This is a tournament by Joshua Nyer from the US, from the recent Premodern Unchained online tournament. Note that this tournament was played with different rules than the standard Premodern rules, and with proxy cards allowed. Enjoy! / Martin
Hello! This is my tournament report from the Premodern Unchained event that was hosted by Flippi Boehm as part of his Premodern Explorer’s League—a series of casual online tournaments with twists on the baseline Premodern rules. The rules for Unchained is the same as Premodern, but any card (with the exception of the ante cards) that is on the Premodern banlist is restricted instead. Based on discussions I had with many of the other players after each match, the format felt very much like Vintage, but with a fully unexplored meta unique to Premodern and containing a lot of untapped potential. Part of this writeup will be a play-by-play of my games, but equally important I’m going to include direct quotes from other players on their thoughts on this format variant and whether they’d want to play it again.
At first glance, the inclusion of the restricted cards leads to the conclusion that storm decks with Tendrils of Agony are the best thing to be doing. In practice, however, the many storm decks I faced were inconsistent and not as broken as they appear on paper. There are also a lot of disruptive cards—both proactive cards like Null Rod and reactive ones like counterspells—that can get in the way of storm’s gameplan. In the end, several players ran storm decks anyway, but three interesting things occurred.
First, even though storm was prevalent, almost every single player created a unique variant. While pretty much everyone was casting Tendrils of Agony as the payoff, people were getting there by different means. Some focused heavily on Academy Rector as a means to get Yawgmoth’s Bargain, some went for Burning Wish, and one went with Ill-Gotten Gains and Intuition. So even though everyone had access to the broken cards, creativity was still a huge part in card choices.
Second, because of the ruleset allowing proxies (since many of the restricted cards are hundreds of dollars), many players wanted to “scratch the storm itch” and play with all the busted cards, but once they got that out of their system, they were open to seeing what other decks people brought to the table and figure out what kind of meta the format would have.
Third, many of the players owned a lot of the restricted cards already (I saw very few actual proxies), and were happy to have the chance to sling the broken cards on the table again rather than have them sit in binders. A big attraction to playing Vintage is getting the chance to play with the busted cards, and see how non-busted cards fare against them. Anyone familiar with Vintage knows that while turn 1 wins are possible, it’s still not as guaranteed as one would think, and grindy Vintage matches still lead to very interesting gameplay, and the same held true here. In Justin Giovanniello’s words:
“Gameplay from this format felt like Premodern’s version of Vintage, and I love me some Vintage.”
If there was to be another Unchained event, the only card that I feel might need to be added to the restricted list is Lion’s Eye Diamond. Its interactions with the busted cards is insane, and all of the storm decks I faced ran it. I’m not 100% confident it’s necessary, but that was the only non-restricted card that stood out to me.
Let’s talk about my deck choice and the alternate decklists I was brewing and considering. The irony is that while I did end up winning the tournament, in hindsight I am not convinced that my deck choice was optimal. One of the biggest drawbacks to my deck is that it runs a high amount of reactive disruption instead of proactive disruption. While that technically saved my bacon in many scenarios, overall I feel I would have had even better results with a proactively disruptive deck that seeks to slam out lock pieces fast and then win with aggressive creatures. Anyone familiar with storm decks in Legacy and Vintage know that it’s a better gameplan to lay down a lock piece like Sphere of Resistance and then present a clock (even better if the clock is the disruptive piece, like Glowrider). It forces the storm player to dig for an answer to the lock piece. If you sit back with reactive disruption, they naturally have a lot of Duress effects that they can use to strip away your reactive disruption on the combo turn. Storm is historically a sorcery speed deck that is stronger against instant-speed interaction, and less strong against resolved lock pieces.
The other reason I don’t feel like my deck choice was optimal was that while I decided to metagame and prepare for the kind of decks I thought I was going to face the most, I didn’t anticipate just how narrow my field was actually going to be. Out of all of my opponents, only one of them played basic lands. Had I opted to go with a mono red Blood Moon deck containing Sphere of Resistance, Pyrostatic Pillar, Spellshock, and Ruination, I don’t think I would have lost a single game. The beauty of hindsight is that once people see the 17 total decks and try to explore more, that kind of hyper-focused meta call probably wouldn’t work in a second event, but if I had gone on that gamble, I would have won way more easily.
