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).

tisdag 12 augusti 2014

Eel or no Eel

One of the more surprisingly playable cards in old school magic is Electric Eel. It attacks for 3 on turn two if the mana is right, and it will trade with both Factories and Juggernauts. Once in a blue moon, it'll even trade with a Juzam or Erhnam. The winning deck of last n00bcon played the full playset of Eels and really showed off the card's potential.

 
At its most basic, an Electric Eel deck is a red/blue deck that uses Blood Moon and Energy Flux to punish the more powerful decks. It adds tempo with cheap creatures and lots of burn. It doesn't always play Electric Eel though, as the monetary cost to make it work well is surprisingly high.

For most of the decks in 93/94, you can build it reasonably fast, not have to spend lots of money at once, or make it "optimized". You can however only chose two of these three; if someone wants to build an optimized decks in a short amount of time, it will almost surely require a huge amount of money up front. Hence, the most common way to build a deck is to first build a reasonably cheap deck, and then optimize it over the coming years. The format is elitist in the way that players can't use the more obtainable reprints, and that players aren't entitled to play the "best version" of most decks without a rather big commitment in time and money. On the other hand, it's pretty including in the way that everyone is encouraged to play with what they have. There's no trash talking if you don't have access to duals or power, or play a casual pet deck. It's a casual community, and if you build a random Mana Vortex or Aisling Leprechaun deck, the high fives will be plentiful ;)

One deck that really can benefit from a slow build-up is the Electric Eel aggro, as it doesn't need power to work (unlike e.g. The Deck), but a piece of power or a dual will make it slightly stronger. The deck can be built reasonably well with only cards that cost less than $5; Flying Men, Unstable Mutation, Lightning Bolt and Psionic Blast from Unlimited, Phantasmal Forces, Black Vise, Dandan, etc. Once a shell is obtained, the more expensive cards can be added later. The top five cards to add are probably something like this:

1. Serendib Efreet
2. Blood Moon
3. Chain Lightning
4. Wheel of Fortune
5. Timetwister

When these cards are obtained, then we could start looking for the Volcanic Islands. Apart from the Timetwister, these four lands will probably be far more expensive than the rest of the deck combined though. This is why an Electric Eel deck may not actually play Electric Eel; the card will only really shine if the deck have access to Volcanic Islands. And then we'll have to ask ourselves again; do we really want to spend that time and money on duals, or would we rather build a new deck? At this point we're pretty close to a shell for e.g. the winning deck from WSK, or we could build Goblins or Suicide Blue or any other myriad of decks.

GaJol played a very nice "Eel-less Eel"-deck at Kingvitiational 1 in February. It will be interesting to see if he continues to work on this deck further, or if he chooses to scrap it in favour of another surprising Priest of Yawgmoth combo deck. Time will tell :)

The exact numbers of each card appears to be a secret tech.

tisdag 5 augusti 2014

All in good timing

During my summer vacation, my girlfriend and I took the time to clean out our storage room. Among the gems I found while cleaning was a signed Beta rule book I got as a gift from Viktor "Oldschool" Peterson during BSK 2011 (it was hidden in a Jet Li DVD case). I flipped through it again, and marvelled at its elegant simplicity.

One of the most common questions about the 93/94 format is whether we use old rules or new ones. We use the current rules, mostly due to the fact that old rules are at times pretty confusing (and sometimes contradictory). Today, with some old rule books at hand, we'll take a look at the history of "timing" before the stack came into existence.

That Revised rule book was in my sister's first starter pack from 1994 :) The Ice Age rules are identical to the 4th Ed. rules, apart from the additional page on snow lands and cumulative upkeep.
The rule books went through some major changes with each core set release during the first few years. The differences between e.g. 4th Edition and 5th Edition rules are probably larger than the differences between 10th Edition and M10 rules (when they e.g. removed mana burn, created the exile zone, removed combat damage from the stack, and of course updated the rules on Bands with Others).

Lets start with the original rules. What do they say about timing?

Yeah, that sounds about right. It really does make things simpler. In these days, the rules were very open for local interpretations and encouraged house rules. One of the few examples about timing in the actual rulebook is when a player responds to Terror with Unsummon. As the player cast Unsummon after the Terror, that player may choose which of them resolves first, and can either let the creature die or return it to his or her hand. First-in-last-out (FILO) are about a year away, and rule conflicts are suggested to be solved with coin flips.

Well, if you have a problem with solving rules with coin flips, at least you get your ante back.
At this time, the rules section in the Duelist helped players understand that Twiddle didn't actually active cards with tap abilities, and that you couldn't cast Lich on your opponent's side of the table. Complex timing was low on the rules agenda.

