Preamble: A Hot Day in the City
It’s Friday the 13th and hotter than hell. I’m trapped in my own personal hades of snarled Chicago highway traffic. Relic War 2 is tomorrow and, as I snake along 294 at five miles per hour, I let my mind wander to a possible new stew for this Gathering of the Lords of the Pit. It will be another stipulated battle. We did the Team Tactical (Old School, Vintage and Legacy) and the Split Format (93/94 + 95) events earlier this year. This time, for one afternoon only, we’ll cast aside our traditional Eternal Central codex and adopt Swedish rules* for Old School MTG. You know what that means, one Strip Mine, no mana burn, etc. It will be an interesting change of pace for the Chicago wizards. Relic War 2 is the brainchild of Lord Semmens who, together with Lord Friedman, has visited the Scandinavian hinterlands of Gothenburg and imported that brand of Old School back to the American heartland.
I’ve looked forward to this event with over a month’s worth of testing and a tuned-up deck list. Now, the day before the Gathering, perhaps it’s the heat or maybe even the hypnotizing effect of unending brake lights before me, but I’m about to throw out that list in favor of something unfamiliar and exotic. What could possibly go wrong?
Note: we did not adopt Swedish reprint rules and kept with the EC standard.
Farewell to an Original
As much as I’ve enjoyed testing and preparing for Relic War 2, the event will be somewhat bittersweet in that it marks our official farewell to Chicago’s own Danny Friedman, who is relocating to the Lone Star State to seek greater wealth and further infamy. Danny is an original Lord that brought me into the fold from the western reaches of Iowa, circa winter 2016. He is a neighbor, a true gentleman and I’ll miss his kvetching at our weekly Gatherings, though I won’t miss his miserable-ass control decks.
Testing Brew: Grixis Good Stuff
My first inclination was to build a Grixis good stuff deck, mostly to feature my recently-completed playset of Arabians Serendib Efreets. While I usually don’t fetishize over card editions or conditions, I make an exception for those Arabians Nights cards, which were near-mythical in my junior high days (1994-97). The plan here was that Dibs would be joined by the usual retinue of P9 cards and burn spells, plus a black splash for Sedge Trolls, Demonic Tutor and good ol’ Mind Twist. Sol Kanar The Swamp King appeared in a couple iterations, too. I settled on this 75:
After a month of testing, the list became as pedestrian as it was consistent. The night before Relic War 2, I decided to gamble on an untested pile.
Enter the Bouncing Naya Dudes
The optimized Grixis stew was disassembled and it was time to dig a bit deeper. I’d also recently acquired a playset of Hazezon Tamar from Legends, or in my case, Leggende. Hazezon is a legendary 4WRG boss that enters the battlefield with a delayed trigger summoning, on the next turn, X 1/1 Naya-colored Sand Warrior tokens equal to the number of caster’s lands. The catch is that if Hazezon leaves play, so to do all the Sand Warrior tokens. The mechanic pairs well with Karakas: if Hazezon is bounced at any point before the Sand Warriors arrive, the mass removal drawback still triggers but it doesn’t kill any of them (since they aren’t in play yet.) Hazezon basically drops down, calls in the reinforcements, then gets to da choppa. Hazezon’s partner in crime would be Stangg, at 4RG 3/4, who ETBs together with a 3/4 legendary Stangg Twin Token. Somewhat similar to Hazezon and his Sand Warriors, if either Stangg or the Stangg Twin are removed from the board, both are removed. Karakas again factors in here; I could bounce the prime Stangg with the ETB trigger on the stack, then get the 3/4 Stangg Twin - sans removal drawback.
For additional detail on the Hazezon/Stangg + Karakas combo, see Jaco’s writeup over at Eternal Central.
Playing these high cost red dudes meant I got to throw in one of my all-time faves, the mighty Gauntlet of Might, to help power power them out and power them up. Gauntlet would also buff the tokens and make for a nice Fireball backup plan. Lastly, this Legends-heavy deck meant I could safely include Old School hosers like City in a Bottle (Arabians) and Golgothian Cylex (Antiquities). This Naya pile was untested but I was optimistic about at least making some gnarly plays with it. I thought it may just have enough tricks in it to win some matches, too.
