måndag 28 oktober 2013

Beware of Magic the gathering!

It's easy for people to find things they don't approve of. Be it jazz music, Elvis's hips, horror films, or Dungeons and Dragons. One of the latest crazes about this have been violent video games. Before the GTA era however, Magic was seen as a dangerous influence by many of the more fundamental groups. As last weekend's tech session in Gothenburg didn't pan out, I'll instead write a little about the dangers of playing Magic. Beware!

The flavortext may be even worse when it's read backwards!
To set the stage, in the mid 90's there actually was quite a big stirring around the morality of RPGs. Magic joined the ranks as the first fantasy card game, and even big media was somewhat worried. Washinton Post had this to say (Under the Spell of 'Magic' by Aimee Miller; Washington Post; 7-27-94.):

"Unlike Dungeons and Dragons, which became an infamous tool for occultists, Magic has not developed an outside mythology. 'This draws on the milieu, the fantasy of Dungeons and Dragons' says Richard Garfield, the creative impetus behind Magic..."

I have a very hard time picturing the good Dr. Garfeild saying that D&D is a "famous tool for occultists", but I guess a quote says more than the thousand words before or after it. It obviously didn't stop here though. Once the more fundamental groups got some wind in their sails, the snowball started rolling. Probably my "favorite" article on the subject is Beware of Magic: the Gathering. Today, it is hilarious, and slightly dated. It spells "InterNet" in italics, and complains about an Unlimited set costing up to $1500. It does not spare the Bible quotes however:

"When anyone becomes preoccupied with thoughts that are an abomination to the Lord God Almighty there is going to be trouble. According to 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we must reject thoughts that are contrary to God's word, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. If a person refuses to do that Romans 1:21 reveals the consequences -- Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. A darkened heart is serious business!"

So what happened then? Did all these rants have any effect? I think that these two cards from Unglued and Unhinged illustrates it the best:

The joke is the creature types. First one is from 1998, second from 2004.
You may have noted that Wizards decided to take the safe route here, to avoid  additional bad publicity regarding occult references. It's fairly known that they removed the pentagram from Unholy Strenght in 4th Edition, but did you also know that Ice Age was the last set with any clear occult references (or creatures of the type "Demon") for 7 years? The occult discussion around the time of Legends made Wizards remove cards like Demonic Hordes and Demonic Tutor from 4th Edition, and made them very conscious about what cards they could print for the better half of a decade. Today it seems almost funny that people though you could be worshipping the Devil by playing Magic, but at the time of 93/94 it was a real concern for the company.

Misquoting the Bible on printed cards may also be a bad idea when arguing with people who think you are blasphemous. Ecclesiastes 3:19 actually begins “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts..."; the card Revelation instead quotes the Deuterocanonical book Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus), the typo was fixed in Chronicles. Now THAT is some sub-cultur trivia.
 Next weekend it's time for BSK! I'm planning to play Magic at the actual convention this year, for the first time in about four years. My vintage and legacy decks are complete, and I have a pile of casual decks I hope to try out as well. Most exciting of all though, I'm in the final stages of the biggest trade in my life set up for next Saturday. It will be an exciting weekend :)

måndag 21 oktober 2013

Something BSK this way comes

I felt I needed to do a hat trick on the Shakespeare references in the last three titles. I'll stop now :)

BSK 2013 coming up! In ten days, I'll be going to Borås for one of the two "nerd peaks" of my year. I've got the hotel room booked, my vacation cleared for Friday the 1st of November, and I'm ready for some last-minute tech this Saturday with my team mates. Good times will be had.

