tisdag 27 februari 2018

Beware of Magic: the Gathering, part II

Last weekend I played in the fourth annual Arvika Festival. It was a glorious gathering, and a report is on its way. Hopefully one from the winner, alongside some rants about my own foray with The Deck. But today I'd like to quickly first step out and look at surprisingly strange, and perhaps unsettling, trivia from the mid 90s. Tinfoil hats on.

A few years ago, I wrote a short post about the backlash towards Magic by religious groups that deemed the game blasphemous. Beware of Magic the Gathering. 25 years ago, that was kind of a big deal; iconoclasm and heresy were far more frowned upon just a quarter of a century ago. These days most of us find a card like Lich fairly harmless.
Someone at Wizards finds the casual satanism in this card hilarious enough to give it Multiverse ID 666. There's an Easter Egg for you. http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=666
Now, being the heathens that we are, WotC and the great majority of players aren't bothered if we have demons in the game. Demons aren't real, we argue, and there are real issues in the world that need attention. Sexism is real, racism is real, hatred is real. I am very grateful that WotC actively tries to work with representation these days. That there is a gay couple fronting a Commander deck, that a black female planeswalker kills King Brago in Conspiracy II, and that one of the Khans of Tarkir are championed by a transgender woman. That one of the current standard blocks focus on an Indian woman and her biracial daughter. It actually fills me with a sense of community as a player.

Most of us look back at a card like Earthbind and are content that those tropes are mostly a thing of the past. We're glad that Wizards never did characters with blackface in Mirage, painted the Icatian Moneychanger overtly Jewish, or used a nazi artist in the mid 90s and then kept referencing white supremacy on the mothership. So about that...

This post might be NSFW. Let me introduce you to the art of Harold McNeil:
"Society, is a sheeple thing... individuals have their own paradigms, where sheep either follow or get eaten... an individual may see a modern oppression of the freedom to acknowledge that women go to perverse ruin unless disciplined, and that diversity in races means equality is absurd..."
"I knew a kind of Fascism was inevitable, & resonated with aspects from birth, but was also determined to see it never lack Empathy... for that is how the weak, pretend to be strong, by a Talmudic narrowing of Empathy... it is hard to be whole, it is wrong to be less... blinking Unpeople, make things worse... Love is Will, Truth is Honor..."
"Indiscriminate Inclusivity, is a prostitute's motto... Open Borders, as if legs of a whore..."
I wont link to his homepage here, as it is beyond most comfort zones. But after looking at it, we can with no doubt deduce that he is a fairly skilled iconographer and a no holds barred white supremacist. He also likes cats. And butts. The quotes under the pictures are from his facebook page btw, and all of them from the last month. This Hitler Jesus thing wasn't a phase that ended twenty years ago.

Harold McNeil worked with Wizards in the 90s. He doesn't anymore, but in those few years his art made a solid impact. Much like artists such as Drew Tucker and Richard Kane Ferguson, a Harold McNeil piece is easily identifiable at a glance. Without going too deep into art critique and Leni Riefenstahl, his artwork even with Wizards throw some sublime punches.
And once I started to learn about the artist behind the art, it is hard to look at this without imagining wolfsangels.
At this point I don't know if it is ironic or just plain weird that he also got to do cards like Circle of Protection: Black in Tempest.
But OK, lets say that the world was a different place a couple of decades ago, and what today is something WotC wouldn't want to associate with using a pole were things we as a group were more blind to in the mid 90s. These days, one could in good conscience suspect that Wizards would put their work with Harold McNeil behind them. So let me introduce the aptly named Invoke Prejudice.
Here's a bunch of guys in KKK hoodies on a card with the flavor of introducing racial divide. And yeah, it kinda looks like the front guy's robe folded into an odal rune on his shoulder. I have no idea how the design process for his card was done; it is a very odd spell and is the only card in the game with an UUUU mana cost. Also it is named Invoke Prejudice. And of course Harold McNeil is the artist.

