torsdag 29 september 2016

You only live twice

It was six weeks ago. A long time in dog years. I had been told a report was on its way most weeks since then, but to no avail. At this point I think I must assume that we'll never get the chance to see it. If it eventually comes, it will be a joyous occasion, but perhaps this story should not be leaved to fate. So I'll try to tell it myself instead. The mind's eye is foggy, but this is the story as I remember it. Rashomon style.
The bandit testifies.
A solid breakfast is the cornerstone of any healthy tournament.

I came back from a long vacation that week, and the circadian rhythm was still out of joint. Pick up five hours that night, six that one, and four and a half the next. By Friday, the body was sluggish. But excitement was abound, and I mise well run on fumes.

It would be my first time playing old school in Stockholm. Hell, the first time playing Magic at all in the Swedish capital. Stockholmers and Gothenburgers have a history of love/hate relationships of sorts. The old story goes that west coasters think of the people in the capital as capitalistic douchebags with flamboyant shirts, and the Stockholmers perceive the Gothenburgers as slack-jawed fishermen with a terrible sense of humor and no sense of direction. Guess it’s mostly friendly rivalry these days. At least as long as you keep the conversation away from the cities' soccer teams and the Swedish monarchy. I don’t know that much about soccer, but mentioning the King has never ended well.
I offer this picture without comment.
The seed that planted this particular tournament was a visit from Constantine Pritsvin from Yekaterinburg. A series of coincidences would have him play in the regional PTQ in Stockholm, and he saw the invite as an excuse to travel west and sling old school. By another stroke of Lady Fortuna, David Chambers from San Fransico were to visit Stockholm at the same time. I've met Constantine and David at previous n00bcon tournaments, and this was the best excuse I could hope for to take the five-hour trip to the Swedish capital. Paying a little south of €200 in travel expenses to battle for an Urza's Chalice may seem odd to some. Coughing up the zloty to get to hang out with sweet people, drink beer and play the best game in the world might make a lot more sense though. 93/94 tournaments view competition through a different lens than most other formats.
First prize: Urza's Chalice. Last prize: Rag Man. Other prizes: Neglible.
Local organizers and all-round good guys Gordon Anderson and Paddan set up a tournament to welcome the visitors. They named it From Russia with Love and rented a location with room for around 25 players. It was my first time at their playground, and I intended to see how far I could take the Party Crasher deck in their meta. It did well at the Wexio convention earlier this summer, and I figured there was no need to sleeve up blue cards or Factories this time either. Only update was to add a fourth Ivory Tower to the board and change my Unlimited Warp Artifacts to Beta versions.
Party Crasher / Gonzo.
That was half the battlefield. The other half took place in that rival city, Gothenburg.

Context. There is a tradition of sorts in Oslo called Tom Waits Løpet (“The Tom Waits Run”). A couple of decades ago, the city hosted a running competition named Grete Waitz Løpet, named after famous Norwegian marathon runner Grete Waitz. In the active years, 1984-2003, it had up to 40,000 runners and was one the world’s largest female-only running events. As the story goes, the men in the city decided they should also get active during that weekend in early May, and so Tom Waits Løpet was born. Rather than simply running from point A to point B, this run was a pub crawl among the most run-down (“bruna”) pubs in the city. The goal was to take one beer each at around 15 pubs in the city. As the years went on, Tom Waits Løpet became one of the defining parties in the Oslo spring, with thousands of men and women participating each year. It is awesome. This spring I managed to combine it with running a leg in an actual race, Holmenkollstafetten, that took place in the middle of my crawl to check off two traditions at once. Gotta embrace the culture of Norway. #VisitOslo.
So, a couple of months back, during my summer vacation in Gothenburg, a few friends and I were discussing pub crawls. We lamented the fact that Gothenburg doesn’t have any real pub crawl traditions, and I assume i bragged relentlessly over my impeccably skills in managing to visit ten pubs during the Tom Waits run while running a steep leg at Holmenkollstafetten. Pub crawl, thy name is I.

