onsdag 31 januari 2018

The Knights of Thorn and how it all started

Today our illustrious company is a true force in the Dutch 93/94 guilds. Mari Steinhage is one of the brains behind the honorable Gatherings of the Knights of Thorn, and a pillar in the explosive growth of bearded wizards in the Netherlands. These are some good people, and I hope to soon get the chance to visit the Netherlands to sling some spells. Enjoy! /Mg out

This report will cover the third Gathering of the Knights of Thorn. But I'll start from the beginning, how we even arrived at this point. At this moment we have already had three gatherings of the Knights of Thorn and our community grew over the last eight months from seven up to 39 people.

Over the years I collected numerous old cards. Whenever possible I put them in EDH decks. But this wasn't enough for me so one day, 5 years ago or so, I decided to build myself an old cards cube. This was my best idea ever. Because
the sets I put in the cube where the ones released in '93 and '94. I started with lots of Revised to get to the desired number of 360 cards, but during the following years I acquired power and black bordered staples until I stumbled over an old school blog. n00bcon 6 (or 7; I'm not sure) had just passed and I learned about a whole new world of people being fond of the same thing. So I started brewing with my cube and bought playsets of some crucial staples. Whenever I played magic I tried to shuffled one of my pet decks consisting of only old cards. Most of the time I was met with amusement and laughter. They weren't ready yet...

I tried to find people to play old school with but I was without luck until last February. I visited a guy to relieve him of a playset unlimited Plateaus and we chatted a bit about old cards and how I regretted that no one in the Netherlands played a format called Old school. In hindsight I think that the possibility of playing with Juzams pushed him over the edge. This chatting continued for several weeks and in the end Erwin and I decided to organize something ourselves. Via Mg I got hold of the e-mail address of Dyan and we held our first "Gathering of the Knights of Thorn" in April. A staggering number of 7 persons participated.
There can be only one first winner!
As Erwin wrote an article about the second gathering I'll fast forward to my preparations for the third gathering.

Preparations for the third gathering
The months prior to the tournament are half the fun in my opinion. The deckbuilding and searching for cards brings back memories of the old times. Since we had several months between the gatherings I had the possibility to really dive into brewing. After playing creatureless in the second gathering (and performing horrible) I decided to make a creature based deck once again. I wanted resilience and consistent creature removal. So I built a Fungusaur/ Whirling Dervish/ Pestilence deck and tried hard to get it running. But it wasn’t competitive enough so I decided to put the project on hold and go for a more proven concept; Erhnamgeddon. When reading about the Erhnamgeddon deck and the possibilities I got greedy and assembled this monster.
Erhnamgeddon with blue power and Serendib Efreets.
How did it perform? Not very well actually. The meta where I tried it was control heavy, resulting in me keeping the Efreets on the bench. Together with the Cities they made the deck a little bit to suicidal. So once more it was back to the drawing board. What I did learn from playing the Erhnamgeddon deck was its raw power. The combination of aggro and control due to the use of Armageddon. So I decided to go back to the more classical WG color combination. By staying at only two colors the Land Tax - Sylvan Library filtering engine was a possibility once again. So this was the first powerhouse I decided to incorporate. Secondly, after having played with the Efreets, I learned once more that evasion is not to be underestimated. So my sideboard would be tailored to exploit flying creatures to the max. If I would match up against a creature heavy deck they would be in for a nasty surprise.
The Erhnamgeddon deck I played at the tournament.
Besides building the deck there where several other things to organize. We had grown out of our previous location. So a location capable of hosting around 40 players (our most positive prediction) had to be found. Game stores are always an option but the requirements of drinking beer and being able to organize however we wanted it made us choose a local bar/ restaurant. In hindsight a great place because we now have a location at which we grow even up to maybe 64 participants (a little lobbying for the next one is allowed right?).

