Long time no see… but today we have quality guest post by Danny de Rooij and Flint Espil. Enjoy! / Martin
Hiya nerds! Today, we have something special for you. I, Danny that is, have found someone crazy enough to cycle “Le Tour the France” with me. Meet our Expert Gamer: Flint Espil!
Flint and I met in small online tourney, and I shared some Fluctuator insights which perfectly matched his idea for the next North American Premodern Championship at Lobstercon—playing a fast, fun and competitive deck, with time between rounds to mingle with friends.
We would like to tell two stories:
- How, and why, we changed the perfect Fluctuator decklist
- A detailed tournament report by Flint with the new list in action
Building the deck
We started with this version from 2021:
This deck, which I discussed thoroughly in this article, was a really good version of Fluctuator. In our opinion, it is still a very good list to pick up for your next tournament. However, beating blue decks was incredibly hard and frustrating. It’s cool we can kill on turn 2, but actual gameplay against a Meddling Mage, Counterspell, or Annul was too hard to deal with in games 2 and 3.
Problem cards for Fluctuator…
So I worked on a list to win these matchups, using a storm sideboard:
The sideboard strategy against all non-blue decks is to shuffle up and try again. Against blue decks: –6 lands, –3 white cards, –5 blue creatures, –1 Drain Life +15 sideboard cards!
My result was a top 4 in a local Dutch tournament, so if storm is your thing, give it a spin. Let’s go in detail about what I’ve changed to get it to a state to compete against control decks.
Can you honestly say you knew these cards?
I was desperately searching for an alternative win-con and together with Bas de Vaan (co-writer of the first article) I found a way to win without Drain Life and Haunting Misery. The idea behind storm was to bring all 15 cards in, remove your win-con and be less fragile to discard spells and counterspells. Creature win-cons are really good when you can Raise Dead them. Duress or Cabal Therapy on Drain Life was happening too often to my liking. When having a Fluctuator in play, every storm copy of Reaping the Graves is essentially: draw a card. Chain spells: Lotus Petal, Songs of the Damned into Reaping the Graves for three, to draw more and more cycling cards to finally draw a second Songs of the Damned and second Reaping the Graves
Then you can pick up your deck and…
- play Songs of the Damned #3 and #4 for 40+ mana
- cast Blood Celebrant
- let the opponent read Blood Celebrant
- make five red mana with Blood Celebrant, cast Flamewave Invoker
- let the opponent read Flamewave Invoker
- deal 20 damage with Flamewave Invoker‘s ability
- smile and wave and feel like a true expert gamer #expertgaming
Sideboard cards main
To make room for the storm sideboard, I moved some of the previous sideboard cards to the main deck, by stretching the amount of creatures to the bare minimum: 26. If you go lower, chances will drop significantly on your combo turn and you might not have enough creatures for Songs of the Damned to deal 20 damage to your opponent. The three sideboard cards I opted for in 2021 were 1 Clear and 2 Gilded Light. Clear was needed for having an out to Solitary Confinement and Gilded Light for Tormod’s Crypt. Nowadays, we opted for Expunge. Nevertheless, you have three flex slots available to pick for your local metagame.
This one is easy, the blue creatures are needed due to the Misdirection in the sideboard. However, Pendrell Drake and Keeneye Aven are actually excellent cards to stop Hypnotic Specter, Mishra’s Factory, or Faerie Conclave. And have you ever stopped a turn 1 Goblin Lackey with a turn 2 Sandbar Merfolk?
Drain Life is better in actual games than Haunting Misery. Haunting Misery is 0.06 turns faster but Drain Life has the upside to sometimes be reasonable against Meddling Mage or really fringe cards like True Believer.
No Lotus Petal main
This was the most important change I made. The first list was all about the fastest way possible. In a lot of games Lotus Petal was not needed, because you already have an untapped black source in Dromar’s Cavern. Having only five bricks (three remaining Fluctuator, Drain Life and Songs of the Damned) will make sure a mulligan to five on the draw will be a consistent turn 3 kill. Always bear in mind, if Dromar’s Cavern is in the bottom, and you don’t have black mana available you could still fizzle on that turn. I asked Bas (thanks!) again to simulate the current decklist and what we found was this:
- Original list, average combo turn: 3.8220
- New list, average combo turn: 3.9225
Still beating turn 4! We ran 10 million simulations using the same simulator, with the new decklist math on: https://github.com/Bassiuz/fluctuator-simulator/tree/feature/add-no-petal. Biggest difference is of course that turn 2 kills are impossible. But the new list has a turn 3 kill of 59.6%! This has become a glass cannon deck with Gorilla Glass.
