A Tournament Report by Sister David Third

The Deck

This was my first ever Derby, and also my first really big OS event of the year. I’d only managed a couple of small in-person events before COVID struck, and parenting duty means that I’m not really able to play single-day tournaments. I’d been planning on using all my hall passes at once to play all three formats at Eternal Weekend, but with those plans on hold, and my control-freak tendencies in overdrive, I decided to enter the Summer Derby, which has grown into a massive event, the largest old school tournament ever (or at least since 1994) at 256 players. For such a special event, I decided to use my signature brew of The Deck.

This is the list that I landed on.

The list is fairly standard in terms of maindeck; 29 mana sources is slightly aggressive compared to some builds, but in a single-Strip Mine format, it’s likely to be sufficient. Three basics and two Fellwar Stones give me good resilience to blood moon, and sticking to four colors means I’m unlikely to have big problems with accessing colors, especially since Regrowth is normally a late-game card when I’m very likely to have a city to play it.

The restricted package is standard. Timetwister isn’t a card I normally consider because it is pretty rare to be at a card disadvantage to your opponent, although I would later find out that all the Europeans use the Derby as their only chance to cast a hymn. Recall plus Regrowth is enough recursion to get factories out of the graveyard if they’ve been destroyed in the early phases of a game.

The standard 4-ofs are present as expected, playing four Tomes is very important for the mirror match (in fact, some play a 5th in copy artifact), as well as being an answer to an opposing library without having to resort to a Sinkhole or Stone Rain.

The flex slots are two Power Sink, the 2nd Abyss and a Mirror Universe. I try to play a very controlling build, and extra counters are really the only way to help stop opposing mind twists or other broken plays. The Abyss is extremely powerful against a broad range of creature strategies, and I’ve found that two is a sensible number to play to shut down a significant portion of the decks in the format. It’s very poor in the mirror or against robots, so will be the first card I sideboard out in those matches. Mirror universe is a bit of a personal flourish, it can win you some otherwise unwinnable games, but the mana cost is probably too steep, and once decklists are known in the knockout rounds, your opponents can mana burn themselves down to a low life total during your end step, assuming you aren’t threatening them with factories.

My aim is to try to keep the kill conditions to an absolute minimum. Under Atlantic rules, Mishra’s factories are fantastically versatile in this role, serving both as blockers, as a mana source, and finally as a kill condition. I also have a Braingeyser as a backup in case the factory plan goes wrong because of something like Armageddon.

I view my sideboard as a series of packages that I will tend to bring in in certain matchups:

  • Ivory Tower is great against opponents playing burn or anyone else trying to pressure your life total like tog or lions.
  • Divine Offering is for Shops, although they typically don’t resolve against trikes, hitting a Tetravus, Jugg or Su-chi is often game-winning.
  • Maze and Control Magic are primarily for Erhnam/Juzam lists. There is a bit of a non-bo with The Abyss and Control Magic, and although Maze can also get crushed by the traditional follow-up Geddon, normally you’d hope to be in a position to counter the 2nd four drop.
  • Hymn and Scepter are mainly for the control mirror. Discard is definitely a very strong strategy, Hymns can act as mini Mind Twists and at some point, even the post-board artifact removal is likely to get overwhelmed and the Scepter can rip out some Counterspells.
  • Blue Elemental Blast is in the sideboard for Blood Moon, but also good against Tog and generic burn.

There is also a nice feature that against many matchups, two of the packages can come in: in the mirror you want both discard and artifact hate; against robots you want both artifact hate and creature hate; against most tog decks you want ivory tower and blue blasts. Typically, if I’m against an aggressive deck, I’ll try to speed up my list by removing two Tomes, Braingeyser, and Recall. In slower matchups, usually some of the removal isn’t relevant and can come out. In the batch games where my deck was unknown, I’d take out Mirror Universe if I’d used it in Game 1 since the element of surprise is a big part of the value here, and you can also force your opponent to play around a card that’s no longer in your deck.

Batch 1

The tournament was organized into two batches, the first being entirely random and the second being grouped based on records in the first batch. All matches from a given batch were set at once, and players sought each other out over social media and played matches in their own time.

