lördag 20 oktober 2018

Notes from the Scandinavian Championship

Arvika. My seventh time over at the most dense 93/94 scene in Sweden. Hell, probably in the world. 14,000 people live in the city, and you could presumably dig up around fifty old school players in the neighboring area if you were inclined. The FNMs at the local card shop are 93/94, and most of the players here stay abstinent from modern cardboard. Apart from the Magic, the city and the people have a certain feel I can't really put my finger on. This is a special place in the Swedish woods.

The Patron Wizard around these parts is KungMarkus. When he organized the first Arvika Festival tournament four years ago, we were 16 players. Hardy and myself were the strangers. A couple of years into the Festival the Arvika players also got responsibility for hosting the Scandinavian Championship. This gathering, the sixth tournament were the Arvika Crew invite the rest of the country to battle on their turf, saw somewhere around 85. This time we even had distinguished guests from the continent, with ViennaGeddon organizer Mitja Held and reigning world champion Alban Lauter from Germany joining the fight.

Last time I set foot in Arvika I brought The Deck. It was my virgin journey with the boogie man of the format, and I can't say I didn't enjoy it. I like drawing cards and playing the legendary artifacts that pile brings, and my initial plan was to sleeve it up for a second time. My competitive gene was in unusually high spirits for this gathering, and I'm yet to pick up a Giant Shark myself. But then I recalled last time at the championship, and how the length of the rounds and intense sound level made me unable to fully enjoy the experience between matches. So I decided to scrap my control plans and give UR Burn a try. Never played that one before, and it could be interesting to check out its power level from a pilot's perspective.

I sleeved it up and tried out a bunch of games against the goldfish and a few real decks. And my god, that pile is one horrible way to arrange Magic cards. It won, sure, but I can hardly image a deck I felt more bored playing. I would rather challenge my opponents to a game of Monopoly than play this deck for seven rounds. I am not saying that Olle Råde or Gordon Anderson are wrong to enjoy this deck, fun is clearly subjective, but piloting this deck for me was about as fun as eating a bag of salt.

I threw it away, and went back to more familiar grounds. It had been a few years since I last sleeved up Distress, and I had gotten my hands on a second The Abyss since then. The temporal spike in me made an easy upgrade by splashing the blue-pack, and I was off to the races.
Distress! Fun!
So I had somehow picked an even grindier deck than The Deck by virtue of discarding The Deck for being to slow to play. I am pretty fast at playing Distress though, and much more familiar with this than The Deck, so I figured I could use mental shortcuts more often and perhaps keep my energy up longer regardless. Seven rounds filled with beer, starting five in the evening, will necessarily be a test of endurance as well as Magic.
Haupsdeck Distress
Most choices here are fairly straight forward for people familiar with the brew. Hypnotics in the sideboard are against combo and some versions of control, Black Vise is an answer to Ivory Tower, Gloom is pretty much only to slow down Circle of Protection. The blue power is an insurance against Mind Twist, and Time Twister is a proper wincon. Blue could possibly be cut for red, the maindeck splash would then probably only be Wheel of Fortune, and the sideboard could have Shatter instead of Black Vise. Never let the the opponent draw cards of you Howling Mines if you can avoid it. Fun pile.

