It's About Time

In 1993, Wizards of the Coast released the cult classic, Magic: the Gathering. In 1995, they smothered it in the cradle. It was a combination of factors, but most of us who still remember the promise of the game point to three things: (1) the commercial and power-level failures of Fallen Empires and Homelands; (2) the aborted release of the much anticipated Ice Age set; and of course, (3) the printing of Chronicles and Fourth Edition which took the floor out from under the burgeoning collector scene. Two short years after its creation, Wizards of the Coast had killed Magic: the Gathering, and it’s creator, Richard Garfield had moved on.

In 2019, there were still some of us who remembered the halcyon days of the game and kept finding time to play, but there had not been a new card printed since 1995 (except of course the fan-designed and printed “Time Spiral” sets with which some players dabbled and from which certain reprints were allowed). But now, Richard Garfield had come out from retirement and in late 2019, orchestrated the release of the first official Magic: the Gathering set in 25 years, Scryings. Scryings was a breath of fresh air with 116 cards, most new, with only the occasional Fallen Empires or Homelands retread. Suffice to say, we were all fucking psyched. The first Scryings legal event, the League of Scrying Gentlemen, took place this past Sunday at a Cheeseburger in Paradise near the Meadowlands Exposition Center. We Magic players would often meet at or near the big Vampire: the Eternal Struggle tournaments that took place around the world. Occasionally one of the dealers at the tournament sites would have Magic cards alongside some of the older Jyhad cards on hand. To make the weekend even better, The League of Scrying Gentlemen was taking place the day after the Glorycon gathering in Gettysburg, PA.

My League of Scrying Gentlemen experience started at 7:30, immediately after Glorycon had wrapped. My initial plan had been to drive up to Secaucus and crash with one of my best friends, Justin Williams, but it was a 3.5 hour drive, I was tired, and I didn’t think we would have much quality hang time before I crashed. Instead, I grabbed a beer with Mark Hornung and Will Magrann at Fourscore Beer Co. before heading to Harrisburg and back to Philadelphia. The beers at Fourscore were quite tasty, and trying some more of their brews is enough of an excuse for me to come back out to Gettysburg and jam some games of Wyvern with Mike Frantz. I got home at 11:00, chatted with my wife and sister, who was staying over, showered, and passed the fuck out with my alarm set for 7:00. I woke up and zombied my way through some morning chores and a coffee, snoozed for an additional 20 minutes, and finally got my shit together to hit the road. At 9:45, I got to the Meadowlands Exposition Center and chatted with some of the V:ETS players and dealers hanging around. I caught up with my buddy, Justin, who had picked up some cards for me from a dealer, and he helped me sleeve my last few cards and arrange my deck for the obligatory pic. At high noon, I strolled into Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Stasis - the Deck Tech

Nope. No Stasis for me; just Chronatog. I was initially planning on playing Stasis, but without having some additional lock piece like Kismet, it just did not feel like it would do enough. Instead, I tried to look around for other good reasons to skip my turn, and one of my favorite pet cards, Mana Vortex fit the bill. With Chronatog and Mana Vortex, I could run my opponent out of land and then untap with 3 or 4 land already on the battlefield. If I had a Black Vise on the field going into the Chronatog/Vortex lock, my opponent may just get squished to death. I knew that Mana Vortex had some utility on its own, but I was surprised at how powerful Chronatog ended up being in isolation.

The other "combo" in the deck is Political Trickery with Undiscovered Paradise which lets me ramp into some additional lands while screwing my opponent. I'll tease out some more of the various strengths and weaknesses of the deck and various cards through this report.

Round 1 – in which the Dead Rose

I sat down across Jason Dorman, the first person I had played on Friday night upon arriving in Gettysburg. Jason was on a reanimator build with Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead, Deep Spawn, and Merfolk Traders. He said that it felt like he was going to 5-0 the day or 0-5. I think that’s probably the right attitude to approach any new format. Swing for the fucking fences. Game 1, I got slapped around by an animated Deep Spawn, and we were on to game 2 in short order. I brought in 3 Nevinyrral’s Disk and my singular Tormod’s Crypt while cursing myself for not registering a few more. I think I sided out a couple Black Vises and a couple Political Trickeries. Unfortunately for Jason, I am an absolute luck-sack. I took a peep at my starting 7, saw the Crypt looking back at me. Jason baited out the use of the Crypt as my Dibs did work in the skies and my Factories did their business on the ground. Though Jason was able to start to rebuild his yard, I had the singleton Recall (such a sacky piece of luck) to buyback my Crypt and send us to Game 3. In Game 3, Jason’s Undiscovered Paradise betrayed him. He was able to quickly bin a Colossus of Sardia and play Dance of the Dead (using Undiscovered Paradise) to bring it back, but he never got to untap the Colossus. While he was busy playing around in his graveyard, I was able to lay a Mana Vortex that locked him out of the game.