With the challenge of finding a suitable location out of the way I focused on the remaining tasks; getting a reliable score/ pairing program, designing buttons with a picture of the Knights of Thorn on it and (most important) ordering custom playmats.
The spoils before the war.
Day of the tournament
My day started real early (7:00 am) with a WhatsApp from Florian. One of our two German contenders in the tournament. He had woken early and was wondering if I needed a hand with the last preparations for the tournament. Because everything was taken care of already I proposed to join him at the hotel. Nothing beads a few games of early morning old school. I shouldn't have pushed my luck. My opening hand was flawless and the deck was running like hell. He never stood a chance and I was boosting with self-confidence that this deck would earn me my second Knights of Thorn. Probably the best moment of the day result-wise.
Board state somewhere at the beginning of game one.
Unfortunate from there on it all went downhill. We played a second game which I lost. I blamed it on a bad draw from my side and because Florian admitted that his opening was near perfect I didn’t see any problems. After two games time was running out so I left the hotel to go to the side. On my way to the tournament side I picked up Wessel, one of the initial seven, who would help me organize the tournament. At the location we made the last preparations and started signing everyone in. Out of the 41 interested persons 39 turned up.

Round 1My first opponent was Robbie who played a WGU deck. His deck of choice had some overlap with my deck and the previous version of it. But he had chosen control; Efreets and blue power over Armageddon if I recall correctly. His deck was fast enough to withstand the power of my Armageddons and after a miss-timed Balance from my side, which he countered, it was a done deal at 0-2. I shouldn’t have wasted my perfect opening hand on some early morning playtesting :)

Round 2My second opponent was our other German contender, Thilo. The first game was running smooth when he suddenly played a Stasis. This was my first encounter with an old school Stasis deck and with the limited answers I had it looked grim. Luckily I drew into power and with the filtering ability of the library I was able to generate enough mana to land a Serra Angel. From there on the future looked bright again and I secured my first win of the tournament. After sideboarding in my remaining Serra we started our second game. I think he boarded in some more Counterspells because he was able to stall the game long enough to get a Stasis live. From that moment on the game dragged on. Eventually time was called and I hoped to sit out another 5 turns to steal a win but luck had left me. With no time left to start a third game it was Chaos Orb penalty shootout. I missed, 2-1.

Round 3This round I played against Nick who played a really solid mono black deck. He must have had some nasty match-ups otherwise he shouldn’t be playing me in the all-is-lost regions. The first game I had a slow start, he removed my Ernhams and against his Black Knights my swords were useless. I think he eventually grinded me down with a combination of Underworld Dreams and the Knights in the first game. However I felt confident. Because this was the moment to open all registers. I boarded in the pair of Whirling Dervish and went flat out with my flying creatures. Knights don’t fly right? Unfortunately Nick also had answers against white, being Gloom. I used my Disenchants on the Dreams leaving his Glooms untouched. When they became multiple the weight of the additional mana was dragging me under and sealing my fate, 0-2.

The remaining 2 rounds of the tournament I didn’t take any notes. So I’ll fast forward to the top eight elimination rounds. Initially we had intended a top 4 but because of the tournament seize a top 8 was better suited.
Top eight playing round one
We had a healthy mix of deck types contesting for the big price. Wessel and Dyan, both three time Knights of Thorn veterans, made it by playing aggro. Jimmy, the first player ever in our tournament playing “The Deck” had also made it. The remaining five where all newcomers to our playgroup. In the first round, out of the three “experienced” players, only Dyan didn’t get slaughtered. Also my first opponent of the day, Florian, found his Waterloo. Upside of that is the certainty that the big price remained in the Netherlands. There would be no foreign winner of the Gathering of the Knights of Thorn. For now...

The Final was between Roy and Joep. Joep played Erhnamgeddon with blue. His deck only "lacks" the Armageddons but if he wants he can borrow them from me next time we have a tournament. Roy played a powerless control version of mono black choosing Su-Chi over Juzam. Being familiar with a more aggro version of mono black, back then, I didn’t see the upside of his choices. But now, after he has won the tournament, I can only say that I’ve learned new things about mono black. Respect for trying this new approach and congratulations again.
The winning deck
The new Knight of Thorn

lördag 20 januari 2018

In search for the Alpha rule book

Somewhere, I have an Alpha rule book. Probably in the same place as my other core set rule books. But right now it is the Alpha book I'm looking for. I want to take a stroll through the curious laws of Magic we were offered in August 1993. It would be good to freshen up before The Wizards' Tournament takes place.

I know it's not just memory playing tricks. I wrote about that particular rule book here. But since I wrote that post I've called six different places home, and I've packed everything I own into unlabeled boxes more times than I care to recall.

So it does exist, somewhere. It could be in a box in the storage room, in the last box at my parents' home in Gothenburg, or lurking somewhere in the closet. I have no idea. But I do have a closet to look through right here, so I thought it might be fun to take this opportunity to invite you guys with me.

