Keepin’ it Old School

So, I believe most of you are now familiar with the old kid on the block: the elusive, intriguing and vastly expensive format of 93/94 or simply Old School magic.

The format had its humble beginnings in Sweden, but these days it seems more and more people are (triple-?)sleeving up those Savannah Lions, them Icy Manipulators and all of the moxen they can get their hands on. The format is – as far as I can tell – thriving in most parts of Europe.

For those of you who are not familiar with the format, the basics are these:

You can only play cards printed in the following sets: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Summer/Edgar, Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities and The Dark. Yep. Only those! Do you know these sets? Where you even born, when they were released?! Oh! Also Chaos Orb is legal. Go look it up. One of the greatest, most iconic pictures in all of Magic‘s history. Unfortunately also a dexterity-based card (you have to throw it), which makes it banned in all formats. That is, of course, all formats besides Old School (which, for the time being, ensures that Old School can never become a sanctioned format).

The main intention with the Old School format is to relive the feeling from back when our beloved card-game was brand new: Back in the 90’s when Spice Girls was a thing. When Clinton had no sexual relations with that woman and when Christian conservative groups were dumbfounded and outright outraged by the fact, that the original printing of Unholy Strength had a pentagram in the background – surely the youth would now be beyond salvation and the end was, by all means, near!

Back on track. It was also a time – believe it or not – when there was basically no thing called internet. Which mean there was no thing called net-decking. Also no thing called Grand Prix’s or Pro Tours and therefore practically no professional play- and test-groups. This meant that there was a lot of brewing and kitchen-table testing and playing – the original way to build decks and play games. You would play the cards you had access to, and there were no giant internet-shops with every card ever printed on display, so you had to hide your collection from the bullies in the schoolyard, and stay inside to trade and be lucky to find that extra Goblin Balloon Brigade to finish your crazy, blistering fast, friend-removing, mono-red goblin deck (complete with Ball Lightning and Blood Lust)…

It is this format that is now beginning to thrive. But how is that even possible? you ask. And you are right. Make no mistake. Even though it is possible to make a somewhat budget mono-colored deck. It is not that possible. These cards are expensive, and they are on the rise! Remember only the original printings are allowed, which makes it impossible for Wizards – even if they wanted to – to make the format cheaper and more accessible by, for example, printing new versions of the cards. This is a format, where you will have to shell out around 30€ for the cheapest possible Savannah Lions – the unlimited one. Counterspell is around 20€ and Shivan Dragon is closing in on 100€. And I’m not even starting to mention some of the all-stars: the Power Nine, the dual lands, Library of Alexandria, the aforementioned Chaos Orb and Juzam Djinn, Erhnam Djinn and Serendib Efreet. Oh, and beta and alpha versions of the cards! It is a format for the very rich, the very lucky or the very foresighted who bought the cards years ago and held on to them.

But the format is thriving and expanding and it actually makes sense. It is thriving because of several things:

  1. Nostalgia! Even though it is impossible to recreate the feeling from the early 90’s – especially in regards to no net-decking – for a lot of players, there is a lot of nostalgic feeling in playing with these cards.
  2. Players from the 90’s have grown up, cut their hair, shaved their necks, crawled out of their basements and even landed paid jobs, so they are able to actually buy all the Nightmares and Serra Angels they’ve always dreamed of! (and let’s be honest, we have all dreamed of that particular Angel…)
  3. People want to play with and show off their crazy expensive, beautiful cards and decks.
  4. Less restrictive local (or national) rules are emerging all over the world. Which means the price of entering the format is drastically reduced. When revised or even 4th edition becomes legal, you can actually make playable or even competitive decks for a couple of hundred euros. And they won’t rotate out…

Enough of this introduction to a format I am sure most of you have already heard of. What I actually wanted to write about today was an experience I had playing the format at a tournament recently, which led me to think, or at least ponder. It has to do with the differences between playing kitchen-table magic with your friends and tournament-magic against unknown, less-casual players. And indeed about the possible near future of the Old School format (at least in Denmark).

It was no big tournament – 13 players arrived – but it was highly enjoyable and very much fun.

For me at least. People who know me, knows that I am no grinder, I am not a very competitive person or player and, indeed, not a very good player at all. But when I take the time to play at a tournament, for the most time, I am there to try and win. And have fun, of course. Besides being a mediocre to bad player, I also enjoy playing combo and/or prison strategies, and my weapon of choice this day was to play a 5 color PowerMonolith-monstrosity filled with most of the restricted cards of the format. Yep, a combo deck featuring cards like Balance, Strip Mine and Recall. And 4 power sink. I think I’m in love…

Emil’s Deck

It is a very capable deck and without a doubt one of the most powerful of the format. It ends games playing an arbitrarily large fireball to the opponents face or firing a Rocket Launcher (no, actually the card Rocket Launcher – look it up!) for 50 billion damage at the opponents baffled crotch. This is done via the age-old unlimited mana combo of Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact. Much fun is had. At least I think it is much fun. And that may be a problem.

