tisdag 18 september 2018

Time is out of joint

On March 23rd 1994 Time Vault was banned from play in sanctioned Magic. It was the first card to be banned for power level reasons in any format. Of course back then there were only a single format, "Magic", so Time Vault was effectively removed from the card pool. It was all due to this particular interaction:
My French opponent anted a Time Vault at the start of the duel, but drew a second one to go off. Wizards' Tournament don't adhere to those new-fangled "restrictions".
Time Vault, Animate Artifact and Instill Energy. Make the Vault a creature with Animate Artifact, slap on an Instill Energy, and suddenly you have all the turns in the world. If you assembled these three cards in order and the opponent didn't have any removal, the gig was up.

Half a year after the initial release, a new three-card combo entered the card pool from the fringes of Arabian Nights and Antiquities:
Make Time Vault a creature with Poltergeist, untap with Saddlebags.
Antiquities was released only a few weeks before the Time Vault ban, so a speedy brewer might have had the chance to take that combo for a spin. But I guess that was mostly as a curiosity and didn't have much time to affect the local meta. Legends also brought a potential Time Vault combo a few months later, but at that point the Vault as we knew it had already left the card pool and its true power would stay away for well over a decade.
This one has some timing issues and won't go properly infinite unless you have two Time Vaults, but basically you play Song to make Time Vault untap as normal and then bounce Song with Time Elemental.
I've owned an unusually large number of Time Vaults over the years. Seven or so. And pretty much all of them have been in a condition close to pristine when comparing with other cards from that time. Being banned during a majority of the "sleeveless era" of Magic surely must have contributed. Fewer Time Vaults than Mahamothi Djinns were aggressively tapped on sidewalks in the mid 90s for sure.

Anyway. Flash forward to April 1996. Wizards of the Coast are actively issuing power level errata in this era, attempting to change cards so they correspond to "orginal intent". They issued the following statement regarding Time Vault:

Time Vault is reworded as follows to restore the card to its original intent:
"Does not untap as normal. If Time Vault is tapped and does not have a time counter, you may skip your turn to untap Time Vault and put a time counter on it. {tap}: Remove the time counter from Time Vault to take an additional turn immediately before the next normal turn."

This change removed all opportunities for combo shenanigans. Time Vault was unbanned and unrestricted in Vintage (and hence in Type 1.5, the predecessor to Legacy), and no one really cared.

Time Vault got some template updating in 1998, but the basic functionality was the same. Then in 2004 Time Vault got errata again. I think it was mostly seen as cleanup, but it removed one crucial safety valve that prevented potential combos:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
Skip your next turn: Untap time vault and put a time counter on it.
{tap}, Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability if only there's a time counter on Time Vault.

Yep. You no longer checked if Time Vault had a time counter on it before you tried to untap it. And you could untap it whenever you wanted as an activated ability.

At the time, we had no good way to abuse this potential loophole, but already the following year a card would be printed that made Time Vault a contender again.
Skipping 10,000 future turns doesn't really matter if we deal 10,000 damage to the opponent before they get to use them.
I loved this deck. I played a WR version of it to some solid results in the budding Legacy scene in Sweden. Also made a Stax Build with the combo - Time Bandits - ready for whenever the local store held proxy-10 Vintage tournaments. Josh Silvestri was one the first guys to recognize the combo btw, and Stephen Menendian was another early developer of the strategy.
My old Time Bandits deck. Lodestone Myr and Time Vault is another combo to deal all the damage. And skipping a few turns with a ticked up Smokestack and a Trinisphere in play is rarely a bad idea.
But dealing a bunch of damage was clearly not the intent of the card. Players had once again broken the Vault. So in March 2006 this errata happened:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
At the beginning of your upkeep you may untap Time Vault. If you do put a time counter on it and you skip your next turn.
{tap} Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability only if there's a time counter on Time Vault.

