onsdag 25 maj 2016

Clip Show

There are something like 260 posts on this blog. Most are without tags or structure. A few people have noted this, and mentioned that some sort of links could be appreciated for new visitors, or for veterans who wants to give old content a second look. So I took some time and dug up five of the, in my opinion, more interesting posts in seven different categories along with ten or so deck techs with short summaries.
A random pic of Kalle doing the Lestree Pose with a makeshift pair of black sunglasses.
Maybe you'll find something sweet you haven't seen before. Check it out here.

onsdag 18 maj 2016

Springtime at Ovino, a guest report from Giuseppe Rinaldi

Ah, summer! Suddenly, everything is alive again, the parks are full of beer, and the sun seems to never set. There are many things I could rant about in the world of the oldest of cards. The unrestriction of Fork has already had a pretty big impact. In the years prior, it has taken a few months before we've seen the real effect of updates to the restricted list; mostly as it takes so much time and effort to build and test new decks. But this time, Marc Lanigra took down the MKM Series 93/94 tournament in Frankfurt with his undefeated Fork deck already the day after the card was legalized. Further northwest, the UK old school players got some stream time during the MagicMadhouse ProSeries in Birmingham last weekend. Chris Cooper and the others in the UK Old School crew have also announced the first UK Old School Nationals championship in Blackpool July 3rd during the Magic Madhouse Grand Finale convention. A part of the proceeds will go to charity, and word on the street is that you'll get to pick your potential spoils based on how skilled you are flipping a Chaos Orb on the prize table. I'll also throw in free entry and a beer at next years n00bcon in the prize pool if the UK Champion would like to come and join us there ;) And Stephen Menendian have completed his third entry in his series on Old School Magic at Vintagemagic.com; this time looking at Zoo decks. And 93/94 Skype Magic has grown quite a bit since the post last week, with both new players and new technical solutions. And I've built a Suicide Blue deck with Illusionary Mask. And some other sweet stuff is going on.

But this is not a week for me to rant. Instead, we have a treat from the southern part of the continent where the mages of old gather en masse to fight for glory and an oversized Chaos Orb. The Ovino tournaments are by now among the top four largest recurring Old School tournaments in the world. A year ago, they hosted an impressive 30 participants. Six months ago, they gathered 40, and this spring they were 51 guys battling it out in Milan, Italy. You can check out some videos and awesome decks on the Ovinotournaments web page. But that's not all, of course. Today we have the story directly from the horse's mouth. I give the word to the 2016 Ovino X Champion Giuseppe Rinaldi. /Mg out.

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In the autumn of 2015 I was surfing on this blog looking for some nice decks, when my attention was stunned by this picture:
Thomas's BRW Tempo
I liked the deck, but my first impression was that I could build it better and anyway I didn’t want to play a tempo-oriented deck but a midrange version. So I’ve played a BRW list with Dark Rituals, Sinkhole and Underworld Dreams until march 2016 when I finally got (with an huge trade) my P9, I added two more bombs and made several changes to the list thanks to the experience gained in the tournaments I played.

The main goal to reach was the simplicity: play creatures hard to deal with, like Sedge Troll (that is the most underrated creature in this format), removals and bombs. As you can see from my list, I built the sideboard thinking about control decks.
First version of the deck - December 2015, 3rd position on a 17 players tournament in Milan  (10 proxies allowed)
In the first build of the deck I ran a playset of rituals and factories 'cause I interpreted and played the deck as a Monoblack with a splash. I was wrong. This deck doesn’t want to act like a Monoblack with a ritual-specter on turn one followed by a sinkhole/black knight on turn two. In fact, if your starting hand isn’t explosive, what you want to do in the early game is to stay open and control the board until turn four, when you finally start to play your threats. So the rituals were cut for sapphire and fellwar stones that fix your mana and let you have an easier midgame. Sinkhole is played just as a one-of as a third solution to LoA or (as I often do) to destroy a blue land in order to play a bomb (now I have Fellwar Stone as cc2 drop). Armageddon was another great add: I wanted a big threat against "The Deck" at sorcery speed, in this way, my opponents can fight it only with permissions, and their  removals become useless.

About the Mishra's Factories: playing the first build I noticed that a lot of defeats were caused by Blood Moon or color screw, so the only solution was to cut colorless mana and add more City of Brass and basic lands. During the Ovino tournament I played with only one Mishra's Factory just to troll the other players :) The truth is that I really would like see it in the restricted list because I hate the stalling situations caused by them.

At the moment the only card that doesn’t convince me is Wheel of Fortune: it’s always the first card that I side out in every single matchup. Same thing about Chains of Mephistopheles and Wrath of God, they will be replaced.
The deck I played at Ovino
The deck works fine, I tuned it a lot during the past months. I started from an idea then I developed and improved it and mainly I forgot to blow Mr. Lestree or Mr. Weissman.

The Tournament

Round 1 - Mr Fabbri with BRG Abyss Control (2-0)
In G1 he resolves a Su-Chi on turn four with Badlands, Bayou and Taiga in play. I don’t see any blue sources so I just keep my Disenchant for The Abyss he had previously tutored and it’s gg. Game two is very similar but my hate for artifacts and enchantments has grown.

Round 2 - Mr Pandini with RUG Zoo (only cc1/cc2 creatures) (2-1)
During the morning I playtested with him, he had incredible starting hands and beat me easily 3-0.
In G1 I play a fast Juzam and several removals on his creatures, I force him to make unfavorable plays to take care of my big boys and he quickly lose gasoline and the game.
G2 Land creature go, land creature chain lightning, land bolt bolt. No brain, no pain. Easy victory for him.
G3 He has a Sylvan Library in play but sees only crap, another Juzam take him in the red zone but he’s able to limit it thanks to Maze of Ith until I draw a Time Walk.