Once Revised rolled around in April 1994, the rules got some major updates. You could still discard a Rukh Egg to Bazaar of Baghdad to get a 4/4 token (until August 1994), but coin flips were frowned upon. At this point, Wizards had realized that they needed some common rules for timing in tournaments, and that these interactions could be somewhat confusing.

These are the rules from the summer of 1994, and should we use old rules, these are as close as they get. Some timing issues are rather straight forward, like that you cannot respond to an interrupt with anything other than an interrupt. E.g. if your opponent casts Red Elemental Blast to destroy your Prodigal Sorcerer, you cannot tap it to deal one damage before it dies, nor cast Unsummon to save it. What's a little more strange is that if you tap your Prodigal Sorcerer to deal 1 damage to a target, and your opponent responds with Red Elemental Blast, the Sorcerer wont deal any damage. In that same vein, you could respond to your opponent activating Nevinyrral's Disk by casting Shatter on the Disk, and before Shatter or the Disk ability resolves, cast Fork to copy Shatter. The forked copy will resolve immediately, and destroy the Disk, making the Disk's ability "fizzle" as Fork is an interrupt (also, a forked copy of a card could not be countered, as it was never cast). There were no batches or series at this point, nor any state based effects, and many timing issues were still up to the judge at hand. Timing of triggered abilities were pretty much a grey area, and e.g. responding to the "enters the battlefield"-ability of Stangg by bouncing it with Karakas was a scenario you would be wise to avoid in a tournament. The best way to play was still to cast as few spells and effects as possible at a time ;)

So, what does 4th Edition say about timing?

Haha, I kinda like that they changed the focus of the first sentence from "occasionally rather tricky" to "usually pretty easy". In 4th Edition, they first introduced the concept of a batch. To quote the 4th rulebook: "[A batch is] a series of non-interrupt fast effects that build on one another as players respond to each other's spells. Batches are resolved by first-in, last-out for all effects." This was a huge step up from the wild west of Revised, but still confusing by modern standards. As a simple example, damage resolution didn't happen until all the spells in the batch resolved, so if e.g. your opponent would cast a Giant Growth on one of his or her 3/3s, you could not respond to it with Lightning Bolt to kill the creature, as the bolt would deal damage only after the rest of the batch had resolved. If your opponent casts Terror on one of your creatures, and you respond to it with Ancestral Recall and draw an Unsummon, you could not cast that Unsummon to save you creature before the Terror resolves, as the batch containing Terror (and Ancestral) already had started to resolve.

Triggered abilities at this point are also pretty hard to grasp. A simple example is that if an opponent uses Nekrataal to kill one of your creatures, you can't save it by casting Unsummon, as the triggered ability won't use the batch.

On the plus side, enchantments on the creature won't get CARD ed.
Which takes us to the end of our journey, 5th edition. 5th was released in march 1997, and at this time professional magic tournaments was thriving. Hence, any ambiguity of the previous rules had been cleaned up or removed. The rules for timing however were more complex than ever.

I'm not reading this.
Rather than trying to get into details about the fifth edition rules, which I assume are not that interesting for most people, let me tell you about three decks.

The Travolta deck
In February 1997, the set Visions was released. One of the cards in Visions was Sands of Time, which became one of the key cards in the Travolta deck. Now, Sands of Time immediately received errata stating that the effect of the card didn't apply to itself, which very few novice players knew. As tapped artifacts were "shut off" at this time, correctly letting the abilities of multiple Sands of Time resolve was highly unintuitive, and if a player did something wrong, he or she would receive a warning for failure to maintain game state (or something like that). If you would get three warnings, you would get a game loss, or be ejected from the tournament. One of the win conditions of the Travolta deck was hence to play complex cards, make the opponent misplay, and call on a judge. The deck got it's name from players raising their hand in the air like Travolta in Saturday Night Fever while shouting "Judge!". The deck wasn't very popular, but just the fact that it could be built and that it could "win by Judge" is pretty impressive.

Wall of Boom
In early 1998, a place called "In Between Turns" existed. This was created mostly to solve issues with game states with multiple Time Vaults in play. During 5th Edition rules however, abilities and spells which generated mana (Mana Sources) could be played at ANY time. Hence, you could activate the ability of Wall of Roots in between turns, and as it wasn't during a turn, you could activate it as many times as you wanted. Without state-based effects killing the wall, you could generate an arbitrarily large amount of mana between the turns. If you had a Stasis or Sands of Time in play, you would then skip your untap phase and get all that mana during your upkeep. Add something like a Magma Mine to use all that mana during your upkeep to kill your opponent. A funny thing with this deck is that it was created in January 1998, and the "In Between Turns"-rule was removed almost immediately in February 1998 as the deck was deemed to be against the spirit of the game.

