torsdag 27 oktober 2016

Decks from Fishliver Oil Cup and ranting

The tech at The Camaiore Fishliver Oil cup was plentiful to say the least. The first time since the mid 90s I stared down at a Stone Giant on the other side of the table.
 And at decks like Matteo's MonoGreen at the table next to me. Damn!
The top8 was home to eight distinctly different strategies, though with some preferred card choices among them. Seven decks played blue, and seven decks played red. Six decks had maindeck Lightning Bolts, five decks played Fireball, and five decks played Mishra's Factory. But in the eyes of most, this is what we would call a very diverse top8.

In other places in Europe though, there has been some voices raised about the perceived dominance of The Deck in the last couple of weeks. The Deck took five spots in the top8 at the European Eternal Weekend, as well as five spots in the top8 at Ovino XI. This has in turn led to some resentment towards The Deck, and new rallies for restrictions. And in some cases animosity towards The Deck players. In a few of the discussions, it kinda resembles the rallying against aggro players in the mid 90s, when beatdown players were often considered less skilled or "too stupid" to play control decks. Here, it is more like The Deck players are lacking creativity, or have a negative impact on the ambience at tournaments by playing a deck that is against the casual spirit of the format. So I'll use my soap box here to state my opinions on the matter.

It could be interesting to note I've played this format for almost 10 years and own all the cards needed to play The Deck, but I've never sleeved it up myself. So this is from a pure "player who plays against The Deck"-perspective.

Some people say that The Deck should be nerfed as it isn't "fun". That's an odd statement. Who are we to judge what other people think is fun? Would it be more fun if Nether Void Ponza or Stasis were the most played decks? Sean O'Brien might argue that. What if Sligh were tier1? Maybe David Price would love it, but most people would hate getting burned out by 3-4 Sligh decks in a row. Distress or Parfait? Creatureless TaxEdge? I guess that we just dislike tier1, regardless of what that might be.
Michi Doná's sweet Parfait from Fishliver Oil Cup.
The Deck mirrors are noted to be among the most skill testing and intricate matches in the history of Magic. And playing against The Deck is one of the more interesting uphill battles you can face. Sure, every now and then you just lose to a Mana Drain-fueled Mind Twist, but most of the time the games are long and have decision trees that go on for days.
Hardy's The Machine from Fishliver Oil Cup.
I remember playing Thunder TaxEdge back at Warcon 1 in 2011. I had calculated most of my matchups against The Deck at around 70% in my favor, having won 10 out of 14 of my last games. But that was if I didn't include the games I played against Kalle Nord. I played with Kalle a lot back then, and had something like a 30-40% matchup against him. I eventually even had different sideboard plans against him and the other The Deck players, as he played The Deck on a different level than the other players at that time. Today, there are a few other masters of The Deck, like Jocke, Berlin and Elof, but it's abundantly clear that The Deck is a matchup where you play your opponent as much as the cards. There are very few instances of "oops, I win" with The Deck.
"The absolute best way to play Magic." -Åland at n00bcon 6
If we're thinking about the community at large, it is also important to not get too wound up on personal feelings towards The Deck's perceived dominance and actually look at the data. If we study the elimination rounds of the larger tournaments in Sweden and Norway in the last year, the average number of The Decks in the top8s is one. No tournament has had more than three, and many have had zero. Saying that it dominates the format is far fetched.

That said, here's my guide on how to play against The Deck. We basically have three options:
1. Play cards that beat it, practice, and get a favorable matchup.
2. Accept that you will lose most of the time but try to have fun anyway.
3. Do not play against it.

Number one is fairly easy as deck building goes, but might not go hand in hand with a pet deck strategy. You might have to shift decks for this to work well. (E.g. The Aisling Leprechaun deck will probably never beat The Deck).

Number two is a little harder, as that one requires a more casual mindset. Still doable.

Number three is super easy. If you really get upset playing against The Decks in tournaments,  you don't have to do it. You could just scoop. If two people does that, you two could spend the round playing against each other for fun, and the control players could play The Deck mirror for fun. All it will cost you is a match loss.

