söndag 21 september 2014

The Fire of Sri Lanka

"This is just an expansion, so I'm not going to worry about balance. People will just play it for flavor, and when they get tired of it, they will stop playing with it."
 -Richard Garfield, Email to Dave Pettey, late 1993

Arabian Nights turned out to be a wonderful expansion; not the least considering it had the shortest development time of any set, a development team of only four people, and a design team of one. There are many gems among the 78 different cards, and the stories are plentiful if you dig a little. Today, we dig.

Serendib Efreet is awesome. It is so good it supports strategies on its own, and strong enough that you should look for reasons not to play it in blue decks, rather than look for reasons to play it. The card was actually banned in extended in 1995, as it is a bolt-proof moat-jumper for the cost of a Devouring Deep. It may not be as iconic as Juzam, but then again, what is? The card itself has a colorful history of reprints. The most famous color is probably green.

"Current Errata: none". All is well. Nothing strange about the green blue card.
There exists about fourteen Serendibs with the image of Ifh-Biff Efreet for each one with the correct Anson Maddocks image. On that same note, including foreign editions, only one in fourteen of the cards with the Ifh-Biff image are actually Ifh-Biffs, which makes its status as a "tribute card" a little off. Imagine if 93% of all the Avalance Riders (Darwin Kastle's invitational card) would have the image of Sylvan Safekeeper (Olle Råde's invitational card). One might assume that the art of Ifh-Biff Efreet don't depict Richard Garfield's sister though, just as Erhnam Djinn probably don't depict her husband Herman, so it might not be as big a fuzz (Ifh-Bif was Richard's nickname for his sister as a child, and Erhnam is an anagram of Herman). The red djinn/efreet pair, Mijae Djinn and Ywden Efreet, are also anagrams of married friends of Garfield (Jamie and Wendy). But what is a Serendib then? An anagram of 'inbreeds', of course, but that doesn't really seem classy enough for the good doctor. Ignoring an obvious wikipedia check, our first clue comes from the French revised version of the card.

Flavor text!
It's been a few years and my French is rusty, but I would translate the flavor to something like "As I recall, the island of Serendib is 80 parasangs in length and 80 parasangs in width; and on the island is a mountain which is the tallest in the world". So, an island in Asia with a big mountain. I'll give you a moment to guess.

No, I didn't get it either. It's Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon by most, and Serendib in the Arab world. The "montagne qui était la plus haut de tout de la terre" line is a slight exaggeration. I assume that they refer to Mount Pedro, which according to wikipedia stands at a little over 2,500 meters (that's about half a parasang for you non-metric readers). The quote in the flavor text is attributed to 1001 Arabian Nights, trad. Mardrus. It's from the sixth voyage of Sinbad, where he gets shipwrecked and ends up on Ceylon. It was supposedly a very nice place to visit, even for non-Sinbad travellers. The word 'serendipity' hails from the story The Three Princes of Serendip, and means "fortunate happenstance". And after all, it is surprisingly sweet to play the Efreet :)

White-bordered Serendibs with the correct image are pretty uncommon, at least when compared to those with the wrong image. The German and French versions are fairly cheap though, but even a fair price for an English wb Efreet with the original Arabian Night's picture is actually higher than the GDP per capita for Sri Lanka itself (and about 60% of the worlds other countries for that matter). It is on the short-list for one of the most expensive magic cards in the world.
Borders and image correct, but still the wrong artist credit ;)
This wb version was printed around July 1994, and was never intended to be released. An estimated 4 cases of the set containing this card was accidentally distributed in September 1994 and April 1995. These four cases would presumably contain around 10 copies of this card, which makes it astonishingly rare. There is a popular conspiracy theory stating that the total print run of this set was in fact about 120 million cards, but that almost all of them were burned at Carta Mundi due to the colors being too dark.

So, there's some single-card history on Serendib Efreet. It's a sweet card with lots of history, and I'm starting to feel like building a monoblue suicide deck about now :)

måndag 15 september 2014

BSK 2014

And when this land is barren, where will we go?