After a while I still thought it was a bit too steep to get your whole sideboard for the blue and black matchups. In our data, the matchups did improve, but were still below par. Sometimes it felt that just not sideboarding would lead to a better outcome. It helped that nobody really knew what you were doing, but countering /discarding Songs of the Damned or Fluctuator was devastating. I wanted some cards I really liked, mostly Miscalculation and Expunge.
The quest for a better sideboard
I wanted to ditch the whole storm sideboard altogether for a different plan. Due to the nature of the deck, you always draw sideboard cards if you land a Fluctuator turn 2. Then I tried a variety of sideboard cards with some being dead awful (looking at you Wasteland and Dust Bowl) and some being kinda ok, like 4 Living Death and Null Rod. Null Rod shuts down Tormod’s Crypt and the entire MUD deck without disrupting Fluctuator. Then, I decided, let’s ask Hugo to chime in.
I contacted a fellow combo aficionado and friend of mine Hugo de Jong with this problem. I told him: “Hugo, I need an instant speed alternate win con for Fluctuator. That’s the only reason this deck is not capable of winning consistently against UW Landstill. Go.” After some thoughts and much too deep testing of even worse sideboard cards than named above (yes I tried to get Stoic Champion viable with an extra Lair land, no it’s awful), Hugo mentioned Twilight’s Call.
Twilight’s Call was everything that I wanted. I compared it to playing Living End and Violent Outburst at the end of the opponent’s turn to do it again on your own turn, but it was even better. The matchup was not about jamming all storm spells hoping Fluctuator is still in play anymore. It was now on hand sculpting and overloading the opponent with too many counterspells and the oops-we-win on your end step spell. The package was leaner as well. You only need one extra Songs of the Damned and two Twilight’s Call together with the eight counterspells. Miscalculation is optional but normally pretty good against other blue decks. This is perfect for us, because it made room for extra sideboard cards.
I was really excited and shared this new tech on a fun Friday Night Magic Premodern hosted by Anton Glans and met Flint in round 1. After discussing Flint’s goals of relaxing more this year (i.e., imbibing) and playing an off-the-wall deck I shared the list. He loved it. Flint and I had a lot of ongoing discussions about this deck but I wanted him to have the decency to embrace a real Fluctuator playing experience, with these rules:
- You must play sleeveless
- You must put a rubber band around your deck like in 5th grade
- Your deckbox is your pants
Flint honorably agreed and did even better:
The metagame shifted to much more Meddling Mages and fewer pesky enchantments like Solitary Confinement and Ivory Mask. While chatting with Flint we opted to play more Expunge maindeck for Meddling Mage, but also when you have to play an honest game of trying to deal damage with 1/1 flyers and 5/5 Djinn’s. One Gilded Light also stayed in the maindeck for those annoying decks (Parfait, anyone?) that run Tormod’s Crypt in their 60. In the sideboard, the package against blue decks is still 12 cards, but all cards are actually playable instead of storm spells.
So without further ado, the final list for Lobstercon:
Now over to you Flint—tell us about the strategies and the tournament!
Matchup strategies and sideboarding plans
Thanks Danny! After deciding the what, it was time to discuss the how. Danny and I spent a fair bit of time messaging back and forth on how the deck plays, the math behind comboing, and the general game plan for common matchups. I then spent a total of four pre-sideboarded games playtesting with Michael Arnold—two against Landstill and two against Mono U Dreadnought. The plan worked flawlessly against Landstill. Dreadnought was, well, unwinnable. After doing some final fine tuning (see above) against Meddling Mages I felt the deck was ready to roll and typed up the following matchup plan for the tournament.
UW Landstill / control
- Out: 4 Sandbar Merfolk, 2 Sandbar Serpent, 1 Drain Life, 1 Gilded Light, 4 Smoldering Crater
- In: 4 Miscalculation, 4 Misdirection, 2 Twilight’s Call, 1 Songs of the Damned, 1 Expunge
Strategy: turn 2 Fluctuator with Misdirection or turn 4 Fluctuator with Miscalculation and Misdirection is fine. Play out creatures and shape the game to where you win with double Twilight’s Call. In game 3, bring Drain Life back in if they play Meddling Mage.
Dreadnought (mono U and UW)
- Out: 2 Expunge, 1 Gilded Light, 4 Smoldering Crater, 2 Drifting Djinn
- In: 1 Lotus Petal, 4 Miscalculation, 4 Misdirection
Strategy: Slam turn 2 Fluctuator if possible and pray. Corner case scenarios should let you misdirect a Vision Charm at our Fluctuator or a Stifle at a cycle trigger but this match is likely unwinnable.