As every time before I've joined a tournament in Arvika, my partner at the train would be Hardy. Hardy is currently on parental leave, and is fiancee was away for the weekend, so he brought along the six-month old for the ride. Dadgic: The Fathering.
Train people.
I before we go further into the city of Arvika, I just want to throw out an extra shout to KungMarkus and the Arvika Crew. Fantastic hosting! It is a supreme pleasure to be able to go to a tournament of this caliber without doing anything except enjoying the gathering. You guys truly embody the spirit of the format.
Carro and KungMarkus keeping the fort.
Or, I did do one thing for the gathering, as have become custom. I designed and ordered the pins. This time I thought it could be funny to use the warrior from Holy Day in Legends on the backdrop of a Swedish/Norwegian union flag. It was a holy day as tournaments go, and the contenders on the Scandinavian Championship were mostly Swedes and Norwegians. It took until the Sunday hangover before I realized that the pins looked kinda odd if you remove our MtG-tinted glasses. This could possibly be mistaken for the logo of some unsavory power band.
Now I can't unsee it.
Back to the train.
Sideboard teching.
Fellow Oslo Magician Michael Kjebekk.
Upon arrival in Arvika, we were greeted Ruaro and The Beef from Team Lisch in Lidköping. Catching me by completely off-guard, they had the most amazing surprise in store.
What the actual balls. All the whiskey in the world, branded glass and bottles, and sweet stuff.
Ruaro and The Beef. Note the Juzam tattoo btw :)
They had arrived a day earlier for an Alpha-only tournament at the site. Don't have much details about that one, as details for those kind of gatherings tend to be scarce as a part of the experience, but as I understood it JhovalKing had picked up the victory with a fully broken Time Vault deck, facing Kalle Nord in the finals.
Shenanigans in the makings.
As for a tournament report, I can note that I had a great time, went a respectable 5-2, and got in some sweet trading and Alpha games as the Top8 unfolded. I'm expecting a report from the winner in the next few days, so lets just look at a few pictures from the gathering for now.
The main room, hosting a little north of 50 players. This was the first time in Arvika we needed to open up more rooms to fit everybody.
Room B, with the top tables. Lots of familar faces all around.
Hardy got his own table to accompany the stroller and kid. Also note the sweet Norway Oldschool Mtg t-shirt. Rad stuff.
William's trading table has become a fixture at the major Swedish gatherings.
Facing off against 2017 Rookie of the Year Erik Sjödin from the Ö-vik community. Started the match with a decisive Timetwister for 21 damage, but in the end lost a close match against his WR Midrange.
Managed to beat Kenneth from the Olso community, a notoriously hard opponent for me. His Troll Disco is a though matchup for Distress, but I somehow managed to seal the deal on the back of The Abyss and Drain Lifes. Next to us we have international guest and current World Champion Alban Lauter.
Facing off against Kalle in round five. Hide your children.
We did get some cheering from the bar though :)
And I got some swag! Thanks Kalle!
Alban's trade binder. Not a shabby set of lands. Alban and Mitja help fund their trips and spread some more powerful cards to the Nordic countries by doing some trading and selling. Win-win. They also swung by Oslo to hang out at a local meetup this Monday before they returning to the continent.
Erland's binder. Somewhat HP Beta Ancestral right there.
Mitja managed to reach the top8, despite a truly impressive intoxication level. He won his quarterfinal, but the alcohol prompted him to drop in the semis. Fairly rare occurrence in most 80+ player Mtg tournaments. Welcome to Arvika.
Meanwhile, I'm off playing one of the stranger mirror matches in my years of Magic. As August-93 (or Wizards' Tournament Magic, or Alpha 40) is mostly brewed on the sidelines of social media and the web, decklists are fairly rare, and I had no idea that I could face another guy with the same gameplan. Hell, neither of us had a clue there existed another Psychic Venom deck in the world before we met up at Arvika.
Tap your Island, you take 10. As Garfield intended.
Surprisingly I don't think we managed to steal any of each others Psychic Venoms, but I did find an extra Braingeyser in my deck when I got home and unpacked. Sorry about that, it is coming in the mail.
Loff vs Audun in more Alpha shenanigans.
The Alpha tables are filling up.
JohavalKing vs Kalle playing a couple of properly broken decks. It surprises me in so many ways that the Wizards' Tournament format actually became a thing. I mean, it is in fact a joke that we're all just taking way too far. We're like 100 players from around fifteen countries signed up for the next one. So I will from here on start subtitling to Wizards' Tournament as The Magic World Championship. Hah.
Some old school trading with Kalle. Downgrading my Alpha Sapphire to a more beat up Beta one, and getting some sweet, sweet filler. Never thought I'd actually get a Tabernacle as I'm unwilling to buy it, but trading surely works. It will find a good home in the Distress sideboard for sure.
Friendship is Magic.
Back at the tournament at hand, it is  time for the game for all the marbles and the coveted Shark. Some proper Elder Dragons in the format facing off, neither of which are unaccustomed to previous Shark finals. A proper report from the winner is coming soon, so I'll keep my spoilers at a minimum.
Sometime after five in the morning, a ragtag gang is back in the room I'm proud I get to call a second home at Markus's place. Hardy is sleeping downstairs with the kid this time, but Honka and Kalle doesn't disappoint as bedfellows go. Situations made me laugh so hard I got tears in my eyes.
Back to life. The sun shines over Arvika.
The traditional post-tournament pizza.
Swinging by one of the hotels, spellslingers keep spellslinging in the lobby.
Lobby Mtg.
Honka getting back into the game.
Hardy contemplating his tech.
The final treasure. Thank you so much, this was fantastic.
With that I bid Arvika adieu for this time. Next time on that turf will probably be in February, when the annual Festival returns for its fifth iteration. Thank you all for a magical weekend!

