torsdag 11 oktober 2018

Oldschool Magic and Stockholm in a Bottle

Sweden is the home of around 200 old school players these days. Though among them, there are very few proper "teams". Sure, someone might casually pledge allegiance to Haups, 02-drop, PropellerCap, LeatherJacket, Kaffebryggers, Lisch, Wak-Wak, or something like that, but we don't really have the crews with back-patches or recurring tournament branding. The Arvika players are simply the Arvika players, the Gothenburgers are mainly the Gothenburgers. There's one strong exception though, the gang known as Stockholm in a Bottle. They host, organize and travel as a crew, and even have a proper home page. Now, as a native Gothenburger, I must add the disclaimer that this report is from an actual guy from Stockholm, so it is probably NSFW if you work at Volvo, Ericsson, SKF, or any of the other real workplaces in the country. That said, it is my privilege to introduce the musings of the fabulous Daniel Yann Franzén. Enjoy! /Mg out

I was just listening to the latest ATC podcast with Magnus and Bryan explaining on how they, back in the 90s, used to hide from public that they were playing Magic. Afraid of that their social status would be damaged if word about them being geeks during weekends started spreading. But today one of them is running a blog and the other a podcast about it. I guess I would consider both Magnus and Bryan proud Magic nerds today. And maybe that is one of the reasons why I like them both so much without knowing them very well. I would also like to see myself as a Magic nerd. Even though I never felt that I had to hide the fact I played Magic in the 90s to remain among the cool kids. Maybe because I was lucky to grow up going to a music school were everybody were nerds in some way and 90% of them were girls, but who knows? One of our crew’s fans posted on twitter that she thought if Magic the Gathering would be a high school, the cool kids would be those who played Oldschool. So Bryan and Magnus, you are safe now. Stockholm in a Bottle is our way of showing that we are proud nerds and that everyone is free to join us to do damn cool things!

Why Magic? Why Oldschool?

Well, first let us talk about why anyone would return to game they quit playing many years ago? Of course I can only speak for myself but I believe there is a reason why this format is exploding all over the world right now. Two people in our crew without relation to each other started building old school decks around 2000, just because how they loved the old era, the art, the lore and the Magic. Precisely what is keeping us together today, with the added bonus of a fantastic community!
The reason why we all came back to Magic and did choose Oldschool as our format right now, is that we have come to a certain point in our life where we can start living as aristocrats again like when we were kids and needed an “artificial exercise”. Huh? Let me explain.

Human beings have a need (probably based in biology) for something that we will call the purpose ladder (not the same as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). This is closely related to the need for power (which is widely recognized) but is not quite the same thing. The purpose ladder has four steps. The three most clear-cut of these we call goal, effort and attainment of goal. (Everyone needs to have goals (a purpose) whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his or her goals.) The fourth step is more difficult to define and may not be necessary for everyone. Let us call it autonomy. So in short:
  1. Goal - What you want to achieve
  2. Effort - What you spend to achieve your goal
  3. Goal Attainment - The degree to which you fulfill your goal
  4. Autonomy - Your ability to, by yourself, control steps 1-3
Everyone has goals; if nothing else, to obtain the physical necessities of life: food, water and whatever clothing and shelter are made necessary by the climate. But the leisured aristocrat obtains these things without effort. Hence they end up in boredom and demoralization.

Consider the hypothetical case of a man who can have anything he wants just by wishing for it. Say you could cheat in Magic and draw Lotus, Channel, Fireball on your start hand whenever you wanted. At first you will have a lot of fun, but by and by you will become acutely bored and demoralized. History shows that leisured aristocracies tend to become decadent. This is not true of fighting aristocracies that have to struggle to maintain their power. But leisured, secure aristocracies that have no need to exert themselves usually become bored, hedonistic and demoralized, even though they have power. This shows that power is not enough. One must have goals toward which to exercise one’s power.

