Gloves-off showdown among friends

You know how sometimes it is refreshing to get out of your comfort zone? How it is sometimes even life-altering or at least horizon-expanding?

I must have heard someone utter something along those lines a couple of months back, when I once again decided to join a team Canadian Highlander tournament with my fellow Canlander players from my home island, Funen, against our eternal rivals from the Copenhagen suburb (-ish) of Ballerup, henceforth known as Ballrubs.

Yes, it had luckily once again become that time of year. And the smearing campaign had started around the time of the first mention of a possible doodle to set a date!

When my old, close friend Trolle invited to the gathering in his house, we all thought that it had to be this years’ iteration of the always welcome, always strongly (friendly) competitive series of high-stake matches in the basement in Ballrups. But no! We had already gathered back in February or something. It has just been a long year apparently.

But anyway, all of us were up for the task. The Ballrubbers – Trolle, Prag and Sigurd – had something to prove after they lost the last showdown with four wins against the Funen teams’ – yours truly, Robin and CM – five wins. Epic matches, much fun.

But back here on Funen, we knew that the Ballrubbers had strong plans to foil us. To humiliate us. To win at least five matches! They were so desperate; they even invited us before a whole year had gone! So nice.

We were not to going to go down without a fight…

Preparing for the unknown

Right. I have already mentioned what Canadian Highlander is in previous posts. For those of you who are still not familiar with it, it is a competitive, 10-point, 100 card, singleton format were all cards are legal, as long as you don’t exceed the limit of ten points from this list.

I can tell you right now; this is something very different from designing, building and playing old school decks! The card pool is vaaast! And the power level is insane. It is quite the step out of the Old School comfort zone, and right now – after some months of a lot of goldfishing, I must admit it is a bit difficult to go back to the power level of Old School decks. Even the powered ones.

Anyway, CM and I are relatively newbies within the format confines, but we were blessed with Robin’s large knowledge and very keen eye on the format. That helped a lot when choosing what deck to play.

The thing is, that even within the relatively loose deck building restrictions and the vast card pool, your deck choices – and especially your specific card choices – are actually rather narrowed by the fact that Canlander is very much a competitive format. If you want to play weird combos or hilariously strange deck themes (looking at you Squid tribal), try Commander. Canlander is the place for people wanting to play something resembling Vintage, but don’t have the money to invest in Power9.

I know it sounds crazy, but I actually do think Vintage may be the closest comparison when assessing Canlander decks’ individual card power.

What Robin tried to teach both CM and myself adamantly was that the one overarching rule is, that in every one of the 100 spots in the deck, you have to choose the very best card – within the entirety of the Magic: The Gathering card pool – to do exactly what you want to do in that spot. The next best or third best is not good enough.

“But this is a 100-card singleton format, of course you can play some odd choices and some fan favourites!” … You may chime in…

And yes, you are absolutely right, of course you can. But you cannot do it much more than five times in the entire list. After that it will start to show in the decks performance.

It took some getting used to. I am still not sure I am entirely out of my Eerie Ultimatum phase just yet. I need to play that thing somewhere sometime.

Anyway, how does one prepare oneself for a match against three guys playing these kinds of decks, and you have no idea what they will bring? It is not easy. Preparing for Old School is relatively easy, either you slam the best cards of the format in a pile and shave it until there are around 60 cards left; or you build some kind of crazy combo deck, or you simply play whatever you feel would be cool to play, because you know that no matter what, a lot of the greatness of the format lies in the event and the people playing it itself.

Of course I was not afraid of the company. I was very certain that I would have a blast in Trolles man cave basement that Saturday in October, but we had also agreed to play Canlander, and that means that the gloves are off: we were to play competitively. Everything was on the table – even degenerate combo and strong control or prison strategies.

So back to the question: How does one prepare to meet the unknown, in a format with an insane power level?

Basically, build a deck, where it is not too important what plan the opponent tries to carry through: Either disrupt his plan (removal, discard, counters) while furthering your own, or play out your own plan faster.

Oh! And make sure, that you know your deck! There is a lot of tutoring, there are often a lot of intricate, complex lines of play possible, there are a host of different obstacles you have to look out for.

In short: Test.

At least against a goldfish, if nothing more exciting swims your way.

Seems easy enough…

My sword for the day

(A highlander reference maybe? You are welcome)

My first choice was to try and built a version of a rather crazy Blue-Green-Red deck I had seen Canlander aficionado and deck creator extraordinaire Ben Wheeler play. It was an artifact heavy deck with a Goblin Welder theme and a very strong lands theme, including the land Urza’s Saga which is one of the most incredible cards printed in recent years. That card gets all my machine-feelings tingling!