The Deck haters vs. The Deck players is a weird divide. I know that most of you guys reading this blog haven't been a part of the discussions on Facebook or elsewhere, but I want to state that I think that The Deck is an important pile of cards. Most players play it because they think it's fun and nostalgic. It is and always will be an important part of old school Magic. There will always be tier one decks, and I think that we should be happy that one of the best decks in the format is an interactive one that gives both players a lot of options (even though it plays a lot of broken cards).
Michelle Maggi's ControlMonolith from Fishliver Oil Cup. Easily top3 most awe-inspiring bling decks I've ever seen.
Ok, enough ranting. Let's look at the decks that ended up on top at the Fishliver Oil Cup.
Luca Giannecchini's UR CounterBurn. 1st place.
Liam Bertz's UWrb Control/Skies. 2nd place.
Marco Isidori's Lestree Zoo. 3-4th place.
Francesco Delfino's Nether Void Ponza. 3-4th place.
Mario Delucis's BRu Troll Disco. 5-8th place.
Mg's Gonzo. 5-8th place.
Berlin's TwiddleVault. 5-8th place.
Andrea Braida's UBRW Sweetstuff. 5-8th place.
Some sweet tech right there! Francesco's Nether Void deck is one of my favorites in the top8, running underplayed cards like Imprison and being the only deck to run without Library of Alexandria. I guess that opposing libraries gets a little less threatening when you have 10 removal spells gunning for the card (#UnrestrictBlackVise). Berlin's interpretation of TwiddleVault is also sick. Not only that the Channel seems like a great inclusion, but his transmutable sideboard is next level tech. And Andrea Braida's deck is one of the reasons I wanted to start up this format in the first place, it's simply drenching in awesome sweetness. Well played ragazzi!

Other news around the world:
For all you guys going to the US Eternal Weekend this weekend, I wish you the best of times! You are playing in the largest old school tournament the world have seen yet. I am confident that Jaco will provide a good ambience so make sure to make the most of it. Enjoy yourselves and don't hate too much on the Stasis players ;)

torsdag 20 oktober 2016

Pictures from the Fishliver Oil Cup

Ragazzi!

Last Sunday I went on my first ever proper Magic trip. The Italian community in Liguria, spearheaded by Lorenzo Novaro and Domenico Megu Chionetti, was throwing the first edition of the Fishliver Oil Cup; a tournament described with "Italian rules, Swedish style". It was clearly time for Hardy and I to pack our bags and fly down to the Continent to see what the Liguria scene was all about.
And hopefully win a Fishliver Oil. "Good combo with Giant Shark."
One thing that has become clear is that this is no ordinary format nor a single community any more. It's a grand organism of autonomous parts, and 93/94 Magic has become network of families. I kinda felt it already a couple of years back, when I first visited the Arvika community during the first Arvika Festival, and then again during the summer when I got to stay with Paddan in the Stockholm community. And here, way down south thousands of kilometres away from Gothenburg, in a different climate and culture where we speak different languages, meeting the old school players is like meeting old friends and family. They make it their own, with slightly different structure and slightly different wine, but the core values of 93/94 are unmistakable. The oldest of cards. Enjoying nostalgia and the fellow players, preferably with a beer or glass of wine in hand. The "play with what you have"-mentality. Having a good playing experience valued above winning. Community-driven Magic for the players themselves.
The 34 warriors of the Fishliver Oil Cup.
Lorenzo and Megu were amazing hosts whom went above and beyond what Hardy and I could ever have expected. They helped out with everything, from getting us places to stay and fixing breakfast to giving us a ride from Camaiore to Genua. Megu even picked us up at 04:45 in the morning to drive us to the airport from his hotel room in Genua (which he let us borrow to get a few hours of sleep before we went on to Munich). And these are guys we had never met before in our life.

It was also great to get a face on a bunch of other players I'd only had short interactions with online before. Like Andrea Braida, who defeated me with a grand smile backed up by a Mahamothi Djinn and a Shivan Dragon in the second round of the swiss. Or Valerio Minelli, who introduced himself with "Hi Mg! I'm Valerio. I've told you to fuck off on the Internet a few times." ;)

I hope that all you guys know that if you are ever going to Oslo or Norway, you'll always have a couch to crash on and a group of friends who will guide you through the city.

