lördag 17 juni 2017

On books and bannings

Today we have another glorious guest. Svante Landgraf is one of the most prolific The Deck players in the format. Fresh of a top8 in the Stockholm Ivory Cup, and that's just after picking up a trophy in the n00bcon 9 top8, the dude knows his way around old school control decks. He is also an old Pro Tour player with a few success stories from pretty much all sanctioned formats. Svante likes his control decks, and seriously considered the impact of a Jayemdae Tome restriction last month. The Tome got a stay this time, but that didn't stop him from graciously sharing his thoughts with us here. Let's take the ride. Enjoy! /Mg out

I love books and libraries. I love books so much that I spent the last six years getting a Ph.D in what essentially amounts to Comparative Literature (technically, it’s something called "Culture and Society", but wtf does that even mean), to the dual benefits of now being unemployed and being able to call myself a Doctor of Science Fiction. Eminently worth it, I must say.

Consequently, when it comes to Magic, there are few things I like more than drawing cards. I have a soft spot for broken combo things, but ever since reading about blue-white control in the December 1995 issue of Centurion, Sweden’s finest ever Magic magazine, I was hooked on that archetype. The possibility of playing The Deck again is a huge part of why I’m even a part of the 93/94 community. I know, I know, I’m the bad guy.

So, I’m currently mostly unemployed, and I usually take long runs before lunch almost every day. Sometimes so long, in fact, that I need something complicated to think about in order not to collapse from pure boredom. One day I started building all the basic decks in 94/95, but that’s a topic for another time and another place. And one other day, shortly after n00bcon and before the B&R announcement, I started thinking about what to do with The Deck should Jayemdae Tome get restricted, something I thought quite likely at the time.
That’s the topic of this article. Imagine we live in a world where the Tome got the axe some weeks ago. One day, we might live in that world. What do we do? Is The Deck dead? Do we all have to start playing actual win conditions? Fear not. I will walk you through all the opportunities, starting out with straight-up replacements, working my way towards new directions the deck might take. Who knows, there might be some gems in here which are applicable even in a Tome world?
The most obvious replacement is Jalum Tome. There’s even some argument for including a single Jalum in lists with multiple Jayemdaes, as the two cards are synergistic with eachother. The problem with relying on multiple Jalums is that it doesn’t actually provide card advantage. You can toss excess land or removal, but you never get ahead on resources the way you do with an active Jayemdae. Jalums are best used to quickly cycling through the deck, finding other things that can fill your hand so the cycling can continue. In this way, Jalum plays well with all the restricted cards. Should Recall get unrestricted, this becomes increasingly attractive, as you can use Jalum to find Ancestral or Demonic for Ancestral to draw cards, then Jaluming into Recalls to continue the process for quite the reliable card advantage. With multiple Jalums, I even think there might be a case for running Wheel of Fortune in The Deck. Timetwister is a deceptively powerful card in the deck, after all. Jalum also fits well with the next card on the list: Sylvan Library.
Sylvan Library is one of my all-time favorite cards, easily in the top 5 at least, possibly number 1. I love everything about it: the weird old-school art where it’s hard to make out what it’s actually depicting but everything looks great, the power level, the tricks you can use, the weird wording that has changed more times than I can count. I used to beat people with the Sylvan/Abundance combination back in year-2000 Extended Oath of Druids. I also think Sylvan is criminally underplayed in 93/94. Sure, shuffle effects are hard to come by. The only free one is Demonic Tutor. Still, against decks not hurting you, like the mirror, a Sylvan Library is fine to have on its own in The Deck. But maybe you can get a few shuffles in?
Land Tax is the classic combo with Sylvan, even since the first days of Erhnam-Geddon in 1995, but it requires a bit too many basic lands for what The Deck really wants, I think, not to mention the fact that you have to have fewer lands in play than your opponent. If we had Zuran Orb, Land Tax would work, but now, I’m skeptical. There is another opportunity, however, and that is playing Untamed Wilds. You still need basic lands, but fewer; I think three or four would work. As an added bonus, you get extra insurance against Blood Moon. You only get a few shuffle effects, but timing them correctly, they do provide quite a large advantage. I could definitely see a build featuring some Sylvans and 2-3 Untamed Wilds. The mana base would have to change, using Tropical Islands instead of Volcanic Islands, minimizing the red, probably to only a Fireball and a couple of Red Elemental Blasts in the sideboard, but Ice Storm steps in nicely for Stone Rain.
And you can also get around the Sylvan restrictions by using Millstone on yourself. Millstone also doubles as a win condition, of course. However, as you will be milling yourself occasionally or frequently, as well as drawing more cards than your opponent, winning with just Millstone might be hard. I recommend using one Tormod’s Crypt so you can late-game Timetwister + Crypt and then using Millstone as a finisher. Feldon’s Cane would also work but is much slower.

