Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Updates, Thoughts, & Clash of Carousers Tournament Report

Catching Up

Salutations, wizards of yore. Since coming back from n00bcon, there have been quite a few happenings that have impacted or pertain to Old School MTG (in no specific order):

I also won the recent "Clash of Carousers" Chicago Old School tournament, and wrote a brief tournament report/synopsis at the end of this post.

Skype Old School
Skype Old School is a great option for players lacking a local Old School community, or just players looking to jam some games from the comfort of their computer screens. I'm currently part of the league and have had some fun games. The time zone differences have posed some annoying hurdles and there seem to be no end to technical (likely bandwidth-related) issues, but I have been having a real fun time!

Old School MTG at Channel Fireball
It's a nice thought that some players will be able to play some 93/94 at GPs run by Channel Fireball. That said, official judging, lack of adult refreshments, and yet another nail in the coffin to drive up card prices does not seem ideal to me. I also don't think just taking our B&R and removing Strip Mine was very well thought out, given that Mishra's Workshop is largely unchecked. That said, I do love seeing more support for the format and more opportunities for mages to battle with real spells.

Steve's "The Deck" Article
There isn't much I need to say about this other than you should read it. Steve wrote a very detailed history on "The Deck" and even spoke with the master himself, Brian Weissman. Aside from a couple of typos I saw the day it was posted (they are probably fixed now), I can't say anything negative about this artice. It's written extremely well, it is thououghly researched, and it can give any MTG player with no background or context about "The Deck"or the concept of card advantage a complete picture. Again, READ IT.

Also, since starting this post, he has published another excellent Old School MTG article on the history of the Zoo archetype, along with his current take on the deck.

Swedish B&R
Before I go into any critique of or thoughts about the Swedish Banned & Restricted list—I think very few people understand how obnoxious it could be to have created a "casual format" to facilitate a way to play your favorite Magic cards of all time with your close friends, just to see its unexpected popularity not only impact the economics of the limited card pool, but also open up all of your choices and direction to an immense peanut gallery – MTG players on the word wide web. 

I'm sure Mg receives loads of messages about topics ranging from outrage over not allowing Revised or Fallen Empires expansions, to random players on the internet telling him what to add or remove from his B&R list. Healthy discussion is great, and allows us to debate and (hopefully) understand why we all feel the way we feel about this, that, and the other. That being said, it's important to be respectful and solicit our opinions in a reasonable way. I know everyone is passionate about this game, and particularly this format, but please recognize that you can play this format with the rules, B&R, and legal sets of your choosing; that is one great attribute of a format that isn't controlled by Big Brother. So show some consideration and manners for your Old School brethren. I'll do my best as well.

While I knew that Mg's initial update was an April fools joke, I feel that this may have spiced up the Swedish format better than his actual announcement 😉. Here are some very brief thoughts on the choices. It's important to note, that one must consider priorities of the community versus logical B&R adjustment justification based on power level/metagame impact.

Fork: Unrestricted by the Swedes! Since I never played using the Swedish B&R until my recent trip to n00bcon, I have always played in a four Fork meta. I think this card is completely fair (I could not say the same if Twincast were an Old School-legal card), and like many cards on the Swedish B&R, feel this should have been removed ages ago. Because Fork requires double red mana, four copies can only fit into a dedicated red deck. I am not saying that it fits in mono-red only, but the deck must be able not only to make RR for Fork, but also be able to make the necessary mana to cast the other spells cast concurrently that the caster is hoping to target. Of course Fork can be used to copy opposing spells, but that would not likely the the primary purpose in most decks slinging four copies.

This is also an opportune moment to bring up another reason why this card has been so fair in the Chicago meta. With multiple copies of Strip Mine and Mishra's Factory, a deck that wants to support four copies of a double-colored-mana spell has to make some important choices about card inclusion and mana base. Supporting a card like Fork requires a deck to either run less than nine colorless lands (add Library of Alexandria to the Strip/Factory count), or be forced into a mono-red strategy. On top of that, with many decks running multiple copies of Strip Mine, know that lands will be destroyed, and you will need a large, robust mana base.