Let's check out some pictures from the weekend.
After an hour or so wandering aimlessly through Pisa by night, Hardy and I found the opportunity to fill up on local DHCG wine and a couple of pizzas each. Good start of the weekend.
And we found this awesome Tower.
When we eventually arrived at Nebraska Pub in Camaiore, we found ourselves drafting Martin Berlin's 93/94 cube in an old school wine cellar with Megu, Lorenzo and Zavo.
Team Sweden. Hardy, Berlin and myself.
Lorenzo fighting Killer Bees with Shivan Dragon.
Lorenzo and Megu had found a beatiful Air BnB home for the weekend. Three floors and 15 minutes from the site.
Players are starting to show up at Nebraska Pub. Representing Ravenna, Milan, Liguria, Tuscany and Veneto.
The glorious Fishliver Oil.
Apart from the Fishliver Oil, there was side competitions with prizes ranging from commons like Psychic Purge to rarities like Timetwister. One of the most amusing challenges was the "Eaten by Rats" competition. Players would submit four cards from their decks, and the player with the cards in worst condition would win a Sewer Rats and a Two-Headed Giant of Foriys. Hardy, myself and Berlin got the honor of being judges.
The Eaten by Rats winner (yes, that's an inked Unlimited Mind Twist). Solid play wear.
Felippo Caccia and me. Felippo started the scene in Ravenna and was introduced to me by Lorenzo as "The Magnus de Laval of Italy".
The game is on. T-shirt weather btw! A welcome change from the cold of the Norwegian autumn.
My weapon of choice, the Gonzo deck.
My first opponent Gab was a great guy, who unfortunately landed in the crossfires of Juzam+Armageddon twice in a row. He played a sweet Rwb deck with Wall of Earth btw, a proper Juzam killer.
Speaking of Juzam killers, my fourth round opponent slayed Djinns like there was no tomorrow. Eventually the Underworld Dreams got to him, but dude was a King Suleiman if I ever saw one.
Hardy with his Machine. It's not every tournament you get the chance to both drink beer and smoke while playing magic.
RAGAZZO! One of the sweetest things with the tournament was the sound volume and the Italian ambience. People yelling "Mama Mia!", "Mille diavolo!", "TOP!" and a hundred other interjections while watching duels. I understand why Italians sometimes write in Caps Lock on Facebook ;)
Top8 announcement and Timetwister lottery.
A happy player with his first power card.
Top8 bracket. Team Sweden representing with me and Berlin managing to claim a couple of the spots. The decks in the top 8 were UR Burn, UWrb Control-Skies, Lestree Zoo, Nether Void Ponza, Troll Disco, Gonzo, TwiddleVault and UBWR Sweetness. No clear "The Deck" (though UWrb Skies plays somewhat similar), and eight different archetypes. The rumors of Italy being taken over by The Deck are clearly exaggerated ;) I'll post all decks with some comments next week.
After intense battles, our glorious champion Luca Giannecchini was the last man standing. Congratulations!
The winning deck.
Cincin ragazzi!
Thanks again for an awesome tournament and the fantastic ospitalità. I had a blast. Next week we'll go deeper into some deck techs, but before that you should check out Marc Lanigra's upcoming tournament in Karlrhue. Everybody except the winner gets a Sorrow's Path.

lördag 15 oktober 2016

Lotusless: A report from Milan

The 93/94 scene in Italy has exploded in the last couple of years, with strongholds of old school players in Ravenna, Milan, Liguria, Tuscany and Veneto. A few weeks back, the Ovino XI tournament in Milan gathered 60 mages from Italy and neighboring countries. This is the Ovino XI story, as told by Valerio Gregori. Enjoy! /Mg out

I discovered Old School Magic 93/94 thanks to this blog, two years ago, following a link shared on one of my friend's Facebook page. And since that first reading, I have been time twisted 20 years back to the Golden Age of Magic, when it was a very different game than now. After some browsing on the page, I guess it took just half an hour before I called my brother Mario, who lives in our family house 400 km away from my place, asking him to start scavenging old card boxes in our closets and look for ancient treasures. From there, we built a couple of decks to playing during the rare weekends when I was visiting my family. And we have started collecting P9, month by month, til now, when we are still missing both Black Lotus and Mox Pearl. So first of all, thank you and thanks for this great community. This report is a just a little attempt to give you something back, in form of my little experience.

