Reflections on Scryings & 12th place at n00bcoM – by Brother Stebbo

Whilst it is not yet certain how we look back on the year 2020, I suspect that it will be remembered as the year when the Old School events calendar was utterly ravaged.

Corona > Old SChool
Old School players in 2020

With that in mind, the job that the N00bcom team did, led by Florian, Slanfan and Brother Markus, with Gordon and Seb providing coverage, was nothing short of miraculous. After the crushingly deflating outcome that live meetups in Gothenburg this Easter were not meant to be, ostensibly pausing or cancelling months of preparatory work, this was an excellent tonic and gave the community something to look forward to once again.

Possibly something that was lost in the shuffle, given everything going on, was the prospect of the largest Scryings event to date falling flat. Something which would have been heartbreaking for MG and those who have put in the effort to bring the format to life. But thankfully this wasn’t to be!

A marvelous event, and one that keeps on giving… as only this week my amazing alters arrived from Slanfan, prompting a minor re-write to accommodate these pics! A worthy prize from probably the most complex game of bingo ever conceived!

This is fucking insane
Sick alters. The Miners are particularly apt, if you read on…

Reflections on deck construction

I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling particularly low at the current time – seeing plans ruined as a wave of uncertainty crashes over everything we once held without doubt. And this definitely affected my enthusiasm for concluding my Scryings testings. However, once I was committed to spending the majority of my birthday playing Old School via webcam, I quickly did what I could to get a feasible deck together.

For me, there are no original deckbuilding thoughts. I’ve always been much more adept at tweaking and tinkering a build, as opposed to starting from scratch. With that in mind, I’m grateful to Svante, Brother Ben and Brother Jonas, who helped me along the way.

Broadly speaking there are three approaches to building a Scryings deck, coming from a background in Old School:

1) Take an Old School deck and augment with a couple of Scryings cards (e.g. add Goblin Grenade to mono red, Zuran Orb to The Deck, Ebon-Hand to Mono Black or something like Goblin Vandal in RUx Atog). Think of this as adding a Scryings “seasoning” to an existing Old School archetype.

2) Take the philosophy of an Old School deck, but build around Scryings cards (where you can) instead of Old School cards. The result kinda looks like a “Scryings update” to an Old School deck, as below. But don’t be fooled, as whilst the philosophy might be the same, the play patterns and lines can be vastly or subtly different.

3) Invent an entirely new deck, built around card engines from the Scryings card pool. Perhaps the best example of this thus far is Brother Ben utilising Enduring Renewal to fuel a raft of degenerate combos in Koboldy No in the slightly mad way that he and few others are capable of.

I’m not smart enough for the third approach; but I like the second. You are drawing deeper from the Scryings cardpool in deck construction – such as to discover deck synergies or by utilising Scryings cards to answer anticipated threats from the expansion. This is in the spirit of the format as it was conceived and is an enriching experience in of itself.

Unlike Old School, Scryings gives combo a huge fillip, with the key “printings” of Emerald Charm, Magma Mine and Dance of the Dead, to name a few. For my money this makes a refined combo deck the best in the format. However knowing how I like to play webcam Magic, there were a couple of drawbacks for me in playing combo:

(i) risk of combo being fairly unfun without the light relief of going to the bar between rounds or the human-interaction element of playing in a physical tournament; and

(ii) timing issues and reliability of internet connection – a particular concern when playing a deck that relies on the perfect execution of a series of steps, as is the case for many combo decks. So, whilst combo seemed an attractive option, I decided it wasn’t for me this time.

Aggro had seen some of the most hyped cards since Scryings spoiler season in autumn 2019. Reinforcements like River Boa, Uktabi and Man-o’-War offer a promising curve, whilst Freewind Falcon and Sea Sprite also seem useful. Memory Lapse also seemed nice in a tempo shell.

So this was a list I’d settled on, and was planning to run until maybe 3 days before n00bcoM.

Scryings RUG Aggro

However I had misgivings. The list could really abuse the restricted cards, and applied solid pressure. But in testing it always felt a turn too slow vs. combo, and was liable to get overrun by midrange and control. In truth, the deck was packed with value but was maybe a little too fair for the format.

The Boa however remains excellent, and I really want to try different versions of this archetype – probably learning from those who have found success and adding some Lat Nam’s Legacy…

However for now, I abandoned the snakes for pegasi and instead ran this control list, which I had been testing in parallel.

5c Sylvan Pegasus

Sacred Mesa and Tithe are some of the most powerful things to be done in the format and are quintessential in what Scryings is trying to do, in subtly break away from the modes in Old School to which we have become accustomed. In my build, I was set on the above-mentioned cards early, but only committed to the Sylvan Libraries in the last 24 hours (!) – once I fully abandoned the Jayemdae Tomes. My main regret was being unable to find room for Ivory Tower, which had seemed very strong in earlier versions of this deck I was experimenting with (especially when combined with Land Tax and/or Thawing Glaciers, which also didn’t make the final cut).  

The deck worked well enough, and I think I’d maybe change 2-3 cards from the main, and possibly a couple of slots in the sideboard. The fixing/manabase could be tweaked. And Lat Nam’s Legacy seemed to overperform on the day – perhaps I should find space for more.

The second copy of Sacred Mesa took the place of Gerrard’s Wisdom in my final list – this was much to my reluctance – as gaining 10+ life from the Wisdom felt super sweet in many games!

