onsdag 22 februari 2017

Old School Commander

*Rod Sterling voice*
A word to the wise. Whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers, or walk with a cane and comb their beards: There's a special Magic to the battle royale. An uncanny sensation reserved for the motley crews who engage in its ravaging diplomacies. Our destiny is not to sit in the rubble of our making but to reach out for whatever perfection that is to be had.

Submitted for your approval: Mr
Dyan de Rochemont. A citzen of Alkmaar walking a path of revelry and invocation few of us dare imagine. And there be Elder Dragons. It is my great pleasure to introduce the musings of Dyan de Rochemont and his stories of 93/94 Commander /Mg out

“WAT IS DEZE?!?”

93/94 seems to be thriving. There are tons of reports and pictures out there of masses gathered playing Old School. 

I couldn’t help but notice that it all seems aimed towards one-versus-one matches. In an era where Commander is immensely popular, I was surprised to embark on so few tales of multiplayer old school magic. How come?

Hi, my name is Dyan de Rochemont (1980) and I’m a Magic player from The Netherlands.  About a year ago, I stumbled upon this blog and actively picked up playing Magic again because of it, after an idle period of nearly two decades. Now in turn, I’d like to try and give back by contributing some myself.

I’d like to muse some about what Magic meant to me in my early days and how 93/94 abruptly dragged me back into it. And last but not least, how I nowadays enjoy playing a homebrew multiplayer variant with my playgroup: 93/94 EDH aka Old School Commander – of which I’ll subliminally try to enthuse you to try it too.

BACK THEN

As a teenager, I started playing Magic during the summer of 1995, having Fourth Edition and Ice Age freshly hit the stores. Fallen Empires was still on the shelves.

My friends and I were self-taught mages and my start-up was mandatorily awkward, running Bog Imps and Ironroot Treefolks alongside Air Elementals because hey, three-color Magic with exclusively basic lands was just pro.

But we would evolve. I progressed as I carefully studied game progression, board states and tactics and practiced strategies and builds. I was able to change gears consistently as I learned that having profitable trading in your skillset was a valuable asset.

My friends and I became avid casual players, spending most of our spare (and not so spare) time on it. An era of Xeroxed card lists with rarities, Inquests, some Duelists and just plain old moments of ‘going-through-trade-binders-and-be-amazed’.

During those days we summoned armies of Sengirs, Mahamotis, Doppelgangers, Juggernauts and Shivans. We’d terror, clone, balance, counter and bolt. We timed things LIFO. We’d interrupt. We’d tap continuous artifacts and blocking creatures. We played multiplayer games with 16 players and 4 simultaneous turns. We’d argue and laugh but above all wreak havoc and spread mayhem!

Back then I already had a strong preference for those lovely older cards, but had to face the inherent difficulty to attain them. I disliked the look of fourth edition (no magic present there to me) and heavily sought after Revised and the early expansion sets. There were only a handful ABU cards in circulation in the group of friends that I played with. The few that I owned were attained externally from nearby gettogethers in community centers and a handful of tournaments. Some antique cards had to be overpaid for heavily, but who cared? After all, those were awesome.

The cards were finally safely stored somewhere late 1999 when college started. The playgroup split up and my mana got too scarce to keep up. But although tucked away for years, Magic was never out of my heart. Every now and then I’d glance at the cards with inherent feelings of nostalgia. But the then-new (sixth edition) ruleset, the huge amount of new cards/meta and above all lack of fellow players discouraged me to return.

Years later, I once again tapped into the nostalgia. As I started to generate some disposable income I got hooked on purchasing cards off Ebay USA, which was both fun and exciting. I also got to take full advantage of the then favorable Euro-to-Dollar ratio. During a period of 6-8 months in 2005, 2006 I acquired quite a lot of staples from the early days: a Library, Juzam Djinns, Serendib Efreets, Berserks and loads of Unlimited Duals. Underground Seas were only around 25-30 euros at that time. Eventually I eliminated all Revised and newer cards from the deck – “Wouldn’t it be nice to play these old cards exclusively?”. Little did I know that not much later – about a thousand kilometers from my hometown – this concept would actually become a format.

After that buying spree, the cards were once again tucked away for a decennium to come. Within that timeframe, I only made a big 40+ Revised dual land trade (somewhere around 2011) towards 6 pieces of Unlimited Power, but didn’t play or acquire any other cards. It wasn’t until 2016 that they would see the light of day again.

NOW 

Things got rebooted when I told my girlfriend that I owned a considerable amount worth of old cardboard, which she initially could hardly believe. Together we dusted off the card boxes, looked up some values and learned that prices had exploded. A little research showed this was because of some format called 93/94. I immediately was intrigued. On request I learned her how to play and we’ve been bashing each others heads in with Juzams and Shivans on a regular basis ever since.
Getting pounded by the Mrs.
Early 2016 I started joining Facebook groups centered around old school Magic. After a few months of lurking and researching I decided to jump on the bandwagon and seriously get into old school: halfway 2016 I started to purchase pieces of Alpha and Beta Power and began replacing white bordered cards with black bordered, preferably round-cornered cardboard.

A year later I had assembled half a dozen Göteborg-legal decks and about the same amount that contain revised reprints. To me, playing these old cards is just immensely pleasurable.

I’d like to go over two of the decks that I run in 93/94: “Big Zoo” and Old School Commander.