During the 5 rounds of the tournament I had several surprising reactions to my deck and the games we played. My opponents didn’t seem to have much fun. Let me just pause a minute to make something clear – I am not advocating that one has to be happy about being killed by a combo deck, but if playing against combo ruins your day or gives you a feeling of being unfairly treated, is tournament-magic really your thing? My deck is in no way unbeatable. A well-timed Shatter ruins me day! A Blood Moon makes me cry and a turn one Argothian Pixies followed by a turn two Serendib Efreet can be very tough for me to beat! But of course, to beat it, you have to come prepared. It is not a casual deck – you have to bring counterspells, removal or your own combo.

I know that a deck like mine won’t make me many friends at kitchen tables. I admit that it is based on decklists I’ve seen online and I know that there is a lot more nostalgia in attacking with a Sengir Vampire or landing an impressive 2/3 Kird Ape off a taiga in the first round (Kird Ape was actually banned for being too powerful back in the day…). But I will still hold that in tournament-magic it is not unsportmanlike conduct to play combo or prison. It is not being a bad friend to play to win. And especially in Old School it is not very cool to be mad about losing to a bizarre interaction between three old cards. These bizarre interactions is – I would argue – what the format is all about.

Also: many of the games in question were very interesting and not decided before the resolving of the infinite ball of fire. I had to keep my opponent off black mana, so he couldn’t play his mind twist; I had to find a Mox Sapphire AND a Blue Elemental Blast to kill an opposing Blood Moon; I had to play and replay my Demonic Tutor (via Regrowth) to find both mana and a removal to a horrible Energy Flux and the list goes on. This format – for me – is all about enjoying the interactions between cards – often relatively unknown cards – as the game were originally thought. It is quite a simple game of magic but it stills requires you to think. It is about having fun doing that – and even if you should sometimes lose, don’t despair!

In the next round you will face another strange, spicy brew consisting of Triskelions, Titania’s Song, Hypnotic Spector, Sol’kanar the Swamp King or even freaking Copper Tablet. So if all else fails, play your deck, lose or win and just enjoy the immensely powerful, expensive and beautiful decks that are roaming the format. Again: I would consider entering an Old School tournament with a brew of only Mountains and a single Fireball – hell a brew of only Mountains! – just to look at all the incredibly, iconic, sexy pieces of cardboard. They don’t come any hotter than here! But anyway, this is – for now at least – a very open format where many strategies are viable.

And that leads me to the next of my worries. Even though the format is expanding, it is – still – a somewhat obscure, fringe format with a relatively small dedicated group of players. Many of whom have a very casual mindset when playing, some of whom are not very skilled players – or at least not very used to play at tournaments. My fear is that at some point some maybe not-so-nice but great players will take advantage of these facts and begin to roam the Old School tournaments flinging the “Best deck of the format” and simply be almost certain to win. This will be a heavy blow to some of the vibe and feel of the format, and it will probably enhance the notion, that it is impossible to win a game of Old School, without playing the legendary power nine. Which really is not true.

I am aware that many Old School groups and indeed several of the larger tournaments, don’t really play with prices and oftentimes don’t play top4/8. This means that the tournaments have a heavy emphasis on playing games, rather than win. This also helps ensure, that the incentive to grind these tournaments become a lot less appealing. Since you won’t win anything worth anything, and you won’t even gather those sought after Planeswalker points.

BUT as a former tournament organizer, with around a hundred tournaments in the sack, I discovered that, at least in Denmark, one of the best/only ways to make people actually show up at tournaments is to hand out good to ridiculously great prices based on a reasonable entry-fee. And so we have a classic dilemma: No prices means more dedicated, casual players, that ensure the right “Old School vibe”, but also less players overall. Prices means more “outsiders” – players who can’t remember trading their Serra Angel for a Black Lotus – but also, probably a lot more players overall. What to do?

I honestly don’t know. A friend of mine is trying to harness a competitive Old School scene in Copenhagen. That means entry-fees, prices, play-offs and a general feeling of playing competitive magic (which means: if you want to win, you have to play an optimized deck). But he also tries to make sure that the cozy element of just playing whatever crappy combo you wish that specific day, is there. I am excited to see where it ends, as of now some of the more casually oriented Old Schoolers are not too keen on the idea. But let’s see. I think the most important part is to enjoy a unique and highly challenging format.

The Quest continues

When I last discussed Standard, I had arrived at Abzan Tokens as the best way to leverage sweepers. As I continued grinding at the leagues and failing to escape mediocrity, I realized the problem; sweepers just aren’t good right now. As I alluded to last time, the combination of diverse and resilient threats and sideboard countermagic just makes it too risky to rely on resolving sweepers.

I wouldn’t accept the demise of Control so easily, so I looked for a way to 1-for-1 the opponent with good removal and then either outdraw them or play a big threat that they can’t deal with. UB is the natural place to look here but I was hesitant to be confined in those two colors since you have no way to deal with artifacts or enchantments, and very aggressive decks can be tough since they overload your Fatal Pushes.

