torsdag 1 december 2016

A champion's report of PWP Invitational

Today I have the pleasure to share Joakim "Jocke" Almelund's recantation of the 2016 "Pimpvitational". Jocke has been playing this format for over six years, and has no less than five n00bcon top8's alongside three BSK top8s to his name. The Shark has been alluding him, but among his achievements in old school Magic is winning the first "Pimpvitational" in 2013. I give you a former Pro Tour player with a great interest and skill of old cards. Enjoy! /Mg out

My name is Joakim. I'm an oldschool "oldschool" player with a love for The Deck that I hope can bring me a Shark one day. This is my story of pimpvitational 2016.

It all started with me getting a late invite for the tournament (as I was #9 in the rankings) and we began to plan everything. Thanks to Mällroth and Kungmarkus we were playing this tournament in Karlstad at Mällroths place. The format ended up with singleton Alpha-Alliances, with the condition that you needed to have 5 cards from each set.

So when we found out what format we were gonna play the brewing began. I was sure about one thing; I will play control. When I  first started to browse through all the expansions, I thought I should play blue-white-black control. But something changed when a friend of mine told me about playing a combo deck with Soldevi Digger + Browse + Time Walk and I was sold.
As a control player I wanted to use this combo in a control shell, so I looked up all the counterspells I could find and filled up the rest with removals and value cards. This was the end result:
Highlander-96 BrowseDigger.
Next step was to get a hold of all the cards. Thanks to my friend Micke that was easy, as he has at least one of every card. We found some last minute techs as well with Desert from Arabian Nights.
Now we were ready to travel to Mällroth and the guys from Varberg (Sehl, Elof and JummJumm) were to pick up me and Kalle (aka Egget) in Gothenburg before we would travel to Karlstad. But when we arrived to our meeting place in Gothenburg Egget was missing and we could not get a hold of him. If this was a normal tournament, like a PTQ, I would get really stressed right now, but I don't and that's what's really nice with these kind of tournaments. You have all day to play and all of the participating people are chill. So we wait a bit for Egget to wake up, and eventually go to his place to pick him up there instead.
When we started our trip we had a nice conversation about how the 93/94 format could be changed up, and we kind of agreed on that restricting Mishra's Factory might be the easy change to make. After a nice roadtrip we arrived at Mällroth's home and we were all ready to start playing, so we all got our playing schedule for the day with a nice bonus of whiskey list for all to try of (sadly I don't drink whiskey).
About the games I don't have that much to say, but I played against these decks:

Round 1 vs Artelas with Red/Blue aggro 2-1
Highlander-96 UR
Round 2 vs JummJumm with Red/Green aggro 1-2
Highlander-96 R/G Aggro
Round 3 MG mono Black Necro 2-0
Highlander-96 Monoblack
Round 4 Kungmarkus Mono White aggro 2-1
Highlander-96 WW
Round 5 Egget 4c Draw-7 Aggro 1-2
Highlander-96 Draw-7
Round 6 Sehl Blue/Red Burn Control 2-1
Round 7 Mällroth Blue/Black/White Control 2-0.

After the swiss I, Egget and JummJumm ended up with the same result, 5-2. Egget ended up in the finals since he beat both me and JummJumm, so JummJumm and I played a semifinal best of one. As I lost in the swiss to his Red/Green aggro I was a bit afraid of not making it to the finals, but I got a bit lucky with an early Abyss in the game and Millstone ending it fast.
Time for finals vs Egget with his 4c Draw 7 Aggro. We had some tight games in the swiss so I knew this wasn't gonna be some easy games. We had 3 tight games were I ended up winning. The last game ended with me taking infinite turns and stripping all his mana away.
Ending up with a second pimpvitational win I'm really happy I got to do this again! Now I will continue my chase for the Giant Shark.
Spoils of victory, 2016 and 2013.
I would like to thank everybody for a nice tournament and especially thank Mällroth and Kungmarkus for making this year's Pimpvitional happen!

onsdag 23 november 2016

Swagic and denimwalk

Last weekend marked one of the more brag-worthy tournaments in casual Magic; the PWP Invitational.

