Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The road to an Alpha-Beta deck and the first tournament

When I first started out playing oldschool formats, I was mainly in it for play. I still am I guess, I like playing the games with the people of the community. First in Ancient, then in French en Swedish oldschool. And I did like scryings more than most people I think. Over here in the Netherlands you hear nothing about that anymore. I think that's a shame because it's a fun format. A lot more fun than formats with 4 shops/stripmines if you ask me because they take the playing and variety out of the decks you meet. 

Because I like to play a lot of different decks, I also like to have a lot of different cards. My active magic years (94 to 99) I collected mainly cards I liked to play with. Just as I liked variation in decks, I also liked variation in cards. Most of my playsets were 4 different versions of a card, preferably in different languages. I also collected a couple of beta basic lands to play with, but not a lot, because usually I would play about 6-7 different versions of a basic land in a deck. Were is this going? Just bear with me, I'm getting there. 

In Ancient we were okay with playing pretty much any version of a card, as long as it had the right picture and border. It was all about the games and the atmosphere. When I got into oldschool, I had a decent base to start with because I had a P10 (as we then used to call it, with library  the 10th card). I had tried selling them but because of a weird combination of circumstances and timewasters, selling them off never happened. Looking back on it, I'm very happy that never got to be because it was easier to start with an old format in 2004 after my cards had collected dust in a closet. I think I played maybe 10 games through those 5 years or so. From 2004 onwards, it got better and I played a lot of Ancient. So when oldschool came by, i wanted to join in the fun. 

But... I never got around to collecting a lot of unlimited dual lands or other UL stuff, which I needed to compete. I had just 2 UL duals, to be exact. So the first thing I started way too much money on was unlimited cards to be able to join Knights of Thorn and Raging Bull. Then some more to be able to make more than one deck. The more I played the format, the more I liked the look of the older cards, so I started to collect some cards I would not normally play in Knights or Bull tournaments. Just because I had started to like the way they look and the sense of nostalgia. And though I did get a couple of beta cards in this period, I never thought of joining in the AB format. I figured it would simply be to expensive, and I needed the money for UL and other oldschool cards to be able to play different decks. I also had collected some more UL cards just so I could lend them to Peter, so he could play in some of the tournaments too because he wasn't able to buy a lot of them himself. 

Then in 2018 something weird happened. Erwin Demmer, one of the original early OS players of the Netherlands, asked me if I could help him with a decent decklist for an Ice Age/Alliances event. Of course I wanted to help him. Unlike a lot of other oldschool players, I actually like Ice Age block and have played it a lot in my early tournament years. The cards in these sets give me the same sense of nostalgia other older sets give me. I provided him with a decklist, he did well with it and then invited me to Dwarven warriors as a thank you. DW is an Alpha/Beta invitation only event. My first reaction was: thank you, but I don't have a deck. so i could not join in 2019. And then the player in my really wanted to join. I wanted to play because I like playing old cardboard with these guys.

But I did not have a deck. So what to do? Well, I wanted to see what I could do and build a deck.. I started with everything I had in the AB sets. Which was this pile here:

Literally all the AB cards I owned at the time, exept 2 beta islands which were in a deck somewhere.

Then Corona came, and I was not able to join in 2020 as well. But i did want to build a deck, just to be ready for the next time. Because I also have other MTG wishes and a mortgage to pay and you can spend your money only once, I decided to go for the colours in which I had the best/the most cards and then build from there on a budget. The best cards (and most) I had happened to be in the blue/white colour combination. The Alpha and Beta Serra I've had for about 25 years and I like them very much. The Alpha was one of the few Alpha cards that were around in the gamestore so I was happy when I was able to get her in my collection. I figured I probably wouldn't win with just 2 Serra's so I definitely needed more creatures. The first cards I bought were these:

I figured I would need something to start things up a bit in the early game. I don't have a sol ring or on color moxen, so I would need some cheap stuff to make sure I would not be overrun by Elves and Lions. The next card I got was a beta prodigal sorcerer. I looked up some beta prices and figured more Serra angels or swords to plowshares would be out of the question. I also needed some more UL and other cards for swedish legal play and I wanted to also spend some cash on that. And other magic junk, I hope to post more on that later when I reflect on the corona summer. 
Affordable alternatives for the deck were air elemental en phantom monster. A game plan against Serra's, Sengirs, Giant spiders and Juggernauts formed in my head: I would go for banding with my small creatures or use prodigal sorcerers to finish off the bigger blockers that would block my phantom monsters. Also, if someone were to play Elves, Lions or something like will o the wisp, the Tims would be good. Not exactly a top notch strategy, but at least I had something resembling a game plan.
I was talking about building a beta deck with Marten while we were playing some OS games, and he said he would be able to help with some cards. So I bought a pile of blue and white beta cards from him, and the deck was taking form. I then acquired some extra's in the form a control magic and a wall of swords, which also fits good with the banding/tim theme. Unfortunately, 2 of my powersinks I bought from a fellow OS player got lost in the mail :( 
I've always had a pretty big distrust with the post office because they either lose or damage a lot of the mail I got. This year, I decided to give it a try again, but of my last 7 card buys, 1 was lost and 1 was damaged. If you count the last 10 buys, 2 were lost and 1 damaged. The post office really sucks for me. So I picked up most of the cards for this deck up in person, which also gives you the possibility to talk about old cardboard with others and maybe play some OS games. So, I had a game plan and some cards. All I needed after that were some more basic lands. Fortunately for me, these did arrive in time with the mail and I ended up with this, just in time for Richard's online Raging Dwarf AB tournament.

