by Woodrow Bogucki

I just finished a Middle School league run by local old school magic group Romancing the Stones. The format runs from Ice Age + 4th Edition through Scourge + 7th Edition. The exact banned restricted list can be found here. It is a bit strange. This report will cover my observations on the format and some notable decks / matches that were in the tournament.

The Format

The mana is very limiting

You have allied fetchlands (but no duals to fetch), all ten painlands, and then…gotta stretch. If you’re playing a short game, City of Brass and Gemstone Mine exist. Mox Diamond is one of the most powerful cards in the format for both mana fixing and acceleration, and it’s not unreasonable to run it in fair three color decks. These mana constraints force the format towards two color decks.

The threats are not very threatening

In modern Magic if your opponent has some creature (or, heaven forbid, planeswalkers), attack twice and you’re probably dead. Examples would be Dreadhorde Arcanist, Monastery Mentor, or the odious Uro. All modern creature generate unreal value that is very hard to recover from. Card design was very different 15 years ago. You can freely let your opponent’s 5 drop (Spiritmonger) swing twice and still recover to win the game. For instance, mono red has Jackal Pup instead of Goblin Guide - a HUGE downgrade. This was kind of cool in that it allowed you to take a turn off setting up or drawing cards (like Fact Or Fiction or Necro) and not be too far behind.

The combo danger is real.

During testing it was discovered combo decks could consistently execute on turn three. There’s a lot of fast mana and tutors in this format due to the inexplicable banned list. Before the league some players were mentioning not having to pay the “Force of Will Tax”. I wonder if they will do so next league?

The spells are very good.

While the aggro threats were underwhelming, the spells were great! Counterspell/Force of Will and Swords to Plowshares are incredibly efficient. Oath of Druids also exists to put the boots to aggro. Even mono red got an upgrade with Fireblast. It was also noted the sideboard cards could be unbeatable (e..g Null Rod against Tinker, or CoP Red against Sligh). If your sideboard was correct you could get some free wins. From these points it was determined that a two color interactive deck or a combo deck (or make the big brain deck plays like Hayden and play a two color interactive deck with a combo!) would be best. Aggro would be represented, but would underperform. If you could tutor up your sideboard hosers with any of these tutors in the format, that would be useful.

Top Decks, Deconstructed

Honorable Mention: Tinker, by Andrew Webb

This deck defined combo danger for the tournament. Several of his matches were very lopsided turn 3 wins. After watching the turn three win, Eric Vergo on GR Fires admitted some concerns about his deck choice. It’s distinctly possible if Webb hadn’t forgotten how Defense Grid worked in round three we’d be having a different discussion about top 8 lists. It’s also worth noting Tinker lost to a single Force of Will in game 1 of round five and finally hit its fail case in game 2 and did nothing. The deck still has room to be further refined. Do not ignore this danger.

Enchantress, by David London

David ran into some difficult matches in the swiss playing against two decks with Meddling Mage, and his worst possible matchup in the quarters, playing against Pernicious Deed and Diabolic Edict. Honestly, though, Enchantress has a good plan. Most decks cannot remove a bunch of enchantments or a shroud creature. When the engine is online, it generates mana and draws cards and can win any number of ways. Bouncing all your permanents with Words of Wind, decking you with Stroke of Genius, or Earthcraft + Squirrel Nest for infinite tokens. Once again this architype can be further refined. The white splash can go deeper for more Replenish, Solitary Confinement, or Sterling Grove. How many Earthcraft / Squirrel Nest is correct? This is a slower combo deck so it needs to have stuff in the board to beat faster combos. David has Mana Leaks and some enchantment hosers. Neat deck.

Survival, by Bryan Hockey and Lorien Elleman

Hockey’s deck really demonstrates the difficulty with the mana in the format. By his own admission it was a bit of a hot mess. He has Survival and the tutor package from Academy Rector to go get it or the Enduring Renewal combo, but he had too many moving pieces and ways to avoid losing the game (Walls, Spore Frog lock, Worship) and not really very good at winning the game. Lorien is a bit more focused and is probably the stronger build without Survival in play. The white splash is very light, so the three colors aren’t stretched too hard. I like having access to the unfair turn three Akroma nut draw as well. This deck isn’t the best at filling up its graveyard so I’m unsure how good Circular Logic is, and the blue card count is low for Force of Will. Also, if you’re a creature deck with blue and splashing white. . . How about some Meddling Mages in the 75?? Survival is very powerful. There’s a high correlation between having it in play for two turns and winning the game. Lorien’s build is very close to optimal for a “fair” Survival build. The degenerate build is still out there and most likely involves Volrath’s Shapeshifter or maybe Academy Rector for Pattern of Rebirth.