Yawgmoth's Ritual
In late 1998, I played in the Type 1 tournament at BSK. A guy who beat me in the swiss, and ended up winning the tournament, did so with a deck that abused Yawgmoth's Will. At this time, Dark Ritual was printed as a Mana Source, and hence could be cast immediately at any time. In fact, according to the rules, the speed of Mana Sources were even faster than replacement effects (at the time, "replacement effects" were seen as triggered abilities). Hence, if the guy cast Yawgmoth's Will, and then cast a Dark Ritual, he could cast the Dark Ritual again from the graveyard before the Will exiled it. He could do this as many times as he wanted, generating any amount of black mana before killing his opponent with a Drain Life or any other X-spell.

So, there's some history of timing. The release of 6th edition rules really did wonders for the game, and the original timing rules were literally up to a coin flip. When players suggest that we use the original rules in 93/94, it's usually only one or two rules they miss (e.g. mana burn or tapped blockers dealing no damage). If we would arbitrarily choose a subset of rules from 93/94 to use, it could become very confusing for new players in the format. As far as historically correct rules are concerned, every rulebook from Alpha to 4th Edition have sections encouraging house rules, so using the current rules of Magic 2014 could be seen as our house rules ;)

A stack :)
This post was mostly rules ranting, but if you're itching to play some Magic, there will be a 93/94 tournament at Playoteket in Malmö Sunday August 17th. It's in the southern part of Sweden, so if you're in northern Denmark and want to try out the format, it's a great opportunity (I think that revised will be legal for this tournament as well). Also, I think that there will be a second tournament in California September 7th, this time at Forgotten Path Games in Vacaville.

tisdag 29 juli 2014

Jet Black

Back in the mid 90's, monoblack was my favorite archetype. Maybe it was something special with the scary-looking artwork, the flavour of cards like Lord of the Pit and Royal Assassin, or just the fact that my black deck could actually beat most comers during the lunch breaks at school. Back then, Nettling Imp (or Norrit) plus Sorceress Queen and Sengir Vampire was seen as a deadly combination. The old school players of today have optimized the monoblack strategy quite a bit from that.

One route to take is the suicide school, which heavily utilizes Greed to generate card advantage and overwhelm the opponent. A great example of this can be seen in Heiner Litz's tournament report from Eudemonia. Another path is that of monoblack control, which use control cards like Icy Manipulator and use Underworld Dreams as a primary win condition. An extreme example of this is GaJol's Distress deck from BSK 2012, which I unfortunately don't have any pictures of (a later version of the deck splashing red can be seen here though). A more recent version of monoblack control is Danish player Jimmi Kristiansen's sweet deck from n00bcon 6:

Icy Manipulator is probably a better card to use with Royal Assassin than Nettling Imp ;)
Jimmi's deck has som great synergies. Agressive creatures with Icy and Meekstone; Pestilence and Mishras; and Tabernacle backed up by Icy and Sinkhole, to name a few. It does however lack the darkest of all the black creatures...


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

-Ouallada 

There's some random trivia for you; the flavour text on Juzam Djinn is actually part of a poem. It was written by an eleventh-century princess of Andalusia, most commonly known as Wallada bint al-Mustakfi. Enough about that though, let's check out the latest and greatest tech in monoblack tempo today; Sehl's finalist deck from Warcon 2014.

The small plastic Tiger was btw found in the second place prize of the tournament; a Kinder Egg :)
Now this is a really cool deck, and one of the best version I've seen on tempo-based monoblack this far. Since n00bcon, Sehl had gotten his hands on a playset of Juzams and a black mox, and he used them to great success. His deck combines the control elements of four Underworld Dreams and no less than three Disks with the explosiveness of a turn 1 Hypnotic or Juzam. I just hope that the hidden card in the sideboard is a Jovial Evil...