“BIG ZOO”

I’ve always loved the butchering effect of Berserk. Back then it was restricted and it had to be either luckily drawn or tutored for and required assistance of Growths for lethal application. With Berserks stacking power exponentially, Fork seemed its perfect counterpart, but was restricted at the time too. Nowadays, things have changed for the better, especially with the unrestriction of Fork in the 2016 Ban/Restriction-update.
This 93/94 deck is centered around a Djinn/Efreet theme and is based on midrange to big creatures, backed up by Berserks and Forks. The objective is simple yet geniusly evil: summon a large beast early on, double-zerk it, silently pray for a no-plow and have it swing for lethal. Profit!

Fork, the versatile card that it is, can either be used to go for the kill copying Berserks, provide general support by cloning powerhouses such a Recall, Walk and Tutor or mimicking an opposing Mind Twist or Mana Drain.
This deck is intended as a somewhat viable 93/94 version of cards that are historically iconic and of nostalgic significance to me. It’s an old school incarnation of the cards that I played when I was young, or wanted to play but could not afford.

It’s far from original: it runs the same base as most 93/94 decks using duals, Cities and Factories plus a lot of the commonly found restricted cards such as the Power Nine, a Library, a Twist and a Tutor. Besides that, it’s a somewhat unusual brew though it contains a lot of the staples that are common to the format.

It’s by no means constructed as a competitive deck. With its four colors and solid amount of double-color casting cost cards, it has a fragile mana base that is vulnerable to both land destruction and Blood Moon. It has flying creatures but Moat still weakens its creature base (and therefor win con) significantly. The Abyss is an outright nightmare. King Suleimans’ ‘errata’ against this deck is basically “Tap to destroy any of opponents’ creatures”. It has a very limited amount of removal: just a Bolt and a Blast. I’ve never liked sideboarding so there is none (pro).
Orchestrated hand for some 93/94 first-turn kill shenanigans.
It has fighting chances though. The creatures themselves pack punch when not swiftly dealt with, are efficient (though some at the expense of their master), cannot be bolted and come in fair numbers. Its four colors allow it to run quite a few of the restricted power cards and although it lacks early game creatures – such as Kird Ape like in classic RG or RUG Zoo – it can still curve out from turn 2 onwards. The set of Forks gives the deck a versatile twist to it, that can swing either way.
A cozy gathering of Djinns, Efreets, Troll and Dragon.
“What are these doing here?” – Just some sinister cardboard. 

ELDER DRAGON 93/94 OLD SCHOOL COMMANDER

AN INTRODUCTION
And now for something somewhat different.

Lately I’ve been playing Magic with a playgroup of five to six players, most of them in their early to mid-thirties. I joined the group about six months ago, when their recipe was Modern and regular – though quite competitive – multiplayer Commander, incorporating the Legacy ban list to rule out some of the most broken cards.

I introduced them to 93/94, told them about the laidback yet flavorful format that it is, and cautiously tried to enthuse them for it. I was excited and quite surprised to witness one of them shortly thereafter assembled an old school deck (white weenie) with modern printings. Others then quickly picked up the format too, starting with mostly reprints to try-out the format and find out firsthand what all the fuzz was about.
The old school snowball seriously gained momentum as things moved quickly from there: players were having a great time, started brewing multiple decks simultaneously and began replacing reprints with their older counterparts, whether it be Revised or actual Göteborg-legal cards where possible. They’ve been pillaging card stores all over The Netherlands and Belgium for months, depriving them of playable 93/94 cards. I’m quite sure there is not even an Unlimited Forest to be found anywhere in a 200 kilometer radius.

We started out playing free-for-all old school multiplayer in between regular EDH games, but also occasionally Two-Headed Dragon (2 vs. 2) and Emperor (3 vs. 3). A few weeks later 93/94 had basically become the new normal. Multiplayer 93/94 is a totally different animal. A Beast. And we love it!

To make it more accessible we allow reprints, preferably same art, same frame. The fun the playgroup had building these decks, along with the plummeting prices of Modern, encouraged two of them to completely shift focus towards old school and transition by disposing of nearly all their Modern cards and buy old cards instead. Besides the obvious cool factor, a superior investment anyway.

We recently changed gears by picking up a homebrew blend of two popular formats: 93/94 and Commander.

I figured it would be fun to integrate the two formats that we played, and on a Sunday afternoon I sat down and assembled a RUB 100-card singleton deck consisting of spare old school cards, lead by Tetsuo Umezawa.

The initial draft looked like this (find the card that’s accidentally present twice!):
The idea for the deck was well-received by the playgroup, but the feedback I got was to play Nicol Bolas as general instead, and make it truly EDH. Plans were forged and that very same night the five Elders were distributed among the playgroup: 93/94 EDH, or Old School Commander, with the actual Elder Dragons was born.

After a few months of playing, moving around some cards and purchasing some missing pieces, my deck turned into this:
Getting closer! Notable cards missing are Guardian Beast and some pieces of Power.
VIBE & APPEAL
One of the facets of building this Old School Commander deck that really appealed to me is that there is basically zero information to be found on the web that applies to this format. Insights about strategies or card strength that are common knowledge in two-player 60-card Magic hardly hold any truth here. There are no primers, no posts, no discussions, there is no net-decking: as far as card selection is concerned, you’re on your own.

Looking at cards through these different eyes puts it all in such a different perspective: I literally had to go through all of the cards of the old sets again to assess and reevaluate whether it was somehow significant on a five-player battlefield. The “Think big” EDH credo surely is in effect here. This process of trial and error, finding synergies, sharing ideas and cards with fellow players reminds me a lot of Magic in the early days. It’s awesome!

