Hey fellow Oldschoolers
Long time not written 🙂 but fear not – i am still alive. But i love more to write articles about live events (with appropriate photos) than for online tournaments. But soon i will provide my unsuccessful runs within the various derbies, ODOL-leagues and other tournaments. Stay strong, wash your hands and enjoy some nice Alpha 40 bibedibabedibubedi from my dear Friend Valerio 🙂
(against which i won the finals at Torin00b 2019 by the way haha)
M(a)y Alpha 40 League adventure with UW Control
By Valerio Gregori
My first experience with Alpha 40 was at the last year’s Wizards Tournament 2 in Gothenburg. It was great; for me, it has been like go out from home first time, exploring new shores in Sweden, together with my friends and partners in games Simo and Yuri; I felt really like a wandering, and a little bit inexpert, magician, maybe an apprentice, going to play my very first A40 match on the flight towards Sweden!
With me, indeed, a quite powerful UW Alpha deck, which I built during the months before in order to participate to this historical gathering. I have started acquiring several powerful uncommons, like Sol Rings and Swords to Plowshares, and soon ended up in a dramatic escalation as normally happens when I fall in love, upgrading my Mox Sapphire to Alpha, buying a couple of Ancestral Recalls… as there was no limit, at least at that time, in Alpha 40! At the end, my first brew went not so badly; I finished something like 4-2, with the sharp feeling about the need for more power, as without any limitation, you can face very super powerful mages out there!
A thirst that is hard to appease, and that I have anyway continued to feed since the very day after, adding a Timetwister to my arsenal…
The Alpha 40 League
Moving fast forward more or less one year and a half, also thanks to the pandemic… a couple of months ago, I discovered the Alpha 40 League, through a Facebook recommendation that drove me to an incredibly well made booklet about banned and restricted spells. WOW, I was wondering in my head, somebody has found some limitation to let the game be playable! Have been not able to resist joining… I entered the format from the May League, thinking of myself as a solid and fair White/Blue Wizard, with a limited library full derivative from the original brew and so still able to avoid (or maybe, just postpone) family bankruptcy!
It is worth considering, anyway, that UW collects many of the best common and uncommon spells among the Alpha set. So, in my understanding, can be ranked very high in a hypothetical chart ordered by power/€ ratio.
My UW Control build, according to the League rules
League rules are incredibly interesting. Simply, they divide the most powerful spells among several clusters, and normally you can pick just one spell from each cluster. The complete deck-building rules can be found here, and are so beautiful and well made that they are for sure worth a visit http://northernpaladins.com/Alpha-40-League.pdf
Let’s see what came out in our UW. The first group is the one about Fast Mana.
Sol Ring is the easy choice for me here, as I do not own an Alpha Black Lotus! Joking apart, Sol Ring should be the correct answer anyway! It is simply too strong, providing an incredible boost on your casting curve. Even stronger in my two-color shell packed of Juggernauts, Serra Angels, X-mana spell… Sol Ring is super, and can really shift the equilibrium of the match, if left unanswered from the very beginning (see the video of my match with Scott, for reference, where I played Sol Ring on the first turn both games…).
Second group is about Power spells: I consider the blue options as the strongest, obviously even more when you are on UW. The card advantage you can get from Ancestral Recall is someway a good weapon in such slow format: every single card you draw more can make really the difference. From the other hand, also Timetwister, when coupled with White, can be very useful, allow you to go almost “infinite”, allowing you to re-use all the Swords to Plowshares, for instance, but not the opponent’s creature already removed from the game… Anyway, not using Black Vise, Timetwister option is not really pushed to the top. Time walk can be also a good choice, especially when you are able to stick fast menaces as Juggernaut for instance. However, the brutal power to draw three cards from Ancestral is, for me, simply too strong.
The Draw group includes one of the strongest spells in the overall Alpha pool. In addition, it is blue. Braingeyser here is the correct answer; it represents also a definitive weapon, able to end the game when all the other wincons have been resulted ineffective, decking your opponent when he does not expect such a defeat! On my personal ranking, not considering Mind Twist as banned, Braingeyser can compete with Balance for the no.1 spot in terms of most powerful spell of the format.