You can already feel it in the air, and see it in the faces of friends. The dark months are approaching, and the Nordic countries are becoming a much different place than just a few weeks ago. In six weeks, the trees will be barren and sunshine will be a rarely seen luxury. In six weeks, we will have All Hallows Eve, and the old school players will gather for BSK.

The BSK tournament is traditionally one of the two largest 93/94 tournament each year, occurring around six months after n00bcon. It is named after the convention, Borås Spelkonvent, taking place in the same city at the same time, but is not actually related to the convention in any way. It does however make for some strategic travel arrangements, as BSK holds e.g. the Swedish national Vintage championship that same weekend.

For the last four times we've had tournament at the time of BSK, we've used hotel suits to play in (well, actually the hotel bar in 2010). This has worked reasonably well, but it gets pretty hard once you reach 20-25 players. Conference rooms in the hotels doesn't really work that great either, as you usually only can rent them until midnight and you're not allowed to drink beer. At the time of writing this, we already have 30 people signed up to fight for the Giant Shark (and drink beer), so we needed to find a different solution. This time, we're renting a club house of a local sports team, and will have all the time and space we need. It will be sweet, and I'm expecting a lot of sweet tech.

Maybe we'll even see the classic "Moss Monster - Rukh Egg"-stand off
The tournament itself is of course ripe with glory. The winner will get the awe-inspiring Giant Shark and a big trophy, and different casual prices will be awarded to other players. If you are considering trying out the format, this is a great opportunity. It looks like six swiss rounds plus a top8 for the main 93/94 tournament, and plenty of chances to play other eternal formats at the main convention during the weekend if inclined (it's walking distance from the 93/94 site).

Excellent time to finally break the O'Brien Prison deck :)
The tournament starts 17:00, Friday the 31st of October. Location is Borås, about 60 km south of Gothenburg, Sweden. The tournament fee is 150 SEK (about $21), mostly to cover the expenses of the club house and trophies. If you want to join, feel free to comment here or send me an e-mail, and I'll give you more details about the location. Hope to see you there!

söndag 7 september 2014

Cut from a different cloth

No one used gloves while playing Risk. No one laminated or graded D&D-books. No one used plastic sleeves for their Civilization cards.

Magic was one of the first games of its kind, the first of what was called collectible games. And it was literally touch and go for a while. Even in The Duelist, it was suggested that you could tape your cards to a wall to battle Chaos Orb. If you didn't use sleeves for your "Draw 4s" in Uno, why would you use it for your "Draw 3" in Magic? The early cards got sticky and beat up by being roughly played on dirty tables in bars, schools, and kitchens. Today, almost everyone plays with some protective measures to avoid marking the cards and to expand their lifespan. What we all see as a natural part of the game today, started on a dirty table in a coffee shop in San Francisco.

Between the 2-16 August 1993, WotC founder Peter Adkinson and his wife travelled through the western US to run demos of Magic in a few local game stores. This tour started before the general release of Alpha, and two weeks after the game was first showed at Origins in July. An avid gamer named Japji Khalsa was introduced to the game the day after a local tour stop, and after a great first impression, he used the 'tour t-shirt' to see where the next stop was. He called the store on the shirt the day of the demo, and ordered his first starter box of Alpha over the phone.

Japji and his friends started playing in a coffee shop in Haight Ashbury called the Coffee Zone. This was in the wild west of Magic, before anyone could fathom that a BGS 10 Alpha Wooden Sphere would sell for over $3k 20 years later, or that trading Moxen for Craw Wurms could be a bad idea. What Japji did know however, was that his cards got really sticky, and he didn't like sticky cards. He went to a nearby fabric store and bought a nice looking piece of cloth which he placed on the tables before playing with his cards. One of his friends in the local playgroup, Jeff Brain, suggested he could do some art for the mat, which Japji thought was a great idea. So began the partnership of Khalsa and Brain, and the dawn of Khalsa-Brain Games.