Another way of handling the downsides of Sylvan is not getting rid of the top cards, either by shuffling or milling, but instead gaining life so you can draw more that way. The best plan is probably Ivory Tower, already fringe playable in The Deck and highly synergistic with the burst card advantage Sylvan can provide. Mirror Universe also becomes a better maindeck card if you play a bunch of Sylvans.
In his original The Deck (or at least in a later version which is what I’m able to find at the moment, a list with Amnesias after the Mind Twist banning), Brian Weissman played 2 Disrupting Scepter and 1 Jayemdae Tome. Randy Buehler runs 2 tomes and 2 scepters in his current The Deck. The latter is horribly wrong, the former only probably so, but maybe there is something here? After all, the scepter does share many treats with the tome, both being mono artifacts converting a bunch of mana into card advantage

However, while the scepter can be effective against control and some midrange decks, it just doesn’t offer the raw power the tome does. It’s not at all an engine for the deck, it’s a very specific tool. It’s not a bad card, and playing fewer tomes might open up slots for other mana-intensive cards like scepters, but it doesn’t remotely do what the tome does for The Deck.

That being said, maybe the best way to handle the loss of tomes is changing the strategy a bit?
I usually play a bunch of angels in my sideboard. When boarding in Serras, I frequently cut one book. There’s just so much heavy end the deck can sustain. I’m not a big fan of Serras in the main deck, because of all the swords being played, but without tomes, they might be worth it. Without the tomes, you can’t count on card advantage as giving you perfect inevitability, so killing the opponent is one possible solution to that. The problem with the Serras is obviously that they are quite weak against anything with white. Trading 5 mana for 1 isn’t where you want to be. If not everybody is playing white, they get better. They also get better with Disrupting Scepters or Amnesia. If you go too deep on the Serras, the deck starts morphing into U/W Skies with multiple Serras, Serendibs, and probably Moat and Psionic Blasts, but then you’ve left The Deck territory and ventured into unknown lands. The same goes for accepting the lack of inevitability caused by fewer Jayemdae Tomes and going for a combo kill, likely Power Artifact. There might be merit to some more hybrid builds in this world, but it’s not really The Deck anymore then.
But when it comes to durdly win conditions, I have to spare a word for The Hive. I first saw it in action at the very first 93/94 tournament I played, at LIGG in Stockholm in early 2016, where I believe Seb Celia ran one copy (probably in the sideboard) of his The Deck. When tomes are eating your mana each turn, it’s hard to justify paying 10 for a 1/1 flier, or 15 for two, but when tomes are out of the picture, maybe it’s time for the wasps to shine? They do provide a very resilient win condition against removal. They are also some of the only win conditions dodging both Moat and The Abyss. I’m still highly skeptical, and it doesn’t really solve the problem of providing you with enough resources to bury the midrange decks, but it is an option.

So, what would this mean for The Deck and for the metagame in general? First of all, are there any other decks than The Deck which are hit by the restriction? Not really. Some U/W Skies lists might play two tomes, as well as some Transmute decks, but those are few and far between. The Deck would be weaker, no doubt about it, but it would still be viable and probably still very good. Fewer people would probably play it and it would be a little bit easier to beat. It would be less about taking complete control and more about beating down with Serras or paying life to Sylvan. This all would strengthen midrange creature decks and combo decks, which are not so good against The Deck, and weaken U/R Burn, which is probably the worst matchup for The Deck. In turn, combo decks would be even better, as they are usually at their best against midrange creature decks. On the other hand, not very many players enjoy playing the weird combo decks, and they tend to be quite expensive. We might see a more creature-heavy format with a slightly larger chance of some combo deck spiking a tournament. And The Deck will continue to put up good numbers, I’m sure.

But what do you think? Am I right in this? Hit me up in the comments!

måndag 5 juni 2017

Jumping Jesus and 32 decks to beat

It has been a while since I updated the Decks to Beat page, but I've finally managed to find most of the lists from the last few months. Check 'em out if you want some inspiration.

