Arvika Festival 2

These days, we're veterans in the steel beasts. Gazing at the frozen Nordic landscape rushing by, fleeing from whatever nest of whore mongers and turmoil we started in. Playing cards, telling tales of the road to passers by, and drawing sustenance from crude boxes filled to the brim with apple wine. The steam and noise and clank of trains are music to our ears. We're train people now.
Playtesting had been largely absent, as had good sleep. Last weekend I went to Addis Ababa to try and visit Øyann again. Jumping through the hoops got easier the second time. We had a wonderful weekend together, and I was back in Oslo by Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday night the war started. A stray bullet flying through her tent next to her head. Fires and machetes shredding terror on unarmed civilians. 18 confirmed dead in the camp during the night, I don't know how many were wounded. Horror stories building on horror stories. I managed to talk to her Thursday lunch, and heard shells firing in the background. She told me not to worry too much, and don't be afraid if I wouldn't be able to contact her. Perhaps for days, as they might have to flee to a bunker. How do you not worry? How the fuck does one avoid the sinking feeling of helplessness, and the tingling survivors guilt brought on by not being there and supporting her? How does one properly play the waiting game?

Magic is a good thing then. Brings you out of the house, helps you socialize and slows down the dance of ghosts. I read about the brutalities and crimes against humanity in the place where she is. I know that one hundred and one aerial or shelling attacks have struck MSF-supported facilities since January last year. South Sudan is currently the largest resident of my mind. But I can't let it take over completely. I need to live normal, normal-ish, and have a safe haven when she comes home. I lest not forget how to squire if needed. So Magic. Friends. Beer. Something else to focus on and help clear my mind.

On the train to Arvika with Hardy and Honka.

I think my deck is a monstrosity. It hosts 23 restricted cards and multiple copies of the recently unrestricted Power Artifact and Mirror Universe. Against an opponent without hate, it will usually end the game by turn four. Against a more controlling player, it goes up to 12 counterspells after sideboard to protect the combo. Most hate seems laughable. It is also, by a fair margin, the most expensive Magic deck I've ever sleeved up and the first deck that plays the full Nine. The only issue is that I haven't playtested enough, and that I'm a few copies short of The Abyss.

Not Workshop, Shahrazade, Channel, Black Vise nor Time Vault, but the rest of them.
I've wanted to play Power Monolith ever since we first speculated on the power of the deck in 2008 and restricted Power Artifact in 93/94. My first version of Project M played the combo while it was restricted, and I got to beat Martin Beer with it in Regensburg a little over three years ago.
Bavaria, January 2013.
Something or someone pushed me to finally build it. When Jocke Almelund plays something other than The Deck, you best take notice. His deck was clearly built to help him finally pick up that alluding Shark. Most other builds I've seen of Power Monolith since it got unrestricted looked meek. That is not to say they haven't top8'd tournaments, but they didn't seem to dig deep for the raw power of the combo. They were keeping it durdly, keeping it fair. Jocke's deck from the BSK finals was the first linear combo version I've seen. It looked like the most powerful deck in the format could well be a Power Monolith build that can transform into The Deck after sideboard.

Thursday. I worry. When was the last time I felt fear? Not the threatening scare, but fear like that the carpet you're standing on is being pulled away revealing an abyss. Fear crawls under your skin.

There were moments in Addis Ababa when I saw grains from the handful of dust. When our guide happily told us that "this is a very peaceful place; the muggers wont kill you or anything", it was a sign of using another stick to measure. Her idea of a violent place was bad.

Friends. Beer. Magic. It had been almost two months since I last visited Sweden and Gothenburg. Apart from my family in blood, one person in particular I missed was Honka. Honka and I go way back. We met at his nineteenth birthday in 2006, when he visited Rotary pub during one of my shifts there. He was fairly extreme in his left-wing politics, beyond communism and bordering on anarchism even back then. An oi-punker with mostly shaved head and a huge nose ring, enjoying beer, mosh pits, and the working class. As more of a centre-right person with shoulder-long blonde hair wearing the occasional suit, I think his first impression of me was of natural scepticism. When he later heard that I was born of nobility, that I recently had spent well over a year in the military ending up a second lieutenant, and that I was currently studying civil economics, I think that his second impression was that of an enemy. I dared him to come work at the pub during his first drunken stupor there, and for some reason he actually showed up the Monday after during our weekly meeting.
Honka anno 2016.
We soon found each other as brothers in arms. It started with the shared passion for mosh pits and youthful decadence. Soon we talked about everything, sometimes pissing each other off, but always keeping away from anger. More than once we took help of our fists to get our arguments through. Politics, philosophy and psychology. Music, movies and rare beer. We got to know each others friends and families and went on our fair share of adventures together. The pub was our common living room, where I was responsible for the economy and book keeping while Honka was in charge of the beer and connections to the distributors.