Yeah, that is fully useless. Both my Legacy and Vintage decks were suddenly unplayable. I did have two backup decks in Legacy though, one that would combo Brass Man with Quicksilver Dagger, and one that used Hunted Horror and the likes with Brand to steal back the tokens created for the opponent. But when it rains it pours, so WotC also issued errata for Brass Man stating that it could only untap once per upkeep, and changed the rules so that tokens were considered owned by the controller rather than the one who owned the effect that created them. So every deck I owned save for my super casual Thrull deck were made obsolete in the span of one month. Slightly heartbreaking.
I left for the US that spring, leaving my piles of cardboard back home. Running a bed & breakfast in San Francisco was an interesting change of pace. When I returned to Sweden in the late summer, I found that Time Vault had gotten errata once again:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
If Time Vault would become untapped, instead choose one -- untap Time Vault and you skip your next turn or Time Vault remains tapped.
{tap}: Take an extra turn after this one.

OK. That we could work with. I rebuilt the old FlameVault deck and took this pile to a third place at the 2006 Legacy Nationals:
Mize Things. Written lists seems oddly strange these days.
I played that deck for a year or so, placed in the elimination rounds of the BSK Legacy next year again (with Rings of Brightheart replacing a couple of Transreliquats and some minor changes), and generally enjoyed life. Then 2008 happened:

Time Vault come into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
If you would begin your turn while Time Vault is tapped, you may skip that turn instead. If you do, untap Time Vault.

{tap}: Take an extra turn after this one.

Time Vault was more powerful than it been for well over a decade. That meant a ban in Legacy and a restriction in Vintage. So I finally sold my Vaults to build new decks, fondly looking back to the roller-coaster that was.

Eventually I traded for an Unlimited one to use in Vintage, and picked up one with black borders some time later. Though I've yet to sleeve up Time Vault combo in 93/94.
Berlin's TwiddleVault from Fishliver Oil Cup Ed. 0
Rather than "going infinite", this strategy attempts to "go enough" by using and recurring Twiddle to untap the Vault. Once the deck goes off it doesn't feel like much of a difference though. TwiddleVault has proved to be a pretty solid combo deck and an enjoyable part of the oldschool meta.

Hm. This post didn't really turn out as planned. It escalated to some sort of history of errata and combo decks with Time Vault. Here's what I planned to write about:
We have been so busy breaking Time Vault that we didn't look at the card by itself. Is Time Vault playable on it's own? When would we want to exchange one turn for another?

The turn is a fundamental structure in Magic, but something we rarely talk about in detail. A turn gives us opportunities, which we may or may not use.
Draw, go.
All turns aren't created equal. The only thing we can be mostly certain of is that we will use our draw step. Untap doesn't matter if we didn't tap anything important last turn. Upkeep isn't a big deal unless we have cards like Ivory Tower or Land Tax in play. Relentless Assault was one of the most sought-after cards in Visions at the time of the release, but if we don't have anything to attack with we might as well skip combat. That is why the (new school) card Lich's Mirror isn't an all-star even if it prevents us from dying, resets our life total, and draws us seven cards for a reasonable mana investment. After Lich's Mirror has been activated, we are forced back to operate with early game turns while our opponent keeps playing on late game turns.
More modern frames!
There is a scenario where Time Walk is mostly useless. If we spend a card and two mana to draw a card an untap two mana, we are not moving the game forward. Sure, we are not technically losing anything either, but we didn't do anything except loot away a Time Walk.

Slightly above that we have the "Explore Time Walk", were we also get to use our land drop. It is better, but usually not that good. The extra turn becomes a big deal first when we can use most parts of it, when untapping our permanents means something is coming and when the relentless assault of combat kills our opponent.

What Time Vault does, at face value, is that it skips a less impactful turn for a stronger one later on. A turn when a Howling Mine is in play is more valuable than one when it isn't. During a turn where we have no creatures, we will always skip our attack phase regardless. So skipping one of those turns may de facto only mean that we'll skip a draw step. We can then cash in that draw step later for another draw step, and additionally an extra combat and a more useful untap.
Even with combat mostly out of the picture, Time Vault shines in the control matchup. It is obviously nice to take an extra turn in the late game after a counter war when our opponent is tapped out, in particular if we have a Tome or two to make our turn better. And being able take the first turn after a midgame Timetwister is sweet. But cashing in a turn if the opponent taps out to use their own Tome in our end step is gravy. Now they don't have countermana up anymore. Or they wont use their Tome, which is probably even better for us in the long run.
This is all theory crafting, but one particular deck that I think could use Time Vault with "original intent" is Tax Edge. Tax Edge is mostly happy to skip an early turn, as we regardless want the opponent to make more early land drops than us. In mid- to lategame, getting an extra upkeep with a couple of Land Tax and Ivory Towers in play can then give the edge to win.
That pretty much covers what I had in mind. An ode to Time Vault, partly as a combo enabler, but also as a playable within its original intent. When a card have a history of brokenness in the way the Vault does, it is easy to forget how it plays in a vacuum and just look for interactions.