I do not wish to spoil it for anyone who wants to give Old School Commander a try, so I will talk some cards and tech – but hopefully only just enough to raise some curiosity – and by no means will try to unravel its magic. Nor would I claim I would be able to do so anyway, as we are still brewing, experimenting and learning ourselves: to us, Old School Commander so far has been very much a living, evolving thing.

DECK CONSTRUCTION
Three-color EDH with the 93/94 card pool grants access to a little over 400 cards in the appropriate colors, accompanied by about 150 artifacts and 50 lands to choose from. With 35 to 40 basic lands in the deck, this basically implies you play with 10% of all cards available to you. This singleton approach with such a limited card pool imposes some interesting restrictions and forces you to make some funky decisions.

As themes (such as tribal), specific archetypes and combo are hard to pull off with so little available cards, you’ll most likely end up playing good stuff (although this does by no means imply you can bluntly ignore synergies). Therefore, you tend to see many of the same cards although played in different color variations. Even though the circumstances in singleton multiplayer are fundamentally different, a lot of the same deck design principles such as card advantage, permission, evasion, removal and threads, still apply.
A mellow early game board – The calm before the storm.
COLORED PIE
I found that the distribution of strength between the colors turned out differently than in regular non-singleton, two-player games of Magic. Some colors have a strong top-end, but the curve then quickly spirals downwards. Mono black for example is widely considered quite strong and versatile and as such I had high expectations of it in Grixis, but with only one-offs I quickly got the feeling I had to resort to suboptimal choices. The same is true for Red – sure, it has a few bombs, but – burn nor aggro strategies are nowhere near as effective in multiplayer.

Green on the other hand, in old school by itself generally is considered a relatively weak color and is mainly viable as a support color, has a broad range of effective tools – both offensively and defensively – and multiplayer powerhouses. Desert Twister is a well-known versatile removal spell, but Powerleech and Urza’s Avenger are probably cards you’ve never even remotely considered playing in 93/94, but we consider auto-includes here in Old School Commander. It’ll come as no surprise that this is where Greens passive-aggressive artifact hate really shines: Citanul Druid, Titania’s Song and the beforementioned Powerleech and Urza’s Avenger all are beasts in this artifact-heavy multiplayer format. All-round it’s a surprisingly strong color.

White as expected, does particularly well in terms of board control and spot removal, mostly with cards that are already staples in 93/94. Some notable lesser-played cards are Angry Mob, Preacher and Argothian Archaeologist.

Blue, even in singleton, is every bit as strong as you think it would be: it has a powerful (and often redundant) array of tools that facilitate countermagic, copying, theft, bounce, draw, recursion and even tutoring. Truly a force to be reckoned with, but a sight to behold.

GAMEPLAY & STAPLES
A game of Old School Commander unfolds slowly and can easily last 4 hours, especially when all five Dragon are represented and well over a hundred permanents on the board. These games are intense and challenging!
A typical midgame board with 3 out of 5 Dragons online. Asmadi ironically fighting by my side and swinging at its former master – forcefully fallen prey to mutiny, made possible by Control Magic and Fellwar Stone.
Looking at 160-200 enemy points of life as opposed to the regular 20, going the purely aggro route is not a viable strategy in multiplayer Magic. Therefore, defensive measures must be taken. Luckily old school has quite a lot to offer in that area, especially when speed and mana cost isn’t of significant importance. Tawnos Coffin, Maze of Ith, Island of Wak-Wak, Icy Manipulator and Horn of Deafening all provide proper color-neutral protection against blood-thirsty Dragons. Having your defenses up generally results in opponents attacking alternate players instead, which in turn – more often than not – leads to retaliation of sorts, which is icing on the cake.
“Better bring some protection, kiddo.”
The number of available Tutors can easily be counted on just a single hand – the relevant ones being Demonic Tutor and Transmute Artifact – which is exactly in line with what EDH was originally intended to do: bring variety back to the game and have it last longer than just a few turns. The lack of tutors certainly emphasizes the requirement for versatility in cards and might persuade you to play Fissure over Stone Rain.

I really fell in love with the artifacts in this format and cherish their wide range of application. I currently play around 20 of them. Al-abara’s Carpet singlehandedly stops hordes of ground creatures in their tracks at the expense of 5 mana. Jayemdae Tome and Book of Rass (or, Book of Bas as we call it) both offer excellent card draw, the latter having a nice synergy with Mirror Universe. Candelabra of Tawnos both helps fixing your mana and allows utility lands to be reused (most notably Library, Maze, Valley and Wak-Wak). Obelisk of Undoing provides protection against permanent-hate (stealing, removal) and is great for reusability of cards like Triskelion, Tetravus, Sprit Link and Clone. Nevinyrral’s Disk is a great panic button and a thorough tool for breaking through stale game states. An Aladdin’s Ring carefully put in position is a lethal weapon and a threat on its own.

Legends offers some very flavorful and playable multicolor legendary creatures such as Tetsuo, Angus, Oakenshield, Gwendlyn, Halfdane, Soulsinger, Sol’Kanar, Hazezon, Ragnar, Rasputin and Xira. Some of which have found their way into regular EDH decks as well. The three-color Legends can really make your deck stand out as you’ll get to be the only one able to play them.
One-on-one game of Old School Commander. Gwendlyn and its Clone keeping both players at bay, for now.
Although significantly less relevant than in two-player magic, mana acceleration is present but scarce. Even when running the traditionally rampy color green with Birds, Elves, Wild Growth, Ley Druid and Untamed Wilds. Besides Black Lotus and the Moxen, a Sol Ring, Basalt Monolith, Fellwar Stone and arguably Mana Vault are your best bets for decent ramping. The Mana Batteries of Legends actually are pretty useful too, especially when decharged into a humongous Braingeyser or Hurricane, or just for recasting that 12 mana general after it has been wiped off the board twice.