torsdag 11 oktober 2018

Oldschool Magic and Stockholm in a Bottle

Sweden is the home of around 200 old school players these days. Though among them, there are very few proper "teams". Sure, someone might casually pledge allegiance to Haups, 02-drop, PropellerCap, LeatherJacket, Kaffebryggers, Lisch, Wak-Wak, or something like that, but we don't really have the crews with back-patches or recurring tournament branding. The Arvika players are simply the Arvika players, the Gothenburgers are mainly the Gothenburgers. There's one strong exception though, the gang known as Stockholm in a Bottle. They host, organize and travel as a crew, and even have a proper home page. Now, as a native Gothenburger, I must add the disclaimer that this report is from an actual guy from Stockholm, so it is probably NSFW if you work at Volvo, Ericsson, SKF, or any of the other real workplaces in the country. That said, it is my privilege to introduce the musings of the fabulous Daniel Yann Franzén. Enjoy! /Mg out

I was just listening to the latest ATC podcast with Magnus and Bryan explaining on how they, back in the 90s, used to hide from public that they were playing Magic. Afraid of that their social status would be damaged if word about them being geeks during weekends started spreading. But today one of them is running a blog and the other a podcast about it. I guess I would consider both Magnus and Bryan proud Magic nerds today. And maybe that is one of the reasons why I like them both so much without knowing them very well. I would also like to see myself as a Magic nerd. Even though I never felt that I had to hide the fact I played Magic in the 90s to remain among the cool kids. Maybe because I was lucky to grow up going to a music school were everybody were nerds in some way and 90% of them were girls, but who knows? One of our crew’s fans posted on twitter that she thought if Magic the Gathering would be a high school, the cool kids would be those who played Oldschool. So Bryan and Magnus, you are safe now. Stockholm in a Bottle is our way of showing that we are proud nerds and that everyone is free to join us to do damn cool things!

Why Magic? Why Oldschool?

Well, first let us talk about why anyone would return to game they quit playing many years ago? Of course I can only speak for myself but I believe there is a reason why this format is exploding all over the world right now. Two people in our crew without relation to each other started building old school decks around 2000, just because how they loved the old era, the art, the lore and the Magic. Precisely what is keeping us together today, with the added bonus of a fantastic community!
The reason why we all came back to Magic and did choose Oldschool as our format right now, is that we have come to a certain point in our life where we can start living as aristocrats again like when we were kids and needed an “artificial exercise”. Huh? Let me explain.

Human beings have a need (probably based in biology) for something that we will call the purpose ladder (not the same as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). This is closely related to the need for power (which is widely recognized) but is not quite the same thing. The purpose ladder has four steps. The three most clear-cut of these we call goal, effort and attainment of goal. (Everyone needs to have goals (a purpose) whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his or her goals.) The fourth step is more difficult to define and may not be necessary for everyone. Let us call it autonomy. So in short:
  1. Goal - What you want to achieve
  2. Effort - What you spend to achieve your goal
  3. Goal Attainment - The degree to which you fulfill your goal
  4. Autonomy - Your ability to, by yourself, control steps 1-3
Everyone has goals; if nothing else, to obtain the physical necessities of life: food, water and whatever clothing and shelter are made necessary by the climate. But the leisured aristocrat obtains these things without effort. Hence they end up in boredom and demoralization.

