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One Week, Three Decks, Two Hundred Dollars



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Last week was a pretty big Premodern one for Yours Truly! I played in three events. Strap in, kick back... You get to hear about them.

Tuesday: Premodern Meetup; Fluctuator

If you've checked out the decks for this year's Premodern Showdown Series you probably already know that Aaron Dicks put up one of the coolest, most powerful, lists of all time... And for once I'm not mooning over Mono-Red. Meet Fluctuator!

I was immediately so jealous.

Actually, I was envious. "Jealous" being literally the most frequently misused word in the English language. I immediately kind of wished that I had submitted this deck; maybe instead of my ug Stasis deck. It's so cool.

If you've never seen Fluctuator operate, it works like this:

  1. Play a land
  2. Drop another land (hopefully a Blasted Landscape)
  3. Immediately cast Fluctuator
  4. Draw your deck, then Drain.

Of the starting 60 cards, 51 of them cycle for exactly two mana. That means that with a Fluctuator in play, you can draw through more-or-less your entire deck that turn.

There are nine "stops", which makes Fluctuator strategy and sequencing a little trickier than it might seem once you first grok its incomparable underlying engine. But on the other hand, you can't start going off without at least one Fluctuator in play, so you never have to deal with more than eight stops; and even Dromar's Cavern isn't always one. If you actually play Dromar's Cavern you have to return a land to your hand; and that land will have cycling.

So, about those "stops" ... You want to eventually get, say, 20 creatures into your graveyard. Not a problem! There are 28 cycling creatures; and we've already established that with Fluctuator in play, you can go Go GO until you hit a stop (or seven). There are a surprising number of ways to win given a span of only four non-Fluctuator stop-spells in the deck, which are:

The most egregious overkill sequence that is nevertheless the most common actual end game is to play Lotus Petal, crack it forb, make a boatload (or graveyard full) of Black mana with Songs of the Damned, remove 20 or so creatures to nug your opponent with Haunting Misery, and if they're somehow still breathing, hammer home a Drain Life for 14 or so; adjust upward if there are say 21-28 creatures in the graveyard rather than merely 20.

This is all occurring on the second turn, remember!

If your immediate thought is "I can just mulligan into Fluctuator" it's a little more complicated than that. Supposing you start going off with seven cards [still] in your hand, you are almost certain to win that turn, in the abstract... but every card you go down increases the likelihood that you'll get stuck on a terminal number of stops. For instance, if you start going off with only two cards you might not even be able to win that turn; the bare minimum number of stops you need to hit to win is one (Haunting Misery if you already have three mana open); and you can't survive even a second one with only two cards. Most of the lands in this deck come into play tapped, so stipulating you have a Fluctuator, you're not favored to be able to kill on turn two... But rather turn three. A Blasted Landscape or the Dromar's Cavern or Lotus Petal can change this, of course. Finally, as proactively unstoppable as it can often feel, this deck is one of the worst at dealing with opposing interaction of any deck, ever.

All that said, Premodern Fluctuator has to be the single best "Level Zero" deck choice of all time, for any competitive format. It will consistently race both of the two best decks in Premodern in Game 1, almost every time! While it is soft to both common sideboard cards like Tormod's Crypt and either Duress or Counterspell, Fluctuator offers a surprising amount of flexibility for the patient mage. If you have two untapped lands you can basically cycle to land drops longer than your opponent, without even doing something like tripping a Standstill. I've won multiple games just playing out four lands and chaining must-counter spells into permission on consecutive turns.

Subtly, Fluctuator is one of the rare combo decks - like a High Tide, say - that can fail to finish "going off" but end the turn way ahead, rather than any amount of behind. Fluctuator fail states typically result in a commanding position the next turn. You only fail because you hit one too many stops; and three of those potential stops are Fluctuators. So if you fail and your opponent kills your Fluctuator, you can just play one of the ones you accidentally cycled into... and whatever is on top of your deck will probably get you back up and running immediately. It's also powerful because if the opponent initiates a stack with artifact removal like Naturalize or Seal of Cleansing, you can discard a card at instant speed, and cycle Cycle CYCLE way ahead, to the point that you can de facto win in response to the removal. How cool is that?

Tuesday, I played in a three-round Premodern meetup in New York City. Along came (you guessed it) Aaron's Fluctuator with my three Abeyances.

