach. A Juzam, then a second Juzam quickly brought the game to a close. I saw a hot start in G3 with Plains-Mox-Order of Leitbur, then Dunaway again deployed a fast Gloom, this time on the back of Demonic Tutor. I again had no answer for Gloom, but, fortunately for me, that Order was able to go the entire distance as Dunaway drew no answers of his own. WW scraped by and collected the match win and I was much less gloomy.
Round Three vs. M. Sharp (2-1)
I was a few brewskis deeper and into round three and things began to get a bit hazy as I sat across from Matt Sharp. Sharp, hailing from suburban Chicago, is a new-coming Old Schooler that I hadn’t met prior to this Novicecon. The Lords are fortunate to draw on such a dense nexus of players here in the midwest and new faces are always a pleasure to see. Sharp had at a well-tuned Erhnamgeddon list at the ready, but the White Weenies overwhelmed the match. Timely answers for Sharp’s bigger threats (Ernie got sent farming) and my low mana curve powered me to a 2-0 victory and a 2-1 finish in the 93/94 section of Novicecon. I felt pretty good about the first three rounds as we broke for lunch. I also took time to make a deal with Ron Longhi, another suburbanite and Lords regular, for a CE Shivan Dragon.
Round Four vs. S. Maldonado (3-1)
Lord Maldo of Milwaukee is one my dear MTG pals and, as the lunch break ran out, we sat chatting about the brews we’d stewed up for 95 action. I was confident that I’d assembled a potent list and he mentioned thinking about Juzam Djinn for his Monoblack Necro list. I pulled a copy of the Green Guy from my binder and slid it over as the R4 pairings were announced… guess who was coming to dinner! Maldo and I would be pitted in Round 4 and we laughed about having divulged our deck tech. G1 was a glorious debut for my Necro Power Monolith list as I nailed Maldo with the Big Fireball by T4. G2 started with dueling Necropotence before Maldo cast Demonic Consultation. He named Strip Mine. I figured Maldo was gunning to take me off double blue mana to keep Power Artifact at bay as he began exiling cards for DC. He kept flipping… and flipping… and flipping and, then, it was all over and his entire library lay in ruin. He had Consulted for a SECOND Strip Mine while having one in-hand and, uh, zero other copies in his library! The unified card pool had just gifted me the W as Maldo forgot the number of Strips in his deck. Maldo was vanquished 2-0 and we shared a laugh at his misfortune and he took it like a champ. Live like a Lord, Die Like a Lord.
Round Five vs. Jaco (3-2)
I sat with Jaco for the fourth round figuring he would be on Reanimator and, sure enough, he was on Reanimator. For those curious, this harnesses Bazaar of Baghdad and eight Reanimator effects (Animated Dead + Dance of the Dead) to power out big threats quickly. It can also maintain a steady rotation of Ashen Ghouls and Nether Shadows from the graveyard for constant harassment. Finally, having access to four Demonic Consultation makes Bazaar (the deck’s engine, think Dredge here) a consistent early play. Now, as strong as that build is for 95, I thought I could outrace it before Jaco got a big dude or a horde of Ghouls & Shadows online. My hopes were soon dashed in G1 as Animate Dead + Deep Spawn hit the board T1 and the rout was on. I went to my sideboard, loaded up on Blasts and Tormod’s Crypts and we were off on G2. This time, I was able to assemble the combo and deliver the big hurt to tie the match at 1-1. As for G3, well, by this time, the day’s drinking had begun to catch up to me and I don’t quite remember the finish, although I know that a) I lost, and b) there were Blasts involved. Oh well, I thought. I fell to 3-2, but had put up a good fight against one of the stronger 95 lists possible, and only fell a Blast short of a win..
Round Six vs. B. Shriver (3-3)
The final round paired me with Bill, another Chicagolander with a penchant for combo-based strategies. I don’t recall (pun intended) whether it was before or after our match, but Bill gave me a hookup on a Legends Recall. After the card was unrestricted under Swedish rules, Bill had the presence of mind to land a few copies prior their disappearance from the market, and like a true gentleman he passed along the savings. Thanks again, Bill! Now, as for our match, Bill piloted a sweet Necro Land’s Edge combo brew. We split the first two games, my win coming on the back of a giant Fireball and his win on the back Glacial Chasm buying him time to cut me down with Land’s Edge. All four of my Strip Mines were parked in my WW deck so I had no answer for Glacial Chasm! The deciding G3 seemed to be going in my favor. I assembled the Power Monolith and went for for the Big Fireball. Here’s how it played out: Hydroblast, Pyroblast, a second Hydroblast(!), Demonic Consultation naming Pyroblast… Unfortunately, karma came back to bite me in the ass as I had no Pyroblast remaining and my entire library was exiled! Bill got the 2-1 win and I finished the day 3-3 in matches. It was a fitting way to go out, too, because I’d earlier cheaped a win via Lord Maldo’s errant Consultation. The cosmic ledger was now balanced.