Round 3 - Mr Ancarani with UWB Abyss Control 2-0
Before the match we talked about how Juzam is overvalued in this format. He asks me if I play them. I digress.
In G1 my starting hand is: 3 lands, mox, fellwar, Mind Twist and a random card. The plan is simple: Mtwist for 3 on turn 2, unfortunately for Mr. Ancarani my first draw is a Lotus...
However, the match is really long 'cause I draw only mana sources and removals, he’s able to rebuild his hand and has a nice comeback with his Mtwist. Then arrive 3 Juzam and it’s game over.
G2 again 3 overvalued djinns teach him how is wrong to mess with them.

Round 4 - a guy with Monoblack 2-1
In G3 I have to face a dramatic situation: my opponent has 2 Juzam in play, x cards in hand and 11 lifepoints, my board is a Troll, 8 lands and one card in hand (a mox). He attacks me and I go to 4 lp then he casts another Juzam. I topdeck a Fireball and let him die on his upkeep. An inglorious victory.

Round 5 - Mr Maggi with The Deck (with Serra Angel and Power Monolith combo) 2-0
G1 I play some fast creatures that meet stp and cspell, he resolves a Serra Angel so I have to invest my Demonic Tutor for a stp. I play a Juzam and he tries to chaosorbing him but the wrong flip gives me the game.
G2 I can’t remember much of this game, probably I win it thanks to a creature+armageddon.

Round 6 - Mr Lauter with The Deck (i.d.)

Quartefinals - Mr Melandri with UR Counterburn 2-0
G1 He keeps an hand with no red sources and my Specter starts to hit him. Eventually he takes care of him and when he taps out for a threat I simply discard his hand with a Mtwist. A Troll finish the job.
G2 In the midgame he plays a Control Magic on my Troll then resolves a Su-Chi, I play a Juzam and keep him on defense while destroy his blue lands with Sinkhole and Strip Mine. He plays a Timetwister and in response I cast a Bolt on his face, he seems dazed but what I need is just one of my eight outs (Reb or Disenchant) to let the Troll come back home. After the twister he chooses to attack me and I block his Su-chi with my Juzam, he looks at me, he looks at me again, he says "I know u want to fuck my ass", I put my pokerface on, he looks at his lands (island and cob open), he thinks, he looks at me again than taps his cob to bolt my Juzam.
"In response Reb on Control Magic"
"Ok man, you got my ass".
He pass, I untap, draw, play lotus, moxen, Mtwist for 6 and a second Troll. Call me scum.

Semifinals - Mr Esposito with Red Artifact 2-1
The match has been recorded so I hope u will see it online soon.
G1 I’m at 1 life and close to give up, but I succeed to take care of his massive army of Su-Chi and Juggernaut and then my Trolls give me an unexpected victory. Probably one of the best comeback in my life.
G2 A Blood Moon on turn one is enough for me.
G3 He chooses not to Chaos Orb my Troll (and swing his creatures to my face) and probably this choice costs him the game.
Mr. Esposito's deck.
Finals - Mr Citino with UBR Power Monolith 2-1
G1 I start with Scrubland, Lotus, Troll, then land, mox, Demonic Tutor (powersinked), in the midgame he plays a Timetwister and I see again Lotus, Demonic Tutor + Juzam, Strip Mine, and other bombs.
G2 An huge flood for me: 10 lands, 3 fellwar, 2 moxen (the other 2 in my hand). I play 4 spells: Time Walk, Reb, Disenchant and a Troll. He resolves Blood Moon and the Abyss then plays 4 Bolts and a Fireball.
G3 He quickly resolves a Blood Moon but has only an island and sapphire as blue sources, this means he cannot try his combo with a backup cspell. I have a Troll plus swamp and Mox Jet and slowly start a race. He gets some turns bolting my Troll in the precombat phase, then tries an Ancestral Recall on my eot, I let him resolves ‘cause I have only a Reb in hand as active protection. Then he casts a Boomerang on the autolocking Blood Moon and I let him resolves too 'cause now with Reb, Disenchant and Fork (previously drawn) I feel pretty safe. On his turn he plays a land and pass. No bombs, no Abyss, he’s in a deep flood. I draw a second Troll and resolve it (can’t remember if there was a counterwar on him). Two turns later he extends his hand.

That’s all, thanks for reading.
The prize: A huge Chaos Orb signed by Tedin and the players.
We give Giuseppe a great thanks for his story, for his good games, and for showing us again that underestimating Juzam Djinn will come at the price of your demise. All the best! /Mg

onsdag 11 maj 2016

Skype magic - or playing magic with people from all over the world when you have toddlers

Today we have a treat! Norwegian old school player and all round good guy Bjørn Einar Bjartnes shares his story, and his experiences battling opponents around the world using Skype and Shivan Dragons. Enjoy! /Mg out