So, if you're interested in getting into Premodern I bought almost this entire deck here on CoolStuffInc last week for less than $50. I say "almost" as I had 4 Remote Isle (thankfully) and these nice Floridians happened to be sold out of that card at the time. You don't need to buy Abeyance. I'm just an Abeyance zombie. Aaron and I brainstormed later and he seems to think Miscalculation (a card that happens to have Cycling 2) would do just as well in the sideboard, and sit perfectly nicely in a one Dromar's Cavern mana base.

Round One: Richard with Stasis

I don't think I could have picked a worse night to choose Fluctuator! The room was n-1 Blue decks and my opener was against probably Fluctuator's worst matchup overall: Stasis.

Here's how bad Stasis is:

Even setting aside resolution of the card "Fluctuator", the Fluctuator deck only has two cards that can actually kill the opponent (Haunting Misery and Drain Life). But worse than that, almost all your lands enter the battlefield tapped. This is kind of horrible against the card Stasis itself, and helps to turn on the opponent's Daze. You have only two cards they "have" to counter, but countering any of about six cards might spell doom immediately. Stasis has close to 20 Counterspells, a dozen of them 0 mana.

Unsurprisingly, Richard got me. In Game 1 and Game 3. I was excited to beat him in Game 2 with a well-timed Abeyance. Because, you know, Abeyance zombie.

LWL 0-1

Round Two: Eddie with Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter is kind of like a Premodern Splinter Twin deck. It can operate like a regular Izzet Control deck with permission and Shard Phoenix, control and removal... Or it can pair Frenetic Efreet with namesake enchantment, Chance Encounter.

Frenetic Efreet
Chance Encounter

The tricky part about Chance Encounter is that you have to untap with Chance Encounter on the battlefield to have it in play on your upkeep. That implies either dropping the shields or managing into a very a long game with probably 8+ mana and multiple Counterspells.

The good part of the combo is that Frenetic Efreet is actually a pretty serviceable card; and can protect itself somewhat, not even as a combo piece but just a way to win. ATC host, Sped, and onetime Worlds competitor Bryan Manolakos runs Frenetic Efreet in his Star-Spangled Slaughter deck purely as a good creature; though admittedly spices the list up with a singleton Chance Encounter himself.

Eddie's objective is more specific. He wants to have both permanents in play on his upkeep, so he can go crazy with free coin flips all in response to one another before a single one resolves. If the opponent untaps with Frenetic Efreet and Chance Encounter, there's not much that can save you.

I was kind of lucky in this match that I drew multiple Fluctuators in both games. In one, Eddie was just shields down after he countered a Fluctuator and played for the win (giving me the window). I just got him with Abeyance in the second. You'll have to trust me that it felt at the time more exciting than it sounds now.

WW 1-1

Round Three: Jeff with Mono-Green StOmPy

StOmPy is a fast deck... But it's not Fluctuator fast. Worse, they are often taxing their own mana with Pouncing Jaguar or Rogue Elephant during the first few establishing turns. Got the first, and it wasn't that interesting.

In the second, Jeff opened on Scavenger Folk and slow played me. You may want to re-read Premodern sonata Slow Playing the Beatdown by YT to add that to your aggro skill set. Basically, he never gave me an open, and deliberately slowed down his pace of offense so he'd always have Scavenger Folk up to disrupt the combo. This game featured the exciting play of my hard-casting a Disciple of Malice to chump block Rogue Elephant to buy another turn. I did not win during that hard-purchased turn.

Game 3 I was going first and went off on the second turn with my miser's Lotus Petal. Sorry man! It happens! Don't worry, Jeff will get me back in this very article.

WLW 2-1

I'm glad I own the Fluctuator deck. I'm glad I got to be able to tell you about it because it might very well be your discount gateway drug into the Premodern format... For less than the cost of a single Wooded Foothills.

Thursday: The PSS; Parallax Replenish

Last Thursday marked the opening week of the Premodern Showdown Series, or PSS. The PSS is basically the showcase event for the entire community, and I was super honored when the Princes of Premodern, Mike Heup and Flint Espil, invited me to participate this year. The format is round robin, and everyone brings three decks. You know all 225 cards in all 7 opponents's decks way ahead of time. Each week you get to "ban" one of his three decks, and vice versa; each of you chooses from the remaining two. There are four matches every Thursday and chances are there will be at least one player in each that you've heard nice things about.

My first opponent was Tom Metelsky, one of the tournament's odds-on favorites. Besides being on a blazing hot streak in Premodern right now, Tom is a standout in other formats, paper and digital. I got to commentate on his finals appearance at Spring Fling just a few months ago.