This is what I came up with:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Arguel's Blood Fast//Temple of Aclazotz
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Crook of Condemnation

One of the big reasons why I like Standard is that even if there are many distinct decks, they pretty much all fall under the umbrella of aggro, midrange or control. Furthermore, all decks in each archetype more or less does the same thing, which means the same sideboard cards are good against all of them. Cheap removal and incidental lifegain is great against both Mono Red and Mardu Vehicles, and Negate is great against both UW Approach and UB Control. Of course I am oversimplifying but the important point remains that you can put rather narrow cards in your sideboard and still have them be useful against many decks. In Modern, for example, the cards that hose Affinity are not much use against Burn.

This makes you more likely to be rewarded for predicting tendencies in the metagame, so if you correctly predict there will be a lot of aggro, you can build your deck to crush all types of aggro quite handily and you will likely face a lot of them in the tournament. You just don’t get metagaming like that in Modern.

All that being said, I think this Grixis deck has a good shot against both aggro, midrange and control. You have removal, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk so midrange is very easy. All the removal alongside the full set of Whirler Virtuoso manages aggro decks quite well. More hardcore control decks are tough and close to unbeatable in game 1. So I added a bunch of Negates and Duress to the board and hoped it would fix things. As is often the case when you just shoot and pray like that, it didn’t. The problem was that Negate and Duress just didn’t create a coherent plan. When all my threats cost 5 or 6 mana they’re just too hard to force through, even with the extra disruption, it simply requires too much mana in one turn.

Luckily there is a cheap threat that fits brilliantly with the rest of the deck; Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It comes down before they can keep countermagic up and they probably won’t have left very much removal in for it. It then keeps drawing cards and eventually forces them to act lest they just die. And the first one to act in a control mirror midgame usually loses.

I also realized that it would be nice to have a few answers to stuff like Carnage Tyrant so I added two Doomfall as well. This is where my list is now:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Disallow
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Doomfall

The deck feels great and I think I would have top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ last Saturday if not for my own mistakes. I will keep sporting this at the PTQ’s but for now it’s time to head back to Modern. The Pro Tour just added a ton of new data and my next Grand Prix is Modern in Lyon in a little over a week so I better get to it. By just skimming over the Pro Tour decklists UW Control could be a good choice, dare I hope that turns out to be true? Stay tuned to find out.

Standard hit by the banhammer once again

What just happened?! I know Standard had been a pretty binary format for a while but 4 cards seems like an overreaction. Until you start going into the details that is. Wizards provided a lot of context for their decision in the announcement, including a lot of matchup data for both Energy decks and Mono Red. In that data you can see that Energy (both Temur and Temur Black) is the classic “Jund” deck in terms of matchups; they all hover around 50% and it almost always improves after sideboarding. This is just how midrange decks play out almost by definition and that alone isn’t enough for me to advocate a ban. But then consider that this is with everyone who doesn’t play Energy trying to beat it. It is problematic that no matter how hard you try, you can’t get a considerable edge.

If you take the BG Midrange decks in Modern, many of their matchups are close to even but it can’t take over the metagame because a few decks like Tron and Scapeshift could then rise and prey on it. In Standard, the counter strategies available like the UW Control decks hold a massive advantage in game 1 but they are so inconsistent or low power that the Energy decks could sideboard their way to a reasonable matchup.

I personally enjoyed having Energy decks in the format because the games were often very deep and interesting, but I agree that it would get to monotonous to keep having it around with Rivals of Ixalan looking like it wouldn’t be able to change much.

Then we have the takedown of the Mono Red deck. This one I unequivocally agree with, for a couple of reasons. First, I hate Mono Red. It’s a deck that just plays the hardest hitting cheap haste creatures it can find along with whatever burn is available and just hopes the opponent misses a spot on their curve and/or doesn’t have any lifegain. It leads to boring games where the opponent just has to try and take as little damage as possible and hope they can stabilise out of burn range. When you play against Mono Red you rarely have to think more than a turn ahead and most decisions are quite obvious. When I lose a game, I can often find a decision that I could have made differently to give me a chance of winning. This basically never happens against Mono Red.

Second, Mono Red destroyed the metagame outside of Energy. Some decks rose up to beat Energy, like UW Approach and UW Cycling and not only were they not as good at that as intended, they got crushed by Mono Red to the tune of around 70% of matches. The Mono Red deck boasts both blistering speed and incredible resiliency. You couldn’t just fill your deck with life gain because you would just lose the long game. Red aggressive decks still look quite viable but the power level seems more reasonable.

Now for the individual cards removed from the format. Let’s start with the two energy cards banned; Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. I agree that these are the core of the Energy decks’ power; they are both reasonable without the energy so it becomes very close to a free addition.

