lördag 8 december 2018

Found an old report.

These are magical days. We celebrate life and toast in unbreakable glasses. Though in dancing there is barely time for writing, and I must to fall back to old stories this time.

There are lots of tales we never wrote and lots of stones we never turned. Team Kaffebryggers's latest summer tournaments in Växjö, Team KanelFireball's post-Christmas tournaments in Varberg, or perhaps the journey of Team Lisch in Lidköping? I recently unearthed some pictures from their Drowned gathering in March 2017.
Communities are growing and stories are lurking. Luckily for me, I found one that was already written.

Before there was a Flippin' Orbs podcast, before the online deck archetype library, and before the page wak-wak.se was up and running, a jovial Stockholmer in a colorful suit named Gordon Anderson still roamed the corners of the format. The man was named Gordon that is, not the suit.
 Flippin' the Orb, preschool style.

This was in fact not that long ago, we're talking 2017. Trump was the US president and Thor: Ragnarok was a movie. But in some ways it feels like a lot of water has passed under the bridges since then. In early 2017, we for example had no YouTube channels nor podcasts discussing the format. I guess we quickly get used to having lots of information, and it is hard to think back on what it was like just two years ago, when content was far more scarce. But go back two more years to early 2015, and the concept of larger gatherings in the US is a somewhat fresh idea, EC rules are starting to properly find their footing after the first Eternal Weekend, and the Italian scene is growing with up to 30 players at their largest gatherings. Two years before that, in 2013, the first few players at the US West Coast just started reaching out about the format, the scene in Canada was still new, and I first played the game outside Sweden (in Norway and Germany). Two years before that Oldschool was mostly unknown outside the borders of Sweden, and this blog was started. Two years before that we started hosting n00bcon at the Rotary Pub in Gothenburg. And yet two years before that, Kalle and I played our first duel with "oldschool decks".

So 2017 is not that long ago in the grand scheme of this format. That is meant as an excuse of sorts. I'm trying to convey that this short tournament report I found is not outdated, per say, just a little late to the presses. Before Wak-Wak was a thing, Gordon sent over this report for me to publish. And I somehow lost it. I am uncertain if he remembers writing it himself anymore. But I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and as family takes a good chunk of my potential writing time right now, this seems like the perfect opportunity to bring closure to the n00bcon Training Day. Enjoy :)

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n00bcon Training Day, by Gordon Anderson

I don’t think anybody has missed that n00bcon 9 this year will have as many as a hundred players(!). It will be THE 93/94 event of the year and it will be more important than ever to show up with a fun deck that you are comfortable with. Otherwise seven 60 minute rounds of swiss will be more than grueling, as Mg calls it on the n00bcon site. Therefore, we decided to arrange one last tournament two weeks before the big shindig, so people could try out their decks one more time. We called it n00bcon Training Day.

Me and my co-conspirator Paddan first decided to play the tournament at the usual pub where we arrange our monthly game nights. But when last month's game night ended up attracting 14 players we decided we needed to rent a place. Said and done, and a few hundred Swedish kronor poorer we had a place where we could fit at least 20 players.

Two weeks later and it was time for the tournament. Me and Paddan met up in the morning to get the key, set up all the tables and then going for a beer run to the nearest Systembolag (the only place that is allowed to sell alcohol in Sweden). We came back with 80+ beers, wrote a beer menu and got everything else ready for an amazing tournament was starting at 2pm and could go on for the whole day and night. We also planned for some nice side events to play after the main tournament was finished. The first two players showed up around 1pm and the first beers left the fridge. Two more players came shortly thereafter but they were both driving so they didn’t want any beer. Soon, three more players joined us. Three players who also didn’t drink that day. And lastly 35 minutes late (a tournament needs to be late doesn’t it) the last brave contestant showed up to make us an even ten combatants. He lives almost 200 km away so yes; he was driving as well. This is where we realized we may have bought a little too much beer. But hey, you can’t have too much beer at home!
My two starting hands against Yann; it didn't end well for him.
We decided to play four rounds of swiss and a top4. The meta for the day was quite unusual with two Power Monolith decks, two UG Berserk Aggro decks, Ponza, WUG Aggro, Arabian Aggro, Mono Blue Artifact Control, Machine Head and a BR Midrange deck with a splash for blue power and a couple of Serendibs.
Kird Ape in play and 3 bolts was a little too much for me to handle.
Because of the small size of the tournament we decided that draws, intentional or not, wouldn’t give any points at all, not even in the first rounds. After four rounds we had our top4 with Andreas Cermak on almost the same deck he took down Arvikafestivalen with, Andreas Rosén on Power Monolith, Max Weltz also on Power Monolith, and lastly the Ponza deck piloted by Johan Råberg managed to go 3-1 and get a spot in the top.
Ponza doing Ponza stuff and then slamming down a Nether Void. Paddan doesn’t seem that happy about it.
Johan was paired against Cermak which was his only loss in the swiss, and he was not happy about it. That may have been because their last match lasted about 10-15 minutes. Sadly for Johan, this time was no different and 15 minutes later he was out and Cermak advanced to the finals. The second semi-final was a little more interesting with a mirror match between the two very similar Power Monolith decks. But after some advanced spell slinging and a lot of mana being generated Andreas Rosén was able to knock out Max from contention.

