onsdag 29 juni 2016

Rise of the Trolls & Goblins: Stockholm and the first Ivory Cup

*Rod Serling voice*

There is another format beyond that which is known to the DCI. It is a format as vast as perception and as timeless as stone. It is the middle ground between competition and chivalry, between structure and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's wistfulness and the summit of his jubilation. This is the format of old.

Scene: Stockholm. Summer’s day. Witness a man called Gordon Andersson, age thirtyish. Occupation: Jack of trades. Gordon Andersson, perhaps the sight of a rather minor component to a hot June, but in a moment he will venture a trail of invocation and revelry. For Gordon Andersson, this is just another step on a journey he began some twenty years ago. But for fellow mages, it is masonry of hidden paths in a city where the roads oft laid plain. If in any quest for Magic, in any search for sorcery, witchery, legerdemain, first check the human spirit. This is Gordon’s story. This is the story of the first Ivory Cup. /Mg out

Two weeks ago the first Ivory Cup was held in Stockholm, Sweden. Ivory Cup is the first dedicated old school tournament in Stockholm and the plan is to make this a yearly thing. This year 29 people showed up to try to win an Alpha Ivory Cup (what else?) and have a chance to take on the reigning world champion in 93/94, Martin Berlin. But let’s leave the Ivory Cup for a while and talk a little about Stockholm’s old school community.
The Stockholm community
First of all it’s important to note that even though 93/94 is credited a Swedish creation, it was founded on the west coast of Sweden while Stockholm is located on the east coast. It’s about a five hour drive from coast to coast in Sweden and this means that the community in Stockholm is not the same as the community on the west coast, something MG wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The format did however reach Stockholm quite fast and there have been old school players in Stockholm for many years, but mostly playing at their kitchen tables in separate local playgroups and just meeting up at tournaments in other cities.
Until last year that is. As we all know the format skyrocketed all over the world last year and of course Stockholm was no exception. A small group of players then started playing more regularly at a local pub and with that more and more old timers started to come out of hibernation. The scene slowly started to become more organized which also meant that more and more people heard about 93/94 Magic. This in return brought a lot of new faces to the format and the community grew to what it is today, with both old fogeys and new players joining up all the time.
Nowadays the scene in Stockholm is consisting of well over 20 active players, also counting some players from Uppsala, just north of Stockholm, that often come here to play. We also have a standing game night the first monday every month. The venue of choice is a small quiet pub (Bishop Arms, Folkungagatan) with one of Stockholm’s best beer assortments and tables perfect for spell slinging. So if you’re ever in Stockholm you now know where and when to go.
The usual game night consists of around 8 - 12 players, some that just started playing and some players that have been battling old school for many years. Some of the players own complete sets of black bordered power and some don’t even have a Chaos Orb, let alone power. But some things are true about us all, we play because we love the game, the old cards and the great atmosphere. Some people have their pet deck that they play every time and constantly try to improve while other players have big collections and come with different brews almost every time.
The first Ivory Cup
Sometimes at our game nights we play mini tournaments but when it comes to larger, more organized tournaments, Stockholm has only had one, the last L.I.G.G tournament. L.I.G.G is a classic, beer infused tournament here in Stockholm that is organized by Pefken and Alexander Midjich every now and then. L.I.G.G doesn’t have a set format, instead it changes from tournament to tournament, but the main focus has been on Legacy and Vintage. At this year’s L.I.G.G Vintage was the format of choice but the organizers also asked the players if they wanted to play some 93/94 Magic. The answer was a ringing yes and the 93/94 part of this year’s L.I.G.G ended up having around 20 players flipping Chaos Orbs and smashing each others faces with Juzam Djinns. It was clear that there was a big local interest in the format, which got me and my co-organizers to start thinking about organizing a stand alone 93/94 tournament here in Stockholm. And so, Ivory Cup, the first dedicated 93/94 tournament in Stockholm was born.
So with the help of wuberg (aka Paddan) and invaluable input from sebcelia, berlin and Eksem we started to make plans for the first Ivory Cup. Most things went smoothly but we ended up having a lot of setbacks concerning the venue. At the last minute we got ahold of  a photo studio called Fotostudion [www.fotostudion.se]. The problem though was that the studio didn’t have enough tables or chairs for the event so we had to become a little creative. The chair problem was solved easy with us going to IKEA to buy some cheap plastic ones but the table problem was a little worse. We ended up building table legs from lighting stands and then using the studio’s different backgrounds as table-tops. All in all I must say that I’m happy how it all ended up and the studio was a great place to have the tournament at, but yes, the tables could have been a little better.
Some quick facts
The tournament consisted of 29 players with roughly 20 from Stockholm, 3 from Uppsala and 6 came all the way from Arvika and Karlstad (about a 5 hour drive). We played 5 rounds of swiss before a cut to the top 8 and intentional draws where strictly prohibited. We drank over 200 bottles of beer, ate 19 pizzas, broke one mirror and had more than a few laughs until the last bunch gave up around 5 am. Amongst the players where multiple people with Giant Sharks and also one player that is 5 years younger then the game itself (more about him later on). We also had a player that came into contact with us because he wanted to sell his cards as he hadn’t played for many many years. One buyer then told him about the old school community and Ivory Cup so he paused his selling spree to play some last games and after winning his first 93/94 game at Ivory Cup it became clear that he ain’t selling anymore.
The Swiss
I actually don’t have much to say about the swiss as I either played or stood at the bar serving beer but I’ll try to write about a couple of highlights. To everyone’s surprise the world champion Martin Berlin showed up with an aggro deck completely without counterspells instead of his classic The Deck. But he still showed us all that he is the champion for a reason by being the only player to end the swiss undefeated at 5-0. One of his opponents was Seb Celia who became the only player to make it to top 8 with a 3-2 record, a top 8 in which he got his revenge and knocked out Martin Berlin in the quarter finals.
We also got to see Johan Larsson with his Goblin Sligh deck get his only loss in the swiss to Max Weltz. Both those players later went on to crush the competition and meet each other again in the finals, a final where Johan was out for revenge.
The Uppsala player Per Algander came to the tournament with one goal in mind, he wanted to Earthbind (yes, he played Earthbind in his deck) a Serra Angel. Maybe a strange dream, but a dream nonetheless. We are really sorry to say that he never got to fulfill his dream at this year’s Ivory Cup but from us organizers, good luck next time Per, we really really hope you’ll be able to do it then!