The entire decklist is a bit of a mess, but it includes so many great new(-ish) cards I would really like to play – Wrenn and Six, Tireless Provisioner, Minsc and Boo, Timeless Heroes, Cyberdrive Awakener, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Urza, Lord High Artificer, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Displacer Kitten to name a few. Together with a lot of my older loves: Mindslaver, Fastbond, Tinker, Goblin Welder… So much power. So much value. So much goodstuff.

I sent it past Robin to get his views on the pile. He said it was a bit too much goodstuff, with a bit too little of a plan. He asked me to play a real deck instead. I went ahead anyway and tested the pile against an unsuspecting goldfish… and figured Robin might have a point. As he always has when it comes to Canlander. And much else, really. (I am not all done trying to get something along those lines working, but I will eschew the Welder plan and opt for a more dedicated KarnStructs plan instead).

So I tried to find a real deck that reminded me somewhat about the strange artifact-lands-welder-control deck I had cast my love on. And I fell on this. No pictures, because pictures of 100-card singleton decks are not worth a lot anyway. But I went for a combo deck.

And it is insane. This deck and all of the different interactions, complex lines of play and insanely high power level is such a beast that I had a hard time really grasping it.

Of course the main plan is to start the game playing some artifact mana rocks and some tutors to get Tolarian Academy and then at some point play Paradox Engine and a Draw7 and then win. But that is just the main plan. It works wonders against fish, but against real opponents with cards in hand and board presence and a ticking clock, the deck is capable of so much more.

I have played a couple of different Canlander combo decks before, but this one is a bit different in that it is a permanent based combo deck. You don’t have a lot of instants and sorceries to throw around, and your win is more deterministic than in some of the Storm decks I have tried, where it is really interesting for all – including the combo player – whether the combo player will actually make the kill or fizzle after having spent some ten minutes playing a bunch of cards. Those kinds of decks, I have not enjoyed playing. But this had another feel to it. Most of the time, when the Paradox Engine is in play, and I play a draw7, the opponent simply asks if I have a wincon somewhere in the deck, and if I can just show it to them.

I am jumping a bit ahead of myself here, but I don’t really have much more to add about the deck, other than this: The One Ring is a stupidly strong card. Just that. On to…

The showdown!

Robin and I headed towards Ballrub in Robins car, as CM was already there. As I have mentioned before, every Magic showdown or tournament should start out with a roadtrip! It is always great times, and I was able to throw a last couple of ideas on Robin, he could tell me why they were wrong, and we were able to agree on me swapping out some card to bring back in Retrofitter Foundry. A card I had felt was lackluster in my testing, but I was convinced that it is actually a great card. More on that later.

We arrived at Trolles house at 10.40, ready to let the sleeves hit the table at 11.

And so we did.

My first match was against Sigurd. He was playing a rather outrageous five-color(? Maybe only four) reanimator deck with a lot of really angry threats.

Luckily for me, his deck was not all too keen on playing magic in our first game. In our second game I resolved a Sol Ring in turn one, a Copy Artifact on Sol Ring in turn two along with a Displacer Kitten, and then in turn three I played both Narset, Parter of Veils and a Wheel of Fortune which made him discard his hand without drawing more than one new card. And even though it may be okay for a reanimator deck to have their cards in the yard, it did not matter much. Because of the Displacer Kitten blinking the Sol Ring and the Narset, I managed to pull off a turn three win right there. That was a very nasty display of power from my side.

Robin won his match against Prag, while CM lost against Trolle.

In the next round I was up against Prag, who had chosen to bring an almost mono black aggro deck. He had splashed green for a few cards, including Berserk.

I don’t remember the first game clearly but he get some pressure going, but is just a single attack phase or something short of killing me. I manage to pull off something stupid drawing around 25 cards in the same round.

In game two, I mulligan to six, and keep a rather slow, but also promising hand. Unfortunately it is not enough to survive Prags very strong onslaught. Again a testament to the format and, really, the game that it is possible to build a strong 100-card singleton mono black aggro deck. It is actually rather crazy when you think about it. Anyway, as mentioned it was not entirely mono black, and the Berserk had something to do with my early demise in this game.

In game three, I mulligan again, but this time into a hand that is much more aggressive. If I remember correctly I am able to Bring to Light a Timetwister in turn three, drawing an insane hand and winning in turn four.