It's a little sad that many of the formats old key players wont be able to make it to this BSK though. Kids and work in other countries makes arrangements like this hard to attend (as well as the fact that BSK collides with Bazaar of Moxen this year). Of the 6 old shark winners, only Viktor "Oldschool" Peterson will be able to join, so the field seems wide open. Additionally, at least two more of the usual The Deck-players will be at BoM, so it really looks like some of the more unconventional decks may have time to shine. I assume that the coming DTB update with the top8 decks will be one of the sweetest yet :)

I was actually thinking about writing about building on a budget today. I started to write about the sweet decks that can be built with a budget of less than, say, $500. The format can seem very intimidating to get in to, as many decks may have a price tag of a few cars. It is highly possible (and encouraged!) to play the format with a student's budget though. Time constraints tonight made me save this topic for another week; but among my favorite "cheap" decks are Electric Eel Aggro and Tax Edge. If you have any particular topics you'd like me to write about, feel free to come with suggestions.

Anyway, get some old cards, join us at BSK, have a beer with us in our suites, and marvel at plays like turn one Plains, Black Lotus, Icy Manipulator. To pique your interest, here's a picture of a truly awesome deck used by a truly awesome player, The Book Deck by Elof:

The win condition is "unfairness".

tisdag 15 oktober 2013

93/94 by any other name

I usually try to write my posts when I'm travelling between Oslo and Gothenburg each weekend, but this time sleep took the upper hand of the ride. Currently, I have about 15 topics on my "to write"-list (apart from tournament stuff), but I still aim to update the blog about once a week. I much prefer to have a solid stream of posts throughout the year, than to simply post stuff once a day for a month and then get writers block. Also, posting once a day would be really time consuming ;)

Anyway, as I didn't do any brainstorming at the bus (I think this weeks topic were supposed to be about Goblin decks), I will "wing" this post with something completely different, and write about a topic that comes up quite a lot while discussing the Old School format; the name 93/94. People often ask why we don't allow Revised or Fallen Empires, and I'll try to answer this as good as I can.

An old Team 0-2 drop t-shirt motive. Always Juzam.
In the mid 2000s, I was a part of a fairly decent eternal team. In order to improve our general understanding of the game, we played, and tried to break, a number of odd formats. It was a lot of Mirage Block, Cap-Magic, and Ice Age going on. And we built a lot of strange decks. To make a fairly long story short, at some point early 2007 I built this deck, using only black bordered cards:

4 Erg Raiders
4 Merfolk Assassin
3 Sea Serpent
3 Dandan
2 Phantom Monster
2 Water Elemental
1 Wall of Putrid Flesh

4 Unholy Strength
3 Phantasmal Terrain
2 Unstable Mutation

4 Dark Ritual
2 Terror
3 War Barge
1 Sol Ring

10 Swamp
11 Island
1 Strip Mine

4 Cuombajj Witches
4 Frankenstein's Monster
2 Fallen Angel
2 Boomerang
2 Oubliette
1 War Barge

This is clearly not a very good deck. It is however a deck containing cards that I pretty much never even got to see when I was a kid, and the feeling of nostalgia was awesome. I would of course have preferred to have Mahamothi Djinn and Sengir Vampire over Sea Serpent and Air Elemental, but I didn't really feel that I could spend that money. At this time, I was a student trying to maintain a legacy card pool, and a beta Mahamothi was more expensive than a revised Underground Sea.

My friend Kalle liked the deck, and made an "old school" deck of his own. Kalle had a very impressive vintage collection even at that point, so we used to give my deck a handicap in the form of a handsize of 14 cards rather than 7. Kalle still won most of the time. A few people at our local gaming store Backstab looked interested in the format, and it was at this point we started to discuss which sets we should allow in an "old school" deck.

Rad dudes playing rad cards in the early days of the format
I got my first Magic cards in October 1994. Actually, it was my sister who got the cards, a starter deck of Revised, as a birthday gift from our mom. We didn't really play that much at home the first few months, but once a few friends at school picked up some cards, I was hooked. This was early 1995, in the transition period between Revised and 4th edition, and before Ice Age.