These are Tom's three decks:

Strategically, I was focused on a single card among Tom's entire 225; but it's a doozy. I planned to ban Tom's uw Standstill deck because of his solo Parallax Tide. I figured I could beat all three decks with my rw Astral Slide deck, but if Tom got that one Parallax Tide, he could steal Game 1. So might as well take it out of the equation, right?

Tom surprised me by banning my Astral Slide.

I came into this event assuming no one would ban my Astral Slide. Every time I tried to talk openly about how good I think Astral Slide is, more established Premodern players would kind of roll their eyes and tell me my finish at LobsterCon was a fluke, or that any ideas I had about the format were some kind of confirmation bias. But here was Tom, snap-banning the one deck I really wanted to play. Of course, Tom is one of the top Premodern minds, so I probably shouldn't have been surprised. He wasn't done surprising me, by the way.

With my banning Standstill, Tom would have to run either his Mono-Blue 12/12 deck, or an essentially defenseless Red Deck Wins. I say "defenseless" because RDW was my most beaten deck at LobsterCon. I took it out multiple times, including in the hands of the greatest Red mage in the community, Aaron Dicks, in the Top 8. Some Red Decks have Flaring Pain or Anarchy to win sideboard games, but Tom only had Tormod's Crypt. Crypt can be okay... But if I get Solitary Confinement out, it can neither break up the Squee combo nor do anything else. Crypt can prevent the combo but not remove it like Anarchy or go through it like Flaring Pain.

So obviously Tom was going to be on 12/12.

I kept this hand:

This hand isn't "the best" but I think that most players will tend not to mulligan hands that can Careful Study / Squee on the first turn, regardless.

And remember: In my imagination, Tom is on 12/12 at this point. He only has 4 sources of damage in his 75, let alone 60; and I have both my one Swords to Plowshares and a Seal of Cleansing in my opening hand. From my perspective I am very likely to win this game on threat exhaustion, even if my hand doesn't immediately improve much.

So, of course Tom opens on Jackal Pup.

My Careful Study reveals... Not land.

Turn two: Another Jackal Pup. Uh-oh.

And... No action from Our Hero.

I get brained for 10 on turn three by a Ball Lighting; and Mike and Flint - normally so on the ball (no pun) - seem not to have noticed that I still have one Island in play.

Would I have kept if I knew Tom had chosen RDW? Maybe? First-turn Careful Study + Squee is a hell of a drug. But I'd like to imagine I would have shipped to six. Replenish wins more than 8/10 in Game 1 if it knows RDW is coming, and there isn't much incentive to gambling.

Games Two and Three were more competitive, but went depressingly by the numbers. In the second I kind of did my thing. In the third Tom drew multiple sideboard cards and kind of prevented me from doing my thing; which meant his thing got through just fine.


This was a bit of a wakeup call for me.

Not only did I not get to play the one deck I really wanted to (because my actually format-cognizant opponent recognized how good it was), but he completely out strategized me despite playing from a massive disadvantage on remaining decks. I haven't felt so outplayed in a long time. Let's hope Our Hero picks it up in subsequent weeks!

Sunday: $1,000 Tournament at The Bearded Dragon; Survival Elves

I mean God bless Ashok Chitturi. A $1,000 Premodern tournament? Well, he ran one! I'm just lucky that Metelsky (who lives a scant hour away) didn't make it to The Bearded Dragon on Sunday.

When playing for $1,000 I was instructed to "stop dicking around" and decided to finally play the best deck in Premodern. That I didn't register it for the PSS is probably a crime... But less of one than the fact that no one else did either.

Here's a deck pic:

I got a lot of abuse for some of the printings on those cards, so Ashok and Roland Chang helped me finish out my deck. So, here's a better deck pic:

I do guess that Beta Mountain / 2018 Anger is kind of an eyesore in combination. Roland really glowed up Squee with a Japanese foil though!

It's hard to explain Premodern Elves with any brevity because it's many different decks. It is a first-turn Llanowar Elves deck that can tempo you with Tangle Wire. It can create enormous amounts of mana with Priest of Titania and Gaea's Cradle, often attacking for 40 or more damage on turn four. It can grind you with Survival of the Fittest + Squee, Goblin Nabob, chipping away with silver bullets and two-for-ones. Elves has a haste sub-theme with a single Mountain, nine ways to fetch it, and Anger. With Squee and a single 4/4, it's actually just a great Masticore deck, able to both upkeep and operate the dirty dawg better than almost any other Masticore deck in history. Masticore can team up with Kamahl, Fist of Krosa to blow up all your land... Or Kamahl can be the Human Druid that Garfield intended, running the opponent over with enormous damage in a single trampling attack.