Most color combinations offer plenty of spot removal for most types of permanents. Enchantments are exceptionally hard to deal with for nearly all colors, so choose your Chaos Orbs target wisely.

Games are usually decided through powerhouses such as Angry Mob, Dakkon Blackblade, Mahamoti Djinn and, of course, the Elder Dragons. Mass-damage dealers such as Pestilence, Hurricane and Earthquake (but dodge that pesky Reverberation!) traditionally also have a dramatic impact to the players’ life totals and board position in general. Mass-removal like a Nevi Disk, Shatterstorm or Wrath of God can also instantly break players’ carefully put together defenses, leaving them exposed to threads.

RULING
As a baseline, we honor the Swedish 93/94 ban and restricted list, and have it take precedence over the official Commander list. This means that certain cards that are banned in Commander, such as Chaos Orb, Balance, Channel and the Power Nine to its fullest extent – in turn all cards that help define and characterize 93/94 – are absolute fine to be played. On top of that, we make up house rules as we go.

As a rule of thumb, we think everybody needs to be able to have a good time and we therefore tend to avoid cards that completely lock out the board (Winter Orb, Stasis) or that cripple or heavily penalize a single player only (we banned Mind Twist for just that reason). We also discourage mass land destruction such as Armageddon – since it’s already a slow format – and color-specific hate (eg. Flashfires and Northern Paladin). Land walking creatures such as a Swamp King are fine – when was the last time you used Hammerheim or Urborg for something other than mana? – an Erhnam can certainly pose some hilariously political dilemmas. An Abyss or Moat will not be appreciated. Balance – although it truly holds immense power – is played but Karakas is not.
Michels “second brew“ Arcades deck.
WRAPPING THINGS UP
Nostalgia has always played a starring role in my deeply rooted fascination for Magic. 93/94 got me right back into the game after so many years. And I’m thankful for it.

Special thanks also go out to Bas (Chromium), Michel (Arcades), Sander (Palladia), Thomas (Asmadi) and Niels (Ramirez DePietro) for facilitating playing epic games of Magic again.

Although original print runs are limited for sure, there’s still plenty of room for others to pick up 93/94. Even modern day players that started much later might be interested in getting to know how it all started. I think Revised is a great “gateway set” to enter the scene on a budget, and still get to play cards of that era. The group I play with is an excellent example of how a small spark can set a Juggernaut in motion.

Old School Commander has both flavor and depth and brings me joy on so many levels. I like composing decks with self-imposed restrictions, and getting to play such a diversity of old cardboard is just a blast. The Commander part of the format brings some political aspects into the game as well, and lends itself to negotiation and reasoning (read: blackmailing and trash talk).

So for all you out there that have the luxury of multiple nearby Old School players: I dare you to sleeve up one-hundred cards of yore and try this one out!

Signed,
- Dy

torsdag 9 februari 2017

A night at Alara Games

  "So Mg", the voices say, "why not write something about last weekend in Trollhättan? Still have a blog, y'know."
  "Well," I answer myself. "I just invented the sport Soccer Punch, and I'm trying to read a driver's license book filled with what the kids call 'microaggressions'. I don't know how much time I have to write something good."
  "So you think because you write less frequently now, whenever you do it has to be some kind of masterwork? Get over yourself. Prefection is the enemy of done. Yes, I know that's a typo. See how much I care. Just write some shit so we can collect our PW points."
  "Ok, fuck it."

Soccer Punch is a one-on-one sport. You set up small goals with whatever lies around, find something round enough to be excused as a ball, and strap on your gloves. The goal is to avoiding getting punched out by the other player while winning either via scoring or TKO. It's kinda like soccer, but instead of off-sides and passes you've got complex foot work and blunt body trauma. Can't wait for the IOC to pick it up.

When I got home from the two-hour long session with Peter last Friday, my body had given up on me and my mind was as blank as a 1951 Robert Rauschenberg painting. In this state I decided to buy the tickets to Trollhättan and join fellow old school players in celebrating the opening of Alara Games. It went about as well as expected. A short thirty minutes later I had managed to buy train tickets for the wrong day. Another sucker punch, this time in the form of a 449 Nok train ticket. This is an expensive game. But I might win an Uthden Troll.
First prize of the tournament, here in the process of being upgraded.
Hardy, my partner in crime, had left the day before me. He'd found a bed at his girlfriend's aunt's place, and I was told the day before I left that it was room for me as well. I was even invited for dinner before the tournament (which started at 22:00 in the evening to create a more lax drinking atmosphere at the convention site. "Closed company" and all that). So this time I was to ride the train alone for a change. My company was a couple of books and the Hurloon Minotaur jacket.
Train Jacket.
The karma of the world continued her attempts to thwart my consumerism. On the trip I wanted to make a fairly numerous order from the ChannelFireball store. A bunch of sweet cards for the casual decks I bring out when guests are abound or I'm asked to learn people how to play. Like, have you seen cards like Priest of the Blood Rite? I don't care how "pure" you are as an Oldschool player, that is one sweet card.
According to TCGPlayer, Juzam is more than 1,500 times more expensive. But let's be honest here; Juzam is probably not more than 70-80 times sweeter. At most a hundred and fifty times sweeter. Seems like a deal to me.
The CFB store offers free shipping worldwide once the order passes the $200 mark. And if you live in Norway, that's some serious incentive to buy for over $200. That made my pile of random durdle kinda extensive, and a harsh mistress to order on a smartphone. I first tried to order it using my Visa card, but it was for some reason declined so I completed the order with paypal.