Destruction group is one the most interesting: all very powerful options here. My choice falls on Balance. It is, in my understanding, one of the top dominant card of the format, if not the top one. Balance is indeed an “unbalanced” card, as it can completely overturn the board state. It is not so unusual to remain stuck on 1 land in Alpha 40 (you can have a mulligan only in the event of full lands starting hand, or no land at all…), and in the meanwhile your opponent starts to grow a solid board. In such cases, there is anyway a last hope you can rely on, that represents your insurance vs. screw, and it is Balance; thanks to Balance, at the eventual cost of your cards in hands, eventually the entire hand can worth the effect, you can clean up both his roster on board and his lands line up… huge!
Restricted & Moderated Lists work a little bit different from the groups: you do not have to pick just one card from these pools, but you can include a limited number of copies of the listed cards (Restricted list limiting to 1 copy, Moderated list limiting to 3 copies max). The impact of such restrictions in our UW Control shell is mainly over Swords to Plowshares that is limited to max three copies. To be considered also limitations on Juggernauts and Psionic Blasts.
What is missing from my build: I had no dual lands at that time; for sure, Tundra will be the next acquisition and consequently an easy upgrade for the deck. Instead, speaking about choices: it could be very interesting to consider the eventual addition of Mana Short (also known as the cheap Time Walk), Wrath of God and Counterspells in order to increase the control potential of the deck.
Strategy Tear Down
The strategy is straightforward. The deck works around three simple steps:
- Take control of the stack and the board;
- Acquire card advantage, while controlling the board evolution;
- Stick a threat and let it go to the end.
Normally I start with a defensive approach, trying to understand the opponent’s deck, and remaining with mana open, to proceed eventually with counters. Target is to bring the opponent to a top-deck mode, fighting card per card. At a certain point, protected on the next turn by Swords to Plowshares & Disenchant, you can decide to tap out in order to put a threat on the battlefield, then defend him (or support adding another, or replace in case of death) till victory.
To do so, the deck is divided into four packages.
First one, it is about stack control – it is based on cheap, but to be honest very efficient, counters. Sure, they cannot be considered “hard” counters, but normally they work like that. Power sink is very important to stop the highest CCs threats (big creatures, but also fast Hippies coming after your second turn; Fireballs; Icy Manipulators; opponent’s Braingeyser!). From the other hand, Spell Blast is quite strong in the attempt to defend your own threats (protecting them by opponent’s Swords to Plowshares, or Lighting Bolts, or Paralyze). I like to consider this part of the deck quite smart & efficient. In support of that, to consider also the single blue in the casting cost, that helps a lot supporting the double color strategy.
Is there room for improvement? I guess that several “real” Counterspells can dramatically improve the overall strength of the deck, maybe moving the cursor towards a heavier blue shell, so at the cost to adapt a little bit the mana-base. It can be a development path for the future.
Once you failed in your attempt to control the stack, or in any case, when it results more convenient to you, you can rely on your second package, dedicated to the control of the board. Here lives the engine of the deck; there are many elements of control, and White is superb doing this. Swords to Plowshares and Disenchants can stop almost everything on the board (I guess, just Black Knight can pass here…); they are supported by Balance, one of the best cards available on Alpha pool. It fixes very well swarms from your opponent. Again, Wrath of God can be a very good replacement or support; in most of the situations can be even better, but not providing the same support of Balance in case of screw.
Anyway, just three copies of Swords to Plowshares (as it is restricted) cannot be enough trying to control a battlefield full of menaces; Blue comes in support here, with Psionic Blast and Control Magic, together with a single copy of Icy Manipulator.
For sure, there can be room for improvement here. My feeling during my first league has been, anyway, of a very balanced build. I never felt the need for an additional Icy. Making a step backward to the Disenchants. Question could be, why four copies, as they can seem too many. The answer coming from my first experience is more or less the same of above: never felt the need of one less; it helped me controlling opponent’s Control Magic, Icy Manipulators, Disrupting Scepters, Juggernauts and Jayemdae Tomes; all cards that are able to lead your opponent to victory, if unanswered. In UW, I think, I will hardly go below four copies.
It is time to move to the third package, about card advantage! Two cards from Blue pool can support our strategy here: Ancestral Recall and Braingeyser. The first one is the best card in Magic since the game was born; I think I do not have a lot to add here. I use two copies in my unrestricted Alpha deck! So strong, that I have been able to lose my June Alpha League final vs. Joel forgetting to put the single copy inside of my library, but this is another story! Braingeyser is the definitive weapon; it ends games; I remember at least three games ended by decking my opponent, in late game phase.
