onsdag 29 juli 2015

Legendary rules

Hm, writers block?
That was a long time since last. It's a kind of odd experience. Now that the blog actually has lots and lots of readers, I feel some new sense of responsibility to actually write something. Lets look in the closet and see if we find something sweet to talk about.
Khalsa Brain mats? Those are sweet indeed, but I already did it. An old school life counter perhaps?
Yeah, that one is definitely coming. Not today though. Should do some more research before. Maybe the first Magic novella from 1994?
I guess I should try to read it first. Also found a Shandalar game. Now that's something. Bought it back in 1997. Only works well on Windows though, and there's currently no computer in my possession running on anything less than Linux. I'll put that in the future-pile as well.

A Legends-booster? Yeah, lets look at the Legends rule card. That could be a lark.
Before we check out the rule card, lets take a quick look at the three uncommons we opened. Kobold Drill Sergeant, Fortified Area and Horror of Horrors. For the trained eye, there are some implications here. We'll never open Mana Drain, Land Tax, Underworld Dreams nor Sylvan Library in a booster from this box. In fact, the only good uncommon we could hope to open here is Karakas. These uncommons are all from the b-sheet.

There have been a lot of complaints regarding the sorting of recent sets like Modern Master 2015 and Magic Origins lately. (Entitled kids with their newfangled tap symbol and shiny booster mapping apps. Back in the days we were lucky if anything less than the entire set was miss-sorted. Instead of foils, we had the occasional card with the correct artist credit. Luxury, we thought.) In any given box of Legends, you'd either open cards from the top half of the uncommon sheet or the bottom of said sheet. The top part, most commonly referred to as the a-sheet, contains almost all of the good uncommons in the set.
Legends uncommon sheet.
This had been sorted out by the release of Italian Legends in 1995. In Italian Legends however, you only got one rule card per display rather than one per pack. This trade-off was deemed satisfactory by most.

So, the rules card. Legends was the first set to introduce new keywords to The Gathering. Though I guess one could argue, with some merit, that Arabian Nights did it first. Cards like Cyclone and El-Hajajj gave us a first peek on what would become frequently used new abilities. But Legends went far deeper, and was the first set to actually introduce new vocabulary. Lets see how the rules stack up in today's New World Order.
Rules card front
Bands with other
This might be the most odd ability in the history of the game. I guess Substance from 2005 might have been weirder. Phasing had it's moment in the sun as well, when it used to trigger "leaves the battlefield" but not "enters the battlefield". Anyways, there are a couple of funny things with bands with other. The main issue is the linguistic implications. For example, if you had a Seafarer's Quay in play, you might assume that your blue legends, whom now have the "Bands with other legends" ability, could band with any other legend. Silly you. A creature with "Bands with other <creature type>" could only form a band with another creature, regardless of type, if that creature had banding or the exact same bands with other ability. E.g. a Goblin and a Zombie that both have "Bands with other Elves" could band together. They could not form a band with an Elf though, unless it also had that same ability.

Unlike normal banding, where up to one creature in an attacking band could join without banding, all the creatures in a bands-with-other band needed to have the ability. Also unlike normal banding, bands with other would only work on the defensive if at least two creatures blocking the same attacking creature had the same bands with other ability. To make things slightly more confusing, any other creatures blocking that same attacker would get to join the defending band, and damage could be distributed between all the blocking creatures of defending players choice. And this was at a time when even normal banding was the cause of headaches.

Icing on the cake? A total of zero creatures have been printed with the ability. There are a cycle of lands that grant the ability to legendary creatures, and the tokens created by master of the hunt have the ability, but as for actual creatures with the keyword, the count is nil. Even so, there are two hoser cards to remove the ability.
Random fact: This is one of very few creatures in the set with a standardized creature type, and it still got creature type errata. It's currently an ouphe.
Rampage, much like Substance, is an ability that has no effect (seriously, substance. 502.49a Substance is a static ability with no effect. That's the actual comp rule.). Rampage was discontinued in Mirage, and never pumped a creature before that. I guess that flanking might be a fixed version of rampage? It was the first new creature keyword, but was still not returned for the Timespiral block. That says a lot about how little impact it had. I guess Wolverine Pack is pretty sweet though. Awesome art and flavor, and a 2/4 for four which can't be double blocked by Knights or Factories could have some merit. I'd still rather have an Erhnam, Iff-Bhiff or a Giant Spider in a four mana green creature, but at the very least it's a slam-dunk first pick in Legends draft. Can't recommend drafting Legends btw.
Also awesome art and Shakespeare flavor.
Multicolored cards
Now we're talking. While a majority of players might not be familiar with Rampage or Bands with other, gold cards still are a major player in the game. It is pretty cool how the Legends design team kept the design space for multicolor cards so open; the only gold cards in the set are legendary creatures. The color pie balance in the cards feels kind of random though. A multicolored card today usually has a connection to the colors of the card, or at the very least show off some rad abilities. In Legends, you instead got stuff like Sivitri Scarzam, a Legendary blue/black Craw Wurm for seven mana. But it's 'A' for effort, and they had already improved it by The Dark with flavorful cards like Dark Heart of the Woods.