Black Vise: While the Swedes decided to keep this card on the the B&R, I can tell you that this card rarely makes it into most lists, despite its unrestriction in our meta. Black Vise just hasn't put up good results in quite a bit of testing. It has made certain prison strategies much closer to viable (mono blue Stasis and Mono White), but is has made neither of these decks tier one.

I feel that Mg brings up many valid points on this card in his analysis, but I feel that unrestricting this and playing with it as such would truly show how overtly conservative keeping this card as a one-of actually is. 

Recall: I agree with most of Mg's reasoning on Recall. That being said, we have talked about unresticting it, and just haven't put the time into thorough testing. Many games are won and lost due to a late-game resolved Recall, but often, this card is extremely lackluster early game. Aside from replaying Ancestral Recall in an early turn (which really is just +1 card advantage), the card is often dead in an opening hand.

Jayemdae Tome: It is a smart call keeping this card unrestricted. 93/94 is rampant with Disenchants, and many sideboards pack Dust to Dust, Shatter, Shatterstorm, Artifact Blast, Energy Flux, and Detonate. Don't get me wrong, Tome is good, but there are so many inexpensive (mana-wise) ways to destroy it, not to mention, its controller must pay eight mana to draw their first card. 

Mishra's Factory: I strongly disagree with the Swedes' choice to keep this as a four-of. Yes, people do love playing it, and it shows up in an extremely large percentage of decks... BUT, this win condition is simply too good, especially with Strip Mine staying restricted. Mg recognized and stated similar reasoning to a degree, but decided to keep it due to its popularity and players' love of playing the card. This outlines a major difference between the Swedish mentality and ours here in Chicago.

Peanut Gallery: GO!
There are many differences between the Swedish Old School community and my local Chicago one, and this isn't just about the B&R lists. There are different community values and objectives—for example, "pimpness" and collecting/incremental deck-building are not paramount to us, thus we allow a wider range of sets and have a specific stance on reprints

We also prefer the smallest restricted list possible. Since Library of Alexandria is indisputably the most broken card in 93/94, with Mishra's Factory not far behind, unrestricted Strip Mine allows us a smaller B&R (it additionally allows us to unrestrict Mishra's Workshop), a larger number of viable archetypes, and less games lost to an opening seven containing LOA. I mention this as a person who despises playing against a four-Strip Mine deck. There are few things that bother me more than losing my first two or three land drops to consecutive Strip Mines. Regardless, I feel that the games lost to consecutive early Strip Mines are outnumbered by the games lost to turn one LOA and/or unchecked Mishra's Factories. It's also important to realize that a deck running four Strip Mines, four Mishra's Factories, four Mishra's Workshops, and an LOA is running 13 colorless lands! There is very little room in a deck like this for colored spells because you will not reliably be able to cast them. The same is true for decks that run nine colorless lands (no Workshops)—that is a lot of colorless lands, and it is very difficult to support more than two colors. I have often found that even dual-colored decks have a difficult time producing the correct mana when needed when playing so many colorless lands.

In my opinion, four Strip Mines provide a necessary balance that leads to more fair gameplay and increased deck diversity. I have not always felt this way, but continuing to play in an unrestricted Strip Mine-meta has convinced me of this.

Clash of Carousers

Carousers gather for battle
On Saturday, May 14, 2016, we had 15 players (representing, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Texas!) embark in six rounds of swiss in a battle to the death for only the glory of Magical yesteryear. Entry was paid in the form of beer, and prizes were donated by the entrants. The event sadly marks the final Old School event being hosted by Jaco at his space before he leaves Chicago for Los Angeles. Jaco has been a pillar of our community and he will be extremely missed. We will all have some very large shoes to fill.