At the last Sunday of September, I finally had the chance to have my first attempt to play in a large Old School tournament; Ovino XI in Milan. An event I had to skip in the past years due to family and work.

First question was what to build without Black Lotus available. First part of the answer is what you cannot build: the perfect weapon. But you can respect the 93/94 Magic spirit, so you can try to assemble all the best cards at your disposal, build the something as close as possible to and getting top satisfaction doing this.

As I like control, I would like to play The Deck, but I don't want to play it without Pearl and Lotus. Too much handicap. And damn, for the same card availability reasons I cannot afford Undead Party Crasher either.

So I changed my plan to Blue-based Aggro to play the best creature in the format in my opinion; Serendib Efreet. To do this, I decided to follow two lines to be able to "compensate" the Lotus absence: fill the deck with Birds of Paradise or with Dark Rituals. With complete sets available, these cards are able to fuel your starting hands with a great boost.
Why use Black Lotus when these rockets are fully available?
First option was Lestree Zoo: 3 RUG Moxen + all the blue P9, incredible raw power, a lot of bolts & fast threats. Also, Sylvan Library and good answers in the side. With Birds and Moxen, there were really good chances to have a Serendib Efreet, or why not an Erhnam Djinn, in play by turn 2. Nobody will notice the Lotus absence. I tested it for almost a year, and this deck has an indubitable power, but very little interaction with your opponent. It is a real aggression with a plain strategy;
overwhelm the opponent by creatures and finish with red and blue bolts. No need of Lotus here!

At the same time, I was really in love with another build I was testing. It could cast, also without Lotus, a turn one Juzam Djinn by relying on the explosive power of Dark Ritual. Same power of RUG, with 3 URB Moxen and all the blue P9. Even more, thanks to two of the greatest rockets in the format, Mind Twist and Demonic Tutor. And more again, able to gain real advantage of Twisters, thanks to Underworld Dreams. So this soon became the main-main-stream and the Thursday before the event I was able to join my friends Simone and Giuseppe, former Ovino Old School Champion, in a Turin pub for some play-testing.
Smile to Death
The strategy is less plain than Zoo, but not too much. If you are lucky you can go with Library of Alexandria and play around card advantage, relying on a superior card quality (Mind Twist, Juzams, Efreets, Sol’kanar). Most of times indeed, you will be able to play T1 Specter or T1 Underworld Dreams, putting a very early clock on your opponent, then continuing to deploy menaces turn by turn. Underworld Dreams indeed can be a real nightmare once combined with a Wheel of Fortune or Timetwister, giving you the chance to exchange positions in the race of life points.
Van Damme's Double Impact best transposition in Old School.
At the end, the deck with Rituals was elected. The Evil Deck is its name.
The Evil Deck, only the scariest monsters can join this party
First build shown a complete sets of dreams and sinkholes. After a night of playtesting, the final build shown -2 Dreams and -3 Sinkhole. Dreams are great, but on a triple black deck more than one in your starting hand can be an issue. Sinkhole is also great, and provide a sub-strategy to the deck, destroying opponent's mana base, but a lot of time I top-decked them in middle/late game, finding their effect too marginal. So these cards were substituted before the event by Psionic Blasts, Chain Lightning and Terror, mostly to free the path to Hypnotic Specter and to provide final damages.

From now is about how I reached the final at Ovino XI (please don’t forget it has been a large event, gathering 60-players!).

Turn 1 I had to face Michele Donà, with Monogreen Berserk. Game 1 I have to mull (as on all the other games) but I won the die roll. Michele start to build a little army of 1/1, that I welcomed with lightning bolts, til deployment of a Specter and a Sol’kanar that easily sealed the first match. In the second game I was assaulted by an army of accelerated Ernhams. 1-1.  Let’s start the third; scrying a Bolt, I opened very slowly, and a Llanowar Elf come on the other side, soon joined by a Timberwolf (bands.. who remember this rule? 5 minutes was needed to have a clear picture of how it works!). I played a specter, he an Erhnam, then me a Serendib. But banding with the Timberwolf, the Ernham is a really big problem. At one point, I started the turn with 10 life, he was at 13, his side of the board with Elf, Wolf and Ernham, me just with the Specter and the Serendib, 1 card in hand for him, 2 lands and a Timetwister on my side. Going for the Twist, to open the game to different options, giving him the chance to start with a full hand, was my finals decision. The renewed hand shown a Time Walk and a Bolt, meaning victory without letting him play a single card from the new hand. I started to think this is a lucky day 1-0