Banning Attune only would definitely kill off the black versions of Temur Energy but straight Temur would still be viable albeit weakened. Banning Rogue Refiner only would hamper the decks consistency a lot and it would need to be replaced by less generic 3 drops like Deathgorge Scavenger. This would also allow the deck to stay but would take most matchups down a notch. I think banning either one would have been interesting but with the risk of leaving it atop the metagame still, I understand the “safe” choice of taking out both.

Then we have Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon. Ruins was from the beginning touted as a game changer because it provided reach to aggressive decks at basically no cost. The Mono Red plan is to get in damage early with creatures and then finish the opponent of with burn once their better creatures have gained control of the combat phase. The creatures can deal more damage because they can do it every turn, but they are easier to stop. You want creatures in your opening hand and draw burn later. Ruins meant burn in lands so you could play more creatures and thus have more creatures in your opener while still giving you burn for the late game when you need it. Land also meant it didn’t get stopped by Negate so the damage was all but guaranteed. Without it, Mono Red goes back to the “traditional” way of needing to draw creatures and burn spells in the correct order, making it more manageable.

Lastly and to many, most confusingly, is Rampaging Ferocidon. I think it makes perfect sense actually. I don’t think ferocidon was a ban worthy problem in the pre ban format. But consider that now we are getting the second set of a tribal block, and a lot of players will be looking to play their favourite tribe in Standard. Then imagine playing your Vampire deck and making a gazillion 1/1 lifelink tokens and thus stopping any hope the Mono Red opponent had of getting your life total to 0, except they have a 3/3 that not only prevents you from gaining life, it kills you for making all those tokens. Beyond just the Vampire deck, a normal plan against Mono Red is to gum up the board and gain some life. The dino stopped both those plans. It is still just a creature that can be killed by removal without having any effect on the game, but tribal decks, almost by definition, are light on removal and would be very vulnerable to it.

In conclusion, I think the bans are reasonable and more importantly the reasoning laid out by Wizards seems sound and thorough. On the other hand, it is very disconcerting that we continue to need bans in Standard, which already has a yearly rotation to keep players’ wallets under pressure and I’m afraid Standard support will keep dwindling for a long time before confidence in Wizards is restored. Finally, on a positive note, Standard now looks fresh and exciting and I look forward to exploring it (get it?).

I was getting worried that I would have to do a Vintage article but it looks like that can wait until I actually get an idea of what I’m talking about (don’t hold your breath).

Let me know in the comments or on social media what you think of the changes if you haven’t already.

5 lessons from Nationals

We’ve waited 6 years and last weekend we finally had nationals again in Denmark; two days of Standard and draft to determine who would represent us at the World Magic Cup alongside Martin Müller. More importantly, for me at least, it was two days where all the awesome people I’ve met in the Danish Magic community met up, even the ones that have stopped playing. It was impossible to be bored because I was either playing Magic or I was hanging out with some of the funniest people I’ve met. I already cannot wait for next year, and I’m sure it will be even better. But we are here to learn, so let’s take a look at some of the decisions I made and see if there are any takeaways.


1. Metagaming

First up is deck selection. I started with UB since it had just won me a Pro Tour invite and the metagame hadn’t really changed since. I was a bit concerned when Mardu Vehicles won one GP the week before and UB won the other. You may think that UB winning was a good sign but it just meant that now everyone knew about it and would get a lot of reps in against it if they played online. Also the GP’s showcased GW Ramp which is a horrible matchup. I stuck to my guns, though and Thomas Enevoldsen was also on board so I hoped we could come up with a good list. This was the result:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (6)
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (28)
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
Supreme Will
Disallow
Flaying Tendrils
To the Slaughter
Glimmer of Genius
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Aether Hub
Sunken Hollow
Choked Estuary
Swamp
Island
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (15)
Gifted Aetherborn
Lost Legacy
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Hour of Glory
Dispel
Negate
Contraband Kingpin
Liliana, the Last Hope
Never // Return
To the Slaughter
Summary Dismissal
Aether Meltdown

The key change was removing Kalitas from the maindeck and putting in a fourth gearhulk. Thomas suggested it but I wanted to try out the third god as per Dolars list. I had just won so many games with the god whereas I always felt like my gearhulks got killed by otherwise dead removal. Turns out that while The Scarab God is still a great card, the new kids on the block (GW Ramp, Mardu Vehicles and the mirror) aren’t as weak to it as, for example, Temur Energy, whereas gearhulk is great against ramp and control at least.

It looked like most of the good players would be on GW, Mardu or UW so gearhulk made the most sense. The only change I would have made in hindsight is an extra Summary Dismissal over one of the sideboard creatures though I can’t decide which one. The format is a lame duck now so it doesn’t matter much. As for the process it was mostly: I suggested something radical and Thomas countered with something reasonable which we then settled on. Not much to improve upon.

Jokes aside, I think the main problem I would have gotten into by myself is overvaluing the recent results and what I thought the people I knew would bring. I was counting on over 100 players and I had a reasonable expected metagame for maybe 20 of them. The rest would probably still be playing decks like Zombies, Mono Red and Temur Energy so we should still keep the deck strong against those. You should try to metagame against the winning metagame but with only 6 rounds of Standard, there were too many variables to do that properly.