My deck choice for the tournament was UW Stifle-Nought. There are a couple of reasons that I went with this deck, and a big part of it was second-guessing what types of decks I would face. There are many brews that I was considering that would easily coast through a field of storm, but I kept thinking “well what happens if someone else decides to fight the meta just like me and runs a disruptive aggro deck?”
When choosing a deck, I gave myself the following criteria:
- I didn’t want to play with proxies. When looking at the busted cards and seeing which ones I already owned, I concluded that I really want to play with Brainstorm and Force of Will. (I did on a hunch purchase a Channel because it’s only $0.25, and bought a Strip Mine just in case).
- I didn’t want to die to storm on turn 1. This ended up being an incorrect deck restriction, since there are only a handful of games off the top of my head where a Daze, Force of Will, or Foil saved me on turn 1. Unchained is inconsistent enough where an aggressive deck with Duress, Cabal Therapy or Unmask would be just fine.
- If my counterspell suite was going to consist of Daze, Force of Will, and Foil, then Gush was going to be the card draw engine I needed. Standstill (another card advantage engine that’s good against storm) was not going to cut it-
- I was concerned with storm enough that I wanted to run Stifle, but Stifle also happened to be good against some of the other busted cards I thought was going to see, like Memory Jar and Academy Rector. I also wanted to run Stifle offensively rather than just hold it as a counterspell all the time.
These restrictions put me into the Stifle-Nought camp. Mono blue was very tempting since it would have allowed me to be very consistent and run 4 Wasteland and 1 Strip Mine (to complement Daze), but I really felt the need for Enlightened Tutor, and mono blue would fold to any aggressive deck (since Powder Keg alone wouldn’t save that kind of matchup). I was also searching for a lock piece card that’d stop storm, since Sphere of Resistance would make my combo cost four mana and I can’t do my combo with Arcane Laboratory. I discovered too late that Mana Maze was the stalling card I was looking for. I also couldn’t find the perfect hyper-aggressive blue creature to beat down with—the closest I found was Spindrift Drake and Cloud Spirit/Rishadan Airship, but they’re not that good. I was also tempted to run mono blue “Delver” or “Skies” mana denial tempo deck with Wasteland, Strip Mine, Stifle, and four of each of those blue creatures, but I kept getting scared of auto-losing to aggro.
I was considering UB Stifle-Nought (like the 10th place deck) but I didn’t think I was going to be able to get a copy of Vampiric Tutor and Mind Twist in time, and I didn’t think Mesmeric Fiend was going to be good enough since it only attacks for 1 damage each turn and may as well be Cabal Therapy instead. I also didn’t look at UWB since Foil was such a big part of my “don’t die on turn 1 on the draw”, and UWB runs 3 Islands instead of 9–10, which makes it harder to Foil.
Thus I settled on UW, and almost 97% of that final decision was because of Meddling Mage. Meddling Mage was probably the reason I won the event, since it’s ability to be a lockdown piece against combo decks while presenting two power of attacking each turn (without any worry about being blocked ever) was super clutch. I also felt like in the first Unchained event, people were more likely to be playing decks where in the blind (without casting Peek) I’d be able to name cards that would stop their combo. I liked having the two Enlightened Tutor to help dig for my combo or a Null Rod just in case. I included 3 Swords to Plowshares in the sideboard just in case I’d face an opposing Stifle-Nought deck, an aggro deck, or Reanimator deck. One white card that was in my sideboard that’s probably a mistake is True Believer. I sided it in almost every match as a way to counter Duress effects and Tendrils of Agony, but I never actually drew it or cast it—the WW mana cost was probably too ambitious on my mana since I only have one Plains, 2 Adarkar Wastes, 4 Flooded Strand, and 4 Lotus Petal. True Believer would be very interesting in a dedicated UW Weenie/Hatebear deck running Meddling Mage, Savannah Lions, and Glowrider.