Now that you have control of the board, and hopefully more options than your opponent does, you have to start thinking how to end the game (in your favor, if possible). Here it comes the threats package, which consists of six creatures (as Scott commented, “among the most Classic in the game”): three copies of Juggernaut (that is restricted), two copies of Serra Angel and single captain, the Mahamoti Djinn, my favorite cards when I was young. I like my wincons configuration a lot, it is “curvy” at the correct level, it is flexible, and it fits perfectly in the shell. Sometime I have the luck to play a fast Sol Ring, and Juggernaut really shines in this case, becoming a true nightmare for your opponent.
Going now to the matches, as I would like, at least, to list them, just to let you see how open the Meta is, full of different decks with incredibly original strategies.
Starting from Nicholas Aiello, a pillar of the Alpha 40 community, a mage like me, on my same colors! His UW deck-list is spicy, as you can see below. I would like to say quite different from mine, despite several elements are commons. He is trying to make abuse of Sleight of Mind, comboing with Cop: Red and Northern Paladins, which perfectly fit into this control shell.
I won 2-0 against Nicholas; this is exactly one of the matches where Disenchants, Ancestral and Braingeyser provide real difference.
My second match was against John Molseed, again UW, this time I can say a very different strategy; John’s is an impressive aggro deck, full of Benalish Hero and buffing enchantments; hiding a very special secret weapon, a single Time Vault he can activate consecutively several times thanks to his Twiddle package.
It was a nightmare trying to control this swarm, with Juggernaut suffering the defensive bands. Anyway, this is the typical match up where it is Balance to shine, as it has been. Swords to Plowshares here is also able to provide 2×1; I won 2-1 here, not able to manage multiple consecutive turns of attack from John’s swarm in the second game.
My third opponent was Robert Bialkin. I met Robert first time in Sweden, last year; he has been my sparring partner (or better, I have been his sparring…) in the playtesting session in the hall of Panorama hotel, where we both were trying to understand, for the first time, how our decks were working… What a pleasure to meet Robert again!
He was on Mono Red Dragons, with a lot of Fireballs and Shivan Dragons! I won 2-0, controlling the board well during the first game, and then proceeding into a spectacular second game, where he burned all my creatures, but his own Shivan under my control thanks to Control Magic, that gave me the win with just three cards left in the deck.
Fourth match, it has been my first defeat in the League. I played against Jason Shaw, on a super aggressive Red Green. I lost first game from a swarm of orcs, low on lands, and not able to find the correct answer to his horde. Second game, he started again fast, but this time I wait for a little board commitment from his side, to play Balance and shift the cursor on my side; on third game, I suffered the most classic of the kills, through an unexpected Channel Fireball combination, coming when I was taking the control of the game. What a game!
Fifth match, it has been vs. Jeremy Smelski, on a huge Black White control shell. I went down one game, losing the first game from his Wrath of Good that cleared my over committed board; it has been a very long first game, where I had the chance to see all the good stuff he want to serve to me! Good to know, it has been a helpful lesson for the following matches. Jeremy’s deck is superb, with incredibly powerful elements of control, from the Wrath of God to the Jayemdae tome (top when you are not playing blue!), from Disrupting Scepter to Icy Manipulator; typical match-up where it would be needed more than a set of Disenchants! Anyway, I started playing around Wrath of God, preserving the Disenchants, waiting for his most problematic artifacts. I have been able to win both the following matches, ending 2-1, and now at four wins out of five matches.
Sixth and last match has been Vs. Karl Akbari, on a low (and super smart) budget UW, with efficient creatures (Phantom Monster above all), efficient counters (Power Sink) and efficient removal (Swords, Disenchant if I remember well). I lost the first game as I was not able to answer to his flying menaces, and flooding a little bit.
In the second game, I controlled indeed better and finished through Serra. Third game was a tricky one. In the very late game, with me tapped out, he forced me to draw something like 10 cards through Braingeyser, leaving me with just two cards left in the deck. Anyway, I was already carefully preserving my Braingeyser in hand, waiting for the correct timing to cast. Once he passed the turn, I played my own land for the turn, then a Sol Ring, and then I forced him drawing 12 thanks to Braingeyser, too many cards for his library! Another incredible match!