I started playing Magic back when revised was in the shops here in Oslo. It was very casual and mostly with friends from school. House rules were a necessity because no-one knew the rules that well. My little brother claims I insisted Mana Flare only counted for my lands. No wonder I appreciated that card so much. We had a few older cards, mostly we got ripped trading dual lands for common legend cards, I think. My mum actually managed to buy eight packs of The Dark for Christmas once, I think the local card store got an extra box in. I still remember not being too happy about expansions like Ice Age, I guess 93/94 was in my heart already back then. When I started high school, I put my cards away in a shoe-box. Geeky hobbies like Mtg had to let go. Since then my cards had mostly been in that shoe-box, or played by my little brother who continued playing. Until the day I started working with Magnus and he showed me his blog. 20 years later all I knew for sure was that I was still going to play red and green, maybe with black, but surely not white and blue. Everybody knows those colors are for weaklings and cowards. I didn’t plan to go all in on 93/94 either, maybe just restore my old revised deck as I remembered it, but one thing led to another and suddenly the cardboard crack got the better of me, with new shipments being ordered before the first one arrives.
My current deck is under constant tweaking as I learn to play 93/94. My favorite kill is a Berserked Dragon Whelp with Gauntlet of Might. This is my build for an ongoing Skype tournament that allows revised.
A lot of good things can be said about Scandinavian gender equality, but it doesn’t give a man with young kids a lot of time to hang out playing Magic with friends all night. It’s not that much fun having a sweet deck built and hardly being able to leave the apartment… When I found the OLDSCHOOL 93-94 SKYPE TOURNAMENTS Facebook Group I got really interested. It definitely sounds a bit weird, webcam with strangers does sound a bit like chat roulette to me. Desperate to play magic, I decided to give it a go anyway. Turned out, it was a great experience, time flew, I had a few beers, we played and talked about Magic for hours. My girlfriend did make quite a lot of fun of me for it, I guess it must have looked a bit weird…
My first game, we played only using laptops, we didn’t even build the laptop up with books. We were such n00bs back then in April...
Suddenly I was able to hang out and play with people from all over the world. It has turned out a lot better than I expected it too. Old-school players are really chill, the format is really about casual fun and admiration of old cards. Rules are the “standard” Swedish B&R, but most people are ok with people playing revised cards. Personally, I play a couple of revised duals and a couple of birds, but I try to avoid going overboard and avoid proxies. I think most of us play to have fun with the old card, and even if I would probably win more if I added a few proxies for moxen and a lotus it wouldn’t feel right for me. Winning is less important than slinging old cards. Mostly, when I have time to play, I just post on the group when I have time and want to play, ideally the day before, but the same night sometimes works as well. As more players find out about 93/94 Skype I’m sure hooking up with players will be even easier.
I’ve had quite a few matches the last weeks with Markus. This shows my first setup, without an external camera, but using an extra monitor.
As more people join in on the fun, the Skype format evolves. One Sunday not too long ago we played a mini-tournament with four players, everybody got to play three matches with all three players. We had players on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. There are other longer-running tournaments being experimented with, and I’m sure we haven’t seen it all yet. We have even talked about traveling to meet up with some players to play IRL.

My experience so far, is that tournaments are a lot more chill if you schedule in matches in different sessions. Hanging out, slinging cards, drinking beer is more relaxed if you don’t have other people waiting. At least for me, the 3x3 matches in one night was less chill. I did get to play a lot of different opponents, I did have a great time, but I prefer playing one person without time limits.
Things you can do only on Skype: I can stand on my standing-desk while my opponent can sit down and smoke without bothering me.
Technicalities
Some things needs a few adjustment when playing over Skype, like taking control over creatures, rolling dice etc. But even flipping orbs works well! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxkpXbHGElA

Having an old laptop with a bad webcam shouldn’t stop you from playing on Skype. No matter how good your setup is, you will not be able to read the text of a card without holding the card to the camera, so a simple setup will suffice. However, I have played around a little to try to optimize my setup.
  1. Connection
    A stable connection helps a lot, not hearing your opponent clearly is more annoying than the video quality dropping. Getting good audio requires a stable internet connection. Wired Ethernet beats WiFi, so try to wire up. If you can’t, at least make sure you have a strong WiFI signal.
  2. Built in webcam
    If you don’t have an external webcam, there are a few tricks that works well. You can build your laptop up with a few heavy books to get a better angle, and if you have an external monitor you can avoid trying to look up on a bent screen on the book pile.
  3. External cameras
    You will get the best quality from external webcams. High quality webcams need to do compression to be able to send video feed to your opponent over the internet, if you have a beefy computer it should be able to do high res video (720p, at least) using your CPU to do the compression. If your computer is a bit slower, a camera with built in hardware encoding is definitely better. Cameras like Logitech’s C920 does hardware encoding of h.264 up to 1920x1080, that Skype for Windows can use directly without having to encode the video. I would definitely recommend the C920, I picked mine up used for about $50.
  4. Lightning
    Webcams need decent lighting. Avoid direct sunlight and spots that can give glares in cards. Direct back light can also be challenging.
  5. Life counters
    The mobile apps works really well, you can see both players score over Skype. My small, see-through dice are next to worthless. I dream of making a device of some sorts that would project life onto the screen, we’ll see…
  6. Sound
    Built in mics normally work, but external speakers and a decent microphone is better. I use the built in mic in the C920 and I think that's ok.
This is about as high quality as I have been able to get my video.
And in the not-too-distant future I am sure we can get even more immersive gameplay, with real cards projected on the table. The Hololens still costs approximately one unlimited Black Lotus, but unlike the Lotus, prices will drop. People have already started contributing ideas to https://microsoftstudios.com/hololens/shareyouridea/idea/magic-the-gathering/. Personally, I don’t care about the 3D models on top of the cards, there is nothing 93/94 about that, but having your opponents cards projected onto a table would be cool. Also a virtual touch on a card to have in enlarged would be sweet. http://i.cbc.ca/1.2927980.1421947089!/fileImage/httpImage/image.png_gen/derivatives/original_620/hololens-minecraft.png