The top 8 decks!
If we are allowed to say it ourselves we had an amazing top 8 with a good spread of archetypes and players of all ages and backgrounds.

The winner of the tournament, Max Weltz has only been playing for a bit over a year but has put up some great results with his aggressive take on Troll Disco*. His eight trolls are joined by a full set of Nevinyrral's Disks, and to get rid of all those that oppose the trolls, including players, he plays eight Bolts and two Fireballs. And just to make the opponent feel even worse he also plays a full set of Sinkholes which can win games all by themselves. A big congratulations Max from the organizers of Ivory Cup!
Max Weltz's Troll Disco
In the finals Max’s trolls fought an army of orcs and goblins piloted by Johan Larsson. Johan is the player I wrote about earlier who is a whole five years younger then the game itself. Johan hasn’t played Magic for more than a couple of years but has already become a respected player in Stockholm’s Legacy community. Another fun thing is that he had never ever played a game of old school before this tournament and was only there because I asked if someone would like to try the format and borrow my extra mono red goblin deck. Said and done, Johan shuffled up the deck and showed us amazing skill when he smashed through the swiss and the top 8 all the way to the final where he lost to Max’s Trolls. If you want to know more about Johan’s first impressions of the format you can find a short interview with him later down the page.
Johan Larsson's Goblin Sligh
The deck Johan played is one that me and the other organizers have been talking about for quite some time and also think of as the format’s most underestimated budget deck. I usually play the deck with four more goblins and a full set of Goblin King just for fun, but the day before Ivory Cup I changed the deck according to suggestions made by master deck builder Martin Berlin. That meant going down on Goblin Kings, cutting a couple of goblins and instead adding Ironclaw Orcs for a better curve.