One thing about decks-to-beat though is that they are by definition decks with winning records at tournaments. The X-0 to X-2 decks of the meta. At the last gathering I played, the Jumping Jesus tournament in Oslo, I e.g. got the chance to battle against an awesome Elephant Tribal deck in the swiss. I also got my only loss in the tournament at the hands of a powerless Red/White deck with Granite Gargoyles. There are lots of cool things to build apart from the "high end piles"; just try to find something that you enjoy playing with. Speaking of the Jumping Jesus tournament, here are some pics from the gathering:
















Black Vise had a decent showing here, with many different decks trying to make it work. From my experience so far it mostly seems like Sligh and other versions of MonoRed Burn have gotten a tangible boost from the card. And Stasis. I met a Stasis player in Karlstad who was super happy that he now was able to play his deck without constantly going to time ;) Maze haven't really made any noise yet, but I felt good about cutting my single red card in Project M (a Fireball) and replace it with a second Maze. Don't know if it actually works better, but it looks nicer.

Ok, let's dig into the Decks to Beat.

Oslo Jumping Jesus Tournament Top4
9 players, photos of 4/4 decks. Two years after the Joypad Open, the second player-hosted 93/94 tournament in Oslo took place. Oslo is a good city for finding pick-up 93/94 games at the LGS or conventions, but as tournaments with beer and casual ambiance go, we've been far behind adjacent cities like Moss and Drammen. Ascension Day looked as good a time as any for a gathering. Project M managed to take the glorious Jump in the finals against Nether Void Ponza, getting past Sligh and The Machine in the semis.

n00bcon 9: World Championships Top8
102 players, photos of 8/8 decks. Players from 13 nationalities and over 30 communities gathered in Gothenburg for the ninth annual n00bcon and World championship of 93/94 Magic. The Beasts of Borgadan of London faced off against The Lords of the Pit from Chicago, the Time Boaks of Yekatrineburg battled fiercely against the Kanel Fireballs from Varberg. In the end, we had the road warrior Icelander slinging against Hashi from the Växjö Team Kaffebryggers in the finals. The Deck had a big showing in the (fairly sober) hands of old pros from the 90s, but in the end Black Disaster stood victorious hoisting the Giant Shark.

n00bcon Training Day Top4
10 players, photos of 4/4 decks. The weekend before n00bcon, Gordon and Paddan gathered players from the Stockholm area to test out their decks, or just get a chance to play some sweet Magic for those in the area who could not make it to the championship this year. Cermak and his UGW Zoo took the trophy again, cementing him as the new rookie of the year. Two different builds of Power Monolith and a Machine Head Ponza round off the top4.

Arvika Festival 3 Top8
47 players, photos of 8/8 decks (one might be incorrect). The Giant Shark of BSK had swimmed to Arvika, and their 3rd Festival became their grandest yet. Armageddon did a real showing at this gathering, with three of the four players reaching the semifinals playing multiple geddons in their piles. Apart from a couple of Erhnamgeddons and UWG Zoo, we had Power Monolith, The Beast, The Deck, UG Beatdown and Artifact Aggro in the top8.

Kort i Kubik n00bcon qualifier Top4
10 players, photos of 4/4 decks. Players from Arvika and surroundings gathered at Kort i Kubik to have a good time and decide one of the community's last slots for n00bcon. As always, the tech was aplenty. The winning deck in the swiss was a true Goblin deck, playing rarely seen cards like Goblin Hero, but in the end KungMarkus's URB counter/discard deck took the trophy after defeating UGW Zoo in the finals. Monoblack rounded off the top4.

LepreCon 2 Top4
13 players, photos of 4/4 decks. About a year after the first 93/94 FNM, players gathered in the Leprecaun Pub in Karlstad once again to drink Guinness, eat meat and play oldschool for FNM foils. Deadguy Ale managed to snatch the victory from Troll Disco in the end, leaving two very different builds of Kird Ape decks in the semis.

On the "inspirational decks" note, I suggest checking out Eternal Central this month. They do an Old School June promotion where Jaco and the other guys post a new 93/94 deck tech every day. Also, I highly recommend the latest episode of the Tusk Talk podcast, where Danny Friedman joins to talk about Old School.

This coming weekend I'm traveling to Stockholm to sling spells at the Ivory Cup. Hope to see a bunch of you there!