Arvika Festival 6

For a few minutes last week, time stood still. I could not communicate, as I had no face. I no longer knew how to breathe, as my chest and stomach had been replaced by pain made solid. Ruaro had warned me, but I couldn't be bothered to listen. I had stepped into the Abyss willingly and only repentance could pull me out.

Maybe I should have listened to the force majeure that tried to prevent me from going to Arvika in the first place. I had a pretty good track record of missing Markus's tournaments going on after all, having found excuses of varying quality to raincheck the last two. I'd been a constant on the seven he had hosted in the four years before that though, so I was looking to make my misses look more like accidents than trends. But initially it appeared that the world didn't want me to come to Arvika.

First, there was the question of whether or not the tournament would even take place. A man can be excused from hosting a gathering of this ilk two days after the birth of his child. Not the least if that man himself also caught the man-flu, and the mother of said child is still in the hospital. But Markus wouldn't cancel any gathering. He put the things that needed to move into motion, was at the tournament site for a total of one round or so, went 1-0 drop, and went back to the hospital after calling everyone in shouting distant a noob. The man is crafty. Hope to get to know the new addition to his family soon.

So tournament it was. Constantine Prishvitsin had flown over from a land that taps for blue and white the day before and landed in Oslo. The plan was that Hardy and he would take a train to Arvika in the afternoon, while I had somehow booked myself on a train a couple of hours earlier to get some time to brew with Honka in Arvika. Enter wind.

Wind of stupid proportions to be blunt. Channel-Hurricane ridiculousness. As I'm waiting at the train station, a couple of minutes before I'm to embark, the train is cancelled. A lot of trains are. The wind is pulling down trees and power lines I hear. Maybe they'll be able to eventually find a bus, but I shouldn't hold my breath they say. Maybe Arvika isn't for me, they hint. I consider my options. A couple of days before I'd heard that Audun might have an extra place in his car. But even if that was the case, I couldn't simply leave Constantine and Hardy to their fate. If they couldn't go, none of us should go, and if one of us should go, it should probably be the guy that flew from Russia. Maybe we could find a car on our own?

As I ponder in the middle of the chaotic train station, my phone rings. It's salvation. Bjørn Einar Bjartnes, local hero and old work colleague. He went into the old school mire some years ago when we worked together at NRK. One of the actually best people. Bjørn Einar was supposed to take the same train to Arvika as I, and is currently finding solutions. He calls his wife, and we go back to his place to borrow their car for the weekend. Sync with Hardy and Constantine, and the road trip is on.

See me go coming out of the black Benz SLR. I wonder where he get that kind of money. Donwarybadi.

As this was an oldschool road trip, we needed to set some ground rules. No google maps, no internet, no music streaming. Like our forefathers centuries earlier, we follow road signs and buy questionable CDs at the gas station.

The distance between Oslo and Arvika is surprisingly reasonable, only about two and a half hours when drifting. Just get over the border to Sweden and you're almost there. I try to pick Bjørn Einars brain on event storming and DDD, and the backseat drivers keep up the deck teching.

My brew of choice is Squattelhaups. Basically the deck I tested the last few weeks at our local Oslo meetup. Updates from the picture below is +1 Crumble and -1 Stormbind maindeck; -1 Cap, -1 REB, +1 Stormbind and +1 Crypt sideboard.

Playing Squattelhaups in 93/94 have very different lines compared to playing it in Ice Age block, but the basic idea is the same. Play threats, force opponent to commit, blow up the board, and rebuild faster than opponent. Repeat until win. It may be a "cute" deck, but it's still a pretty good one.

I've tinkered quite a bit with Hardy's pile as well. We brewed together over the last few weeks and even managed to get in some physical playtesting for once. The Masks had been in my binder for some time, and I'm happy to finally see them get proper action. I am also happy that I owned black-bordered Masks, as any white-bordered card would stick out as a sore thumb in Hardy's immaculate pile of cardboard.