About ten minutes later I got the message stating that my credit card had been frozen due to suspicious activity. Apparently it had been used in Ajman, Dubai, Norway and Sweden in the last week, and now someone was trying to order stuff online from a place called "CinnamonFireball" or something like that. Ain't easy being jetset. It feels like it took half an hour on the phone with my bank before I was ready to roll again.
So it started with some sprinkles of tilt. And I had no idea what to expect going home to that aunt and uncle I'd never met. I don't even think that Hardy met them before yesterday. And I'd never been to Trollhättan before. All I knew about the place was that a couple of guys in Gothenburg used to rage about Trollhättan having the best kebab pizza sauce in Sweden.

I got picked up at the station by Hardy and the uncle. He seemed like a very likeable fellow. I asked him about the rumours of the Kebab pizza. He nodded. Apparently there was a cheap hole-in-the-wall pizzeria somewhere in the city that offered nothing short of ambrosia. I knew I had to find it.

The welcome at the aunt and uncle's house was truly remarkable. I'm a random bearded guy from Norway who's a friend of their niece's boyfriend and they treated me like family coming home for the holidays. They made an awesome dinner (I refilled twice), and left nothing wanted in terms of wine, beer, cognac nor drinks.
Cincin ragazzi!
Four or five hours later we all started to get affected by the hospitality. The uncle went and picked up a disco ball and some lasers, and we continued the evening with the backdrop of VH1's top50 love songs and a suburban light show.
#VisitTrollhättan
Now this is fun. Hardy and I recalled old stories of the road. How Megu left his hotel room in Genoa to give us a few hours sleep before he picked us up and drove us to the airport. When KungMarkus left us with his dog in his old house during the first Arvika Festival and we though that we might have become citizens of Arvika. The random three dark thirty disco at the pizzeria in Växjö. Hanging out at Custer's home in Munich. Play the game, see the world. Ain't need no Pro Tour to find friends with these piles of cardboard.

Eventually we left the suburban home to get to the site. The convention was the brainchild of Yespair, the guy who e.g. did video coverage at n00bcon last year. He and a couple of friends just opened a game store in Trollhättan and set up a weekend of Magic to celebrate the occasion. There were a couple of PPTQs, Vintage, Legacy, truly casual EDH and limited. And there was 13 brave souls that gathered for a nightly 93/94 tournament after the doors had closed for the day.

This was my deck for the evening:
Tried some extra shenanigans and a couple of counterspells in place of the red cards this time.
Hardy was on The Machine, but with some solid upgrades since last. In particular these two cards:
Unlocked.
That's awesome. As a duo, we now own over 65% of all the Alpha Lotuses in Norway. The third one belongs to JhovalKing.

Before the tournament started I picked up a Mishra's Workshop from KungMarkus (I want to sleeve up Crimson Disco and Project M at the same time and looked for a second copy of the land), and bought an Elspeth vs. Kiora duel deck from the store. If you like casual Magic and suboptimal decks I give the duel decks two thumbs up. They might lack some in the nostalgia or "bling" departments, but the fact that you can pick up seventy or so sixty-card decks for the prize of a single Workshop should not be scoffed at. In the world of Alpha Lotuses and Beta duals, it's easy to forget just how entertaining other approaches to casual Magic actually is.

Old school is still the best though.
Game on.
I was paired against a new face match one. Erik started playing back in 94/95 but hadn't sleeved up for a tournament in a couple of decades. Our first game was a little anticlimactic. He mulled to six on the play and kept a one-lander with Black Vise. I probably would have too. Luckily I found a mox at the top of my library and got to play that and a Fellwar Stone turn 1. In the end, I managed to sneak away with just five damage from the Vise, and Erik opted to decline drawing any lands for five turns. I eventually resolved a Vesuvan Doppelganger copying a Mishra's Factory, and then got to cast two Copy Artifacts copying the Doppelganger the following turn. That's some serious Mishra beatdown. Triple Doppelganger isn't an easy act to follow.
Magic!
Game two was a little more involved and we both got to cast spells this time. In the end I went Rube Goldberg with Tawnos's Coffin and Tetravus backed up by Guardian Beast.

Fresh on the winning streak I face Erik's friend, Andreas Lövgren. That's no rookie. Andreas has very explosive starts. I think I'm climbing back in game one, but he blows me out with a well-timed Balance. Game two I he attacks for lethal around turn four.

Next dude is good ol' Berntsson from Arvika with his ErhnamGeddon. It's a very strong deck. In the last couple of years, the players from Arvika have really gotten their hands on some powerful cards. It's a tight game, but Guardian Beast and Chaos Orb do what they do best. Control Magic and Terror gets to shine after sideboard.
Berntsson and KungMarkus. Pioneers of the Arvika 93/94 scene. The Arvika Festival tournament will be hosted on their turf February 25. It's easily one of my favorite tournaments of the year.
So, last match. Might be win-and-in for the elimination round. There's only a final this time, as the ungodly hour works against the prospect of an entertaining top4, but 3-1 might be enough. In my way stands eight-time Shark top8 competitor and two-time PWP Invitational winner Jocke Almelund. He is my god damn nemesis. I actually think he's worse than Sehl at this point. Jocke and I have played numerous 93/94 games starting sometime around n00bcon 3. And I've never beaten him once. He starts game one.
Sure. Why not.
I don't manage to resolve a spell that doesn't get countered or destroyed before I pass the turn. No threats are left unanswered for the entire game. And it's not that I don't draw well; I had awesome hands. LoA, Disks, Tomes and the whole shebang. Yet again he beats me out of contention without breaking a sweat. I will have my revenge. Some day I will.