2. Remember you have an opponent

The first stretch of constructed went without any mistakes that I can identify, winning against Zombies and losing to Mono White Eldrazi. I think it’s a good matchup but my draws lined up poorly. Then came draft. I first picked Hour of Promise and second picked Reason/Believe. I think both of those were correct but I locked in on GUx ramp way too early. I should have been either UB Control or UW Aggro. I don’t think it was nerves but I just felt uncomfortable during the whole draft, and didn’t manage to think things through before the judge yelled ‘draft’.

Oh well, at least I opened Glorybringer to splash alongside my Chaos Maw. I beat Simon Nielsen as you would expect, but then I threw a match against local game store operator and nice guy Johannes Kristoffersen. His was a UB control deck with Torment of Scarabs (the one I should have drafted on his right). I won game 1 and game two I had a Glorybringer in play that hit him down to 9. He had Torment out and I was down to 1 life with no other nonland permanents and 1 card in hand. My next turn I discarded and drew Scrounger of Souls.

I figured I might as well play it in case, for some reason I would rather sacrifice Glorybringer and let the Scrounger’s lifelink negate the Torment so I wouldn’t have to discard all the time. The problem was that he hadn’t played anything for a long time and had 4 or 5 cards in hand so I should have seen the Countervailing Winds coming and just tried to ride my Glorybringer to victory. He had also complained a bit when he milled his Final Reward off a Winds of Rebuke so chances of him having another removal spell for the dragon seemed low. I also lost the last round of the draft to finish day one at 3-3 and thinking I was out of contention (which turned out to be true).


3. Don’t get married to your first picks

I started out day 2 with quite a masterpiece of a deck; I first picked Ambuscade, second picked Puncturing Blow and then took Adorned Pouncer and Vizier of the Anointed and got a sick UW deck:

UW by Anders Gotfredsen

(40)
Proven Combatant
Adorned Pouncer
Oketra's Avenger
Anointed Priest
Sinuous Striker
Devoted Crop-Mate
Eternal of Harsh Truths
Aerial Guide
Champion of Wits
Vizier of the Anointed
Steadfast Sentinel
Curator of Mysteries
Supply Caravan
Aven of Enduring Hope
Angel of the God-Pharaoh
Traveler's Amulet
Act of Heroism
Strategic Planning
Cartouche of Knowledge
Compulsory Rest
Unquenchable Thirst
Trial of Solidarity
Oketra's Monument
Plains
Island
Desert of the Mindful
Survivor's Encampment
Endless Sands

Yes, getting third pick pouncer is an easy signal to see, but I’m still proud I did the right thing and didn’t try to stick to either of my first two picks. I don’t remember an easier 3-0, and that’s no slight on my opponents; Three ways to give my aggressive creatures flying, and of course the combo of Oketra’s Monument and Trial of Solidarity spelled doom for all three of them.


4. If you’re gonna plan, plan for everything

At the start of the day someone also told me that x-3 was enough for top 8, so hoopoe started to creep back in. It was amplified when I sat down across from Kenneth Brandt in Standard because I thought he was playing UW Approach. When he played a Fortified Village, and I realized he was on GW Ramp, it was quickly quenched again, but I drew Lost Legacy both sideboarded games, hit the only Eldrazis he had in hand and he didn’t draw any others. It seemed meant to be.

I actually think I could have won game 1 as well and it’s an interesting case of planning ahead. I am at 4 with The Scarab God in play and he attacks with his World Breaker. I have the choice of bringing back his Thraben Inspector or his Linvala, the Preserver. I took the Inspector and chumped because if he played one more creature I would get a 3/3 from Linvala. He then played a second World Breaker.

Next turn he played Ulamog and I had to Disallow the trigger and then eternalize Gearhulk to Disallow Ulamog himself, but now I had less than 4 mana left and had to block with both my creatures, returning the god to my hand. Now I had no choice but to play the god and eternalize Linvala to survive leaving me open for his second Ulamog.

If I instead had brought back Linvala to start with, I wouldn’t have had to chump with my god and I could have brought back his first Ulamog after he cast his second, giving me the first attack, and I think I could have chumped his first Ulamog attack letting my second attack trigger eat the rest of his library. I did plan ahead in trying to get the extra 3/3, but I didn’t consider my life total in that plan. When you start planning turns in advance, be aware that some factors that seem unimportant or under control now might not be so in a turn or two.


5. Never give up (and learn math)

In the last round I was up against Lasse Hansen on Temur Energy, and everything looked to come up gravy. This was one of the decks I was hoping to face after all. We traded games and in game 3 he hit me to one with 3 thopter tokens but I untapped with gearhulk and The Scarab God in play and 8 mana. I was pretty sure I was dead, but I brought back a Whirler Virtuoso to go up to 4 energy and scry 1 just in case there was a card I had forgotten about. I bottomed another god and drew a Sunken Hollow. I was about to just scoop but decided to make him play it out; there were a bunch of people watching and they should get their money’s worth.