One of the more amusing things with the Invitational is that the competitors travel from all over, hundreds of miles, to battle for no tangible reward. The only thing to show for that we even came is that it's the only tournament where each player gets to bring a card for the other participants to sign, and then keep it to play with. Player-signed cards are very rare in the northern European meta, and even though they are technically close to worthless, the player-signed cards in circulation are considered "bling" due to their implication of solid performance.

So why do we go? Because the people involved make it a great experience. I arrived in Arvika Friday night to stay with KungMarkus and his family for the weekend. Markus was also invited to the tournament, and this year it was to be hosted by Mällroth in Karlstad, a little less than an hours drive from Arvika. We spent the evening before the tournament catching up and playing The Haups Cube with Loff and Berntsson.
The deep end.
I could write about my experience at the Invitational. I could note how Mällroth gave everyone personalized score cards that doubled as whiskey lists, offering everybody free drinks from his ridiculous collection of fine spirits. But there's a report coming from the winner next week, and spoilers gonna spoil. I will tell you that the eight players competing had created vastly different archetypes to attack the format, and that my own creation ended up in the middle of the field, with a 9-9 record in duels.
MonoBlack Highlander-96.
But today, let's leave the Invitational for a while and look at some old school swag.
You know where this is going?
Back in 1993, the face of Magic was no planeswalker. It wasn't even a creature like Shivan Dragon or Serra Angel. The card that represented Magic was an inconspicuous vanilla 2/3.
The Minotaur was everywhere. Not only as the example creature in the original rule book, or in the ads for the game (before it was even released), but on the face of booster packs, as a huge statue at the WotC headquarters, and on promotional products. The honks I give about graded cards are few and far between, but the single graded card I own is an Alpha Hurloon Minotaur with the case signed by Anson Maddocks. It is iconic enough for me to justify having a card I can't play with.
As a part of the game's promotion in the mid 90's, WotC produced some Magic branded clothes. Among the more familiar ones might be the Vesuvan Doppelganger and Serra Angel t-shirts. But they didn't stop with t-shirts or backpacks. Among the real oddities of the 90's Magic swag are the denim jackets.

Now, regarding most Magic rarities, I usually have some idea of whom to ask or what to look for. Like when I looked at early Khalsa-Brain mats Japji Khalsa helped me out, and when I dug down on Summer Magic, I could ask the people who collected sets of the cards. I've asked Matt Tabak about flipping Chaos Orbs and Keith Adams about Garfield Alters. But for this I didn't really have a good starting point. Two well-known collectors at the Magic Librarities forum mentioned having Hurloon jackets in a forum thread from 2009, but judging from the discussion, even they weren't that certain about their origins nor distribution.

Beth Moursund maybe? Mark Rosewater? The only other person I know by name who owns one is Nicola Leonard-Beeson, an early Mtg artist who painted e.g. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and Karakas.
Here seen showing off the jacket at her signing table.
So, these are pretty Swagic. After some lurking at collector forums and a little Google Fu with the Wayback Machine, this is what I've learned.
  • There are two different types of jean jackets with the Hurloon Mintaur embroidment. One is kinda terrible and the other one is swag as a swashbuckler.
The subjectively lame jacket. (The sweet one is the one that Nicola shows in the pic above.)
  • The Hurloon jackets weren't publicly available, but a handful were made for employees at WotC. They were nicknamed Hurly jackets.
  • In addition to the Hurloon jackets, there are two different Nightmare jackets. One black and one blue.
  • When Alexander Blumke won the second ever World Championships in '95, his prize was "a box of Legends boosters, a Hurloon Minotaur jacket, [and] a couple of Arabian Nights, Antiquities and Beta boosters". So the Hurloon jackets existed at least as far back as August 1995, and were considered a somewhat valuable prize even back then.
  • There exists a Hurloon petticoat, with the same embroidiment. It was made as a prototype. 
  • The Nightmare jackets were slightly more available, and a few were given to regional tournament organizers. There are e.g. reports of Nightmare jackets given out at Alliances pre-release tournaments in Northern California in 1996.
Mail from Beth Moursund to regional tournament organizers in April 1996.
That's about as far as my facts go. I've heard rumors that the Hurloon jackets were made sometime between late 1994 to early 1995. The Nightmare jackets were supposedly made slightly later, thought at the very latest in the spring of 1996. I've heard that all the jackets are very rare, but I have no idea how many were made or how many are in circulation. Some sources have stated that there also exists jackets with Jester's Cap and Shivan Dragon apart from the Hurloon and Nightmare ones. There are also rumors of some of the embroideries used on the denim jackets being put on leather jackets instead. But damn if I know. If you have any more info on these jackets, Hurloon, Nightmare or the rumored others, it would be cool to know.