Time Vault has been high on the list of possible cards to unrestrict in the last few years. As the first card to be banned for power level reasons, it is by no means an obvious candidate to allow as a four-of. But it could be cool to test it out sometime down the line. Feel free to share your opinions on the subject.

måndag 10 september 2018

Fall Cleaning

I had a few different topics going for this week. For one, I recently played a new 93/94 cube at a local tournament in Oslo. Broke the three-cube winning streak by getting bested by the glorious Thomas Nilsen in the finals.
Dude got me with Power Monolith Combo and Earthquake. That's some solid limited tech.
I also met up with Hardy some weeks ago for a proper "Dadgic" showdown. That was a new experience.
New School in so many ways.
And just this Friday I had the pleasure to meet one-on-one with one of Oslo's newest slingers for tech, beer, and some monogreen shenanigans.
But, in the spirit of the season here, I figured it was time for me to do some fall cleaning on the blog. It has been a while, and there are a lot of strange things here if one would be inclined to look deep. But for those not having a weekend to sleuth around for tech among the 400 or so pages, I figured it could be nice to have some sort of index page. Sure, the Decks to Beat section contains around 350 decks, but those are by design decks that are a fairly solid tier, and fun stuff happen when we start looking at the lower tiers as well. Also, those decks mostly only have a single picture, and some history may around the cards could be interesting. So now we have a "proof of concept" page where we collect most of the blog posts focused on a particular deck, sorted by some sort of archetype. So check out the "Deck Techs" like in the left sidebar, and feel free give me any feedback on improvements.

Also updated the external links in the right sidebar btw, so give me a heads up if you have another page you think should be added.

söndag 2 september 2018

Mail days

Here's random fact: Norway has a tax revenue to GDP ratio of 54.8%. It is second only to East Timor (which surprised me), and is joined in that particular top5 by Denmark, Finland and Sweden (which didn't really surprise me). That is quite a lot of taxes. (But for anyone wondering about living in a socialstic hellscape, Norway also have the lowest Gini index in the world, the highest Human Development Index, and the third highest GDP per capita. So I personally wouldn't argue for lower taxes).

Anyways. After living here for the last six years, one subjective observation is that we Norsemen, as a generalized group, are pretty bad at saving money. So instead we kinda get some saved for us. I top out somewhere around 46% income tax most of the year, but each December I only pay half income tax to get the holiday spending well supported, and by the end of June we get the vacation money saved up from last year, pretty much tax free. And at that time, we also get the yearly tax returns. So that means that twice each year, the Norwegians get a substantially larger paycheck than usual. "Feriepenger".

This last June looked like the last time while living the life of a Dink. Double Income No Kids, that is. I could spend a fairly large sum on cards, perhaps as one of the last hurrahs before life would truly happen. I had my budget set up as it will look from the end of September, and I knew that the frivolous days would eventually have to come to an end. Not quite yet though. So now, in these last days of summer, let's look through some of the season's mail.
Cards! Glorious cards I've never owned!
So this first one might be cheating, as I did not in fact get the cards in the mail. I bought them from local slinger Audun, shortly after I managed to do one of the more my heroic recoveries in a game against him during an Oslo meetup. But hey, they are cards of the summer, so they'll count. Defensive, even political, cards those three. Nova Pentacle is the stone cold nuts btw. It may be something of a "hidden gem" among playables as it rarely sees action in ordinary 60-card constructed, but it is a highly reasonable first-pick in 93/94 draft as well as a staple in most of the oldschool highlander formats.