The cards you couldn't find in early 1995 felt mythical. No one at school owned any cards from The Dark or before. I really wanted cards like Goblin Wizard and Frankenstein's Monster, but I'd only read about them in magazines. Revised was everywhere, and of course Fallen Empires had been overprinted and you could buy 3 packs for 20 kr (about $1 a pack) in many stores. I once traded a Howling Mine and a Winter Orb for a single Sage of Lat-Nam, just to get a real old card, and felt great about the trade. This is why my first deck in Old School Magic contained expansions up until The Dark, but not Revised. This was old school to the huge number of players that started playing around that time.

Not pictured: New school.
Kalle had a slightly different vision at first. He started playing a few months before me (we got to know each other in 2004 btw), and he did not consider The Dark old school in the same way. In the end we kept it though, maybe because I refused to let go of my Merfolk Assassin/War Barge combo in my first deck. We also discussed Unlimited at length. On one hand, it was all reprints, but we decided to keep it anyway, as the manabase could become too expensive otherwise. At this point we obviously had no idea that there would be an international community a few years later. It's kind of amazing.

And rad players in Germany!
The name 93/94 became a mainstay first after the Gothcon calendar 2008, when the first tournament in the format was arranged (with 4 players). In the calendar, the format was simply called "93/94", and in many ways it is a much less misleading name than Old School Mtg. Many players considers Urza block, or even Psychatog, old school; it's a very subjective word.

So, we may consider our legal sets to be those that you only could find in stores during 93-94. If it was easily obtainable 1995 (such as Revised and Fallen Empires), it's not on our list. That's the name right there :)

In the end, it's all about nostalgia and your own interpretation though. If you want to play Revised (or Arena) in your local group; by all means do. The pillars of the format include a casual environment, historical eternal decks, a "build-with-what-you-own" mentality, and a huge amount of work and money to get to  your favourite builds. As long as you have that, you're doing it right, even if the Nordic players may jokingly refer to it as "proxies". I've been actively building my 2-color deck for well over year now btw, and I hope to be finished by new years 2014/2015. The journey is sweet.

Let's end the rant with a picture of triple Berserk on Serendib Efreet:


måndag 7 oktober 2013

Time Walk and Hamlet 1:5:190

That's an obscure title.

About 18 years ago, I remember a guy at TV-spelsbörsen pointing at a card on their "Wall of Magic". Tv-spelsbörsen was one of the local gaming stores in Gothenburg in the 90's, and one of the walls in the store was completely covered in color proxies of every magic card ever printed at that point. I remember many days staring at the wall and trying to learn all the cards. I still didn't really know which cards were good, but I do remember this guy talking to a friend of his, and pointing at Time Walk, stating that it was the best Magic card ever printed. I knew he probably had a point, but I didn't really understand why. It felt like Polar Kraken would be a superior win condition.

Two years later, I remember a guy approaching me at BSK 1997. He was looking to sell 7 cards, and asked me if I would give him 2000 kr (about $300) for two Moxes, four Underground Sea and a Time Walk; it was a pretty good deal even back then. 14-year old me obviously didn't have that money to spend, but I felt a little envious to the next guy he went to who accepted the offer. That was the closest I had come to power cards at that point, and the Time Walk felt as mythical as ever.

Time Walk always had a special place for me as magic cards go, and very few cards compare to it. I never owned one before, but just this month I got to finalize my purchase of this gem, from old Shark winner Robert Schram:

It's more expensive now than 1997 btw.
Time Walk may not be the best card ever, but it is certainly one of the true greats. This post will actually be somewhat strategic, on how I perceive playing with Time Walk. As stated, I haven't owned it myself before, but I have certainly cast it, and not the least played against it a huge number of times. And I do think that many players cast Time Walk suboptimally.

I tried to find articles covering strategy on extra turns, but with no luck. So, I figured that I could write one myself. Note that this strategy covers 93/94. In e.g. EDH, an extra turn is has another value than in a one-on-one game, and of course extra turns have more implications in a format with Smokestacks or Planeswalkers.