I think it was Mårten who came up with the idea. At the very least, he was the guy who actually made it happen. There's a street in Gothenburg named Andra Långgatan. It's a street of used record stores and strip clubs, of counterculture and cheap beer. It's not a particularly long street (even though its name translates to "2nd long street"), but the number of pubs there is staggering.
Andra Långgatan by night.
There are no less than 21 places to grab a cheap beer on Andra Långgatan. Could we visit them all in one day, having a drink at each? That was our new Everest.

Mårten kicked off the planning like a man possessed. This mountain was to climb, not to leave on the cutting room floor alongside the schemes so often conceived in the twilight of intoxication. A date was set, August 20th, and a crew of crawlers was formed.
If ideas were blood types, this would be A+.
Enter catastrophe. It didn't take long before I realized that I had already pledged my allegiance to Stockholm that weekend. A dagger in the back of the tradition before it had even started. Among all the possible excuses not to join Gyllene Lången, the worst one would be to instead go to that rival town for entertainment. But I wanted to meet Constantine and David. And I had promised the Stockholm crew I would show up and represent a third country hoisting rags of red, white and blue alongside Russia and New Zealand.
Not North Korea.
But we live in wonderful word of technology and hashtags. Rather than just ditching the crawlers in Gothenburg and put another nail in the coffins of friendship, I would support their struggle from Stockholm. Whenever they had a beer, I would grab a beer. Their pub crawl was my pub crawl through the magic of social media and smartphones.

So I had two trials that particular Saturday. To win a 25-ish player 93/94 tournament in the City of Shadows, and to remotely win Gyllene Lången in the City in a Bottle. Eight rounds of Magic and 21 beers. Welcome to the MtgUnderground. This would be hard a nut to crack during a Standard PPTQ.
They usually don't even have a bar.
Now, I cannot underscore enough the supreme hospitality I received from Paddan throughout the weekend. Apart from a soft mattress and enchanting tales of yore, dude made me blueberry pancakes for breakfast twice, kept me alive with awesome coffee, and left nothing unprovided as a guest in his home. We hadn't properly introduced before, so I thought that he might hold some aversion to my pub crawl plan while I was in his custody. On the contrary, he seemed to think it was a solid strategy and helped me out with some good advice (great idea to pick up a lunch box apart from the dinner, and to eat a steady breakfast).
Best coffee I've had since Ethiopia.
A few of the old wild cards of the format, including guys like Fork and Pefken who sleeved up 93/94 already for n00bcon 2, had gathered alongside a steady stream of new faces. It almost feels like every tournament these days is someone's first. It's cool hearing their stories and see how the format brings players together. This is the kind of Magic and the kind of tournaments I always looked for a decade ago. The kind of Magic where it's rational to fear a second-turn Juzam Djinn and the kind of tournament where it's not frowned upon to attempt to drink a black jack's worth of beer.
Pefken, Fork, and myself. Wide legs, as are custom in the capital.
Step one, trading. Or rather, buying $150 worth of commons and uncommons which would have cost me less than a few sodas if I were happy with those "crisp white borders" of Unlimited. Building a monocolored deck is a slope on its own. Sure, you don't buy duals and you only need one Mox, but suddenly you get the idea that all the cards mise well be BB when you "save" all that money on duals.
I need Drain Lifes with "B" in the text box instead of black mana symbols. For strategic purposes.
Step two was the actual trading. I gave up a bunch of Howling Mines and a reasonable sum of cash for an Unlimited Time Vault with Constantine. I now have all the cards on the restricted list. Sweet. Combos well with Xenic Poltergeist and Jandor's Saddlebags. Five beers in and feeling great.
Time to rock this sled.
I faced off against our Russian friend early in the swiss. He was on an awesome Rasputin Dreamweaver control deck. Battled another traveler in game three, when I was paired against Andreas Rosén from Norberg, who top8'd last BSK with Dead Guy. This time he had switched allegiance to URx Burn. I honestly can't remember who I played in the last of my first three games right now. I want to say UG Tempo? I can tell you that Armageddon is awesome though. And Underworld Dreams. And Greed while having three or four Ivory Towers in play.
UR, we hardly knew ye.
So, after a solid 3-0 start and seven more beer, I was to face the reigning World Champion Martin Berlin. And every now and then you get a fantastic game of Magic. When it becomes abundantly clear that this a remarkable game and that you're playing a remarkable opponent. This was one of those great games. Complex decisions and tight plays, with the occasional swingy effect to turn the tables. Martin played his Arbian Aggro deck, with some minor changes in the sideboard that included a perfectly timed Tranquility in game three. He would end up 5-0 with his deck in the swiss, and I was not to stop him.
Magic!
Round five I faced my old team mate Fork with his four-color beatdown deck. We're talking Juzams, Serendibs, Su-Chi, Trolls and powerful spells. Trading removal for huge guys until removal run out.
Fork also have one of the most retro play mats I've seen. A proper piece of table cloth.
Now, the pairing software had given up after round three, so we had to calculate tiebreaks manually. One of the guys from Norberg did Top8, but didn't really have the time to stay for the elimination rounds. It's kinda impressive to drive a 330+ kilometer round trip for a tournament without even entertaining the idea of playing in the finals. So we had two possible players at 3-2 who could take his spot, but we didn't really want to go too deep on the calculations. As you might have picked up on from the Argivian Restoration blog, flipping Chaos Orbs to pick a winner is seen as "improper determination" and can lead to disqualifications. Also, while Felipe is a great player, he is the single unluckiest Chaos Orb flipper in Magic. Just during this tournament he got beaten by a Hypnotic Specter after his Orb, for real, got stuck between two boards in the table.
And this is why we have play mats.
So instead of Chaos Orb flipping they decided to bowl a pair of huge D20s against a wall and let the highest roll play. I'm sure that's within the realm of properly deciding a winner. Felipe's tough luck didn't end with his Chaos Orb flips though, and he had to concede the last spot in the top8 to Elias "Lafsen" Gröndal.
The glorious Top8: Per Algander, Seb Celia, Lafsen, Pefken, Fork, Mg, David Chambers and Berlin (sitting).
The top8 was to be decided by 93/94 Cube drafting.