UW Landstill, by Woodrow Bogucki and Patrick Vincent

WHAT GREAT DECKS. In my unbiased opinion these decks are clearly the best. In all seriousness at first I thought the deck would be a little too slow to win and very mopey. After a few matches I was more and more impressed. The spells are so efficient and my sideboard (mainly Meddling Mage) overperformed every time. The end game lock out of Humility helped beat creature decks with lots of card advantage (like Survival, Elves, or Goblins) and even had utility against combo like Stiflenaught or Reanimator. Our lists are not very different, with the big difference being the sideboards. After this tourney I think four sideboard Meddling will be stock for every manabase that can support them. This deck is clearly tier 1. However, there isn’t much room for improvement. Our lists were so similar because the inclusions were so straightforward. The best removal, the best countermagic, the best card draw (well, second best - curse you, Necro!). When you play against this deck there won’t be many surprises and it’s possible the rest of the format may catch up to it.

Elves! by Travis Brown*

At first glance I had some concerns about this deck not respecting the combo danger, and I though the Biorhythm was a win-more inclusion. I understand it’s creating reach for our green deck, but come on - eight mana??? I still have some concerns about getting turn three killed, but if this deck is on the play, it can execute its “combo” of casting Armageddon or Plow Under on turn three. Most combo decks can’t beat that. A lot of sweet synergies are available and card advantage from Sylvan Messenger. Two matches got out right stolen by Caller of the Claw. The fast mana available is very powerful with some form of the Trinity Green shell being worth exploring further. Deranged Hermit is one of the best threats in the format. Travis mentioned losing a game to the card Hibernation. There’s not any way to modify the deck to avoid that though. Also, Engineered Plague was very painful.

UW Stiflenaught, by Hayden Bagot

Hayden went 5 – 0 in the swiss and this deck was the talk of the tournament. It is doing the best of both worlds an interactive two color deck with a proactive powerful combo. The cards are very well thought out with Mother of Runes and Meddling Mage protecting the combo from Swords to Plowshares, and just in general wrecking people’s game plans. Further inspection reveals some weaknesses to this specific build. It’s very all in on the combo, with 16 pieces (or tutors), and as the games go long it doesn’t have a way to recuperate if it gets 2-for-1’d. Andrew Webb made his deck in a similar all in fashion, which in the dark is fine. When in doubt, be as degenerate as possible. I’d like to see some way to vector off of the combo as much in sideboard games when people will have more Disenchant effects and Meddling will be less reliable (do I name Disenchant or Seal of Cleansing?) Time will tell if that deckbuilding holds up. The combo can take as little as 8 or as many as 16 cards in the deck. And the rest is UW spells which have proven themselves to have the tools to get the job done. A powerful game plan with room to grow if you expect the right metagame.

The Rock, by Rob Connolly

Doing “the people’s work,” Rob rocked the tournament with the classic combination of black disruption and green fat. This deck was difficult to evaluate at first. Its contents were so schizophrenic: Recurring Nightmare was unexciting, the mana on Necro is ambitious, giving your opponent lands with Veteran Explorer, and Spiritmonger is a joke. After a few games I realized it was the “ham sandwich” deckbuilding plan. If the list starts with 4 Cabal Therapy, 4 Pernicious Deed, and 4 (or 3?) Cecropotence, the rest of the list doesn’t really matter. These cards are so powerful that the floor on the deck is going to be quite high. (Hymn isn’t too bad, either) There are some finer nitpicks to be made. Deranged Hermit is great, Spiritmonger is not, so maybe switch up those numbers. The sideboard not including Genesis was a glaring oversight. I felt UW Landstill was very marginally favored against this list, but if he had a Genesis Wish target, I would have some large concerns. Choke isn’t very effective due to the way mana works in this format, and some more GY hate than just Withered Wretch would be prudent. Oh wait!? It doesn’t matter! This is like debating making a ham sandwich with rye or whole grain bread (rye, obviously). It’s still going to be delicious. And now we do smell what The Rock is cooking. HAM SANDWICH!

Moving Forward

The finals featured two interactive two color decks in a close matchup. Will we see a format where combo continues to invalidate aggro? Part of my lack of faith in aggro is because unlike other decks, they don’t have as much room for improvement in deck building. So for them to compete, it seems to me they need to radically shift and incorporate more disruptive elements. Leaving us with only combo and disruptive decks? What archetypes remain unexplored (many), and as a result will the colors blue and black assert dominance over the format? I know a lot of players don’t want to be in another “blue good stuff” format, so here’s your chance to step up.