torsdag 14 juni 2018

A question of answers

Threats beat answers. Maybe a familiar mantra for those who brew. I think it was David Price, "The King of Beatdown", who first coined it in a Magic setting. 

Questions beat answers. If an answer is to move your agenda forward, it should do something more than just respond to the question at hand. It could give you card advantage or tempo. Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt would be pretty bad if they cost five mana each. Wrath of God wouldn't be much to look at if it didn't have the ability to X-for-1.

Threats are always relevant, answers are specific. The answer must be to the question posed; otherwise we are just sitting with useless information. We can't willy-nilly respond with any random answer.
"What's the capital of Kyrgyzstan?" "There are 27 bones in each hand."
While building a deck there are questions that we don't expect to have specific answers for, or just don't take the time to ask. How would my deck defend itself against a pair of Wood Elementals? In the unlikely event that question is posed, I'm sure that I can derive a solution using the answers I have for other questions.
I'll simply activate Mindslaver, cast Quicken and Goblin Game, and hide my opponent's deck in a nearby river.
Interesting things happen when we stop thinking about whether or not we have the right answers, and start considering whether or not we posed the right question in the first place.

We usually start with a response - a truth of some kind. Blood Moon is a great answer to a greedy mana base and the Mishra's Factories that will block our Kird Apes and Archers, so we'll play Blood Moon. But in this aggressive deck, the question was perhaps rather how we could win the game before the opponent could stabilize. Maybe Shatter was the answer, as it also kills the factories and can destabilize mana by blowing up Moxen or Sol Rings just as well.
A different answer. Probably incorrect here. 
Starting with answers is our default. It is impressive when we see masterful players challenge the questions. Martin Berlin won n00bcon two years ago with a version of The Deck that cut Balance for Stone Rain; a move that was completely of out the realms of common sense for most players at the time. In almost every way of measuring Balance is a better answer than Stone Rain. But Martin realized what questions he had to face, and updated his answers accordingly. 

Last year Hashi won n00bcon with an almost monoblack deck splashing blue for power and sideboard cards. In particular Energy Flux. By redefining what questions a monoblack deck could answer he managed to catch a lot of opponents off-guard and ride his Nightmare to victory in a 100+ player strong field.
What's the deal with the mismatched basics?
A couple of months ago Olle Råde placed second at n00bcon X with an UR Burn that played zero copies of Blood Moon between main deck and sideboard. He revisited the questions and came up with new answers. Sure, Blood Moon beats Library, but so does Black Vise.
Why does he play a Giant Shark in the sideboard?
I could go on. But where I stand, deck tuning is not the most interesting part. Let's go back to that black deck that won n00bcon last year. If raw beatdown is the question, a playset Juzam Djinn is probably the answer. If effective midrange fliers is the question, three or so Sengir Vampires is the answer. None of these questions will have "Nightmare" as the answer. The question where Nightmare is the answer is of a different type.
Why is that Tower Strip Mine white-bordered?
We should play one Strip Mine is an answer. We should play four Strip Mines is another. The more I read opinion pieces on it, the more it seems that people are asking different questions to come up with these different answers.

Here's an answer I've read many many times in the last ten years; 93/94 will die unless we do something about reprints or proxies. Prices are killing the format.
Why is this format just for elitists that got in early?
Fun thing is, I am not sure if that answer is to a relevant question. If we ignore the strange premise (tournament attendance has doubled every year since 2009), is there any intrinsic value in having a large player base? Why would we, in the supposed Mtg Underground, see huge gatherings as a performance indicator?

Instead of asking how 93/94 could accommodate every kind of Magic player, it may be better to ask what this format is. When you try to create a product for everyone it easily becomes a product for none, as a friend recently said when ranting about Iconic Masters. 

To enjoy a tournament here you'll either need to have the cards, the mindset, or both. If you have the cards but not the mindset, you will probably not stay for long. Someone might spill beer on your Black Lotus after all. If you have the mindset but not the cards, feel free to set up camp. In a few years, you'll probably have both.
Why is this legal in Commander?
As an old fogey, I must confess I enjoy that. When I play a prerelease it sometimes feel like a die roll if I meet someone I'll enjoy spending 50 minutes with. We Magic players are a diverse bunch, and we play for different reasons. I've played people in modern formats that I'm fairly sure actually hated the playing part of Magic.

In 93/94, that is a not a question. Enjoying the game is a premise. The buy-in is huge in both time and money, and you can't play for EV, prizes, nor recognition here. Almost all of us ran the gauntlet, built our decks over years and years, and opted out of other formats and other things to be here. In some way, I think that make us humble towards our fellow journeymen. When a new guy join a community everyone is eager to help that player feel welcome on his or her first years down the road. I remember one guy at n00bcon X asking if it would be better to play Frozen Shade or Wall of Bone in his deck. That is a proper question.
This is my answer. The format's co-founder Kalle might chose Frozen Shade. Why would he do that?