Next batch held these gems:
Watch out PowerMonolith, there's a new killer combo in town.
All these are part of a grander scheme. I rarely buy cards just for the sake of collecting. Political cards, walls, and weird synergy. You might know where this is going.
This dude has gone far too long without a proper army.
If you are unfamiliar with 93/94 EDH, it is gaining traction as one of the more popular variants of multiplayer oldschool these days. I am not sure exactly how the stories go, but it was the format of choice for the 2014 Pimpvitational in Sweden (with Tetsuo banned as commander), then got some more attention by Gina at the (now defunct) Nomad Gamer site, and I think the first "proper" play group were Dyan and his Dutch friends sometime around 2016. Dyan posted an article about the format here in early 2017, and DFB's recent article on 93/94 Brawl fleshed out the rules in a very thoughtful and interesting way (love the mono-colored commander rules!). The articles on Ready to Role are also really good if you want to check it out.

EDIT: I finished this post while away visiting in-laws for the weekend, and when I returned the evening after publishing it, I found another surprise waiting in the mail box! So I blatantly added this section in italics here, as it makes a good amount of sense to put it alongside the other EDH cards :)
An honest to god letter! I love this. But I must confess I've been truly horrible at replying myself in the last months. Looking at you in particular Charlie, you have not been forgotten.
The next level general! Tedin text alter to give him horsemanship!
This was a fantastic surprise from Eliot (aka @betasedgetroll). Might be that this guy will do the dirty work on the battlefield while the artist altered beaut graces the deck box or oversees from the sideline. I will most certainly play this one as though he had horsemanship btw, as it clearly makes sense that he has it. At least until someone punches me for doing so. Thanks man! <3

That mat under the artist altered Lord Magnus is new as well btw. Khalsa Brain released a new version (v5, for those keeping count) of their original spellground design this summer, and I was quick to pick it up. Harsh thing was that the shipping of the two mats (which had a release price tag around 60 USD) ended up at almost 100 USD when factoring in toll and service charges. Still worth it though ;) 
These are awesome mats.
In the vein of recently produced products, some proper "new school" things also populated the shopping list. Even though I spend the bulk of my Magic playing time on the previous side of the millennium, I must say I thoroughly enjoy a lot of the newer releases as well. In particular the casual sets, so I much look forward to cracking this in the not too distant future.
And once one gets used to old school price tags, getting a box of a new set actually appear highly reasonable ;)
The next one was a big one. As some readers may know, I've been working on building my Adventure Island deck from close to scratch over the last year or so. That meant I've been actively looking for Power again. This was one of those milestones. 
I am giddy to have it. And it is kinda humbling to try and build from scratch today. This one had a price tag of four times of what I played for my Alpha Timetwister five years ago, and about 15 times of what I sold my previous Unlimited TT for six years ago. I should always buy my cards a few years in the past I guess ;)

Not everything the mailman brings costs money though. I actually traded for a card for once. It is unusual for me to trade these days, as I very rarely get "spares", but I had a few extra Dark Rituals and a familiar guy were looking for Rituals and had an extra Bolt. So now I have fewer rituals and more bolts.
Even cheaper than trading is when a generous soul just send a gift :) This was a surprising pleasure courtesy of Francesc Montserrat and Gregory Protic; a couple of local organizers from Spain and Switzerland respectively.
Francesc and Greg recently created a set of tokens for 93/94, with art by Francesc and printed on proper stock that survives a few beer spills. The package contain representations of all the possible tokens that can be created by cards from ABU and the first four expansions; a few of which never had official tokens.
A strange clone.
A wasp that must be killed individually.
These counters are independent creatures, except they can't be enchanted.
Be careful with that egg.
Powerful combo with Argivian Archaeologist and Martyrs of Korlis.
Finally! Oh how I have longed for this token. Technically it only bands with other Wolves of the Hunt, but clearly close enough ;)
...And some more tokens I don't own the corresponding cards for. Two points to those who can name the cards that create them. Three points if you know their mana costs ;)
Back of the tokens.
These things are sweet. If you are looking for a set for yourself, I would recommend reaching out to Francesc at sindados(at)gmail(dot)com, or try to find him or Greg at Facebook. It's also a nice way to support some fellow players :)

The last letter was the biggest though, easily pushing the Power card to the curb. It was a thing I first heard about a year and a half ago. One of the unique pieces I hoped to eventually find and add to my Global Chaos Orb collection.