Goblins with Tormod’s Crypt
- Out: 4 Sandbar Merfolk, 2 Sandbar Serpent, 1 Drain Life, 4 Smoldering Crater, 1 Drifting Djinn
- In: 4 Miscalculation, 4 Misdirection, 1 Expunge, 1 Songs of the Damned, 2 Twilight’s Call
Oath Parfait (without counterspells)
- Out: 2 Smoldering Crater, 2 Sandbar Merfolk, 1 Drain Life
- In: 1 Expunge, 1 Gilded Light, 2 Twilight’s Call, 1 Songs of the Damned
Strategy: Sculpt your hand to be able to play Gilded Light then cast Fluctuator, then win with Drain Life OR cast Fluctuator, pass, then Gilded Light on their turn and end step cycle then cast Twilight’s Call.
- Out: 1 Expunge (or 2 Expunge if they have Tormod’s Crypt in game 2)
- In: 1 Clear (1 Gilded Light if they have Tormod’s Crypt in game 2)
- Stare deeply at your sideboard cards, envision a bright future that can fluctuate, and… no changes, shuffle up, let’s go!
Strategy: Mulligan all hands with Drain Life. Keep all others. Play out creatures to buy time.
Strategy: Watch out for Tormod’s Crypt!
Strategy: Slam turn 2 Fluctuator and combo.
And with that it was off to Boston!
Tournament report—a meme and a dream
Preamble: After procuring some delicious cold brew from a nearby shop and going for a walk with Mike Heup, we headed to the venue and checked in. Several people asked what deck I was playing but I refused to give any info. In fact the only people who knew were Danny, Michael Arnold, and Mike Flores—which meant the entire NY crew likely also knew. As many of you may know, Flores lost a bet and had to play whatever deck I recommended. Flores wanted to play whatever I was on and so I informed him of Fluctuator a few months beforehand. I knew that ultimately he wouldn’t go for it. What Flores didn’t know, however, was the Stabilizer gimmick.
As the rounds went by more people began asking. Some even tried racing to my table before my games wrapped (looking at you, James Smits!). By the middle of the swiss the cat was mostly out of the bag, but I still managed to surprise some folks in the later rounds. Here is the breakdown of each round as best as I can remember. Keep in mind also that I brought no pen, no paper, no dice, and my opponents kept track of my life total in every round.
Round 1: Eddie Hock on Mono U Tide
I hadn’t had a beer yet and due to my coffee the games flew by. I checked with Eddie and he seems to remember me comboing game 1 and then casting a lot of pesky fliers game 2. I closed out my second game win with an end of turn Twilight’s Call when Eddie tapped out for a Fact or Fiction and I signed my first Stabilizer.
Round 2: Colin Smith on Sligh
This is the matchup I was hoping for all day. The games are pretty straightforward against Sligh. In game 1 I combo off on turn three. In game 2 I mulligan to four cards and don’t quite have enough cyclers to get there in time. In game 3 I start comboing on turn 4 (my life total is high and I want the extra card before cycling). Colin responds to my cycling with an overload and I cycle in response. I have enough cards to get there. Side note: Colin destroys me in the 93/94 tournament the next day.
Round 3: Matt Deitz on the Rock
In game 1 he opens with Duress and takes my Fluctuator (boooooo). I cycle a few cards and find a Fluctuator. He casts Pernicious Deed and passes back. On turn 4 he passes with mana open to pop Pernicious Deed for two. I cast a Fluctuator and start cycling. He indeed sacrifices the Pernicious Deed and I keep going, eventually getting everything I need to win. In game 2 he keeps a hand with Withered Wretch and no hand disruption. I keep a hand with Fluctuator and two lands—one a Blasted Landscape. I cast a Fluctuator turn 2 and pass. If memory serves he tries to destroy it and I cycle enough cards to find another Fluctuator. I play it turn 3, he can’t answer it, and I combo out.
Round 4: Colton Abrams on Blue (Non-Oath) Parfait
We head up to the stage for the feature match and Colton and I shuffle up. The details here are a bit hazy but the recording will eventually be streamed by Andrew Walker on Twitch (OS_KirdApe) and available on YouTube (Mise Well Watch). In game 1 he realizes what I’m on and I cannot win. In game 2 he mistakenly thinks he has me and I Misdirection a counter to get a Fluctuator into play, sculpt my hand, and end-of-turn cast a Twilight’s Call with countermagic backup for the win. In game 3 we go to time but I have a Fluctuator in play and just need two more turns to draw enough cyclers to not fizzle. I have the counterspells but not the time. The match ends in a 1-1-1 draw but I still sign a Stabilizer for Colton.