Enchant World
World enchantments are awesome. The flavor of changing the setting of the battlefield is sweet, and the strategic implications of the cards are real. If you're playing a black prison deck, would you rather have the battle in a Nether Void or in The Abyss? You can't chose both. I remember a game I played with Tax Edge a few years back. My opponent, GaJol, was down to two life. I had an active Land Tax in play, along with a Serra Angel and a Land's Edge. He had nothing, but The Abyss was waiting at the top of his library. It promptly destroyed my Land's Edge and then forced me to kill the Angel in my next upkeep. Solid topdeck. It is by no means useless that cards like Concordant Crossroads and Field of Dreams can be used to destroy Nether Voids or Storm Worlds. When Olle Råde won the first invitational, his first suggestion for his invitational card was an Enchant World for one mana with no effect, simply to destroy other Enchant Worlds (though I guess he could have designed it with Substance and Rampage for the same effect).
I kind of understand why World Enchantments were removed from the game. They do come with some rules baggage and make the game more complex. A "fixed version" of World Enchantments were introduced in the casual Planechase release, where different plane cards were used to represent where the battle took place. It was pretty fun, but far more random than the old school World Enchantments.

Legends and Legendary Lands:
Gotta love that the rule card has to state that Legendary Lands are treated as lands instead of creatures.

Legendary creatures are interesting in that they are very beloved and popular, but game-play wise simply are creatures with a built-in drawback. When Legends first was released, all legendary creatures where even restricted to keep the flavor at a peak.

The first attempt at the Legendary rule was very different from what we have today. Basically, the first player to get a legend in play got a huge edge. Any new copies of that card entering the battlefield would get destroyed, while the first version would stay in play. During the Combo Winter of 1998, it was not unsusual for e.g. green decks to play Tolarian Academy, even without the artifacts to support it. A first turn Academy of a Crop Rotation would make sure that your opponent couldn't play his or hers and combo off as easily. This legendary rule got particulary troublesome around the time of Mercadian Masques, when Lin-Sivvi rebels was the deck to beat. The first player resolving a Lin-Sivvi in the mirror had an almost insurmountable advantage. The legendary rule was then updated in 2004, with the release of Champions of Kamigawa, to instead destroy all copies of the card in play whenever a new one would enter the battlefield. It was then updated again in 2013 to only trigger of legendary permanents controlled by the same player.
So, all in all, of the five new rules introduced in the Legends rule card, one was discarded immediately, two lingered on for a few years before being discontinued, and two got heavily updated but are still around today as "evergreen" mechanics. I guess that's decent? If we compare it with the track record of Arabian Night's introduction of things like -1/-1 counters, lifelink, cantrips and coin flipping, it looks pretty bad, but most things looks bad compared to AN. Come to think of it, Poison counters were introduced in Legends as well, even though they are not mentioned on the rules card. Like the legendary rule, how cards use poison counters has been changed twice since the inception. First in Time Spiral, with the keyword Poisonous, and then in Scars of Mirrodin with Infect. The solid design but lacking development of many cards and abilities in Legends again shows just how little time the team at WotC had to complete the set. Given an extra month or two of development, I'm certain that e.g. the Mana Batteries would have a mana cost of 2-3 rather than 4.

So, this was easy enough to write. Now I should just try to power my way through the Arena novel.

tisdag 21 juli 2015


Today I wont be writing about old school Magic. It will be a rare departure from the topic of this site, but figured it's my blog and I can occassionaly write whatever. Vote Bernie Sanders. Don't drink and drive. Night of the Hunter is awesome. Unit test your code. Here's a bad resolution pic of a bunch of moxen powering out a 0/0 Wood Elemental.
Let's go back a few years, eight or so. We're in the time before smartphones, iPads, instagram and the Obama administration. Black Lotus costs $600 and most people have never heard of Elder Dragon Highlander. It's not back in old school times by any means, but it is a while ago. I was studying computer science, working in a dive bar, and still felt the occasional sting of nerd shame. I had my friends and I had my magic friends, but I rarely combined the two worlds. Magic was Team 0-2 Drop with Kalle, Grip, Elof, Fork and Freespace. The 93/94 format was less than a year old, and had something like five players.