The only change to my maindeck that I would make is to switch the Seal of Cleansing for a Null Rod. For sideboard, the Blue Elemental Blast/Hydroblast would have been decent against Burning Wish but didn’t have much else to target, but I had Envelop for Burning Wish and would probably run more Envelop since countering Duress and busted sorceries is awesome. I’d keep the 2 Null Rod and add 1 to the maindeck. I’d also keep the 3 Powder Keg and 3 Swords to Plowshares as insurance. The 1 True Believer I would change to something else. I would also probably add a 3rd Tormod’s Crypt
Here’s my deck:
Time for the report! I was in Pod B, which was a bit skewed since one of the players dropped, which messed up the tie-breakers and caused three from our pod to make top 8, which then led me to face only one person not in my pod in the top 4. I’ll try to recreate a summary of my matches as best I can, and for some opponents I got a quote from them on their deck choice. I did not write down dedicated notes, some of what I think happened is based on written life totals. Luckily it’s easy to see an opponent life total going down by 2’s and assume that’s Meddling Mage beats, or to see a jump in 12 life points followed by a win, to assume a Phyrexian Dreadnought came in unanswered. I also won’t go into sideboarding because in every match, I pretty much took out some number of Daze, Lotus Petal, Vision Charm, Seal of Cleansing or Impulse to make room for 2 Null Rod, 1 Envelop, and 1 True Believer. Against Justin I also brought in 2 Tormod’s Crypt since as an Ill-Gotten Gains deck, I figured he was even more reliant on the graveyard than the other decks I was facing.
Round 1 vs Anton Glans
Anton was on Burning Long Tendrils. Here are his thoughts on deck choice:
“I playtested UB storm prior to deciding on Rector Burning Storm, and that was a fun deck too. Not the same consistency, but played around Tormod’s Crypt better. Having Phyrexian Negator in the sideboard is also very strong. But for this month, I deliberately chose to go all out wish board just to see how strong it is in itself. Not playing Tormod’s Crypt was too punishing though. It’s a very strong card.
Sure, we all had figured out Extract would probably be awesome, and adding Burning Wish was a way to play around that. The most important part that I discovered in playtesting was the lack of synergy with Necropotence. We are too dependent on Lion’s Eye Diamond to go broken lines with Burning Wish and Yawgmoth’s Will, and having discard being exiled was not great. So Necropotence was sadly cut. Academy Rector was cool, but with only one Yawgmoth’s Bargain they came with a huge cost. Anyway, getting to finally play Tendrils of Agony in the era was awesome. Yawgmoth’s Will is obviously too strong, but fun to have access to.”
This match started off very interestingly. The first game was justification for me being scared and loading up on Daze, Foil and Force of Will, but beyond that first game, nothing was decided super early in this match. I won the die roll and was on the play, so I went Flooded Strand, pass. Anton decided to make a risky turn 1 play of dumping his hand, and his last card for payoff was Windfall with no mana left over. I didn’t have any countermagic in hand, so I cracked the fetch, and cast Brainstorm hoping to find a Daze or Force of Will; Foil wasn’t going to cut it since I had no other lands. I luckily drew the Daze and was able to counter Windfall, causing Anton to fizzle and pass hellbent. Now all I had to do was draw a second land to deploy the Phyrexian Dreadnought+ Stifle I had, but I didn’t draw a second land or petal for what felt like the next ten turns! We went draw, go back and forth for many turns before I was finally able to draw a second land and deploy the Nought, and Anton couldn’t recoup an answer or a way to go off a second time.
The second game was absolutely nuts. Anton was able to deploy an early Defense Grid, which shut off a lot of my countermagic. The Phyrexian Dreadnoughts were hiding in my deck, and Meddling Mages were not showing up either, so I had to find other uses of my instants like using Vision Charm to mill Anton in the hopes of sniping key pieces, and using cantrips on my turn instead of end of turn. Eventually, Anton got to a position to get out Yawgmoth’s Bargain and started drawing until he got to 2 life, and then got stuck and had to think in the tank. He had a City of Brass as his only untapped mana source, and needed to draw at least two more cards to do so. His only hope was tapping it to go to one and cast Brainstorm, and he got lucky and the one card he needed to go off and win was drawn via Brainstorm.
Game 3 is a little fuzzy for me, I remember deploying a fast Phyrexian Dreadnought but Anton had a Chain of Vapor to bounce it back to hand, and I had to wait and draw another Stifle or Vision Charm to deploy it a second time. I cast a Null Rod which was going to give me the time I needed to recoup, but Anton had a well-timed second Chain of Vapor that bounced the Null Rod and allowed him to go off the following turn and win.