One pretty cool thing is that a growing number of Magic players these days refer to themselves predominantly as Oldschool players. The same way as people have described themselves as Modern players, Vintage players or Standard players for many years. "What do you play?" "I'm an oldschool player". And people know what they mean. As for me? I would probably label myself as a casual player. I am certainly familiar to most as an old school player, but my fire is really for casual Magic in all its forms. It has just been that old school is one of, if not the, greatest casual one-on-one constructed format.

First, we can take a look at what's outside the realms of the closet. What part of the collection is ready at hand, visible to a guest and easy to grab?
The guy with the most decks when he dies wins. In the living room bookshelf we  find the decks I use with some regularity. At the far left we have my gauntlet of Tribelander decks; Witches, Spies, Snakes and Thrulls. Tribelander is easily my favorite multiplayer format. Next to that line we have some more odd formats. An Ice Age block Jokulhaups deck for Block Wars; a Reject Rare Constructed (RRC) Biovisonary deck; an updated version of the Cunning duel deck; the Might duel deck; a 60-card casual Kiora deck; 60-card casual Queen Marchesa deck; and a Yidris deck. Then we have the line with "real" formats. UWR Control for Legacy; White Eldrazi for Vintage; Zedru EDH; and Daretti EDH. And finally we have my favorite constructed one-on-one format; 93/94. The top deck box is Project M, then we have UR Burn, MonoGreen, and Party Crasher. There are btw zero proxies apart from a few in the Vintage deck; I'm rarely inclined to move cards between decks. I own a lot of Sol Rings at this point.

Moving on to the living room table:
Not much to see here, but it is kinda sweet to have a Khalsa Brain mat as table cloth.
And the book shelf in the bedroom:
The 93/94 binder, and next to it a Vintage/Legacy Four-binder.
Old school binder for old school cards.
Now, as we old salts know, when using a binder like this you always put the cheapest cards towards the center of the binder. They will eventually get binder damage from the D-rings if you brew too much while drunk. So white borders and commons in the innermost sleeves. And yeah, I have seven Fungusaurs. Of course I do. No regrets. Almost wish I had eight.
This one is also on the bedroom bookshelf btw; the original art for the first n00bcon pin.
That's about the visible part of it. I have a fairly large casual binder and a small trade binder in a cupboard as well, but I really don't own that much bulk cards. The closet is where the random things and obscurities are. Perhaps an Alpha rule book. Let's jump in.
Our first find is a pile of storage boxes...
...containing vast piles of penny sleeved cards. Far too many for a sensible Cube.
But this is in fact a cube; a so called Reject Rare cube. These are the rares I've found i bulk bins, won at auctions for around €0.1, or just had in leftover piles. It is of course highlander, i.e. no more than one copy of each card. Reject Rare drafting is a very weird experience, and unlike all other draft formats I've tried. This particular cube contains around 2,000 cards; and is dwarfed by Honka's RRD Cube in Gothenburg which at the moment boasts about 4,000 different rares. But let's check out that jean jacket in the left corner!
Now this is a fine piece of Magic. A Hurloon Minotaur jacket. The original swag, and one of the more cherished pieces in my collection.
Discretely signed by Anson Maddocks below the collar.
Adjacent to the RRD cube, on a pile of clothes, we find a few unopened boxes of my current favorite non-cube draft formats. I have never in my life bought a box of a standard (or modern) legal expansion, but these sets really hit it home for me.

And an unopened box of Archenemy Nicol Bolas. Haven't had the chance to open this box yet, but I did try it out last summer. Well designed product.
This particluar box I got in the mail as a surprise wedding gift from Yespair, a really nice guy running the Alara Games LGS in Trollhättan. Thanks man!
Oh, a dusty box of trinkets and old n00bcon pins! Can this hold what we're looking for?
Damn, flashbacks to the headache this puzzle gave me. Took me many hours to solve. Should probably leave this untouched.
Starting at n00bcon 5, we printed pins for the Shark tournament participants. For n00bcon five and six, only 50 of each pin were made, making them fairly uncommon as 93/94 trivia trinkets. n00bcon seven and eight had 100 pins made, and n00bcon nine had 200. These are the rejected pins for n00bcon six, with a large white border. Around 50 were made for these as well, but as they were rejected none of them were distributed.
Here's the only graded card I own; an Alpha Hurloon Minotaur with the case signed by Anson Maddocks. It feels iconic enough for me to justify having a card I can never play with.