This card is a strange part of Magic's history. One could suspect that WotC would try to put this behind them, or maybe not keep assuring that it references white supremacy. Or at the very least not jokingly insert a neo nazi reference in Gatherer search today. Well, they certainly did. Invoke Prejudice has Multiverse ID 1488. Because of course it has. http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=1488. So there you have some unsettling old school trivia from the days when Magic was seen as an unhealthy influence because of the demons, and to say the least a baffling easter egg to still keep on the mothership.

onsdag 21 februari 2018

Zack's tech: Urza’s Command

Today we have a special guest with us. Zack may be mostly known from another corner in the world of old Magic cards; spreading ideas from the first decade of Magic over at his Ancient Mtg blog. The brew master Zack has written around 80 deck techs for the Ancient format in the last four years. Today he looks back even further in the card pool and shares some glorious tech in the 93/94 format. Enjoy! /Mg out

Hey guys and gals,

I thought I'd start today’s article with a quick introduction; my name is Zack and I started playing Magic back in 1995 when I was 8 years old. My buddy taught me how to play(ish) and I immediately adored the game, the art and just the plain awesomeness. I know I know, isn’t that everyone’s story? Well, then Weatherlight and Tempest came around and the 'lore' changed, as did my interest in where the game was going. While I think 'real' Magic concluded with Visions, I absolutely love the Swedish Old School card pool and B/R. I decided to combine this passion with my deck-building hobby and write about a deck I hadn’t really read about or seen in the Old School community. Alrighty, now that we’re done with the boring introduction, let’s dive right into why we’re really here, shall we? I hope you all enjoy today’s tech about a deck I have dubbed Urza’s Command.
Let’s start with the key cards.
Urza’s Command looks to abuse the two cards in its namesake to do awesome things and win the games. Neither card is really considered a staple on their own, however when combined they really can be quite exceptional. Naturally, I am talking about Glasses of Urza and Word of Command. Hey hey hey, come on now, sit down. Yes, you read that correctly and no I am not on drugs. Just think about the two cards together. Really think about them. The applications that are available to these can be incredible and, perhaps shockingly, also quite versatile.

There are two things I tend to associate with Word of Command: 1) Command is amazing, and 2) Command is amongst the hardest cards to play in Magic; but it doesn’t have to be. Or at the very least, you can help minimize this. How? By attaining the advantage via Command and Glasses of Urza. There are actually numerous ways to do so, and I’m sure that there are several I haven’t even considered. Only lands and creatures in their hand? You don’t need to burn your Command on a (second) land that can’t be played; instead, why not drop a creature into The Abyss? The reality is, you can play anything that’s not an Instant to your advantage. Some great examples are Chain Lightning, Control Magic and their second Concordant Crossroads; notice how each example has its own card-type.
The Abyss.
The Abyss is another card that can really help you abuse Word of Command. A main problem with Command is that instants can be played around it. While Glasses does help with those, it also helps you know when and what else is available to you. Remember, 'play' can be a key component as it also includes Lands. With The Abyss doing its thing, playing your opponents' creatures essentially means destroying them. This is not without its drawbacks however, as it also presents you with a challenge; quite simply, this also limits your own creatures, as you want The Abyss to be one-sided destruction. Mishra’s Factory is a staple in Old School, so we obviously want to include a playset. I also went with 4x Su-Chi, and 4x Triskelion. The latter plays nice with our pal Tawnos, giving it some added usage as well. Oh, and don’t worry about their Mishra's, that’s why we have Bolt and Shatter.