When he attacked, I realized I actually had a shot: I brought back a Rogue Refiner to go up to 6 energy and if I had Fatal Push on top of my deck I could eat his entire board (he had gotten excited and attacked with all his ground guys as well). I made a wish and flipped…. Swamp. Can you spot my mistake (it didn’t end up mattering but slightly decreased my chances anyway)? By waiting until his turn to reanimate the Rogue Refiner I cost myself a scry and land + push had to be either the first and second cards or the second and third cards of my library. If I reanimate it in my upkeep, the first card has to be either land or push and then the second, third or fourth has to be the other. I had 4 push left and let’s say 10 untapped lands left out of, say 30 cards (the specifics don’t matter as long as they’re the same for both scenarios).

In the first scenario I get 4/30 * 10/29 + 10/30 * 4/29 + 16/30 * 4/29 * 10/28 + 16/30 * 10/29 * 4/28 = 14.45% chance to win. In the second scenario I get 10/30 * 37.1% + 4/30 * 73.5% = 22.2% chance to win. There are two important lessons here: First, Magic can be very complicated and often comes down to math and probabilities, so do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the hypergeometric distribution.

Obviously, you can’t do these calculations in the middle of the match but if you do them during practice, it improves your intuition which is often what you will have to rely on in-game. In this scenario there was an 8% chance of winning to be gained and I’m sure it can be even more. Second, never give up! While I didn’t physically scoop here, I had already resigned myself to losing and while it didn’t cost me here (if I had made the correct play and brought back Rogue Refiner on my upkeep I would have drawn The Scarab God and lost) I would prefer to give myself all the percentages possible, and I hope this will serve as a reminder for me in the future.

Lasse ended up in ninth place, which is also what I would have gotten, so it was much ado about nothing (except the extra 75DKK he got compared to my 16th place). Congratulations to our new national champion, Bjarke Larsen, and my friend, Control Maestro Andreas Bendix for making the national team. I hope Martin Müller will put Denmark back in the top 8 of the WMC where they belong when I’m not on the team. Thanks for reading.

Look ma, I made it to the ProTour!

This article will be about two things; my personal experience of qualifying for my first Pro Tour, and the UB Control deck I used to do it. I will start with the deck since I assume that will be the most interesting to people who don’t know me. Let’s kick things off with the list:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Spells (28)
Yahenni’s Expertise
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
 Glimmer of Genius
Supreme Will
Disallow
To the Slaughter

Creatures (6)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Sunken Hollow
Aether Hub
Choked Estuary
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Dispel
Yahenni's Expertise
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Gifted Aetherborn
Summary Dismissal
To the Slaughter
Never // Return
Liliana, the Last Hope

This was a perfect storm of being both a powerful, consistent deck and a great metagame call, and with the results from GP Denver, that looks to continue being the case. The most common decks are Temur Energy, God-Pharao’s Gift, Mono Red, BG Constrictor, RG Ramp, Zombies and UW Approach. I have no problem facing any of these decks and I’ll go through all of the matchups, but first I have some general notes on the deck:

“Best card in Standard(?)”

This card is the reason to be UB instead of UR or UW. The only cards in the above decks that can deal cleanly with The Scarab God are the white exile removals, Cast Out and Stasis Snare, but they are only in the UW Approach deck which, as I’ll explain later, is close to impossible to lose to (there are of course also counterspells but it’s mostly Censor and Supreme Will, which you can play around).

All other decks need two cards and many of them have no way to keep it from coming back. If you get to untap with it or play it on 9 mana, it will immediately dominate most games, and I often had a Torrential Gearhulk in the graveyard along with a counterspell, which is basically game over for anyone (or they might have Goblin Dark-Dwellers in their yard, which is how I sealed the last game of the RPTQ). Against Mono Red, I actually like it more than Kalitas because you can just slam it on turn 5 and unless they topdeck an Ahn-Crop Crasher (I assume they would have played it sooner if they had it, and then you have probably either countered or grasped it), they are completely brick walled.

Alongside my new favorite insect buddy we have all the run of the mill control options: removal, counterspells, Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk. There is nothing groundbreaking about it, which kind of proves my point that the god is what makes this deck the best. Censor and Supreme Will are key for a strategy like this since you can’t be stuck with a bunch of them in hand and not be able to deal with something on the board. You can customize a lot of the spells in the deck but I would be hard pressed to play less than 4 of each of these.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Temur Energy has been the top dog for the last couple of weeks. It won the MOCS two weeks ago, an MTGO PTQ a week ago and this weekend it put 3 copies in the top 4 of GP Denver. It also had 3 or 4 copies in the top 8 of my RPTQ for what it’s worth. In short, you want to be able to beat this deck and UB is great at it. You have Fatal Push for their Longtusk Cub, To the Slaughter for Bristling Hydra and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Grasp for Glorybringer and everything else. This is of course only needed if they resolve, and all your counterspells are great here.