Until then, I'll enjoy the early Christmas present I found and rock this swag at upcoming gatherings like it's 1995.
Intended use.

onsdag 16 november 2016

PWP Invitational and Highlander-96

For the last four years, we've hosted an invitational tournament sometime after the 93/94 season has passed. The eight top rated players in the PWP-standings are invited to a showdown to determine who's the true Master of old Magic cards.
Got nine problems but Power ain't one
As most of us have some combination of work and family to attend to, it is customary to pick a date and place that works for the majority, and offer passdown if any players might not make it. Of the 122 players who collected points last year, these eight will gather to battle:

Kalle "Egget" Nord (1)
Tommy "Artelas" Aaen (3)
Markus "KungMarkus" Guldbrandsson (4)
Mikael "Mällroth" Mällroth (5)
Magnus "Mg" de Laval (6)
Erik "Sehl" Larsson (8)
Joakim "Jocke" Almelund (9)
Andreas "JummJumm" Leo (10)

Last year's invitational winner and 2nd ranked player Elof declined to play this year but will join as a spectator (and pass down his invite). 7th ranked Thomas Nilson unfortunately couldn't make it, as he is currently in New Zealand.

The most striking thing with this "Pimpvitational" tournament is probably the formats. It changes every year to offer a twist on the more familiar mid-90s Magic variants. A couple of months before the tournament takes place, the players brainstorm and vote.

The runner-up format this year was Time Capsule, a format where you played with the standard 93/94 rule set, but you had access to a playset of a single card from expansions from Fallen Empires up to Urza's Destiny that never had been restricted in contemporary Vintage. This removed some of the most obnoxious interactions (like Voltaic Key + Time Vault, Crop Rotation into LoA, or plain old Necropotence). I was tinkering with that format a bit, and came up with Primal Order as my card of choice. I figured that a lot of players would go for multicolored decks with Force of Will, Survival of the Fittest or similar, and monogreen tempo with the Order looked well positioned against those strategies.
Humble disrespect.
But that would never be. Instead we settled on a futuristic one-off format, Highlander-96. This is our arena:
  • Legal sets: ABU (aka "The Gathering"), Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, Alliances.
  • Restricted cards: Everything except basic lands.
  • Banned cards: Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, Library of Alexandria, Mind Twist and cards that use the Ante mechanic.
  • Deck construction rules: At least 60 main deck cards, at most 15 sideboard cards. Each deck must play at least five different cards from each set (excluding basic lands). At least three cards from each set must be played in the main deck. Legal reprints count towards the first set they were printed in (e.g. Icy Manipulator from Ice Age still counts as an ABU card, as it was first printed in ABU)
Hitting the books like it's 1996.
So step one was to build a baseline goodstuff deck, just to check the powerlevel of the format. My first pile looked something like this:
I knew that the deck I eventually picked should be able to beat this deck in addition to having a solid goldfish. If my decks couldn't beat this, I should probably focus on tuning this pile instead.

My first plan was to build RG Ponza, halting the opponent with land destruction and playing big game. Orgg and stuff. Couldn't get the mana to work that well though. Orcish Squatters and Jokulhaups are awesome cards, but I couldn't reliably cast them.
Digging for gold.
I went on looking at combo decks. Storm Cauldron is a sweet combo with Fastbond (the original reason Fastbond got restricted). Elder Druid gave me unlimited turns with Time Vault. Solidevi Digger and Browse gave unlimited turns with Time Walk, and the Digger also works great with Demonic Consultation (which can help you exile your library). Thought Lash and Field of Dreams helps you always draw the right card, and then exile your library once the combo is assembled. There are a few other more fringe combos introduced in the format, but these looked like the more viable ones (apart from the existing ones in standard 93/94).

