It was a fairly long time ago that Francois first mentioned the idea of running a tournament where spicing more than spiking determines the winner [FRDT: In fact I feel like I’ve been harassing them fellow Wolves for months, about this]. But it was unclear how to make it work and we did not talk aboot it much afterwards.
Fast forward to the ride back home from Lobstercon. As we raced on the roads of Vermont overlooking the forest of red, orange and yellow trees, there was an eerie feeling to the scene and the conversation naturally drifted to the card Season of the Witch. For a moment we got excited thinking we found a combo with Festival but upon reading the errata it turns out that, nevermind, it was bad.
Nevertheless, Season of the Witch is sweet. Festival is sweet, and the entire The Dark set is just oozing sweetness too. It’s too bad that the set is underpowered. Ok then, what aboot a tournament where players are rewarded for using cards from The Dark?! With Halloween just around the corner, that was the insight we needed to make The Halloween Experiment happen! But we had to work fast.
After looking around the OS blog-o-sphere, see what had been tried before, we opted for a checklist approach where people could pick items to fit how they wanted to spice their deck up, and the more you picked, the more points you’d get. This way spikes could still play a spike list if they so desired, but even if they did very well in matches they could still place lower overall than someone who got more invested in spicing hard. [FRDT: The key seemed to be reaching some balance between the two strategies, encouraging hybrid approaches.] After some tinkering, and wrapping in all in some sweet Lore elements, we went with this:
There are two types of items on the checklist; gameplay achievements (ex: Control 7+ green creatures) and deck building rewards (ex: put 6 different cards from The Dark in your deck). Each item is worth 1 point and a match win is also worth 1 point — matches consist of only 1 games [FRDT: not only a matter of balance, this would also result in each player getting to see more of the sweetness/jank others came up with!]. The tournament has no timed rounds; the only constraints are that you can’t play against the same player twice and the tournament ends at midnight. The race was on.
Fittingly, the tournament started with 13 participants so the maximum possible amount of points was 22. In the end it is out-of-towner Louis-Gabriel “LG” Emond who won — by a solid margin! — with 15 points. He took home a signed Dark Heart of the Wood as well as the prized totem of the Tundra Wolves monthly league, an enchanted wolf head carved in wood. Congrats to him!
And I now leave you with some deck pics and micro-reports from their pilots :
Even though this event was inspired by Halloween, my brew actually started prior to hearing about “Halloween Experiment” when I bought 4 Su-Chi on a whim for the artwork alone. Once received in the mail, I remembered one of the oldest synergies has been with Priest of Yawgmoth: sacrifice a Su-Chi to get 4BBBB? Yes, please! That was when I got my brew in full swing. Since I blindly assumed that this format was going towards more aggro-based decks, this was my angle. The deck list basically wrote itself; I packed a bunch of Basalt Monoliths and Mana Vaults… Look at that! They work well with Su-Chi in case I got into trouble. With all the artifacts, Xenic Poltergeist and Yawgmoth Demon were auto-includes. But wait there’s more! Xenic Poltergeist kills artifacts really well when paired with Triskelion (or Drain Life!). Then at my upkeep I can sacrifice my 1/1 Trike to Yawgmoth Demon? Genius! The deck was born, though the hard part was to cut cards down to 60 (sorry Su-Chi!). After going 3-3-1, I had a blast! It was really refreshing to play this format mainly because it felt like this is what MTG was intended be like. The deck was fun and I plan to keep iterating on it to play it under the Atlantic and Eternal Central rule sets.
My prep time was very limited with my moving to a new house so I identified an approach and just stuck with it. The concept was “avoid the obvious, play the obscure”. I wanted to make the deck as competitive as possible but the main goal was to cast some spells that never see the light of day. Otherwise, I based my deckbuilding off of the following insights:
- Dark Hearts will be cast as part of an achievement or strategy, use the normally unplayable Power Leak.
- Gain 15, but not with Ivory Tower or Dark Heart (this was achieved by Magical Hack on a Lifetap to change ‘Forest’ to ‘Swamp’).
- Slide in some one-ofs to remain competitive: Braingeyser, Sylvan Library, Chaos Orb, Strip Mine, Sol Ring, Maze of Ith (the obscure has no room for the Power 9!)
- Assume Green will be popular so slot in Forestwalking creatures and Lifetap.
- Assume Black will be popular so play Thelon’s Chant, Lifeforce and Whirling Dervish.
- Try to pull off Kormus Bell+Cyclone to destroy all Swamps while checking off the “obscure combo” achievement.
- Use Magical Hack or Phantasmal Terrain to render cards with land references that are useless in certain match ups useful again.
- Throw in some walls and make sure The Dark is represented.