I wonder where he get that kind of money. Donwarybadi.

In hindsight, we probably should have made room for one or two Forsaken Wastes in the sideboard, and the boomerang didn't have that much impact. It also appears that the Browse could be a sideboard card rather than a maindeck one. But this is clearly a solid strategy.

Honka calls. He's been traveling from Gothenburg, and we're to share a hotel room for the night. Right now, he's stuck in a city called Kil, as the windstorm has affected major parts of the country. He tells me stories of other Arvika travelers stuck; one of the more amusing being Åland whose train quit less than five minutes away from his destination. If he could get off and walk he would be easily on track, but apparently it is frowned upon to step off a train in between stations. Warnings on the car radio tell us that the wind has struck most of Sweden except the north, and if you could stay indoors, you probably should. Well, we can't. We're supposed to play Magic and drink beer after all.

Somehow we all arrive. We check in at the hotel, eat a local pizza, and meet up with fellow wizards in the heart of Arvika. Get to the site and start socializing.

Bjørn-Einar and Constantine. Road trip people.

Nick Cramer joining from the Netherlands, here seen with Arvika bosses Olof Robertsson and Svante Landgraf.

William from Mindstage showing off his stuff. Always a pleasure.

Alban Lauter and Mitja making deals.

Norton Fantenberg's "take a card, leave a card" binder.

Berntsson, a core part of any Arvika gathering, doing the lord's work.

Mällroth making sure that we actually get to play. And yes, we got flute music.

Logistics and life push the starting time for the tournament to 18:00. Six drunken rounds plus top8 would mean that it would be a long day, in particular as I got out of bed around a quarter to five this morning. But that's just part of the game. These tournaments are challenges in endurance just as much as in Magic.

With another hour before the Magic starts, I take the chance to socialize some more and pick up a few gems I'd purchased in the months before the gathering that were to be delivered here.

A complete set 4th Edition from Ruaro. Now this is sweet bedtime reading. 4th edition is a pretty strange set. And not the least the set I learned the proper way to play Magic with. Nostalgia.

A version 1 Khalsa-Brain 2-player mat. Considering how many odd playmats I've picked up over the years, it almost felt a little strange that I never owned one of these before. I have the 1-player v1, and a good number of 2-player mats with later cloth, but this was very much a missing piece in the accidental playmat collection.

Two new cards for my not-fully-so-accidental Unlimited collection. Only three cards left for a full set now. Should be feasible before the end of the year.

But the grandest thing was a card Svante had picked up for me at Urza's Chalice in the US earlier this year. It's probably worth its own story in the future, so I wont rant on about it now. What I will rant about however is another surprising and awesome gift from the Chalice players, a card I didn't know I lacked in my collection until I found out it existed right there in Arvika.

To give some context, during the Urza's Chalice weekend in the US there was a grand limited tournament of sorts going on. Players would get packs of randomized cards at the start of the weekend, and were then free to trade with other players and play for ante to improve their decks. This was a pretty major deal, and one of the more innovative and appreciated old school events I've heard of. Drew Tucker created the art for the card backs, and the fronts were those of classic old school cards. Most rares were pretty rare (I think four of each were made), whereas commons were attainable enough that e.g. Bryan Manolakos managed to build this monster by the end of the weekend:

So these are pretty awesome and unique old school proxies for a pretty awesome and unique event. And there existed a very small number of Chaos Orbs among these cards. And now I have one of those Chaos Orbs. This sparks joy. Thanks a lot!

With these glorious new toys in hand, I find myself chatting with Michelle Ruaro. Ruaro is a hero of some repute around these parts. When he played Arvika last year - a tournament where Markus had allowed Homelands as an additional legal set - Ruaro came with a Homelands-only deck. During the last n00bcons, he's been playing clear-sleeved Alpha-only. I believe he only owns about 500 cards total to build decks with, and he usually carries them around in an old plastic ice cream box. Much more than his casual and jovial approach to deck building however, is his supremely friendly and generous approach to fellow players. You always get happier playing him, regardless of outcome of the game.