DMen Tap is a rad bar located on Belmont, about a mile from mi casa and sequestered behind some bigass utility construction by Chicago’s illustrious Water Dept. On special is a can of Hamm’s plus a shot of Kabanes for $5. Pure value. In keeping with the name, there’s Dungeons & Dragons-themed art as well as sci-fi movies projecting on the brick wall and metal music in the air. Head down the back hallway and you’ll enter a private room that seats two dozen and features various vintage video game systems. I rolled into Relic War 2 and stopped by the front bar to nab a Hamms + Kabanes special and chat up some Lords before heading back to the hive. There, more Lords milled around, signing prize cards or finalizing trades.
Round One vs. Cory Irvin 0-1
Cory’s been to some of our Logan Square area Old School meet-ups and he’s a super chill dude. He was on a black/white deck, I think borrowed from Lord Semmens, and opened our series with Swamp, Ritual, Hippie. Just peachy. I, however, unloaded on T1 with land, Mox, Lotus, Serra Angel. He didn’t get removal and, needless to say, I got there in G1. We shuffled up for G2 and I drew my seven. Two land, no ramp, no action, mulligan. I dew six. One land, no action, mulligan. I drew five. No land. I drew four. No land? I drew three. No land. What the fuck? I kept the three and scried (land on top). G2 ended quickly. We went to G3 which was going well until, sadly, I punted away because of an error on Stangg Twin. I forgot that the token is legendary! I summoned Stangg, bounced via Karakas with his ETB trigger on the stack, got my Stangg Twin… then did the whole dance again the next turn. Cory didn’t notice the misplay and who could blame him? This isn’t a particularly common sequence. I nearly got there with my pair of Stangg Twins. Cory, meanwhile, whittled me down via an Underworld Dreams. I top-decked Karma and was about to seal the illicit victory when suddenly Lord Mullen, half-engrossed in Super Smash Bros. and half-engrossed in giving me the business, noted my misplay. I apologized to Cory and conceded the round on the spot. It was a tough beat, but the onus was on me to properly know my combo and such was the danger of not testing prior. Cory informed me he’s moving to the Milwaukee area and I hope he keeps up with Old School there. Good luck, amigo!
Round Two vs. Jason Paul 0-2
Jason looked tanned and rested after some R&R in the South Pacific and we set down to rumble. He’s probably the only dude I know that’s more into cut CE cards than me and I bought a fourth copy of Swords to Plowshares off of him earlier that day. He was on a Bantgeddon deck, which felt a bad matchup for my slowass mana base. The problem with my deck was trying to build up enough resources to execute Hazezon and Stangg. G1 was quick as he blew me out with Armageddon and Ernie. Game 2 went my way when Stangg and Stangg Twin - just one this time - plus a pair of Gauntlet of Might did the heavy lifting. Thanks to Ernie, I bashed-in with a Forestwalking, 5/6 Stangg Twin in what would prove my juiciest win of the day. G3 was a repeat of G1 and I lost the round. Onward.
Round Three Bye Round feat. Tecmo Super Bowl
Another siq feature about DMen Tap is that they host a Tecmo Super Bowl league. It’s an NES classic that I played for hundreds of hours growing up. Following my uninspired 0-2 start, I was put on bye and ready for another Hamm’s + Kabanes special and some video gaming. I dialed up my childhood hero, Joe Montana, and thrashed Mr. CPU with the 49ers while waiting out the round.
Round Four vs. Katrina Zimmerman 1-2
I’d recently met Katrina at a Logan area Gathering and knew she was on lend of her husband’s (Lord Piquard’s) RG Beats deck. I also knew if I could get to my City in a Bottle (one main, one side), I could shut down her Ernies and Apes long enough to develop my combo. I got there with Bottle and a Serra Angel for one game win, then my second W came on the back of a T1 land, Mox, Mox, Sol Ring, Balance. Katrina was gracious about the busted opener and I hope she continues to class up our Lords meetups in the future. While it was nice to get my first match win with the deck, it wasn’t really combo-ing all that well.
