First! - Hartfordfestivalen 2019: Underworld Dreaming to a Win in Hartford, April 6, 2019

First! - Hartfordfestivalen Tournament Report
Underworld Dreaming to a Win in Hartford, April 6, 2019


I knew I wanted to run Underworld Dreams for this tournament.  I played a version in the March online NEOS event and was looking to tuning it.  The version I played in March had a one-of Winter Orb, with the purpose of shutting down the Deck, and a one-of Balance and the Abyss, to shut down creature decks.  I quickly learned two things in March: Time Walk is the best card in this deck or against it, and Winter Orb works both ways.   I played in a tournament also in March, and learned that I don’t yet have a good plan for the Deck, since I put 12 sideboard cards in for the matchup and still had my only two losses to it.  I learned from that tournament that Lightning Bolt is a very good card against the deck, since Mishra’s Factory is so important, and also that extra artifact destruction isn’t a bad thing.

The day before the tournament, I set aside some time to do testing.  Without a testing partner, I tested myself by running my deck against key decks and playing both sides: mostly The Deck, but also White Weenie, and Atog, since I figured those might be prevalent, and those are extremes of the spectrum.

I tried out Relic Barrier, to combo with Howling Mine and Winter Orb.  It was great in theory, but in practice, the deck became too cramped with these prison elements, and not enough focused on winning the game.  There still could be a place for this prison style Dreams deck, but it became clear that wasn’t going to be my path at this moment.  I placed all of the Lightning Bolts main deck, because they were great against all of the matchups I was testing against.  I still wanted Balance and the Abyss, since they were great for me in March, and sometimes the only way I could win games against decks that put a lot of creatures out.  Something had to give, and in my testing I cut some Winds of Change, all the way down from three copies to one in the main deck.  Winds of Change was also never a card I wanted to bring in after side boarding, since it is card disadvantage, is not as consistent as Lightning Bolt, and certainly not as flexible.  Other notes, I ran one Psionic Blast in the main.  I ran it in March at both events, and I think it’s very nice for its flexibility against Serra Angel, Mishra’s Factory and just going to the face.

As I battled myself playing the deck, it became clear that I needed something to shut down The Deck.  Winter Orb wasn’t cutting it, and playing just a few copies of Relic Barrier wasn’t doing it either, since I couldn’t find space for four of each.  I found the answer in Blood Moon.  I initially thought that Blood Moon wasn’t viable in my deck, since I run only two basic lands and I have triple black mana requirements for Underworld Dreams.  Most of my duals produce black mana.  On top of that, I run only two copies of Dark Ritual, and I needed more “gas” in the deck, and Ritual is a horrible top deck.  But, lo and behold, it didn’t matter how mana screwed I was against the deck by playing Blood Moon, because they were even more so.  Many versions run zero or one basic land, and they essentially lose the ability to do anything except play Jayemdae Tome, which is not helpful against a deck that punishes draws with Underworld Dreams and Black Vise.  That was my answer.  I tested two in the main - it was great against the Deck, but not a guaranteed victory either, since they had answers.  I had cut one Recall to make room for it, but after testing decided that Recall provided about the same impact as a second Blood Moon main against the Deck and was far better against everything else.  I also added Mishra’s Factory to the deck, as it was missing from my March versions.  It’s extra answers to opposing Factories and weenies, and also gets in a few points of damage here and there.  I basically took that page from The Deck’s handbook of winning, as I asked myself how do they win so much?  The answer is that when they are in a top deck war, they hit for 2 or 4 with Mishra’s Factory.  I needed to have the same capability.  Even 2 copies improved the deck a lot from before.  So, now I have my answer against The Deck: mana screwing both of us.  Eventually I would draw Black Vise and Howling Mine and win that way, or with burn.

Tournament Day

I drove just under three hours to the tournament in Hartford.  Nothing too eventful on the drive.

It was a good venue: a well-lit Elks Lodge.  It was great to see it so well attended.  I found a card to donate to the prize table and we all signed cards and ogled the prizes.  It was fun.  This was actually the first Old School tournament I’ve attended where we did the signing cards thing.  I haven’t been able to attend a lot of them, and previous plans like attending the Chicago tournament fell through.  So it was a new thing for me.