At last it was time for the final round of magic, one slow and controlling combo deck versus a blistering fast aggro deck with disenchants to make life a little harder for the combo player.
Is that a Basalt Monolith on the table?
In the first game Rosén - or as we call him in Swedish: The Rose - made Cermak draw 80 cards with a Braingeyser and no, he didn’t have that many in his library so it was on to game two. In game two the small aggressive creatures won before The Rose could combo of and it was time for the final game of the evening. In this game it looked quite ok for The Rose but then his Wheel of Fortune gave all its fortunes to Cermak who got a completely bonkers hand that easily gave him his second tournament win in a row.
Arabian Aggro.
Hope you enjoyed the read and now you have some info on what decks a big part of the Stockholm crew have been testing for n00bcon. Because of the ten players that played this tournament, a whooping eight will be in Gothenburg to defend the World Champion title currently held by fellow Stockholmer Martin Berlin.

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Hehe, defend it they didn't ;)

If you need some more Oldschool fix, go check out the Bootlegger's Christmas OS95 report at Music City Oldschool, or perhaps read some old MtG magazines with Svante Landgraf. And head over to Urborg Buffet to check out their new Swiss 93/94 blog!

lördag 1 december 2018

Understanding Ulgrotha

Some years ago I wrote an April's Fools post about legalizing Homelands. It was in a sense a comment on the contemporary discussions about legalizing Fallen Empires; hopefully getting in a few laughs and some tomfoolery in the process. It was of course never the intention to actually legalize the set, the focus was rather to flaunt the premise. Enter irony. Not Alanis Morissette "rain on your wedding day" irony, but proper text book irony.

In celebration of the the fifth annual Arvika Festival next February, KungMarkus decided to legalize Homelands for his tournament. He's not opening the doors for dilly-dally like Revised nor Fallen Empires though; only Homelands will be added to the traditional "Swedish legal" sets. And he mentioned that he found inspiration in that old April's Fool post. So by ridiculing the fiction of having Homelands legal it somehow became fact. Irony. Now here we are, and I for one have gotten properly excited to brew in this space. So let's travel to Ulgrotha - for real this time - and take a peek at what the expansion has to offer.
Cards!
Considering the era in which they came, the spells of Homelands are actually not that horrible. Though the high end cards are probably the worst of any set. And I remember how it was both overprinted and the only new expansion to be released in the full year between Ice Age in June 1995 and Alliances in June 1996. Heh, come to think of it, the drought in exciting cards during that period was probably the reason a majority of the players at my school took a pause from the game. Yeah, it was a bad set, and the mediocrity of Homelands almost killed Magic. But is it, on average, worse than e.g. The Dark?

While the true high end of The Dark - Fellwar Stone, Blood Moon and Maze of Ith - would make most comparisons skew in that sets favor, I believe Homelands have a larger total number of cards that could possibly see play. In a small enough card pool, any addition is bound to have some effect on the meta, and 93/94 is about as small as a constructed card pool gets.
Merchant Scroll
Let's start from the top. Unlike any cards from The Dark or Legends, Merchant Scroll has the rare distinction of being restricted in Vintage. Markus opted to keep the Scroll restricted for the upcoming Festival tournament as well. As a cheap tutor it gives consistency to broken cards and also offer a surprising amount of flexibility. Though I suspect that it will search for Ancestral Recall about 65% of the time, Mana Drain about 30% of the time, and only the last 5% it will find something like Psionic Blast, Hurkyl's Recall, Boomerang or Blue Elemental Blast. It is clearly less flexible than Demonic Tutor, but considering how often the Tutor searches for Ancestral Recall, Merchant Scroll is sure to see a lot of play at the top tables.

While Merchant Scroll mostly serve to reinforce existing strategies, Homelands also bring some heavy hitters that beg for build-arounds.
Primal Order
Primal Order is my personal favorite card of Homelands, and was the original "chase card" of the set. MonoGreen strategies are traditionally not the sharpest blade in 93/94, but the Order gives us some proper incentive to go green. As distressing cards go, this is comparable to Underworld Dreams in punishing people for trying to grow resources. The jury is still out on the best Primal Order deck, but I wouldn't be surprised to see people try out green midrange or even new builds of Enchantress with the card. I have a home planned for my playset at the very least.
Fatties
Ah, the epic Baron Sengir. So close to playable. The original playtest version of the card was a 5/5 flier for 3BBB that removed all the counters from vampires it regenerated, and rather than getting +2/+2 for killing a creature it got +1/+1 for killing an opponent. Having a slightly improved regeneration ability and a smoother way to get counters doesn't really offset the two additional mana to summon though. Seriously cool dude, but I can't see him shine outside something like a monoblack All Hallow's Eve deck. I will however offer an high five to anyone who tries. You could clearly play him just because he's rad. And he does combo nicely with Nettling Imp I guess.