Though the players were already rad.
Enter Arvid Grahn. Arvid had moved into the same apartment building as me. We'd seen each other a few times at the local gaming store Backstab before. I remember him being highly entertained by witnessing a 93/94 matchup between Kalle and myself. I had experienced a kind of rough night before, and had gotten my hair shaven off with a razor somewhere in the haze. So there I was, in an overheated game store with beady eyes and sweat dripping from my newly shaved dome onto my Alpha Sea Serpents, them swimming across a Phantasmal Terrain to victory. When Arvid checked svenskamagic.com, and realized he had just moved into the same building as I, he sent me a PM and asked for a showdown. I went down to his apartment with my Thrull deck and a few 2,8% ABV beers, and he responded with his Lhurgoyf deck and beers of his own. It was The Ultimate Matchup.

Arvid was a man of many trades; well versed in music, literature and the arts. At the time he was studying for his bachelor's degree in theology, and had a penchant for both the finer and fowler of beers. As such, we spent many nights drinking cheap beer, ranting about culture and philosophy, and playing The Ultimate Matchup. I brought him to Rotary pub, where I worked, and shortly after he also started to take up shifts there.

The pub was my second living room. The people who worked there, pro bono I might add, was a ragtag motley crew of winners and sinners. And with us came youthful decadence. I wont delve too deep into stories, but at some point, when we had had security guards called to the pub three times in two weeks and we were forbidden to play music after midnight, we realized that checking for wounds maybe shouldn't be a part of the morning ritual five times a week. We drank a lot back then, by any standards, and we needed an excuse to stay sober while hanging out. Enter LDM, LhurDay Magic.

Arvid had no nerd shame whatsoever, and proudly talked about his Magic exploits in the pub. It was infectious. A couple of other people who worked in the pub, Erik and Honka, who used to play back in the Masques days, decided to dust of their old cards and start playing. With a couple of Arvid's friends, another former player from the pub, and Kalle from Team 0-2 Drop, we started to play Magic together every Saturday night. The rules were simple, casual Magic and no strong alcohol. It is kind of amusing when I think of it, rather than being Magic friends that started to go out and drink together, we were drinking friends that decided to sober up a bit and play Magic instead. The team was named Squattlehaups, after my Orcish Squatters / Jokulhaups deck from Ice Age block.
Honka flanked by The Brothers. Merfolk, Beasts and Shapeshifters. Light beer.
So that was the setting. We played a lot of the old 0-2 Drop formats, like 93/94 and Broken Tribal Multiplayer. We also came up with a bunch on our own in the pub, like FallenHomelands (with basics banned), Chromiumatic, Reject Rare Constructed and Tribelander. Of these, Tribelander was the favorite by far. A couple of years later, Arvid wrote a primer about the format at SvM (in Swedish) which expanded it a little outside our local playgroup to other players in Sweden. We haven't written anything about it apart from that article though, and I find myself referencing the format quite often, so I figured it could be a good idea to share the rules should someone be interested in trying it out. So here we go.

Basic rules for deck contruction:
* A deck must contain at least 100 cards
* At least 30% of the deck must be creatures with the same creature type. This is your tribe.
* Creatures and Tribal cards that don't share a creature type with your tribe are banned.
* Non-creature cards that create creature tokens outside your tribe, or can become a creature outside your tribe, are banned.
* All non-creature spells in your deck must share a color with a creature in you deck.
* Non-land cards that don't share a creature type with your tribe are restricted.
* Planeswalker cards are banned unless they clearly belong to the tribe (e.g. Vraska is ok in Gorgons and Tamiyo is ok in Moonfolk).
* If a creature "works with the tribe" flavorwise but is not a creature in the tribe, it is restricted instead of banned (e.g. Endrek Sahr is restricted in Thrulls, Ratcatcher is restricted in rats)

Format specific rules:

* Each player starts at 30 life
* "Partial Paris" mulligans are allowed
* The starting player gets a draw phase
* Triggered or activated abilities that make you win the game or make an opponent lose the game have no effect instead.
* If a player has the choice to perform a series of actions an arbitrary number of times, such as with e.g. Pestermite and Splinter Twin, that player cannot choose to perform that action more than once each turn. In short, "infinite combos" are banned.