Honka is a vocal opponent of DCI numbers and sanctioned Magic. He is a very good player, but would never set his foot in a court of organized play. He likes the grass roots. The Arvika Festival is his kind of place, and after a short argumentation he was convinced to join us. He'll arrive in Olso Friday night and travel with us to Arvika on Saturday.

He knows banding.
Friday crawls forth in colors of distress. For ten hours my phone is silent. I hear nothing from South Sudan. Word about the attack is on twitter by now though, so I can talk about it without having to worry about breaking the correct flow of information or accidentally saying something I shouldn't. Then, half past five, I get the message. She's in Juba, got lifted away with helicopter along a handful others, and is to await instructions there. It is -as the guide in Addis Ababa would call it- a fairly safe place. It's time to breathe out and build a deck.

I meet up with Hardy in the BarCode, whine a little about the situation in Malakal and down a double IPA or two. We meet Honka at the central station around nine. The three of us soon find ourselves at the Stargate bar in the heart of Grønland. Stargate is a weird fucking place.

American "conservative human right's activist" Pamela Geller wrote about the Grønland district last month, and described it as "look[ing] like Karachi, Basra, and Mogadishu all rolled into one. [...] The police have largely given up." Now, Geller has an intellect rivalled by garden tools, and the Oslo police promptly tweeted her and asked her to stop spewing uninformed lies about the city. For an untrained eye though, parts of Grønland might not correspond to the traditional post card view of Norway. And in a sense, the small Stargate bar is the melting pot that boils the preconceptions of the district into one odd stew. Prostitutes, students and drunk ladies in the mid 50s. Large groups from the horn of Africa and families from the middle east. Thugs, substance users and middle aged white men. The odd person sitting alone staring down at their beer for hours. The Jukebox playing Aqua's Barbie Girl while a pregnant woman in her 40s do a drunken dance of seduction with an intoxicated man in his late fifties. The beer is half the price of most pubs in the city and a wandering mind will easily get lost in mesmerising wallpaper. Honka shines up. This is his turf.

But we can't stay for long. Tomorrow is an important day, and we need decks. Also, there's something unnerving about sitting at Stargate with backpacks filled with a double digit number of Power cards. On the road to my apartment we stop by Illegal Burger to break our fasting. They have their own brand of beer from Mikkeller to match the watery Rignes of Stargate.
Saturday. Game day. The alarm goes off sometime before noon. We attacked the deck building and playtesting pretty hard last night and didn't manage to hit the hay before 4:30. The hangover is palpable, but we have decks. I'm thoroughly convinced that my pile is unbeatable. I almost feel ashamed playing it, as I surely just have destroyed the format I enjoy so much. Nothing will ever beat this pile.
All-in Monolith
We're train people. It's painless travel. Hardy and Honka keeps playtesting on the train, and I manage to get a somewhat steady line talking to Øyann. Feels good to be able to talk to her before the Festival starts. It's a fucking weird situation.
The burned Protection of Civilians camp in Malakal during Friday. 43,000 civilians lived there two days earlier.
The whole week had been out of the ordinary. Just five days earlier, I drank coffee by a pool in Ethiopia. Then a day of travel, three days of distress, a sweet evening with two old friends, and now this. Damn roller coaster.
Looks like downhill now though. Time to win this one.
Arvika. The Arvika Festival is certainly one of the sweetest gatherings to be found for unsanctioned Magic. Players from the city started slinging 93/94 about three years ago, and showed up more prominently on the radar during n00bcon 6. They hosted their first local tournament (with six players) about a year and a half ago. Last year, KungMarkus and the Arvika crew organized the first Arvika Festival tournament, gathering 16 players to battle; most from the local area but flanked by Hardy and myself from Oslo, and Artelas and Mällroth from Karlstad. They have a great appreciation for the spirit of the game. The word spread, the format grew, and this time 34 players are ready to battle.
Kalle, elof and Mg of Team 0-2 Drop doing the Lestree pose.
It's great to see everybody. Any remains of distress fly away as I enter the site. This is my kind of place for Magic. A couple of dogs running around, an abundant supply of beer, spacious location, and people of all shapes and kinds. This is the sort of tournament I always looked for in my later years playing the game. Someone once said that we don't really look like Magic players. What the fuck does a Magic player even look like?
Is it the guy in the suit, the tattooed biker-dude in the tank top, the fella with shaved head and large beard, or the oi-punk electrician with the Dwarves t-shirt?
Round one is on. My first opponent CH is shuffling up WW. A novice might think that it could be troublesome to face Disenchants, Divine Offerings, Dust to Dusts, CoP: Red, Armageddon and quick clocks on the board. A novice would be wrong. This is one of the few matchups I've actually tested the night before, and my win-percentage in ten or so duels is 100. Just wait until round five or so, sculpt the hand and cast Power Sink before going off. Post sideboard, bring in Ali from Cairo and Mirrors. He fights the good fight, but in the end I pick up the win.
My first nemesis.
Is this fun Magic? It's weird to play all these restricted cards. I have so ridiculously many good topdecks. In Project M, my gameplan is pretty fair. Here, it just feels like cheating. Also, it is very clear with this deck that there's no middle ground; either you win in a blaze of unfairness or you lose. We should restrict Power Artifact again.
KungMarkus, the mastermind of the tournament, flanked by some sweet flute music of old school wild card and former national DCI manager Mällroth.
Next man to the slaughter is Erik "Sehl" Larsson. Sehl is a very strong player, having top8'd two of the last three Shark-tournaments and holding a slew of other high finishes. He is also a black belt in trashtalking. Sehl wins the d20 roll with a '2' against my '1', and promptly goes turn one land, mox, Sol Ring, Balance to put me at a starting hand of three cards. A turn later Sylvan Library shows up on his side, and Erhnam soon joins in. I'm racing back. My last turn alive, I have a tapped Monolith with Power Artifact in play, two blue mana untapped and a Braingeyser in hand, but I fail to topdeck the last mana needed to untap my Monolith after Sehl used Strip Mine and Chaos Orb to mess with my lands. Oh well. It was a rough start.