I ended up at 3-3, but all three of my match loses came down to close G3s, so I was happy overall with my decks’ performance (notwithstanding the pilot, of course). I was pleased my 95 Combo was able to quickly assemble in most of the games, but it felt a little too light on disruption and could have benefited perhaps from Hymn to Tourach out of the sideboard to try and sweep away Blasts. Or perhaps I was just overanxious in trying to deploy the Big Fireball and needed to get more Blasts in-hand. I will definitely tinker with this list and come back to it in the future. Meanwhile, over in 93/94, White Weenie was fun to take out for a half-day trip, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying to play or win with. That level of aggro just isn’t my general game although it fit nicely here with the unified card pool. I ended up 10/24 players and took home an inked-up Deep Spawn for the day’s effort.
Editor’s note: I think more Barbed Sextants, blasts, and Flash Counters are the way to go, although the possibility of a Hymn plan is certainly interesting as well. There’s also some merit to a more cantrip-heavy shell with Portents.
VII. The Top Decks
Most of my downtime between rounds was spent trading, drinking and bullshitting, so I skipped out on the action at the top tables. but after checking out the lists on the EC site I can confirm there were some juicy cuts. Here were our top four wizards:
1st – Greg Kotscharjan on UW midrange (feat. Preacher/Diamond Valley combo) and Naya.
2nd – Chris Bergeson on RUG and 95 Reanimator (feat. Polar Kraken).
3rd – Jaco on Pink Weenie and 95 Reanimator.
4th – Lorien Elleman on Bantgeddon and Necro Land’s Edge (similar to what I saw in R6).
While I already chronicled my own Chaos Orb follies above, a special mention must be given to three Lords that successfully completed their own challenges: both Kotscharjan and Bergeson added a Chaos Orb Marksman patch to compliment their Top 4 finishes. Lord Sanders took one home. In a display of truly Unholy Strength, Lord Bergeson became the first person to nail all 50 flips with nary a miss! He then celebrated by downing his allotment of shots, Malort no less, in quick succession. Congratulations, gentlemen, may I one day join the ranks of ye mighty!
IX. Closing Thoughts
What a gathering! The split format, inclusion of 95 and the unified card pool gave everyone a chance to innovate and the resulting gameplay was far better for it. That stated, the genius of all Old School MTG lies not within the gameplay, nor even the cards and their nostalgic power, but within the community itself, which was on display in abundance during the second annual Novicecon. The assembled Lords and guests showed up in-force to catch up with friends new and old, toss back drinks and talk, trade and sling cardboard, all while raising money for a good cause. I recommend that all players try the 95 format, or experiment with their own variants, and continue to build and enrich their own Old School MTG community.
Thanks for reading and thanks again to Svante for letting me guest blog!
And thanks Matt for an awesome report of an awesome event. Wish I had been there! /Svante
I’ve realized I’m not very much into writing tournament reports at the moment. The motivation just isn’t there; the narrative gets repeating, and I’m far too bad at remembering interesting board states and play-by-plays, even when aided by short notes on the life pad. I will return there, I’m sure of it, but for now, I’ll concentrate on other things. Like deck discussions. There will be a gameplay section, but this time, the focus won’t be on that, nor on traveling and beer.
As I mentioned previously, I played Power Monolith through the Winter Derby. It’s a good deck, one just up my alley, but it has a few problems: drawing dead combo pieces, and getting worse after sideboard as it’s weak to REB, BEB, and all kinds of artifact hate. There’s also more to be explored. I’ve always been a fan of Sylvan Library, ever since using it with Abundance in Extended (or with Pursuit of Knowledge in Standard) way back in 2000 or even earlier. And there’s a deck abusing Sylvan like almost no other: MirrorBall. I also recently got ahold of my third Abyss, and got the idea to try out how good Maze of Ith really is in a Fastbond list.