I just want to take a minute here to talk about how much I love the interaction between Mana Vortex and Undiscovered Paradise. It’s just my fave. First, and least importantly, an untapped Undiscovered Paradise is a great land to feed to the Vortex. Second, I can intentionally tap the Paradise to return it to my hand so that I can begin setting up again after the Vortex’s slow Armageddon is complete. Finally, and most importantly, it makes my opponent’s Undiscovered Paradises into a huge liability. If they use it, they are never getting to sack it away to the Vortex (instead, they are forced to sac another land) since Paradise returns to hand during the untap step and Vortex does its thing during the upkeep. And if you are playing Undiscovered Paradise, it’s probably because you need the color-fixing and or ramp, so sacrificing all of your other “real” lands instead of the Paradise is a real cost (Spoiler: unless you are playing with Fastbond).

After the Vortex died, while Jason had a Mox out, he never had sufficient mana in his upkeep to untap the Colossus until it was too late, and he was just playing for survival. A Psionic Blast later, and I finally had my first “W” on the weekend that wasn’t the Bye. I thought that the reanimator deck looked pretty sweet overall, but it was also a good reminder that Dance of the Dead is not just pure upside.

Round 2 – I played against my own Grandpa

I was the first person to arrive at Table One with a fresh beer in hand. My opponent, Jelani Johnson, showed up shortly thereafter with Phil Dituri right behind. And that’s when I learned I’d be jamming against my own Grandpa.

Back in the Summer of 2018, I met Phil at a side event at Grand Prix Dulles. It was a Dominaria draft (and this is where I drop the V:TES thing; sorry if you were REALLY enjoying that). Phil was on a sweet Green Black build featuring Verdant Force. I was on Blue Red Wizards. After three very long games, I emerged victorious (and then took down the rest of the draft to honor Phil’s memory). He was the first person I met that played Old School. I mean, I guess I could’ve met someone at some other point in my life that played Old School, but let’s be real. Have you ever met an Old School player who doesn’t try to talk to you about Old School?

Next time I saw Phil was when he was playing in the inaugural Sisters event at Cheeseburgers last year. My good friend, Matt Gazda, had discovered the wonders of Old School and was playing in the event. After scrubbing out of the main event of the Grand Prix next door with a stinky pool, I decided that drinking beer and watching people play with the power nine sounded like more fun than anything else I could do. Of course, Phil was there, and of course I recognized him because I’m pretty good at that; I rarely forget a face. Unfortunately, I routinely forget names, and I’m sorry in advance for forgetting your name, dear reader. Seriously, you have no idea how grateful I am that Paul and Mike emailed the pairings so that I could confirm everyone’s names while writing these reports.

ANYWAYS, so since Phil was technically the first person to actually tell me about Old School, he is technically my father (even though he's a Sister?). And since Jelani was the one that had introduced Phil to Old School, Jelani declared himself my grandfather (also a Sister).

My grandfather was on a red, green, white brew (with blue cards) with River Boas, Kird Apes, and Empyreal Armors. Game 1, he beat me down with a River Boa equipped with Armor. I got to pull off my Political Trickery Undiscovered Paradise “combo,” which was fun and definitely set him back by a turn or two. In the end, I did some things, but it definitely felt like his deck was the one showing off in the first game. I sideboarded in 2 of the Serrated Arrows and 2 Disks (I think) and sided out the Time Vault, the Zuran Orb, and two more cards (maybe I trimmed a Psi Blast and Vise). Serrated Arrows immediately proved their worth against River Boa. I do not recall exactly how this game ended either, but it was the inverse of Game 1. We both got to do things, but my deck got to do more.