Consider the hypothetical case of a man who can have anything he wants just by wishing for it. Say you could cheat in Magic and draw Lotus, Channel, Fireball on your start hand whenever you wanted. At first you will have a lot of fun, but by and by you will become acutely bored and demoralized. History shows that leisured aristocracies tend to become decadent. This is not true of fighting aristocracies that have to struggle to maintain their power. But leisured, secure aristocracies that have no need to exert themselves usually become bored, hedonistic and demoralized, even though they have power. This shows that power is not enough. One must have goals toward which to exercise one’s power.

Thus, in order to be mentally healthy, a human being needs goals whose attainment requires effort, and he must have a reasonable rate of success in attaining his goals.

Let us use the term “artificial exercise” to designate an activity that is directed towards an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us say, merely for the “fulfillment” that they get from pursuing the goal. I deliberately choose not to call it a hobby because it stretches further than that.

Here is a rule of thumb for the identification of artificial exercises. Given that you devote much time and energy to the pursuit of goal X, ask yourself this: If you had to devote most of your time and energy to satisfying your biological needs, and if that effort required you to use your physical and mental faculties in a varied and interesting way, would you feel seriously deprived because you did not attain goal X? If the answer is no, then your pursuit of goal X is an artificial exercise.

On the other hand the pursuit of sex and love (for example) is not an artificial exercise, because most people, even if their existence were otherwise satisfactory, would feel deprived if they passed their lives without ever having a relationship with another person. (But pursuit of an excessive amount of sex, can be an artificial exercise.)

In our modern industrial society only minimal effort is necessary to satisfy one’s physical needs. Thus, it is not surprising that modern society is full of artificial exercises. These include scientific work, athletic achievement, humanitarian work, artistic and literary creation, climbing the corporate ladder, acquisition of money and material goods far beyond the point at which they cease to give any additional physical satisfaction.

For many if not most people, artificial exercises are less satisfying than the pursuit of real goals (that is, goals that people would want to attain even if their need for the purpose ladder were already fulfilled). One indication of this is the fact that, in many or most cases, people who are deeply involved in artificial exercises are never satisfied, never at rest. Thus the money-maker constantly strives for more and more wealth. The scientist no sooner solves one problem than he moves on to the next. Many people who pursue artificial exercises will say that they get far more fulfillment from these activities than they do from the “day to day” business of satisfying their biological needs, but that is because in our society the effort needed to satisfy the biological needs has been reduced to triviality. In contrast, people generally have a great deal of autonomy in pursuing their artificial exercises.

Remember when I said that “the purpose ladder” has four steps? We have so far covered three. The fourth, autonomy may not be necessary for every individual. But most people need a greater or lesser degree of autonomy in working toward their goals. Their efforts must be undertaken on their own initiative and must be under their own direction and control.

For most people it is through the purpose ladder having a goal, making an autonomous effort and attaining the goal that self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of power are acquired. Magic Oldschool 9394 is the perfect “artificial exercise” that gives you all these by putting effort in collecting cards to build that autonomously designed deck you have been having as a goal for a long time. Or winning one game when you get that spicy combo off might be enough.

Why Stockholm in a Bottle?

Yet most people do not have to exert this initiative, direction and control as single individuals. It is usually enough to act as a member of a small group. Thus if half a dozen people discuss a goal among themselves and make a successful joint effort to attain that goal, their need for climbing the purpose ladder will be served. Our small group Stockholm in a Bottle was formed because we recognized that we had more “artificial exercise” that could be combined with our mutual four stepped purpose ladder Oldschool Magic. The part on our first logo with Juzam and his champagne bottle fitted right in as a reminder of that link to aristocrat philosophy, and at the same time to gallivant with the prejudice to people living in Stockholm.

Unfortunately as a consequence of Oldschool Magic growing, the financial threshold for someone new to begin with Oldschool Swedish rules is high. Most of our members in Stockholm in a Bottle (SiaB) came in late and we are still adding new members, returning after twenty plus years. Thus, for most our members, time is more precious than finance. Many of us are entrepreneurs or have high demanding jobs, so when we meet the aim is to get as much out of the time spent on disconnecting from stress and enjoying “artificial exercises”. Usually this involves fun alternative to play the game. For example, cube-drafting or alternative rule settings together with good food and drinks in a pleasurable environment.
Oldschool Magic is a perfect way to prestigeless hang out together and let your deck define who you are for that day or night.

torsdag 4 oktober 2018

London Calling

Last weekend I was bestowed the honor of being invited to BenCon. BenCon has annals going back over a decade, though for some reason it had flown under my radar until about a week earlier, when I got a message from Ben Twitchen of The Brothers of Fire.