Round One

I got paired against Paul Kovalov who was playing Basalt Monolith/Power Artifact Combo.  Fun and weird deck!  He ran Ring of Ma’ruf to get Fireball to win, which I found out game two.

Game one, I have only one Shatter main deck, so I wanted to save it for Basalt Monolith.  I watched his mana carefully.  A lot of Tundras and Underground Seas, and that probably meant some counter magic.  I waited for my chances to resolve Underworld Dreams, and I think I stuck one.  I was holding my one Shatter, which I might have gotten off of Demonic Tutor to stave off a possible loss once he got to 5 mana.   Unfortunately, a Mind Twist that would empty my hand gave me no opportunity to use it on Basalt Monolith, as he hadn’t played one, so I used the Shatter on Sol Ring to keep him off two mana for next turn.  I figured with possible Transmute Artifact in his deck, Sol Ring was the best enabler out, and the only other target was Mox Sapphire.  Anyway, I drew into a Timetwister before he was able to assemble anything, and I think he was on 13 from random Mana Vault pings and maybe some burn from me.  I cast Timetwister and drew into Winds of Change to do 14 damage and it was off to game two.

Game two, he was on the play and had an outstanding start.  Turn one Time Walk into untap, Timetwister, resetting my opening hand.  Fortunately, I did have a passable hand after the new seven, but nothing too fast.  I played a land and passed.  He played more land and cast Regrowth on Timetwister - another one might be coming next turn.  I played Black Vise and he got rid of it somehow before casting Timetwister again.  He was getting quite ahead on permanents on board, and played out his artifact mana.  Then it might have been the next turn when he cast Mind Twist on me for what was probably my whole hand.  I couldn’t do much from that point - he had too much board advantage and I was short on cards in hand.  It was only a matter of time before he found Power Artifact for his Monolith and Ring of Ma’ruf to get the Fireball win.  I wasn’t too down about it, because I knew his hand had been the kind of special one that doesn’t come too often, and it wouldn’t be likely to happen in game 3.

Game three, I was on the play and had a good start.  I had brought in all my artifact destruction and I think a Red Elemental Blast.  I kept a hand with turn one Howling Mine, and shortly thereafter an Underworld Dreams.  I got a second Howling Mine in play.  I used Shatters to keep his mana under control, including Shattering a naked Basalt Monolith, which he was forced to play on turn three without counter protection because his life total was dwindling.  I dropped a second Underworld Dreams and the game was over fairly quickly in my favor.

Games 2-1, Match Record 1-0.

Round Two

I played Jason Schwartz in round two; he was playing Mishra’s Workshop artifact aggro.  I had played and beaten him in the March NEOS event, and we were both on the same decks.  Balance was super important in the March event to clear his 4/4 artifacts, and I expected it would be again.  In March, I used Recall to Balance him twice.  I wanted to keep my eye out for that kind of line.

Game one, he opened as usual, plopping out tons of artifact mana, and either a threat or an Icy Manipulator.  I don’t recall the details of this game that much; only that I think I did Balance him once, and I used Maze of Ith to keep his guys under control.  But random beats and Triskelion pings got me down to a low life total, around 5-6 life, and my Howling Mines kept him supplied with creatures.  He took a few pings from his own Mana Vaults and some damage from Underworld Dreams.  I think he had a Mirror Universe in play.  After he cast Timetwister, he played out three Icy Manipulators and used them to make Maze of Ith of little use. I was facing lethal on board the next turn and had three draws from the two Howling Mines out in order to find something to kill him.  He was also at around 6 life.  I drew into a Psionic Blast, and had a Lightning Bolt in hand.  This was a close game, but I got there.