Round 5: Pat Sweet on RG Goblins
In game 1 I win on turn 3 and having never seen the deck before, Pat is both amused and surprised. In game 2 he has a slower start but Goblin Warchief into a hasted Goblin Tinkerer destroys my Fluctuator with Tormod’s Crypt backup. I cycle into another and play Polluted Mire so I will have access to two black mana next turn for the double Songs of the Damned in response to a Tormod’s Crypt activation. With a Goblin Warchief and Goblin Piledriver in play my life is still high enough to pass the turn and survive. Pat has no cards in hand and four mana available. I just have to dodge a Siege-Gang Commander. Pat untapped, draws his card, and casts…
In game 3 I mulligan to six, then five, then four and keep a hand with Blasted Landscape, Lotus Petal, Fluctuator, and I believe one cycling card. As I’m shuffling to four Pat seems nervous and I tell him the game is probably already over. I did win a few mulls to four this tournament but against Goblins that’s a tall order. Pat leads with a Goblin Lackey. I play a turn 1 Fluctuator and brick two turns in a row drawing more Fluctuators instead of Dromar’s Cavern into Drain Life. I acquire my first loss of the day and grab another oat soda.
Round 6: Raphael Caron on Parfait
A lot of folks know Raph from the community and I was excited to meet him. Not only was he very polite, but hilarious. Raph noted that the Stabilizer gimmick is actually quite similar to the old Johnny Cage Friendship finisher where he autographs a photo. Not intended but perhaps I was inspired? In game 1 I drop a turn 2 Fluctuator, wait a few turns to play around Orim’s Chant or Abeyance (Raph suspiciously keeping white mana open and not making any plays) but eventually go for it.
In game 2 he Duresses away my Fluctuator on turn 2. I mistakenly run out a creature to apply pressure and am immediately punished by an Oath of Druids. He oaths into Radiant’s Dragoons and the Drain Life plan is looking grim. He eventually plays Tormod’s Crypt and we go to game 3.
In game 3 he Crumbles an early Fluctuator and I cycle into another. He plays Tormod’s Crypt and lets me cycle into my second Songs of the Damned. I continue cycling and when he activates Tormod’s Crypt in response to Songs #1 I cast the second one to close out the game.
Round 7: Michael Periera on Angel McAngelface (WUR)
As we get started at the table Mitja, a very nice Old school player and card dealer from Germany, looks over at me and scoffs at what I’m playing. I try to tell him it’s a fun deck and he shakes his head in disapproval! Game 1: We go back and forth as Michael counters an early Fluctuator. Eventually I get another into play and combo off.
In game 2 I keep a sketchy hand and Michael lands a Meddling Mage naming Fluctuator. During my end step he casts Fire // Ice targeting me and I Misdirection it to his Meddling Mage. He untaps and casts a second Mage naming Fluctuator. The next turn a sexy Dwarven Miner joins the battlefield and proceeds to destroy all of my lands. It makes me very happy in an odd, nostalgic way. I scoop up my cards and we proceed to game 3.
In game 3 I land an early Fluctuator thanks to Misdirection backup. We then enter a staring contest for the next several turns as Michael runs out a Meddling Mage naming a card no longer in my deck—Drain Life. He then runs out Tormod’s Crypt so I have to carefully draw for a few turns and cycle sparingly to sculpt my hand before the Meddling Mage slowly but surely kills me. Several turns pass and I have everything I need but am waiting for the right moment. The ladykiller himself (yes, Dwarven Miner) comes into play and is itching to get to work. I eventually have a hand with 2 Songs of the Damned, Twilight’s Call, 3 Misdirection, 1 Miscalculation and 1 Expunge. I move to discard and mentally cross my fingers that Dwarven Miner is an overeager beaver who wants to get busy working. Michael hesitates for a moment and then decides to tap his mana to destroy one of my lands. In response I cast Songs of the Damned. He activates Tormod’s Crypt. I cast Songs #2. He tries Counterspell and I Misdirect it to the #1 Songs. The second Songs of the Damned resolves and after a resolved Twilight’s Call (and several Cloud of Faeries activations) I Expunge the Lightning Angel he brings back into play. He untaps and extends his hand. Mitja can’t believe what’s just happened and tells me he would like to buy my deck. Not the cards but the actual deck. I think I made a believer out of him.
Round 8: Nick Mayo on Elves
Going into round 8 it became clear that I might actually be able to meme AND live the dream. At this point I had dodged Phyrexian Dreadnought decks all day and had to hope for a good matchup. Likewise, Nick had to dodge Fluctuator, which he knew I was playing given we’d sat next to each other in the previous rounds. Sorry, Nick!
