måndag 23 april 2018

Adventure Island

A couple of months ago, I marveled at the Serendipity of Sindbad. I had been looking for a new project, and the inconspicuous sailor had caught my eye.

We all have our reasons to play and cards to invoke our zeal. Personally, if I am to truly enjoy a deck over a period of months or years, it should have strange angles and creative lines of play. I like to have an "oops, I win" factor in the deck, but I don't want that to be the only plan. My deck should have a fighting chance against most comers, but it shouldn't be consistently broken. Playing with it should be an experience.
Project M was built with all that in mind. That decks basically has three game plans. Go for Guardian Beast combo with Orb, Disk and Transmute; play control with factories, books and permission cards like Icy Manipulator; or just smash face with beasts like Juzam and Mahamothi. Depending on what you draw and how the opponent plays, your game plan can change many times during a single duel. It is a highly satisfying pile to pilot.
Project M, version that won Arvika Festival 2015.
That deck is my pet deck if I ever had one, and I have no intentions of retiring it. But I do like building new things, and I had a plan for a deck that could potentially hit many of the marks I aimed for with Project M.

Now, I'm not getting that much younger and with a more proper adult life comes more expenses. My wife and I are moving to a new apartment this summer and the new loans will chip away on the nerd budget. In a few years I might want to slow down my work schedule a little in the name of work/life balance. And there might be an expansion of the family somewhere on the horizon. These things combine to a weird sense of nerd-FOMO; a sense that this year, 2018, might be the last year I am fully able to spend money on high-end cardboard rather than proper life events.

So I went a little nuts. I decided that I should be able to build the best version I could of this new deck without moving cards from Project M. I wanted to be able to bring both this deck and Project M to a tournament with no cards overlapping. So Power went back on my want-list. In this weird state of mind, 9/9 suddenly didn't cut it anymore.
It had been a long time since I last went looking for power. Deciding on which cards to get was a little daunting and I clearly couldn't afford everything. Fortunately - or perhaps rashly - I had actually bought some coincidental power cards about a year ago. I had saved some money for a different (non-magic) project that didn't pan out, and by a chance got the opportunity to spend that money on an Ancestral Recall, a Mox Sapphire and a Library of Alexandria instead. I found the cards at a good price and decided to take the opportunity. The original plan might have gone down the drain, but I did have some sweet, sweet cardboard instead.
And after all, these are very nice cards.
Stuff happened, months passed, and after a lot of mental back and forth about my priorities I managed to get my hands on this last n00bcon:
She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts.
This is, like, the best card ever! And now I have two, so I'm beyond living the dream of twelve-year old me. Owning two Lotuses is as sweet as having an elevator in the house, or having multiple lavatory facilities made out of gold.

Anyways, Adventure Island. Power and Libraries may be pretty relics, but they don't add actual personality to a deck. Save a deck like Fork Recursion, power cards are never really needed, they just help you turn the dials up to eleven. Having a lucky clover of four power cards is sweet, but it is not the core. This is the core:
Snap keep!
Yeah, this is a somewhat unconventional pile. Let's start with the main engine; our inconspicuous sailor. For those of you unfamiliar, Sindbad is a 1/1 for 1U with the ability "Tap: Draw a card and reveal it. If it isn't a land card, discard it." That is some sweet oracle wording. It would have been so easy for the template guys at WotC to errata this card to "reveal the top card" instead of actually drawing it. But they held the ball high here and we are drawing, which makes a world of difference.
Treasures and hidden libraries on our island.
Sylvan Library pretty much goes without saying. It is one of the strongest green cards in the format even without any additional synergies, and with Sindbad it is just awesome. Most of the time, Sindbad simply taps to draw an extra card whenever a library is in play, but the fact that you can also self-mill unnecessary cards shouldn't be underestimated. Also, as the deck has a lot of synergies and a few different game plans, so card selection is very valuable. The Library is an easy 4-of.