So, Time Walk is such a great card that it's good even when played far from optimally. Much like newer cards such as Necropotence and Brainstorm, Time Walk will always be at the very least decent. The worst possible Time Walk says "Untap all permanents. Draw a card" for two mana. That is very playable. If you have an additional land to play, Time Walk becomes better. For each thing you may do at your turn Time Walk becomes better. One of the most hyped cards from Visions, and at a point the most expensive card in the set, was Relentless Assault (for all you youngsters; it's a sorcery that gives an extra combat step for 2RR). Time Walks does that one as well. These concepts are mostly intuitive however, and I think the gold can be found once we consider the card Starburst. But more on that later.

First we must face the goldfish.
Lets start with the most basic examples, fighting the goldfish opponent, and always drawing perfectly. Say that you play a deck that consists of a Time Walk, Underground Seas, and the following card

Juzam's Will 3BB
You win the game.

When do you play your Time Walk? Correct answer is obviously at any time between turn two and four, in order to make you win before your (actual) turn five. It's usually not this easy.

Now, consider a more "realistic" deck, consisting of a Time Walk, 20 Islands and 20 Merfolk of the Pearl Trident. You still fight the goldfish and draw perfectly. When do you want to play your time walk? Can Time Walk be a blank? Consider playing it on turn two:

T1: Island, Merfolk
T2: Island(2 in play), Time Walk. Attack for 1.
ExtraT: Island(3),3 Merfolks(4). Attack for 1 (2 damage total).
T3: 2 Merfolks(6). Attack for 4 (6 total).
T4: 1 Merfolk(7). Attack for 6 (12 total).
T5: 1 Merfolk(8). Attack for 7 (19 total).
T6: Attack for 8, kill the goldfish.

Now, consider not playing it at all:

T1: Island, Merfolk
T2: Island(2), 2 Merfolks(3). Attack for 1.
T3: Island(3), 3 Mefolks(6). Attack for 3 (4 total)
T4: Merfolk(7). Attack for 6 (10 total)
T5: Merfolk(8). Attack for 7 (17 total)
T6: Attack for 8, kill goldfish.

So, in this case, if we cast time walk turn 2, it doesn't help us win the game faster or give us more board presence than if we never cast it in the first place. If we cast it turn 4 or turn 5, it makes us win a turn earlier, but the interesting thing here is that a too early time walk doesn't affect this scenario at all.

Casting a random turn two time walk may feel good, but many times, it doesn't really do anything. If you spend a card and two mana to draw a card and untap two mana, your not getting ahead. Your not moving back either, but this the "first turn brainstorm" of power cards. It's often better to cast that Fellwar Stone instead.
Probably would have been more careful if this variant was the printed one.
Your turns get more critical the further the game goes. You usually don't have Juzam's Will, so you need to consider what Time Walk can do for you at different board states. Time walk gives your creatures haste. It let's you combo out with Rocket Launcher the same turn you cast it. It makes you draw an extra card with your book. But this is all goldfish. Interesting aspects of time walk comes when we consider the original Time Walk, the mighty Starburst:

Note that the "2" in the casting cost means "Total cost is two mana"; modern templating would say 1R. Yep, it was red during playtesting.
Opponent loses next turn. The text changed before the card saw print, as some playtesters misunderstood the card (they interpreted it as the opponent loses the game next turn, rather than the he/she loses the actual turn). This is still what Time Walk does, but it's easy to forget the implications of your opponent having to skip a turn. Just as some players have referred to Explore as a Time Walk under correct circumstances, this card has also the same effect as a Time Walk under some circumstances:

A multicolored sorcery? Someone is trying to ruin Magic!
These are both examples of very bad time walks, but even a bad Time Walk is one of the best possible versions of the cards above.

