lördag 14 juli 2018

Argivian Excavations

It is no secret that Argivian Archaeologist is the greatest white Magic card ever printed. It was the most expensive mono-white card in 1994, the era of weird brokeness if there ever was one. Back in the days, one of these nerds held a price tag of two Mishra's Workshop, or a small handful Bazaar of Baghdad.
As noted by the flavor text, the archaeologist searched incessantly for remnants of an earlier, more powerful era. It is amusing that the cards he dug for in 1994 are starting to resemble real antiquities these days. Relics from a very different time, before the era of the web, streaming and smart phones. Hell, three years before it saw print there was a Soviet Union. Its release date is about as far away from today as it is from the Moon landing. Life imitates art.

A few days ago I was home at my parents house outside Gothenburg. My wife and I just got the keys to our new apartment - a proper, adult apartment with storage space and rooms and stuff - so it was finally time to clear out all the random boxes with my name on from my parents' basement. A disorganized swarm of things ranging from preschool in 1988 up until 2003 when I joined the military service. Things I hadn't touched in 15 years or more. This may be as good a time as any to do an archaeological dig on things from 1993-1997. Lets see what advice our Argivian counterpart would give us.
Ah, Pamela Anderson. The Marilyn Monroe of the mid 90s. And a sack of early 90s gaming magazines. Ain't had no Twitch, but instead printed advertisements poorly disguised as industry news. Luxury we thought. In most of the magazines, used game stores promoted trading in old games to get a hold of some hot releases. What would our friend the Archaeologist suggest?
Trading stuff, eh? Gauntlets of Chaos is another one of those "actually-not-that-terrible" cards from Legends. I've tried it in the wish-board of my Adventure Island deck as a catch-all against powerful permanents. Trading away a Sindbad for a Serra Angel, a Forest for a Library of Alexandria, or a Mox for a Jayemdae Tome. It does cost five mana up front followed by another five to do the trade, compared to the far more reasonable four we spend on e.g. Control Magic. But the Gauntlets are colorless, and in particular the trade wont be foiled later by a well-timed Disenchant. Also, with the Archaeologist in play, this is a very controlling engine. There is pretty much no wincon the opponent could drop that we aren't able to steal, including things like Mishra's Factory, and then just dig up the Gauntlets for another go. It's even instant speed.

Digging deeper in the sacks of nostalgia, we find these guys:
Mg alters anno 1995.
Creating your own cards were slightly more involved before we had a basic sense of power level and programs like Magic Set Editor. Back then we had to settle with what we found in the house and a dadaistic mindset. The Archaeologist have a simpler suggestion as Magic transformation goes.
At first glance, this may just seem like a basic combo that gives the Archaeologist "1WW, T: Put a +1/+1 counter on target non-artifact creature". That is all well an good I suppose, but the real power here is that the Transmogrant gives your Disenchants, Divine Offerings and Dust to Dusts the ability to destroy any creature. As a small bonus, it can also save your creatures from The Abyss.

How about this one:
The Drakar och Demoner Monster Box! Drakar och Demoner ("Dragons and Demons") was pretty much synonymous to role playing games in Sweden in the early 90's, much in the same way Dungeons and Dragons was in English speaking parts of the world. I was a game master for almost three years, around age twelve to fourteen, and we played relentlessly. Our band broke up perhaps mostly due to social stigma as we grew a little older, and I never returned to RPGs. It was a fun period though. When I found it my mom recalled memories of trying to get into our old home during Fridays and Sundays as piles of increasingly large shoes littered the hallway. We were a gang of a dozen plus warriors, and puberty started to take its toll on our feet.

So what Monsters may we be interested in digging up here?
A slightly more conservative player might suggest Triskelion and Tetravus. But hey, if we have infinite Raise Deads for WW, lets go for something spicy. This dude slays Juzam all day and kills the opponent in just a handful attacks. It is also a solid wall if that is what we need.

Further down in the sacks, we find a box of cards. Did not expect this. I assume it is pretty much only bulk...
...but what do you know! Some actual playables!
That's like $50 in pre-modern durdle. Score for the archaeologists. Lets check out that Alliances booster as well.
Pamela in the background, as was the custom.
Whelp. Sol Grail is the rare, which such a common rare that it is in fact noted as an uncommon at most websites these days. Alliances was the only set to feature different tiers within its rares until the introduction of mythic rares many years later. Sol Grail is one of the few R6 cards in the set, making it three times as common as most other rares in Alliances. Same principle for Feast or Famine btw. It is an U6, making most sites stock it as a common.

Maybe I shouldn't have opened it. Well, maybe I shouldn't use bleach and ammonia as a breakfast shot either, but how else would I experience the highs and lows of the human condition?