So I am up 2-0 with only one match to go. Robin lost his match against Trolle, but CM won against Sigurd. Meaning that team Funen is up 4-2. This means that we only had to win one of the three matches of the last round, to secure our continued dominance.

But I am up against end-boss Trolle. When we met in February he went 3-0. Going up against me, he was already 2-0 and ready to be 3-0 again.

Trolle was playing Blue-Red-Black midrange control goodstuff with a fast clock, some counters and removal. All in all something I feared, but I also knew that he would have a lot of almost dead cards in his deck, because his creature removal was not exactly enticing against me.

In the first game Trolle keeps a relatively slow hand, so do I, but in my deck slow means that I don’t try to go off until turn four or five. Luckily that was soon enough for me to assemble the main combo and use an all-time favorite Tempest card, Capsize, to remove all his permanents and then Wheel his hand away (without him drawing new cards because of Narset, if I recall correctly) and then winning with something. Anything really…

In game two I keep a bit of a slow six-card hand. Trolle does not. Within the first two rounds he plays Ragawan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Young Pyromancer. I die very fast. Screaming.

At this point CM had lost his match and Robin and Sigurd was 1-1. So it was getting a bit too exciting.

In game three I once again mulliganed a hand. I kept one with a plan to make a turn three Urza, Lord High Artificer and basically try to win with that. It is a very very great card, so that plan wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately Trolle had the Mana Leak to deal with my plan. He followed that up with a two-mana 8/8 flier in the form of Murktide Regent. I mean! What the hell has been going on in Magics R’n’D the last couple of years. That card is so out the ball-park that it is difficult to understand.

Anyway I had to claw my way back, and did so by fetching an Urza’s Saga with my Reap and Sow, then I made a couple of Constructs and started hitting Trolle really hard. When the Saga expired and fetched me a card, I was in a bit of a pickle, but ended up deciding to get Retrofitter Foundry. That was the right choice, even though it was a difficult one. The Retrofitter made it so, that I could build a flying blocker for the Regent. It all came down to me at four life and Trolle at six or something. I had two 8/8 Constructs and a Servo from the Foundry in play, he had his Regent back after blocking my Constructs once or twice.

In the defining moment of the match, he tries to find a piece of instant removal, able to deal with the Thopter I could chance the Servo into, when he was about to attack with the Regent. He goes to his draw. Doesn’t find it. Plays a Gitaxian Probe. I respond with a Hullbreacher to deny him his draw. He has a Counterspell! And draws…

The removal spell he needs! Nooo the suspence, the epicness of it all! So much greatness. I lost, but the match had been so much fun, and it was really a pleasure to feel, that I had made the right, albeit alternative, choices with my tutors.

Besides us Sigurd and Robin was in a fierce showdown in their third game.

It was one of those really great games where things go back and forth and there are so many plays and lines possible. Especially on Sigurds side of the table. I can’t remember the exact board state, but it all comes down to Sigurd playing a rather wild x=9 Neoform and then the Ballrubs team take some time to figure out what to fetch. They end up fetching the Undermountain Adventurer, to get something out of the Initiative. Then they tap out to play Minsc and Boo, Timeless Heroes to make the 4/4 haster to attack and kill Robins Jace, the Mind Sculptor. But no! Robin had sat on a Daze for an eternity, and now – at this very pinnacle moment, it was what it took, to take down the match, and ensure another period of boasting rights for the Funen team.

What an epic tournament it had been. I took no pictures of the games, because I was simply way too concentrated on trying to figure out all the interactions and possible plays. But after we had once again asserted our dominance, and had fetched some pizza and more beer, we all went on to play more casually – both Canlander and some surprisingly great-fun preconstructed Warhammer 40k Commander decks.

Next time the primary target for the Funen team has to be to best Trolle in just one match!

Great times were had!

Well the header says it all: Great times were indeed had. I always marvel at the fact that I am now playing Magic on my 27th or so year, but it is still one of the greatest sources of fun and great times I have.

Even though we were of course playing to win in a competitive format, everything was of course fun and games. All of us were there to have a good time, and I believe we succeeded.

So for now, I just have to say: I can’t wait for the next Showdown in Ballrubs!

And now for a couple of pictures… Thanks for reading and have a great one!

Aah, yes. Look how schmuck we look. Right after our fantastic win.
Just the bare necessities!
Again: this is the best recipe for a great time!

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