Thus, in order to be mentally healthy, a human being needs goals whose attainment requires effort, and he must have a reasonable rate of success in attaining his goals.

Let us use the term “artificial exercise” to designate an activity that is directed towards an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us say, merely for the “fulfillment” that they get from pursuing the goal. I deliberately choose not to call it a hobby because it stretches further than that.

Here is a rule of thumb for the identification of artificial exercises. Given that you devote much time and energy to the pursuit of goal X, ask yourself this: If you had to devote most of your time and energy to satisfying your biological needs, and if that effort required you to use your physical and mental faculties in a varied and interesting way, would you feel seriously deprived because you did not attain goal X? If the answer is no, then your pursuit of goal X is an artificial exercise.

On the other hand the pursuit of sex and love (for example) is not an artificial exercise, because most people, even if their existence were otherwise satisfactory, would feel deprived if they passed their lives without ever having a relationship with another person. (But pursuit of an excessive amount of sex, can be an artificial exercise.)

In our modern industrial society only minimal effort is necessary to satisfy one’s physical needs. Thus, it is not surprising that modern society is full of artificial exercises. These include scientific work, athletic achievement, humanitarian work, artistic and literary creation, climbing the corporate ladder, acquisition of money and material goods far beyond the point at which they cease to give any additional physical satisfaction.

For many if not most people, artificial exercises are less satisfying than the pursuit of real goals (that is, goals that people would want to attain even if their need for the purpose ladder were already fulfilled). One indication of this is the fact that, in many or most cases, people who are deeply involved in artificial exercises are never satisfied, never at rest. Thus the money-maker constantly strives for more and more wealth. The scientist no sooner solves one problem than he moves on to the next. Many people who pursue artificial exercises will say that they get far more fulfillment from these activities than they do from the “day to day” business of satisfying their biological needs, but that is because in our society the effort needed to satisfy the biological needs has been reduced to triviality. In contrast, people generally have a great deal of autonomy in pursuing their artificial exercises.

Remember when I said that “the purpose ladder” has four steps? We have so far covered three. The fourth, autonomy may not be necessary for every individual. But most people need a greater or lesser degree of autonomy in working toward their goals. Their efforts must be undertaken on their own initiative and must be under their own direction and control.

For most people it is through the purpose ladder having a goal, making an autonomous effort and attaining the goal that self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of power are acquired. Magic Oldschool 9394 is the perfect “artificial exercise” that gives you all these by putting effort in collecting cards to build that autonomously designed deck you have been having as a goal for a long time. Or winning one game when you get that spicy combo off might be enough.

Why Stockholm in a Bottle?

Yet most people do not have to exert this initiative, direction and control as single individuals. It is usually enough to act as a member of a small group. Thus if half a dozen people discuss a goal among themselves and make a successful joint effort to attain that goal, their need for climbing the purpose ladder will be served. Our small group Stockholm in a Bottle was formed because we recognized that we had more “artificial exercise” that could be combined with our mutual four stepped purpose ladder Oldschool Magic. The part on our first logo with Juzam and his champagne bottle fitted right in as a reminder of that link to aristocrat philosophy, and at the same time to gallivant with the prejudice to people living in Stockholm.

Unfortunately as a consequence of Oldschool Magic growing, the financial threshold for someone new to begin with Oldschool Swedish rules is high. Most of our members in Stockholm in a Bottle (SiaB) came in late and we are still adding new members, returning after twenty plus years. Thus, for most our members, time is more precious than finance. Many of us are entrepreneurs or have high demanding jobs, so when we meet the aim is to get as much out of the time spent on disconnecting from stress and enjoying “artificial exercises”. Usually this involves fun alternative to play the game. For example, cube-drafting or alternative rule settings together with good food and drinks in a pleasurable environment.
Oldschool Magic is a perfect way to prestigeless hang out together and let your deck define who you are for that day or night.

torsdag 4 oktober 2018

London Calling

Last weekend I was bestowed the honor of being invited to BenCon. BenCon has annals going back over a decade, though for some reason it had flown under my radar until about a week earlier, when I got a message from Ben Twitchen of The Brothers of Fire.