Top 4
Pefken is one of the old timers when it comes to 93/94 in Stockholm and he is also one of the revered few who has a Giant Shark in his deck. For this tournament he sleeved up what I would say is his signature archetype, Parfait, a classic prison deck that wants to make the opponent’s life miserable with Winter Orbs, Icy Manipulators and more. The fun thing is that he decided on this deck before Eternal Masters changed the game big time with it’s errata on Winter Orb. That of course only made the deck better and as one of Pefken’s victims in this tournament I would say, this deck is for real. But no matter how good the deck is, Pefken lost in the semifinals to Troll beatdown. It’s hard to beat four Nevinyrral's Disk when your whole deck is built around permanents.
Pefken's Parfait
The last top 4 contender was Seb Celia who played a classic The Deck and if I remember correctly the same configuration that took him to a top 8 placement at this year's n00bcon. There isn’t much more to say about the deck as it is THE Deck, but do note Seb’s favorite wincon in the sideboard, The Hive. Seb was also as far as I could tell the only player who showed up with The Deck. But even the mighty The Deck fell to the goblin horde after a couple of Blood Moons and a bunch of Red Elemental Blasts that showed up out of the sideboard.
Seb Celia's The Deck
Top 8
As I wrote earlier Martin Berlin came to event surprising us all with a deck completely without counterspells. Martin is calling it Arabian Aggro but you could also call it Zoo, or maybe Big Zoo? With only two answers to City in a Bottle a deck called Arabian Aggro will probably die if one hits the board, but on the other hand, not many players are using City in a Bottle these days, so why not play some of the best creatures in the format and back them up with restricted cards and Lightning Bolts? This deck took Martin to a top 8 finish where he was stopped in his track by Seb Celia’s The Deck.
Martin Berlin's Arabian Aggro
Johan Guldbrandsson was one of the guys who traveled all the way from Arvika to be able to play in this event, and the only one of those guys who reached the top 8. And as many other players in this tournament he did it without blue. Johan played a mostly green and red Zoo deck with full playsets of both Berserks and Giant Growths to get those quick wins. He also had some nice tech splashing white for one of the formats best removal spells, Disenchant. This deck hit hard and fast, and many players died before they even knew what was going on. But 8 Lightning Bolts and 4 Nevinyrral's Disk was too much for Johan who fell to the might trolls in the top 8.
JohanGuld's Erhnam Burn'em
The last two players in the top 8 were combo players, one being Felipe Garcia who played his signature Twiddle Vault. This deck draws an absurd amount of cards and takes a very large number of consecutive turns by playing Twiddle on Time Vault while deploying a bunch of Howling Mines. It really is an amazing deck, but it is also a really complicated deck with so many decisions all of the time that only a true master can handle it. Felipe has shown us many times that he is a master of his deck and this time it took him to the top 8 before the goblins ran him over.
Felipe's TwiddleVault
The last contender in the top 8 was yours truly who for once did not play UR Counter Burn which is the deck I have been playing for quite some time now. Instead I at last sleeved up a deck I’ve been brewing on and playtesting for a while now, The Tower of Power, or as most people call it; Power Monolith. My latest “innovation” was to add white to the mix for Disenchants and Swords to Plowshares. Those cards helped me survive the early and mid game better both against control and aggro so I had the time to actually draw my combo. I do however only own three Disenchants, otherwise the deck would have had four, but that will be for next time. I got crushed by an Underworld Dreams combo deck in the swiss and later by Pefken’s Parfait but all in all my deck worked like a charm and I also were able to pull of a turn two combo kill.
Gordon Andersson's Power Monolith
Special mention
Keeping with the local tradition in Stockholm, the last non-dropping player in the tournament was designated Rag Man and of course awarded with the signature card, this time with signed greetings from Daniel Gelon Congratulations Andreas Ahlgren!

Interview with Johan Larsson
At last, some quick questions for Johan Larsson who may not have won Ivory Cup, but for his efforts got a signed and limited print of Elves of Deep Shadows from 1995. He was definitely the story of the day as he hadn't played the format at all before Ivory Cup and still made it to the finals. Hi Johan!

Johan: Hi!

GA: You usually play legacy and have never tried 93/94 before, what are your first impressions of the format?

Johan: It is very fun. The formats offers exciting plays, exciting cards and exciting decks. It definitely a format I want to play more of.

GA: Tell me about your experience at the tournament.

Johan: I went into the tournament with no expectations whatsoever. I thought I might win a match or two if I got lucky. But then the wins started pouring in. Somehow the small goblins backed up by lightning and a giant red moon got there over and over again. And on top of that I managed to get lucky as well. For example i topdecked a ball lightning for the win in the last round of the swiss (which felt amazing) and in game 3 of the quarterfinal my opponent went land into ancestral on turn one but never managed to find a second mana source which made it easy for me to win. As for the sideboard, there were many very good cards such as the REB:s but a few cards should certainly be replaced. Goblin Cave for example might be cool, it just isn't very good.

GA: Any additional comments  about the deck, any MVP:s or completely useless cards? And which matchups seemed to be the hardest ones?

Johan: The deck felt good. It did what it was built to do, namely dealing damage and getting free wins with Blood Moon (which is the best card in the deck). The individual cards in the deck are of very different power levels but all seemed to fulfil their role. A card that actually surprised me was Ankh of Mishra which dealt a lot of damage to my opponents throughout the tournament. A matchup that felt really hard was the one against Troll Disco. I played against that deck three times in the tournament going 1-2 against it. The game I won was against a build of the deck with more land destruction and less trolls and it is the trolls my deck have a really hard time dealing with.