Then you play The Scarab God and get to enjoy all of the delicious ETB triggers from their creatures. Be aware that some Temur decks splash for The Scarab God (and Nicol Bolas) themselves so try and save an Essence Scatter or Disallow for it. Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Never // Return and To the Slaughter Negate come in from the board for Kalitas, Expertise and a counterspell (not completely sure which one, maybe since we are bringing in two potential answers to Chandra).

Try to line up your answers as listed above and try to save the hard counters for last. For example, if you have the choice between Fatal Push and Essence Scatter for their cub, use push. If you have the choice between Disallow and To the Slaughter for their hydra, use To the Slaughter. Be aware of Confiscation Coup on your god post board.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Next is God-Pharao’s Gift. Currently the most popular version is UR but all them share important traits: crappy creatures and then some number of 3 and 7 mana artifacts that can actually beat you. Luckily we are packed with counterspells for them and if you kill Minister of Inquiries they can have a hard time filling their yard to activate Gate to the Afterlife. You should at the very least be able to slow them down and The Scarab God is game over when you untap with it in play.

They have Dispel after board but they need to draw both Dispel, Gate/Refurbish/Gift and some ways to fill their graveyard to beat just a single counterspell from you and their are in a real hurry before we get to five mana. This is about as easy a matchup as you can get in Standard.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Hyper Aggro has traditionally been the bane of control decks and I will say that this is the matchup where I am least certain about my opinion, but I will go out on a limb and say that it’s a fine matchup. You have cheap removal, cheap counters, removal that can kill a resolved Hazoret the Fervent and threats that can close the game out fast. As I mentioned above, The Scarab God is still great here (noticing a trend?) and you get to bring in Gifted Aetherborn, Liliana, Never // Return and an extra Expertise, while lowering your curve a bit (I like to cut one Gearhulk, one Glimmer, To the Slaughter, Disallows and Supreme Wills for the rest). I’m torn on the expertise because your main concern is keeping your life total high and so you can’t really afford to just take hits from their creatures to set it up.

Let’s say they play Falkenrath Gorger turn 1. Do you Fatal Push it if you also have expertise in hand? I think you have to. Then they play Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Do you grasp it? Again, I think you have to. Then they play Earthshaker Khenra or Ahn-Crop Crasher.

Now your expertise can kill one creature. If you say go and they play another haste creature, do you counter it or take 5 damage? Maybe this is getting too specific but my point is that I don’t really like a 4 mana sorcery speed removal spell when I’m trying to keep the board clear and have mana open on their turn to counter Chandra, Hazoret and Glorybringer. It can still give you a chance in the games where you stumble a bit so I think two is an appropriate number. Again, I’m not sure it’s a great matchup but I just keep beating it over and over again on Magic Online so, running the risk of being too results oriented, that’s what I’m going with.

“A sign that you will win this match”

This is a Midrange and so plays out similarly to Temur except BG is more straightforward and they rely more on synergy which is good for the all removal and counterspells deck. I guess you can lose if they somehow resolve Dispossess and Lost Legacy but that should be rare. Maybe turn 3 Nissa on the play if you have neither Negate nor Censor but it’s still a pretty slow clock if you can keep Winding Constrictor off the table. Negate, Never, To the Slaughter and Reckoning replace Kalitas, Expertise, a Disallow and a Censor for game 2.

“A sign that you will win this match”

You can lose game 1 to ramp if they get to play Ulamogs before you get enough lands into play to be able to afford losing two of them but after board you get an extra Negate and 3 Summary Dismissal along with a To the Slaughter and Never to replace your useless Fatal Pushes and upgrade two Grasps. So not only can you counter a lot of their ramp, when they finally get to 7 or 10 mana, you have clean answers to their top end. They bring in Tireless Tracker and Thought-Knot Seer but they still fight on the same axis and your counter magic has that axis on lockdown.

“A sign that you will have a fair fight this match”

This is a close one. They have a lot of recurring threats and threats that produce more than one creature and after board they get a few more along with Transgress the Mind. Game 1 is usually pretty easy as they tend to draw a couple of removal spells that don’t do anything until it’s too late but try and make sure that Diregraf Colossus doesn’t get to make a token and that Liliana’s Mastery doesn’t resolve. I bring in all 3 sweepers, Liliana and Never for To the Slaughter, 2 Disallow, a Censor and a Supreme Will. As with the other matchups where I shave counterspells, I’m not 100 percent sure about which ones are actually correct to cut and it also depends on your opponents play. If they always play around Censor, trim those, if they play very aggressively you can trim Supreme Will instead since Censor will often be as good and you might not have time to spend 3 mana for card selection.

