lördag 27 september 2014

Game night in Gothenburg

Last weekend a few players gathered at Freepace and Jenny's apartment to playtest, trade, and drink beer. I got the chance to meet Felipe Garcia for the first time, an old school player from Seville, Spain, who moved to Sweden last winter. Felipe is an architect, and his artistic talent have recently made quite a few of the Swedish old school players go to him for playmat alterations. Before this evening, all I knew about him was from seeing his alters, but I must say it was a real pleasure to meet him. Very nice guy :)

One of Felipe's works, this one was recently made for Axelsson. Now this is a really cool mat. Do you spot the card in the design that's not shown among the cards above it?
Felipe had been playing Legacy and Vintage in Spain a few years back, but when the tournament attendance declined he opted to trade away a lot of his collection to finish a long time goal; completing his Beta set. This made his collection for deck building in 93/94 pretty interesting, as he had access all the restricted cards but only had a single copy of many other staples (e.g. Disenchants and Counterspells).

Well, turns out Hurkyl's Recall is an even better answer to Transmute Artifact than Counterspell.
Felipe's deck had drawn some inspiration from Viktor "Oldschool" Peterson's The Dragon, and there were a lot of sweet one-off shenanigans going on. It seemed like a great deck against most of the field for the evening (Project M, Tax Edge, RUG Aggro and Juzam Smash), though it struggled against Jenny's BR Deadguy deck with Sedge Troll and the full playset Underworld Dreams. Jenny btw bought her first card just a few weeks ago, a Black Lotus. It's all downhill from there ;)

Double Underworld Dreams is a pretty good answer to the Library (and his Wheel in hand).
 After a while Kenneth joined us after finishing hosting a beer tasting. Kenneth is pretty well known in the Swedish beer meta, and his claims to fame includes producing the acclaimed Arbetarporter. He also played a few times at the pro tour in the 90s, and piloted Mats Karlsson's Enchantress deck last n00bcon. Since then, he has gotten his hands on the full nine himself from a player in Denmark. He had been looking to upgrade the condition on a few of them, and luckily we had our binders with us and could do some trades.

Trading away my Emerald (EX/NM) for Kenneth's signed Emerald (GD/FN), an alpha Regrowth and some cash. Looks good in a sleeve, and it'll still cast Killer Bees on turn two ;)
I got a really nice gift from Freespace btw, a Darth Vader playmat. Would be pretty cool to get it signed by Dave Prowse and James Earl Jones in the future. I like that the sides are black, it just asks for some additional alterations :)
If it would have been 1994, I probably would have glued those cards to the mat to pimp it.
It was a very nice gathering, and I hope we'll get the chance to do it again before BSK. I need to playtest flipping Chaos Orb while inebriated a little more before a Giant Shark is on the line. We'll end with some pictures from the evening:

That Blaecorn Unidragon from Clown Shoes is a surprisingly good imperial stout. Also, binder browsing :)
Kenneth vs. Jenny. Freespace pointing at beer.
Kenneth draws a basic forest to make his apes into 2/3. "Forest, now that's a really broken card." Those playmats are both kinda disturbing btw.
Double Juzam vs Candelabra and Library.
No real need to bring out the loupe, scale and black light. That Lotus on the left is a pretty obvious fake on touch alone, though the seller had tried to disguise it by poor condition. Impressive weight around 2.3 grammes btw,  almost 35% heavier than a real one. (note for all the doomsayers, this is an old fake, nothing new that will "ruin magic" yet again.)
The old "Braingeyser for 17".
Some more trading. I'm thinking about building something monogreen, and Old Man seems like a good card against all the weenie decks popping up. The magazine in Felipe's binder is a Duelist #1 btw.
The Vault I traded away, a few days later. One of the fun things with trading wb cards to artistic players :)
As you probably have noticed, I got a new banner painted by Kalle last Thursday, and felt it was about time to make some changes in the design of the blog to commemorate it :) Feel free to give feedback about the new design.

söndag 21 september 2014

The Fire of Sri Lanka

"This is just an expansion, so I'm not going to worry about balance. People will just play it for flavor, and when they get tired of it, they will stop playing with it."
 -Richard Garfield, Email to Dave Pettey, late 1993

Arabian Nights turned out to be a wonderful expansion; not the least considering it had the shortest development time of any set, a development team of only four people, and a design team of one. There are many gems among the 78 different cards, and the stories are plentiful if you dig a little. Today, we dig.