After six lucky rounds, I went undefeated, 6-0, and only dropped three games all day. I ran a list that was neither expressly creative, nor unexpected. I played a variant of The Deck incorporating a play set of Copy Artifact, and harnessing the power of Millstone in tandem with Mishra's Factories to close out games. 

"The Milling Factory"

I would like to say that I really loved the deck, but in reality, this build just felt like a series of cheap wins against an unprepared field. The interaction of Copy Artifact and Mishra's Factory is just too good, and allowed me to run only three Factories to bulk up on colored mana-producing lands. I was also able to get by with running only two Millstones, and an equal amount of Fellwar Stones with the set of Copy Artifacts. And of course, the way these win conditions pair with The Abyss is remarkable. I truly feel, that regardless of B&R or base set legality, this variant of The Deck could easily be the most broken and consistent one I've experienced.

"Action shot" of Andrew and John going to time
Here is my recollection from the tournament. My memory is a bit foggy from that day after all of the beer and whiskey, but I think this is pretty much spot on.

Round One
"White Weenie" by Nathan Mullen
Round one I faced Nathan on his usual White Weenie deck. Nathan got into Old School prior to living in Chicago, and long before prices got to the ridiculous points they're at now. So, he built his all-Beta White Weenie deck for a couple hundred bucks and eventually ended up playing it in Chicago. Nathan is generally a combo playing for Vintage and Legacy, so White Weenie seems like an odd choice for him. Nonetheless, the deck is fierce and Nathan plays it tightly. This is never an easy matchup.

Game one against Nathan, I just remember ending up with a permanent-heavy board state and going very broken. I think the game ended in concession. Game two, Nathan was able to quickly bring the beats and defeat me. Game three was won with three Millstones and The Abyss.


Round 2
"Big Pink" by Nick Rohr
Round two I was matched up against Nick Rohr. Nick generally plays a big red deck. Today, he was playing "Big Pink", signifying the inclusion of white for Disenchant, and BalanceSwords to Plowshares, and Divine Offering out of the board. This is another matchup that is deceptively difficult. With My opponent packing a full set of Forks in the main, and a set of Red Elemental Blasts in the board, crazy effects can show up out of nowhere and win the game.

I won game one with massive card advantage and Mishra's Factories. He conceded to a Demonic Tutor where I was looking for Fireball, but realized I had pitched it to Recall. Fortunately, given the amount of damage needed, Time Walk provided similar utility. I lost game two to a series of land top decks while at one life. Nick's deck performed as it was supposed to, and he burned me out with a Lightning Bolt. Game three was won with hard control and multiple Millstones.


Round 3
"Esper Workshop Aggro" by Jason Jaco
Round three I was paired up against Jaco. To be honest, I was not sure what he was playing, but I did know it ran multiple Mishra's Workshops and large artifacts like Juggernaut, Jade Statue, and Icy Manipulator.

Game one I kept an opening hand with Library of Alexandria and a City of Brass on the play. I played Library and Jaco Stripped it. The then played my City which he also stripped. I then drew and discarded for multiple turns while Jaco played an Icy ManipulatorJade Statue, and Library of Alexandria. When I finally drew a land, Jaco tapped it during my upkeep, preventing me from playing the Fellwar Stone I had, assuming I drew a land. I eventually ended up with two lands in play and Disenchanted the Icy at my upkeep in response to him tapping my land. He followed this play with a Tetravus which I had to Swords during my turn. By this point I was so far behind that I scooped when he played his next creature.

The next game I kept a hand on the play with a dual land, a Mox, and a Power Sink on the play. Jaco went land into Sol Ring, which I countered. I vaguely remember Stripping and Chaos Orbing his mana sources and eventually leading to a concession. Game three, I mulled to six, and Jaco played a land and targeted himself with Ancestral Recall during my upkeep. This turned out to be exactly what I wanted, because I kept an opening hand with the intention of a turn one Balance. I played Mox Pearl, then Mox Sapphire, then a land, then tapped land and Sapphire to play Copy Artifact copying Sapphire into a Balance where I had only three cards in hand. I remember going back and forth after this, with Jaco scooping to a Mind Twist for the contents of his hand.

