Saturday, January 30, 2016

New Year, New Decks, New Battles

A New Year
I know it's been quite a while since my last update, and I could list the few relevant and not-so relevant excuses why new content has been in such short supply (new job, working on my project car, laziness, etc.). But while I've been busy failing to write anything here, it seems that Old School Magic content and enthusiasm has been proliferating across the Internet in full force.

Mg's Old School Magic blog has been consistently updated with posts ranging from tournament reports to complex mathematics. Magnus even used our collective fervor for the format (and consider that 93/94 is a small, enthusiast-based, non-sanctioned format) to fund a successful Indiegogo campaign to donate over $12,000 to Doctors Without Borders. I'm completely blown away by this outpouring of human decency and generosity from our little community, and I think it says quite a bit about the people who make up this format. Hats off to everyone who was able to make a contribution!

Ben continues to update his blog with a heavy emphasis on the importance of 'the narrative' and enjoying MTG that exists independently of WOTC. He's also one of the few people that I've met outside of my small playgroup that shows such passion for Old School, and simply playing MTG in general. He delved into our last interaction in his most recent post (and said some really nice things about me–maybe not deserved, but thanks, and I'll take it!). I love reading his blog, and if you haven't had the pleasure of indulging yet, I'd recommend it (again, there's some serious storytelling here).

There's a subreddit, multiple Instagram accounts, an Old School MTG event at GP Oakland and one planned for GP Houston, and of course the largely unwanted side effect of 93/94 cards skyrocketing in cost. I'd love if these "#MTGfinance bros" attempting buy out cards for formats, that they have no intention of being a constructive part of, would just go away– but since there's money in it, the jackals will continue to feed (skip to minute 24 to find out where to get your overpriced Su-Chis from). It seems that Old School MTG has become a recognized worldwide format, despite cost, "unofficiality", and regional rule/B&R variance, for better and for worse. 

Unlimited Jayemdae Tome price history on TCGplayer.com -$3 to $115 in three months
So now that I have finished my few-month retrospective (with a somewhat grim ending) on the format, here's what's been going on with me recently with MTG:

New Decks

As mentioned earlier from Ben's blog, I played in the Team Serious Invitational in Toledo, OH at President Skroob's Oasis. In standard tradition (always the bridesmaid, but never the bride) I finished 9th place, missing 8th due to breakers. I played the Painter list that I had together, and it was awesome, as expected (another Painter deck won the tournament). Such is life. I had a blast playing in the event, drank way too much, and enjoyed the Old School on the side.

Participants and hostess indulging prior to round 1
I recently ran a slightly different Painter deck at a local 6-man 'round-robbin'. I finished 4-1, as did the winner. My only loss was to the eventual winner, which made deciding the winner quite simple. The deck isn't so different from my last that it deserves a full writeup, but the one notable difference is the inclusion of black cards. The main reason for running black is for the extreme advantage of being able to directly tutor up the other piece of either Painter's Servant/Grindstone, or Voltaic Key/Time Vault. It also can't be denied that resolving Yawgmoth's Will anytime in the late game generally guarantees a win.

Nothing better than a turn 2 kill, other than a turn 1 kill
U/R/B Painter

U/R/B Painter by Danny Friedman
Business (37)
Force of Will
Mana Drain
Mental Misstep
Red Elemental Blast
Thirst for Knowledge
Treasure Cruise
Dig Through Time
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth's Will
Time Walk
Ancestral Recall
Blightsteel Colossus
Painter's Servant
Snapcaster Mage
Dack Fayden
Sensei’s Divining Top
Voltaic Key
Time Vault
Mana Sources (23)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
1 Mox Opal
Tolarian Academy
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Snow-Covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Grafdigger’s Cage
Red Elemental Blast
3 Steel Sabotage
1 Ravenous Trap
1 Firespout
2 Virulent Plague
Ingot Chewer
1 Pithing Needle

Old School
The Chicago Old School Contingent continues to meet every Thursday at MTG Card Market (although we can no longer drink there due to a policy change, so a new venue would be nice). We continue to use the EC B/R list, despite my hatred of unrestricted Strip Mine; while I hate losing to the card, I am not sure that restricting it makes sense, other than it placates players with a similar mindset to my own. I can see many valid arguments on both sides.

Recently, playing decks containing blue cards has felt pretty unexciting/unchallenging for me, so I have resorted to trying new strategies. I threw together a true mono-red burn deck, and it has been fun to test. My largest issue with the deck is that it often instantly loses to broken plays. I can be winning, or relatively even with my opponent, and as soon as they draw any card like Mind TwistAncestral RecallTime Walk, Recall, TimetwisterDemonic Tutor, etc, I often just lose. Continually losing to brokenness like this becomes pretty unpalatable after a couple hours, so I have gotten in the habit of packing multiple decks on Thursdays.

Not even an Earthquake would save me here
Photo by Jaco
Living off top decks isn't so good against counterspells
Photo by Jaco
Don't get me wrong, the deck can, and definitely has, won games. Unfortunately, the losses seem to overshadow the wins when the majority of my opponents are playing decks containing simply better cards. Also, normally I don't run multiple Strip Mines, as I detest people playing the card in multiples, but this deck simply needed them to even be close to competitive in our group.