GA: Enough about goblins now, if you had an infinite amount of money, what deck would you play?

Johan: Hmm. I think many of the blue combo decks such as Felipe's Twiddlevault deck and Gordon's power artifact deck are very interesting. Even though I love Juzam Djinn over all the other card in this format I have to go with one of those two decks.

GA: Any thoughts about how the 93/94 community or the tournament differs from your other Magic experiences?

Johan: I would say that the term “Laid back” best describe both the tournament and the community. There are for example very few magic tournaments where I can enjoy a beer while playing a match. The vibe of the tournament is much less competitive than tournaments in other formats which is perfect when the main goal is to have a good time. As for the community there were many nice people i knew from earlier and the new people I met were also very nice.

GA: Last but not least, how well did you do with your Chaos Orb flips? Because as I understand it you had never flipped one until this tournament?

Johan: I only got to flip it once and that was a hit. On an Ivory Tower if I remember correctly. I was taught how to do it just before the tournament however. If I hadn't gotten those reps in it would probably had gone worse on that part.

* = Max himself wants to call the deck Disco Troll but as he isn’t the one writing I’ll call it Troll Disco. You want to know why? Because it’s not ONE troll dancing disco, a Disco Troll. It is eight trolls dancing disco, so it becomes a Troll Disco.

onsdag 22 juni 2016

Retox and rants

It had been a long time since I last played. Life gets in the way, other things get prioritized, and suddenly you're looking at two months since you last touched a Magic card. That's a good thing with old school though. I don't need to play that often if I don't have the time. It's not like the format will rotate or drastically change with new additions to the card pool in a couple of months. Or a couple of years for that matter. I've played 93/94 for almost 10 years now, and I plan to do it for 10 more. But we all have the ups and downs in Magic activity. We never stop, we just take breaks of different lengths.

It was time to relapse. As luck would have it, one of my good colleagues at work is Bjørn Einar Bjartnes, not only an excellent human being and brilliant developer, but also an old school afficionado. Yesterday we decided to play some lunch break Magic at work.
First turn Land-Lotus-Bottle of Suleiman. Some Magic right there.
With the help of some amazing skill, I win the flip and get a turn two Djinn. Thanks a bunch to Constantine Prishvitsin for the sweet tokens :) The Russian old school scene is awesome.
Post the lunch brawl, I was smitten. Magic is a damn good game. After watching some big screen UEFA soccer in a sunny park, I joined up with a few of the Norwegian old school players at Outland to get in a few more games. Michael Kjebekk, one of the early adopters in Oslo who works at the local game store, was trying out streaming a few of the games on twitch.
McGuyver setup.
There will be a 93/94 tournament Sunday this weekend in Olso btw, during the annual Arcon convention. The Arcon convention is as usual placed during Midsummer's Eve weekend in Sweden, which often prompts me to travel south and celebrate with native countrymen, but as I have been on the road every weekend for the last seven weeks it's time to take a couple of days home in Norway. Checking out the pride parade Saturday and playing 93/94 Sunday. Feel free to join if you're in the neighborhood :)

On a slightly different but similar note, last weekend marked the first annual Ivory Cup in Stockholm! I didn't have the chance to go there myself, but I've been promised a tournament report by one of the tournament organizers, Gordon Andersson, by next week. I can give a small spoiler though. I know that there were around 30 players competing, and that these were the decks in the top8:'

1 - Troll Disco
2 - Goblins
3-4 - The Deck
3-4 - Parfait (Winter Orb Prison)
5-8 - Power Monolith
5-8 - TwiddleVault
5-8 - The Gun (RGw Berserk)
5-8 - Arabian Aggro

Apparently Goblin Sligh is playable without Fallen Empires. Impressive stuff.
Who even needs Grenades when you have Ziggy at your side ;)
Speaking of Fallen Empires, I took the time to update the Banned & Restricted page with links and descriptions of the most commonly used local variants of 93/94. To quote the Alpha rule book (page 35):

"Be prepared to encounter house versions of this game when you play someone you haven't played before. These rules are a framework from which to start; after you know how to play, your play group may develop local rules, new ways to play particular cards, or other variations. Just be sure before you start that everyone is playing the same game."

Local variations is old school as fuck. This should be seen as one of the perks of playing an unsanctioned format, no one can tell you what to do to best embrace the spirit of the format but yourself. What we do here works for us, and for most of the scattered players around the globe, but it doesn't by any means mean that you have to follow what we've been doing here. Maybe ChannelFireball rules or BoM rules works better for you. Or maybe you want to come up with something yourself.