The Chaos Orb that belonged to the first ever Magic World champion in 1994. The Orb that was then actually chewed by his dog and not sold for another twenty years, maybe due to it having the poorest of conditions and, perhaps, some special nostalgic value. How does one even put a price on that? Maybe a "recklessly damaged card" by most eyes, but a proper gem in any Chaos Orb collection for anyone familiar with the story.
"A gift" is an unexpected price by any measure though. So much love to you Megu, I hope I am able to pass your generosity along to other players myself <3
So this was a summer of sweet stuff. And I can't thank the generous people in the community enough for the gifts you've sent. But I will try to carry your generosity with me, and keep that mindset alive whenever I find opportunities to give back something to other people in the community. The willingness to give something just for the sake of making the recipient happy is inspiring, and something that seems to become one of the core values in oldschool magic. It is such a pleasure to a part of a community like this.

I have a few more cards incoming in preparation for next year's Wizard's Tournament, but other than that I think it'll be a slow autumn and winter. Magic is a luxury product after all, and oldschool even more so. It has been a really good run this summer though, and it feels like I'm leaving on a high note of glorious mail days.

torsdag 23 augusti 2018

Old School Magic is Love; a story from Denmark

"An emotional format." Why is that? Some, perhaps most, answers to that question focus on something intangible. The culture, the people, the game play, the gatherings. But there is also a tangible part to make Old School Magic what it is. The cards themselves tell a story. Call it history, nostalgia or childhood dreams; something is embodied on that quarter century old 63 x 88 mm piece of cardboard. This is a slice of life from Emil Thirup-Sorknæs of Copenhagen, a regular at the Danish Old School scene and one of the brains and hearts behind the DOS-tournaments. Enjoy! /Mg out

A couple of weeks ago a regular at the Danish Old School community’s Facebook-page posted the photos below, along with a description of a horrible washing machine malfunction and some less-than-advisable storage of Old School cards (i.e. in the basement). This flooding came during one of the worst droughts in Danish history, so, naturally, the shock and horror in the community reached some heights.
Witness the sheer horror of a malfunctioning washing machine – never wash your clothes!
The Old Schooler in question assured the rest of the community, that no really expensive cards were destroyed or harmed, but he also wrote "… none the less, there are a bit less alpha and beta cards in the world now." The reactions to his post – I will come to these in a minute – made me think, and made me want to write a little something about an aspect of the Old School community and general environment, that I have encountered several times, and that I think is quite unique: the sheer and unconditional love – not only for the game itself, all magic players have that to some extent I think, but to the cards themselves, and their art – the true Magic the Gathering Art. The art of the game. Or, rather, the art that is the game of Old School Magic the Gathering.
Icy Manipulator – maybe my favorite art of all time, and some true Old School art
Lightning Bolt – in my opinion one of the most defining and iconic pieces of art in the game! Apparently I have a thing for lightning…
Seeing photos of flooded alpha and beta cards lying on the floor like wounded soldiers in an infirmary, made several people tear up like said soldiers’ loving, hand-wrenching mothers would have. People felt the pain. No less than 13 "sad" smileys were clicked along with a couple of "wow"-smileys. I think this is one of the most reacted to posts in our forum. And even though some people immediately, quite naturally, started talking about whether the insurance would pay, most simply wrote something along the lines of: "This is like one of my nightmares come true," or "Nooo! My stomach hurts!" or "I feel your pain, I am so sorry to see, what you have to go through."

And this underlines some of the points I am trying to get at. See how a lot of these comments could as easily have been to someone who had just went through some major life-crisis? The burning down of a house, serious illness, death in the near family or the likes. This is – on the surface of things – a rather extreme reaction for the loss of something that, for outsiders, is only some very old cardboard. I am, nonetheless, very certain that none of these comments were in any way ironic or exaggerated. I was the one commenting, that it looked like something of my nightmares, and I can assure you, I meant it! And I really think the rest of the posters did so too. But what is it that makes us so sad and shocked to see Old School cards be destroyed by the elements (or a faulty washing machine and an extreme case of unluckiness)?

Is it the monetary aspect? Of course even a handful of water-damaged Alpha and Beta cards could mean a quite serious hit to your collection, and thus your collections’ worth. But a flooding of your house almost always means some hit to your wallet – whether it is the house itself that gets damaged, all the clothes and computers you have stored in your basement, your sex dungeons interior or simply the collection of vintage draft beers lying around. It all loses value, when soaked in water for an extended period of time. And I’m not certain that the same reactions would have been, if the post had been about some destroyed Penguin Paperbacks or the odd collection of actual cardboard. And in this case, money wasn’t even an issue. The poster eased the anxious community by stating that the insurance will pay for the destroyed cards (remember to buy that insurance peeps!). But he followed that up with the sentence: "But it still aches the heart – I have never tried anything like it!"