What really made me want to play the deck, however, was a couple of realizations I had. First, that this deck could use Energy Flux as a sideboard plan against The Deck and artifact-based midrange decks, as it doesn’t really use any artifacts other than the power which isn’t basically sorcery-speed (Mana Vaults, Mirror Universes, Chaos Orb). Second, that there’s a possibility for Verduran Enchantress as a plan against control. I like having some creature in the board when you’re running a creatureless main deck, but playing Abyss eliminates the possibility of Guardian Beast or anything like that, which you’d want against midrange or aggro. Enchantress as a blast- and Disenchant-proof card drawing engine against control seemed alright, and 10-11 enchantments should be enough.
I went back and forth a bit on how the list should be built. Martin Jordö has played the following two builds to the top 8 of different tournaments:
I wanted Sylvans, as mentioned, and I didn’t think a 1/1 split of Dark Hearts of the Wood is enough to make a forest-based mana base for. Also, 4 mirrors seemed like an awful lot, even though I know Jordö said he’d run 5 (along with 5 Mana Vaults) if he could. I settled on the following list:
In the last minute before the tournament, I went -1 counterspell -1 mana vault +1 power sink +1 balance, but those changes are pretty much horrible.
The mana base is weak to support UU, but multiple power sinks just aren’t good enough. And balance was never close to being useful. I wanted to have it, and it was the last card cut for the longest time, but I used to run the fourth Taiga over the fourth City, which I realized made the mana base a little bit too bad. Still, 5-6 white mana is a bit too little, and the card was never strong enough here with no fellwars. Or maybe it was variance, I don’t know. It might be worth to test out more, but I certainly wasn’t convinced here.
So, to the matches!
In round 1, I faced KungMarkus, the organizer of the event. He always plays mono red, and this time, he was on an Immolation build, using them to kill off opposing Hypnotics as well as making his Ydwen Efreets into 5/4s. Game 1, I took some damage from a turn 1 Goblin Balloon Brigade and assorted burn and a Ball Lightning, playing a Mirror and switching life 20-1, then taking a few more turns of damage before finding a Fireball. Game 2, things went well until Markus played Blood Moon; I had BEB, but he had the REB. I did have Dark Heart of the Wood in play but refused to sacrifice any lands, because I had 10 of them with two fireballs in hand. Unfortunately, a Ball Lightning and a bunch of bolts finished me off before I could do anything about it. The final game, I believe I managed to luckily BEB a moon. I had gambled on not facing many Blood Moons with this build, and considered myself quite lucky to have escaped one such matchup with a win.
Round 2, I faced I believe a Norwegian player with some kind of UGW build if I remember correctly (my notes are unfortunately quite bad, and, being old, so is my memory). The interesting thing here is game 1, where I Timetwister, then proceed to Channel-Recall for Timetwister, Ancestral and Black Lotus. The second game involved casting a Braingeyser for 6 after having Mana Drained an Erhnam, followed by Time Walk. 2-0.
Round 3, I face a player I don’t know. He says something to the lines of “nice, I was getting so tired of facing aggro”, to which I reply with a question if he knew what I was playing. He says he wasn’t, but that I always play the same thing. It’s good to have a reputation, I suppose. He casts something like a mox and a fellwar, and I play turn 2 Wheel of Fortune, seeing his hand of Fireball, Fork, Disenchant and a few mana, or something along those lines. In play, he has a bunch of URB mana. I wasn’t expecting that, he said. I mostly smile. He resolves a Jayemdae Tome, but is strapped on mana, so I Power Sink his Mox Ruby to tap him out, letting me resolve a huge Braingeyser, eventually mirroring from 11 life and Fireballing him out. The second game is where it gets interesting, because my sideboard plan works out. Or, well, he was again kind of mana screwed, and I didn’t draw any of my moxen, so when I resolve an Energy Flux, I’m very far ahead. I also get to draw a few cards off of an Enchantress. At this point, Emil walks by, trying to see what I’m playing. He’s one of the best The Deck players in Sweden and certainly in this room and one of the opponents I least want to play. Now he thinks I’m on Enchantress, and I do nothing to dissuade him.