The other two cards might look a little more odd. Aladdin's Lamp is a 10-mana artifact that says that whenever you you draw a card, you can instead tap the lamp and pay X mana to look at the top X cards of your library and chose one of them to draw, putting the rest at the bottom. So here is another neat synergy with Sindbad; as the sailor actually draws a card, you can replace the Sindbad draw with activating the lamp to get all the benefits from the lamp and zero of the drawbacks from Sindbad. The ten mana price tag might look like a lot, but I have certainly hard cast this during playtesting even without the Power Monolith up and running. As the deck plays a lot of mana sources and has a solid late game, this is not as steep a cost as it may seem. And once the lamp is active, life is easy. In particular if we have managed to have a Power Monolith combo going, then all your draw steps are replaced by Demonic Tutor (which should end the game immediately if you have unlimited mana).

The other card might be even less familiar than the lamp:
The first Wish.
Again, we have a replacement effect on a draw which Sindbad is more than happy to help out with. The ring really over-performed during playtesting and I should try to find space for a second copy. Again, this card will just win if you have Power Monolith going, fetching Fireball if you have a City of Brass in play or Stream of Life if your mana is more constrained. During more normal circumstances it can fetch removal (Tranquility, Crumble, Control Magic), protection (Mirror Universe, Forcefield), or just a big spell on curve to close out the game (Force of Nature or Amnesia). It can also fetch a part of the Monolith combo if needed. This is a deceptively strong card somehow.
Power Monolith package.
The Power Monolith package is not necessarily the main wincon, but rather something that can win out of nowhere and the opponent must spend resources to defend against. Stream of Life is very sweet with Sylvan Library, as you will be able to ignore the life payments on extra cards if the combo is assembled. The Power Monolith win can often look kinda convoluted, one example from play testing was gaining unlimited mana while on the ropes and having Sindbad, two blue and one green mana available. I could then Transmute the Monolith to Aladdin's Lamp, replacing the Sindbad draw with tutoring for Stream of Life via the lamp, and use the last green mana to gain a few Graham's Numbers wort of life. Sometimes you want to wait out a combo that actually wins you the game on the spot, but when time is of the essence the Stream is a very solid Plan B. This is the transmute package:
I think I will replace Tetravus with Triskelion to get a better game against weenies, but other than that this feels good enough. Transmute have a nice synergy with Sylvan Library as well, giving you a shuffle when the top cards fail to deliver.
We will occasionally mill a relevant card or just lose a synergistic permanent to removal, so to mitigate this we have a suit of resurrection spells as well:
Reconstruction is another deceptively capable card.
I should probably test out playing two Recalls main deck now that it just got unrestricted. At the very least, I should have a second copy in my wish-sideboard. But they are kinda hard to find right now, and I don't have a playset of them yet (I have an extra copy in Project M, but again, one of the plans here is to not move cards from that deck). Some more testing will have to decide if I should take the plunge and buy another one for the main deck here. Other than that, these cards make it easier to be aggressive with Sindbad and trade resources with far less fear for the late game.
Playtesting at a local pub in Oslo. 
So, we can win with Sindbad advantage or Power Monolith combo. That can't be all now, can it? Of course not. Let's take a look at the star players of the battlefield:
The glorious Master with his graceful wolves. Yep, clearly wolves.
Before someone (looking at you, Gordon) comes in to say that these cards are bad and I retort by telling that person to suck both my dicks, I'd like to argue why the Wolfmasters are actually kinda solid. Step one is synergy. In a deck where you can get infinite mana, paying GG to get a 1/1 with something close to banding is good. The hunters doesn't tap to create a token, which makes them far superior to things like The Hive or Serpent Generator as swarmyards go. Another part of the synergy equation is that they can run under Meekstone, a Transmutable sideboard card in this deck.