At this point, I had a quick check-in. I wasn’t really feeling Hazezon as I hadn’t cast him once after three rounds and hasn’t even had an opportunity to do so. I was also overloaded on him with three in the main deck; I think one or two copies would have sufficed. Finally, and I didn’t appreciate this fact enough while building this deck, but Hazezon really needs a whopping eight sources to combo with - seven to cast him + a Karakas to bounce him. I was hopeful he would be doable in a one Strip environment, where I could develop more land drops, but it was just too slow to make work. I sided down to one Hazezon in all G2 and G3. Stangg was only moderately more useful than Hazezon as a six-drop, but at least he was only RG colors and not Naya.
Round Five vs. Tyler Etters 2-2
Lord Etters is my boy, but I had the drop on his Naya Tron brue. It was essentially robots + burn and white permission cards and very spicy. After another Hamms + Kabanes special (or two?), the fog of war really settled in here. My only memory from this round is that, in G2 or G3, I opened with a T1 City in a Bottle, clogging up Etters’ City of Brass, then later slammed a Golgothian Cylex to wipe out Tron Lands and a Trike. Gnarly. Beyond that hosery, I have no recollection of how I won the round, though I’m certain Hazezon didn’t have a part in it because I had yet to cast him all day.
Round Six vs. Jaco 2-3
Again I had to square off against the human enigma that is Jaco. His article over at Eternal Central was what originally got me interested in Hazezon & Stangg. Some recent history: ever since picking up the a W off him with my UW Robots vs. his Gauntlets of Nuggetry (way back at Kumite!), I’d suffered a series of defeats including Team Tactical, Novicecon 2 and the Bootlegger’s Ball. Here at Relic War 2, I’d have to square off against his Underworld Tricks. This Naya pile felt the equivalent of a knife at a gun fight but at least I had Disenchants. I basically ended up durdling about the entire round, trying to assemble a mana base and getting Draw 7’d into the motherfucking stone age. There was one interesting sequence where we had dueling Mirror Universes in-play; Jaco swapped our lives, forgetting about my Mirror, then I swapped them back and used the gain to draw extra off Sylvan Library netting Disenchant and Red Blast. I had a chance here and tried to blow up Underworld Dreams. Flash Counter. Red Blast. Blue Blast. Rekt.
For the record, I finally cast Hazezon for the first time during this round, but lost on the next turn. Nary a Sand Warrior ETB’d for me all day.
Wrap Up + Prizes
Lord Slack was our resident badguy and piloted The Deck to a 6-0 first place. Meanwhile, the outbound Lord Friedman, on Time Vault combo, took second place at 5-1. Lord Semmens had put together a treasure trove of prizes featuring notable artefacts such as a slabbed Relic Barrier for whomever played the most copies of it in their deck (enter Lord Bergeson), a copy of the original Magic: The Gathering Arena novel (went Lady Zimmerman), and some old Duelist magazines. In keeping with Lords’ tradition, we drafted prize cards in reverse standings order and at lucky 13th place I took home a war-torn Atog. Lord Semmens presented a going away prize, a Millstone altered with Chicago iconography by Ms. Slack, to Lord Friedman. The Lords spewed out of our den at DMen Tap and the send-off celebration continued deep into the night.
It was a pleasure to play with the Swedish B&R list for one day. Friedman made good use of the extra Recalls via his Time Vault combo. The extra Maze of Ith seemed irrelevant as far as I could tell. I had to remind a couple players about no Mana Burn, but habits are hard to break. Of course, the biggest change in gameplay was restricted Strip Mine. After battling so many players on Pink Weenie, Naya Zoo, White Weenie, etc. this year - all of those decks made potent by the tempo effect from 4x Strips - it was refreshing to see and play against some less common or novel midrange lists. They’re more feasible by the additional mana development allowed in a one-Strip environment; the games just stretch out a little more - think business class versus coach. I was hopeful my slowass Stanggs and Hazezons could flourish here but, at least in this small sample size, I turned out to be wrong. Nevertheless, it was a an interesting experiment. I am confident that the Lords will try this stipulation again. We gather so often that the variety is what keeps the games interesting and the scene vibrant. I encourage all Old School MTG players out there to experiment with the rules as we all continually seek to pour new life and passion into these old slabs of cardboard.