I don't always brag, but when I do, I try to do it shamelessly. So I'll just loudly state that I am a master of drunken drafting. I have hundreds of hours of Drunken Reject Rare Draft on my CV. Honka and I practically wrote the book on Winchester Drafting drinking games. I've made my own drinking cube, The Haups Cube, and played that one more than all other limited formats combined during the last three years. So the fact that I'd had fifteen beers when I sat down to draft the 93/94 Cube didn't necessarily work against me. I'm not blatantly stating that it was doping, but at the very least the ABV in my blood put me at no handicap. Unlike my Chaos Orb flipping skills, my draft abilities have moved to a part of my brain that is highly functional while drunk, much like my rap battling and dance-off skills. I recall the draft pretty well, so lets go through the basics of it.
The 93/94 Cube.
A couple of weeks before the tournament, Martin had posted his cube for us to see. I didn't by any means memorize it, but checked of a few basic pointers if I would get to draft it.
  • It had four City of Brass and two of each dual. It is hence viable to play more than two colors if we pick mana fix high (having one Volcanic Island doesn't do much for splashing red, but having two Volcanics and a City of Brass is another story).
  • The Cube didn't play Library of Alexandria (thank god), but it did have everything else. Lotus, Sol Ring and Ancestral Recall were all there.
  • The Cube had Fallen Empire cards, but didn't go overboard with all the different artworks on pump knights or such.
  • It had four Mishra's Factories (as the only card in multiples apart from mana fixing).
  • There were a few "Oops, I win" cards for the control decks. Like Island Sanctuary and to a lesser degree Nova Pentacle and Moat. I should either play these or be able to beat them in some way.
It is also worth noting that card advantage and card selection is more important in a cube like this than something like the Magic Online cube, as the overall card quality is much lower here. If all your cards are good, you don't really need to spend that much effort on drawing extra resources compared to when your cards are more mediocre. The games will also probably go longer, so cards like Jayemdae Tome are fairly solid here unlike many other draft (and constructed) formats. Braingeyser is a high pick.
Mind Twist's relative power level is not that far behind constructed here, even though we don't have the same mana acceleration.
In the first pack I pretty much exclusively picked mana fixing until someone passed me a sixth-pick Tetsuo Umezawa. It's bomb enough to give incentive to the Nicol Bolas colors. The pick after that gave me Gwendlyn di Corci, so given enough fixing and support cards it looked like I was going URB. First-picked a second Factory in a fairly weak second pack, and was passed an Orcish Artillery. I was very pleasantly surprised to get a third-pick Icy Manipulator, and then a fourth-pick Braingeyser. The seventh pick was the hard one, where I had the choice between Terror and Wall of Wonder. Terror is clearly the stronger card in a vacuum, but I had a bunch of double blue spells and a solid double-red card in the Artillery. I had also passed an early Millstone and Meekstone which I were fairly certain would wheel. So I had the choice to try and go for Millstone control, or pick Terror and go URB goodstuff with a slightly worse mana base. I opted for the synergistic choice and picked the wall, which of course works wonders with Meekstone. Both the stones wheeled, and I was lucky to pick up a Copy Artifact and Mishra's Workshop as well. From that point I picked artifacts higher, in particular creatures with low power and high toughness to walk under Meekstones and keep the fort while milling.