Serendib Efreet is awesome. It is so good it supports strategies on its own, and strong enough that you should look for reasons not to play it in blue decks, rather than look for reasons to play it. The card was actually banned in extended in 1995, as it is a bolt-proof moat-jumper for the cost of a Devouring Deep. It may not be as iconic as Juzam, but then again, what is? The card itself has a colorful history of reprints. The most famous color is probably green.

"Current Errata: none". All is well. Nothing strange about the green blue card.
With some educated guesswork (based on print runs of the known early sets combined with information from WotC News in The Duelist #3), we can estimate that there exists about six Serendibs with the image of Ifh-Biff Efreet for each one with the correct Anson Maddocks image (including the foreign editions). On that same note, only one in eight of the cards with the Ifh-Biff image are actually Ifh-Biffs, which makes its status as a "tribute card" a little off. Imagine if 87% of all the Avalanche Riders (Darwin Kastle's invitational card) would have the image of Sylvan Safekeeper (Olle Råde's invitational card). One might assume that the art of Ifh-Biff Efreet don't depict Richard Garfield's sister though, just as Erhnam Djinn probably don't depict her husband Herman, so it might not be as big a fuzz (Ifh-Biff was Richard's nickname for his sister as a child, and Erhnam is an anagram of Herman). The red djinn/efreet pair, Mijae Djinn and Ywden Efreet, are also anagrams of married friends of Garfield (Jamie and Wendy). But what is a Serendib then? Clearly an anagram of 'inbreeds', but that seems a little too crude to be the correct answer. Ignoring an obvious wikipedia check, our first clue comes from the French revised version of the card.

Flavor text!
It's been a few years and my French is rusty, but I would translate the flavor to something like "As I recall, the island of Serendib is 80 parasangs in length and 80 parasangs in width; and on the island is a mountain which is the highest in the world". So, an island in Asia with a big mountain. I'll give you a moment to guess.

No, I didn't get it either. It's Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon by most, and Serendib in the Arab world. The "montagne qui était la plus haut de tout de la terre" line is a slight exaggeration. I assume that they refer to Mount Pedro, which according to wikipedia stands at a little over 2,500 meters (for any non-metric readers, that's about half a parasang). The quote in the flavor text is attributed to 1001 Arabian Nights, trad. Mardrus. It's from the sixth voyage of Sinbad, where he gets shipwrecked and ends up on Ceylon. It was supposedly a very nice place to visit, even for non-Sinbad travellers. The word 'serendipity' itself, meaning "fortunate happenstance", actually hails from the country's name. And after all, it is surprisingly sweet to play the Efreet :)

White-bordered Serendibs with the correct image are pretty uncommon, at least when compared to those with the wrong image. The German and French versions are fairly cheap though, but even a fair price for an English wb Efreet with the original Arabian Night's picture is actually higher than the GDP per capita for Sri Lanka (well, actually higher than the GDP per capita for the majority of the world's countries). It is on the short-list for one of the most expensive magic cards in the world.
Borders and image correct, but still the wrong artist credit ;)
This wb version was printed around July 1994, and was never intended to be released. An estimated 4 cases of the set containing this card was accidentally distributed in September 1994 and April 1995. These four cases would presumably contain around 10 copies of this card, which makes it astonishingly rare. There is a popular conspiracy theory stating that the total print run of this set was in fact about 120 million cards, but that almost all of them were burned at the printing company Carta Mundi due to the colors being too dark.

So, there's some single-card history on Serendib Efreet. It's a sweet card with lots of history, and I'm starting to feel like building a monoblue suicide deck about now :)

måndag 15 september 2014

BSK 2014

And when this land is barren, where will we go?