Now, one can argue that the Old Schooler in question has had a relatively privileged life, if his worst moment was realizing that his basement, and, along with it, some of his cardboard was flooded, but let’s face it, we’ve probably all had relatively privileged life, when we can afford these cards in the first place.

Also, it’s really not the point because even if he was the most privileged person to have ever walked the face of the earth, his tears would still be genuine. His grief would be hardly comforted. Because he has actually lost something of real value – not monetary value, real value with real feelings attached. Historic value. Artistic value. A collection of hard-to-get Old School staples can almost be like an old friend. You have groomed your relationship over the years, you have grown together and you know the ins and outs. You probably remember when and/or where you traded for your favorite cards. Maybe some of these acquisitions was the result of long and hard work, and the saving of money for an extended period of time. And this is something else than simply having an insurance-stacked wallet to just buy what you need from a big vendor.

You love the whole, not just parts, of said friend. The unlucky Old Schooler pictured this when writing that he jumped into the flooded basement – with little to no regards for his own safety (an electric installation had also been flooded) – to save his cards, and to "… dry, cuddle and calm them…" Even though you only loose a handful of near-unplayable commons, it can still be a significant loss, because this was something you put some thought and work into creating. This was not something that came to pass as a coincidence – these cards were an important part of a whole.

And also: this is art, we are talking about. And the world has now lost some of this art. I know that there are several thousand pieces of these specific pieces of art, but it doesn’t diminish the point. "… there are a bit less alpha and beta cards in the world now." The sentence actually makes me goose bump a little. Try to read it aloud for yourself… “There are one less work of Picasso in the world now.” Are the two sentences comparable? I may be absolutely raging crazy, but I actually think so.
Guernica by Picasso – not far from some of the more obscure old cards in its style? Is it only me that sees some Stasis in there?
I am a historian. This is history being destroyed – think about it. It actually is history. These old cards will never be printed like this again. Some of them will not be printed again at all. It is history in the form of cardboard, and therefore the destruction of it is somewhat inevitable but that won’t make it any better. This is art and history vanishing from the world. As the unfortunate Old Schooler said "Everything else in the basement was just stuff."

Just stuff… Old School cards are exactly so much more than just stuff.

As one of my Old School friends has stated several times in discussions about the crazy raging prices of our desired cardboard: "It is just money – Old School is love." And, as we all know, you can’t put a price on real love.

torsdag 16 augusti 2018

The tale of the crippled beggar

So this might be the epitome of the occasional "Ha, I don't have an editor!"-posts. Hopefully somebody might enjoy the concept or the plain oddity as content goes. Flow is inspired by the 14th century Syrian manuscripts; the translation of the frame story in the end is a version suggested by Husain Haddawy (though not verbatim). This was fun to write.


It is said, O wise and happy King, that one morning the caliph Harun-al Rashid woke up and said "Today I shall walk in my city as a common man to observe my people and learn of their piety. For there is no other power but that of God." The caliph and his most trusted vizier Ja'far then dressed up as merchants and walked down the streets of Baghdad.
When they had wandered the city for some time, the caliph laid his eyes upon a beggar with no legs. Among all the people in his land, this man was surely the lowest. His hunger was such that his skin hung like ragged silk over his ribs and his arms were as thin as kindling wood. In his cup he had no food nor coins, for the beggar bore a mark of ill fortune so that no one dared to offer him alms.

When the caliph looked at him, he felt sad and sorry for him. With tears in his eyes he turned to Ja'far and said "You dog of a vizier! What misfortune has marked this man to lose his legs and and go hungry without zakat? Your negligence in the affairs of my city has caused this man his misfortune. I will hang you and forty of your kinsmen with you."

Ja'far was struck with terror and said, "O, Commander of the Faithful, I hear and obey. But in your wisdom, grant me delay to hear the story of the crippled beggar before your judgment falls. If his story points to error in my ways of handling the affairs of the holy Caliphate, I shall gather a hundred of my kinsmen to answer for the crime. But if his story is strange, let the hangman's noose be untied." The caliph replied "Granted. We shall bring him to the palace to hear of his misfortunes and bathe him and cloth him. If his tale indeed amazes, you shall have no crime to answer for."