Second, they are deceptively good at handling removal. They don't die to Blasts nor City in a Bottle, they laugh in the face of an Abyss, and the cards that actually kill them will often have to decide between targeting them or Sindbad. If they are removed by a Swords to Plowshares, that is a Sword that didn't hit Sindbad, and if we got to build a wolf or two in the process, we are back in value town. A weird but kinda fun fact is also that Chaos Orb can't kill tokens. I don't know if that will ever be relevant, but it is at least something I guess.

Third, the wolves keep coming and they all have Bands with other. While not fully as strong as proper banding, this can make combat a nightmare for the opponent. They will pretty much never be able to kill more than a single wolf each combat. If you have four or five wolves, there are very few summons that can stand in your way. If you get to untap with Master of the Hunt a few turns things easily get out of hand.

With that into account, I'm not saying that they are obscenely powerful nor that they should be played in every green deck. They are four-drops that die to Lightning Bolt after all, and they take a lot of mana before they win the game. But in a pile like this they offer another attack plan that demands an answer, and they strike from an angle that may be hard to defend against. They have not disappointed during playtesting, and I believe that they may be underestimated in the format.
A few more cards on the defensive side, and a stellar draw spell.
So all-in-all we find ourselves with an UG deck with a wish-board that can take the control role when necessary, randomly win with an infinite combo, smash down with bands of tokens, do stupid things with draw steps, transmute into strange artifacts and recur broken spells. Every now and then a Force of Nature enters the battlefield, and every now and then we get to cast Stream of Life for value. A sailor traveling to a tropical island to dig for rare artifacts and hidden libraries in the company of wolves. I present the latest voyage to Port Durdle:
Adventure Island, v1.6
For some additional Sindbad discussions, check out this episode of All Tings Considered. Some solid tech right there. And when you are surfing around, I can't reccomend the post Not even Venarian Gold from Music City Old School Mtg enough. It is a fairly short post, but really manages to capture the spirit of the format in a fantastic way.

Next time we're gonna look at a proper tournament report from one of our friends in Italy. Until then, I wish you brisk winds on your travels.

söndag 22 april 2018

Banned and Restricted update 2018

Yep, it's that time of the year again!
Yet another snap keep!
So last year we tried and recorded the announcement on the Flipping Orbs podcast rather than posting it here and typing out the discussions. That was pretty fun, so we did the same thing this year (and now it's a tradition I suppose). The episode turned out at an horrendous two hours, complete with my sound dropping off at places. So for those of you that just want to get to the brass tacks, here's this year's update:
  • Recall is unrestricted
...and that's it! As always it will be exciting to see how this works out and what kind of tech people come up with, if any. Feel free to scream your opinions in the comments :) If you have some time, I recommend giving the podcast a listen. It goes into some depth about around twenty cards that were up for discussion this year.


onsdag 11 april 2018

The n00bcon X top8

The tenth world championship of Old School Magic is in the books! 17 countries, around 40 communities and 122 players packed their spells and went to Gothenburg to show who's who in the format.
This was the craziest weekend of Magic I've experienced yet. From the bag of crazy that that was the Wizards' Tournament, to the largest gathering of old school players yet at n00bcon X, to the smaller main tournament hosted in the depths of Gothenburg the day after. I can find no word for this better than simply "Magic". And that's with me not even playing in any of the events except the Wizards' Tournament. It says something special about the people when I don't feel bad missing out playing the main tournament but rather just feel excited to meet all the people.

I could go on for days sharing the joy I feel being a part of this community. There are so many stories. I don't know where to start, nor where I should stop. A few people have already shared their stories, like Dave Firth Bard at the All Tings Considered podcast. And of course there's hours and hours of the video stream up on Wak-Wak. So right know I'll keep my own anecdotes short and just say this.

Thank you. Thank you for being good people I love hanging out with even when I'm not drawing an opening seven. Thank you for how much you care and how much effort you put into making other people here welcome. And in particular on a personal level, thank you all who provided the wonderful Easter Egg gifts to me. I really did not expect that. My mom wanted to frame the scroll you guys gave me when I showed it to her.