Let's end today's rant with a couple of sweet decks seen at the tables of n00bcon 8. Courtesy of Axelsson and Macensci:
Machine Head White
Eel-less Eel.
Oh, and two more things! Check out Nomad Gamer's new post about Legends and the even newer one about Red-Green Aggro. Good stuff.

torsdag 16 juni 2016

Suicide Blue

I can't remember how many weeks I've been thinking about posting something about Suicide Blue. Nine? Probably more. Let's go:
Suicide Blue
Back in the day someone decided that blue should have all of the color pie. Not just countering spells and drawing cards, but stuff like aggressive creatures and direct damage. The Suicide Blue deck is kinda like the Suicide Black decks of later eras in that it uses life as a resource and wield spells with significant drawbacks. The blue decks have slightly better evasion and more flexible sideboards (supporting e.g. four-of Energy Flux), but at the cost of a little less aggressive starts (no turn one Ritual into Phyrexian Negator or turn two Hatred for the win). If we have a high budget or lots of time, the Suicide Blue deck could also incorporate insanely powerful cards like Time Walk, Timetwister and Ancestral Recall. I don't play them here though. I dislike moving cards between decks, as it hinders easy switches between them and prevents me from lending out decks to friends. Also, I heard that some restriction in power breeds creativity, and it's highly amusing to beat a fully powered deck with a bunch of 1/1s.
Or at least beat powered Distress with a bunch of 1/1s.
As for the creature suite, one could argue for Dan-Dan rather than the Pearl Trident crew. But you really want to hit your 1-drops here. The Merfolks also make the deck a little more resilient to City in a Bottle. Flying Men and Serendib Djinn are important cards, so we already have a lot of dedication to Arabian summons. Serendib Efreet is really solid as well, of course. The reason I only play three is because I only own three, and buying a forth would cost me approximately all the money. Or at least more than a pair of new shoes.

I rarely talk about card prices, but let's take an aside today.
Creature suite
Sure, some things were more easy before this format started spreading from the deep underground to a slightly more shallow soil. Less rabble rousing, space for everyone at n00bcon, and a little more affordable to rebuild decks. But increased card prices don't really bother me too much, even though I wouldn't mind having another Efreet and a set of Mana Vaults at their 2014 prices.

It would be easy to whine about increasing prices as the popularity of the format has grown. It's always easy to whine. But here's the deal with buying cards: if a card's price don’t correspond to the joy I get from owning it; I just don’t buy it. Like, if Flying Men were a €20 card, I would still buy them because they are awesome. I bought my first two copies for around €7 each in 1998, and if 18 years of time would have increased the cards price with €13, I would accept that. If they would cost €100, I'd give them a pass. Few cards pass the €100+ test for me; stuff like Juzam, Power, Mirror Universe, The Abyss, Duals, and a few more. It so happens that Flying Men instead cost €1 today, which is sweet. Same with Psionic Blast, which was an €20 card in Unlimited 10 years ago, but only costs around €6 today. If Serendib Efreet had a price tag of €35 like two years ago, I'd buy them (that's why I own three of them). Hell, I'd probably be a buyer at €70. But €150 is too much. I don't need to complete my playset that bad. The deck is good enough, and sweet enough, as is.

Last Friday I travelled to Sweden to have dinner at Törnströms, a Michelin Star rated restaurant, and drank some port from 1866. The cost of that dinner was in the same ball park as a Serendib Efreet. Would I rather have a 4th Serendib than eating that dinner? Nope. I would easily sell one of my Efreets to get the chance to get drunk on 150 year old Portuguese wine. As my resources to spend on luxury are finite; I have to prioritize.

Complaining about prizes never got me anything except annoyance. It's much easier to just not be an impulse buyer at a certain point, and instead use that money for something I think is worth it. And if we look at the old school side of things, it's not like everybody had access to all the cards in 1994 anyway. Playing Clone instead of the fourth Efreet certainly has some nostalgic value.

For my own curiosity while writing this article, I checked what the price of this Suicide Blue deck would be if we use Unlimited where possible, cut the Serendib Efreets for Dan-Dans, and cut the Masks for Boomerangs (arguably a better card in the deck). TCG Mid gave a price tag of 302.88 bucks. If we cut the Djinns for Phantasmal Forces as well, we're down to 161.49 USD. That's a little boring though, and I think that the Djinns are worth almost doubling the price of the deck. Nevertheless, if we compare it with the price of the first Standard deck I found, Green-White Tokens (the deck that won the last Standard GP), that one had a price tag of 446.43. So if you'd rather buy an old school Suicide Blue than the flavor of the week deck in Standard, you still have enough left to get a played Serendib Efreet. Or you're on a good way towards a Timetwister. But I digress.