Match 1: Mark Evaldi playing Reanimator

Mark was playing a Reanimator list where his primary targets were robots and Mahamoti, and he was playing white for Resurrection. My memory of the match isn’t brilliant, but I think the decisive point in the deciding game was where he chose to Resurrect a Mahamoti rather than a robot (which is his least vulnerable play into my removal and entirely correct) only to have me drop an abyss on my turn. The engine is interesting, but the card disadvantage is real and I was very happy when I could make 1-for-1 trades with an opponent consistently using bazaar.

Won 2–1

Record 1–0

Match 2: Dakota Martinez playing Zoo

Dakota is one of the Dudes of Paradise out in Hawaii, so it took a bit of figuring out to get a good time for our game. It seems like they have a good group of players together — I played another Dude in the later stages too.

Dakota was playing a zoo build. This was a pretty short match because from memory, I got the abyss down fairly quickly in both games. This kind of deck really struggles against it, and two quick wins took me to 2–0 in the match and also as an overall record.

Won 2–0

Record 2–0

Match 3: Øyvind Skattum Vesteng playing Grixis Rack

This was the first streamed match I’d played. Øyvind asked if his teammates could stream and commentate, and while it does allow your opponents to scout your deck, it’s also really nice to be able to watch back your matches. I wasn’t too sure about wanting to stream as I got closer to making the cut because I thought it might mean I was scouted, but actually it makes tournament reports much more interactive, and I’m definitely glad that fully half of my matches are preserved on video to accompany the report. You can watch the match here:

One of the nice things about the Derby series is bringing together both the US and Europe for one big tournament. It was certainly nice to meet Øyvind and his crew.

On the matches where there is video I’ll largely let the commentators do my job for me, and try to explain what I’m doing since sometimes commentary is very difficult when most of the action is in my hand.

Game 1, the commentators called for me to orb a land. I almost never will mana screw anyone in a 1 strip format, so I strongly prefer to leave an orb out, and certainly against unknown opponents. I waited until end step to Disenchant the second Factory because my life wasn’t a big issue and I wanted to leave up double counter for what I thought would be a Mind Twist. After exhausting my counters, he had a short window where he could have killed me, but I eventually went and got the Mirror Universe with counter backup for the win.

I may have been a little optimistic by siding in Ivory Towers, but since I’d used Mirror, I figured it might be worthwhile.

Game 2, he had a much more aggressive start, and I was probably one piece of removal away from reaching some degree of stability. I had kept a risky keep that was very dependent on an Ancestral to dig for more mana. Once he’d dropped the Volcanic, I couldn’t risk allowing him to untap it for the REB (which it turned out he had), so I had to go for it with him tapped out. I whiffed on Moxen so had to discard, but hit more lands which kept me in the game. Then I had to sandbag the time walk — again afraid of REB. Later in the game I was hoping Tower plus Library would drag me out of the hole, but too many Hippies hit the board for that to work out.

Game 3 was a blowout — he hit four City of Brass after I got Library and Tower out very fast, and pretty quickly I decided that I was the beatdown. I was trying to showboat and kill him with Power Sink, but it wasn’t to be.

Won 2–1

Record 3–0

Match 4: Henrik Storm playing TetraDeck

Henrik was playing an unusual The Deck plus Tetravus brew. I don’t entirely remember the games but I do remember that he played an aggressive Tetravus into my removal which cost him quite a bit of momentum. Interesting list certainly, since the tokens can be a real headache for my list. Thankfully they never managed to detach and I won fairly handily.

Won 2–0

Record 4–0

Batch 2

Going undefeated in the first batch meant that I’d be paired against other undefeated players for every match in the second batch — harder matchups but better tiebreakers.

Match 5: James Rosenblum playing Goblin Moon Surge

James was playing an interesting mix of Power Surge, Goblins and Blood Moon. It felt like the kind of hateful brew that can cause real problems for my deck, but I just had the Factories that I needed to dump my mana into every time. He never managed to get Moon and Surge at the same time to cut off the Factory mana dump, and eventually an Abyss happened and some goblins were sad.

I’m almost certain that my sideboarding involved Blue Blasts. They are incredibly strong against mono red decks like this.

Won 2–0

Record 5–0

Match 6: Jeff White playing Grixis Underworld Juzam

I don’t remember this match much, except that at one point an Underworld Dreams did hit the table. I tried to stream the match but didn’t know to tell Twitch to save the video. My removal went to town from what I recall, and it was over pretty quickly.