The deck has some 4-ofs where you only want 1 in play, and several 1-ofs that you probably only want in certain situations. And no, this isn’t Vintage. It’s actually, [partly] why Greed can be so great in the deck. It, along with Jayemdae Tome, help ensure you always have cards in your hand, and it doesn’t tax your mana when you use it. Not only can both Tome and Geed provide you with some card advantage, but the latter also combines pretty decently with Mirror Universe.
The original Necropotence.
Urza’s Command relies on its mana base due to its numerous high CMC cards, so Armageddon-type decks can be backbreaking. The question then becomes: Dark Rituals or all the Moxen? Upon perusing the deck one might note that only Word of Command and Lightning Bolt don’t use colourless mana to play. As such, going with the extra Moxen route might be wise. In reality, a Mox only ramps you 1 less mana than a Ritual - but you get to keep using it! Because this decks tends to go the long game, adding those extra Moxen seems to be the better decision with Urza’s Command.

Why no Blue? Ancestral and Time Walk are ridiculously good, but are they worth changing the mana base? The short answer is, well, probably. As such, this is almost assuredly not the strongest 75 that the deck can use. It's just a blueprint to get you thinking. So why did I choose not to? Well the thing is, Blood Moon is a serious card, as is general land destruction. Also, I decided not to tread the counterspell path because we want to leave mana open to play Command; trying to leave both UU and/or BB open during your opponent’s turn can be a hard thing to do. Lastly, on a personal note, I mainly enjoy playing with only two colours when I build a deck. I had considered every Bx variation available, but decided that I wanted to try a colour combination that is a bit less commonly played.
Here it is.
Lastly, let’s end today’s article with a peek at the sideboard. I think it’s worth noting that Urza’s Command only plays one Arabian Nights card, a rarity amongst Old School decks, thus making City in a Bottle incredible. Tormod's Crypt is a bit niche, but I put in 2 because they’re good versus graveyard shenanigans. Just remember, the sideboard is based on your meta and as such, is never set in stone. With that written, I want to end this article with these words: tune a deck to how you play and remember to tweak and change whenever you want. Old School is legitimately casual, which makes it a deck-builder’s paradise, so be creative, explore and enjoy. Happy Brewing!

onsdag 14 februari 2018

The Serendipity of Sindbad

"Nevertheless, by the time I had buried the last of my companions my stock of provisions was so small that I hardly thought I should live long enough to dig my own grave, which I set about doing, while I regretted bitterly the roving disposition which was always bringing me into such straits, and thought longingly of all the comfort and luxury that I had left. But luckily for me [...] an idea struck me. [...] Why should I not build a raft and trust myself to its swiftly flowing waters? If I perished before I could reach the light of day once more I should be no worse off than I was now, for death stared me in the face, while there was always the possibility that, as I was born under a lucky star, I might find myself safe and sound in some desirable land."
 - Arabian Nights: The Sixth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor

And so Sindbad set out on his raft and woke up in the land of Serendib. A place that was twenty-four parasangs long by twenty-four wide, and held the highest mountain in the world, on which the first man Adam had lived for certain on his days. He met with the king and was bestowed many gifts, including a cup carved from a single ruby and a bed made from the skin of the serpent that swallowed an elephant. Sindbad's discovery of the land of Serendib (called Serendip by the Persians) became such a part of old pop culture that the word "serendipity" hails from the name of the country and the fortunate happenstance in finding it.
The naming of Serendib through the years is complicated enough that Wikipeida has a page covering just that subject. But basically it was known from the beginning of British colonial rule in the 1810s until 1972 as Ceylon, and these days it is known as Sri Lanka. On a temporary leave from the frozen icescape of Norway, this is where I find myself today.
The streets just outside my apartment in Oslo in the late afternoon a week ago. It's a frozen dark city. Winter has come.
I find the darkness of the Nordic winters kinda rough, and this time I had the best of excuses to leave. So my wife and I packed our bags and went to Sri Lanka to drink out of coconuts and chill with giant turtles. The in-flight magazine showed we were in Sindbad's tracks.
As a nerd of sorts, I did bring a couple of Djinns and Efreets with me to their home turf.
Chilling out at a tea plantation.
In a Buddhist temple about half a parasang above sea level.
By Adam's Peak, the highest mountain in the world(?) (Yeah, we climbed it, and yeah, I'm still sore.)
I've spent the evenings mostly away from Internet connections and had the time to read a few hundred nights in an early version of Arabian Nights btw. That's some damn weird stories. Some really good stuff, but a lot of strange filler and perplexing morals. Three stars, I guess?
Anyway, Sindbad, this is supposed to be about Sindbad. Sindbad is one of the most legendary non-legend cards in the history of Magic. There are like three Sindbads in Arabian Nights - the sailor we all know and love, as well as a porter and a king with the same name - but I strongly assume this guy is The Sailor, and we should shake our heads in distrust towards anyone who plays more than one. Surprisingly rarely do we see even one at the battlefields these days however.