We thank Bjørn Einar again for his introduction to Skype Magic and sweet tech. If you want to join him in a game or two, I highly recommend checking out the 93/94 Skype Magic Facebook group. Note that this group is not any kind of hardcore competitive environment, but a chance for deckbuilders with few local opponents or a lot of commitments to have a beer and swing old cardboard with similar good people around the world :)

tisdag 3 maj 2016

Banned & Restricted update 2016

It's that time of the year again. For real this time ;)

We got input from a lot -a lot- of active players this year. Some things are pretty much equal across the different groups; e.g. a great majority thinks that City in a Bottle should be unrestricted and that Strip Mine should be restricted, but there are still a handful very vocal opponents against their current status. Further away from the status quo than that, I've heard great players well invested in the format give arguments for restricting cards like Swords to Plowshares and Power Sink, and others arguing the merits for unrestricting Balance and Mana Drain. As noted by the response for the Aprils Fools post this year, it's easy to give somewhat good arguments for many, many different cards. And everyone wont always share the same experience playing with or against them. So it's important to test, talk to people, look at actual results, and understand that the changes should be made in the spirit of having people enjoy the format. It's a format for us who like flipping Chaos Orbs on Circle of Protection: Black and putting Shivan Dragons into play with Eureka after all.
A few of the cards that spark debates
Many players from different communities gave input this year, including building and playtesting decks. In particular the four last world champions and all round pillars of the community that are Elof Gottfridsson, Christoffer "Stalin" Andersson, Kalle Nord and Martin Berlin; and the skillful players and tournament organizers Markus "KungMarkus" Guldbrandson and Gordon Andersson. Among the other players who provided most valuable input I'd like to give a shout out to Gael from France, Marc Lanigra from Germany, Martin Lindström and GaJol from Sweden, and many others from across the lands.

And again, everyone wont like everything. As we've done for the last nine years, we might well keep making minor tweaks to this list every year for a long time coming. Promoting a small update to the meta, while at the same time trying to not mess too much with any pet decks. And if you don't like the changes or really want to play with four Strip Mines or 4th Edition Sylvan Libraries, just organize a gathering and do it. Make up your own house rules, or you can follow Eternal Central rules, BoM Rules, ChannelFireball rules, Local Danish rules, Ravenna rules, UK rules, EudoGames rules, Australian rules or whatever you want. There are a lot of variants. A group in Spain decides Chaos Orb flips with a coin flip to get a 50/50 chance of destroying a card rather than flipping the Orb itself. It's not like a gang of raging Scandinavians will come to your home and spill out your beer and break your kitchen table.

That said, I do realize that the great majority of the different players and playgroups around the world follow this B&R for their Old School needs. Even if many groups allow a few additional reprint sets, the B&R is almost uniformly consistent outside of USA. It's used in most all of the large European tournaments, and it's the list commonly used for 93/94 on Skype (more on that next week btw!). So we try and approach it with some thought to make it easier for players in different groups have a mostly common ground to stand on when they face each other across the borders. As a community driven format, I think that there will always be some differences, but it's important not to mess too much with the baseline and alienate players. Sure, it would be cool to legalize Rebirth, but it would also be a pretty weird play. Maybe in the future sometime ;)
I mean, you don't even have to ante if you don't want to.
Time to delve down. A lot of cards were discussed this year, let's take a look at five of the most heated suspects.
In a world where everyone has full power and everyone wants to play "the best deck", Black Vise might actually not be that much of a hassle. It's not a blow-out against powered UR Burn as they will empty their hands to four cards or less within a moment. It's not that good against The Deck, as The Deck plays full power to ramp out their hands of artifact mana and then still can operate a Jayemdae Tome with 3-4 cards in hand. And if it should be a hassle, The Deck has a lot of ways to remove it. It is however a ridiculous (and highly disliked) card against budget decks, and it makes power all that much more important. Say you're on White Weenie (a fast deck), and you face the double Vise start. Even if you curve out almost perfectly with turn 1 Savannah Lions, Turn 2 White Knight, and a drop or two turn 3, you still looking at at least 12 damage. If you don't curve out, opponent has some mana denial, or if you play something like Distress or Enchantress, you probably just lose. A card that does fairly little against the top tier decks but is pretty much insane against decks without moxen doesn't seem like something we need in the format. It is also a very high variance card; broken turn one on the play, but usually a feel-bad topdeck in the lategame. Combine those things with the fact that it isn't even needed to have it to have archetypes like prison or mana denial winning tournaments, and it just seems like a card that would make the format worse and decrease diversity (see e.g. Distress from the last Arvika top8, Oldschool's winning Nether Void deck from the Mindstage Convention, or Pefken's winning Parfait from n00bcon 4 for some different examples on prison decks). Black Vise stays restricted.
Going bigger.
Recall might not look like much for the modern mages. Five mana and discard two cards to pick up two from the graveyard doesn't seem to warrant a restriction these days. Well, it does in old school. Anyone who has ever cast a Recall for a Fork and a Time Walk, or just something like a Swords to Plowhares and a Mana Drain, can attest to it's power. There are some seriously good spells to pick up in this format, and a long game ensures that Recall often can be cast for seven or even nine mana. Unrestricting Recall would, again, make the power cards much more prominent and work against the spirit of having them restricted in the first place. It would also make the blue decks with a lot of restricted cards better, which they don't really need to be. Recall stays restricted.
"The Jace, the Mind Sculptor of 93/94" -Stephen Menendian
The Book has really stirred some feathers in the last few months. Trying to summarize the argument of why it should be restricted, it goes something like this: Old School Magic is a format were the answers are generally more powerful than the threats. You can't win with just answers though, so trading creatures for creature removal 1-for-1 would eventually put the creature player on top at some point as a creature will stick. But with the Tomes, the control players usually have access to two or three times as many cards as their opponent, while at the same time getting to play cards with better tempo that are more powerful in a vacuum. Many players think that The Deck needs to be taken down a peg or two, and the natural choice would then be to restrict the "glue" that keeps the unfair cards flowing. It can be argued that it would make the game more enjoyable if we cut down on the strongest unrestricted card advantage engine in The Deck.