You can already feel it in the air, and see it in the faces of friends. The dark months are approaching, and the Nordic countries are becoming a much different place than just a few weeks ago. In six weeks, the trees will be barren and sunshine will be a rarely seen luxury. In six weeks, we will have All Hallows Eve, and the old school players will gather for BSK.

The BSK tournament is traditionally one of the two largest 93/94 tournament each year, occurring around six months after n00bcon. It is named after the convention, Borås Spelkonvent, taking place in the same city at the same time, but is not actually related to the convention in any way. It does however make for some strategic travel arrangements, as BSK holds e.g. the Swedish national Vintage championship that same weekend.

For the last four times we've had tournament at the time of BSK, we've used hotel suits to play in (well, actually the hotel bar in 2010). This has worked reasonably well, but it gets pretty hard once you reach 20-25 players. Conference rooms in the hotels doesn't really work that great either, as you usually only can rent them until midnight and you're not allowed to drink beer. At the time of writing this, we already have 30 people signed up to fight for the Giant Shark, so we needed to find a different solution. This time, we're renting a club house of a local sports team, and will have all the time and space we need. It will be sweet, and I'm expecting a lot of nice tech.

Maybe we'll even see the classic "Moss Monster - Rukh Egg"-stand off
The tournament itself is of course ripe with glory. The winner will get the awe-inspiring Giant Shark and a big trophy, and different casual prices will be awarded to other players. If you are considering trying out the format, this is a great opportunity. It looks like six swiss rounds plus a top8 for the main 93/94 tournament, and plenty of chances to play other eternal formats at the main convention during the weekend if inclined (it's walking distance from the 93/94 site).

Excellent time to finally break the O'Brien Prison deck :)
The tournament starts 17:00, Friday the 31st of October. Location is Borås, about 60 km south of Gothenburg, Sweden. The tournament fee is 150 SEK (about $21), mostly to cover the expenses of the club house and trophies. If you want to join, feel free to comment here or send me an e-mail, and I'll give you more details about the location. Hope to see you there!

söndag 7 september 2014

Cut from a different cloth

No one used gloves while playing Risk. No one laminated or graded D&D-books. No one used plastic sleeves for their Civilization cards.

Magic was one of the first games of its kind, the first of what was called collectible games. And it was literally touch and go for a while. Even in The Duelist, it was suggested that you could tape your cards to a wall to battle Chaos Orb. If you didn't use sleeves for your "Draw 4s" in Uno, why would you use it for your "Draw 3" in Magic? The early cards got sticky and beat up by being roughly played on dirty tables in bars, schools, and kitchens. Today, almost everyone plays with some protective measures to avoid marking the cards and to expand their lifespan. What we all see as a natural part of the game today, started on a dirty table in a coffee shop in San Francisco.

Between the 2-16 August 1993, WotC founder Peter Adkinson and his wife travelled through the western US to run demos of Magic in a few local game stores. This tour started before the general release of Alpha, and two weeks after the game was first showed at Origins in July. An avid gamer named Japji Khalsa was introduced to the game the day after a local tour stop, and after a great first impression, he used the 'tour t-shirt' to see where the next stop was. He called the store on the shirt the day of the demo, and ordered his first starter box of Alpha over the phone.

Japji and his friends started playing in a coffee shop in Haight Ashbury called the Coffee Zone. This was in the wild west of Magic, before anyone could fathom that a BGS 10 Alpha Wooden Sphere would sell for over $3k 20 years later, or that trading Moxen for Craw Wurms could be a bad idea. What Japji did know however, was that his cards got really sticky, and he didn't like sticky cards. He went to a nearby fabric store and bought a nice looking piece of cloth which he placed on the tables before playing with his cards. One of his friends in the local playgroup, Jeff Brain, suggested he could do some art for the mat, which Japji thought was a great idea. So began the partnership of Khalsa and Brain, and the dawn of Khalsa-Brain Games.