Many years back, a friend of mine, Bulan, got a Beta Tundra. It was somewhat cheaper back then, but still a lot of money, and I asked him what he did to afford it. He answered with a laugh. "It's not what I did to afford it, it is what I didn't do. I haven't done anything remotely enjoyable in the last month except this." That kinda stuck with me. A dual you paid for by eating noodles for fifty days have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Imagine the kind of people that go for a playset.
Why spend months - or years - to complete a playset instead of just clicking home some more attainable copies of the same card online?
Master of the Hunt is apparently almost $100 now. It's easy to get annoyed by that. But maybe the question to be asked is not why Master of the Hunt is expensive, but rather why you would rather play with that than Slimefoot. Slimefoot is awesome. I have a deck with him. I played god damn Dominaria Display Limited Brawl Planechase with ante a week ago, and it was glorious.
What the fuck is Planechase?
Why would anyone consider buying a Master of the Hunt rather than a display of Dominaria? That may be one of the most important question to ask if you are new to the Underground. "Why do you play?" is still number one though.

Heh. We're starting to turn meta. Let's call it a night instead of delving deeper. However we choose to look at it, oldschool is an emotional way to play. Next time we meet, it would be fun to share some questions.

måndag 4 juni 2018

Ramblings and 24 decks to beat

So I stopped writing "This month in oldschool" posts a few months ago. During the period I wrote them (between August and December last year), the number of happenings went from 'plentiful' to 'vast' surprisingly quickly. In particular regarding upcoming tournaments it became too much to follow for me to maintain a sound work/life/nerd balance.

Maybe I should just have scaled it down a little and focused on new content. Like last month, some of the noteworthy updates were the Magic 4 David campaign (still up, go donate a few bucks); Bryan and DFB discussing budget decks on All Tings Considered; Music City Mtg's take on monogreen aggro; Stephen Menendian's article on Eternal Central about B&R strategies; Gordon posting all the n00bcon decks at Wak-Wak; Matt Shields finishing up his first all-Alpha 40 on 52-week Beta; some guy at Wak-Wak discussing lessons from losses; a n00bcon tournament report at the Brothers of Fire blog; another n00bcon report at End of Turn, Draw a Card; and Channel Fireball announcing their own Championship Event at GP Vegas in a couple of weeks. Stuff is certainly going on in the blogosphere.

As for deck techs, I've had a somewhat laid-back approach poking for lists in the last months. Some people have suggested that this may be a good thing, arguing that deck lists can ruin some of the surprises at tournaments. But I think we can still post a handful here in good conscious. As weird experiences go, I'd rather hold the tech lid more tightly for stuff like The Wizards' Tournament.
Ah yes, The Wizards' Tournament. Where Wall of Ice kept Fungusaur at bay.
Apart from the more regular homesteads for 93/94 in Sweden and Norway we've had tournaments in places like Ängelholm, Varberg and Karlstad since I last updated the Decks to Beat. And there has of course been showdowns in Gothenburg, Stockholm and Arvika as well. Gothenburg has also started dabbling in the AA-format - Alpha through Alliances - with a very small restricted list (e.g. Mana Drain, Strip Mine and Necropotence are all legal as 4-ofs). And Premodern for that matter, though that might be slightly too new school to cover here at the moment. Might come back to that later if there is an interest.

Anyways, Decks to Beat! Here are 24 piles from various elimination rounds in the last months:
Audun's Evangelists.
Arvika n00bcon X qualifier Top4
The Arvika locals will punch your face and blow up your permanents. With a top4 that is 50% Troll Disco and then taken down by Artifact Aggro, you best not leave your Shatters in the binder. The second place deck is a true testament to the spirit of the format as well, a monoblue midrange deck that plays Azure Drake over Serendib Efreet.

Mindstage 93/94 Top8
The players in the Gothenburg local scene pretty much just play, as they've done for over a decade. The cradle city is sometimes suspected to be on the ropes by outsiders who never hear from them on social media, but I think that they simply don't feel like making a fuzz about their gatherings anymore. Players simply gonna play. This time JummJumm's MonoRed Atog Burn hoisted the rag when the dust settled, beating out Fantasy Zoo, UR Burn, The Deck, Power Monolith, Disaster and ErhnamGeddon in the Top8.

n00bcon X Top8
The tenth World Championship saw renowned players from around 40 communities battle out for glory and a Giant Shark in the largest 93/94 tournament to date. Savannah Lions turned out to be the real deal alongside the Efreets of Sri Lanka, though a couple of control decks and some aggressive artifacts also graced the top8. And check out Kalle Nord's 5-color midrange pile, that is perhaps the craziest deck I've seen yet.

Oslo Ascension #2 Top4
The local Oslo gathering on Ascension Day is now a solid tradition. The Top4 this year was surprisingly janky; powerless MonoBlack, Preacher Combo with Rukh Egg, and Adventure Island all graced the elimination rounds before being bested by Troll Disco.

For whatever reason, I can't seem to find the deck lists for Arvika Festival 4. It was one of the more noteworthy gatherings in the last months; a super sweet 50-something player tournament in the heart of the Swedish outlands. For those of you keeping score, the Top8 there reportedly consisted of The Deck, UR Burn, Artifact Aggro, UWB DeadGuy, MirrorBall, White Zoo, UWB Juzam Smash and The Deck (in that order). If anyone have the lists, feel free to send me an email and I'll add them to the Decks to Beat.

Next up on the schedule is a trip to the Netherlands to gather with the Knights of Thorn, and shortly after that joining up at WSK for the annual state championship (and some sweet, sweet Tribelander). Hope to see a bunch of you there!