The arguments against restriction is first that The Deck isn't the "end all be all" deck of the format, and restricting a card that isn't inherently broken by itself to nerf a great, but not really suppressive, strategy is bad policy. It's not like we're looking at The Deck before the restriction of Mana Drain. Second, it might not really make that big a difference; it's still very possible to play the deck with just one Tome and add something like Transmute Artifacts, Jalum Tome or Scepters in it's place. And third, the guys that are successful with The Deck are among the absolute elite in skill level in the format. It's not like any player showing up with The Deck will go top8.

This was a really hard one, and the discussions went back and forth. In the end, it seems better to possibly err on the side of keeping cards legal. I'm sure we'll look at it again next year, and maybe the meta has tipped the scale in the other direction then. Jayemdae Tome stays unrestricted.
Summer is coming.
To quote Brian "Brian Goddamn Weissman!!" Weissman: "With modern functionality the Factories become much stronger defensive weapons, at a modest cost to your mana base. Their ubiquitous presence in the format definitely sounds like they should be restricted." With 32/32 Factories in the n00bcon top8, and 28/32 Factories in the Arvika top8, it's hard to argue that they aren't extremely powerful. If opponent goes turn one Savannah Lions, turn two White Knight, and you go turn one factory, turn two island, you just built yourself a Moat for no mana or card investment. They are uncounterable wincons. The most popular version of The Deck just runs the Factories as their main win condition, and playing "the Mishra lottery" between control decks is usually not a good time.

But, and here's a but for you, people really like to play with the Factories. It's kinda like Brainstorm in the Legacy format; it may seem like an uniformed decision to keep them legal if we are objective about it, but people like playing them and a majority of the players would never want to restrict them. The Factory discussion started with a lot of animosity towards the card, but the longer it went, the more clear it was that most players really wanted to play with the card and didn't feel its power level was a big deal. So in the end we have a case of what might not be the most logical choice in a strictly competitive sense, but what's best for the format in a utilitarian sense. And after all, the answers are there and we could all afford to play a Stone Rain or two. We'll keep a close eye on the Factories the coming year, but for now Mishra's Factory is still unrestricted.
"After I started playing MtG again I can't even fork a GitHub project without tapping two mountains." -Bjørn Einar Bjartnes
Fork is awesome. Lets just say that this was a long discussion as well. Now go out and brew Fork Recursion, BR Trick Decks, Big Red or Erhnam Burn'Em. Let's see if mid-90s Mark Chalice was right and this really breaks the meta. Fork is unrestricted.

The update will take effect in tournaments from May 15, but feel free to try it out already. I'm always happy to get feedback, even if it's just "This sounds ok". There are always a lot of people who don't agree who make their voices heard, and it's always nice to balance with people who might agree ;)

Oh, also go check out Stephen Menendian's awesome article on the history of The Deck, complete with new (!) tech from the original 1994 control master Brian Weissman if you haven't yet. A great read with some very impressive research.

tisdag 26 april 2016

Garfield alters

In the spring of 1995, I spent a lot of time in my grandparents place out on the countryside. It was a remote scattering of houses by the woods, with only two mail boxes registered in the hamlet. My sister and I filled our days picking berries, playing with the animals and rummaging through wooden chests of old trinkets. In the picture painted by most, it was idyllic.

At that point Magic was an endless sea of rare and odd cards. There was no web with easy access to spoilers and the Encyclopedia books were yet to be printed. We had played for a couple of months and it felt like any card could exist. Take an extra turn for a mana or two? That could well be a thing. A 10/10 creature? Seems like a schoolyard urban legend, but sure, it could be possible.