“Ask your opponent to just concede so you can go get lunch. He’s not winning”

I said the Gift deck was about the easiest matchup in Standard, well this is the easiest matchup I can remember ever playing in any format. You have all the time in the world and as soon as you’ve drawn 3 of your 4 Negate/Disallow along with enough lands to pay for Supreme Wills and Censors you can’t lose game 1. My opponent in the RPTQ even had a Sphinx of the Final Word main but when he played that and then Approach on 14 mana I could respond with To the Slaughter and Negate which is one of the better feelings I’ve gotten from a play.

It was even more satisfying because I had replaced the maindeck Never//Return with To the Slaughter specifically because I kept facing UW players online who had Sphinx main. Post board they get some hard counters but so do you along with 4 more answers to Sphinx. They probably also bring in a couple of Linvala, the Preserver and/or Regal Caracal and maybe Torrential Gearhulk but you still have Essence Scatter along with all the other counter magic and they just aren’t able to compete in the slightest as long as you don’t draw all spells or all lands.

As you can see from this walkthrough, the current Standard metagame doesn’t really contain any problems for UB; I might not be certain of how good the Mono Red matchup is but I’m sure it’s nowhere near as bad as it is for UR Control (I haven’t played against UR Control with this deck but you are very similar and so I would assume it to be quite even).

I guess Mardu Vehicles is still a deck and that might be problematic but I haven’t faced it at all and from what I hear it’s bad against Temur Energy so I wouldn’t expect to face it anytime soon. Unless something changes drastically, I will bring this to Nationals and I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same. If, by some chance, this deck picks up in popularity, I will figure out the mirror before then and write another article.

Now it’s time for me to get a little sentimental because this past Sunday was a culmination of 6 or so years of trying to get on the Pro Tour. In fact, the last 3 years it has pretty much been the only thing on my mind. Almost every day when I came home from work, I would fire up Magic Online and play until I went to bed. Work, Magic, sleep, repeat. Even at work, I would constantly be thinking about Magic.

I have had a lot of close calls; 1 GP win and in, 10 or so PTQ top 8’s along with a bunch of good GP performances in the first 9-12 rounds only to get crushed in the last rounds. When you have that many near misses, you can’t really blame it on just bad luck anymore. I have enough insight to know that I am theoretically good enough to compete on the Pro Tour, but when the matches got important I would crumble under the pressure.

I qualified for the World Magic Cup twice but failed to make enough of the opportunity to get on the Pro Tour. Both years Denmark top 8’ed the WMC, I lost in the finals of one of the WMCQ’s. Many times, I have contemplated giving up and just do a regular 9 to 5 job and be “normal”, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. About a year ago, I decided to dedicate myself even more and go to all the European GP’s. Around Christmas, when my results kept being #mediocre, I tried to focus not so much on winning but more on just enjoying the competition, the game and the awesome people I have met on the GP circuit.

Brad Nelson and other great players have written articles telling you some variant of “don’t focus on the results” and I have really tried to take that to heart. Make no mistake; I think this game is a lot of fun and I have made a lot of friends that I would love to hang out with outside of Magic, but it can be hard to justify spending that much time and money on something “just” for fun.

So a couple of months ago I began seeing a sports psychologist to deal with the root of the issue: If you present me with a situation, I will usually be able to tell you what the correct play is but when matches become important, my thought process goes awry and I mess up. I am not sure how much of this qualification I owe to my shrink, and I know I have a long ways to go, but I know I’m making progress, so maybe in a year or two, it will just be my strategic ability that limits my performance.

And when I sat down for my top 8 match in the RPTQ I could feel a difference in my mentality; I didn’t like the matchup (BR Control with Scorpion Gods and tons of discard. I wouldn’t expect to face it though) but at least this time, I wouldn’t just be throwing the match (You might think that I didn’t literally throw matches away but the one of Lasse Nørgaard and Martin Dang who sat behind me for the WMCQ Final against Christoffer Larsen will testify that it is true).

I lost game 1 but game 2 he got mana screwed and game 3 he mulliganed into a poor hand and didn’t draw out of it. I have heard myths of winning important matches like this (Oscar Christensen won his win and in at GP Birmingham against an Ad Nauseam player who just did nothing for two games in a row), and always lamented the fact that it didn’t happen to me. Now I’ll have to find something else to complain about, I just hope it won’t be that I got terribly unlucky and scrubbed out of my first Pro Tour. Jinx.

It was so heartwarming to see so many people congratulate me on Facebook and Messenger, and I feel so fortunate to have so many people care in the slightest about how I do. I am a social person and while I try not to chase recognition, of course it’s great when you get it, but ultimately, I started this chase for me; because I want to make me proud. I can finally say that I am proud of my Magic career, but I am not good at settling and I already have a new goal: Become a mainstay on the Pro Tour, and/or make top 8 of one. I’ll get back to you in 20 years or so, probably. Until then, my best piece of advice is to be honest about what weaknesses are keeping you from achieving whatever goals you have for yourself, and do whatever it takes to remedy them.

Next week I’ll be back to tell you about my adventures in Metz and AKH-HOU Limited. Thanks for reading.