Game 3 was long and convoluted. We both reset the game multiple times as we tried to jockey for position. Like grandfather, like grandson, I guess. The following may not be the most accurate description of what happened, but I hope to at least give you a feeling for the highs and lows. I started by getting some cheap damage in with a Vise. After some back and forth, Jelani Wheeled away my hand. While he was able to get a refill and a Mox down, I think the Wheel was to my benefit. I dropped a Chronatog and was about to put down the lock with a Mana Vortex the next turn. Jelani had another answer in the form of Timetwister. The Twister was much more advantageous to Grandpa Jelani, and he was able to build out his board with some Kird Apes. I was forced to Disk away everything and reset the game yet again. At some point in there, I got to land an Acid Rain as well (pun intended). I don’t recall exactly how it ended, but I was able to apply enough pressure with Factories, Dibs, and Blasts to finish Game 3 in turns.

Round 3 – Déjà vu

Rubens would not have been able to win the weekend without beating me twice. Really wish I could’ve taken at least one off of him, but alas. Today, Rubens had kept the Badlands and Plateaus but eschewed the white and black cards for goblins and grenades.

Once again, I'd like to pause to talk about a particular card, In this case, it's Chronatog. In the course of my (limited) testing and in through this tournament, Chronatog showed its chops as a midrange force. In Game 1 against Rubens, an early Chronatog was able to gum up the ground against Goblin Elite Infantry and its ilk. In other games, Chronatog showed that it could turn the corner and punch in for significant damage to end a game. At times in testing, I even found myself pumping it to take out another creature in combat as it was unlikely that my opponent would be able to draw anything as potent as the creature being remove off the top of their library.

All that said, the MVPs of game 1 were two Political Trickeries in combination with an undiscovered paradise. Rubens had no lands, and I had all the lands. I was able to execute my gameplan easily and move to Game 2. In sideboarding, those MVP Political Trickeries were replaced by Blue Elemental Blasts and a Disk. I also brought in a Serrated Arrows for a shaved Dib. Game 2, after trading away blasts, Rubens was able to drop me to a low enough life total that all of his electricity was able to finish me off. Game 3 was not particularly close, but I did work hard to make Rubens believe that it was. While I didn’t have the Blue Elemental Blast all game, I made sure to keep up appearances all game. Unfortunately, when we got to the endgame, I was stuck with a superfluous Mana Vortex instead of the game-sealing Psionic Blast or Blue Elemental Blast.

The highlight of the match for me was nailing a crucial Orb flip from at least 13 inches after missing a game-winning flip the day before at Glorycon (against another opponent). It was a clean and definitive landing, and it was nice to see that my practice had at least somewhat paid off. Even though Rubens swept me on the weekend, my successful flip allowed me to at least have somewhat of a redemption arc.

Round 4 – Time Walk

At this point, I was three large Goose Islands IPAs in and really fucking hungry. Grandpa Jelani and I had grand plans to order food before Game 3, but Clarissa (who was a delightful server who somehow managed all 50 of us with aplomb) didn’t circulate past Table 1 at an appropriate time for us to try food, and even if she had, we wouldn’t have had time anyways. I finally thought I’d have enough time to at least eat something. That’s all to say that Jason Beaupre got the dubious pleasure of watching me slam down a plate of chicken nachos in roughly 4 and a half minutes. They were unspectacular; I should have gotten a burger instead.

I sat down across from Will Parshall and was glad to finally find another opponent that was rocking the large format beer. Due to my diligent scouting (I talked to Will between rounds), I knew that he was on Lich combo. For the uninformed, it is a Lich, Fastbond, and Zuran Orb combo deck that basically allows you to draw your whole deck, drop a Mirror, and take the additional turn to win in your upkeep. For those of you familiar with Vintage or Legacy, it’s a lot like watching Storm combo.

While I knew what Will was on, Will did not know what I was on. I was able to cheese him out relatively quickly with a Boomerang on his Lich. One of the other hidden advantages of Chronatog is that everyone assumes that you are on Stasis as well. Will definitely fell into this trap, and incorrectly assumed that I was not playing the full compliment of Boomerang in my list. That said, I don’t think it impacted either of our sideboard choices too significantly. Once again, I sideboarded out Political Trickery for Disks and an Acid Rain. Game 2, he started to combo me out the hard way, with draw sevens and no Lich. Just about the point that he was stalling out, I reminded Will that he’d started the sequence with a Time Walk. From that point, it was elementary. He was able to untap, drop a Lich and take it home.

For Game 3, we led off with some Vegas shots with Mark Evaldi (across the room) and got back down to business. Once again, Will had an early setup for the combo. I, afraid of losing to the Fastbond, made a crucial error. I wasted a Boomerang on a Sylvan Library instead of saving it to get another turn bouncing Mirror back to Will’s hand. I had the second Boomerang to save myself a turn, but if I had played correctly, I may have gotten two turns, which would’ve made all the difference.