End finance rant, enter burn spells!
Burn suite
Mind Bomb is no Lightning Bolt, but it does the job well. In the early game, it's pretty much guaranteed 3 damage for 1 mana. Zero honks are given to the fact the we take three ourselves. Unstable Mutation doesn't technically have range, as you need to have a creature to assist it, but in Magical Christmas Land it deals 6 for one blue. Psionic Blast is of course insane, and one of the top burn spells in the format. It kills anything south of Juzams, from Serra Angels to opponents.

Then we have the utility cards. Four Unsummon seemed like the correct removal suite. In this deck they are basically a Time Walk against opponents playing Factories, and they are solid answers to first turn Hypnotics or early Djinns. I considered playing Boomerangs instead, but the extra mana makes a difference and there are not many non-creature permanents apart from Nevinyrral's Disk that scare us.

Sweetest card is probably the two Masks though. While arguably not a great card, they are not terrible and any lack in playability they make up in hilarity. The first time I played this deck was against Björn-Einar Bjartnes during a retro-game exibit at the Oslo Technical Museum. We had joined the exibit mostly to see John Romero's talk about DOOM 2, but took some time to swing cardboard from the era as well. I managed to win most of the games against his Red/Green concatenation and I the masks did a lot of work. Not only that they neglect the drawback of the Djinns and Efreets for a turn turn, they can make attacking a nightmare. If I spend three mana to cast a hidden creature, most players wouldn't dare to attack into it with a Kird Ape. Even though it's only a one in five chance it's a creature that could kill it, it's not a gamble many are willing to take.

I also got to use the Mask to cast Serendib Djinns under a City in a Bottle when playing against Hardy's Distress deck at a local pub (as the Djinns have no name when I mask them). They still die as soon as they would deal damage or become tapped, but you can use them to chump block or just bide your time until you draw one of the sideboarded Boomerangs.
City of Serendib
So is the deck actually good? Yeah, I guess. I would say at least a six on a one to ten scale as power level goes. It can ignore most of the common hate like Energy Flux, Blood Moon and Underworld Dreams. It's fast and beats hard, and should one have access to blue power it grows stronger. Not the least, it's amusing to play and smashing face with mutated Serendib Djinns is sweet. If you're looking for a "cheaper-than-standard" deck to get you into the format, Suicide Blue seems like a good enough gateway drug.

lördag 11 juni 2016

A secret to everybody

Trickery, misdirection and riddles are tools for any conjurer worth their salt. History is riddled with examples of cunning characters using cryptic means to hide the real meaning of what's going on.
In recent years, perhaps the most talked about example of a message hiding in plain sight is the letter from then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the California State Assembly. Statistically, taking the first letter of all the sentences in an article and have them form a new sentence simply will not happen unless it was the writer's plan all along; it is almost impossible for this to happen by coincidence. Particularly if the sentence turns out to be something as poignant as this ;)
Old Magic sets took the ideas of misdirection and trickery and ran with them. Sure, there are face-down creatures and some sense of hiding in plain sight in more modern sets as well, but the first face down cards were of a different caliber. Threading deep into the unknown with cards like Camouflage, and in particular the glorious Illusionary Mask.
Illusionary Mask is one of my hands down favorite cards. Something about the perplexing art and plain silliness spoke to me from the first time I saw it in 1995. And not to mention how weird the rules on this one used to be. Chaotic is an understatement.
Let's say that you have a Goblin King played face down under the mask and attack with a Mon's Goblin Raiders. Unless the opponent has no mountains in play, the Raiders can't be blocked. Even though the King is completely hidden information, its rule text still applies, and the Raiders are in fact 2/2 mountainwalkers.

For a long time, this was the cause of a lot of rules headaches. Opponents didn't even have to show the face-down cards after the game, so an unscrupulous player could technically cast a basic land under the Mask pretending it was a creature to help empty the hand in face of a Black Vise. Really against the rules of course, but unless a judge was close at hand you had no way of knowing.

