lördag 26 maj 2018

Ante rants and spectacular mail day

Q: My friend got several Magic decks and put them together into one deck. How can I compete with that without doing the same?


A: There are many answers to this question. If your friend is playing with more powerful cards, then your occasional victories will net you more valuable cards. [...] A person who obtains their cards by guile is usually more formidable than a person who simply buys them.

  - Beta rule book, page 33

True words. In the old days, Magic was played for ante. At the start of each duel, the players would remove the top card of their decks for ante, and whomever won would get the cards in the pot. This would create some excitement and supposedly help even the odds of gaming. If you were stuck with a measly starter deck and your next level friend had amassed a WW, a monoblack control deck, and a Channel/Fireball combo deck and put them all together in one glorious 230-card pile, odds were that on the rare occasions you would pick up a win, you would win a better card than the one they picked up from you the round before. If you had any cards left by that time.

For a number of reasons, WotC scrapped the ante mechanic somewhere around 1996. I still kinda enjoy it for modern formats. My friend Hardy and I play it more often than not whenever we try out a new set or dabble in limited. But as one of the truly old mechanics, old school is where it's at.
Now, playing for proper ante with a proper 93/94 deck is about as sober as throwing ducks at trains. The suave approach is to either let the opponent buy back the cards they lose at the median price noted in Scrye #3 (from autumn 1994), or to just gamble for a fixed amount of money or cards. A beer, say. This is what the cool guys do. "Ante", they say; "of course I play ante", they say, bubbling with the prospect of winning $22.50 of a random unlimited mox. It is a sweet way to up the blind.

That said, there's still a deep underground in this format. The true slingers that ran out of fucks years ago; the guys that rifle shuffle their Alpha Lotus without sleeves, or the guys that draw sharpie on their cards to avoid mixing them up with their opponents. These may be the kind of people who would crack the case of an Action Comics #1 and read it in a dank tree house, put a T206 Honus Wagner in their bicycle spokes for the sweet sound, or simply use an Inverted Jenny to post a letter. "Intended use".

If there ever was grizzled river gambler in the sandbars of the format, Brother Markus of the London crew is our delta boy. So when the dust had settled in the swiss of last n00bcon he went up and challenged me to a game of real Magic. Swedish rules 93/94, no skimping on the power cards, real ante. He also saw that a fellow Londoner, Brother Ben had advanced to the top4 of the championship, and dared me to move the World Championship to London next year if Ben won. I had my blinged out monogreen deck at hand and of course accepted the challenges. You can't let the English think that you're a wuss. Of the 193 nations in the UN, the British Empire has invaded 171 of them at one point or another. I am certain those tommies look for a reason to finally add Sweden to that list.
My Erhnams and summer Factories took down the first game. Markus ante turned out to be a Dark Ritual, which he quickly sharpied to remind me of the victory. There are so few fucks in that man.
I did not in fact take long until the dreaded "next time" hinted on my spoils. A few minutes later we were shuffling up again. My ante turned out to be an inconspicuous 1/1 for G with very round corners. Long story short, this was what the mana-dork line up looked in my deck after our second show-down.
Llanowar Elves was recently reprinted in Standard (Type 2), and as such the original version's price tag increased from afforadble to approximately one billion units of money. Those crazy kids with their new-fangled tap symbols and blatant disregard for the traditional elvish wood goggles and colorful punk mohawks. In my days, a proper elf looked like a skinny orc with skull tattoos, not some slender hipster with judo knifes and bonsai shoulder pads. It was a simpler time.

A good thing with 93/94 is that it only costs as much as I care to spend. The price point has always been the sum of money I can justify spending on old card board that particular month, and I have always been able to play with the cards I have collected without anyone laughing at me for playing a suboptimal deck. A bad thing with 93/94 is that the $3 Elves of Deep Shadow is a kinda horrible choice for a monogreen deck. Not only does it not give green mana, but a first turn Deep Shadow can easily throw a Lave Axe in you face unless you change your game plan.
Recent monogreen mirror in Oslo. My first turn Elves of Deep Shadow dealt me 6 damage before I used it to chump block. Did manage to get control still, but the emo girl is no wood punk.
I though it wouldn't bother me that much. But it was surprisingly tilting to play three quarters of a playset in a deck I had previously considered "finished". Whelp.

Enter a stunningly surprising and joyous letter. This community is so damn generous and thoughtful I honestly just shake my head in disbelief sometimes.
It is not every day you get a proper honest-to-god letter. It was like a slice of a diary I never wrote, extending an arm of brotherhood from across the ocean. Stories from one of my greatest evenings with Magic players, a shared joy for what we do, and a confirmation that whatever efforts I might have mustered some years back in the budding days of the international scene had actually made a personal impact of sorts. These things are joy. This is more than any potential sponsor of the format could ever pay.

That last night of the weekend, a somewhat personal trivia about me slipped out during our drinking. That made this glorious card I had received a few days earlier a few notches funnier for those in attendance:
That's me, on a Magic card! Whenever I start delving into 93/94 EDH, I have my General set.
But apart from the stories, the letter contained a gift I'll cherish for as long as I play. Blessed be the merkins to support those losing spoils to the limeys I say. I never thought I'd see the day this particular coat of arms would be painted by one of the most iconic magic artists of all time. This is glory. Thank you so much.
Welcome to my deck. Make yourself at home.
As is customary, I will send a proper thank you note via letter. But I wanted to post it here today first as I just received it.

As for future ante showdowns, I'll probably pick another deck. Disrupting the monogreen symmetries was taxing, though with the happiest of endings. But if you want to get in on some shady action, find Brother Markus and ask him about playing 40k. He won't be talking about Warhammer.

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