So, with all those lame emotions out of the way, let's go down to cold steel and brass tax. This was a god damned world championship after all. And the gladiators grinding their teeth in the elimination rounds are about as far away from novices as they come.
Andrea's Cermak. Top8.
Representing the Stockholm in a Bottle crew, Cermak hit the scene with a bang two years ago. He won the coveted Rookie of the Year trophy for the 2016/2017 season, picked up a Giant Shark in Arvika, and then followed that up with a Top4 at n00bcon 9. Apart from a slew of truly impressing tournament finishes the season leading up to n00bcon X (including a win at the Horrible Horse gathering, a second place at the 2018 Arvika Festival, and - perhaps most impressive - a second place at The Wizards' Tournament), Cermak is known as a great deck builder, tournament organizer and community profile. His Old School Magic 4 Life group is the largest Old School Magic page at Facebook, and his King of the Archipelago tournament series (an all expenses paid tournament at a boat in the Stockholm archipelago) is one of the more unique gatherings in the format. Combine that with being credited as popularizing the White Zoo archetype and taking down Alphaspelen 3 with main deck Personal Incarnations, and you have a force in the format to be reckoned with.
Cermak's CermakAttack.
Bringing his signature Savannah Lions to battle, backed up by the traditional slew of Efreets, Cermak has opted for some pretty smart choices in his top8 deck. The Su-Chis may look slightly random at glance, but they are proper beat sticks, as well as your best friend when facing down a Blood Moon
Simon Gauti. Top8.
Simon Gauti is one of the earlier adopters from Denmark, representing red and white at the championship since n00bcon 7. The Danish scene has grown a lot in the last year, and so has Simon's gauntlet and training grounds. A highly proficient Vintage player at heart, Simon never ceases to impress whenever he gets to sleeve up Moxen.
Simon Gauti's. The Deck.
The Deck is the premier control deck of the format. It contains a majority of the most effective permission spells ever printed while gaining card advantage using the Jayemdae Tome. It is a though nut to crack for any opponent, in particular when wielded by a veteran invoker like Simon. Simon's beautiful version is fairly straight forward, but nonetheless he has opted for some interesting choices. In particular playing Moat over something like The Abyss. Moat is a somewhat rarely seen card in the archetype these days, and a very gutsy card to use when your wincon is basically the landwalking Mishra's Factories :)
Kalle Nord. Top8.
Kalle is one of the reasons we play this format at all, and probably the single most important reason I still play Magic altogether. He is one of the original founders of 93/94, as well as the guy who pretty much makes all the original art related to this blog and n00bcon. That banner up here is his making, as well as all the yearly n00bcon pins, last year's playmat, this year's t-shirt, and what have you. He is also the host of the "Head Tournament" the day after n00bcon, as well as just a spectacular human specimen. Among the more braggable stats on his tournament resume is a win at n00bcon 7 as well as being one of only two people to hold more than a single Giant Shark.
Kalle's 5C CounterMidrange
Uh, yeah. It takes some effort to have the most blinged out deck at a tournament like n00bcon, but this is probably it. I don't know where to start describing all the unique pieces. All wb cards are Summer btw, except the really crazy ones (like the square cornered test print Wheel of Fortune). The artist alters and reinterpretations are kinda hard to wrap the head around. And he has two Giant Sharks in his sideboard :D If we ignore the share insanity of the deck, it is a midrange deck with some control elements. Four Su-Chi and three Erhnams are the main beatsticks, backed up by sweet burn and a miser's suit of counterspells.