Unlike watching Twiddlevault or Stasis, it was sort of fun to watch Will execute the combo. Once I play more Scryings and see more Lich combo, which I anticipate because the deck is good, I am sure that I will get sick of watching people draw and sacrifice lands to Zuran Orb. Zuran Orb may have been the “mistake” in Scryings.

Round 5 – Time Keeps on Tripping

For my last round of the day, I played Chris ‘Cubbs’ McCubbin on a Temple of Sped – esque build replete with Lions, Dibs, burn, and power. I took a game from Cubbs off the back of some my signature land-screwing shenanigans, but he was able to overpower me in games 1 and 3 with cheap creatures and interaction. In Game 3, he landed an early Chaos Orb that loomed over the battlefield for most of the game. He followed that up with not one, not two, but three Dibs over the course of the next several turns. He finally popped the Orb on my Dib to take over the skies. Even then, I had a puncher’s chance at taking the game, but I failed to draw the Psionic Blast I needed and instead drew the second superfluous Mana Vortex. For show, I swung in and pumped both of my Chronatogs to do a neat 10 to Cubbs. On his upkeep, the triple Dibs dropped him down to 1, but then it was his attack step, and I was dropped significantly into the red.

I ended my Sunday in a similar fashion to how I ended my Friday, with a drink with Will, Mark, and Jesse Switzer. Perfect ending. I also received a community signed (non-Chrono) Atog that I'll have to bust out, someday. It's not pictured here because I'm too lazy to go upstairs and get a picture of it right now. Instead, here is a picture of one of my cats taking advantage of a hamper of clean clothing.

How to Improve the Deck I played

In the words of Levi Baumgardner, “Political Trickery sounds too cute.” Unfortunately, I think he’s right… at least in this sort of build. While having an extra land to sac to Mana Vortex or Zuran Orb is pretty nice, most of the time the Trickery just functioned as a blue Stone Rain with extra steps. If Library is legal, the calculus shifts slightly in favor of something like Trickery. I can imagine that a creatureless combo control deck with a full complement of Maze of Ith could really take advantage of Political Trickery. If you want the mono-blue Chronatog experience, I’d suggest replacing the Political Trickeries with Ankhs of Mishra and/or Man-o-War and the Paradises with Islands and maybe a Force Spike or a Flying Man. I truly regret not finding room for Man-o-War. That said, do not just think about replacing the Boomerangs with Man-o-War. Boomerang is a versatile card, one of the few catch-alls available to you in blue. It also allows you to bounce Mana Vortex back to your hand once your opponent is out of lands so that you can reload and play again later. Aside from that, I wouldn't suggest anything particularly exotic. Certainly jamming some more power into the deck would be useful. In particular, artifact mana is pretty good alongside Mana Vortex.

The Part Where I Pretend to Have Some Insight into Scryings

Do you want to win your next Scryings event? If so, I have three maxims about Scryings that I think you should consider when you are choosing your deck for these initial Scryings events.

1. Play an aggro deck. Over the course of the history of Magic, we have learned that in an unknown environment, you want to present the questions instead of the answers. If you look at the Top 8 of the League of Scrying Gentlemen, what do you see? I see buttloads of Lighting Bolts (27, I believe), some Dibs, and some Atogs.

2. The cards in Scryings are NOT the same cards that you knew in the mid-90s. The cardpool is different, the rules are different, and what we know about what makes a good Magic deck is different. E.g., Chronatog. It’s obviously not really Tarmogoyf, but it may deserve a look outside of what we think of as its sole use (Stasis). Just be sure to keep an open mind in your brewing.

3. Zuran Orb seems really good. I think that Will Parshall gave us a glimpse of how broken it could be, but I think there is more for it out there. Hell, my deck only had some threadbare synergies with the Zorb, and I still was never unhappy to draw it.

And one additional note: Undiscovered Paradise is probably not a good replacement for City of Brass. I probably would’ve ended up at 3-2 or 4-1 if my Political Trickeries were Ankhs as I had initially planned. As it was, I got to exploit my opponents’ Paradises for multiple game wins.

Thanks again to Paul DeSilva and the Sisters for hosting a great event. I had a blast!

- Nathaniel (Nate) Gates