Khalsa-Brain is a name that probably rings familiar to the veterans of the Vintage community and the more hardcore of collectors. Many players are still unfamiliar with their products and history though, and naturally thinks of a playmat as something akin to a very large mouse pad. I'm personally not much of fan of play mats, but I still went on a quest looking for a reasonably priced Khalsa-Brain Spellground Elite mat on ebay for well over a year. The Khalsa-Brain mats aren't just mats anymore, they are close to the pinnacle of what some players refer to as "subtle pimp". The mats are usually made in the hundreds or less, not the thousands, and will literally last you for decades (and I'm the kind of guy who uses "literally" correctly). They are made to be used, and it is a special feeling to cast your cards on one. To make a beer analogy, these are not your Sierra Nevadas or Sam Adams, these are your Westvleterens or Närkes. These are craft mats with a history.

The 1994 Spellground Elite
Japji Khalsa and Jeff Brain first brought their mats to their favorite convention, Dundracon, in February 1994. For this occasion, they had made 100 mats to sell. It was a new concept, and they had no idea if there actually existed a market for play mats. In order to sweeten the deal, they offered a free booster of the newly released Arabian Nights with the purchase of each mat. By the end of the weekend, they had sold out. It was a success, and Khalsa-Brain entered the hobby game market as the top (and initially only) manufacturer of play mats. Japji and Jeff were joining trade shows, visiting conventions, and in 1996 they became the first official producers for Magic play mats. Apart from the classic official mat, they made mats for the Magic World Championships between 1996 and 2001. Khalsa and Brain went on to make large impacts in other parts of the gaming community, including starting a local CCG convention called ManaFest. In 2000, the name was changed to KublaCon, and today it is the largest gaming convention on the North American West Coast, occurring annually on Memorial Day Weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. They also produced the only authorized 3rd party Magic expansion, but that's a topic for another week ;)

Japji Khalsa
So which mat is the "ultimate" Khalsa-Brain mat? Well, my personal favorite of the "mass-produced" (with pretty big quotation marks) is the 1994 Spellground Elite. Some would say the official single-player Magic mat, or the 2-Player Spellground mat, but there is no clear consensus. It is very much in the eye of the beholder. Is there a mat in particular Japji Khalsa himself is especially proud of, and if he still plays himself, which mat would he use? Well, the internet is awesome, and the gaming community is friendly, and I got the chance to get an answer directly from the source :)

"I'd say I'm especially proud of some of the World's Qualifier mats we did for Wizards of the Coast. Those mats were multi-colored and required a LOT of extra work to pull them off.  Fortunately, WOTC was happy to pay the extra dollars to make those happen. I'd say the 2001 Toronto, Canada mat was my favorite. As a side... I was also very proud of the official Magic: The Gathering Single Player play mat. That required a LOT of art direction to incorporate many of the iconic images from Magic at the Time... And to put them into a nice layout that worked."

The Worlds 2001 mat
Of course, when I had the opportunity, I really wanted to know what happened to the first mat. Was it even true that the first mat was hand painted by Brain? Does it still exist? Turns out that "the ultimate play mat" is actually a table!

"One of my early personal mats was altered by Jeff Brain. Mostly, he colorized the various elements by hand... Not really altering the images per-se. This particular mat had an interesting future.  Because we often played at very crowded coffee shops, it was sometimes difficult to get a table.  My neighborhood in San Francisco often has various sidewalk sales, and on one occasion I spotted an 'old' folding table that was almost exactly the size of the mat.  (A SMALL folding table!)  I ended up covering the table  with the mat, an almost exact fit, and trimming the edges with gold fabric trim.  This became the table that I would bring to coffee shops for Magic... And I was never short of finding a table to play on!"

This "table mat" is currently in a storage room, and Japji states that he has considered selling it as he doesn't play that much CCGs anymore. If he puts it up on ebay, I'll be sure to post some info about it here. If anyone comes to an old school tournament with this folding table as their play area, that person would pretty much win by default :) I truly hope that the player who gets this table next will use it, and not let it gather dust or simply try and make a profit out of it.