Looking at the stats, Sindbad is a 1/1 for 1U. Not exactly breaking any records, but not overpriced in the way of a Quarum Trench Gnomes or Ichneumon Druid either (if you didn't have to google those two cards, you might consider yourself deep in the old school mire). Sindbad then has the ability to tap to draw about two fifths of a card, assuming that you play 40% lands. So every second or third turn or so he will draw you a card for no additional investment. Though not amazing, it is pretty decent. And flavor is clearly A+, in particular considering the very simple rules text. Sindbad goes away searching for land, and whenever he finds it value happens. Serendipity.
Sindbad becomes really solid when you can combine him with other cards. Field of Dreams might be the most obvious example. With the Fields in play, you can easily draw your extra lands from the top of your library, or just filter away cards by milling the ones you don't need. On top of that, Fields also give you some control over what your opponent is drawing. Combine that with a Millstone and you've built yourself an old school Lantern Control deck (it's a deck that won the last Modern Pro Tour for all you old foogies).

Thing with the Field is that it is kinda weak on its own. Sindbad at least give us some value on his own; he is a not-weirdly-overcosted body that draws you 40% of a card when tapped. Field does almost nothing and is a fairly useless play outside dedicated combo decks. So where do we go? To the Library of course!
Now here's a sick engine. UG Al-Qarawiyyin. Or something. With Master of the Hunt to abuse all those extra lands and play around City in a Bottle. Could even add some Transmute Artifact to fetch Meekstones and add extra shuffle effects for the Library. Or something less durdly, but the power of the Sindbad / Sylvan engine looks real. Both cards are playable without the other, but the sum is much greater than the parts.
Master of the Hunt is a sweet card, but it has one of those "once you see it, you can't unsee it" deals. The jovial sheep-dogs in the picture are some damn weird "wolves".
So that might be my next deck-to-build. Probably Serendib Efreet for flavor, if not for power. It's funny, I've played this format for eleven years now and it never seizes to amaze me just how deep the first year of Magic, August '93 to August '94, really is.

I wish you a great evening wherever in the world you might be on this Valentine's Day. Cheers from the island of serendipity :)

måndag 5 februari 2018

Noobcon X qualifier in Arvika

These days we can find a good amount of gatherings where a community spot for the n00bcon championship is on the line. While it sucks that we can't fit everyone at the championship, it is really sweet to see communities around the world find yet another reason to gather and play. This is a story from Arvika, from the pen of David "Svetzarn" Strandberg. See you at n00bcon Svetzarn! /Mg out

I'm not used to this writing stuff, but as the winner I had to write some kind of report so here we go.

The day that many of the oldschool players in Arvika was waiting for were getting closer. My schedule was tight, working away from home during the weekdays and celebrating Christmas like 3 times. I managed to use some time to playtest with Markus 'Kungmarkus' one or two times and one time with Jimmie 'Polers'.

After some testing with my ponza deck using Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore as win condition - trying mono black with splash blue power as one version and Serendib Efreets and power as another - I finally settled on the deck I would play during our tournament; five-color artifact aggro.