Consider what Time Walk can do if you don't face the Goldfish. Time walk makes you untap Nevinyrral's Disk before the opponent untaps his Disenchant mana. Time Walk gives your creatures vigilance. It makes you use your Mirror Universe before that lethal attack. It taps their Maze of Ith. These are all very important aspects of the card. Just as a control player would cast his Brainstorm differently than a combo player, you should know how your deck best can use Time Walk. If you aim to cast Recall or Time Twister in the midgame, a simple Time Walk in the early game may be correct as well.

The thing with all these examples is again that we assume that the opponent plays correctly. The real blowout is the unexpected Time Walk; if you play to make your Time Walk good. Many players do this intuitively with cards like Balance, tempting your opponent to play in such a way that he or she will create a boardstate where Balance is devastating. If you can create a situation where your opponent's next turn becomes vital, and then make him/her lose it, you've probably won the game. Consider what Time Walk can do to your opponent's game plan. It lets you remove that last card with Disrupting Sceptre. It makes them lose their countermana. It leads them to overcommitting attacks, and have no blocker left for your relentless assault. If the game is tight, Time Walk completely changes the rules.

And you may do the sweet victory dance.
If you play Time Walk in your deck, consider what each turn means to your game plan. If you want to go next level, consider what each turn means to your opponent. It's e.g. usually worse for them to skip a turn after they've cast Howling Mine. Understand that it is very possible to cast a Time Walk that actually does nothing as far as your game plan is considered, and show the card respect to shine. With great Power comes great responsibility.

tisdag 1 oktober 2013

The other side of power

Today we'll look at some amusing bulk.

Nostalgic factors makes it easy to forget just how many borderline unplayable cards there are in the early expansions of Magic. The sets are oozing with flavor and have their fair share of extremely powerful cards, but as a whole the average power level of early sets are very, very low. I could easily argue that the power level of Fallen Empires and Homelands are, at average, higher than those of The Dark and Antiquities. Alpha and Arabian Nights both have a high power level and generally playable cards, but after those two first sets, it took up until Alliances before a set which could be considered "good" was printed again.

One of the first things that comes players minds when talking about the older sets are the mana fixing and acceleration. Cards like original duals, Black Lotus, Sol Ring, Workshop and the Moxen are still the best mana fixing and acceleration ever printed. At this same time though, Wizards decided to create some of the worst mana fixing and acceleration ever printed as well, maybe to compensate for all the good cards. These are my personal top five worst fixers/accelerators in 93/94.

Honorable mention: Riven Turnbull

The honorable mention goes to the legendary acceleration from Legends, Riven Turnbull, Princess Lucrezia and the likes. They are not horrible per say, but just seem so misplaced. Riven himself (as a 5/7 without drawbacks for 7) is not unplayable, but the whole mana acceleration part of him is simply puzzling. The flavor text is pretty unexpected as well.

#5: Mana Matrix
Do you know how many enchantments or instants there existed which had mana cost above 6 at the time this was printed? One. Divine Intervention.

#4: Standing Stones
I guess this is the "fixed Celestial Prism". Even if we don't compare this to newer cards, like Prophetic Prism, this card is in the same set and at the same rarity as Fellwar Stone.

#3: Deep Water
The fun thing here is that you need UU to be able to get more blue mana. Outside of a deck that is aggressively splashing for Invoke Prejudice, I have no idea what the goal of this card possibly could be. It would still be hard to justify if it costed 0 to play and 0 to activate.

#2:Celestial Prism
This is from the same set, and have the same rarity, as Sol Ring. It is somehow far worse than Standing Stones, both in art and function. It's one of the few truly bad cards from Alpha. Kind of impressing.

#1: North Star
I find this card very amusing. It is quite possibly the worst rare ever printed. I guess that Dakkon Blackblade will be a bigger creature once you can pay 10 mana for him though.

 I guess I made it easy for me this week with simply posting a list, but I have a more strategic post prepared for next time :) The BSK tournament (November 1st) is in full planning btw, with around 15 people signed up so far. Don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like to join in!