Therefore, I ended my pod confrontations 5-1, just one point above John at 4-2. Good enough to win the pod and access to Quarterfinals.
In the Quarterfinals, I met Jeff Watkins, on UW Control. A build very similar to mine, I would say the closest one, just exchanging Juggernaut with Air Elementals – full board control through a White portion 100% aligned with me, and no counters, replaced by additional board control elements, in terms of Steal Artifacts and Icy Manipulators.
I won 2-0, taking advantage of Ancestral Recall and Braingeyser, with Jeff flooding both the games as far I remember.
The Semifinals were not played; nobody came out from the related bracket of Quarterfinals, after more or less one month and despite several solicitations. So at the start of July it was decided to move directly to the Finals, where Scott Latham was waiting for me.
Scott was on UR Counterburn, playing an incredible efficient lethal machine full of spells extremely high on power/€ ratio. He played the May league with just one rare, the Braingeyser.
Finals are visible on YouTube through the Alpha 40 Group on Facebook, thanks to Scott recording the games; very briefly, I controlled the first game since the beginning, thanks to a fast Sol Ring from my side that allows me to accelerate dramatically my plan, opening almost all my options very quickly. A fast Mahamoti from my side starts making coast-to-coast, assaulting Scott’s LPs; he first steals my Sol Ring through Steal Artifact (later on, it will be decisive my eventual Disenchant on the enchantment, letting me to take back the control of these two mana…). Then he tries to find an answer through a huge Braingeyser, for six cards, to which I respond with Ancestral Recall, compensating a little bit. He takes down than the Mahamoti, at the cost of several cards anyway. A Serra Angel from my side tries to replace the Mahamoti on the following turn, just but get Fireball on Scott’s turn. Now is time for Scott to try to win the match, and he has several weapons. He sticks a Phantom Monster for a couple of turns to which I respond with Psionic Blast. Then I take a first slap in the face, from a Fireball for 7 or 8 LPs, to which I cannot respond as low on mana. A turn later, Scott tries his third Fireball, attempting to my life, I guess for 9 damages. This time I have mana open and, thanks to the Sol Ring, I am able to Spell Blast it. My fortress resists, time to counter attack, first with a Juggernaut, to which Scott responds, and then with a Serra, that together with a Psionic Blast provides the final, lethal damage. What a game!
Unfortunately, second game has been not at the same level of the first one, as Scott remains with just an Island for the first three turns, having to discard spells in the End of Turn, while I play both Braingeyser and Ancestral Recall. He played very well, tried to defend himself with tooth and nails, anyway my advantage in the board was simply too deep, giving me the opportunity to win the May League 2-0.
What a sensation! Winning was great, I had confirmation that I am still able to build something interesting! My satisfaction was amplified by the fact that I never played with the League rules before May, so no knowledge at all about dynamics. Indeed, I found my build very solid, super flexible as rich of answers: I was expecting a field full of Juggernaut, Angels, Hippies and Icy Manipulators… and my prediction was quite close!
I learned a lot playing the League: for instance, to save Disenchants for critical artifacts (better to start destroying a Sol Ring than a Juggernaut, and better to save Disenchant for the next Icy Manipulator, instead of wasting it on one of the annoying artifacts that give life points). I started saving my Braingeyser for the final hit, instead of drawing 4-5 cards, at least when you can still manage your hand. Also Swords to Plowshares, to save it for late game, when fatties come down, unless you have to answer to a fast Hypnotic Specter… as the games in the League are really slow, and long, for sure longer than the games in unrestricted Alpha! The perimeter defined by the League’s deckbuilding rules is, in my opinion, very well balanced. It allows incredible matches; a hand-to-hand battle where every single card is important, and where the advantage is built card by card… very hardly the game will end in a rush!
Therefore, the final recommendation coming from my first experience, which it is to be patient!
Seven consecutive wins later with the very same UW Control, I am back again into the Alpha League Finals, for June… but this is another story!
That is all for now! I want to thank the Alpha 40 League creators; they have provided to the players an incredibly interesting new environment to battle on. I would like to thanks all my opponents for the precious chats we have had during and after our matches, always rich of interesting points. In addition, a special thanks to Scott for the good suggestions he has provided to me writing this article!
Thanks for the reading, hope you have found it interesting – in case of questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate contacting me on Facebook!