What line you should take with Elves is often murky even if you start the turn with Survival in play. But what is clear to essentially everyone is that very few players operate it well. Almost any deck with Survival of the Fittest is inherently more bungle-prone than almost any deck that doesn't have Survival, and this one can return creatures during any phase of the opponent's turn to create wildly varying amounts of mana and Survival discards when you previously had no creatures in hand.

I played a little bit of a different sideboard than most Elves mages, but can write about that sometime in the future if there is interest.

Round 1: Jeff Farris with G/W Terrageddon

Jeff (same Jeff I beat playing StOmPy a few paragraphs up) was one of the main reasons I played Replenish rather than rw Astral Slide at the North American Premodern Championships. Slide is great - again, one of the best decks in the format if you ask me - but as a non-Blue control deck, it is specifically soft against big spells like Armageddon and Cataclysm... Both of which Jeff played on the way to destroying me at a play-test session at David Tao's house.

His deck works like an ancient school Erhnam Djinn deck... But Terravore is so much more synergistic (not to mention cheaper) in combination with one of those big White sorceries.

I did "Elf things" in Game 1. Probably sloppily. But you can play Elves at 49% and still have trouble not-winning on turn four. I did not in fact win on turn four. Instead, I just kept untapping Wellwisher to Time Walk all of Jeff's early game work, eventually eking out the last few with a couple of 1/1s. You know, "Elf things".

In both Game 2 and Game 3, Jeff disrupted my Survival of the Fittest with Seal of Cleansing to buy time; then got me with a big Cataclysm. That card in particular is very difficult for Elves to play around. Elves pretty much has to drop all their stuff (primarily creatures) which feeds the catastrophe of an incoming Cataclysm. It only takes one or two swings, you know?

WLL 0-1

All right! Time to win out.

Top 8: The man himself, Ashok Chitturi with Mono-Blue Stasis

Ashok was undefeated in the Swiss, and I think 999,999,999-0 against me, personally, lifetime.

In this matchup, though, I had eight 1-drops that all say "untap target Elf", one of which also puts a Forest back in my hand. Whereas he was playing a deck revolving around the card Stasis.

Elves versus Stasis is unbelievably lopsided because even though Cursed Totem is good, it doesn't even turn off Nantuko Vigilante. Nonetheless, Ashok still made it a match by getting Game 2.

Coolest play? With lethal double Black Vise on the table I tapped my Gaea's Cradle for 7 and discarded my entire hand to Survival of the Fittest, failing to find all seven times, which both prevented Vise damage and staved off decking the next turn. Still, lost that one. Still? Coolest play.

Top 8 got $50 each.

In Top 4 I proposed a split for the remaining $800 prize pool, and got to draw with my fellow podcaster, longtime friend, but PSS archenemy Bryan Manolakos for a duet of virtual Franklins. Like I said, just lucky Metelsky didn't show up.

Premodern is the best format of all time. I am so overjoyed to have gotten into it. No, had it thrust upon me by Brian Kowal and Bryan Manolakos. I'll try to do better in PSS this week; but am happy just to be included.

There are too many props to hit everyone but here are some anyway:

  1. The Princes of Premodern - Mike and Flint - for everything they do but especially inviting me to the Premodern Showdown Series. Check it out THIS THURSDAY (and every Thursday) at https://www.twitch.tv/cloudgoatranger
  2. Jeff Farris and Phil Nguyen for their service and organization to the New York Premodern Community, from organizing meetups to providing a place to play.
  3. Roland Chang for driving me to New Jersey, and for loaning me a $500 upgrade to my stupid Commander reprint Squee.
  4. Ashok Chitturi for running a thousand dollar Premodern tournament on a random Sunday. Seriously. Everyone should sign up and go the next time he does this. It was a great time, expertly run, and did I mention it was for a thousand dollars.
  5. ROMAN EM EFFING FUSCO, winner of the Collector Legion RCQ. I went to the Collector Legion website to check out an upcoming Premodern tournament that Flint is going to all the way in LA, and was greeted by the smiling face of my very own Padawan on the way to his first - I'll grant it - kinda sorta Pro Tour. Great job Roman!
  6. David Tao for being a great sounding board, razor sharp mind to bounce ideas off of, and the tireless patience required to be one of my best friends.



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