Third pack rounded out the strategy, first-pick Control Magic, then passing a Nova Pentacle in favor of Maze of Ith, finding a Shivan Dragon as alternative wincon, and a Bazaar of Baghdad to smooth out the draws and help find the synergies. The deck ended up with a small black splash for Tetsuo of a pair of Cities and a Swamp. It may look a little janky, but the sum is greater than the parts.
URb Stones
My first nemesis in the top8 was none other than Rickard "Pefken" Samuelsson. He had been off the Magic grid for a few years, becoming a father and such, and returned to the scene with a Top4 finish in the Ivory Cup earlier this summer. Before his hiatus, dude was the first consensus "best 93/94 player". He is the only player to have won n00bcon twice, both in 2010 and 2012, and beside his Giant Shark he hold a slew of high finishes at BSK and other tournaments. He is also a true master at mental magic, and was one of the few people I consistently lost to when playing mental seven or eight years back.
Dance off!
His deck was a really solid UGW midrange, but I managed to attack from a slightly different angle and pick up the win.

Next in line was Seb Celia. There is no such thing as a free beer apparently. Seb top8'd n00bcon 8, top8'd the Ivory Cup, and is currently the third highest rated player in the format after Martin Berlin and Norwegian Erland Petersen. He is one of the "second generation" of Stockholmers who started to play around n00bcon 5, and has been a fixture of the Championship for the last few years. I also find it somewhat amusing that I got a mental meltdown when I wrote the top8 profiles for last n00bcon, and for some odd reason didn't recall him. Embarrassment followed.
Seb Celia's GB Rock
Seb was on a GB Aggro deck with some solid removal and angry creatures. But it's kinda hard to win with Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore when the opponent has Icy Manipulator, Meekstone and Gaseous Form. Some Millstone and Shivan Dragon attacks later, I was off to play the finals.

At this point, eight of the starting twelve in the Gothenburg pub crawl had given up. Among the lucky clover still standing were Honka and Mårten. Honka, the man with whom I perfected drunken drafting. And Mårten, the dude who put it all in motion. I couldn't stop here. They were about to hit the 20th pub for the evening, and I was to join them. I knew that during this five-round final, in the next 90 minutes, it was in my hands to win both the pub crawl and my first Magic tournament in the Swedish capital. Or to slip my grip, let the alcohol take the upper hand, and lose it all. The drunken philosopher was getting to me. He spoke.

You will lose everything. It's not inherently a sad thing; everybody does. Things break, people move on. Eventually we lose our life, or, in case we come up with cure for mortality, we'll get stuck somewhere. Being immortal in this universe will clearly suck in about 10^40 years unless scientific consensus on the future of an expanding universe is way off. Might be better to dodge that bullet.