Freespace's 1999 Magic mat, with alterations by Matt Cavotta (left) and rk Post (right).
After some time, Jeff Brain left the company on good terms. This is marked in the mats with a small change in the company name, the dash in "Khalsa-Brain" was removed, and the later version of the mats instead uses the name "Khalsa Brain". (Many re-sellers on ebay claim to have earliest mats, but be sure to look for the dash if age is important to you). The business is still family run, by Japji and his wife, occasionally assisted by a few friends. They have started to produce mats again after some years of the grid. These mats have the classic old motive, and whenever they have a new batch ready, you can find them at kbgames.com or at Khalsa Brain's ebay store. As far as the older mats go, they can most easily be found via ebay (and patience).

A 2011 mat with the Spellground 2-player artwork.
 I realize that mid-90s Khalsa-Brain mats are pretty deep as far as subcultures go. Magic itself is something of a subculture, and Old School Magic is a subculture of that. Old School apparel for Old School Magic is pretty close to the deep end, but I hope that the readers of this blog are the correct audience for these kind of things ;) If you are the kind of person who wants to play with Icy Manipulator from Alpha because that one has the nicest font, then you definitely want to keep a look out for the Khalsa-Brain mats. They will last you for as long as you play.

måndag 1 september 2014

Pics from Playoteket

New 93/94 groups seems to be popping up around the world. The second old school tournament in Northern California will take place this weekend, the first article from Chicago was posted at Eternal Central last week, two weeks ago the first tournament in Scania took place at Playoteket, and I hear whispers from players in France. I thought about having a section on this page with e-mails to representatives of play groups (or people who just want to play) in the different cities in order to facilitate connecting the local communities. If you're looking for local players in your area, please send me an e-mail at delaval@gmail.com with some basic info about where you play and if you use some local rules (e.g. different B/R list than the suggestion found here), and I'll try to compile a list :)

Today is about the Scania players though. Before this summer, 93/94 in Scania have mostly been represented by the player Axelsson. Axelsson have been travelling north to participate at BSK, n00bcon, Kingvitational and Warcon during the last year. It looks like he is starting to get some more local opponents now though. Niclas "Arkanon" Johansson arranged the first 93/94 tournament at Playoteket two weeks ago. He recently sent me some pictures from the event, and a short introduction of himself and old school magic in Scania:

I started playing around the release of Revised myself. I played quite a bit with the old cards, but thought Magic felt washed out after a while, and I eventually quit all together. An old friend recently got me to relapse into the game, but I found modern Magic fairly unexciting. I then got informed about the wonderful 93/94-format by Axelsson a year ago. I had bought 6 of the Powercards for peanuts a decade ago, but I never thought I would have a chance to use them like before again. But this is an awesome format! I fell for it immediately, and have recently obtained the full P9, a majority of the Unlimited duals, and a lot of the casual staple cards. Now we're trying to connect with the standard/legacy players who started around rev/4th and see if they want to give the format a try. The soul of old magic has awaken again, and many players have showed interest! We just recently started playing down here, and everything is still in its infancy, but we're at least 9-10 players at this point, and I think we'll be 10+ at the next tournament!

Eneas who won the tournament with his Crusade(WW) meets Kimmuz who plays a WG aggrodeck.
Tobgoblin played UGB Control with Counters, Control Magic and flying heavy hitters like Mahamoti's.
Quorthon playing RG-beatdown whith Erhnams and a Shivan Dragon against Tobgoblin. Both are 93/94 Players from Ystad in Southern Sweden.
Who's the beatdown?
Rednekk, another player from Ystad who plays a BR Underworld Dreams deck, totally crushed Arkanon's Ivory Tower deck. Both decks had 4 Howling Mines...
Liac who plays MonoBlack, has an interesting game against Mayie's RW bolt/aggro. Eventually Mayie won after 3 hard matches.
Liac won this game against Mayie though, maybe not surprising...

It looks like a really fun meta, and I hope I get the chance to play against these guys in the future! The two top performing decks have been posted in the Decks-to-beat section for your viewing pleasure, one WW deck and one TaxEdgeGeddon. Wall of Putrid Flesh seems like a solid sideboard card :)