Old School Mono Red Burn

Mono Red Burn by Danny Friedman
Business (36)
4 Ball Lightning
1 Ydwen Efreet
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
Mana Clash
4 Fireball
1 Disintegrate
2 Detonate
3 Fork
1 Chaos Orb
1 Gauntlet of Might
3 Blood Moon
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Winds of Change
Red Elemental Blast

Mana Sources (24)
Black Lotus
Mox Ruby
Sol Ring
13 Mountain
Strip Mine
4 Mishra's Factory

Sideboard (15)
1 Maze of Ith
Blood Moon
2 City in a Bottle
1 Shatterstorm
1 Artifact Blast
2 Shatter
Red Elemental Blast
2 Earthquake
3 Flashfires

One thing that makes this deck awesome to play is Mana Clash. I have won many games on the back of Mana Clash, and there's nothing like seeing your opponent lose to incessant coin-flipping. I am somewhat shocked that this card hasn't show up in other Old School burn decks that I have looked at online (I may have missed one, please link it in the comments if you can find a list containing Mana Clash – EDIT: see update at end). At a single red mana, if a burn deck is already maxed out on Lightning Bolts and Chain Lightnings, this is another burn spell with similar cost-efficiency. Slinging a deck jam-packed with mostly burn, the minimal amount of damage I am likely to take from my own Mana Clash is largely irrelevant. I am more likely to win the game due to what little damage it can provide for my opponent. Of course, there are the times when it deals me damage, and none to my opponent, or when it deals no damage at all. In my opinion, it's worth that risk, but if someone is willing to compute the probabilities, I'd love to see it.

13 damage to my opponent with a single Mana Clash
The single Ydwen Efreet was in there for testing, although I think it should be cut. I owned one, I wanted to try it. In game one, most decks have too much creature hate compared to the meager creature count of this deck, so the efreet is often destroyed/exiled before it gets a single point of damage in. The benefit to the Ball Lightnings and Mishra's Factories is that they must be killed at instant speed, as well as providing other huge benefits (six hasty damage and mana/un-counterability/occasional blocker).

Not a bad attacker, when it survives
Mishra's Factory is no match for Air Elemental
Photo by Jaco
And sometimes you play a Wheel with Gauntlet in play,
then deal 21 damage in a single turn
I feel similarly about the single Gauntlet of Might. Again, I owned one and wanted to try it. In practice, there is so much artifact hate packed into most decks that it, just like Ball Lightning/Mishra's Factory, is often destroyed before providing any benefit.

The best card in the deck, hands-down, is Blood Moon. Landing this card often renders opposing decks useless until they can destroy it. Often by that point, the opponent is nearly finished by the copious amounts of burn spells. In addition, there is no permanent more difficult to destroy than an enchantment in 93/94.

Blood Moon doing a little work
Photo by Jaco
The deck packs three Forks and two Red Elemental Blasts, serving both as situational counters, and in the case of Fork, an occasional damage-doubler. With the heavy blue matchup being so un-winnable, the Red Elemental Blasts are pretty necessary. Playing one Winds of Change  and a Wheel of Fortune allows me to recycle Red Elemental Blasts or other cards that are useless in specific match-ups. Surprisingly, the single Winds of Change  has been a welcome draw much of the time (that might imply how bad some of the draws in this deck are– hold those late game Mountains!).

One of those rare moments when Fork is insane
And for all of you out there using the Swedish B&R– no, Fork is not very broken in this deck, nor any other deck where I have tested it in multiples. That being the case, if you wanted to run this deck in a meta with restricted Fork, losing the two copies wouldn't be too painful (the card may not even be worth running three of, even if it is legal). The real issue would be losing the three extra Strip Mines. Multiple early Strip Mines allow you to burn your opponent out while the sit there doing nothing. Stone Rain in this slot is simply too costly, and I'd rather just run more main deck artifact hate if Strip Mine is only allowed as a one-of.

The other deck that I have been playing, for at least the last six months, is my Mono White Prison deck. This deck is actually a pretty tough matchup for most opposing decks, despite not having access to cards like Mind Twist and Ancestral Recall.

Mono White Prison

Mono White Prison by Danny Friedman
Business (33)
Divine Offering
2 Ivory Tower
1 Moat
2 Kismet
3 Armageddon
1 Balance
Wrath of God
4 Swords to Plowshares
Chaos Orb
1 Winter Orb
3 Howling Mine
3 Icy Manipulator
2 Relic Barrier
3 Black Vise
1 Feldon's Cane

Mana Sources (27)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Sol Ring
3 Fellwar Stone
10 Plains
1 Mishra's Workshop
Strip Mine
Mishra's Factory
Maze of Ith

Sideboard (15)
1 Circle of Protection: Black
2 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Greater Realm of Preservation
1 Wrath of God
1 Karma
1 Dust to Dust
Divine Offering
2 Disenchant
2 King Suleiman
3 Serra Angel

Unlike Mono Red Burn, this deck does not need four Strip Mines to win. Likely, with three more colorless lands, this deck would have issues making enough white mana. In fact, this has been a problem in certain games with the current number of off-color Moxen, Fellwar Stones (against decks not running Plains), Mishra's Workshop, and the single Strip Mine. If I were to run more Strip Mines, I'd likely start by cutting the Mishra's Workshop.