But I couldn't really make it work. The decks were clunky by design and the opening hands were far too random. I had to look at it from another angle. How can I make it suck less?
Pictured: Good cards.
So instead of trying to maximize impact of good cards, I looked through the lens of minimizing the impact of bad cards. Every decklist started with 3 cards each from the different expansions, and then built on those 24 cards.

What's the best thing you can do with Fallen Empires? Hymn, Pump Knights, and WW cards probably. Ring of Renewal is clearly playable, Aeolipile mostly makes the cut, and worst case we could fill the slots with "sac-lands".
Decent substitute for a Swamp.
Homelands? Well, every single deck in the format will probably play Serrated Arrows. That makes weenie strategies slightly worse. Ihsan's Shade, Autumn Willow and Eron the Relentless are playable, and Primal Order is probably even good. You have a few red one-drops that could work for sligh, and some decent removal (e.g. Retribution, Roots, Broken Visage), and Merchant Scroll is probably good enough for control decks. Death Speakers is a great addition to WW. But this is a ghastly set. Vintage aficionado IslandSwamp actually posted a set review of Homelands at MtgGoldfish last week. Check it out if you're in doubt.

Anyway, from this point of view, control looked mediocre at best. Tempo, midrange and aggro seemed like the solid choices. Maybe we don't even need to use all the best cards and a majority of the restricted list. Is a one- or two-colored deck the answer?

I'm not sure what to expect this Saturday. I know that the other seven players battling are masterful players and deck builders. And I know that I myself have a few ticks I can hardly ignore. If Juzam is legal, it's a good bet I'll play Juzam. If I get the chance to cast Jester's Cap, I'll probably do that as well. And I'll most certainly play a few random cards mostly because I like the art.

I'll keep the pile a secret for now. Next week, we'll take a dive into the deck lists and congratulate the 2016 PWP champion.

onsdag 9 november 2016

Pictures from BSK 2016

I should have written this post two days ago. My focus is a little off today.

I get that there are agitators and populists in every political landscape, and I can't blame the next president in that large country on the other side of the ocean for who he is. But I find something amiss with the culture when tens of millions of voters supports a demagogue, even when given other options on the ballot. I can't help to feel disturbed. This is a rough day, and my best wishes goes out to my friends in the US. I hope you manage to bridge the political divide.

That's all I have to say about that. I guess that most people today need some time off from the politics, so let's drop yesterday's election and travel to BSK.
Magic: The Traveling.
Somewhere on the train between Gothenburg and Borås, it hit me that it was 19 years since I first visited BSK. 1997. In a pre-9/11 world, when you could fly with a bottle of water, Star Wars was a single trilogy, and talking too loudly about Magic was an invite to get punched in the hallways. I skipped the convention for a few years after the turn of the millennium, when my adolescence and the zeitgeist demanded prioritizing beer and romance. Back then, parties and nerd culture didn't mix well, and I had more than a few notches on the nerd belt. I kept nurturing my garden of obscure horror movies, Star Wars, and manga, but the D&D, board games and Magic had to go. It was still OK, as a quirk of some sort, for me to love Star Wars, as I also enjoyed competing in MMA and had a solid tolerance for alcohol and mosh pits. It's almost hard to grasp these days. Some combination of social media, adulthood, and getting nerd culture into the mainstream has made what was once considered socially awkward to be minor traits like any others. One guy can play Magic as his or her hobby and another can play the guitar, and nobody really cares who's who.