Seen here quietly contemplating the mortal condition.

Ruaro has a quite a few strings on his lyre. When I first met him he was a baker, and in the old days he worked a bit as a magician. These days he's running a distillery, making some amazing spirits.

As a craftsman in the field, he follows the news of the business. And he recently heard about some crazy people that had made the world's strongest vodka. As spice goes, that is. The abomination they had created was around 500,000 units on the scoville scale, blowing most insanity-branded hot sauces you could find clear out of the water.

Now, most people would simply laugh off that crazy as a funny anecdote of sorts, but not Ruaro. No, Ruaro checked how they had made it, and realized that their puny world-record shot should be easy enough to beat with the right ingredients and tools. So he ordered a batch of Carolina Reaper peppers and went to town. In the end of a strange journey he found himself with a bottle of vodka that he expected to be well above the million mark as scoville units go. This bottle he brought to Arvika, along with a disclaimer that one probably shouldn't drink it.

Of course I had to take a shot. How strong could it be?

This one is for Gordon. Good luck.

Now, I don't especially partake in the extremes of spice (he said, playing Orcish Squatters). I am the guy that consider sriracha to be around my high end of spicy. I know that habanero tabasco is twice as strong as that, and that eating a raw serrano chili from my local store could be twice as strong as that. But that's where my scale mostly ends. I couldn't really relate to anything a hundred times stronger than eating my local chili pepper raw. It's like someone serving you a shot of whiskey that's 6,000% alcohol by volume. What even is that? And so I died.

Time stood still for some minutes in purgatory. I came back to the land of the living a little older than before. Wiser, perhaps. It was time for round one.

In the first match I was paired against one of the primal faces of the Arvika community. Lennart Guld; the patriarch of KungMarkus and Johan Guld to name two. He also owns a couple of pinball machines. Lennart was on a Puzzlebox Dreams deck. Underworld Dreams can be a little annoying as it is a threat that survives Jokulhaups, but having three maindeck Emerald Charms turned out very good. In particular as they are both easy to cast and simple enough to find while churning through your deck with Puzzle Box. Post sideboard I had the full playset of both Emerald Charm and Crumble to back up my Tinkerers. A couple of Jokulhaups and some Erhnam beatdown later I was 1-0.

Yay, Stasis! Brorsan from Varberg is taking all of the fun for himself.

Second match was against that master of swag that is Ruaro. Sweet. We talked about malört and he kept providing tonics and shots of immaculate liquor. As an anecdote of sorts, in the first game we were deep enough in conversation that he forgot to check if I wanted to cut his deck before drawing his opener. He quickly apologized and asked what to do. Now, I rarely cut decks and didn't really register that he drew an opener in a way I could possibly question. But the thing most to my amusement was that Ruaro is the absolute last person I'd care about cutting the deck for. Not only that I'd never suspect him to do something shady, but the dude is an actual card magician. I've seen some of his tricks. If he would ever have the slightest intention to manipulate his draws, cutting or reshuffling his deck would probably have no effect regardless. Luckily, he's a gentleman and a scholar.

Ruaro is on Goblin Sligh, a very quick and dangerous deck. I bluff a crumble enough that he avoids attacking with his factory for a turn or two, he stalls on four mana a little too long, and as the fifth one finally arrives and Orgg enters the battlefield, I'm able to find a Jokulhaps in the last possible turn. I had a pretty good card churn going on, with two Sylvan Libraries in play and activating Thawing Glaciers between the Sylvan triggers to shuffle, but the Haups still took a long time to find. I stabilize on one life against Goblin Sligh, and somehow manage to win from there. That was scary. In the second game I land an early Stormbind that takes care of his cheap threats, and ride it to victory. 2-0

Next dude is Thomas Nilsen. Thomas is usually an end boss in the tournaments in Norway. A very skilled and meticulous player, these days often on the side of combo decks. Today he's on Mirrorball, charged by the additions of Zuran Orb and Lat-Nam's Legacy.