Won 2–0

Record 6–0

Match 7: John Sexton playing GrixisRukh Purge

This match was an epic series of misplays, disasters and falling right into my opponent’s traps. You can watch a lesson on how not to play The Deck (as well as some very smart plays by John) right here:

Game 1, I missed an Orb on a Dib after trying to show the whole flip on camera, and that error snowballed into not only me losing the game, but also the match because I didn’t get enough time to see more of his deck and allow sensible sideboarding. I eventually get to an Abyss but the Rukhs gave him plenty of time to beat me to death into the abyss.

Game 2, I achieve some degree of stability, and actually fare a little better against Blood Moon than him, but I’m sure there must be some unpleasant reason why he wants it so bad, so I fight them. I later find out he plays a single basic island and the moon probably hurts him more than me. Eventually I’m semi-stable, at low life but generally in control. I’m planning on playing Mirror Universe but John has been sandbagging a bunch of cards, so I’m worried he will burn me out once I play the mirror. Then I hit a Hymn I sided in, which is the perfect card to get rid of whatever nasties he is holding in his hand. I don’t want to spoil the surprise so watch the video all the way to the end.

Lost 2–0

Record 6–1

Match 8: Michael Simpson playing Rack Discard

This was a very tough match. I was on the play with a fragile opening library hand, but my opponent had a turn one Hymn and took me out of range. The second and third games I managed to get off Ancestral in both, and although he managed to resolve a few Hymns, it made the difference in terms of stabilizing.

Won 2–1

Record 7–1

Knock-out rounds

The tournament cut down from 256 players playing the batches to a top16 knockout stage. My record was good enough for 11th place and a slot in the top16. My tiebreakers were not that good, meaning I was a lower seed and was likely to be on the draw for most of my remaining matches, which were best of three for the T16/T8 and best of five for the semis and final. Quite a number of Sisters of the Flame made the cut, and the field was very competitive, five LionDib varieties, four copies of The Deck, two Shops, and a handful of spicier brews rounding out the top 16.

Top 16: Ron Dijkstra playing Grixis Rack

Ron was representing the Dutch OS community in the knockout rounds, and now that we had open decklists I knew he was on a rack list:

Clearly this was another European player taking the opportunity to use their Hymns. I was on the draw because of my low seeding and expected a challenge post board where he could potentially reconfigure his deck to be largely creatureless and leave me with useless Swords, or he could go for a more aggressive beatdown plan. This left me fairly uncertain as to how to sideboard, but I figured the Chains was likely to make an appearance, and so I should keep in my Disenchants.

The match is recorded here, commentary by Sisters Paul and Andy.

Game 1 was an absolute nail-biter. After some tight early exchanges, I feel like I’ve turned a corner and am going for the beatdown plan because I have no draw engine on the table, so I try to shorten his window to draw into something that can make me discard into Rack damage. The key play was when he shattered my Fellwar Stone, then Tutors into Mind Twist and drops a second Rack, leaving me in real trouble. I get to the point of being unable to counter because my hand will drop too low, so decide my best out is to attack and hope he hits burn or creatures, which I can probably race. He has 3 or 4 draws to hit a Hymn and whiffs with mana and a Copy Artifact and I drop the surprise extra Factory I’d sandbagged to keep my hand size up for the extra point and deny him a last topdeck.

My sideboard plan is adding three Offerings, a Maze and two BEB, with the idea that I’m trying to cover off both of the sideboard strategies I can see for Ron, which are to take out or leave in creatures. It turns out that Ron took out the Rack, for Chains and Shatter, so kept all his creatures in.

Game 2 I hit Ancestral which I risk into REB knowing I can Regrow it, but Ron doesn’t have it and the second time I’m avoiding discarding to hand size and almost don’t care if it resolves. I go mental with library for a little bit. There is some confusion in the commentary over the copy artifact play. I have an Orb in play, Ron plays a Copy Artifact with an intent to copy my Orb, in response I activate the Orb which Ron Shatters, then I allow copy to resolve, but Ron hasn’t activated his factory so instead ends up with a Fellwar Stone.Then my Factories do their thing and end the game pretty quickly.