I think this round was over in two games, but I don’t remember exactly.  Assuming I didn’t forget a whole game:
Game two, I brought in my three Shatters and Hurkyl’s Recall.  I took out Blood Moons - my reasoning was: although it shuts off Mishra’s Workshop and Mishra’s Factory, it’s still easy enough for him to cast artifacts with all the Sol Rings and Mana Vaults.  I had Hurkyl’s Recall in my opening hand, and it was just a matter of setting it up properly.  I also had Maze of Ith, Dark Ritual, Underworld Dreams, and Timetwister after the first couple of draws.  I opened with Library of Alexandria, which delayed my plans a bit, but that was okay.  He opened with a creature, Su-Chi.  I played Maze of Ith to stall it, although I may have taken one hit.  He copied the Su-Chi the next turn.  I would need two colored mana sources to set up Dark Ritual and Timetwister.  After playing out these two more mana sources, I was ready.  He was at 16 from pings from Underworld Dreams and his Mana Vault.  I cast Shatter on a Su-Chi on my turn so he couldn’t play Mishra’s Factory and prevent mana burn to himself.  He dropped to 12.  I intentionally took a hit from Su-Chi, going to 12, holding Hurkyl’s Recall until the end of turn.  He plays out Icy Manipulator and passes.  I cast Hurky’s Recall on him, bouncing mana rocks, two Su-Chis and an Icy.  I untap, cast Timetwister with one mana remaining, and a Black Vise, Underworld Dreams, and maybe a Howling Mine in play.  He drops to 5 and scoops, as he is dead to Vise plus Underworld Dreams.  Hurkyl’s Recall was so dominating - I am glad I put it in my sideboard; it was a choice made without much testing, but I figured it was less narrow of a card than an extra Blue Elemental Blast or Red Elemental Blast (those underperformed for me in March).

Games 2-0    Match Record 2-0.  Perfect on Chaos Orb flips - I remember flipping to kill Triskelion in one of the games.

Round Three

I played against another Jason, Jason Morawski (as Jason Beaupre remarked online - not quite enough Jasons at this tournament).  Based on our pre-match chat, I learned: he had lost every die roll.  I also knew he was 2-0.  Based on that and the little chit-chat we had, I put him on The Deck, since it’s something that can do quite well on the draw with the extra card.  

Game one, I was on the play and took a line turn one that lost me the game.  My opening hand had Demonic Tutor, Dark Ritual, Balance, Howling Mine, Land.  I had to figure out what to do with Demonic Tutor.  Having put him on the Deck, which sometimes runs no creatures, I figured Balance would be most useful reducing his card count rather than creatures (since I mistakenly assumed he had none).  I Tutored for Lotus and cast Howling Mine and Balance, bringing him to two cards in hand.  I was unpleasantly surprised when he played Mishra’s Workshop and a turn one beater - I think it was a Juggernaut or Su-Chi.  I got steamrolled that game, but learned what his deck was.  His build was similar to Jason Schwartz’s, but seemed to have more blue spells like Transmute Artifact, and he played Juggernaut, whereas Jason Schwartz did not.  Onto game two.

Game two, like last round, I brought in the artifact destruction, trimmed a Black Vise since it’s less useful than Lightning Bolt, especially against Juggernaut.  I also brought in Strip Mine, to use against Mishra’s Workshop.  I take out Blood Moon for the same reasons as the last round.  Of course, I take out the Abyss against an artifact deck.  This game was another good use of Hurkyl’s Recall.  At some point around turn 5 or 6, he had seven artifacts in play: three or four moxes, a Juggernaut, maybe some other stuff.  I hadn’t taken too much damage, as I think I was controlling his board with Maze of Ith and Lightning Bolt.  I had Black Vise, Underworld Dreams, and Howling Mine in play.  I cast Hurkyl’s Recall in my main phase, and passed the turn with mana up to cast the two copies of Shatter in my hand, should it even be necessary.  He untapped with Black Vise and 13 cards in hand, and took 9 damage, down to 2 life.  There was no way out, but he thought about it for a while.  He lacked the mana to Transmute for Mirror Universe, but even if he did, I just Shatter it.  I win that game in crushing fashion, pretty quickly, thanks to Hurkyl’s Recall.

Game three, I kept the same sideboard and I used removal to keep him off much of anything.  He played out Mishra’s Workshop and some moxes into Juggernaut.  I have in hand Strip Mine and Maze of Ith.  I decide Strip Mine is most pressing, so I use that right away to get rid of Mishra’s Workshop, choosing to take a hit from Juggernaut.  That was a key play that kept him low on mana, as he only able to find Mishra’s Factory next. The next turn, he tries to Copy artifact Juggernaut but I have 3 mana up and Psionic Blast the Juggernaut.  He has to copy a Mox Sapphire instead.  I then Shatter the Mox Sapphire, continue to ping him with Underworld Dreams and Howling Mine, and he’s taking four a turn after I play a second copy of Underworld Dreams.  Because of Strip Mine and my use of Shatter on his mana, he never gets much going.  The sideboard plan of artifact destruction has worked well.