Ja'far approached the beggar and said, "Beggar, bow your head for you are in the presence of the seventh of the sons of 'Abbas, al-Rashid, son of al-Mahdi son of al-Hadi and brother of al-Saffah son of Mansur. It is his will that you be brought to the holy palace to be bathed and cloth, so that you may tell you story and praise the Almighty God."

The beggar bowed his head to kiss the ground before him and said, "O, Commander of the Faithful, it is my wish that I am not brought to the holy palace for I carry the mark of misfortune. If you cloth me I fear the locus will eat your fields of silk and if you bath me I fear the drought will barren your wells. For my case is so strange and amazing that were it engraved with needles at the corner of the eye, it would be a lesson for those who wish to consider." The beggar continued:

I was once a king in a most prosperous country. My lands stretched fifty parasangs to the east and fifty parasangs to the north, and it had mountains which rose beyond the clouds. The trees bore abundant fruits; pears sweeter than rosewater, plumes aromatic like musk and apples that dazzled the eyes like polished rubies. By the streams running through my lands the banks were covered with roses, jasmine, violets, daisies, narcissus and lilies; and the caves in the mountains kept emeralds, rubies, moonstone and gold. Visitors to my lands thought that such wealth could only belong to a king of kings. I was embraced as a brave and pious ruler who judged fairly between the strong and the meek so that everyone near and far loved me and wished me long life and success. For in my kingdom the four faiths lived in harmony and no one would starve nor die a violent death.
In my palace I had forty concubines of all races, but in all my life I was never blessed with a son. As I grew old I used to say to myself, "I am afraid that I will die without a son and the kingdom will pass into the hands of strangers."

One day a slave merchant came to my palace with a girl beautiful and elegant beyond description. She was like her of which the poet said

With her to make compare Beauty they brought
But Beauty hung her head in abject shame
The said, "O Beauty, have you seen her like?"
Beauty replied, "I have ne'er seen the same"

I was stunned by her grace and turned to the merchant and said, "Shaikh, what is the price of this girl?" The merchant replied "O King, this girl rose from the ocean floor while I was sailing the Caspian Sea. In the four months since I found her, she has not eaten a dirham's worth nor spoken a word. I believe that she is a princess of the Sea People, unadjusted to lives of lowborns like myself. She is a gift for you my lord the king, in the hope that God will allow her to bear you a son. For she is worthy of none but you, and you of none but her." When I heard this I bestowed on the merchant a robe of honor and ordered him ten thousand dinars and one of my choice horses.

I took the girl to one of my private apartments overlooking the sea. But when I proceeded to undress her I saw that she wore a necklace with the almighty name that was engraved on the ring of Solomon, the son of David. In my foolishness I unlocked the necklace, and as I did the girl disappeared and the room was filled with smoke and fire. I saw that the girl was no longer of human flesh and I trembled with fear.
The smoke gathered in the shape of a fiery efreet with flames leaping from its mouth. It said to me, "King, I was captured in this necklace by Solomon the wise. For a thousand years I was at the bottom of the sea until one day I heard the agony of a human soul call me in my prison. This girl you saw was once the eldest daughter of a ruler like yourself. When she traveled the sea with her sisters, they were jealous of her beauty and murdered her. When they threw her overboard her blood sought revenge on her traitorous kin, and so her spirit found this necklace. With her blood our reckless spirits merged and we were able to use her lifeless body as a vessel to walk the land and sea until the day someone would break the seal. You set us free, and so we will do you no harm. Name you wish, and we will grant it, for we are the most powerful of our kin."

My desire overtook my caution, and I said to it, "I wish that this land should not fall into the hands of strangers, and that my blood should live for a thousand years." The efreet replied "I hear and obey. No one but God can grant the heir that you desire, but your blood shall still live and your kingdom shall not fall into the hands of strangers. At the edge of your lands there is a holy shore with white sand where Um Alsalhfa, the mother of turtles, lays her eggs. Go there and eat her eggs, and you will gain her strength and live for a thousand years."
Possessed with the efreet's proposal I loaded up supplies and went out on the journey. For three months my most trusted vizier and I searched for the white beach of Um Alsalhfa. We rode over vast fields and traitorous mountains until the day we saw a shore as white as snow. When we approached, we were amazed to find that the sand were pearls more brilliant than any seen in the world. My vizier told me, "Be careful King, for this is a holy place and the trickery of the efreet is known. We must remember that there is no strength save in the Almighty God." But he spoke to a fool.