We approached the game with odd house rules and a sense of discovery. At first, Dark Ritual was a interpreted as a permanent that tapped for three mana. No effects were "until end of turn". An 'X' in a mana cost was thought to represent the constant 10 (the Roman numeral) rather than a variable. Touch and go. As we had done in board games before, we created our own game pieces in our grandparents' house.
My early 1995 arts and craft.
Many players had a similar approach. Scribbled card ideas or errata in their notebooks at school. Cut and paste cards to create something novel as an outlet for creativity. Around that same time, Japji Khalsa and Jeff Brain of Khalsa-Brain Games got as far as producing a complete 3rd party Magic expansion designed by Donald X Vaccarino; the guy who later created Dominion. For the common man in search for some lime light, Scrye Magazine had their own pages where readers would show off their spawns of scissors, sharpies and neglected cardboard. But this was all dadaistic antics, and home made alters were not something people would even consider playing outside the most casual of casual games. That is, except for the alters made by The Man Himself.
Fear of Life, by Richard Garfield.
There was a common house rule in the 90s that said that if you got Richard Garfield to alter the text of one of your cards, and then sign it, it was to be played as written. The mid-90s Garfield alters were few and far between though, and it took me until a few years ago before I first found a few myself. I guess that it could be related to the fact that I've spent most of my life in Sweden and Norway. Also might be because they haven't really had a market nor as big a reputation in the last 15-20 years. But way back when, there were lots of rumors. There was a 3/3 Llanowar Elves somewhere. A copy of Living Wall had flying. A Birds of Paradise could tap to ping one damage. An Ancestral Recall drew 10 cards. There's an Ornithopter Lord floating around.
Ornithopter Lord.
Last December, I hoped to get down to Italy and visit Nebraska's War. One of my plans for the trip was to try and meet Garfield and ask him to change my Shahrazade from Sorcery to Instant. It's an hilarious card, and it would be neat to be able to play it in response to an attack or someone casting a spell. But in the end I got a change of heart. The old days of exploration are over, and a newly minted Garfield alter wouldn't hold a candle to the mystique of one from the 90s. And as (thankfully) most people seem to agree on that, there aren't that many old school alters made these days. The ones that exists are commonly stuffed away in old collections, or gathering dust in some desk, rarely to be parted with. Maybe because they typically don't command the monetary value enough to make it interesting to sell them, at least not compared to the nostalgic value of owning a piece of mid-90s Magic history.
Benalish Hero with "Maze of Ith"-ability
Finding pictures on Garfield alters was kinda hard. I didn't find any site or forum topic on the web that had pics of more than one or two, usually as curiosities. So I'd like to give an extra thanks to David Cermak, owner of the Benalish Hero with the Maze ability above. David contacted me a few weeks back when I had just started writing this post. He had received the Hero as a part of a huge deal when he recently bought the collection of Alex Parrish, the guy who won the Magic tournament at GenCon '93 (the first ever officially organized Magic tournament). David helped me with getting pictures of many of the cards below, some of which I'd only heard about before but never actually seen.
Like the 7/7 Serra Angel for 1WW
Garfield has a reputation for playing with his home-crafted cards. Perhaps most famously, he proposed to his first wife by playing a card named Proposal designed for the occasion. Apart from his alters, he has been known to make brand new oddities and sleeve them up in his decks. When he played in the old school matches at Nebraska's War, his deck was mostly made up of his own creations.
Once more, with feeling.
These custom made cards weren't really a thing people talked about back when, but on the other hand, if Richard Garfield himself brings a deck with home-made cards to an old school tournament, who would ever decline playing against it? I probably wouldn't want to face any random player using these cards, but as the man who both invented the game and designed the entire Arabian Nights set by himself, he clearly gets a pass to make the cards he wants for his old school deck. He made most of the cards in all of our decks after all.

So what about the real 93/94 legal cards, altered by Garfield? Personally, I think that they could be played as altered in old school games as long as both players agree to it beforehand. I wouldn't actively encourage them in tournaments, but I sure wont hinder players to walk down that lane of nostalgia if they both want to. They were a big part of school yard legends in the 90s, and the few players who had their hands on them usually played them as written. If one or more of players in the match don't want to play the cards as altered, they should be played according to Oracle errata (i.e. as normal versions). In particular, some cards are much more fair than others to play. The Serra Angel is pretty broken, but e.g. this Rabid Wombat looks sweet. By no means broken, but probably playable in Enchantress:
The Yavimaya Enchantress of 1994.
On the other hand, this Mishra's Workshop could cause some disgruntled frowning:
A Workshop that taps for 3 without restriction on how to use the mana
As would probably this Time Walk that returns to your hand from the graveyard unless your opponent only speaks only in rhymes:
I'm Rubber, You're Glue?
But looking at the grand scheme of The Doctor's alters, even the power level of those two cards could be considered meek. I think that this card is one of the most charming Garfield alters I've seen yet:
Chaos Confetti
"Soo... I'm gonna flip my Orb on your Beta dual. If I hit, you'll have to rip it up. Then I'll rip up my Chaos Orb, unless I want to scoop before that part of the ability resolves. Do I feel douchy enough to give up a game for seeing you rip up your card? Who knows. Anyways, will you scoop in response, or do you want to rip up your card?" Barring playing against someone like Honka or Shaman Ben (I presume), activating this Chaos Orb would almost always prompt a concession from the opponent.

Hm, more I think about it, the more sure I get that I'll eventually rip the card apart in an inebriated game of 93/94. It's the only Garfield alter I own, but I guess it would be something of a tribute to 1995 Mg to use it properly at some point. And ripping up Chaos Orbs is after all a big part of the lore of mid 90s Magic. Benalish Dead would be proud.

In other news around the world, a bunch of rag-tag Britons gathered to swing old cardboard in a pub in London earlier this month. You can check out some sweet decks and pictures from the event here. The large Ovinospring tournament in Milan took place last weekend, this time gathering over 50 players. And in a little over a month, I'm planning to travel to Frankfurt to see what the Germans have to offer in terms tech and beer, and battle Marc Lanigra and friends on their own turf. Hope to see some of you there!

tisdag 19 april 2016

The Россия perspective

Today we have a treat. Our friend Constantine Prishvitsin from Russia is not only a good guy and an awesome alterer of Fellwar Stones, but he was also the first player to travel multiple time zones to compete in Old School Magic. Since his showing at n00bcon 7 he has been building up, and a few weeks back he was to return to Sweden and compete again, this time with a brother in arms. This is his story. Enjoy! /Mg out

I've been attracted to everything oldschool since I realised myself as a person. 80-90s action movies, games, underground and popular music. You name it. No wonder I always felt a bit uncomfortable in modern day magic, even though I am a game store owner and should support wizards' activities all the way.

First, there was a video on youtube where Olle Rade defeated Sean Fleischman in the finals of Pro Tour Columbus 1996. I was mesmerized by the whole oldschool feel of the coverage. Not the oldest of kinds of magic, but it seemed like an awesome one! Next there was a whole Premiere Pro Tour video from WotC, in which they filmed almost the entire final between Bertand Lestree and Mike Loconto. Erhnamgeddon, millstone, Ivory towers and Icy manipulators... They brought tears to my eyes. That was the kind of magic I had always looked for; decks I only read about when I was a kid.I started building decks, almost abandoned Legacy, modern and everything else. I found a brother in arms, Shelest, who followed me through my journey of oldschool magic. And then I found Mg's blog and shit got real.