Khalsa-Brain is a name that probably rings familiar to the veterans of the Vintage community and the more hardcore of collectors. Many players are still unfamiliar with their products and history though, and naturally thinks of a playmat as something akin to a very large mouse pad. I'm personally not much of fan of play mats, but I still went on a quest looking for a reasonably priced Khalsa-Brain Spellground Elite mat on ebay for well over a year. The Khalsa-Brain mats aren't just mats anymore, they are close to the pinnacle of what some players refer to as "subtle pimp". The mats are usually made in the hundreds or less, not the thousands, and will literally last you for decades (and I'm the kind of guy who uses "literally" correctly). They are made to be used, and it is a special feeling to cast your cards on one. To make a beer analogy, these are not your Sierra Nevadas or Sam Adams, these are your Westvleterens or Närkes. These are craft mats with a history.

The 1994 Spellground Elite
Japji Khalsa and Jeff Brain first brought their mats to their favorite convention, Dundracon, in February 1994. For this occasion, they had made 100 mats to sell. It was a new concept, and they had no idea if there actually existed a market for play mats. In order to sweeten the deal, they offered a free booster of the newly released Arabian Nights with the purchase of each mat. By the end of the weekend, they had sold out. It was a success, and Khalsa-Brain entered the hobby game market as the top (and initially only) manufacturer of play mats. Japji and Jeff were joining trade shows, visiting conventions, and in 1996 they became the first official producers for Magic play mats. Apart from the classic official mat, they made mats for the Magic World Championships between 1996 and 2001. Khalsa and Brain went on to make large impacts in other parts of the gaming community, including starting a local CCG convention called ManaFest. In 2000, the name was changed to KublaCon, and today it is the largest gaming convention on the North American West Coast, occurring annually on Memorial Day Weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. They also produced the only authorized 3rd party Magic expansion, but that's a topic for another week ;)

Japji Khalsa
So which mat is the "ultimate" Khalsa-Brain mat? Well, my personal favorite of the "mass-produced" (with pretty big quotation marks) is the 1994 Spellground Elite. Some would say the official single-player Magic mat, or the 2-Player Spellground mat, but there is no clear consensus. It is very much in the eye of the beholder. Is there a mat in particular Japji Khalsa himself is especially proud of, and if he still plays himself, which mat would he use? Well, the internet is awesome, and the gaming community is friendly, and I got the chance to get an answer directly from the source :)

"I'd say I'm especially proud of some of the World's Qualifier mats we did for Wizards of the Coast. Those mats were multi-colored and required a LOT of extra work to pull them off.  Fortunately, WOTC was happy to pay the extra dollars to make those happen. I'd say the 2001 Toronto, Canada mat was my favorite. As a side... I was also very proud of the official Magic: The Gathering Single Player play mat. That required a LOT of art direction to incorporate many of the iconic images from Magic at the Time... And to put them into a nice layout that worked."

The Worlds 2001 mat
Of course, when I had the opportunity, I really wanted to know what happened to the first mat. Was it even true that the first mat was hand painted by Brain? Does it still exist? Turns out that "the ultimate play mat" is actually a table!

"One of my early personal mats was altered by Jeff Brain. Mostly, he colorized the various elements by hand... Not really altering the images per-se. This particular mat had an interesting future.  Because we often played at very crowded coffee shops, it was sometimes difficult to get a table.  My neighborhood in San Francisco often has various sidewalk sales, and on one occasion I spotted an 'old' folding table that was almost exactly the size of the mat.  (A SMALL folding table!)  I ended up covering the table  with the mat, an almost exact fit, and trimming the edges with gold fabric trim.  This became the table that I would bring to coffee shops for Magic... And I was never short of finding a table to play on!"

This "table mat" is currently in a storage room, and Japji states that he has considered selling it as he doesn't play that much CCGs anymore. If he puts it up on ebay, I'll be sure to post some info about it here. If anyone comes to an old school tournament with this folding table as their play area, that person would pretty much win by default :) I truly hope that the player who gets this table next will use it, and not let it gather dust or simply try and make a profit out of it.