These were all really broken games, none of which felt fair at all.


Round 4
"Mono Blue Mutation" by Brandon Sanders
Round four I was paired up with Brandon Sanders on Mono Blue aggro. Our games were pretty ridiculous. Game one started with me attacking his mana base. On turn two, I cast a Chaos Orb and played a Copy Artifact on it. Next turn, Brandon had two Islands in play and I destoyed both with the two Orbs. I then played Regrowth targeting Chaos Orb and passed. The next turn, I played the Orb again along with another Copy Artifact. I activated targeting his single Island, missed, then activated the Copy and made the flip. I don't remember how the game ended, but it ended in my favor with Brandon having a very modest mana base.

The next game went a bit differently. Brandon resolved and early-game Energy Flux, which is obviously very powerful against my deck. I then resolved The Abyss, which was extremely lucky, because Brandon played a Timetwister the following turn, allowing him to land two more unanswered Energy Fluxes in the following turns. Fortunately for me, I drew into multiple Copy Artifacts, and in combination with the Mishra's Factory I already had in play, gave me multiple win conditions unaffected by Energy Flux. This gave me the eventual win, which felt extremely lucky.



Round 5
"Abyss Control" by John Beste
I knew John Beste was on a very similar deck (a variation of what he played in the last tournament), which was not good for me. It means that my Abysses are dead, and that the game will likely come down to Factory superiority or an early resolved Millstone. A major advantage that I had was more Copy Artifacts, as well as a Red Elemental Blast in the main, with more in board.

Game one I kept a very dicey hand on the play containing: Black LotusStrip MineCopy ArtifactCopy ArtifactCounterspellDisenchant. My thought was that I could play the Lotus and have access to turn one Counterspell, if needed. I could hold back Strip, and take his land on my second turn. There would be a high likelihood that John would have played a Fellwar Stone or Mox by this time as well, so I could likely use Lotus and the two Copy Artifacts to double copy and get some mana on the table. This wasn't quite what happened...

I went Lotus, go. John went land, Lotus, go. I drew (no land, or Mox/Fellwar), Stripped his land and passed. Over the next four or so turns, John laid a land each turn, never playing an artifact. Eventually, I drew into Balance, and saw the play. I could break Lotus for blue to play Copy Artifact. He'd have the option to counter or break his own Lotus in response to remove the only valid target to copy. He didn't, likely assuming that he could just counter whatever I cast. With one blue floating, I broke my Lotus copy for blue, and cast my second Copy. John let this resolve as well. Now I had two blue floating, five cards in hand (CounterspellCounterspellBalance, and some other card I can't remember), zero lands, while John had many lands and a full (or nearly full) grip. I broke the Lotus copy for white and cast Balance. John countered with Counterspell, and I countered back with my own, using the two floating blue mana. Fortunately he didn't have another, so he discarded down to three cards and sacrificed all of his lands. I ended up winning this game.

Next game, John boarded out his Abysses and boarded in Serendib Efreets. He chose to be on the play and resolved a turn one Disrupting Scepter. I didn't have a Disenchant, and John was able to force me to discard three times with it before I was able to Disenchant it. Soon after, John resolved a Serendib. I had a Factory, and was able to Copy it a a couple turns later. I ended up winning the damage race by exactly one turn. Copy Artifact was been amazing all day.