In the end Jocke's tiebreakers didn't help him to the finals. Instead the last match was a battle between Andreas Lövgren and Martin Lindström. Martin had played three tournaments in the last year; n00bcon warmup, n00bcon 8, and BSK. He finished 1st, 2nd and 1st in those. This weekend brought another title to his résumé. At this point it's starting to get easy arguing he's the best The Deck player in the world.
Congrats!
Hardy and I drifted around at the site for while and eventually found a cab to take us back to the aunt and uncle's house. He was to play the Vintage tournament the next day and I joined him to the site before the train would take me back to Oslo.

I asked Yespair about the rumours I'd heard of the kebab pizza. That cheap pizza place with supposedly the best sauce in Sweden. He knew. The truth of the story was only a five minute walk from the site. He jotted down some directions on a piece of paper. On a backstreet in Trollhättan, hidden between random shops and apartment buildings, it was.
I paid 65 Sek (around €7) for a massive lunch of the local cuisine. And god damn. Play the game, see the world.

onsdag 1 februari 2017

The Skype Old School Challenge

Those extra hours away from the keyboard each week add up. Since last, the wedding planning is in full form, I found myself in the Arab Emirates, and I've kicked up my mentor work a gear or two. And I've had the time to read a book for just the joy of it, without the hidden agenda of trying to learn something.
Activating Jalum Tome with an empty hand if you will.
I wouldn't call this one a proper post either by the way. I do have a couple in the pipeline, but this is more of a status update. Some things are exciting enough to just shout along as a messenger, and what's going on in the Skype community right now is one of those things.

Last weekend, the Skype community held the elimination rounds in their n00bcon 9 qualification tournament. The guy joining us in Gothenburg this Easter is renowned Skype player (and, from what I've heard, all-round good guy) Gregory from Switzerland. That also gets us up to 13 or 14 nationalities at the Championship, which is braggable.
Getting closer...
But the reason that I'm updating today is more due to how they've set it up. The matches last Sunday ended up in the top5 Magic streams on Twitch. And there has never been a better online coverage for 93/94 Magic than what Markus and the gang are doing right now.
www.twitch.tv/OldSchoolMTG
Markus and a few more of the first adopters of OldSchool Skype have started an invitational league called Old School Challenge. It's a weekly Twitch broadcast, playing one game a week in a round robin style tournament. For their first weekly show, they brought in two international tournament organizers in Gordon Anderson and Chis Cooper to do the commentary while the players on camera battled from different corners of the world. They raffled out cards, collected donations for good causes, and over all had a production value we've rarely seen for MtG streaming. Animated Lightning Bolts and Land Taxes and whatnot. And this is still "baby days" according to Markus. I must say again that I think these kind of community efforts and sharing is what makes the format awesome.
That, and Juzam Djinn.
From what I've heard, this Old School Challenge will be a recurring event during Sundays from 2pm EST / 7pm GMT / 8pm CET at twitch.tv/OldSchoolMTG. I highly recommend checking it out if you're into odd decks and commented live matches. You can replay the games from last weekend at Twitch, though note that the sound is kinda bad in the first few minutes before they got it set up properly. If you're a netdecking kinda person, most of the list played can be found at imgur. Check it out!

fredag 13 januari 2017

Magic: The Puzzling

According to scientific consensus, the causality dilemma of the chicken and the egg has a clear answer. The egg came first as most of the arthropods, vertebrates and mollusks in the history of known life have been laying eggs. At some point a "not-quite-a-chicken-bird" laid an egg containing the first chicken. So what came first of the playing card and the playing card sleeve?

Back in the dark ages of 93/94, we ain't had no fancy ass sleeves. We played our cards straight on packed snow while eating soup with our hands. When night fell we used the least water damaged ones as kindling to keep playing until the soup ran out. It was a simpler time, apart from the banding rules.
I'm getting there.
In early 1994, Japji Khalsa and Jeff Brain came up with the idea of making play mats. That turned out well. But sleeving playing cards was still under the radar for a long time. The closest thing were the "top-loader" and the penny sleeve created for the sports card industry. They were respectively a pair of sturdy plastic sheets bound together and a thin, flimsy thing that couldn't possibly be shuffled for an extended period without breaking.
Enter the pro's.
In 1995, when Magic was two years old, Ultra-Pro entered the CCG scene with their Deck Protectors. Deck Protectors were made of tougher polypropylene and were the first sleeves specifically designed for playing cards. But there wasn't a sudden revolution. Few people used them initially, and still years later it wasn't unusual for players to play un-sleeved constructed decks at high level events. It could be worth noting that during the first years of sleeves, all of them had clear backs. Before opaque sleeves eventually took over the market, they were frowned upon or outright banned as they hid the product logos.
The first sleeves made to conceal play wear.
So Ultra-Pro realized they needed to give players some extra incentive to buy their product. When Khalsa and Brain first sold their play mats, they included a booster pack of Arabian Nights with each purchase (a first edition Khalsa-Brain mat and a booster pack of Arabian Nights would be quite the bargain for the $10 they charged btw). Stuffing each pack of sleeves with a booster would be a daunting task, but maybe they could do something even more cunning, something that would hook players into buying loads of product? What if buying enough sleeves could get you a Black Lotus?
The Black Lotus Quest.
In the packs of 60 individual sleeves and the eight-packs of binder pages, Ultra-Pro put a puzzle piece. The nine pieces of each puzzle were the size of an ordinary card, so if you placed them correctly in a binder page they would depict either Black Lotus or Chaos Orb; two of the most iconic and sought-after cards of the time. And if you did just that and mailed the puzzle to Ultra-Pro, they would give you money to go buy a real copy of the alluring card.