How do you playtest when you don't play with proxies, you have just one opponent and a very limited cardpool? The answer is very simple: TEST THIS PARTICULAR  MATCHUP HARD! At least you'll know who’ll win when you meet at a tournament (IF WE HAD ONE)!

The Rasputin Deck
We built decks, tried all combinations of colors and strategies as far as our cardpool goes, but every single time we met one single problem: the manabase. It is no secret that an average manabase of an oldschool deck is horrible. So there were two main ways to use that fact: either to play with a single color to avoid color screw or to play a lot of land destruction to punish the opposing greedy manabases.
 

Last noobcon I played Black-Red land destruction and at this point I was very tired of this deck. It was cool and everything but I had managed to obtain blue pieces of power since then and wanted to try them out in a real tournament. I decided to play monoblue deck based not only on transmute package but also on a rogue tech of maindeck Ivory Towers (a Moscow tech as I call it, as a player from there taught me to abuse them in control decks). The main idea is very simple: play one color, use a toolbox and never ever lose to damage-based strategies.
Monoblue Transmute for n00bcon 8
Shelest, on the other hand, was true and loyal to his pet deck of 1/1 green creatures which is surprisingly strong considering its lack of powerful spells besides maybe a playset of Berserk.

Shelest's Monogreen 1/1 deck
This deck is, as you call it, very “power independent”: it can function on low mana sources, it plays one color AND punishes you for playing multiple ones. It attacks, it taxes you with snakes and Scavenger folks and hits hard with pendelhaven-giant growth-berserk out of nowhere! Believe me, I know what I am talking about - I have been playing against this deck for over a year already! So, we test in real life, test in Shandalar (because why not?). We’re ready to say to each other, “Meet you in the finals, mate!”
 

I won’t torture you with details of my trip to Sweden and overall boring stuff. I just want to thank Mg, Kalle, Danny, Elof and all other guys for the most awesome tournament in my life! Let’s get down to business and tell a story of glorious battles on the tables of Noobcon 8: A Russian story.

Round 1
The tournament starts hard for me. With a bottle of Imperial Gonzo in hand I meet my first opponent, last year’s finalist Icelander with the Deck!

I keep a slow hand with Ivory Towers and a bit of everything. Icelander stumbles on mana, and I manage to press advantage by overwhelming him with must counter/must destroy threats. I am pretty lucky and I have a decent sideboard plan against the deck: more threats! In the second game I side-in Serendibs and Blood Moons just to become the meanest son-of-a-bitch around. I start with land, mox, mox, Serendib, but it eats a plow. Immediately after that I deploy a Su-Chi and start a beatdown. A couple of turns later Icelander taps out for a book, I play Blood Moon just as planned. It pretty much seals the deal even though he managed to destroy it later in the game. I deal the last points of damage by tapping Icelander’s City of Brass with my Icy Manipulator.
1-0

Round 2
Sveby. Maaan! I had really no idea what he’s playing. He started with Birds of Paradise - very pretty ones from beta, altered with double slashes as if it’s alpha. My thoughts at this point: maybe he plays some kind of Zak Dolan’s Stasis Control… But he follows up with Eureka and everything goes right for him: he drops two Shivans and I have just one Su-Chi and a Mirror Universe (which buys me a turn, but I die quickly anyway) - there goes the first game.

In the second game he drops fast Energy Flux, but he has to sacrifice his own mana acceleration, and I have just enough mana to kill him with Su-Chi transmuted to Triskelion.
 

The third game was decided once again by the quantity of mana sources as he starts with Strip Mine-Sol Ring-Winter Orb. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to draw any more lands and I overcame him with a lone Su-Chi.
2-0 (very surprising for me!)

Round 3 

Some muscular guy with quite pimped the Deck offers me to arm wrestle instead of rolling for a turn. I immediately throw hands in the air shouting, “I give up!” My puny physique won’t stand this shit!

This particular guy beat Shelest in the first round by his quite unfair starting hands of power cards. There were two quick games, as he was very lucky to drop early Tomes around my countermagic, and in control mirror it matters a lot. In the end, he is a real Destroyer of Russians!
2-1

Shelest vs. The Destroyer of Russians
Round 4
Lennart Guldbrandsson with black-red Underworld dreams. I’ve never met a person playing so carefully (and I’m more of a nervous type myself). In this matchup Ivory Towers really shine! I manage to gain approximately 50 life through the course of the game — it is very hard for a fair deck to inflict that much damage! In the second game I don’t have enough counterspells. He manages to drop two Underworld Dreams and destroy my tower, so I am crushed. And in the final game his hand is full of red and artifact blasts, but I just don’t need to play spells as I have 2 factories for a beatdown.
3-1

Round 5
It is time for another Imperial Gonzo Porter and another opponent with the Deck! Ohh, I’m starting to feel a bit drunk but super happy. I am overconfident and it becomes my doom as my opponent quickly destroys me with two Serras! It’s time for a massive sideboard plan: moons, Serendibs and a stick. This time I show him who is the beatdown. My creatures keep coming and his defences are thwarted by my counterspells!

And there was THAT third game when my deck betrayed me. At first everything was flowing like in a dream. I dropped Serendibs and Mishras, pressed hard and he even was forced to play his Timetwister into my EMPTY HAND! At that point I felt great: he was at very low life, I had board presence and he just gave me a fresh seven!