* Strip Mine
* Dust Bowl
* Library of Alexandria
* Starlit Sanctum
* Mishra's Workshop
* Emeria, the Sky Ruin
* Gaea's Cradle

* Ancestral Recall
* An-Zerrin Ruins
* Biorhythm
* Black Lotus
* Cyclonic Rift
* Engineered Plague
* Expropriate
* Goblin Recruiter
* Humility
* Limited Resources
* Maze of Ith
* Moxen (Emerald, Jet, Pearl, Ruby, Sapphire)
* Overwhelming Splendor
* Panoptic Mirror
* Rise of the Dark Realms
* Staff of Domination
* Time Stretch
* Time Vault
* Time Walk
* Upheaval
* Venser's Journal
* Wanderwine Prophets
* Dexterity cards (Chaos Orb and Falling Star)

In addition, the following tribes are banned:
* Avatars
* Eldrazi
* Humans
* Slivers
* Vampires
* Wizards

House rules: Anyone playing Confusion in the Ranks or Thieves' Auction may be punched in the face. Anyone winning with Timetwister or Jokulhaups still in hand shouldn't call themselves a winner.
Treefolk vs Shapeshifters, last tribes standing.
The format has a tendency to balance itself. If someone is showing up with Dragons or Angels, it's fairly certain that the other players will gang up on him or her first. The more casual tribes and slightly worse decks are often a better bet to stay alive. At the final table at WSK, the tribes represented were Snakes, Giants, Plants and Sphinxes. I wouldn't blatantly state that it's a better format than EDH, but it's really sweet. And it's nice to find a home for my Blood Pets.
Tribelander Thrulls.
So, that's Tribelander. If you enjoy diplomatic and conflict-ridden multiplayer Magic, you could try it out. Kinda surprisingly, the Tribelander tournament at WSK actually attracted more players than the Standard, Modern, 93/94 and Vintage tournaments at the convention. It's good Magic.

For those of you distracted by all the modern cards and in need of some more Old School fix, here's a picture of another mediocre turn one play in 93/94:
That Badlands should probably have been a Bayou.
In other news, Orlando player Michael Parler just set up a forum for Old School Mtg at http://tolariantalk.com/forum/. A forum feels more old school than Facebook, and as it will probably take Hardy and I many months before we get something to show for our old school web page, I recommend giving Michael's forum a look. It  could be a good gathering place for players around the world :)

måndag 13 juli 2015

Last tech on the block

Aah, summer!
A fortnight of vacation has passed. There were some pretty intense resting, and I haven't spent more than two nights in a row at a single place for the last two and a half weeks. My mind has been cleared though, and it actually feels a little relaxing to get back to work again. The Scandinavian summer is awesome btw, the sun is constant and everyone is up for good times. I guess we need it to survive the darkness and cold of the Nordic winters.

I've gathered the decklists from the last two tournaments in Norway and Sweden. They are pretty interesting, and may show a small shift in the meta. At Joypad Open, there wasn't a single blue card in the top4. The top4 lists looked like this:

Thomas's BRw Tempo
Mg's Distress
Artelas's Monoblack

Hardy's Trick Deck

Lots of Khalsa Brain mats. Also, 16 Dark Rituals, 13 Underworld Dreams and 11 Hypnotic Specters in the four decks. Now, to be fair, there were only two decks playing blue in that tournament (Power Monolith and Toolbox Murderers), and I definitely wont argue against blue being the most powerful color in the format. Still, the density of Underworld Dreams and the massive majority of black spells in the top4 can't be denied. At the very least, we can say that the Oslo meta is a dark one, and that having a plan against Underworld Dreams or turn one Hynotic is vital. Underworld Dreams was restricted in 1994, and while I think that was an incorrect restriction, it is safe to say it's a very powerful card in the format.

So, WSK then. Also a rad top4. In this tournament there were a couple of pure 5C control decks, alongside a variety of TaxEdge, Deadguy, Zoo, Trick Deck and others. These decks ended up at the top of the heap:

Mg's Project M
Thomas's BRw Tempo
Kenneth's Enchantress
UGR Tempo
Enchantress! Now that's an awesome deck. Worth noting is that I traded the Chaos Orb to Kenneth just a few hours before the tournament started, and he still managed to hit all his flips. Now that's the skills of a pro player of the 90's :) It's also pretty cool that, in terms of card pool, his Enchantress deck pre-dates the first known Enchantress decks in mid-90's tournaments. The Enchantress strategy first saw the light of day a few months after Ice Age came along with the card Forgotten Lore.