Tibia. Top8.
The only guy with a perfect record in the swiss, Tibia is a son of Gothenburg and another familiar face around the top tables at n00bcon. Last time we saw him grace the top8 was at n00bcon 8, when his weapon of choice was UR Burn. Even though he is supremely versed in the format and has played at this gathering since around n00bcon 4, it is possible that Tibia might be a fairly new face for many readers. I talked to Gordon a little about it during the stream, and yes, there is of course a large native scene in Gothenburg still. They are just kinda low on the social media accounts and rarely travel far to play. The Gothenburg scene randomly hosts 20+ player gatherings with locals, but don't really write about it on facebook. Still keeping it underground, and still one of the weirder scenes. I think the cradle city represented with seven players this tournament, and at the end of the swiss, we found two in the top four of the standings and two in the bottom four. Go hard or go home. Love to the locals.
Tibia's Fantasy Zoo
I'll just quote the pilot:
Åland provided the framework for this deck when he first piloted it at BSK last November. I saw the potential of Savannah Lions, and since then we have been evolving the deck together.

White is the best color in 93/94 and Disenchant is the best card in the format. So the build starts with four Disenchants. Then you want cheap and effective threats. The fact that also Savannah Lions, Swords to Plowshares and Serra Angel are white clearly doesn't make things worse.

Blue is the second best color and Serendib Efreet is the best creature. Four of those. The fact that blue also gives you access to Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Timetwister is also pretty sweet.

City of Brass makes it easy to splash powerful off-color cards like Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist. We back this up with Bolts and Blasts for reach.

The main plan is then to deploy effective threats at the same time as you keep the opponents threats and blockers / factories at bay with the burn. Then we'll just win the eventual race with Serra Angel.

The big advantage of this deck is that it doesn't play counterspells. We can without any hesitation have a very aggressive game plan, and we'll never end up in a situation where we want to play a threat but at the same time keep two blue open for Counterspell.

Sideboard is basically Circles, Armageddon, Red and Blue Blasts, and Shatterstorm.