And there are some nice flavorful cards here. Lat-Nam's Legacy is kinda the fixed Brainstorm, which in turn is the fixed Ancestral Recall. Solid legacy on that one. And Lat-Nam's Legacy brings us to this guy:
The first Lat-Nam card, and a great partner for the Argivian Archaeologist. If you have these two and a mox in play, Argivian Archaeologist get "W, T: Draw a card". Not too shabby. I explored this to some extent in my old Antiquities Road Show deck.

Digging further among junior school books and crafts projects, we come across this on the back of a wood cut:
I clearly bore my nerdiness with some pride around 1995. Also had a vivid obsession with Pittsburgh Penguins btw, but that may be outside the scope of this blog post.

When we're talking about physical crafts and steady hands, one card in particular leaps to mind.
The Archaeologist approves. Given a steady hand, this gives the Archaeologist "3WW, T: Destroy target permanent". Maybe the most solid combo of them all, and we get to show off our dexterity skills.

What's next?
This was a fun find. These are the sets from my first properly active period in Magic, spring of 1995 to summer of 1998. Note that Legends and The Dark are the Italian versions btw, those were somewhat available in Sweden in 1995. After Tempest Block (or "Rath Cycle" as it was called), I took a fairly long hiatus from the game. I came back in full force around 2004 and haven't looked back since. I also dabbled a lot with the Star Wars card game up until 1998. It was fun, but a combination of complexity creep, power creep, and simply running out of source material made it fade to obscurity.

So what's the most obscure artifact from 93/94? Tower of Coireall? That may be overkill. Let's take something fairly obscure that was reprinted in Chronicles instead, as we after all have the booster wrapper on display up there. How about Living Armor?
One of the few drawbacks with Argivian Archaeologist is that it dies to Lightning Bolt. But not with this piece of fashion. Just pay four mana to turn your Archaeologist (or Sage) into a bolt-proof 1/4. Or how about going to town with a 6/7 Shapeshifter? With our Argivian counterpart we can rinse and rebuild the armor for just two white mana. I am fairly certain that there is some weird combo to be found here with Transmutation as well.

...

Wading through all the cases and bags took me a full day. In the end, I had two smaller boxes left with stuff to keep, and four large black trash bags to bring to the dump. Memories I saw one last time before the furnace of time got to claim them.
For this last picture, I could offer Bottle of Suleiman. Taking a chance discarding things and hoping that it will help rather than hurt.
I don't think I'll miss these things too much. I lived well without them for fifteen, or thirty, years after all. But finding my history of the nineties in trinkets and piles of notebooks was a sentimental journey. It was fun to take a step back in time. In many ways, it makes me appreciate what we do with old school Magic even more. Searching for that sense of wonderment that once brought us to the game, bearing our heads in respect for the game that could once mark us with social stigma. The world has certainly changed, and us with it. It is thrilling to see where we go next.

onsdag 4 juli 2018

Knights and Dwarves in the Nether Lands

Playing the waiting game somewhere in one of the largest airports in the world. I was here three hours early and did not bring a laptop for this trip. When was the last time I offered myself the opportunity to be bored? It's odd. I remember things that I forgot, and I wonder what things I've forgotten that I forgot. I often find myself living rapidly in the present, a lot in the future, and too little in the past. The past shaped me, and I don't want to forget too much. Which countries border Honduras? What element has atomic number 84? I don't know, but I knew a year ago.
How many memories from this journey will eventually stick? Will the new things keep pushing away the old? Is that why the days seem to grow shorter as I grow older, because I don't focus enough on the present to remember it?

Damn, being stuck with just thoughts is weird. It was a long time ago since last. Maybe I should hang out at airports more often. Clear the head or something.
Wiii!
I have a bad track record traveling to Magic events. Before Old School became a thing I never went further than an hours drive from home. Even that was kinda rare, usually reserved for the BSK convention each Halloween. Instead I mostly opted to hang with the locals, find a scene I was comfortable with in Gothenburg, and never have to worry about being lost in some faraway land with random edgelords I didn't know. The grandeur of the big scene at a GP never really intrigued me. At the end of convention weekends with Magic I was usually tired of the game for weeks to come, in particular if I didn't win or at least top8. Winning was a somewhat bigger deal back then.