As for Project M, my extra Mirror Universe won me two games after sideboard (my sideboarded copy is in worse condition, so it's easy to see when I draw it). It will be interesting to see if someone manages to break the card in a combo deck here. As building a deck takes so much time, combined with the fact that many players prefer to play pet decks, the full implications of B&R updates are usually not visible in the first months after the announcement. I've heard that Lich/Mirror have been tested with some success overseas already though.

I'll update the Decks to beat section with the new decks here by the end of the week. Until then, if you haven't read it already, I recommend that you check out Shaman Ben's last post at Mtg Underground. Also, if you have the opportunity, don't miss out on the second annual Eternal Central old school tournament at Eternal Weekend in Philadelphia. You can find info about it here.

tisdag 7 juli 2015

Pictures from WSK 2015

Last weekend the annual Wexio gaming convention took place in Växjö, Sweden. After having spent the first week of my vacation walking in mountains, horseback riding and attending a country wedding, I felt that it was time to collect some old school nerd points. I got back to Oslo around midnight last Friday, and jumped on the train to Växjö at 7 in the morning.

The Oslo crew consisted of myself, Hardy and Thomas; the guy who recently won Joy Pad Open. We were to meet up with Honka during a ten minute pit stop in Gothenburg. It's been a while since Honka played 93/94, or Magic at all for that matter. Apart from a few games with our drinking cube, this might be the first time in over a year. When he plays, he is usually seen swinging formats like Tribelander, HaupsCube, RRC, Reject Rare Draft or 93/94. He has a fierce dislike for sanctioned formats, and expresses some distress over the fact that he once had to use a personal DCI-number. For this tournament, he had prepared with another players number in case he would have to state one to play.

Rather than writing a coherent report, I'll do it like last year and show some pictures from the WSK weekend.
Playtesting on the train. Hardy unlocks the achievement of Forking my Mind Twist. Magic!

When Honka joined the train in Gothenburg, we got the chance to playtest some Tribelander. After almost two hours, the Thrulls emerged victorious.
The Tribelander tournament started 10 PM in the evening, and attracted an impressive 16 players. That's more than the Standard and Modern tournaments at the convention, second only to Legacy in size. Växjö really attracts some casual mages :) After gruelling eliminations, the final table consisted of Giants, Snakes, Plants and Sphinxes. In the end, my Snakes got to be the last tribe standing, and I'm immensely proud to call myself the first WSK Tribelander champion.
Day 2. Preparing my game face for the 93/94 tournament.
Facing Åland and The Deck in round one. We lamented the fact that the Library is an unfair card before the game started. As a gentlemen's agreement, we opted to play the game without them, and put our libraries aside before the game started. It worked great. From now on, if anyone wants to board them out when playing, I'll be sure to accept the offer.
Tax Edge vs Lestree Zoo. Honka stopped counting his life total once he hit 300. Kind of though matchup for aggro decks.
Enchantress vs Trick Deck.
Enchantress vs Zoo. Turn one.
Stasis/Zak Dolan control vs BRw Aggro Control.

Tax Edge shows how to handle Factory beatdown.
Project M shows how to handle non-land permanents.
Trick Deck vs Control. Underworld Dreams carries a lot of weight.
Facing Eneas with Deadguy in the last round of the swiss. I manage to beat him for a 4-0 record with Project M, while Eneas ends up at 5th place before the top4. He had a similar story at BSK, where he ended up at 9th place. Tiebreakers don't seem to like him.
Living the dream with turn one Sol'Kanar in the semis, but my opponent responds with turn 1 Unsummon. Bad beats. I narrowly avoid a Channel Fireball and manages to take down the match in spite of the untimely bounce.
The Finals! Facing of against former Pro Tour player Thomas, just like at Joypad Open a few weeks ago. This time I come with Project M though, and my hangover is less palpable. Time to get my revenge.
Crazy beats!
After three very tight rounds, Project M emerges victorious! I got a sweet Timetwister into Mind Twist game one, and managed to win round three of the back of a missed Chaos Orb flip on my Maze of Ith.
Into the Växjö night. The trophy is a conversation piece if I ever saw one. Intoxicated ladies wants to know about it and bartenders serves me beer in my new spoils.

The winning deck.
Thanks for a great convention and sweet Magic! I'll be sure to come back next year to defend my new titles ;)