Freespace's 1999 Magic mat, with alterations by Matt Cavotta (left) and rk Post (right).
After some time, Jeff Brain left the company on good terms. This is marked in the mats with a small change in the company name, the dash in "Khalsa-Brain" was removed, and the later version of the mats instead uses the name "Khalsa Brain". (Many re-sellers on ebay claim to have earliest mats, but be sure to look for the dash if age is important to you). The business is still family run, by Japji and his wife, occasionally assisted by a few friends. They have started to produce mats again after some years of the grid. These mats have the classic old motive, and whenever they have a new batch ready, you can find them at kbgames.com or at Khalsa Brain's ebay store. As far as the older mats go, they can most easily be found via ebay (and patience).

A 2011 mat with the Spellground 2-player artwork.
 I realize that mid-90s Khalsa-Brain mats are pretty deep as far as subcultures go. Magic itself is something of a subculture, and Old School Magic is a subculture of that. Old School apparel for Old School Magic is pretty close to the deep end, but I hope that the readers of this blog are the correct audience for these kind of things ;) If you are the kind of person who wants to play with Icy Manipulator from Alpha because that one has the nicest font, then you definitely want to keep a look out for the Khalsa-Brain mats. They will last you for as long as you play.

måndag 1 september 2014

Pics from Playoteket

New 93/94 groups seems to be popping up around the world. The second old school tournament in Northern California will take place this weekend, the first article from Chicago was posted at Eternal Central last week, two weeks ago the first tournament in Scania took place at Playoteket, and I hear whispers from players in France. I thought about having a section on this page with e-mails to representatives of play groups (or people who just want to play) in the different cities in order to facilitate connecting the local communities. If you're looking for local players in your area, please send me an e-mail at delaval@gmail.com with some basic info about where you play and if you use some local rules (e.g. different B/R list than the suggestion found here), and I'll try to compile a list :)

Today is about the Scania players though. Before this summer, 93/94 in Scania have mostly been represented by the player Axelsson. Axelsson have been travelling north to participate at BSK, n00bcon, Kingvitational and Warcon during the last year. It looks like he is starting to get some more local opponents now though. Niclas "Arkanon" Johansson arranged the first 93/94 tournament at Playoteket two weeks ago. He recently sent me some pictures from the event, and a short introduction of himself and old school magic in Scania:

I started playing around the release of Revised myself. I played quite a bit with the old cards, but thought Magic felt washed out after a while, and I eventually quit all together. An old friend recently got me to relapse into the game, but I found modern Magic fairly unexciting. I then got informed about the wonderful 93/94-format by Axelsson a year ago. I had bought 6 of the Powercards for peanuts a decade ago, but I never thought I would have a chance to use them like before again. But this is an awesome format! I fell for it immediately, and have recently obtained the full P9, a majority of the Unlimited duals, and a lot of the casual staple cards. Now we're trying to connect with the standard/legacy players who started around rev/4th and see if they want to give the format a try. The soul of old magic has awaken again, and many players have showed interest! We just recently started playing down here, and everything is still in its infancy, but we're at least 9-10 players at this point, and I think we'll be 10+ at the next tournament!

Eneas who won the tournament with his Crusade(WW) meets Kimmuz who plays a WG aggrodeck.
Tobgoblin played UGB Control with Counters, Control Magic and flying heavy hitters like Mahamoti's.
Quorthon playing RG-beatdown whith Erhnams and a Shivan Dragon against Tobgoblin. Both are 93/94 Players from Ystad in Southern Sweden.
Who's the beatdown?
Rednekk, another player from Ystad who plays a BR Underworld Dreams deck, totally crushed Arkanon's Ivory Tower deck. Both decks had 4 Howling Mines...
Liac who plays MonoBlack, has an interesting game against Mayie's RW bolt/aggro. Eventually Mayie won after 3 hard matches.
Liac won this game against Mayie though, maybe not surprising...