Hitting those Chaos Orb flips really helps when you're facing down this kind of damage
Photo by Jaco
Lets address the win conditions; the primary ways this decks wins by locking the opponent out and killing with a long-lasting Black Vise. As a secondary win condition, Mishra's Factory is a slow clock, but can often be enough when combined with a Black Vise, or of the board is completely locked down by a combination of lock components. 

I have tested this list with a single Black Vise (abiding by the Swedish B&R list), and the deck continued to win a similar amount of games. In these cases, I had to be smarter about when to play Black Vise, to allow for the best protection. In games where my Black Vise was destroyed, wins via Mishra's Factory were the most common, followed by decking my opponents by locking them out, and accelerating the process with Howling Mine combined with Feldon's Cane. In a meta with restricted Black Vise, the two extra slots would be replaced by a second Feldon's Cane and a fourth Howling Mine

It's also possible that the deck could run an amount of Argivian Archaeologists for artifact recursion. The main reason for not running them in this deck is similar to my reason for not running more creatures in my Mono Red Burn deck; there are currently no creatures (aside from Mishra's Factory when activated) in the main deck. This generally results in my opponent boarding out all creature hate in game two, allowing me to bring in the three Serra Angels with little way for my opponent to interact with them once resolved. With Argivian Archaeologists in the main deck, my opponents would likely be able to deal with them during game one, and then likely keep creature removal in the deck post-board.

Royal Assassin isn't very good when your opponent plays no creatures
Photo by Jaco
This deck locks down opposing mana bases extremely well between ArmageddonIcy ManipulatorKismet, and Strip Mine for the lands. DisenchantDivine Offering, and Relic Barrier easily handle their artifacts (as well as Icy Manipulator and Kismet). Swords to Plowshares can also destroy opposing Mishra's Factories when activated, as well as Balance being able to clean up when I have very few, or no lands in play.

And this is one reason why Balance is so amazing– and yes, it resolved
Photo by Jaco
Because of the heavy amounts of artifact mana sources in this deck, it survives Armageddon very well, especially with the one-sided draw engine of Howling Mine plus Relic Barrier/Icy Manipulator. Generally, it is only after the board state is on total lockdown that I ever would want to allow my opponent to draw extra cards from Howling Mine, but that isn't always an option when cards are in short supply in the early game.

The one card I would love to add to this deck is Land Tax, but thus far, I haven't found the right cards to cut to include it. I'll post a new build of this when I'm able to create a variant to uses Land Tax in addition to some of the other options mentioned above.

New Battles
On completely different note, I will be attending n00bcon (the largest Old School tournament, offering a Giant Shark to the winner) this year in Gothenburg, Sweden. I am really looking forward to finally meeting Magnus and all of the other familiar names you see on his Old School Magic Blog.

We're also having an invitational Old School event on 2/6/2016 in Chicago, and I will definitely have more to post about both that tournament as well as n00bcon once they've happened. Hopefully, I'll post an update here before leaving for Sweden, but given my recent record, don't count on it.

Until next time,


1. After posting a link to this on the 93/94 Facebook Group, Chris Cooper pointed me to his article where he mentioned Mana Clash as "...a risky spell at best for often little damage output. It is one of the most fun spells to cast in the format though, so do give it a go." I'd say this is a fair analysis of the card, and in the case of Mono Red Burn, the risk of dealing too much damage to yourself is of minimal concern. The larger risk is the card not dealing any damage at all to your opponent.

Of the eight articles Chis has written on manaleak.com, three of them are focussed on Old School (and focussed on actual playing, not on finance). His articles are a fantastic read for both new and seasoned players, and dive into a variety of topics within the format. I've added his page to my Resources page, check them out!

2. I have gotten a few messages about why Mono White Prison plays three Divine Offerings, with just two Disenchants in the main (the final Divine Offering and two Disenchants are in the board for a total of eight). The reason for this choice is that gaining life is very important in this deck.

Gaining extra life allows me to survive for more turns (hence why this deck plays two Ivory Towers). The longer the game continues, the greater the inevitability of a prison-style lock is. As far as problematic enchantments, there aren't many in Old School MTG, but they should be noted. The scariest one this deck can face is Gloom. Others include Nether Void (super Gloom), Stasis, The Abyss (which is 100% irrelevant to the main board), Sylvan LibraryBlood Moon (again, largely irrelevant to this deck), Moat (again, largely irrelevant to this deck, we even play our own), as well as a few others that are more fringe.

The point here is that aside from probably Gloom and Stasis, there are no enchantments the deck is really soft to; it would rather just gain the extra life from Divine Offering. If I play against a black deck, I'll generally board all four Disenchants in to handle possible Glooms.

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