Round 4, I play against Tax Edge, in fact the first time I ever face that deck. In game 1, I play turn 3 Channel Mirror Mind Twist, leaving me at 4 and him with no hand. However, I proceed to draw something like eight straight mana sources, while he’s climbing back with an Ivory Tower. I play a second Mirror which gets disenchanted. However, then I finally find a Sylvan, Regrowth the Mind Twist, getting rid of his 9-card hand before he can find a Land’s Edge, leaving him with something like Ivory Tower, Library of Leng, and two lands in play. Then my third mirror along with a Fireball finishes it. Game 2, I keep a hand of 2 Fireball, Black Lotus, 3 lands, and Chaos Orb, if I recall correctly. I debate on whether to take a mulligan, as I really want to have something proactive, ideally a restricted draw spell or a Sylvan, but I figure I have lots of good draws with the Lotus, as well as time with the Chaos Orb and his deck not being overly fast or aggressive. He also lets me be on the play, which I think is very wrong, as the odds are so big I just do something broken on turn 1 that he can’t do anything about. He plays land, go. I topdeck Channel turn 2. 4-0.
Round 5, we are 3 people undefeated: me, Johan Råberg and Emil Klintbäck. I hope I face Råberg, running BWu midrange, with a slow clock and not a whole lot of disruption, while also being weak to my abyss/maze plan. Instead, I face Emil. On the play, I play turn 1 Mana Vault; he plays Ancestral in my upkeep, and although I have a second Mana Vault and a Mind Twist, I choose not to make him discard 5 cards as he has 9 in hand at the moment. So I Mind Twist for 6 on turn 3, which resolves, leaving him with 1 card in hand. On his turn, he plays land, Time Walk, and on the extra turn, plays Timetwister. I then proceed to draw mostly mana while he plays a bunch of Moxen and a book. Game 2, I once again don’t get an early enough Sylvan, and a swift book from Emil does me in. I can’t count on beating The Deck, especially not with a good pilot like Emil, but as he knocked me out in the quarterfinals of last year’s N00bCon, I would have liked to win this one.
Round 6, I face Odd, a nice Norwegian player who I haven’t met before. I knew he was on some kind of UR Blood Moon deck, but it turned out he’s on a list with 3 main deck moons and no Counterspells, due to a lack of dual lands. Game 1, I win with Mirror, using Dark Heart of the Wood to stay out of harm’s way. Game 2 is very interesting. I get hit by a Blood Moon, but Odd has a very slow clock. Eventually, he Timetwisters with me at 6 life, which I let resolve, even though I have a REB in hand; I need cards, and I just have to take the chance he draws worse than me. He Bolts me and taps out for a Jalum Tome after some deliberation. On my turn, I play Sapphire, some other Moxen, and Timetwister. On the Twister, I draw Chaos Orb, and can finally destroy the Blood Moon. Then I have 9 mana, including a Mana Vault, and Mirror Universe, Demonic Tutor, and 2 Power Sink in hand. If I had one more mana, I could have played Mirror and tutored for Time Walk. Instead, I tutor for Walk, then play Mirror, passing the turn with double Power Sink up. They aren’t very good against Odd’s hand of burn, with me at 3, so I lose. I have no idea why I didn’t tutor for Dark Heart of the Wood instead. Could I really have had so few Forests? I had something like 7 or 8 lands. It must have been a mistake. Then, the final game, I once again take a mulligan and don’t do very much, but Odd’s clock is slow. Maybe because I have an Abyss or something. Eventually, he gets a Jalum Tome, when I need to topdeck something. I’m on 1 life and play a Mirror. Both his draws are blanks. 5-1, and 3rd place before the top 8.
I must mention that the tournament went smoother this time than last year. The Swiss ends about midnight, which is fairly tolerable, whereas last September, the finals was over at 5 a.m.
In the quarterfinals, I face Thomas Nilsen. We played at N00bCon where I beat his Troll Disco with my The Deck. This time, he’s on an interesting Eureka Robots list, with Su-Chi, Colossus of Sardia, Yawgmoth Demon and Copy Artifact. Game 1, I don’t remember what happened, and my notes aren’t telling, but I lost, probably due to a Mishra and a fast Su-Chi while drawing nothing. Game 2, I get out first one, then two Energy Fluxes, and Thomas can’t do much except attack with a Mishra, while I get a Mirror. The last game, I mulligan, and get beaten down by first two, then three Mishras which my Maze isn’t doing much against. Then, when Thomas just plays his third Mishra and the one I can’t maze thus attacks for 4, I miss a Chaos Orb flip on it, leaving me at 9 instead of 13. Because I have the opportunity to do things with Fastbond next turn, that comes back to bite me, and I succumb to the land beats.