It's not a great deck, I know, but I was looking forward to playing this. Knowing what some other players have, I did not have any illusions about winning this though. I figured a couple of games or maybe a match would be possible. I also figured unsummons would do well against stuff like control magic or plows, but can also used offensively. Maybe they would be not a very bad alternative to plows. Well, that's what I told myself :)

My first match was against Henk with mono green. Henk was off to a reasonable start with some creatures and he was able to hurricane away my Serra Angel. I was able to disenchant his quick juggernaut. The game definitely felt oldschool :) I tried to damage Henk with my mesa pegasus.


We started to exchange blows and I copied his giant spider. I'm not entirely sure what happened in the end but the thicket basilisk had something to do with me losing the first game.

The second game after sideboarding I got out a quick COP green, which was really necessary because I did not want to be overrun by Henk's quick creatures.

The game stalled a bit by the COP, then I got out my first Timmy, which was bad news for the elves.


 After taking out the elves with the Timmy, some bigger creatures showed up.

The phantom monster was killed by a giant growth giant spider. I decided not to use my spell blast in my hand because I really did not want my COP to be taken out by tranquility. Thus, the COP and wall of swords kept me alive through it all, and I ended up with another flyer and another Tim in play.

Eventually, I could finish the game with the tims after blocking Henks juggernaut and countering his lure on the Thicket Basilisk. Also a classic with a definite oldschool feel about it.

The third game also brought back memories. Not pleasant ones though, as Henk dropped a first turn vise, and then another. I frantically tried to get cards out of my hand while the vises were taking lifepoint after lifepoint. Fortunately one of the cards I could play early was a COP green again, otherwise I would have been dead pretty quickly.

Later on I could block his juggernaut with a banding combination and that slowed down the game and turned it in my favour.

There was an exchange of the banding creatures and a Juggernaut with giant growth, so I had to sacrifice two of my creatures eventually to get rid of it in two turns. Then the one flyer I had left eventually won the game. I couldn't believe I actually had won from that initial black vise onslaught, but I made it through match 1. 

Second match I was paired against Robbie, whose collection of beta cards is on an entirely different level than mine, so I did not have high hopes there. I opened with a Benalish hero, he opened with land, sol ring, chaos orb. Well, at least it would be over quick :)

Robbie played a Serra Angel with his Sol ring, and I drew a lotus to also play one. Unfortunately for me, a sol ring has a bit more staying power and another Serra appeared. I disenchanted Robbies sol ring before another could come out.

I made good use of the delay and played an Air elemental. Robbie plowed my angel and attacked. I blocked one, unfortunately, then another angel came out and that was it. 1-0 for Robbie.

The second game I kept my hand with a Serra, Air elemental and 2 plains and two islands.

Robbie threw his orb on my first land, then an Ice storm on the second and then regrowthed his ice storm and took out another land. I took a look at the cards I was drawing (no lands) and knew it was over because I would never recover in time without anything but basic lands, no swords to plowshares or balance. 2-0 for Robbie.

The 3rd game I faces Wouter, who's deck was similar to mine in the way that he also was playing U/W with phantom monsters and tims, but the configuration was a bit different. He also started off with a vise, then copied it, while I was trying to get from under it. Fortunately, I got from under the vise just in time and put down some timmies. They did most of the hard work and eventually won the game. Wow! I really had not expected that.

The second game wouter got out his Timmy first and a psychic venom on my first island, but fortunately I had an unsummon ready, and then could play my tims. I played my black lotus to be able to withstand a powersink from Wouter, and got out two timmies.

Thinking about what i'd seen in the first game, I thought it would be best to just go for it timmy wise, so I played a third and cloned another timmy so they would be able to take care of phantom monsters and phantasmal forces.

This proved to be the right call, because Wouter could not get rid of the Timmies in time to do something relevant, and the Tims won me the game with direct damage :) This game was streamed live by the Timmy Talks youtube channel, so maybe it will show up there as well and I'll put a link to it here.

Time for game 4, against Koos. 

Koos opened the first game with vise, ankh, vise, then bolted and blasted me and the game was over in like 5 minutes. 

The second game he opened with a mountain while I put into play my weenies.

Then, he quickly overtook me with a mox, granite gargoyle and ancestral recall.

I tried to keep up the damage race but after that I pretty much only drew lands, so Koos was able to attack and do some direct damage for the win. Again, the game did not last long, maybe 10 minutes this time. I had drawn a wall of swords and a timetwister, but the last one was quickly countered and i died mostly to burn cards.

Every card I drew in the last game.

Even though I lost spectacularly against the better and more focused decks, it still was fun to play this format. Mostly because of the really old stuff most people in OS don't play, like the cockatrice, phantom monster, etc. In this format, a wall of swords or a mesa pegasus can actually be, well, not bad. Good would be a bit much. I think this format is even better in real life, just like all OS formats, but it still was an evening well spent with my first AB deck. Thanks to Richard for organizing this online event, and thanks to all my nice opponents! You guys are the best, hope to see you all soon on a real life event.