Thomas Nilsen, looking up the oracle text for Orcish Squatters shortly before realizing that he must Fireball it. Everybody must.

I want to say that it was a close game. I dealt almost fifty damage to him after all, and all he did to me was a Lightning Bolt and a Fireball for two. At one point he had a lethal Primal Order trigger on the stack. But I suppose Mirror Universe and Balance are cards. And he does play tightly, so I can't really say it was unfair. 2-1 it is, and a new appreciation for Forsaken Wastes is growing.

Round four belongs to fellow road tripper and my old best man Hardy. One of the few decks in the tournament I actually know well. Before sideboard is very tricky, but after sideboard have tested as pretty deece with Crumbles and Primal Orders. But Hardy plays extremely tight. In both matches, he's careful with his commitment to the board, and keeps counterspell up for Jokulhaups almost the entire game. Even though his deck can technically be much faster than mine, he decides to take the more controlling role as he knows he'll win the game if just one of his threats sticks for two turns. It does, two games in a row. 2-2.

In round five I face Daniel Ewald. Daniel is a fellow Oslo-player and a familiar face from the weekly pub meetups, but this is somehow the first time we play each other. So a life-time 100% win-rate is on the line. Daniel is on a sweet Distress build that can transform into monoblack aggro after sideboard. Jokulhaups and Emerald Charm are pretty good against Distress though, and Stormbind over-preforms game one.

I didn't know about his transformational sideboard, and quickly get surprised by Hypnotics and angry men game two. Manage to stem the bleeding with a well-timed Jokulhaups, but Daniel rebuilds faster than expected. A couple of turns after the Haups he rituals out Sengir Vampire, and suddenly it looks very dark for our hero. Daniel attacks me down to two life, and in my last turn I desperately cast Erhnam Djinn. Daniel shrugs, draws a card, attacks, and is treated with the final mode of Emerald Charm; "Target creature loses flying". Damn, that card does everything. I summon a second Erhnam and somehow manage to win before Daniel finds a Drain Life or a creature to gain forestwalk. 3-2

Round six, last round. Depending on tiebreakers, if I win this one I might find myself in 9th place. 9th place is kinda enviable at the Arvika Festival, as it traditionally grants you an altered Quagmire. I previously hold an 8th place and a 10th place on my CV (along with a 1st place from the first Festival over half a decade ago). Ever since I won that first Festival, a personal goal of sorts have been to place 9th at some point to pick up the other card native to Arvika. So the stakes are no joke, even though I'm likely out of contention for top8. My last opponent is Robert, another native of the Oslo scene.

Unlike Daniel, I've actually played Robert a few times before. But not this particular pile. Today Robert is on Troll Disco, a kinda though deck to beat as it comes with many threats and is strong at rebuilding after board wipes. But while the deck can be annoying, Robert is anything but. A genuinely interesting and lovable man.

In this game I get to solidify exactly how little I care about Zuran Orb in non-combo decks. Sure, it gives the opponent 10 life or so when i Haups, but it does nothing to interrupt my game plan. If my opponent has one card in hand and zero in play, I care little if they have 20 or 30 life. My surviving enchantments and ability to rebuild quick will take control regardless of life total. Zuran-zchmuran.

In the first game I have to Haups two or three times before Robert is out of resources to rebuild. It is a very tight and long game, but eventually the volcanic glacial megaflood gets to him. The fact that it is impossible to regenerate from Haups is pivotal. The second game is if possible even tighter. Sylvan Library and Thawing Glaciers shuffling help me find a Crumble in the very last round before he can Disk away my Enchantments. As long as I'm able to control his Disks, I feel like I'm in control of the board. It's still not easy though. One of the tougher spots was when he Wheeled into Mindtwist and made me discard my full seven before passing the turn. I somehow manage to regain card advantage via Sylvan Library and the glorious Jökulhlaup, and eventually Stormbind provides inevitability. 4-2, after a very good last game.