In game 1 Nick is on the play and manages to slow me down with a Tangle Wire. Unfortunately, the best he can do is cast a Deranged Hermit on turn 5 and pass back. I combo off and we go to the next game. Game 2 is pretty academic. Nick doesn’t have a Tangle Wire and I win on turn 3. I shake his hand, sign a Stabilizer for him, and buy him a beer.
Quarterfinals: Jay McCowan on Landstill
Well it happened. I’m in the top 8 with the silliest competitive deck in the format. Jens and I laugh about it over another beer while we wait for the pairings. When he sees I’m up against Landstill Jens asks if I can win. As we walk to the table I tell him “well I’m going to cast all of my creatures game 1 and then hope to beat him with Twilight’s Call in game 2 or 3.” In game 1 I do exactly as I say. I play out one or two creatures at a time and at some point Jay realizes he just can’t let Pendrell Drakes and Keeneye Avens go unanswered. He begins using his Swords to Plowshares, Wrath of Gods, and counter magic to stem the bleeding. Fortunately for me, he doesn’t realize that one of his two Dust Bowls could be used to destroy my only blue source in play. The game gets down to the final turns and he activates a Faerie Conclave to block a flier and live another turn. I Expunge and he’s all out of counter magic.
Game 2: I have a slow start after a few mulligans and my early Fluctuator meets an Annul. I stare at the Misdirection in my hand as I place our beloved artifact in the graveyard. I’m stuck on lands and can’t pursue the game 1 play of running out creatures. Smelling blood in the water, Jay gets aggro with a pair of Mishra’s Factory and we head to game 3.
Game 3: What a game. I’m able to get Fluctuator into play with Misdirection backup and proceed to cycle but brick. The crowd gasps! Mathematically I’m expecting to brick but just need to begin sculpting my hand. I know there’s no way I can combo off given how many non-cyclers are in our deck. Jay plays a Tormod’s Crypt and is holding a lot of countermagic so I slow my roll. Since I have a Fluctuator, I keep my lands in hand and begin sculpting the double Twilight’s Call and countermagic hand. On Jay’s end step I go for it: Songs of the Damned → Tormod’s Crypt → Songs of the Damned → Counterspell → Misdirection → Smile → Twilight’s Call! All of my creatures come into play and swing in for lethal on my turn. Handshake → Stabilizer → Beers.
Semifinals: World champ Brian Selden on UW Landstill
I’ve only played Brian one other time in Premodern. Both Ron Taylor and I played his exact 75, gold-bordered, World Championship Survival Deck against him in one of the online monthly tournaments. What made it even better was Brian played ALSO played his list—except he cheated and added a 61st card. Apparently Squee, Goblin Nabob is very good with Survival of the Fittest. I was excited to play Brian and feeling pretty good about my Landstill matchup. I grabbed another beer and headed to the stage.
The match was recorded and will be available on Andrew’s Twitch/Youtube. In game 1 Brian makes the mistake of thinking I can’t cast Fluctuator until turn 3. On my turn 2 I drop a Blasted Landscape and cast Fluctuator. He Disenchants during his turn and I cycle in response. I untap, play another Fluctuator, and combo.
In game 2 I mulligan and eventually keep a hand with Fluctuator and counterspell backup. I play a land and never find another. Brian drops Tormod’s Crypt and *gasp* Black Vise!?! An odd choice for Landstill and when he plays a second Black Vise and starts attacking with Mishra’s Factorys he has all the pressure he needs. Pressure and counterspells good against combo? Who knew?
In game 3 I keep a hand that enables Fluctuator and am able to resolve it with Miscalculation backup. Unfortunately, Brian has another Tormod’s Crypt and not one, but TWO Black Vises on the battlefield in the first two turns. I have a bit more breathing room but again, due to mulligans, I do not have enough cycling gas in hand to find my second black mana source in time for the double Songs/Call kill. I see the writing on the wall and extend my hand. The dream is done and I couldn’t have asked for a better run. Before we leave the table I pull a final Stabilizer and ask Brian to sign it for me. We grab a beer and I wish him luck in the finals.
After a gripping final Selden managed to take down the tournament and we headed to the bar to celebrate. The feel in the room this year was once again magical. Others have already done it justice so I’ll resist the temptation to wax poetic. One final thank you to Jared Doucette and Dave Firth Bard for organizing an excellent event with no cash prize and donating so much to charity.
Phew, that was a lot right? Thanks for still being with us. Fluctuator-2023 version is capable of being a main player in today’s metagame. Hope you liked our little adventure and luckily we handed out some killer signed stabilizers to help you defeat the mirror 😉
Thanks for reading,
Danny and Flint