Back in 1996, the $100 rewarded for the Chaos Orb or the $250 for the Black Lotus would cover the expense to buy an Orb or a Lotus respectively. Today, 20 years later, you wont find a Lotus for $250 anymore. But if you managed to complete a puzzle you could still easily trade it for the card depicted. In fact, for far more than that.
Let the hunt commence!
A 60-pack of individual sleeves or an 8-pack of refill pages wasn't that expensive in 1996. Let's say that maybe $2.50 of each sale at a store went back to the manufacturers as profit. If buying 18 packs would have you complete the puzzles, that would have been a pretty bad marketing strategy. When you sent in both puzzles, you’d receive $350; $250 for the Lotus Puzzle and $100 for the Chaos Orb puzzle. The expected value of just the puzzle piece in each pack would be $20, and Ultra Pro would technically lose $17.50 for each unit they sold. The idea of treasure hunting and laying puzzles was enticing, but to make the sales promotion viable they had to load the die.
This idea had been used before. Perhaps most famously by the McDonald's Monopoly promotion held around the world since 1987. Customers at McDonald's would get tokens corresponding to property spaces on a Monopoly board with food purchases. Gathering certain combinations of streets would grant you different prizes, with cash rewards ranging up to the millions. But for the most desirable combos one of the tokens was almost impossible to find.
The odds of finding #621 (Park Place) are 1 in 11. #622 (Boardwalk) are 1 in 513,591,720. I.e. a 99.999997-0.000003 split giving the owner of Park Place 3 cents of the million dollar price would still be mathematically unfair to the owner of Boardwalk.
So Ultra-Pro took a page from that book and made one corner-piece of each puzzle rare. No, rarer than that. Even rarer. You know how they estimate that there were only 1,100 Alpha Lotuses and Alpha Chaos Orbs ever printed? That's not even the ballpark here. If you remember seeing a complete puzzle in your younger days, odds are that you remember wrong.
I might spitball a guess to which pieces are missing.
Collecting the eight "common" pieces of each puzzle is doable for most people so inclined, though not really a cakewalk. The average sales price of the eight common Chaos Orb pieces at places like magiccardmarket.eu still totals above the $100 you got for sending the complete puzzle to Ultra-Pro back in 1996. But for the few "completists", it's all about the rare pieces. For those who deal with the rare pieces, the other eight are often viewed as trivia or throw-ins, and usually not even mentioned in the price for the rare piece.

So how many puzzles are out there? My network of high-end Magic archaeologists is by no means all-encompassing, but it has grown to be fairly extensive, so I hope I can give a decent estimate.

I'd previously heard some off-the-cuff rumors that the total number printed in 1996 were just 12 for each of the rarer pieces. But after more digging even that seemed to be high. A certain European high-end collector, who is the only confirmed person to own both puzzles, said that 12 each surely was an exaggeration. He had been puzzling for two decades, and the only Lotus puzzle he had seen apart from the one he owned had been donated directly from the director at Ultra Pro. He had heard about a third one, but hadn't seen it himself. Chaos Orb is possibly a little more common, but still just ridiculously rare. The best estimate I've found is six copies of Orb piece #7 in circulation (the German collector had previously owned two of them by the way, but sold one in 2003). Additionally, I know of one Chaos Orb puzzle that was completed in 1996 and sent in to Ultra Pro for the $100.

It seems very possible that there were fewer Lotus puzzles made than Chaos Orb puzzles. It could also be possible that there are fewer total Lotus puzzles out there than Chaos Orb puzzles simply due to a few more Lotus puzzles having been redeemed as the reward was higher and players hunted them more fiercely. I've tried to get in contact with Ultra Pro to clear some of these things up, but I haven't been able to draw any answers yet.
But yeah. To put it in perspective; the number of known puzzles is less than the number of known Summer Magic sets by a good margin. As for how many were made? Let's try on the shoes of an executive at Ultra Pro. When they do these kind of give-away promotions, the rare pieces control how much money they are willing to donate to the cause. Sleeves weren't particularly popular in 1996, and they probably didn't earn that much per unit sold. So a few thousand dollars perhaps? I would be surprised if there ever existed more than 18 of the rare pieces total, probably skewing towards a few more Orb #7 than Lotus #9.