Seven. Freaking. Mana. Sources. SEVEN! Against his hand of swords, disenchants and Serras. My deck betrayed me, and I fell to my knees - what a glorious defeat!
3-2

I need to kill a bitter taste of defeat with a bitter taste of porter. Mohawk it is then.

Round 6

What a coincidence! Shelest is also 3-2 and we are playing against each other. I guess, here it is: our “finals” :) Unfortunately for him, I know this matchup by heart: play towers, do nothing, win. My deck plays along but there’s no satisfaction in it. Sigh…
4-2

The Final round 7 

I look for the pairings and see the one thing I feared the most. It was the same person I met in the last round. The almighty Olof "Elof" Gottfridsson. That’s what I call “the last nail in the coffin” :) We play three tight games (he’s on Time Elemental/Hypnotic Specter deck by the way) and in the end he emerges victorious with 1 life left! Ah, anyway that was sweet - almost felt like finals to me. It is always a great experience to play against a strong opponent and overall nice guy! Thank you, Elof - see you in the last round next year!
4-3

Shelest also manages to make 4-3 in the last round preying on another UR Burn deck (I think he crushed two or three of them in the tournament). Let’s call it a tie. I’m glad that we finished like this. Now we have stories to tell and all this awesome people to meet next time.

It is almost 11 pm, we’re starving and going back to hotel. It will be a big day tomorrow, but not as big as this day of Noobcon 8 which will stay with us forever. Mg, we thank you!

хорошая игра

onsdag 13 april 2016

The n00bcon top8, part 2

Let's step right in.
Top8 players: Martin Lindström, Morgan Karlsson, Olle Råde, Seb Celia.
Martin "Fluffy" Lindström is one of the guys I'm more familiar with outside of the realm of Magic. Martin, myself and another guy spent a lot of time together during the second half of 2011 studying Hilbert spaces and functional analysis. It was a notoriously difficult course in graduate level mathematics, boasting a fail-rate close to 90% at the time. It would be my third try on the exam, and Martin's first. From that experience, I was to deduce that the man is a damn brilliant human being. In the end, we both managed to pass the course and I got to learn a lot from him.

I wasn't that active in sanctioned Magic at that time, but Martin's reputation had regardless gotten ahead of him when we started working together. He had been the top performing Eternal player (across multiple formats) at the Bazaar of Moxen earlier that summer; being rewarded the custom Mox Jet seen in his decklist as a bonus prize. When we started our study group, he was ranked #2 in the Pro Player Rookie of the Year race and no stranger to the Pro Tour. His resume in Magic is still going strong, more recently including e.g. a top32 finish a GP Brussels in November. He also won the n00bcon warm-up tournaments a few days before the Championships. This time he again sleeved up his The Deck and went to town, climbing his way all to the finals.
Fluffy's The Deck
Morgan "Farsan" Karlsson is one of those names that you read about in printed Magic magazines in Sweden 15-20 years ago. When you see a tournament report about the team Pro Tours around the turn of the millennium, Farsan's name inevitably pops up. Like in this match report from 2002, where Farsan, Olle Råde and Rickard Österberg (who e.g. won PT New Orleans 2003) are defeated by Kai Budde's Phoenix Foundation in round 7. A quick google check also hints about a bunch of other high level tournaments, like PT Venice 2003, PT New York 2000 and a slew of GPs in the late 90s. It is always really fun to see when the old pro players come out of the woodworks to show off at old school tournaments :)

Farsan was the only player with a perfect 7-0 record in the swiss, eventually getting his first loss of the day at the hands of Berlin in the semifinals. His deck of choice was Lestree Zoo, with the highly effective Argothian Pixies at his disposal to get an upper hand in the Factory wars. Solid tech with 4-of Energy Flux in the sideboard as well.
Farsan's Lestree Zoo. (One Volcanic Island and one Tropical Island missing from the picture.)
The other guy from the semifinals was none other than one of Morgan's old team mates from the Pro Tour; the man sometimes known as fusk-Olle. I think that most guys reading this blog knows who Olle Råde is. The guy has basically won everything there is to win in Magic (including the pro tour, grand prix, invitational, etc); he's in the Magic Hall of Fame; and he was "the first consensus best player in the world in Pro Tour history". He also won last BSK, and as such already has one Giant Shark in 93/94. He is, like, a super-duper good wizard, and probably the most skilled player I've met.

Olle hade made some changes to his Shark-winning UR Burn deck from BSK. In particular, he had followed the strategy used by Gordon Anderson in Arvika and added a set of Flying Men as "Lava Spikes". A really solid deck used by a really solid player, and the results speaks for themselves. His average finish in the three Shark tournaments he has played since November 2014 is 4th-5th place. That's pretty damn impressive.
Olle's UR Burn
And finally we have Seb Celia. I actually know fairly little about Seb. I know that he comes from Stockholm, that he has helped organize Vintage tournaments in the capital, and I think that this was his first 93/94 tournament. Pretty good debut. A sharp dressed man with a warm smile, slinging a brutal version of The Deck.

Stockholm seems very partial to The Deck and the players have help each other optimize the builds a whole lot over the last year. The capital probably has a higher density of skilled The Deck players than any other community. Seb's version looks really interesting, with no less than ten maindeck instant speed answers to Factories; in addition to his Strip Mine, Chaos Orb and Stone Rain. He also got a sweet The Hive in the sideboard :)
Seb Celia's The Deck
That's it for the top8. Next time we're treated to a sweet tournament report from our friend Constantine from Russia! Good times. Before that though, I highly recommend checking out Danny Friedman's recent tournament report from n00bcon at the Understanding Ancestral Recall blog. A very nice read with sweet tech and pics.