I guess the kindle first came with meeting old school players in Regensburg in late 2012. The flame got properly lit when I joined the first Arvika Festival a little over two years later. An old School tournament way further away from home than I was used to, a new setting and a new community. It was brilliant. I became a regular at Arvika's larger gatherings, made sure to book WSK in Växjö each year, and found myself playing Varberg, Stockholm and Karlstad as the scenes start to emerge. When I by chance visited Munich, I got to hang out with local player Custer, and started to realize that traveling too meet oldschoolers maybe held a far deeper value than just playing the game against a new deck.
When the guys in Camaiore announced the first Fishliver Oil Cup two years ago I was there. It was the first time I jumped on a plane to play Magic, bypassing the seas of northern Scandinavia. They promoted it as "Italian Rules, Swedish Style". It was a far stronger lure than than something like "Swedish Rules, Awesome Prizes", or "Italian Rules, Professional Style". It is not the rule set or decks or prizes that matter for me. It is the style. Now, a couple of years later, what was once referred to as "Swedish Style" has perhaps become just plain "Old School Style". And I've realized that that's my allure.

A couple of weeks after last n00bcon, Erwin Demmer of the "4,000" crew in the Netherlands sent me a mail. He was going to host a small tournament in his home with around twelve players. The format was Limited Constructed. Only cards from Limited Edition (i.e. first edition Alpha and Beta), with modern constructed rules. Max four of each card, restricted list, 60-card decks, etc. It sounded awesome, but I was still new to this whole traveling thing. I think I waited a week before I responded to him, pondering it over. Did I have too much work on my plate to just leave for a few days? What about me moving to a new apartment soon thereafter? The weekend that Erwin suggested was in fact at the same time I had to see a man about a horse.
True story btw, I was to deliver a horse I'd been helping taking care of to a man about five hours train ride north of Oslo.
I replied to Erwin that it sounded really sweet, but that it was a bad weekend. He quickly suggested moving it a couple of weeks forward; that way I also got the chance to battle at the fourth Knights of Thorn tournament; the most glorious and brag-worthy tournament series in Holland. It was too good an opportunity to pass. I've met a few of the Dutch players a couple of times a n00bcon, and Dyan, Mari, Joep and Richard have all contributed to this blag, so I assumed that they would be a force to be reckoned with.

Gordon "Ditchy" Anderson also signed up for the party, and KungMarkus expressed interest. Stuff got in the way however, and it was clear that this was a journey I would walk alone. That is another cool thing with the community. I have zero doubts traveling alone to a den of 93/94 players. I pretty much know that they will be good people to hang out with.

So I was going, and I was going to show the aquatic community down there what Scandinavians can do with old cards. Represent, if you will. Step one was to build a deck for Limited Constructed, perhaps the most stupid constructed format, rivaled only by the Wizards' Tournament.

Building a deck in a format like this starts with looking at what you have. It is very similar to 93/94 in that aspect, though even more restrictive on what card you can ever hope to dig up. Luckily, I have a pretty sweet card pool at this point. I traded away a binder of Modern and Commander staples two years ago to get four Beta Scrublands. So I had the mana for Black/White.
80% of my black borded duals right here!
Around the time I got the cards, I decided to try and build a completely black bordered Party Crasher. And before I set out on that quest, I had been dabbling with Party Crasher for a long time, Top8'ing Fishliver Oil, Top4'ing Gothenburg Invitational, placing second at WSK, and winning From Russia with Love with the deck, giving me most of the cards in Alpha or Beta by now.
Sweet.
So Black/White seemed like the best bet to build something, and I started scouring the binder for playables.
It may not look so pretty these days, but I guess it's the inside that counts.
After a few hours of browsing and tweaking, I had this behemoth ready to go:
Dead Guy at the Party.
I believe this is a very strong deck. Basically it is 31 mana sources (10 of which ramps), 12 must-answer creatures, the best removal Limited Edition has to offer, a few card engines, and some solid one-ofs to tutor for in a pinch. The idea was that I always wanted to be able to cast my spells, and that my spells should all be high impact or effective removal. "Jund-style", if you are into the new lingo. The playset Disenchants may look a little off in a meta where Mishra's Factory isn't a thing, but I figured that Control Magic and Icy Manipulator would be staples. Threats like Juggernaut also looks a lot better here - as Chain Lightning and Factories aren't an issue - so the Disenchants come in handy there. Only thing I would change (if I had the cards), is to go to three or four books, probably cutting some combination of Scepter, Dark Ritual, or Disenchant. Black Vise in the sideboard didn't impress that much either, I feel like more Circles is a better route. But I was certainly ready to go. Even given an infinite card pool of Limited Edition, this is probably close to what I would end up with (this or U/W Skies).
Speaking of card pools, I found this in the pocket of my Hurloon Jean Jacket. Suppose I found it on the floor after The Wizards' Tournament when I helped rigging up for n00bcon. If anyone lost it, let me know.
Friday was a long day at work. We had an important release planned for Monday, something that could make or break our team's goodwill at the company, and in many ways my own assignment there. I had started two months earlier as a process coach of sorts, and we had pretty much changed the entire way of working. The deadline at hand had seemed almost impossible, but it looked like we had made it. The final hoops were mostly some bureaucracy.