For the second match I have been paired Vs. Guido Citino, with UWB parfait. A draw engine fueled by Howling Mines, that he is able to tap before my turn to turn them off thanks to Relic Barriers and Icy manipulators. The strategy is completed by The Abyss, that is controlling creatures business, and Underworld Dreams that should put an end to the game. Indeed Dreams did it, but on my favor as on my side of the battlefield, as he started to take 2 points of damage all the turns, because of the Mines. On second game instead, his draw phase has soon became like an Ancestral Recall, drawing 3 each turn, and I had soon to scoop. Last game, finally, I have a rocket. With less than 10 minute to play before turns calling, I played specter T1, and Serendib T2, sealing the deal. 2-0

In the third match I have encountered my nemesis of the day, Filippo Caccia, driving The Deck. Game 1, I have started very strong, something like a T2 Juzam, and a Control Magic from his side indeed close the match soon after. Game 2, again I went behind him because of Control Magic on Serendib Efreet. But a dreams on my side, followed by Time Twister and Psionic Blast with him at 4 recover all the gap. Game 3 has been dramatic for me, as every threats from my side met an answer from him: T1 specter met Maze of Ith, dreams met Disenchant, following creatures met Swords to Plowshares, then Lotus (damn) + twist against me as a prelude to Serra Angel hitting the board, closing the game. 2-1

From turn 4 I went in meat grinder mode, and went to face a Swiss guy, Lorenzo Dudler, with BWR mid-range. He had built the same deck that won Ovinospring in April this year, piloted by my friend Giuseppe, for which I had tested a lot just two days before. So I start with T1 specter, followed by Juzam on his side, and a Sol’Kanar on mine. Swampwalk ability plus his hands reduced soon to zero gave to me the first match. Second was not so different, with a rain of bolts going towards him, followed by Serendib for which he has no answer. 3-1

Facing Ernhamgeddon on turn five, piloted by Michele Bargiacchi and under the feature match camera, we know very well that whoever is going to lose will be out of the contention. Indeed both the matches have been not so close, as I was lucky cast bigger treaths than him, and before him.

In the first match a Juzam Djinn on my side overcame his Serendib Efreets attacks, and in the second an early Specter was able to get the advantage. So 4-1 and hopefully in the upper side of Swiss Top 8.

Ended 4th of the Swiss drawing last match with Stinfo, just to finally get a little time to make some business… and trade for a beta Mox Pearl!
Lotusless
It’s time for the elimination rounds.

In the Quarterfinal I met Stinfo (Stefano Maggio) with The Deck. Game one my line is to destroy his mana base, thanks to an opening hand with Strip Mine and Sinkhole, and an early Library of Alexandria. I boosted into the game some threats, giving him no possibility to answer without white mana. Game 2 instead he is in total control with The Deck, I don’t remember anything but the final Fireball. Game 3 is a brutal aggression, something like turn one Specter, followed by a Strip Mine. No white from his side and another Specter on the field, and Stefano scooped. Let’s advance to Semifinal, to face the first of the Swiss!
Beating the Organizer, what else?
Luca Zanon had won the Swiss, winning 5 consecutive matches, driving famous UR burn shell splashing black and erasing all The Decks in its path. Thinking about it, I have a good match-up. Instead Game 1 has been a mess, with me not able to get around his Counterspells, with Efreets and Bolts hammering me. Game 2, an early Blood Moon from his side, with just an Island in play, put my Mishras at bay, but also his Library. I also had an Island in play, so it was just time to wait one of my four basic Swamps or the Mox Jet to take the match (two days earlier, a couple of Blood Moons were main-deck in my build). With a Dark Ritual I started to put in the battlefield Hypnotic Specters, Sol’kanar and the rest of the party. Game 3 was a copy of my Game 3 in the Quarterfinal, and even better without the fear of Swords to Plowshares. Specter and Efreet came very soon into the battlefield and very soon my opponent had to concede.