Magic poker chips. Sweet trinkets. Got them as a gift from Andreas Cermak last n00bcon. Thanks!
The first Magic novella from 1994. If you sent in the coupon at the last page of the book WotC would mail you a copy of Arena and Sewers of Estark. Have had it for years, actually got it for free in a store around 96/97 after the mail-in offer had ended. Still have't read it though. I guess I'll power through it sometime in 2018.
Now these are nice. These books were a gift from Martin and Alex in Regensburg outside Munich about five years ago. I guess that some of the German readers here might recognize them :)

And a small playset binder with some random combolicious playsets from between Ice Age and Urza block. 
The Chaos Orb binder. I think we could check this out in detail sometime later this year, but there are still some sweet oddities missing. Anyone who knows where I can find an orange playtest version of Chaos Orb? :)
Ok, nothing more interesting on the floor level. Let's check out the top shelf.
Right in front we have a Demonic duel deck, from Divine vs Demonic. Now that was pretty bad product as Duel Decks go. Probably my least favorite to play of all of them. Played around 20 games, and Divine had a solid 75% win percentage. Wasn't even that exciting interactions. But hey, here's a Demonic Tutor I can use somewhere else. It's even worth some money these days.
Another pile of random rares I should add to the Reject Rare Cube. Played in the Rivals of Ixalan pre-release last weekend, my first prerelease since Scars of Mirrodin eight years ago or so. I actually kinda like prereleases, but I haven't prioritized them for a very long time. I'm rarely attracted to using my DCI number I guess. But this was a little special as I had completely missed the spoiler season and had the chance to go to a pre-release "blind", like in the oldest days of Magic. Ended up 4-0-1 and won a bunch of boosters. More rares to the cube :) Though perhaps I should rather put cards like Blood Sun and Kumena in the trade binder. They could translate to even more crap rares.
Just a bunch of penny sleeves and perfect fits...
...and a stack of 100+ Deep Waters. This started when a guy from the Catalan community in Spain asked if I could send a few signed cards to represent n00bcon invites. I was of course happy to oblige, and acquired a bunch of Deep Waters for the purpose. If any other tournament organizer out there with n00bcon invites to his name would like to get a few Deep Waters, feel free to ask :)
Now this is nostalgic. My first high quality Deck Box from back when I was actually playing in a lot of Legacy and Vintage tournaments. 2005 or so I guess. This has seen some mileage.
Inside we currently have an errata deck. The plan is to play R&D's Secret Lair and then just abuse bad wording and misprints. Did you know that you could fetch the 4th edition version of Island Fish Jasconius with Polluted Delta? It is an Island and a Fish according to the type line, and as an Island it can be fetched. Original Urza's Avenger from Antiquities loses -1/-1 rather than gets -1/-1 every time it is activated, which makes it stupid big. Floral Spuzzem will force a draw if it has a legal target and attacks without being blocked. There are many, many more. Fun thing is that it looks like a few of these odd cards have been a lot more sought after in the last few months or years. Never sad to find a couple of Alpha Orcish Artillery and Lotus Vale among the chaff these days.
A revised starter. Could it be something good?
Nope. Just random tier3 non-basics. The original Karoo-land though, that is kinda fun.
Now these I enjoy. These are home-made Duel Decks; Ral Zarek vs Vraska.
Ral Zarek Duel Deck. Card draw, burn, and combos.
Vraska Duel deck. Graveyard shenanigans and synergies.
A pretty sweet hand made deck box hosting some Queen Marchesa work-in-progress. It has turned into abandonware.
Piles of Duel Decks and a few precons. Duel Decks were the releases from WotC I looked most forward to each year. I was far more excited for the Duel Deck releases than regular sets, master sets, or really anything. Me and my wife have "Duel Deck Days" whenever a new pair is released. We'll buy a set, go to a new pub, and just grind the matchup for a day while drinking porter and indulging good food. The general rules are best out of 20, i.e. first to reach 11 wins. Sorry to see that they were discontinued last month. We have played almost all of them, but still lack Tezzert vs Elspeth, Izzet vs Golgari, Venser vs Koth, and Knights vs Dragons. So I'll be happy to trade for those ;)
This is one of my most used, or at least most lent-out Magic piles. It is five 40-card "noob-decks" to help teach people to play. One in each color, made with very similar power level but different strategies. I've lost count on how many people I've teached to play with these, but it is double digits. They also cost about nothing to build, so they can be lent out without any worries.