That problem was addressed with the release of morph creatures, and the Onslaught rules specified that you had to reveal any face-down creatures with the morph ability at the end of the game. Humility from Tempest made this a little more complicated however. Every creature ability was removed with Humility - the face-down creatures technically didn't have morph when it was in play - so would you have to reveal them at the end of the game anyway?
Not that Humility were needed to make the masked creatures in 93/94 cryptic though, they literally had nothing to distinguish them in the original rules. 0 abilities. 0 characteristics. Beyond being a creature card, a masked card was simply a black box. Cards like Terror could attempt to target them, sure, but you never knew if it would actually have an effect or just "fizzle" due to the creature being black or an artifact.

Over the first three years of its existence, the Illusionary Mask didn't see much play at the top tables. New cards are constantly added to stir up the meta of course, and in 1996 Illusionary Mask met its first BFF.
1 mana would best case give you a 2/3 before the printing of Mirage, and that was deemed powerful enough to warrant a ban of Kird Ape in Extended. 1 mana for a 12/12 trampler is pretty damn bonkers, in particular when you could set up the combo fairly easily with Enlightened Tutor from that same set. Right up until a few years ago, iterations of MaskNought were a strong enough strategy to see competitive play in Legacy. In the earlier days, MaskNought was powerful enough for vintage. Dreadnought got a bunch of powerlevel errata after it was released - in particular to avoid shenanigans with cards like Pandemonium - but the Mask combo was never nerfed.

Detractors could argue that this removed some of the mystery from the mask, as you pretty much always knew what 1-drop creature was hidden under it, but it was still a cool synergy. Look at this sweet Vintage MaskNought deck (as shown in Stephen Menendian's History of Vintage):
Eternal or casual formats are the only possible homes for mask strategies, as it is a reserved list card that never got printed in a Standard legal set. Given the unique ability and rules luggage, it is highly unlikely that a comparable card it will ever see print again.

Of all the cards in ABU, Illusionary Mask may be the one with oracle text furthest from the printed text, just to make it work with current rules. These days, creatures hidden under the Mask are always cast as 2/2s without any abilities, just like any other face-down creature, which leads to a few strange interactions one might argue goes against "the spirit of the card". Other than removing all the strange static abilities, the creatures now have power and toughness that can be interacted with.

Why does that matter? Well, for instance a card like Infest can now kill all the face-down creatures, which it couldn't before unless they had a toughness of two or less when face up. Whatever stats the creature may have when we see it face-up are ignored as long as it is hidden. That removes a lot of the mystery around a face-down creature as we now know what they are; 2/2 colorless creatures with no abilities nor mana cost. Hellfire will destroy a masked Juzam Djinn for instance, which is disheartening for so many reasons. Explain to me how Demonic Hordes can be killed by Hellfire or Terror but survives both a Cleanse and an Exorcist just because it was lurking behind a mystical mask.
Masking creatures as 2/2s instead of ?/? could have upsides however. After all, two is an actual number. So who could possibly enjoy being a vanilla 2/2 instead of their normal self? Kobolds, that's who. Ornitopther also I guess. Flush out a handful of 0-drops under the Mask, have them come into play as facedown 2/2s, and then just throw them in sombody's face with Sword of the Ages. In newer formats you could also add Pandemonium; then you'll just need 5 Kobolds to win on the spot. Lifetime Johnny-achievement right there.
Lately we've seen some cards with high morph costs and powerful abilities that trigger when they are turned face up. Ultimately these creatures may become the new tech in Mask builds, as they have some value even if you fail to draw the Mask itself. Synergy is important, but avoiding the trap of getting stuck with Dreadnoughts in hand and no Mask in play may be worth sacrificing some power for.
It's no 12/12 for 1, but a 5/5 for GG that gives you five 1/1s when it dies is nothing to scoff at.

Onslaught opened the door for face-down creatures with morph triggers, instantly upping the ante for the tricksters among us. New sets will keep coming and eventually we might see a card that just begs to be played face down for its mana cost and then flip up for free. Dreadnought might have been the first tournament-worthy partner, but I am certain the Mask will find new friends as new cards keep entering the scene.

One last thing before we go, as it would feel amiss to end a 93/94 post with a picture of Hooded Hydra rather than some sweet 93/94 tech. This seems like a better note to wrap up on:
Chances are that this is one of the posts that will be forgotten in the scurry, buried deep among the more conventional content of tournament reports, rarities and deck techs. Or you could perhaps find this story in two or three years and suddenly realize it was more to it than met the eyes. Maybe this is what you are looking for, only you don't really see it yet.

fredag 10 juni 2016

Showdown in Scania

Sweden is a pretty big country. E.g. the distance between Berlin (the German capital) and Paris is quite a bit shorter than the distance between Berlin (the current 93/94 World Champion, who lives in Stockholm) and the Northernmost parts of Sweden. As such, the Swedish 93/94 players are not exactly sitting at the same kitchen tables, and different cities have somewhat different metas and communities. What happens in Scania isn't necessarily what happens in Arvika or Växjö.