The playtesting against mono red or U/R burn did not give me much. It was hard to decide what deck I should build. I knew that 10-15 people would show up (ended up with 11) and I figured it would not be any 'The Deck' showing up, but White wheenie, Trolls, Erhnamgeddon and stuff like that. I got a feeling that a couple of maindecked The Abyss, a playset of Bolts and some StP would be great a night like this.
Ready to rumble.
Match 1 - Henrik Berntsson (Erhnamgeddon)
Game 1:
When I was looking down at my starting hand I saw like three mana sources and some other decent cards, I drop my land and pass the turn over to Henrik. If i remember this correct he drop land and play Sol Ring... Well that's okay, but then 2 moxes and Erhnam efters the table in his first turn.

I dont have any answer to that creature and no mana acceleration at all. I pass my turn after a landdrop and he attacks for four and drops mishra and Serra Angel... 0-1

Game 2 & 3:
Better starting hands with moxen and early Juggernaut or Su Chi drops, answers for his creatures with StP and disenchant. And so on. 1-1 and then 2-1

Match 2 - Emil Vernersson (Trolls, Hypnonic & Disco)
Game 1:
I got a lot of mana out on the board very quickly, I played Wheel of Fortune – Timetwister and then wheel once again in the first couple of turns until I got everything I needed to. Emil did not manage to do much at all before he died. 1-0

Game 2:
Think I dropped Su-Chi om turn 1, The Abyss turn 2 and Juggernaut turn 3.. Figure out the rest :) 2-0
Some freeplay pinball between rounds.
Match 3 - Markus "Kungmarkus" Guldbrandsson (Mono red)
Game 1:
Markus drops a Mishra's Factory and pass turn to me, I drop land and a mox, pass the turn over and hope to trap him. He drops another land and activates mishra that I now can disenchant. Next one out is Chaos Orb to flip on his mountain with success. Then I cast some artifact creatures and Abyss. 1-0

Game 2:
Land - Sol Ring - Mox Ruby - Wheel of Fortune; I draw 1 or 2 moxes and Ancestral Recall, passing turn (casting ancestral on his turn). Now on my turn I drop Juggernaut that I think had to eat a Lightning Bolt. He cast Goblin Baloon Brigade and an Ornithophter, I cast two Su-Chi and then they beat him down over the next couple of turns. Didn't need that sideboarded CoP: Red. 2-0 in less than 10 minutes.

Match 4 - Olof 'Loff' (Blue sweet pile of cards)
Loff's Monoblue deck. (2nd place).
Game 1:
A couple of counterspells and psiblasts stopped me from an "easy win", but it still went down pretty fast. I had not seen his deck in action so I did not really know what to sideboard or expect to see in the next game. 1-0

Game 2:
I held a decent starting hand, but then it felt like I only drew mana. When he reached six mana, a Triskelion came into play. The next round he unfortunately received visits from his two brothers in form of two Copy Artifacts. 1-1

Game 3:
Very close game, and anyone of us could have won this. In the end I think it was a fortunate Wheel that gave me a Lightning Bolt or two so I could deal the last damage. 2-1

Match 5 (Semifinal) - Johan 'Johanguld' (Troll Disco)

Game 1:
I played early removal on both Johan's Mishra's Factory and a troll, and followed up with Chaos Orb on Badlands. With that mana denial, the rest of this game played itself. 1-0

Game 2:
Turn one or two I dropped a Juggernaut that got killed by a Chain Lightning, and then cast a Su-Chi that got eaten by Shatter. Lots of bolts and stuff was thrown in my face but after a while I was saved by an Abyss. I was able to rebuild a small artifact army that finally could take him down. 2-0
JohanGuld's deck. (3rd place).
Match 6 (Final) - Olof 'Loff' (Blue sweet pile of cards)
Game 1:
Game one was a quick affair. Lots of early moxen and a Sol Ring was followed up by a top decked Mind Twist that he could not recover from. 1-0

Game 2:
This time Strip Mine and Chaos Orb ruined it for Olof, he did not seem to find more than one or two lands. After that and I could beat him with my Su-Chi and some burn. 2-0.
The winning deck.
 /David "Svetzarn" Strandberg