As my horse came upon the white shore it refused to go further, with such determination that no amount of beating would have it take a single step onto the white pearls ahead. My vizier pleaded "My king, this is a place that demands humility. Did not the Almighty God say to Mûsâ ibn 'Imran: "Do not go any further. Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground"? These beasts were created by that same God, and they will not place their iron-laden hooves on sacred ground."

I dismounted with great anger and yelled to him "You and your lectures are as useless to me as this horse! Go away and find me a camel of great posture to conquer this white shore, and return in three days or I will have your head!" My vizier nodded and rode away, and I set up a small camp by the edge of the shore to bide my time.

As night fell, a glow like that of a wild ocean reflecting in the most brilliant moonstone appeared at the horizon. It was the light of which the poet said:

Expect my visit when the darkness comes
The night I think is best for hiding all
If the heavens felt the love I feel for you
The sun would not shine, nor the moon rise
Nor the stars travel in their nightly journey

Their beauty hiding in shame compared
To the passionate glow of my desire 

I ran across the shore towards the light like no king had run before. My robe whirled in the nightly wind and my sandals rustled against the pearly sand beneath. When I finally reached the source of the light, a trove of turtle eggs laid before me. "This must be the eggs of Um Alsalhfa." I said. "If I eat them, I will live for a thousand years. And when I fill my skins with glowing pearls from this trove, my kingdom will prosper for a thousand more." So I ate the eggs and filled my skins with pearls.

It took me a full day to find the way back to my camp, and when I arrived I was as tired as the farmer with the white elephant. I fell asleep in my tent without removing my robes, and did not wake until noon the next day.
When I rose I went to clean myself with oils, but as I removed my sandals horror washed over me. I saw that my feet were black like those of an Elamite. Walking on the sacred ground with clothed feet I had evoked the curse of Um Alsalhfa, and I saw that no oil could wash me clean.

Mad with grief I looked out over the shore and saw that what was once a beach of pearls was now a desert of salt. Determined to find myself back to my city and rid myself of the curse I started walking back over the fields, following the markings left by my vizier's horse. But every time I took a step the grass beneath my feet would rot, and as I lifted my foot a puddle of tar would replace the green that once grew.

I walked for a day with the land decaying behind me. When I stopped to drink and wash my body in a river, the clear water turned salt and the fish perished. In my desperation and thirst, I tearfully cried out for a holy man to confess to, so that God would find me worthy to forgive and lift my curse.

When I rose my head from prayer that dusk, I saw two men walking towards me. One dressed in a white robe, clean as the dawn, the other dressed in red, tattered and broken. As they came closer I saw that both men were missing their left eye.

"Nomads of my land!" I said, "May your breath be warm and your faith be true. The man you look at is your king, and the king of all your kin. Calamity has fallen upon me, and I must confess my sins and repent. But I wonder! What flower did you give to the water so that you would lose your left eyes?"

The man in the white robe replied, "O King! It would be an honor to absolve your sins if I am worthy of such a deed. For I was indeed a holy man of the true faith. I am the third son of the Umayyads and was known to hold the wisdom of a hundred men. But now I walk the lands as a dervish, as my folly took my house and my left eye. Before you confess your sins, consider my story and deem me worthy of your sanctity."

He began...
But morning overtook Shahrazad and she lapsed into silence. As the day dawned, and it was light, her sister Dinarzad said, "What a strange and wonderful story!" Shahrazad replied, "What is this compared to what I shall tell you tomorrow night? It will be even better; it will be more wonderful, delightful, and delectable if the king spares me and lets me live." The king was curious to hear the rest of the story, and said to himself "By God, I will not have her put to death until I hear the rest of the story and find out how that king lost his legs and became a lowly beggar. Then I will have her put to death the next morning, as I did with the others." Then he went out to attend the affairs of his kingdom, and when he saw Shahrazad's father, he treated him kindly and showed him favors, and the vizier was amazed.