A bit disappointing, because I believe this matchup is pretty good for me, but my goal was mostly top 8, partly to keep my streak alive (counting the Winter Derby, I’ve made t8 of the last seven tournaments I’ve played), and partly because I want to continue pushing combo in the format. It was also sweet to be back at the hotel to catch some sleep shortly after 2 a.m., watching Emil take it all down against Odd in the finals on Cermak’s Facebok broadcast.
So, after all of that, what do I think about the list?
Fastbond isn’t really working. Even when drawing sylvan-fastbond-dark heart, fastbond is close to useless. It’s only really good when doing heavily broken things with Wheel or Twister or Braingeyser. One copy might be fine, but not more. Not even with Mazes.
Dark Heart of the Wood is sometimes really good: makes you Mirror safer, helps a lot against burn, lets you Channel-kill people in the midgame against midrange. But the amount of damage it inflicts on your mana base is extensive. I fear the deck is just stronger when ommitting this component. That leaves options of more blue for Transmute, and/or more red for Fork.
Sylvan is great. Everybody tells me 4 is too much, but if anything, I was drawing too few copies of the card throughout the tournament, not too many. I could see going to 3 without Dark Heart, but 3 is really strong.
Mana Vault is underrated in general. It makes all the broken stuff (Wheel, Twister, Mind Twist, Braingeyser) that much better.
Channel is nuts.
The Enchantress plan is just too cute. Not worth the slots. Would be better off as something like a Mana Short and the third REB.
Energy Flux is great when it works, but against The Deck, you really have to count on not drawing too many moxes yourself. I’m unsure. And without it, you could run Fellwar Stones which fix your mana (as I’ve said countless times).
Maze was very underwhelming. You can easily just lose to multiple Mishras anyway. And it ought to be almost at its best here, brought in alongside multiple copies of The Abyss or Energy Flux in a Fastbond deck. Unless you run Candelabras, I suppose. Its unrestriction continues to be proven to be very safe.
So, there’s definitely a build of this deck that’s working, but it feels weaker than Power Monolith in many ways. You do draw more air than I expected, with mirrors, dark hearts, fastbonds, extra sylvans and the likes, especially when boarding in more reactive cards. I think there are ways to fix that, but that mutates the deck into something else. Back to brewing.
If you absolutely want to play with Dark Heart of the Wood, I recommend the following changes from the list above:
main: -1 fastbond -1 power sink +1 mana vault +1 counterspell
sb: -1 maze -1 abyss -2 enchantress, +1 reb +1 beb +1 mana short +1 city in a bottle (the 2nd maze could also be cut, if you find anything else you’d want against aggro or midrange)
And also, give the cred to Martin Jordö and not to me, as I just tuned his lists to arrive here.
Next up: N00bCon. If you should see me there and I don’t know you, please say hi!
On December 16th, I went to Stockholm for the Lucia Legends tournament. It was a pretty small local tournament, excellently run by Gordon Andersson, sporting 17 players, but not having played since BSK in early November, I felt the urge to take the 2-hour drive. Also, the last Stockholm N00bcon invite was on the line, to be awarded in some unannounced way. Before sitting down to play, we were faced with a quiz for Legends art: six non-reprinted Legends, and the task was to name them, with their mana cost as tiebreakers. This is the quiz. Take a stab at it!
I kicked myself for not remembering the name of a card I actually knew what it did, finally getting it with Jacques le Vert, only to find out it was actually Hazezon Tamar. So I only nailed two of them: Boris Devilboon and Lady of the Mountain. I thought I knew Stangg (it was not announced that it was only non-reprinted cards), but it was really Ur-Drago. How many of them did you nail? Reply in the comments!
Later, before the top 8 started, it was announced that I was indeed in the top 4 of the quiz on a score of 2 out of 6. Kids these days have no sense for history. (Mad props to Jesper who got 5 out of 6!) The next trial was Falling Star flipping, in which I hit two creatures out of the maximum three. Then, it was time for a quiz. Legends trivia quiz.