Deck concept: stall with huge walls & with life gain using Diamond Valley, until you drop an unexpected Lich. All of a sudden, you got a personal wheeling engine up! Obvious synergy with Dark Heart of the Wood.
- Cast Dark Heart
- Control 7 green critters
- Gain 15+ life in one game
- Activate off-the-grid combo
- Run 4x Walls
- Run 6 different Dark cards
- No Mind Twist or LoA
Record: the deck went off FTW 3 times (which was a total blast), lost twice to Underworld Dreams which was nigh unbeatable, once to a Bolt-the-Bird + Blood Moon opening, and then had a couple grindier, closer games. Looking back, the game vs Karl’s thallid nation where I got gunned down by The Chungus (that’s Thorn Thallid’s nickname) was especially awesome. 3 wins, 4 loss.
Lore-wise, the deck represents a reality where Boris would have taken hold of the Dark Heart and used it to acquire Lich-level powers from the depth of his impenetrable fortress, at the heart of the Diamond Valley. So when playing the deck, you’re team Boris, really :).
Tourach works in mysterious ways.
My objectives for the night:
- Swing for 10 every 5th turn. [Editor’s note: w-what?]
- Smoke the opponent’s army. [Editor’s note: I…]
- Hope to have a lucky Mana Clash. [Editor’s note: that he got, scoring a 6 pointer!]
- Cast Boris
When my wife Madison told me that her father would be staying with us for a few days and that meant I could play in the Montreal monthly event, I immediately started brainstorming. How does one spike an event like this? My deck needed to be competitive, but it also needed to pick up points for deckbuilding and in-game achievements. Also, with the time-frame I had, I couldn’t really buy any new cards. I did own a Boris so I tried to imagine a shell where he could be good. I immediately scratched off the Zombie+Demonic Hordes achievement: zombies are bad and I felt that trying to chase that achievement would have led to too many match losses. I also did not see a way to make walls good (although François proved me wrong on that point) so I also scratched that plan. I decided that the “Control 7 green creatures” achievement was the direction I would go but that the “mono colored” achievement should be sacrificed in order to maximize the amount of good (read “broken”) cards I could play.
The first version of my deck was not that far from the final list. The plan was a powerless Fireball list fueled by Birds of Paradise, Elves of Deep Shadows and Dark Heart of the Wood. I misunserstood the The Dark deckbuilding achievent so my first build had only 5 DIFFERENT cards from the Dark. Awkward. (I later added a Scavenger Folk as # 6 and he ended up being awesome!). To bolster the Fireball plan, I added a couple Mirror Universe. Those are fragile so I had 2 Avoid Fate to protect any important permanent. Boris was present in the initial list but eventually cut as he is bad, and I would be able to get the “Cast Boris or Dark Heart” achievement through one of my copies of Dark Heart of the Wood (borrowed from and altered by Kevin Vanier). Sylvan Library and Greed as well as life lost from Elves/Ashes to Ashes could help fuel Mirror victories. I had 1 Guardian Beast to protect the Mirrors and to stumble upon the Orb combo. After a discussion with Lorenzo Foroni, I cut the 2 Avoid Fate for a second Guardian Beast and a Copy Artifact. I also found room for Xira Arien to add some spice in Boris’ absence. The last piece of tech ended up being Master of the Hunt which is basically a better Boris and would help my deck unlock the green creatures achievement.
Pack it up yall, we broke the format! I always had the –not so– secret fantasy of machine-gunning people with Thorn Thallid + Fungal Bloom so I had to start my deckbuilding with that. Aiming for as many achievements as possible my gaze stopped on booster shaft Dark Heart of the Wood. “How can I use that stupid card?” I asked myself, a Thorn Thallid staring at me from my brewing station. BAM! This bulk Enchantment is a fucking Zuran Orb! If you don’t know already, Zuran Orb is utter gas with Land Tax since you can sack your lands to trigger the tax as much as you want. So we’re gonna jam Tax Tower I guess! Oh wait, Tax tower wants to gain life and Elvish Farmer is a life-gaining machine. Elvish Farmer means thallids… THORN THALLID!!! (full circle, #illuminati) Anyhow, the thallid package is shit, cut it if you care about winning, but the Dark Heart + Land Tax synergy is great and I will brew something more spiky around that for sure in the future…
Here are some bullet points I guess. [Editor’s note: here we go again!]
- All Hallow’s Eve seemed like the most realistic choice had to represent the combo (and possibly on achievement i could unlock) of Bazaar + Leng + Sindbad for dirty card advantage
- Have you ever heard of Animate Dead?
- Im very happy to have found some lists on facebook because once, i was blind… I got into OS with the intention of smashing faces with Serra and she ended up being the least played card in my collection. I think ive found her home and have/will finally been able to achieve the original goal! [Editor’s note: That’s gold Jerry, gold!]