There are zero creatures in the original 93/94 cardpool that survive both Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares. Homelands bring two to the mix with Autumn Willow and Ihsan's Shade. Autumn Willow was the first creature printed with shroud / hexproof. As such, she also laughs in the face of The Abyss. One of the first times I played against The Deck at a convention in 1996 Autumn Willow was in fact one of the finishers of choice. She also became a mainstay in ErhnamGeddon decks, to the point that many players in the area started referring to them as "WillowGeddon" decks.
The most black of knights.
Ihsan's Shade is well above the curve as 6-drop threats went in 1994. Its power level is not far below the gold standard we find in Shivan Dragon and Mahamothi Djinn. Trading flying for being invincible to Elemental Blasts and Swords doesn't seem like that bad a deal.

There's a lot to unpack with Homelands's midrange threats. E.g. Eron the Relentless (a five-mana 5/2 haste creature that regenerates for RRR) is a properly potent summon. And the original shattergang brothers - Joven and Chandler - may be far less horrible than we expected in 1995. Even commons like Hungry Mist (6/2 for 2GG, pay GG each upkeep or sac it) could be something to look into. It is not like it's an easy card to steal with Control Magic unless the opponent is heavily invested in green, and having a big beater that survives City in a Bottle could have implications.
Probably not this one though. Unless you build a sweet control deck with Mystic Decree and Wall of Kelp and have Marjhan as roadblock/finisher. Hm. Might actually be onto something durdly here.
Cards on the table. I started writing this post, or at least taking the pictures, a couple of weeks ago. My plan was to finish up a handful posts before a new player entered the family so I would be able to breeze through the updates here while my mind was elsewhere. It worked pretty well, but now I don't really remember what my plan was for these pictures. So I'll have to do some winging here, with a mind all over the place.
More cards.
Removal then, it seems. Serrated Arrows was a contender for "best card in the set" while Homelands was a part of Standard (Type 2). Though much of that had to do with the prevalence of pump knights in ye olde Necro decks. Without a bunch of 2/1s running around defining the battlefield, the Arrows get less ubiquitous. But they still kill a bunch of things in one hit; birds, elves, lions, flying men, pixies, archers, goblins, caretakers, archaeologists and the odd pegasus to mention a few. And they do mess up combat math and bring Angels and Efreets into bolt range. So while not being the powerhouse they were in 1995, I can certainly see the arrows fit into Transmute Artifact decks if nothing else.

An-Zerrin Ruins is at worst "Destroy target tapped creature", and at best some solid card advantage in red. Whenever you say "Efreet" with the ruins you are entitled to a happy dance. Broken Visage is a little harder. If you get to resolve it and trade 2-for-1 it is certainly great, but I think I'd rather have Terror in most cases. I still place it well within the realms of playables; unlike Homelands worst "removal spell" (and contender for worst card in the set):
This is a painfully terrible card. Among my stranger Magic losses was a Reject Rare Draft around five years ago when I, for real, lost a winning game as my opponent topdecked Mammoth Harness to bring my Cockatrice to the ground. I guess every card will have their moments, though I suspect them to be few and far between for the harness. This is a reserved list rare by the way, though one I predict will dodge any buy-outs.
A side note as Homelands removal goes: many of these cards fly straight in the face of modern design and color pie concerns. I picture Mark Rosewater shaking his fist somewhere.
Like this one. Green is supposed to only handle flying creatures, Roots somehow does the exact opposite. A sick combo with Mammoth Harness though.
It feels a little distasteful to highlight Mammoth Harness and Roots too deeply when we are trying to look at the bright side of Ulgrotha. So let's check out a few other random nuggets instead.
Random nuggets.
Hey, Wall of Kelp! That's the most expensive card in the set these days! It is like $6 for a NM copy at CardKingdom. Not too shabby. In most decks that want tokens, I'd probably play Sengir Autocrat instead, but maybe someone will be able to break the wall. (Hint: It may be durdly and involve Marjhan and Mystic Decree).
Something, something, Ashnod's Altar.
Headstone is surprisingly playable, wrecking Regrowths, Recalls and a litter of reanimation spells, all while drawing you a card. Just being able to cycle it is not that bad a deal either. And Joven's Ferrets could most certainly find a home in the green 1-drop deck we've seen the Russians play at n00bcon a few times. Random fact: Kyle Namvar - who along with Scott Hungerford designed and developed Homelands - had a pet ferret. Initially the set had several ferret designs to commemorate this, though only Joven's survived to see print.
These may have been Spectral Ferrets in an alternate timeline. Pretty nice stats on this one btw.
Memory Lapse should also be able to find a home in combo or tempo decks. 1U is far easier to find than UU in most decks. And there are certainly scenarios when a well-placed Lapse will be equivalent to a Time Walk.

I could go on. I could mention Sea Sprite and its success in the early days of the Legacy format. Rant on about Jinx as a way mess with Factories, or how Roterothopter is a nice mana sink in red burn and help Atog fit in the 2-slot in Sligh. Homelands may have been far from a home run, but it was by no means a complete strike out either. I think WotC themselves said it best in their hilariously mid-90s commercial.

"As you'll discover, there's much more to this new world of Homelands. A world of intrigue and magic. Not to mention, surprises..."
 Enjoy this one, and best of brewing until the Festival in February.