I remember that Illusions of Grandeur + Donate was the win for either game 2 or 3, but I forget which one. Games 2 and 3 were very well-drawn out and lots of decisions and interactions. We talked afterwards and both laughed and agreed that of all the busted cards being played, clearly Brainstorm is the worst offender since it technically won two of the games.
Round 2 vs Justin Giovanniello
Justin was playing UB IGGy Pop Storm (Ill-Gotten Gains). Here are his thoughts on his deck choice:
“I was originally inspired by Long.dec but then made the decision to build around IGGy Pop since that deck, before Ad Nauseum, was the most consistent at cleanly pulling off a Tendrils win.
I goldfished a ton to make sure I could get the synergy and consistency as smooth as possible before worrying about other things. I expected a ton of storm opponents since I assessed that storm is the most fun and first thing people would choose to play in a format like this.
I wanted to game 1 disrupt my opponent without muddying the combo – which was kind of a tough call with my flex slots. In the end, I maindecked Yawgmoth’s Will (since it goes well with how my deck tries to win and I can Intuition for it and other IGGs to make sure I get it), Tormod’s Crypt to mitigate the opponent’s use of IGG and to potentially hose an opposing Yawgmoth’s Will, and Brain Freeze to screw with their access to combo pieces while they would combo off. Brain freeze was also in there to target myself in response to a Yawgmoth’s Will of my own to maximize that card’s effect.”
Justin’s decision to be more streamlined and focused helped him crush the other storm decks in our pod, as he was able to bank on opponents’ fizzling and more consistently combo off afterwards.
In game 1 I sat back and didn’t do much while Justin was deploying some lands, taking damage off Ancient Tomb, using Intuition to piece things together, attempting to go for a combo but getting hit by an unknown Stifle in my hand. It was a fizzle and a scoop after I deployed a Phyrexian Dreadnought right afterwards.
Game 2 was a bit different. I had deployed an early end of turn 1 Peek leading into a turn 2 Meddling Mage, I had either named Dark Ritual or had named Intuition, since I had recognized that Intuition was the linchpin for the deck’s consistency. A second Meddling Mage wound up on the table too, naming another key piece in hand, preventing Justin from being able to combo off while the mages went to town.
Round 3 vs Galen Lemei
Galen was also on Long Tendrils, similar to Anton’s but with some differences. Here are his thoughts:
“Inspired by the original long.dec. Reasonably happy with it. Maybe a bit more consistent than Academy Rector builds, though probably less explosive.”
From what I recall of this match, game 1 and 2 were unexciting on my side since I drew bad opening hands that couldn’t interact and couldn’t get a Phyrexian Dreadnought or Meddling Mage into play. I played a few lands, Galen combo’d off. In game 2, I once again had an unexciting hand and Galen again got a win. I remember I did the following big mistake in game 1. Galen tapped out on my end of turn to cast a Mystical Tutor. I had a Daze in hand and decided to let it resolve, figuring that he only had 3 lands. Based on the cards I knew was in his hand from an earlier Peek, I incorrectly figured that he needed to cast a bigger mana spell that I could still Daze. He ended up searching for Dark Ritual, which gave him enough mana to untap and win without worrying about my Daze at all, since the other unknown cards in his hand were ready to combo but just needed one Dark Ritual to get started. In hindsight, I was trying to be too cute and not knee-jerk and be patient, but I should have Dazed it because against storm, when you have the chance to counter something important with Daze, it’s usually correct to do so and that was an opportune moment to do so that I missed. It also would have bought me time since had a Phyrexian Dreadnought in play.
Round 4 vs Ryan Grodzinski
In game 1 I deployed a Peek and a Meddling Mage early, naming Academy Rector since I saw it in hand along with a sac outlet. Ryan went for a Flash to get around Meddling Mage, but I had a Force of Will orFoil to counter that, and after that it was Meddling Mage beats for the win.
In game 2 I think was another disruptive game, one where I was sitting back a bit, but then by at least turn 3 or 4 I deployed a Phyrexian Dreadnought that went unanswered. I felt good in this matchup since even if Academy Rector did find a way to sneak in, Stifle would still be able to counter the search trigger.