Many players seems to remember that these puzzles weren't that rare and want to recall that "friend of friend" who completed it. History and research seem to indicate that that is wrong. But I am still positive that one or another real rare piece is being tucked away in a collection somewhere, the owner being oblivious to the fact that this piece has a far higher price tag than an actual Black Lotus:
Luckily the rare piece is the least exciting one.
If someone bought sleeves for the cards in 96-97 they probably bought Ultra Pro, and the puzzle quest was a popular promotion. It is not unlikely that a random collection from the mid 90s will contain a few of the pieces. Perhaps even a rare one. There have after all been a non-zero number of cases of a player realizing that what he thought was Revised cards in his collection were in fact Summer Magic. It's "a needle in a haystack" to quote one of the German collectors. But if you have a haystack laying around, might be fun to look for some needles every now and then.
Like a major collector in Sweden did a year ago. How's that pic for an Easter Egg btw ;)

torsdag 29 december 2016

2016 Retrospective

2016 showed the highest literacy rate in history, the lowest percentage of people living in extreme poverty every, and it looks like the lowest child mortality rate we've ever seen. People are healthier, more educated and have more opportunities than any time before in history. We also flew a thing to space and had it land back here again. On the flip side, it has been the warmest year since anyone started measuring these things, and much of the political debate is very divided. All in all, I guess I would grade 2016 at 'B-'. Though flawed, a very decent year if we zoom out to the global scheme of thing. But let's zoom in to our community.
Looks like a solid 'A'.
This is the fourth time I do a retrospective post (click 2013, 2014 and 2015 if you're interested in revisiting previous ones). Every year I am surprised by the steady growth of the community and how much the players create and bring to the format. Skype Magic is a thing now. There are oldschool Instagram accounts approaching 10,000 followers these days. Some guy makes 93/94 art with 93/94 graphics. The oldschoolmtg subreddit is alive and well. I've lost count of the number of facebook groups. There are like seven other blogs with old school content.
These are all things now.
As tournaments go, I think it's cool that ChannelFireball adopted the format this year. As have Bazaar of Moxen and ManaLeak. Among the slightly earlier adopters of the large organizers we have the Ovino series, Nebraska's War and Eternal Weekend; each of them hosting major 93/94 tournaments during 2016. This year, the old school tournament at Ovino X surpassed Vintage in attendance, which is kinda insane. At the US Eternal Weekend, Jason Jaco gathered 86 mages battling, making it the largest 93/94 gathering to date. And we have 100 players from 11 different countries signed up for the yearly 93/94 World Championship in Gothenburg next Easter. I don't think there's been more activity in this kind of Magic since 1995.
Kalle Nord and Danny Friedman contemplating the zeitgeist.
This month is the most visited in the history of this blog. As almost every new month is. It has been a continuous slow and steady progress for over four years. When I started writing this blog, about four and a half years back (I was handed the reins from Christoffer "Stalin" Andersson whom started it a little over half a year earlier), we had around 350 views per month. Today we have around 2,000 per day. This autumn we passed a million views. And this is with me updating no more than once a week, and writing stuff like ridiculously convoluted posts on post-graduate mathematics or tournament reports where I can't remember all the rounds. I have no idea where the ceiling is anymore, or what would happen if we started posting clickbait articles three times a week. Top4 Reasons Mishra's Factory (Probably) Shouldn't be Restricted. 6 Solid First-Picks in Old School Drafting (Number Five Will Surprise You). Seven (Grossly) Undervalued 93/94 Cards You Should Have in Your #MtgFinance Spec Box.
Five Reasons I Need Beta Duals More Than My Modern Collection. My largest trade of 2016, and the largest sum I've ever spent in a single Magic transaction all in one picture.
But that's not what we do. Instead we write 7,000 word pieces on using software development theory to build a Sligh deck and the closest we get to #MtgFinance is that I should check my wallet for gold coins.

We have no ads, sponsors nor stakeholders other than ourselves. Tournaments like BSK, the UK Championships, and people selling cards in the name of #MtgForLife have gathered hundreds of dollars to charities this year. The glorious Party of the Pit Lords tournament in Chicago had an un-wrapped toy as entry fee, which were all donated to a community outreach program working with less fortunate families. Earlier this month in Barcelona, the Spanish players hosted an oldschool event to raise money to buy Christmas gifts for children who might not get it otherwise.
Entry fees collected in Chicago.
That's pretty damn cool, right?

Good netiquette holds that I should mention a few of my favorite posts from the year. I've linked to a few of my own already, but here goes a few other ones from around the web.
You see where I'm going with this? There is no longer a lack of content creators. There are tournaments for people to play all around the world. n00bcon, with it's pretty much negligible prize structure, has grown to the extent that we need qualifier tournaments even after we managed to raise the cap from 76 to 100 players. We have a great sense of community and camaraderie, and take pride in being nice to strangers regardless of whether they are new players in the format or homeless kids that needs Christmas presents. Whatever I hoped to achieve with these weekly updates for the last four and half years, I think it's done.
People flip Chaos Orbs again.
This format and its community is great source of pride for me. It's humbling to stand in the middle of it all. But it has become time for me to step back and acknowledge that dutifully updating this blog isn't necessary anymore.

I've been thinking about it for a long time. Updating this blog takes about eight hours a week. Reading, writing, taking pictures and editing posts and subpages. Some weeks it goes a little quicker and some weeks it takes a lot more. I'm excited to see what I would do with those hours if I were to free them. I've signed up for horseback riding lessons. I have downloaded books I want to read to my Kindle. I want to learn cross-country skiing and how to speak french. Maybe I should learn to play the harmonica or start holding more seminars on software testing. And I'm getting married next year, which is awesome.

The plan isn't to stop creating content, and I will host n00bcon for as long as people want to come. I currently still have three posts still in the works. My idea is rather to severely scale down and cut my output rate down to about 10-15 posts or articles a year; either here or at other sites that want my scribbles. If you want to contribute with a guest post here, don't hesitate to email me at delaval@gmail.com. If you want me to write something for you, feel free to give me a nudge.

I wish you all a great 2017. Let's see where we can take it.