Yep, that sounds about right.
Valerio. Top4.
Valerio! Valerio was one of the first Europeans, and certainly the first Italian, to write a guest post on this blog. Way back in the dark ages of 2015, when he placed 2nd at the 60-player Ovino Old School tournament (back then without Black Lotus in his deck, something that Valerio seems to have corrected since ;)). Valerio is not only one of the premier Italian players and a content provider, he was also one of the last guys to sneak in an invite to n00bcon. Planning a trip in Sweden with his lovely girlfriend at the time of the tournament, he casually contacted me and let me know that they would be in the city if a spot would open up. His strategy proved fruitful, his tech took him all the way to the top4, and the rest of the players got the chance to hang out with a cheerful Italian lady as the top8 unfolded. Win-win-win.
Valerio's Atog Aggro.
Valerio's weapon of choice is a lethal Atog aggro pile, splashing blue for Serendib Efreets along with some extra power. Praying on greedy mana bases with Blood Moons, keeping card engines honest with his playset of Back Vise, and letting big beaters finish the job alongside some burn. This is a deceptively deep pile with some interesting choices. E.g. the sideboard Juggernauts to turn the beatdown up to eleven when needed (or to switch out the Efreets when boarding in City i a Bottle), as well as the 2-1 split between Detonates and Shatters maindeck are sure to stir some conversations.
Ben. Top4.
From the place where the sun never set, Brother Ben of the Fire made a triumphant return to the Swedish turf for n00bcon X. He first showed up at the tournament last year as a member of the British Hill Giant team (honestly, median height of the team members was something like 9 feet; Ben is taller than an average oak), and piloted a sweet pile of stone cold Legends creatures like Lady Evangelina. This year, Ben earned his invite by winning the Old School Team Championships in the UK, and it seems like that taste of glory may have had him step up his deck to something slightly more powerful this year.
Ben's The Deck.
That's a slight uptick in effectiveness. I do find some humor in that the other control deck in the top8 played with Moat (over The Abyss) and no Serra Angels, where Ben plays with The Abyss alongside Serra Angel. Though I kinda get the idea; I assume that Serra Angel is not really a Serra Angel but rather a replacement of the fourth maindeck Jayemdae Tome, either due to availability or due to the fact that a Serra is better than a fourth book against aggro. Actually had the exact same nonbo in my version of The Deck I played at the last Arvika Festival. My excuse was that I didn't own four books and had to settle with three. What's your excuse Ben? ;) Among the other notable card choices we have the Scrubland and of course the Spell Blast. Countering Black Lotus never felt so good. And it is super techy to have a hard counter you can resolve with only one blue mana up.
Olle. Finalist.
Olle Råde is, like, a super good Magic player. He also stays mostly sober during tournaments, which is a little like doping. (editor's retraction: Well, turns out Olle did in fact down his beers like a viking at n00bcon. It just didn't seem to affect him). Dude has won BSK twice and holds the format's coveted Giant Shark. The title of n00bcon Champion may be one of the few things he may still even consider to be on his old school bucket list. Or just general Magic bucket list for that matter, which e.g. includes PT, GP, PotY and Invitational wins. Olle is a journalist by trade, and when he doesn't share his stories in the Gothenburg daily newspaper he can occasionally be seen freelancing pro coverage at the WotC mothership. He also wrote a sweet guest post on this blog a few years ago. Another random fact is that his father is an actual wizard, so there's always that.
Olle's UR Burn.
UR Burn has become something of Olle's signature deck in 93/94. He took down BSK 2017 with a similar list, and we also saw him wielding it in the elimination rounds back at n00bcon 8. UR is one of the consensus strongest decks in the format, by newer players sometimes described as the "Delver Deck" of old school magic. It combines permission and reach with some of the most effective threats the card pool has to offer. Throw one of the strongest players to pick up the game behind the wheels and we'll have a recipe for top8.
Alban. World Champion!
Alban Lauter has quickly reached a reputation as the contemporary "German Juggernaut" of 93/94 Magic. His recent stats from tournaments in Germany and surrounding countries are just staggering. But as for qualifying for n00bcon goes, high standings in tournaments are only rarely the way to go. Many of the communities have been giving out their invites by things like lotteries, quizzing, or even placing in the bottom of a given tournament. So even though Alban won the German qualifier tournament, that didn't give him an invite for n00bcon. The huge Fishliver Oil Cup in Italy did give out an invite to the winner, but at that one Alban "only" finished second place. A few weeks before n00bcon however, the guy who won Fishliver Oil had to decline his place, and Alban was passed down the invite by the organizers.

Well before that, in fact long before Alban had an invite, he was my bet to win this year. I assumed that he would eventually pick up an invite somehow, and he plays at a level above a majority of the field. He was of course still my bet when Gordon and I discussed who would win the tournament during our commentary on the stream at the start of the swiss. So while I can't say that I was really surprised to finally see the first non-Swede pick up the Shark at n00bcon, I am throughly impressed :) This was Alban's first top8 at n00bcon, though he did finish 9th at n00bcon 8 two years ago.
Alban's UWb Tempo.
Alban is known to many as a highly proficient The Deck player, but this year he went for a home brew. The one-two punch of Savannah Lions plus Serendib Efreet has proved immensely powerful in the format. Alban's list is far more controlling than e.g. Tibia's Fantasy Zoo (which puts more emphasis on speed and burn), and somewhat more so than Cermak's (which can take a much more midrange role with Su-Chis and more Angels). Where e.g. Tibia plays two Swords to Plowshares, Cermak plays three and Alban has the full playset. Alban is also the one guy among the three Lion-players in the top8 to run Counterspell, making his brew somewhat closer in spirit to UW Skies than Fantasy Zoo.

Ninth place player was btw some guy named Seb. Sounds familiar, but I'm not sure who that guy might be.

And there we have it! Thanks for an awesome weekend, and congratulations to all you crazy wizards both in and outside the top8!