At this point, I was sitting at 3rd place in Pod B, with a 2–2 match record and what appeared to be bad tiebreakers. I was assuming that my run was done, but as it turned out, our wonky pod had me as a “wild card”, so I surprisingly entered the top 8 in 7th place. I think this boost of confidence of getting into top 8 tightened up my play in the top 8. Especially when it came to gambling on letting the opponent start to combo off but choosing the right moment to disrupt a specific card to force them to fizzle.
The top 8 playoffs
Quarterfinals vs Flint Espil
Flint was on Rector-Bargain storm. At this point we were there to have fun since I watch his Premodern Showdown Series on Twitch and felt like introducing myself so he’d know who in chat I was. This lax attitude unfortunately caused a gameplay error in game 3 which I’ll get into.
In game 1, Flint mulled to four cards, which allowed me to bide my time sculpting a hand where I could deploy a Phyrexian Dreadnought, and had enough countermagic to stop what he was doing. I remember in this game Flint was able to ritual out a bit to go hellbent with a Memory Jar and I decided to let the it resolve since I had a Stifle ready (I’m pretty sure I waited on deploying the Phyrexian Dreadnought for many turns so that I could Stifle the Jar first.) After I forced the Memory Jar to fizzle, I was able to win since I had the backup Force of Will that I didn’t use on Memory Jar to counter anything else that might show up.
In game 2 Flint got out his combo fast and I was wrecked…
In game 3 Flint and I were going a bit back and forth with interaction. I had played out a Null Rod, and at this moment Flint forgot this and played a Mox Diamond discarding City of Brass and cast an Academy Rector to get Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Once we realized the error that Mox Diamond can’t tap for mana, we decided to backtrack and get the board state before it was being cast. This led to Phyrexian Towerto be discarded to allow City of Brass to be the land played for turn, which meant Academy Rector was in play, Flint was tapped out, and passed with no way to sac it. Instead Flint would use Academy Rector to block the Phyrexian Dreadnought, as a deterrent. As luck would have it, I immediately drew the Stifle and thereafter used it on the Rector’s death trigger, and I won from there.
It was very close gameplay, it really shows the power of Null Rod being able to stop a lot of the different combo decks and how flexible Stifle can be. In our post-game discussions, Flint did share that he thought the event was very fun, but it was very much a novelty and not something he’d do again.
Semifinals vs Galen Lemei
This was my chance to get revenge after getting roasted by Galen during the round robin. I apologize that my notes are once again very lackluster, but in the same way that he easily 2–0’d me in Round 3, I got the reverse and he couldn’t interact with me. Game 1 was possibly a fizzle or an unanswered Phyrexian Dreadnought, and game 2 was definitely a super fast Dreadnought that was unanswered. However, I do remember from game 2 that there were some very clutch Orim’s Chant on Galen’s side that he kept using to keep Phyrexian Dreadnought from attacking, and also preventing me from casting any Meddling Mage (which I wanted to cast to name Orim’s Chant but couldn’t!). Unfortunately for Galen, the time he bought did not lead to an answer, so it was all for Nought! 🙂
Finals vs Justin Giovanniello
Another Pod B rematch. The games were another repeat of round 2, with a little bit of differences. In game 1, I tried to cast an early Enlightened Tutor to go for the Phyrexian Dreadnought combo turn 2, but Justin had a Brain Freeze and milled the Dreadnought, plus another Dreadnought. Uh oh! Justin then started setting up shop and went for a combo turn, using Intuitions, Lion’s Eye Diamonds, rituals, and Ill-Gotten Gains. He set up a big graveyard, built up a big storm number, cast Yawgmoth’s Will, and then cast Ill-Gotten Gains. It was at this point that I figured I only have two ways to lose, and that there might be a way to get out of the situation. With three untapped Islands, I cast Impulse to dig for an answer, but only drew a Stifle and no countermagic for the Ill-Gotten Gains. So, I let Ill-Gotten Gains resolve and returned one Phyrexian Dreadnought and two Stifle to my hand, with one untapped Island left. My thought process was, the only way Justin will win at this point is if he casts the one Duress already in his graveyard to take away one of my Stifles, and tutors for another Duress effect and takes the second Stifle in my hand. The other way he wins is if he can cast two copies of Brain Freeze, since I can only Stifle one of them. Justin cast Intuition and after much deliberation, selected Tormod’s Crypt, Cabal Therapy, and Brain Freeze. My gamble paid off as I knew I could let him keep the Tormod’s Crypt, he’d lose the Cabal Therapy and Brain Freeze to exile. He went for Tormod’s Crypt, Chain of Vapor to bounce his Petal and Tormod’s Crypt, recast both, exiled my graveyard, and cast Brain Freeze, but I had an open Island to Stifle it since he forgot that I returned two Stifles to my hand. After the fizzle I could deploy Dreadnought next turn since I had the second Stifle and attack for the win.