- Night was an incredible success and everyone seemed to be enthusiastic and engaged with the evening and their quests!
My goal was to achieve as many achievement points as I could — this deck had the potential to hit 9 out of 10 points! The strategy was to go long game in order to have a higher chance to claim the points. My tools of choice to achieve this were Stasis, Ivory Tower, Howling Mine and Wall of Air.
Win condition #1: Armageddon Clock. This spicy plan was based on the theory that I could achieve extended Stasis while maintaining more life than the opponent via my Ivory Towers.
Win condition #2: Survive until opponent decks themselves…
RESULT: Armageddon clock didn’t get a chance to shine but Stasis caused serious trouble. The long games permitted enough time and resources for me and my opponents to encounter some unexpected situations!
Fun for me was figuring out what the best choice of deck would have been for this event, disregarding any fluff such as flavor. I’m also lazy, so I didn’t quite execute my philosophy for this event. In hindsight, this is what I would have done:
- Figure out what the parameters are, especially what the unwritten ones are;
- Make a deck choice that optimizes those parameters.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at those parameters: [Editor’s note: lol]
- Game wins: each win is worth 1 point. As tournament attendance goes up, game win potential also goes up.
- Gameplay achievements: each worth 1 point.
- Deckbuilding rewards: each worth 1 point.
- Time: the biggest unwritten parameter. You have approx 270mins for all your matches.
- Early time: this is the potential to play versus players who will leave early or forfeit the event. Getting these precious wins means your game win potential is higher than those who do not play versus them.
So in theory, one would want a deck that does the following:
- has a high chance of winning versus a random deck (randomness is higher since people are brewing random shit like thallid control)
- Maximizes gameplay achievements
- Maximizes deckbuilding rewards
- Wins FAST.
- You should choose the players most likely to leave and play versus them first. *evil laugh* AND avoid players like Karl who play Thallid control (game will last forever)
- has a few silver bullets to negate opponent’s gameplay
Now, since we cannot do all these things, let’s prioritize some over the others:
- playing a fast competitive deck is priority number 1 as if fulfills most parameters
- squeezing in a few deckbuilding and gameplay achievements comes second
- If possible, playing a few silver bullets
Let’s start by looking at the achievements and seeing which ones are not too restrictive on our game win potential:
- CAST Boris or dark heart: Doable
- Assemble the horde: Unplayable
- Dwellers: Unplayable* **
- Survivalist: Doable
- Arcanist: ???
- Run 4 walls: Unplayable*
- Dark Inclinations: Doable
- Devout: Unplayable
- Back to basics: Unplayable
- Nobleman: Doable
The * represents only a potential in an “All Hallow’s Eve” deck, where you could in theory revive 7 green creatures and 4 walls. It doesn’t seem like a deck that would win much so we can discard that.
The ** represents potential only in 1 deck, which I’ll discuss now.
I think the best bet for this event would have been a stasis combo deck with stasis/Time Elemental and Kismet. Although the deck isn’t fastper say, if you establish the combo, your opponent can’t do anything and you can just play out 1 game to achieve all your gameplay achievements. After that, it’s a question of piloting the deck fast enough to establish the combo and have your opponent scoop (fast? 😛)
With only 1 thallid and infinite turns, you could theoretically make the 7 green creatures and get that achievement while only playing 1 green creature. You could also theoretically run 1x ivory tower and eventually gain 15 life.
Another very fast deck is underworld dreams combo, which is what I decided to run. I won most of my games but couldn’t get any achievement points so it wasn’t the optimal choice.
Another good option would be a 5color control “good stuff” deck, packing all the best cards, and getting achievements 1, 4, 7 and 10.
One day I had forgotten to take my bus pass with me so I had to walk home from the subway station. For a muggle this would have been a pretty boring experience but I was happy to use this time to design my Halloween deck. I went with what I would consider level 0 by playing mono black. It’s a secret to nobody that unpowered mono black is competitive even in a field of powered decks. So it was just a matter of how much I could bastardize a standard black list by checking spice items off the menu and get away with it. By the time I arrived home I figured the above list would probably enable me to win most games off of the raw power of Hymn, Hippie and Disk while netting me 8 spice points. Good enough!
In the end I did manage to score the full 8 spice points but only went 4-4 in matches. I imagine that I could easily have gone 7-1 with a bit more luck and/or skill. The tournament as a whole was a TON of fun to play and we received a lot of positive feedback from the players so it’s a definite do again. In fact, it was decided that our January monthly tournament will be another spice tournament [FRDT: with master brewer Derrick Boyce, as the lead designer,] … but with Ice Age legal, this time: spICE Age!