Second game I get to play Demonic Tutor and Fork it to search for Ali from Cairo and Fireball. Sehl scoops when I resolve Ali. That's a pretty sweet achievement to unlock.
In another sweet achievement at a table next to us, JohanGuld attacks for 20+ lethal damage with one angry Birds of Paradise.
Our last round is a little anticlimactic. Sehl resolves three Disenchants on my first attempts to go off between turn four to seven, and keeps beating down with Erhnam. I counter a couple of Geddons, and think that I'm finally safe to resolve The Abyss, which would pretty much guarantee me the game, as I have a Counterspell to protect it from the next turn on. Odds of him having four Disenchants on the top quarter of his Library seems slim. But it turns out that his keep was three lands, three Disenchants and an Erhnam, and he drew the fourth. I still have a fireball to kill his Erhnam when I hit my sixth mana next turn, but Sehl goes for the drawstep Storm Seeker. Countering it depletes my mana for Fireball, and Erhnam reign supreme. Not only have hell frozen over, but they're using it as a venue for Ewoks on Ice.

So, it turns out my deck wasn't unbeatable in the strictest sense of the word. Maybe it's for the best. I'll still top8 with 5-1, and I'm having a blast. Losing to Storm Seeker and Erhnam Djinn is a good way to go out and Sehl is a great guy. I'll never hear the end of this from him though.

Before round three starts, KungMarkus demands attention. It turns out that Berntsson have just won his first match in a tournament since he started playing 93/94 over three years ago. He has competed in a dozen tournaments, including multiple n00bcons and BSKs, and he finally got his first match win. The players at the site give him a roaring applause and cheering.
Berntsson, great guy and great example of the 93/94 mentality.
Round three is up. One of the last people you'd want to face at 1-1, if you aim to win the tournament, is the top-rated 93/94 player in the world Kalle Nord. If you aim to have a good time though, you couldn't hope for much better.

At this point, Kalle's deck has reached a point of simple ridiculousness. Him and I were the first two players to start with 93/94 nine years ago. Back then, I was a student while Kalle already ran his own tattoo studio. He decided to put a lot of his liquidity in old cards, and built up one of the most impressive collections I've ever seen. A couple of years back, he had pretty much everything you could want to play in the format, with black borders to boot. Two sets of the power nine, all the duals you'd ever need, and pretty much the pinnacle of what most people would consider pimp. Then he decided to start pimping for real.