torsdag 24 juli 2014

Warcon pics and WSK top4

The top performing decks from WSK are finally up in the Decks-to-beat section. The top4 consisted of a The Deck, a Zack Dolan Control, an UGR Burn and a "4-color black" beatdown. I haven't seen all the lists from Warcon yet, but I can tell you that the finals was between a monoblack deck (played by Erik "Sehl" Larsson) and a monoblue (played by Elof). Amnesia has really shown itself as a powerful card the last few months, in particular with plays like turn 1 Mana Vault, turn 2 holding up two islands for Counterspell, and turn 3 Amnesia. I'm hoping for a tournament report from Elof, but for now we can take a look at a few pics from the tournament (thanks to Kalle, Elof and Freespace for the pics).
The Fellwar Orb, first price in the tournament.
Glenn, aka Gnell, from Varberg is playing monoblue against Axelsson, an awesome player from the South.
BSK 2013 winner Henke playing creatureless Tax Edge vs Gnell's monoblue Stasis. A crawling slow match; game one took 50 minutes before Henke scooped in disgust ;)
Amnesia hits for 6. Lots of Amnesia-tech during this tournament, maybe influenced by Elof's n00bcon top8 deck and by the fact that they are easier to cast without power now (with Mana Vault legal).
Turn 1 Library is responded to by turn 1 Library.
Jenny's RG beats playing Elof's monoblue artifacts for the top4. That's a distracting playmat btw.
Orb vs Juzam, a fair sight for old school players. Freespace also uses the secret tech of a distracting plamat.
Blood Moon vs monoblue artifacts. At least it takes care of the library ;)
Aggro-sprites!
Munchhausen vs Brorsan.
Stasis facing an opposing Feldon's Cane :)

I'll be posting decklists from Warcon as soon as I get them.

onsdag 16 juli 2014

Priorities and luxury

Sometimes, I need to take a step back. Most of us know that playing an expensive deck in competitive formats is a luxury, and not a right. Even in casual formats, not all cards are accessible unless you make a conscious prioritization and decide that owning these cards are more valuable to you than using that money on something else. It could be due to the joy of the game, the joy of owning a piece of history, or simply the joy of luxury. "Luxury is a necessity that begins where necessity ends", to quote Coco Chanel. Sometimes you need to ask yourself 'why?' though. A week ago I got one of the very last cards for my Project M deck, and the question was more present than ever.


The card on the left is my old Mox Sapphire, which I obtained just after last New Years Eve. The card on the right is my new one, a moderately played Alpha version of the card. The nice thing is that I'm now up to seven of nine in black bordered power cards, and that I have all the cards for Project M apart from a pair of duals. The slightly disturbing thing is the very large price difference between the card on the left and the one on the right. I think I got a fair price marketwise, but I can't help to think about why I prioritize spending all the extra money to make a wb card I own into a black bordered version of the same card. There are a lot of things I could have done instead of "upgrading", e.g.
  • I need a new suit. I could actually fly with Norwegian Airlines from Olso to Munich, buy a new Hugo Boss suit in Stachus, do some minor tailoring on said suite, and then fly home.
  • I could draft every week for a year, and still have money left for most of the year's pre-releases.
  • I don't own a tablet, so I could have bought a 4th generation iPad Air. Then I could also have bought Kurio tablets for both my nephew and my niece to have someone to play scrabble with.
  • On the more humanitarian side of things; I could have bought goats to 28 different families in Bangladesh or the Philippines. Thinking about these kind of things really makes you question your need for luxury.
So, does owning an Alpha Sapphire make me happy? Yes, most definitely. Even if I didn't play 93/94, I would find use for it in a casual Homarid deck, Vintage, or my drinking cube. Would I be happier owning 10 new pairs of good shoes instead the card? Maybe. It's a priority.

Here's an interesting thing though; if I would buy a decent Canali suit for $1000, very few people I know would question that expense. If you would buy a used car for $5000, pretty much no one would blame you for spending the money (Fun fact btw: Roland, the guy I obtained my Lotus from, recently sold of his eternal collection and bought an amazing sports car with the money). However, with cards like this, you can't avoid feeling that you wouldn't want to talk about the expense with everybody. Would you tell your colleagues or spouse, or do you feel "nerd shame"? I know I'm very open about it today (yep, even have a blog about it ;)), but eight or nine years ago, I would be hard pressed to tell most of my friends about my nerdy prioritizations. Well, this post isn't about "nerd shame" though, it's about the fact that we prioritize spending our (often hard-earned) money on Magic cards. And we don't really have to, at least not to play this format.

Brorsan's Shark-winning deck from BSK 2013. Cheaper than many Standard decks.
Quorthon's monoblue deck from WSK last weekend. No power, and looks really fun to play.
There's something deeper here. We don't play to get rich or find high-level success in the game, we play to have a good time with like-minded people. That's probably why arguments on allowing reprints are not heard at n00bcon, and why nobody at 0-2 dropped during the swiss at WSK. Winning is far second to playing.

I guess I could have had the new suit. I played this format for 3 years before I got my first power card. I think that I agree with fashion designer Marc Jacobs though, "Luxury is about pleasing yourself, not dressing for other people." And owning black bordered cards makes me glad, it's a part of history which I can use as an excuse to both hang out with old friends and meet new ones. I think it's cool to own game pieces that have their own wikipedia page. Working on my deck over the last two years have been very relaxing in times of stressful work. And it is fun to play Magic. It is a great luxury.