BenCon is quite simply a small gathering of friends at Ben's place in the countryside of northern London. The plan was to gather for Magic and board games, and wash it down with home made cider and local ale. So when Ben sent me a message on Facebook describing the event and wondering if I had the opportunity to join before parenthood would kick in, I was quick to order plane tickets. The crew this year would then consist of myself, Brother Ben, Brother Jonas, Brother Oli, and Brother Stebbo. Three people I've met before at n00bcon, as well as a new face.
This is an amazing thing I can't help underscore yet again. Before BenCon these were guys that I'd - at most - met twice during Magic tournaments, and yet I had an intense sense of friendship with them. A pair of actual brothers, one of their childhood friends, and one of their old roommates. And me. And it didn't feel remotely weird or like I wasn't part of the gang. Play the game, meet the world.

I will not delve too deep into my journal this time, but rather let pictures speak more than my words.
Brother's Highlander with the Brothers Twitchen. Watch out for that Torsten von Ursus. Also watch out for that bottle of beer.
Friday dinner with Oli and the lady of the house. Traditional English Asian food.
Magic!
So much synergy going on around here. Oli almost got the best of Adventure Island despite my broken opener, but the Black Knights are looking bleak now.
The house guests for BenCon '18: Mg, Oli, Jonas and Stebbo.
Brother Stebbo joins in for a five-player pentagon match.
With a long week behind me I manage to sleep past noon on Saturday. I was still treated to proper English break fast once I emerged. 
Overslept the Scythe game. Looks intricate.
Compensate a lack of Scythe with some bonding with Gatsby the dog. Lively fellow.
The sun and reasonable weather haven't left the UK yet. A rare sight in October for us from Oslo.
Walking to the local pub.
Blatantly British and brilliant ambience. I have no idea why we haven't adopted this kind of open pub culture in Scandinavia.
No Magic in the pub though. We don't want to get nerd-bashed.
Next game up is Colonel Twitchen's Jam Kitchen. Was surprised to learn it was made by Jonas. Fantastic game.
Jonas, Stebbo, Oli and Mg. Making jams. After a super tight game where a stuck thermostat prevented both Oli and myself from taking home the £11 needed to secure victory, Ben managed to emerge with the win.
Next challenge was Seven Wonders. Never tried that one before either. Jonas demolished the field by focusing on drafting culture.
A photogenic gang.
Back at the Twitchen Manor for some more Brother's Highlander. Jonas keeps his streak going from Seven Wonders, and the Pentagram style victory is split between the two of us.
 I got to summon a Force of Nature with Spirit Link. That was gas. 
As night approaches, brother Stebbo digs out some awesome surprises.
Sealed booster box and starters of first edition Jyhad! Jyhad (later renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) was designed in 1994 by Richard Garfield and initially published by Wizards of the Coast. It was the second Deckmaster release, and the third CCG ever created. Old school gaming if I ever saw it. After about twenty minutes trying to read up on the rules, we however had to submit that it was a little too complicated to get into while slightly drunk and with zero experience between us. So the box was left intact, and hopefully we'll have another go at it in the future when we have studied the intricacies of the game a little more.
So we cracked a box of Unstable for drafting instead. Managed to 4-0 the table with a four-color durdle deck that won with the instantly classic Zombified/Ordinary Horse/Clocknapper combo.
The final game of Brother's Highlander into the night. Witch Hunter is gas. Also, beware of the drinks ;)
I am highly uncertain of how (or if) the final score was calculated, but apparently the back of my Unstable win had me receiving this gem. A glorious prize, which I will cherish dearly.
Thanks for a wonderful weekend Ben! And to Jonas, Oli and Stebbo of course. Proper Magic this gathering.