Kalle loves the game. His cards will never gather dust in a binder. So when he sent over a picture of his final design of the n00bcon 8 logo a week before the tournament, I knew where it was going:
There's a lot to take in here. First, that is one awesome pin. Icy Manipulator 8-ball for n00bcon 8. I really liked the Dragon Whelp from last year, but this has to be my favorite design yet. Second, see that thing in the background? That's a mint-graded rare from 1994, and one of the best spells in the format. It is also from god damn Summer Magic. I can't say how he got it, but you best believe that this is how he started his deckbuilding in Arvika:
His pile is full of advanced alterations from the original artists, Summer-cards and Alpha-duals. It is not inconceivable that this is actually the most expensive deck ever played in a tournament in the history of the game. I'm trying to picture some full-bb Vintage Time Vault deck with Russian foil Mindsculptors and the likes, but I can't say if it would beat this.

We go on for three rounds. I narrowly win the first, narrowly lose the second after a few to many Time Walks from Kalle, and win the third of an unfairly topdecked Power Artifact. 2-1, and still going strong.
So I'm to face Gordon Andersson. The 93/94 rookie from Stockholm who placed second at both Nebraska's War and at L.I.G.G. a couple of weeks ago. Never met him face to face before, and I'm very happy to finally see him. The dude is hilarious and extremely friendly.

I keep a decent mulligan game one, six cards but a LoA and some sweet spells on the draw. Gordon goes turn one Lotus, Serendib Efeet, Island, Ancestral, Mox Ruby, Chain Lightning. That's a rough start. I race pretty well, but get a couple of bolts in the face the turn before I can go off.

It would have been a good idea to win the first one. This matchup gets really tough after sideboard with all of Gordon's Elemental Blasts, Energy Fluxes, Blood Moons and Shatters. He jokingly says that he has 14 cards to board. Looking at his decklist, it's not that far off.
Probably leave the Earthquake in the board, but other than that...
Great skill would have it that I start with LoA again, this time without a mulligan. Gordon's hand is a little slower than last time, mostly Flying Men and the odd bolt doing the beatdown. I get to resolve a Mind Twist for seven and a turn later play a Braingeyser on his Library. Last game I'm hit with the crippling unfairness again. One mana short of victory as every counterspell and hate card in the history of game resides in Gordon's hand until his Flying Men and the creatures of Sri Lanka have punched me into submission. "Hahaha! So do you STILL think we should restrict Power Artifact? Is the deck beatable, or are you just a horrible player?".

2-2. Ok, so maaaybe I didn't break the format and perhaps Power Monolith is just a very good deck and not a broken one. It's also possible that I'm not the single best player in the world. I'm fairly unfamiliar with the deck, haven't had a full nights sleep in a week, and just finished my first 10-beer punchcard I bought in the bar. I've had a couple of bad matchups, but it's good to know that the deck actually have bad matchups.

Things don't get much easier in the 50/50 bracket. My next opponent is all round good guy and fellow Eternal Viking Erland Petersen of Drammen, Norway. I remember him beating Stasis in the semifinals of the Moss tournament a couple of months ago, in a game where most players would have scooped up their cards 20 minutes earlier. Erland has recently obtained a new location for their local gaming association, so we can be sure to have a couple of sweet 93/94 events coming up in Drammen in the near future. He is on some The Deck pile, though I'm uncertain of his wincons.

We're both on the library plan the first game, and Erland soon finds a Book to check out from his. There are some back and forth, but Erland gets the advantage in the counterspell wars and eventually punch me out with a pair of Mishras under my Abyss. I board in blasts and Amnesia and shuffle up for game two. I have a good mulligan into Ancestral, bait a counterspell with Amnesia, and resolve Braingeyser for the win. Erland did have the blue blast, so it was good fortune to go for Geyser rather than Fireball.
There are worse ways to use Power Artifact.
Last game is drawn out. Erland have all of the answers but none of the wincons. I try to build up to a critical turn where I have the mana to counter at least two removals on my combo. Maybe I should have baited harder with Power Sinks before going off, but a combination of alcohol and lack of sleep starts to get to me. So this happens:
Don't try to do this with the original timing rules.
I don't get the chance to reassemble before Erland finds the combo pieces on his own and forces me draw myself dead.

2-3? Am I the Hurloon Minotaur today? Usually I couldn't care less about the results, but this time I've actually bragged quite a lot even before the tournament, and the deck I built was more of a proof of concept for restriction than one of my usual pet decks. Maybe that's the problem. Honka waits in the final round.