In game 2 I kept a super risky opening hand. Based on our discussions of how Justin’s deck is slightly slower to combo out, I did another gamble and kept a hand that was Phyrexian Dreadnought, Stifle, Lotus Petal, and four lands, which was super weak to Duress or Chain of Vapor. Thank the stars Justin led with Cabal Therapy and blind-named Daze, which meant I could jam Phyrexian Dreadnought on my first turn and say go. Justin dug hard but could not find an answer and died in two swings.
Here are some final thoughts about the tournament and the format from me and some other players.
“I would definitely play more of this format! But I’m the guy who would happily play storm mirrors until the end of time.” –Galen
“I’ll be honest though, I got super lucky making it to the final round. A lot of my opponents managed to slow me down and combo first, but ended up fizzling.
My two match losses were both to Joshua Nyer and it really boiled down to I forgot that storm is a triggered ability and that Stifle can disrupt it. So I got Stifled game 1, and then lost to an early Phyrexian Dreadnought game 2. This happened both matches. In the final match I was more aware of Stifle‘s insane power against the storm decks, but I severely misplayed and didn’t Intuition for discards spells (I thought he was tapped out and could hardly see that untapped island until it was too late).
I haven’t looked at deck lists much but I don’t recall seeing many copies of Intuition. I ran a full four since it synergizes especially well when I’m tutoring for three Ill-Gotten Gainss, or two and a Yawgmoth’s Will.
Joshua and I had a very interesting discussion about what we observed. One such surprise for me was that I was the only storm player Joshua faced that ran basics. I did this to avoid getting Wastelanded to oblivion, but Joshua also brought up not seeing Blood Moon. In retrospect, Blood Moon would have wrecked a lot of us storm players.
However, I feel that a lot of us, myself included, wanted to scratch that crazy combo deck itch. Now that that is over, I really want to see another Unchained tournament. Joshua and I were discussing how the format will probably burst wide open with a lot more interesting and disruptive decks. If Flippi doesn’t host another unchained tournament in a reasonable time frame (don’t ask me what the time frame is because I don’t know) then I’m going to step up and run an Unchained tournament.” –Justin
“It was a very fun format! But I think it’s hard to evaluate it fair as it was the first time we all brewed and played it. Four Lion’s Eye Diamond based storm decks in our group, including me, was both awesome (I love that most of us aimed to try out the unfair stuff), but also kind of unfortunate, as storm mirrors is kind of a sad play experience.
Going forward with the format, this is probably the main point I want to discuss, and I would love to hear your view. Full proxy or not? I know this is a controversial topic, but please don’t dismiss this as a purely elitist view of me. I’ve seen this in Vintage and Old School too. When we allow proxy 75, people are drawn to play spikey and broken decks before being creative with his or her actual card pool in mind. When I got into Vintage and Old School ten years ago, not having immediate access to power made very fun decks to, instead, find your place in the meta. I think this is key. The small play group will have more diverse games as a whole. However, as this is a brew challenge I think it’s reasonable to allow proxies. But I def think it comes with a cost.” –Anton
Looking at just the top 8, it was still incredibly diverse. As expected there were storm decks but they were all doing different things. The number of “oops I win on turn 1” games was pretty low. I think a non-storm deck winning the entire thing is important and helps demonstrate that it’s not just a storm format, it has the same amount of room for meta development that Vintage has. I think it was a really fun experiment, but importantly something that deserves more attention and more tournaments since we proved that storm is strong but not unbeatable, and everyone had a blast.
Until next time! We demand more Unchained!