So you'll lose stuff. Should we try to minimize the impact of losing, so we wont get upset when it happens? Should we try to make things that are decent enough that they will create a sort of legacy after they've slipped from our hands, to keep them reachable with nostalgia? Should we try and change together with the people around us, so that we'll get new things or experiences replacing those that we lose? Are you looking for the Buddhist approach of the middle way, avoiding high pain and high pleasure for a tranquil path through life, or do you want more?

This night I would win. Or I would lose in a blaze of glory or tragic. There was no reason to play it safe anymore, so the last beers would be imperials.

One obstacle left. Mr David Chambers. The top rated rookie in the current PWP standings. And dude lives nine time zones away from Sweden.
The most lovable of nemesi.
This final might have been the best game of limited I've ever played. David's deck was a true juggernaut of synergy and tech. It was basically his Coffin deck from n00bcon, but the 40 card version. It combined the synergy of Tawnos's Coffin with cards like Triskelion, Tetravus and Clockwork Avian. It backed up the artifact beaters with stuff like The Abyss, and additional removal like Pestilence, Hellfire and Balance. It played the other two Factories in the cube, and supported the power of Factories with a trio of the power cards. Including Timetwister, one of the really backbreaking answers to milling.
This could be a match between constructed decks.
So what happened? Five games. During the third I sent the last of these 21 snaps to my friends in Gothenburg.
Motherfuckin' unlocked.
Maybe the rest of it should be left to lore and for the few people watching. I know there was a video, but I'd rather keep the version I remember. The bandit's memory. Nobody needs a Rashomon testification where total recall exists.
The living end.
In the living end of the fifth duel, David has seven cards left in his library at the end of his turn. I countered his Timetwister with my sideboarded Red Elemental Blast. I'm at nine, and in his next untap phase he will untap his Tawnos's Coffin, return his Triskelion with ten +1/+1 counters, and finish me before his draw step. I have the Braingeyser in hand, and can mill him down to five cards in his end step, making him draw the last five cards in my main phase. But I will be dead before he loses in his draw step. So I need a land to force him to draw six. I have a two draws with my Howling Mine. The first is a blank.
The one-off Swamp delivers.

David is awarded with an old Duelist magazine for the second place prize and looks like a ray of sunshine. This is a lovely game.
The euphoria keeps me going for another hour, and I fill up on beer and stories until the fatigue and relentless liver abuse gets the best of me. I casually crawl up next to Eksem in a couch and enter a state between power napping and coma. Paddan gets me on my feet when it's time to hit they hay again, and once again he manages to nurse me back to his place with nothing but a smile on his face and sweet anecdotes to keep me bright and walking. I could not have done this without him.

This was a noble gathering of mages. I want to extend an extra hand to Gordon and Paddan who helped us gather in Stockholm; to Mårten and Honka who kept it crawling in Gothenburg; to Constantine and David who graced Sweden with their presence and triggered the event; and to Berlin who created the cube and gave me an amazing match in constructed. I look forward to the next gathering. Then, the night might be best for hiding all.

6 kommentarer:

  1. Awesome post! Thanks!

    -Hans

    SvaraRadera
  2. Fantastic. As the cargo culter I am I go for drinking hard in Moss and rely on that to secure epic wins and eternal fame.

    SvaraRadera
  3. very good read!sounds like i missed an fantastic tournament // Jhovalking

    SvaraRadera
  4. Thanks a lot! Yeah, it was a great tournament, though I might try and avoid combining my next one with a pub crawl ;)

    SvaraRadera
  5. You decided tiebreakers on a die roll? How dare you having fun playing Magic? This is a serious game. You guys could have been ban from DCI if being caught!

    SvaraRadera
  6. Elias Gröndal12 oktober 2016 21:09

    Great article MG! And for the lack of skills in playing I´m happy to have been awarded with a fair amount of... lets be honest... luck. But I thank both Chaos Orb crazy flips and D20 die roll for the opportunity to have played that amazing Cube! And met everyone at the tournament! I´m prepared for next time!

    SvaraRadera