Won 2–0

Top 8: Thomas Hamilton playing UR Fish

This is my second match against a Dude of Paradise, and this time I consider myself to be a slight underdog because this combination of creatures and Counterspells and burn is usually a bad mix for me. I do have the advantage of playing first, which takes away some of the worries about Force Spike, and Thomas doesn’t have much in terms of artifact hate in his 75, which means I can lean heavily on ivory tower. He is also playing without Time Walk, Twister or Volcanics, but has Plateaus in to bluff white, which unfortunately turn on my Fellwar Stones. This is his list:

You can watch the match here, hosted by Rich Bourque.

Game 1 I have a decent start — he plays Lotus into Juggernaut, and I have the removal to effectively two-for-one his play and really ruin his tempo, and again answer his Dib and should be cruising. My mana base is painful, but I decide to trade a few life to get a book onto the table because he has so little artifact removal. He makes a nice tempo play, seeing my painful mana base, he Boomerangs my book, making me pay even more life to try to dig down for an answer to his Factory, and that gets me within burnout range which is exactly what happens.

Game 2 I have turn one Library, and deal decisively with the terrifying Flying Men opening play (no joke, these have been known to swing on 10 consecutive turns and eat half my life while I dig for an answer). We both land our respective sweepers in Abyss and Energy Flux, but I decide I can live with the Flux and save my removal for Factories. Eventually, my Library draws me into an Ivory Tower which puts my life total out of reach, but Thomas correctly keeps playing to make me prove I can kill him with my limited kill conditions before he can Bolt them all. After quite a bit of grinding, I get him quite low on life but he manages to kill my second Factory, leaving me chipping away and close to being decked when he drops two flying men to delay me, which it does. The third from top card in my library is a Time Walk, he has a Flying Man blocker for my Factory in play, and I know that one of the top two cards in my library is my last Factory. I decide that I need to go for it since I can’t beat him topdecking strip mine, or dropping another blocker. I have a slight panic attack when I draw a plains, meaning my Factory is the last card in my deck… then I see the beautiful Library, to get the Factory for the last point of damage without having to risk another topdeck.

Game 3 I open up with an Ivory Tower and a Maze which looks pretty nice against his Factory and Dib. The Maze gives me an immense amount of time, and I eventually manage to stabilize at 4 life and get well out of range of any of his threats with two Towers. He’s hurt himself with a couple of Psi-Blasts and a Dib, which hasn’t been hitting me because of maze, meaning it’s only a small number of Factory hits and it’s all over.

Won 2–1

Semi-Final: Shawn Sullivan playing The Deck

This is effectively a mirror — the only differences in the main deck are Shawn packing red for Bolt and Fireball, plus a Copy Artifact and a Divine Offering, compared with my two Power Sinks, Mirror Universe and 2nd Abyss. I think this makes him a slight favorite in the pre-board games since he probably has a better chance in the book wars. His sideboard probably doesn’t quite stack up to mine. I rate the discard package over the REBs since they have much better chances of managing a 2-for-1. His Dust to Dust is one I need to watch for. Post board I can’t get overextended on books.

You can watch the match here, with commentary by Andy and Seth, stepping outside their comfort zone and powering through The Deck mirror.

Game 1 was super interesting. We trade some early blows and both have books. At a certain point I draw my 4th Factory and I realize that I have a very high chance of taking the game with a tempo strategy, even with Shawn outdrawing me. I stop drawing off my book, and start the beatdown. Shawn immediately sees the line, kills off one Factory, and starts digging for an answer, but I’m holding a Mind Twist which makes sure he doesn’t have a chance to make use of his card advantage and the Factories finish the job.

Game 2 I’m on Library on the draw, just about the strongest possible start in the mirror. Shawn is leaning on a Fellwar for mana, and once he misses a land drop I make sure I play to keep him off counters for as long as I can, and land a book while he is stuck without the ability to counter or destroy it. He does manage to resolve a mind twist for 4 eventually, but I’m on 9 cards with two books and a Library, so quickly get back up to 7. He then makes an excellent play (which got cut from the video) by forcing through a Balance to zero cards on the back of a Recall and DT, but by this point I’ve already started closing the game out and the Factories finish him off.

After two games we sideboarded, and I brought in the discard and Offering packages and I brought in 2 Blue Blasts to offset his Red Blasts, removing 3 Swords, 2 Abyss, a Mirror and 2 mana sources.