The Scania 93/94 players are some sweet guys. Last weekend they had their third "official" tournament at Playoteket in Malmö. The tournament organizer Arkanon sent over a short report and some nice deck lists. Enjoy! /Mg out

Scania is situated in the southernmost part in Sweden. By convenience we have chosen Contract from below as the card all contestants sign as a price. We have approximately 12 active players and another 3-4 players who occasionally borrow decks and participate. Of the core players, four of us have power and four play casual/ budget decks/ decks-in-progress. Among them a Fungusaur deck which I will return to :) We've had five tournaments so far, of which three were official ones. Ill start with our latest tournament, here is our Top 4:
MrSinclair's The Deck. 1st place.
Danhor's ErhnamGeddon. 2nd place.
Olle's UR Burn. 3-4th place.
Arkanon's 5C Ydwen. 3-4th place.
Of course, I have to post Axelsson's deck as well, you probably wont see this deck again from him. He has pretty much all the cards (except any power), so he can build almost anything and is known for having a new tech at each tournament. So don't expect to meet this deck at the next big tournament :)
Axelsson's MonoBlack Abyss. (6th place)
And to the big question: Is Ydwen Efreet really that a bad card? Now that Fork is unrestricted, monored might have a bit of an edge, in particular if we can splash blue for power and Serendib Efreets. I was surprised by the effectiveness of Ydwen against many decks. Although The Deck could outmanouver me, every single deck I've playtested against had a hard match. The YdwenDeck I played at the tournament is just a prototype, and I lack certain cards (2 Forks and 2 Volcanics). I had great fun playtesting with a proxied Ydwen/Fork deck, maybe you will meet me soon running that deck when it's complete!
Is it that bad? Perhaps. Is it fun? Definitely!
On another note, I just have to post one of the coolest deck Ive seen among the Scania players, a total casual/budgetdeck. Ive proposed to borrow him two Sylvan libraries but he refused :)
Rednekk's Fungusaurdeck
/Mg in

I just want to state for the record that the Fungusaur deck looks amazing :)

If you want some more Old School fix, Jacopo Borrelli of Ravenna have written a great primer on Lestree Zoo at Magictime.it. It's filled with both deck techs and interesting trivia. Jacopo even managed to get an interview with Zak Dolan, the original 1994 Magic World Champion, who defeated Bertrand Lestree carrying his Zoo in the finals of the first World Championships. That is awesome. Go give it a read!

Also, I've managed to update the Decks to Beat page with 28 decklists from the last couple of months. Check them out if you're a net-decker ;)

Playoteket 3 93/94 Top4
12 participants. Photos of 4/4 decks.
The third official tournament at Playoteket in Scania showed some solid mages and decks. Mr Sinclair's awe-inspiring The Deck managed to get the best of Erhnamgeddon, UR Burn and 5-color Ydwen Efreet (!) in the top4. Again we see multiple Forks in the top4; clearly a card not to be underestimated.

Drammen 93/94 Top8
17 participants. Photos of 8/8 decks. The first tournament in Drammen gathered mages from across Norway (and a couple from Arvika and Karlstad) to fight for an Adventurers' Guildhouse. The top8 was almost completely dominated by old school beatdown, apart from one Fork deck and one Nether Void Ponza. Su-Chis, Juzams and Erhnams beat hard, and the WW decks beats a lot.

n00bcon 8, World Championships Top8
76 participants, photos of 8/8 decks. Players from Russia, the US, Denmark, Germany and many other places across the lands descended upon the Rotary Pub in Gothenburg to lay claim to the old school World Championship title and the coveted Giant Shark. More players than ever wanted to get in the ring this year, and than he tournament was filled to capacity three months before the showdown. The top8 hosted some familiar names in the format - battling with 3 copies of UR Burn, 3 The Deck, a Lestree Zoo and an Artifact Aggro - before Martin Berlin got to hoist the trophy.

Arvika Festival 2016 Top8
34 participants, photos of 8/8 decks. The third largest, and possibly the sweetest, of the yearly Northern Europe gatherings was once again held in Viksgården in Arvika. The top8 hosted 8 distinct archetypes; from Distress to Toolbox Murderers and Time Elemental Control to Dead Guy Ale. In the end, Lestree Zoo took down Power Monolith in the finals to claim this year's Festival.