BenCon is quite simply a small gathering of friends at Ben's place in the countryside of northern London. The plan was to gather for Magic and board games, and wash it down with home made cider and local ale. So when Ben sent me a message on Facebook describing the event and wondering if I had the opportunity to join before parenthood would kick in, I was quick to order plane tickets. The crew this year would then consist of myself, Brother Ben, Brother Jonas, Brother Oli, and Brother Stebbo. Three people I've met before at n00bcon, as well as a new face.
This is an amazing thing I can't help underscore yet again. Before BenCon these were guys that I'd - at most - met twice during Magic tournaments, and yet I had an intense sense of friendship with them. A pair of actual brothers, one of their childhood friends, and one of their old roommates. And me. And it didn't feel remotely weird or like I wasn't part of the gang. Play the game, meet the world.

I will not delve too deep into my journal this time, but rather let pictures speak more than my words.
Brother's Highlander with the Brothers Twitchen. Watch out for that Torsten von Ursus. Also watch out for that bottle of beer.
Friday dinner with Oli and the lady of the house. Traditional English Asian food.
Magic!
So much synergy going on around here. Oli almost got the best of Adventure Island despite my broken opener, but the Black Knights are looking bleak now.
The house guests for BenCon '18: Mg, Oli, Jonas and Stebbo.
Brother Stebbo joins in for a five-player pentagon match.
With a long week behind me I manage to sleep past noon on Saturday. I was still treated to proper English break fast once I emerged. 
Overslept the Scythe game. Looks intricate.
Compensate a lack of Scythe with some bonding with Gatsby the dog. Lively fellow.
The sun and reasonable weather haven't left the UK yet. A rare sight in October for us from Oslo.
Walking to the local pub.
Blatantly British and brilliant ambience. I have no idea why we haven't adopted this kind of open pub culture in Scandinavia.
No Magic in the pub though. We don't want to get nerd-bashed.
Next game up is Colonel Twitchen's Jam Kitchen. Was surprised to learn it was made by Jonas. Fantastic game.
Jonas, Stebbo, Oli and Mg. Making jams. After a super tight game where a stuck thermostat prevented both Oli and myself from taking home the £11 needed to secure victory, Ben managed to emerge with the win.
Next challenge was Seven Wonders. Never tried that one before either. Jonas demolished the field by focusing on drafting culture.
A photogenic gang.
Back at the Twitchen Manor for some more Brother's Highlander. Jonas keeps his streak going from Seven Wonders, and the Pentagram style victory is split between the two of us.
 I got to summon a Force of Nature with Spirit Link. That was gas. 
As night approaches, brother Stebbo digs out some awesome surprises.
Sealed booster box and starters of first edition Jyhad! Jyhad (later renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) was designed in 1994 by Richard Garfield and initially published by Wizards of the Coast. It was the second Deckmaster release, and the third CCG ever created. Old school gaming if I ever saw it. After about twenty minutes trying to read up on the rules, we however had to submit that it was a little too complicated to get into while slightly drunk and with zero experience between us. So the box was left intact, and hopefully we'll have another go at it in the future when we have studied the intricacies of the game a little more.
So we cracked a box of Unstable for drafting instead. Managed to 4-0 the table with a four-color durdle deck that won with the instantly classic Zombified/Ordinary Horse/Clocknapper combo.
The final game of Brother's Highlander into the night. Witch Hunter is gas. Also, beware of the drinks ;)
I am highly uncertain of how (or if) the final score was calculated, but apparently the back of my Unstable win had me receiving this gem. A glorious prize, which I will cherish dearly.
Thanks for a wonderful weekend Ben! And to Jonas, Oli and Stebbo of course. Proper Magic this gathering.