Games 2-1, Match Record 3-0.

Round Four

I face Josh Langdon, on a Jeskai (Blue/White/Red) Aggro deck with Savannah Lions, Order of Leitbur, Serendib Efreet, and Counterspell.

Game one I figure out what he’s about.  I think I play out turn one Underworld Dreams off of Ritual or Lotus.  When he plays Serendib Efreet, I counter its effectiveness with Maze of Ith, and I’m happy he is now taking one extra point of damage a turn.  I take only two hits off a Savannah Lions this whole game.  He plays out Order of Leitbur.  At the end of the turn, maybe around turn 4, he has up a Mana Vault and an Underground Sea.  I flip my Chaos Orb, not to kill the newly played creature, but just the blue land, to make sure there is no Power Sink or Spell Blast.  I plan to win the next turn, as I have Timetwister in hand.  His life total has gone 20, 19, 18, 16, 14, 12 (2 a turn because of his own Efreet), 9, 8, dead.  I untap and cast Timetwister as planned, and he scoops, as he is going to 1 - dead to his own Serendib Efreet and the Underworld Dreams, even if I don’t draw burn or Black Vise.

Game two was pretty interesting.  Early on, I had played a land and a Black Vise and have 5 pretty good cards in hand: Underworld Dreams, Dark Ritual, Wheel of Fortune, Maze of Ith, Blood Moon.  I know the Moon is going to be pretty good against his greedy mana base - I didn’t see a single basic land in the deck, and I know these Jeskai decks that have heavy white mana requirements but also need to cast Counterspell on double blue have little room for anything except Tundras, Plateaus, Volcanic Islands, Cities of Brass, and apparently Underground Sea!  He casts Mind Twist for 3 and gets Underworld Dreams, Wheel of Fortune, and Maze of Ith.  He would have gotten three good cards no matter what.  I am left with just one land and Black Vise in play, a Dark Ritual and Blood Moon in hand.  I draw Badlands for the turn and it’s all over.  I slam Blood Moon by using the Dark Ritual.  He never casts another non-mox spell in the game.  I draw into Howling Mine, followed by Howling Mine, and just finish him off with some burn.

Games 2-0, Match Record 4-0.

Break - We go have lunch.  It’s after 3:30 p.m.  We come back and I play some Brawl starting at 4:30.  We get to choose our format for the last three rounds - either Brawl, Alpha 40, PreModern, or Old School Draft.

Brawl Time!

Brawl is a format I haven’t played much of.  It’s like Commander in that you are allowed to play only singleton copies of each card.  You have 60 cards in the deck, including the Commander, and you start at 20 life.  For this tournament, it’s best of 1.

I built a Sol’Kanar the Swamp King deck and packed it with good cards.  Ancestral Recall is banned but there’s still plenty of broken stuff.  I have mine packed with lots and lots of removal, a few threats, and plan to win really quickly.  And that plan absolutely works.  I crushed this event, winning every round by turn 6 at the latest and as early as before the opponent got to take turn 3.  I don’t think any opponent damaged me.  I did take a few pings off of my own City of Brass though.

Brawl Round 1, I am paired against Sean, spirit award winner for the day.  He is playing mono-black, with Uncle Istvan as Commander.  I played out a quick turn 3 or so Sol’Kanar, while he plays out Wall of Bone on turn 3.   He asks the judge something, and I guess from the circumstances that he has in hand Ashes to Ashes and just needs a second target for the card.  I never got confirmation about that, but I surmise I’m correct.  So I attack for 5, and cast Earthquake for to kill the Wall of Bone without its regeneration mana up.  As I have swamp walk, he can’t do much to stop the 5 damage beats.   I think he takes two more attacks without stopping it, maybe casts his commander, and I finish the game very quickly.  It’s over in about 4 minutes.

He asks me to play another game for fun, in which he learns that Urborg can remove swamp walk.  That makes is slightly more interesting, but I win again.  I think he’s a bit disappointed and makes some comment about me being very “spikey.”  Hey, it’s a tournament, I’m just trying to do my best, and I’m having a good time too.  But I do think this format has some very busted decks, so I wonder about the long-term health of it.  It seems similar to Tiny Leaders (a commander variant where every card costs 3 or less), which has become relegated to a niche format after a brief boom in popularity, partially because it was too busted - although, I really did enjoy playing that format too.