It's a brave new world. But I like it better this way. I would play either way, but it's nice to not tip-toe around apologias anymore. People assume that the 'why' is enjoyment and rather ask the 'how' these days.
Train people.
BSK was awesome. At this point, I'm at least as excited about meeting the people new and old as I am about actually playing. The weather hit Sweden badly during the weekend, and a handful players didn't make it due to a derailed train. But 52 happy Swedes still managed to join for the 93/94 Shark tournament last Friday. Let's check out some pictures from the event.
For the first time in 19 years, I actually get an organizer pin at the larger BSK convention as I am responsible for the 93/94 tournament. Along with the rest of The Train People, I still manage to arrive a little over an hour late to the site, due to various combinations of miscommunication and plain lack of orientation skills. The Halloween buckets behind the trophies are the Easter Eggs of the season.
The glorious shark.
Off to the races! The guy with the 1-up t-shirt, Robin, won BSK two years ago and have a slew of high finishes in the format. He's one of the early adopters of 93/94 and picked up the format already back in 2008.
Even Robin was late to the party compared to Sveby though, one of the first in the small handful of players to pick up the format. Sveby started back in 2007 and is the only player apart from myself who has been to every 93/94 Easter tournament since 2008. He pretty much only plays n00bcon and BSK these days, and usually shows up with Eureka.
But among the old faces, it's always a great pleasure to get acquainted to the new ones. Michell is a baker from Lindköping who first started playing Magic in 1995. He took a break in 2002 until he picked up a 93/94 deck in 2012, but sold it again once he realized that there were no players in Lindköping. A few months back, Michell and got a friend interested in the format, built a new deck, and now joined his first tournament. Welcome man!
Sveby, Jocke Almelund, GaJol and Oldschool. GaJol shows how to properly eat before shuffling another player's deck ;)
Kalle vs. Arteleas from Karlstad.
Mats Karlsson vs Per Algander. Mats first showed up at BSK 2013, but didn't have time to play in the tournament that time. He just took a two-hour drive to come to the hotel room I shared with Oldschool and Freespace to play a few games before he had to drive back to his family. Great and very friendly guy, who sold me a few Alpha Swords to Plowshares at the tournament :) Per is a really strong player, who e.g. top8'd BSK last year with Ehrnamgeddon. See if you can spot his moxen btw, first time I've seen that one in play :)
n00bcon 7 top4 competitor and masterful The Deck player MrSinclair vs Hardy with his Machines. Tight game.
Lennart Guldbrandsson from Arvika vs last year's finalist (and five-time n00bcon top8 competitor, Pimpvitational winner, and once Pro Tour player) Jocke Almelund. Warp Artifacts vs powerful Artifacts.
Sehl (my damn nemesis) vs Felipe Garcia's TwiddleVault.
Magic can be fun! Casual Shark-winner Viktor "Oldschool" Peterson vs Frasse from Arvika.
Horrible person and all-round bad guy Michael "Jhovalking" Ahlberg casually kills my Spirit Linked Juzam with a Psionic Blast and Fireball for 1. "Skrutt-Juzam", he laughs.
A few turns later I stabilize with another Juzam, and then a third one. He kills them both the same way as the first; PsiBlast and Fireball for one. He didn't even really need to, he just toys with them at this point. Only thing I keep hearing is "Skrutt-Juzam". It haunts me.
Åland resprenting against Iceman. Solid players around the top tables.
At perhaps the most exciting game of the day, Sweden's first DCI Manager Martin Jordö battles his MirrorBall deck against a harsh opponent (whom I unfortunately can't remember having met before). It's round six at table 10, and the crowd gathers. I can't even remember how many Time Twisters I saw in the duel.
Placing the eight spell on the stack in the intense third duel. Martin managed to win the match, and was rewarded a small bucket of candy and an All Hallow's Eve. He looked at the card with great joy in his eyes. "In over 22 years of playing, I never owned this card. So much nostalgia. This is awesome!". Then his eyes turn cold and he reached out his arm to a guy in the crowd who worked in the store. "Sell this! For money!".
Three-time Shark winner Elof facing off against n00bcon 8 finalist Martin Lindström in the semifinals.
Martin vs MrSinclar in the finals. I really get an urge to play The Deck when I see intricate matches like this.
After a tight game, masterful Magic player MrSinclair is perfectly content with his 2nd place...
...while our glorious new champion Martin Lindström picks up the Shark and all the pride that comes with it! Congratulations Martin, and well deserved!
Martin Lindström's winning deck from BSK 2016.

There are more stories to be told of BSK. In particular, I'd be amiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Andreas Rosén who found and won Hövveturneringen ("The main tournament"). And that the champion Martin Lindström decided to give most of the money left from the participation fees to Doctor's Without Borders, but left 500 sek to start "The Mike Long fund", a charity aimed at gathering money for travel and hotel expenses for Mike Long to visit n00bcon in 2018. Now, if someone would just start a Mark Justice fund and a Chris Pikula fund, we could have a rad showdown in 2018.

But let's leave it at that. Thanks for this weekend. I'm looking forward to the next time already.