It looks like a really fun meta, and I hope I get the chance to play against these guys in the future! The two top performing decks have been posted in the Decks-to-beat section for your viewing pleasure, one WW deck and one TaxEdgeGeddon. Wall of Putrid Flesh seems like a solid sideboard card :)

lördag 30 augusti 2014

Bantam-Geddon at Eternal Central

I've got some sweet pictures and new decks-to-beat from the tournament at Playoteket in Scania. I'll post them soon, but first, I'd like to give a quick shout out to Jason Jaco from Chicago. Old School Magic have grown quite a bit during the last year, and groups of veteran players have begun to explore the origins of Magic again in different areas scattered across the globe. Yesterday, the first Old School article by Jaco was posted at Eternal Central. The "Chicago house rules" allows unrestricted Strip Mine, and the article is a sweet deck tech about UWG Ehrnamgeddon with 4-off Strips. Check it out!

Introducing & Explaining Bantam-Geddon
As a side note, it took me about a week before I got annoyed by the ad banners I put up. During that time, I got about $5 from them, but in order to make ads generate any money, apparently you have to make them really intrusive. I removed them again, as I felt ads aren't in the spirit of the blog. If you want to give extra support to the format or this blog, you can do it by e.g. giving out random prizes to nice players at tournaments, or writing some short reports to post here or at Eternal Central instead ;) Also, here's a sweet deck with Shivan Dragons and Spirit Links:

Played by Macensi at BSK 2013. Bonus points for playing Flashfires in the sideboard :D

måndag 25 augusti 2014

To the Nines

The best thing with owning full power, is that you own full power.

Last week I got the Emerald, which was my final piece of the nine-part puzzle. It was Alex, one of the players I met in Regensburg a year and a half ago, who first told me about the best part of completing the nine. Now that it's finally done, 20 years after I first heard about the cards, I must say his statement rings true. Strange as it may sound, it's actually pretty much of a relief to finally have them. Since I got my first Mox 5 years ago, I knew that I wanted to complete the set. I didn't know if I would be able to though, as my life could easily have taken turns that would have made me unable to afford the luxury of these cards. 

So what is Power anyway? Is it the first nine restricted cards? The nine best cards? The most expensive cards today, or the most expensive cards from ABU that didn't get reprinted in 1994? There are lots of different explanations of why these particular cards are called the Power Nine, and a lot of ideas of why there are nine cards instead of ten (or eight, Timetwister unfortunately wont always get the love it deserves). Of the possible suggestions above, only one is surely true today. If you look for only the cheapest version of any card printed, the power cards are indeed the nine most expensive tournament legal cards in Magic. This was not true just a year ago though (when e.g. Mishra's Workshop was more expensive than Timetwister). Maybe a little more surprising; neither was it completely true in 1994. In August 1994, just after the release of The Dark, these were the top 10 most expensive cards (with average prices) according to Usenet:

1. Black Lotus ($39.53)
2. Forcefield ($32.84)
3. Gauntlet of Might ($30.20)
4. Mox Sapphire ($28.25)
5. Mox Ruby ($27.58)
6. Leviathan ($27.44)
7. Timetwister ($26.86)
8. Mox Pearl ($26.42)
9. Mox Emerald ($26.27)
10. Mox Jet ($24.65)

That price on Leviathan didn't live for long btw, and may be credited to hype for the new set. Nonetheless, quite a few cards from ABU appear on the list before Time Walk (#16) and Ancestral Recall (#22), including Chaos Orb (#12) and Lich (#15). Many people (and stores) would still consider Time Walk a more valuable card than Lich even in 1994, but two other cards stand out here. These two cards are Forcefield and Gauntlet of Might. These artifacts are among the most expensive cards in any price guide from the early days, and they are almost always more expensive than the blue power cards. Why then, do we have a Power Nine with three blue cards, rather than a Power Eight of artifacts which anyone could play with? (Ok, Gauntlet may be bad in a monowhite deck).