Due to work I had been almost completely off-line from social media for the last couple of weeks. Not that I was working late, I pretty much never do, but instead due to my head being completely done by the end of each day. I was in no shape to try and plan things beyond work, ultra-sounds and moving to the new apartment. I had my plane ticket ready, but I hadn't planned anything beyond that. I figured that I could solve those problems as they came, throw money at a random hotel, and travel via taxi if I couldn't find out about the local transports. I realized to some chagrin that I was in the odd position where I for once had more money than time, and had to plan the trip accordingly.

The day before I left our host Erwin contacted me again. When he heard that I hadn't booked anything, he said that I was welcome to stay in his home and that he would even pick me up at the airport. That's old school players for you.
Huddebluddefluddeproost!
I jumped on the train for the airport, had a painless flight to Holland, and landed at Schiphol sometime before ten in the evening. Met up with Erwin, went to his place, met his family, and was mind-blown by the awesomeness of his house. It turned out that he had built it himself. Took him three years. That is some crazy skill. His wonderful girlfriend was a black belt in horses, and the three of us celebrated Swedish midsummer together with beer, anecdotes, magic and some traditional Swedish malört.

I could go on. This could be a really long post. But in the spirit of somewhat digestible brevity, I'll just fall back and show some pictures from the weekend.
Trading stories and playing Magic.
After an early rise, it is time to gather the Knights of Thorn for the fourth time. A little south a fifty players from surrounding areas (along with a guy from Serbia and a Swede).
I'm sleeving up Project M, but the competition is truly fierce! This is clearly among the most skilled communities I've played in, in particular considering how relatively young it is. My opponent here, Wessel, was one of the first seven to gather at the first Knights of Thorn and a veteran in the community.
Pretty sweet turn two on the play right here.
Got the chance to battle Dyan in the second round. Another one of the first seven, along with being an early contributor to this blog as well as one of the pioneers in old school EDH.
The glorious prize.
Mari Stenhage, here sporting the n00bcon X t-shirt, was the organizer and scorekeeper for the event, as well as a former Knights of Thorn Champion.
A playmat showing veteran experience from the Dutch old school scene.
A solid crew awaiting the Top8.
Mari is ready for top8. Here alongside another super nice dutch player I had the pleasure to hang with before the tournament.
Mari breaks the lance and picks up a second copy of the Knights of Thorn. Savannah Lions clearly work well with Stone Rain. Amazingly well played, and congrats!
The after-teaching at Erwin's place go on until around four in the morning. As a presently weak man, I give up already around midnight. There's a fight tomorrow, and I plan to land some blows.
Sunday. The Warriors have gathered.
Trading floor. Should have brought my binder.
Some pre-game bartering with Jason add these cards to my collection. The gauntlet is an inked Unlimited., but the dual is surprisingly sweet for me as a collector of sorts. After 24 years, this one finally puts me at 40/40 ABU duals.
Jason Schwartz. An old school player if I ever saw one.
Game on. This is what's on stake. For all the marbles.
A lot of Royal Assassins and monoblack in the meta. Serra Angel and Circle of Protection: Black delivers.
Facing off against Koos with RG. Pestilence doing a lot of work.
Koos vs Dyan in the traditional beard-off.
After the match with Jason, we decide to play a game for Scrye #3 ante (that is, you must offer to sell any cards you win for the price according to Scrye #3 after the game).
I succefully take down the match, and collect an Alpha Counterspell as my spoils. It is valued at three-fiddy.
I saved the actual coins if you ever feel like selling it Jason. Feels like it might have been a little cheap these days.
Magic!
Free beer, free krokett, and lovely smiles :)
Fighting against Magic Mike, the glorious Hill Giant Champion. Why so few mana sources brah?
Outdoor Mtg.
The indoor crew.
Tight play in the final rounds.
More Magic.
After a solid 6-0 start, I am finally bested by UW Control for a 7-1 in the end of the swiss. I am uncertain about the actual standings, as we didn't report results anywhere. I don't think anyone of us really thought about it.
Well, nothing to fear there. This is perhaps the most brilliant final standings I've ever seen. They were written way before the tournament was finished. Just play, have fun, and ignore the results; they are already set.
The lucky champions; Jason Schwartz, Mg, and Michel.
For the last night, I traveled into Amsterdam for a chance encounter with an old friend from the military service. It was a pleasure to finally meet Ekman on his turf; he lives on that boat behind him. A solid night's sleep on the waves later, it was time to say goodbye to Holland.
This was a great weekend. Thank you guys so much for all the hospitality and the glorious gatherings. Looking forward to the next time.