The douchebag blue deck. Only real wincondition is single Laboratory Maniac, the plan is just to survive and draw cards until your deck runs out naturally. This is the last deck to pick up among the beginner decks, as it plays a very different kind of Magic than the others, and it can be discouraging to face. But many have thought that is intriguing that it is complex to play well and actually win with.
Now we're talking. This is clearly among the most ambitious Magic projects I've ever finished. The Haups Cube, version 3.
The Haups Cube is a home made Magic drinking game. It is a diligently built cube where about 80% of the cards are home made and interacts with in-game drinking. It follows all the standards for how a proper cube should be made, though it has a slightly lower power level and playing a few games will most probably make you smashingly drunk (unless you are chicken and draft something like the UW Prohibition deck). It could be worth a blog post sometime in the future.
Ah, the innocuous looking Brew Warden. Harsh flashbacks to when Rafiki drafted BW Monks and with some shenanigans forced me to drink around 40 with this card, constantly reciting its flavor text as we went down the rabbit hole together.
Whelp, nothing left to see there. But here's a pile of cloth. Perhaps we can find an Alpha rule book tucked in between the playmats?
Well, not an Alpha rule book, but an Arabian Nights booster! That is sweet if I ever saw it. Fun fact: the very first Magic playmats, i.e. the first batch of 100 Khalsa-Brain mats, were packed together with an Arabian Nights booster to make the mat purchase a little more intriguing. They were sold at ManaFest 1994 for 10 USD total, which would have been a good investment. So finding an AN booster among the Khalsa Brain mats seems appropriate.
A white Khalsa Brain V2 Spellground Elite.
A bunch of Khalsa Brain V3 2-player Spellgrounds. These are really good playmats.
An original Khalsa-Brain (with the dash ;)) V1 Spellground Elite from 1994. This was my favorite playmat for many years. It has seen its fair share of spells.
Hey, a non-KB mat ;) Doesn't even come with a story, I just really liked the art on this one. Signed by Dan Fraizer btw.
The Fishliver Oil Cup ed. 1 playmat. Another case of awesome art, and of course, an awesome gathering. Fishliver Oil Cup was the first 93/94 tournament to use their own playmats after n00bcon.
Speaking of n00bcon, this is the n00bcon 9 playmat; i.e. the first dedicated 93/94 playmat. This is the default playmat I bring out whenever I play outside the kitchen table these days. Fantastic mat :)
And here's a slightly weirder version of that mat. Remember those first 100 Khalsa-Brain mats with AN boosters? They were made a little more hastily than the rest, and rather than having the ordinary rounded corners they were square. When you cut cloth by hand it is more effective to cut it square. Soon thereafter Khalsa and Brain started trimming the corners as well. Kinda like how the first printing of Magic had differently cut corners, the same thing applied to the first batch of play mats. So when I got one of the first n00bcon playmats I asked Kalle to not fix the corners when he cut it as a subtle tribute to the early Khalsa-Brain mats.
Yeah, I know this is "full nerd". But it makes me smile.
The last playmat. This is one of the color tests for the n00bcon playmat. I think Kalle made four or five; a yellow, a blue, an orange, and this pink one are the ones I'm sure of at least. This is a pretty sweet one, but I still prefer the ordinary version for day-to-day play.
But still no Alpha rule book. And there are a few other things I didn't find; a few books, Space: The Convergence cards, and a handful oversized cards. But other than that, this is pretty much what my collection looks like. I have one longbox of close-to-bulk cards that might be fit to build decks for donating to new players, but I really don't own that many random cards, at least not considering I've played somewhat consistently for 23 years. I don't have stuff that I want to throw away; everything is either played or cherished for some future potential, subjective beauty, or sentimental value.

This treasure hunt may not have succeeded in reaching its goal, but I wouldn't call the search a failure. Looking through the stuff like this makes me appreciate the collection I've gathered and the memories that comes with it. Magic is a damn fine game.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to Julien Cataliotti from Paris and Elias Gröndal from Stockholm whom managed to solve the riddle at n00bcon.com as the 4th and 5th persons to do so. I tip my hat for your skill and offer a small token in the form of invites for n00bcon 11 next year for your efforts. I think that about does it for that challenge, but if anyone else finds the solution, feel free to email me and I'll add you to a proverbial wall of fame.