Anyone remembers the old Question Mark quiz on the mothership? I used to be quite good at that, meaning making top 8 in the world or so, a couple of times. Or the Question Mark live show at Pro Tour when Mark Rosewater still went to them, giving out free packs and promo cards? Those were also sweet. So, it was actually not that fair. There were a few questions I wasn’t 100 % sure on, and so didn’t answer, as a wrong answer was awarded with a negative point, but the ones I answered, I knew. Pretty basic stuff, really; some easy things like where Legends stands in the order of expansions, or how many cards each booster contains, and some slightly harder, like what’s special about the print run. (A version of the full quiz will be up on wak-wak some time in the future, I’ve heared. Keep tuned.) When the dust settled, I had won by a reassuringly large margin, and that N00bCon invite was mine. Sweet stuff indeed!
But before all that happened, we played some magic. Four rounds of swiss before a cut to the top 8, to be exact. I don’t feel like doing a play-by-play report, but I like to discuss the deck I played. It was this pile:
The tournament went as follows:
R1: Enchantress, 2-1
R2: UG fliers, 2-0
R3: UBW midrange, 2-0
R4: BGW midrange, 0-2
QF: Rbu burn: 2-0
SF: Big UR: 2-1
Finals: same BGW midrange, 1-2
Some highlights: winning on the next-to-last extra turn of time in round 1, where my opponent (my friend Råberg, playing a sweet Enchantress brew) played a lethal fireball with REB backup against my hand of two BEBs, going to 2 in the process so I could finish him with the last card in my hand, a lightning bolt (so I didn’t even need that second BEB, but it felt good anyway). Taking a game off of Egil with the BGW deck in the finals; he had won every duel before that! It was his first tournament, almost, and his deck was built from Gordon’s leftovers. Makes me wonder how he’d do with a real deck. :) Then I misplayed the last game of the finals, throwing a game that was won, but it wasn’t obvious at the time, and it involved a Berserk, a card I would never expect out of a midrange deck with no pump. (Although still bad. The play was likely strictly wrong, no matter which cards were in my opponent’s deck.) That game, I was also hit by an unexpected Tsunami. One of these days I will close it out with a win, I swear.
So what about the deck I played? 5-2 is a reasonable record, and I liked getting to play with my newly-acquired Serendibs, as well as going aggro with burn for the first time in the format for me, but I’m fairly certain the list is just bad. Probably the archetype as well. Why? Well, for a starter let’s take a look at the mana base.
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
1 Sol Ring
1 Black Lotus
1 Strip Mine
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 City of Brass
3 Volcanic Island
1 Underground Sea
That’s 13 U, 12 W, 9 R, 6 B, excluding the Lotus. Imagine a mana base like that in any modern format. (Reminds me of the time I played UG Madness in Standard to a Top 8 in Nationals without Yavimaya Coasts, having the mana base of 11 Island, 9 Forest, 2 City of Brass.) Too little red, a bit too little blue and white as well. I had even cut the Emerald for another colored source, even though my Serras and Serendibs greatly benefit from acceleration! I should have used more Plateaus instead of Plains, ignoring Blood Moon a bit more, but it’s still far from great. Even if you cut the black, which might be worth it. Basically, the complicated mana bases of this format don’t work if you don’t run Fellwar Stones or possibly if you play a combo deck and can cut the Mishra’s. Also, the Moats aren’t just good enough when there’s so few other valuable Disenchant targets. The red addition might make it better than straight-up UW Skies, as the burn certainly was strong in a lot of games, but this deck is just a straight-up worse version of UR Burn. And one of the fundamental truths of Magic is that you shouldn’t run a worse something else. You could also make a case that it’s also a worse Swords/Disenchant/Counterspell/Moat deck than The Deck, but that part is obvious. The deck might even be worse than the UWR Savannah Lion deck that Åland played at BSK, although I stand by the lions just being a generally terrible card in the format.
Unfortunately, I never got to use Rasputin Dreamweaver, but at least I did grind out Gordon’s Big UR with my Jalum Tome one game of the semifinals, so I got to showcase some of my sweeter cards. The burn was fun to play with, as a change to my usual control- or combo-centric play style, but next time I feel that urge, I’ll do it in another shell. UR, or big UR, or Arabian Aggro. Or even some Underworld Dreams burn deck. I have lots of ideas.
The next tournament for me is probably the Arvika Festivalen in February, but I have a bunch of stuff to write about before then. Something about the decks from Eternal Weekend, probably, as well as reviving Rereading Centurion. Also, there’s Skype playing to be done, decks to be built, cards to be acquired. Take care during the holidays, may you always have Library of Alexandria in your starting hand, and see you at N00bCon! Man, that feels great to say.
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!