Three of the many suggestions for the "tenth power card"
So it wasn't only a price issue, nor simply a reprint issue (neither Forcefield nor Gauntlet were reprinted in Revised). Is it that these cards are the very best cards in the game then? Well, in early 1994 you had cards like Sol Ring, Demonic Tutor and Library of Alexandria which were at the same level of "broken". Best rare cards in ABU? Maybe, but e.g. Mind Twist was as powerful as most cards in P9, and Time Vault was actually banned back in 1994. So why are these particular nine cards Power?

Could it be because they had a mythical quality like no other cards ever had? Sure, there were players drooling after Elder Dragon Legends and Liches, but the Power cards were, in all their simplicity, the cards that made players into champions. They were incredibly scarce (I didn't even see a real Power card until 1996), very simple in design, and did basic things better than any other cards available. In the times before "tempo" or "card advantage" had been explored, the P9 defined these core concepts. They all break fundamental rules of the game; play one land a turn, draw one card a turn, take one turn at a time. Most players couldn't really grasp exactly why a mox would be better than a Shivan Dragon, but championships were won by players with the rare moxen, not players with Shivan. It didn't take long before eight of the power cards were hands-down the most expensive cards in the game, and since then they have topped the list for almost 20 years.

Some of the newer cards puts up a good fight powerwise though ;)
And after all, they pretty much are the most powerful cards ever printed. A couple of years back, Startcitygames posted a well researched list of the 100 best cards in modern Vintage. Top 3 is still Lotus, Ancestral and Time Walk. These cards definitely live up to their reputation.

All these things; the history, playability, scarcity, and monetary value combines to something else though, something less tangible. Odd and selfish as it may sound, the best thing with owning full power, is that you own full power. The puzzle is complete. If you are trying to complete your set yourself, I wish you the best of luck on your journey. You will enjoy it.

söndag 17 augusti 2014

Monoblue artifacts

A few weeks back, Warcon hosted a 93/94 tournament in Varberg. The previous time Warcon arranged such a tournament was in 2012, when Elof Gottfridsson won with a very aggressive version of The Deck (that list can be seen here). This year, Elof won the tournament yet again, though this time with a monocolored deck.

The monoblue artifacts deck is a pretty new creation, and I haven't actually heard about people playing this kind of deck back in the mid 90's. It's fairly similar to one of the top4 decks from the spring tournament in Eudemonia, though this version is much more controlling. This deck only uses a single Su-Chi and a single Triskelion as beatdown apart from the factories, where the Eudemonia deck was more agressive with full playsets of both Su-Chi and Juggernaut.

One of the key cards in the deck is Amnesia. It's often feasible to cast Amnesia as early as turn 3, preferably right after an Unsummon or a Hurkyl's Recall. After that, maintaining control until eventually winning is often just a formality. With the three Transmute Artifacts, Elof can dig up both silver bullets like Tawnos's Coffin or City in a Bottle, as well as wincons and card-engines. Another important card that ties the deck together is Mana Vault, which is valued above both off-color moxen and Fellwar Stone here. Turn 1 Vault, turn 2 counter or bounce, followed by turn 3 Amnesia is very hard to beat.

I really like this deck! It's very nice to see a "pure" moncolored control deck working so well, and the full playset of Unsummon seems like a great choice.

I don't know if he ever sideboarded in his three Giant Sharks ;)
The rest of the top4 decks from Warcon have been posted in the decks-to-beat section. Apart from this deck and Sehl's monoblack, we have Freespace's Juzam Smash and Andrea's Leo's very nice GWR Ehrnamgeddon.

As another side note, this week I added some ad banners to this blog. If they appear annoying, I will remove them again. Otherwise, if they would generate any small amount of money, I'll use that to try and generate some additional value for the blog (e.g. buying old books to review, or find some bonus prices for tournaments in the format).