As compared to the winning 5CJW list, I think my version has a better combo match-up and is overall more controlling for the mirror. But that comes at the cost of not having as many maindeck answers vs. creature threats, and probably being a touch slower in the mirror. I guess it’s probably a meta call (which Jeff completely smashed!) as to what style of build is better on the day…

I was delighted to place 12th, at 5-2. Continued improvement, finishing 3-3-1 and 4-3 the past two years. But it was agonising to miss the top 8 on breakers, knowing that I’d made a good meta call, and that the deck had a decent shot vs. anything else in the field.

Quick summary of games:

R1: 0-2 vs Florian on GU Berserk

Actually not a great match-up, as aggro/combo hybrid decks can apply a lot of pressure early, and have the Boa + Giant Growth/Berserk for potentially decisive unblockable damage. Game 1 saw Florian get too much early pressure down, and whilst I could semi-stabilise with a Balance, he could push through the win. Game 2, I kept a double Counterspell, Double U hand, which I expected to get me into the midgame. Instead, Florian had Strip Mine for my first land, and I never found another U source, and was blown out. Sad times, but hard to complain when beaten by the progenitor of the event and an all-round good guy!

R2: 2-0 vs Bonnie on Grinning Totem goodstuff

These games are quite nice for my deck – as there’s not a lot of early pressure, meaning I can pick off the key spells to Counter/Disenchant, before closing the door with the Mesa. I remember doing some broken stuff in game 1, which put the game out of sight, and getting a quick Mesa down in game 2 which led to a fairly quick ending. Bonnie took acclaim as the first person lifetime to cast a Grinning Totem against me, which was pretty cool.

R3: 2-0 vs Dom on Disk/Valley/Rukh

Dom has brutalised me in the past with some of his sweet innovative brews. Most notably perhaps his Juxtapose Bots list. Both games this time played out the same – I was able to find answers to Nev’s Disk on time, and could outlast his lifegain from the Valley with the pegasi to take the win.

R4: 0-2 vs Jeff on 5CJW

My second loss came to the eventual winner Jeff. I started game 1 well, but was still behind to a turn 1 Library from Jeff, which led to him casting Ancestral 3-4 times total (combination of Regrowth and Timetwister) (!). He was eventually able to make the card advantage count and find the win with Fireball.

Game 2 saw me keep a solid hand, with REB, STP, some lands and a Demonic (which I couldn’t cast). I put Jeff on a more controlling version as compared to his actual list, so liking my REB vs big blue and countermagic, kept my hand. Alas he hit turn 1 Library for a second game, and blew out my mana base with Dwarven Miners (I think I had StP for 1, but couldn’t stop the next) before I could get going. When my solitary basic Plains was Strip Mined, and my Mox Pearl was destroyed, I knew the game was up, my Demonic Tutor stranded in hand! In the blind I think my keep was fine – not insane, but it had answers to Ancestral and the first Miner – but maybe I should have been more aggressive. Not hitting a Tithe or City of Brass was unfortunate also!

I was disappointed to be on the wrong side of some variance, as the mirror felt like a super interesting and skill-testing match-up. But there’s no shame in losing to a great player and the eventual winner; especially as he was rocking the innovation of Dwarven Miner, tech I had been considering but ultimately didn’t use, which seemed sweet here. Hopefully we’ll get the chance for some more games one day, either in London or over on the East Coast.

R5: 2-1 vs Jamie P on No Rules Atog

Game 1 I was able to stop enough of his early threats, and could stabilise for the victory. Game 2 was more back-and-forth, before Forsaken Wastes closed the door for Jamie. Game 3 saw me get ahead early and Mind Twist away a crucial draw 7 before resolving a Serra Angel. Jamie tutored, basically with the choice of his last draw 7, or a removal spell for the Serra. He chose the latter and luckily (for me) my follow-up play of a Sacred Mesa got me over the line before he could burn me out.

Some really tight games, and it was an honour to play a top player who I would seldom meet in-person at an event. Much like the round before, this for me perfectly illustrated the value of webcam Magic.

R6: 2-1 vs Aland on UR Counterburn

I’ve shared a few games with Aland over the years, and they are always played in a competitive, good-natured spirit. We split a couple of easy games, before I was able to grind out Game 3 through a clutch Regrowth on my Zuran Orb and the power of the Mesa.  

R7: 2-1 vs Mats F on GR Bois

I’ve had the pleasure of playing Mats at Gordon’s excellent Ivory Cup tournament two years in a row. Given the match-up, these games didn’t really play out as I expected. Game 1, I bricked on Mesa for what seemed like an eternity, so had to recur Balance to stay alive, before eventually hitting a Mesa for the win. Game 2, Mats did his thing (ok, so that one played out as you’d expect…) and in Game 3 Mats had no answer to my early Serra Angel which clocked him over 5 attack steps.

So, 5-2, finishing in 12th place. I then turned cheerleader, and was able to enjoy the final hours of my birthday as Brother Jonas marched to the top 4 in incredible style. I’ll leave him to tell the tale, but suffice to say it involved a sick meta call and the heroics you’ve become accustomed to!

Scryings Birthday Breakfast

Scryings is a superb format. Probably not perfect, but really close. I hope I can try some different decks in the months ahead, whilst continuing to refine this one. Who knows, if life has returned to normal by November, maybe Scryings can feature in some way at the Team World Cup in London. But that feels a long way off right now…

My congrats and thanks again to those who made n00bcoM happen. An event that showed everything Old School is about. Bringing communities together for good games, greater laughs, whilst raising money for charity and giving people an avenue to express their creativity. Here’s to many more like it.

~Brother Stebbo

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