So it is time for revenge, as the only deck able to stop me during the Swiss is waiting for me at the final table.
Mask of Concentration or too many cards to handle?
You can see video of the infamous final in the many 93/94 groups and in the Ovinotournaments' Facebook page thanks to Simone Esposito's massive spamming :) After a very lucky day, I found again that Filippo is a guy luckier than me :P

Game 1 I had my great start with Specter met again Maze of Ith, and following on the match I encountered something like six consecutive lands draws, a dumping by Mind Twist and so on. And Game 2, again despite a strong start from my side, in form of turn one Gloom of Dark Ritual followed by T3 specter, I met his turn three Balance, played thanks to... Black Lotus... that rapidly overturned the battle, destroying my board. With an hand full of Specters and Efreets I was not able to get a third land in time to stay into the track.

At the end, I got a great beta Mind Twist.
My precious
It is not the Lotus, ok, but Mind Twist has been great, mostly against me, during the whole tournament. But this rocket, perhaps the best card in the format, is not the protagonist today. It is the Lotus. I won a lot of games without Lotus, and I lost the most important one because of it. What can I say, its power is indisputable, but it is possible to play competitively without it, even in a competitive field like the Italian one!

It was, despite no Lotus, a great day. Thank you for reading!
/Valerio

torsdag 6 oktober 2016

Decks to beat and some notes from Moss

Last weekend a group of mages gathered at CrowCon to fight for that glorious Moss Monster again.
The Machine vs WW.
Last year, former World Champion and co-founder of the format Kalle Nord took down the fight. This time, it was the 2015/2016 rookie of the year (and first Norwegian to play in an old school tournament) Thomas Nilsen who claimed the Moss Monster. Dude's on a really impressive run. He wrote an awesome tournament report from his second place finish in Drammen a month earlier btw, check it out if you haven't :)
The Master of Magic Cards.
The last opponent for Thomas this time was Erland with his MonoBlack deck. Erland has been on an insane run as well, and is currently ranked #3 in the PWP standings after Martin Berlin and Thomas himself. Erlands average finish from his tournaments since last winter is something like 2nd. This while playing a monoblack deck, occasionally sporting cards like Kormus Bell, and playing Su-Chis over Juzam Djinns. He also spearheads the community in Drammen, organizing the gatherings and such, and is a really nice guy. Hope to get a short deck tech or interview with him in the not to distant future.

Anyways, here are 18 "decks to beat" from the last three gatherings in Stockholm, Drammen, and Moss. Enjoy!
Audun's Crimson Disco.
Drammen #2 93/94 Top8 
22 participants, photos of 7/8 decks. The second gathering in Drammen this year showed some sweet tech. For the first time in a Norwegian tournament, a control deck ended up on top. The winning deck played no less than three Tetravus in its 75, one of the only creatures unaffected by both The Abyss and Moat. Other decks in the the top8 include Sligh, Troll Disco, Tax Edge, WR Midrange and a Gauntlet/Fork deck.

From Russia with Love Top8
25 participants, photos of 7/8 decks. This international gathering in Stockholm hosted guests from Russia, USA and Norway. The top8 was decided on 93/94 cube drafting, but we'll still provide the constructed decks that took the players to the elimination rounds here. Yet again we have eight very different archetypes in the final eight; Party Crasher, Tropic Thunder, The Deck, Machine Head Beats, Arabian Aggro, Parfait, Fork Ponza, and ErhnamGeddon.

CrowCon 2016 Top4
15 participants, photos of 4/4 decks. Once again players gathered to fight for the glorious Moss Monster in the city of Moss. MonoBlack and Troll Disco faced off in the finals, leaving Lestree Zoo and an impressive Crimson Disco in semis.

Some solid tech right there. In two weeks I'm flying down to Italy to play 93/94 at the Fishliver Oil Cup close to Pisa btw. It's the first time ever I travel with plane to play Magic. I feel a much bigger pull to play something like this than I do to a GP or some huge convention. This looks like exactly my kind of tournament. And three weeks after the Fishliver Oil Cup, it's time for the glorious 7th annual BSK tournament in Borås! Hope to see a bunch of you there :)