Round 6
"Titania's Song" by Andrew Bowman
For my final round, I was paired down to Andrew Bowman at 3-2. Andrew seemed to by playing a multicolor deck that relied on artifacts to accomplish a prison strategy (EDIT: 5.19.2016 07:20 - Shane Semmens just sent me Andrew's deck photo [see above], so I now know what he was playing, thanks Shane!). Game one, Andrew won the die roll, and chose to go first. Luckily, he cut my deck to a turn one Library of Alexandria. This game wasn't even close. Library is completely unfair and un-fun, and is definitely the most broken card in Old School. Even with four main deck Strip Mines, Andrew never found one. I nearly decked myself while digging for a Millstone, and ended up with a single Factory. Andrew had a Maze of Ith, but the two Copy Artifacts that I had been holding while waiting for a Millstone seemed to be the right solution, so I copied the Factory twice and ended up winning with them (at least with multiple Factories, Maze does not prevent the Mazed Factory from pumping in an extra point of damage).

The next game, Andrew miraculously cut me to another turn one Library, but he fortunately had the Strip Mine for it. I remember this game being pretty grindy, and ending with a Millstone victory (I was moderately intoxicated at this point, so my memory is a bit foggy).


12-3-0 in games!

After being the only 6-0 finisher, I got first pick from our pile of donate prizes and chose the Mishra's Factory (and was given an artist proof Millstone) over some significantly more expensive cards. 

How appropriate, my two win conditions
I had a great time at the tournament and experienced some truly broken MTG. One thing I do want to say about this deck is that I feel like Mishra's Factory may be too good for the format. Even in a local metagame with multiple decks playing four Strip Mines, it wasn't enough. Copy Artifact clearly amplified this issue, but I do not think that it was simply Copy Artifact that made Factory so good. I do think that it's quite possible that Copy Artifact is too good as a four-of in this format (Nick Rausch has expressed similar concerns), but this would require significant testing. This tournament was packed with Abysses, Factories, and Copy Artifacts, and I am not that surprised that the deck running the most Copy Artifacts won.

I also feel that I had a significant advantage not running a single creature, and keeping a relatively low mana curve, only playing two Jayemdae Tome and two The Abyss at the four mana slot. A major benefit to running four Copy Artifacts is that you can just wait for your opponent to cast their own TomeCopy it for only two mana, and likely have mana left over for CounterspellDisenchant, or both. This deck just felt too good, and if my local meta was always like the one at this tournament (largely Abysses, Factories, and Copy Artifacts), I think many decks would be pushed out of the local format, and I don't know that there are many viable strategies to combat such a deck efficiently. Of course Energy FluxRed Elemental Blast, and cards like Dust to Dust beat this deck down, but these cards were played against me all day, and I was still able to sneak out 6-0. Clearly luck had a lot to do with it, but this fails convince me that this deck, and decks like it, aren't too good for the format.

Afterwards a group of us went to Boiler Room for some PB&Js ($8.50 for a slice of pizza, a shot of Jameson, and a PBR tallboy). Dominic was relatively unruly, but charmed us all (and our attractive waitress) with his glorious mustache.

Because one shot is not enough for Dominic
Since rounds cannot end in a draw, I was able to experience the first occurrence (I believe) of sudden-death Chaos Orb flipping. Brandon was victorious. Enjoy, keep drawing those turn one Libraries, and until next time...


  1. Great read! So, what your position on unrestricted Mishra's Factories/Strip Mines. At first you say that the Mines help fighting the Factoies among others, but at the end it's not that clear: "One thing I do want to say about this deck is that I feel like Mishra's Factory may be too good for the format. Even in a local metagame with multiple decks playing four Strip Mines, it wasn't enough."

    1. Thank you. And you're right, after reading again, it isn't that clear.

      I feel that regardless of anything else, Strip Mine should be unrestricted (and I partially support this stating my issues with Factory and Library).

      What I was trying to say was that despite unrestricted Strip Mine, Factory may still be too good (and require restriction). Even if Factory were restricted at some point, and I'm not sure that would be correct, I still feel Strip Mine should remain unrestricted no matter what.

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