Games 1-0.  Match Record 5-0.

Brawl Round 2, I am paired against Jason Seaman (not enough Jasons, right?).  He is running Grixis (blue, red, black) as well, with Tetsuo Umezawa as his Commander.  This game is also over in about five minutes. 

I win the die roll and think for a while about my first turn.  He remarks: is your hand that busted?  I say: yes.  In fact, this is the most busted game I play all tournament, although both uses of Hurkyl’s Recall were up there.

Turn one, I play land, Sol Ring, Mox Jet, Demonic Tutor.  I also have Wheel of Fortune in hand.  I look through my deck and take Time Walk and pass the turn.  He plays Badlands. 

Turn two: I play City of Brass and cast Sol’Kanar.  A 5/5 on turn 2 - achieved.  He plays Mox Sapphire and land, and casts Tetsuo Umezawa (and I gain a life from Sol’Kanar).  He remarks that Tetsuo can kill my Sol’Kanar if I attack.  It’s not relevant.  He’ll never get another turn.

Turn three: I attack with Sol’Kanar, which is unblockable.  He goes to 15.  I cast Time Walk.  I think I drew a Mox Ruby for the turn, which I cast.  I cast Wheel of Fortune, draw into Serendib Efreet, Sengir Vampire, land, Black Lotus.  I play the Lotus and the land and cast Sengir Vampire.  I take my Time Walk turn.  I attack for 9, bring him to 6, and then tap 4 lands, two moxes, and Sol Ring to Disintegrate for 7.   He is a bit shocked.

Games 1-0.  Match Record 6-0.

Brawl Round 3, I am paired against Chuck.  He’s an older guy but started playing Magic only two years ago.  He has a Nicol Bolas, Elder Dragon deck.  He plays only one spell this game: a Nettling Imp.  It sits there as I bash in with turn 3 Serendib Efreet, turn 4 Sol’Kanar.  Take 3, Take 8, Take 8, concede.

Games 1-0.  Match Record 7-0.

So, I finished with an undefeated match record!  Brian Selden, the 1998 World Champion of Magic, was there and also finished 7-0, but I win the tournament on tiebreakers.

I had a great time and then played some Alpha 40 matches for fun against some busted decks.  I come close to stabilizing against the mox, mox, lotus, at least quintuple Black Vise deck.  With some life gain and damage prevention in my deck, I’m actually favored to win after being at about 14 life with a Serra Angel on the field - I have a 2-3 turn clock.  But he topdecks Braingeyser to put an extra 8 cards in my hand.  That was the closest I came to winning any games.   I lost also against the land destruction Royal Assassin, Nightmare mono-black deck.  Guess it’s time to get some removal in my deck - maybe a Northern Paladin.  Alpha 40 is a very fun format, but it’s absolutely a pay-to-win format.  If you bought in 2-4 years ago, you paid a lot less.  I’m just getting into it now, but creating an ideal deck is very expensive.

I had plans to play some NEOS April matches at the tournament, but it’s exhausting to think through a lot of rounds.  After I’m 6-0 I play my match against Dave Firth Bard.  He beats me 2-1 with mono green aggro.  It’s difficult to switch gears from Brawl back to the more mind-intensive Underworld Dreams deck, and I make some very subpar decisions, such as not fetching Balance with Demonic Tutor, but instead getting Earthquake.   Then he plays two fliers.  Oops.  It shows that it does take good decision-making to pilot the deck well.  Recall and Demonic Tutor are the two most decision-intensive cards in the deck, and there’s also the matter of general long-term strategy with Howling Mines, which lands to play, etc.  That’s at least a comforting thought - when I’m fresh I’m likely to play it better.

I want to give a big thanks to Dave Firth Bard for organizing the tournament, and everyone who showed up there.  It was a great event, and I’d like to do it again next year.   I've won big tournaments before, but I haven't been that spikey in recent years and it's good to get another win in a 50 person tourney! 

Finally, I want to wish good luck to all of the Americans going over very soon to Noobcon for the Old School tournament there!  Go crush!