In the end, tiebreakers provided me with the unenviable 12th place. The glory of 9th was Svante's to have.

Svante, here in the process of giving Hardy his only loss in the Swiss.

Still, only lost to the eventual winner and the second place player, so I guess that is a pretty deece showing for Squattelhaups. I should probably sandpaper the edges of the deck a bit, but I don't think I need to bring a chainsaw.

The clock shows around 2 am when the eight people last standing start swinging. I'm planning a full deck review of the top8 next week, so I won't indulge too much right now, but I can spoil that Thomas and his Mirrorball deck eventually drew the longest straw.

Thomas's MirrorBall. 1st place.

So, now that I've played a proper tournament with Scryings, what's my opinion of the format? Well, my impression thus far was that I had really fun. After having played many traditional oldschool formats for a very long time, getting to see new interactions and being unable to fall back on old play patterns - still with nostalgic cards - was a treat. I find the format complex in a slightly different way, as possibilities like Uktabi Orangutan, Goblin Tinkerer and Dwarven Miner forced me into really considering any commitment to the board. Combo, aggro and prison are stronger, yes, though it didn't feel oppressively so. Not seeing a single control deck in the top8 was a little odd, this being oldschool and all, but I can understand control taking a backseat until the meta is a little more formed. No deck seemed overtly broken, though both TwiddleVault and MirrorBall have clearly moved up a weight class. And a great majority of the players I interacted with seemed to enjoy themselves. If it was mostly from an exploratory standpoint or from the fact that they finally got to cast Orgg and Ishan's Shade I don't know. But I'm much looking forward to play the format again in six weeks at n00bcon 12.

I had a rare undisturbed night's sleep. Close to eight hours. When I woke up I saw Honka was already gone, having left a kind note on the nightstand. I went down to meet up with the roadtrip crew, and went to grab the traditional post-Festival pizza at the recently extended pizza place.

That's not a window in the ceiling, it's a confusing painting of a sky.

Constantine and Hardy both went top8 and had slept around two hours. We drank our pizza, as is tradition, and contemplated life. Sharing stories from old Festivals gone. These gatherings are road marks in a life rushing by. I am glad Markus made it happen again, all his tings considered. Grateful that there are gatherings like this, and that Björn Einar managed to take us to it when the storm brewed. I will be back next year for my 9th place. And then, for a lark, I will not drink that shot.


  1. Nice storytelling as always - thanks for sharing. It's a pleasure reading of nasty weather in Europe when you're stuck with 30+ degrees in northern Australia. The reference to that sweating Nazi bastard was priceless. And Thomas's deck plain awesome as always - that man has a collection that any other of us can only dream of. Good to see him on top! Best

  2. I actually have managed to get them both. Festival and Quagmire. :)

    1. That is living the dream :) Hope to join the club somewhere down the line.

  3. I am curious to know how Norwegian and Swedish players generally communicate in tournaments. Are the languages similar enough? I guess most people speak English given language on cards, but I am curious about the interactions between players from Scandinava and other European countries.

    1. Most often they speak their own native languages and understand each others well enough, but from time to time I've seen switches to English (the langages have "partial mutual intelligibility", similar to Spanish and Italian or Afrikaans and Dutch). In general, Norwegians are very good at understanding Swedish, but Swedes aren't as good at understanding Norwegian, so it will usually be the Swede that prompts any switch to English ;)

      This goes for Danish as well btw, though with the kinda amusing caveat that while Danish and Norwegian are almost the exact same written language (very high intelligibility in written form between those two languages), they have so wildly different prononciation that Norwegians usually understand Swedish better than Danish, even though the Swedish vocabulary has far more different words and different structures than the Danish.


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