Game 3 he opens with Library on a mull to 6. I have also mulligan’d to 6 and of course have the Strip Mine because the cards have just decided it’s my day. He has kept a hand on the strength of Library and is mana screwed on one Tundra. I take my chance to resolve DT for Library, and once Shawn finally gets going I take a break from Library to Mind Twist him for five and then the Factories finish the job before I can really use my Scepter.

Won 3–0

Final: Pez Unholy playing LionDibTog

The final was against Pez and his LionDibTog list, a carbon copy of a list put together by Sister Seth for an earlier event. This is full tilt aggro and I expected to be subjected to some serious card slams and a real battle to keep my head above water. Pez was a higher seed so he got to play, which is a huge advantage for a Vise/Lion list.

You can watch the match here, we finally managed to draft a real The Deck player in the Shawn (who was a great sport to help out) alongside Seth’s Lion knowledge to call the match, which was again hosted by Rich here:

Game 1 started the same way as the nightmares that had kept me up the night before the match… Factory, Pearl, double Vise, on the board within a second of the starting gun. I pretty much figured I was done if Pez had any follow up play, so worked through in my head my most likely path to victory. I had plenty of land, a Lotus, a Fellwar and a Sapphire — but no removal. This meant that I could get under the Vise, but would be bleeding to the Factory, or I could Strip the Factory and bleed more to the Vise by not playing the Fellwar. In the end I decided to burn for one off the Lotus to get down below the Vise, and Strip the Factory hoping that he kept a weak hand on the back of double Vise. The gamble paid off, and I managed to buy enough time to disrupt him until I could Twist away his insanely stacked hand that had Ancestral and Balance. He managed to fight his way back in with Factories and Lions, but by the time I got a third Factory, I had enough to race his creatures and counter every spell he could play so I went aggressive and finished him off.

Game 2 he had an insane start from a six card hand: three threats in Factory, Lion and Vise. I only have lands, but slowly chip away at his threats, but am missing a black mana to drop the Abyss and Mind Twist in my hand and a Dib finishes me off.

My sideboard plan involves bringing in Towers, swapping Disenchants for Offerings, 2 BEBs and a Maze.

Game 3 I’m on the play for the first time in the match, and start well with a Time Walk. Pez drops his Library but I have the Strip which is a huge swing. Despite this and a Mind Twist, he manages to topdeck a Dib and puts pressure on my life which is in bad shape after some City damage. And then I topdeck a Mirror which literally turns the game on its head. One final twist is Pez asking if I have the Blue Blast to counter his lethal bolt and I join in the mind games by saying I don’t, but in fact have it. We swap at 2 life and I kill him with my Factory after I Tutor up a Counterspell to protect it.

Game 4, after hitting a 2-for-1 with a BEB, things start pretty even. Then I start to stabilize when I have two Factories and a Counterspell against a Lion. In a complex exchange that ends up deciding the game, Pez attacks, Disenchants one Factory, then I animate the second Factory in response, and use the Disenchanted Factory to pump the other one. I think this contains a minor misplay in that Pez could have bolted the factory in response to the first pump, but this doesn’t matter since I idiotically pump my 3/3 Factory which is blocking a Lion allowing him to Bolt it anyway. Naturally, I spend the rest of the game looking for an answer, but all I draw is land and the misplay almost certainly costs me the game since I had a Tome to accelerate away without the pressure of the Lion.

Game 5, I told myself between games that it would have been easy to fold mentally after the misplay, but thankfully the cards were kind and I had a fantastic opener and was on the play for the decider. Library into Ivory Tower isn’t something Pez can stick with for long, but he finds the Disenchant. I Twist away his hand, but he hits me with a Psi-blast and the Lion to keep the pressure on. I Tutor up a Lotus to get a counter active and play out the second Ivory Tower, now with counter backup for a Twist or draw seven, or potentially to use the Lotus to back up an Abyss in my hand if he hits another creature. He hits a Dib, but I’m gaining too much life for it to really matter and I finish off the job with an Abyss and then start swinging with the Factories to take home the title.

Won 3–2

Conclusion

Thanks to DFB for organizing, all the streamers and commentators for helping out, and to the Sisters who helped brainstorm strategies in the knockout rounds and even did some testing where we weren’t sure about what worked. I had a total blast, and winning a huge tournament like this over the period of several weeks was in a way more exciting than doing it all in a day. I hope to be back in the Winter Derby, if I manage to accrue enough hall passes between now and then…

-David Third

Old School Magic player and head of Sisters of the Flame.