The trashtalk is piercing. The Festival is out of reach, but we can still bet on the outcome. Honka wants to give me no better than 9:1 odds of winning, but eventually he settles on 5:2.
Ante up.
This should be fairly academic. I played the matchup a lot last night and didn't lose a duel. But then it hits me. The trashtalk cuts to a weak spot. I feel the guilt of privilege washing over me. Why am I sitting here getting drunk instead of focusing on what's going on with Øyann and the people in Malakal? At the very least, I could be sleeping, playing the waiting game in a proper fashion, and be awake and alert for a status update early next morning. This game feels wrong. I want to play in silence, but it doesn't really work. My focus is completely off. We play a couple of rounds, I forget to use my Maze of Ith and to play my wincons, and after a while I just scoop up my cards. I need a quick breather, check that the status is ok, and realign my state of mind. I should be happy to get to be here, not feel guilty about it.

Honka apologizes, but of course it's not his fault. It had been a strange week, and I was unusually susceptible to tilts. I catch my breath and soon find my focus again. I'm privileged to be here and really like the people, and it's time to keep enjoying it.

So 2-4. I've got the stats of a Giant Spider. Or a Giant Slug. Probably my worst finish in a 93/94-tournament since, uh, Gråberget Champs in 2010? Still one of the sweetest tournaments I've ever played, so I can't complain. My deck clearly needs more Juzams. Maybe a Doppelganger. I don't really think my results could be an argument for restricting Power Artifact. Also, I finally got my hands on this:
Congrats Per, and thanks a lot for the contribution! I'll be shipping it this weekend.
While the top8 prepares for the ultimate showdown, a ragtag group of us starts to draft The Haups Cube. It's hilarious. There are a couple of players in this format who really knows how to battle drunken Magic.
I want to watch the finals, so I drop out of the draft after a couple of rounds and give my deck to elof when he gets eliminated from the top8. In the end the finals stand between aspiring Rookie of the Year Thomas Nilsen and flute-playing professional Mällroth. Mällroth and his Lestree Zoo eventually pulls the longest straw against Thomas's Power Monolith and the Kird Apes reign supreme.
I'll get back with the full tech from the top8 next week. Btw, as always, you are very welcome to send in decklists even if you didn't place high in the standings. It would be nice to complement the "Decks to beat" with a "Decks too sweet" section here.

We clean out around 4 am. Hardy and I join KungMarkus to his new home. We get a huge bed to sleep in, and are woken up by the smell of bacon and fresh coffee. Carolin and Markus are the best of hosts. We fight a little with their dog, get a kiss from their kid, and return to the site to do some cleaning before grabbing a local pizza with a few from the Arvika crew and their families. This was a great event. I'll be back next year to defend my 25th place.

We conclude with the winning deck from Arvika Festival 2016.
Mällroth's Lestree Zoo.


  1. What an excellent read! Thanks for sharing! / ottifant

  2. Great read! Had a blast in Arvika and will return next year :)

  3. Hi guys, is any one of you comming to visit and play Prague Eternal? Will be nice to welcome you in here. ;-)

  4. Oh man I love this blog. I would love to see a decks to sweet list. I'm working on a tourney deck but also like playing casually with fun decks. I'm building an adventures guild house deck for fun atm

  5. I guess you have tried already, but I think you should attempt to convince your girlfriend that she has now served her duty and she should return to the Safe Haven.
    Maybe it`s time to replace a full playset of Ashnod`s Coupon with a Splendid Genesis ;-)

    Jokes aside, I really like your blog.
    I think the 93/94 format will grow more in popularity as long as "unfun" decks like the recent Eldrazi seem to destroy other formats.

    I am currently building a 93/94 cube which will be tested after-ski during Easter in Norway.
    The following constraints apply;
    - Card pool from 93/94 (This includes Revised and Fallen Empires, although the latter will have limited impact due to 95% excluded chaff).
    - The singleton rule only applies to rares; up to two of each uncommon and up to four of each common is allowed, as long as these are not on the WoC Vintage restricted list.
    - 450 cards

    Have a nice weekend!

  6. Hey MG,

    thanks for the writeup, another masterpiece, good to get some insights before travelling to n00bcon8 and getting my ass handed to me over and over again ;-)

    And on a personal note, I wanna wish Øyann all the best in the world. She is my personal heroine of 2016 already, and that with not even meeting her (yet!). I hope she gets out of there without any further troubles.


  7. Thanks a lot for the positive feedback and nice comments, both here and via mail :) It makes it a lot more rewarding to write the longer/more in depth posts when I see that they're appreciated.

  8. I felt this man. Fantastic and thanks always for sharing.

  9. Thanks for a great read!
    It's nice to see that great magic writing is still going on somewhere.


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