Russian Skies over Stockholm

On December 16th, I went to Stockholm for the Lucia Legends tournament. It was a pretty small local tournament, excellently run by Gordon Andersson, sporting 17 players, but not having played since BSK in early November, I felt the urge to take the 2-hour drive. Also, the last Stockholm N00bcon invite was on the line, to be awarded in some unannounced way. Before sitting down to play, we were faced with a quiz for Legends art: six non-reprinted Legends, and the task was to name them, with their mana cost as tiebreakers. This is the quiz. Take a stab at it!

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I kicked myself for not remembering the name of a card I actually knew what it did, finally getting it with Jacques le Vert, only to find out it was actually Hazezon Tamar. So I only nailed two of them: Boris Devilboon and Lady of the Mountain. I thought I knew Stangg (it was not announced that it was only non-reprinted cards), but it was really Ur-Drago. How many of them did you nail? Reply in the comments!

Later, before the top 8 started, it was announced that I was indeed in the top 4 of the quiz on a score of 2 out of 6. Kids these days have no sense for history. (Mad props to Jesper who got 5 out of 6!) The next trial was Falling Star flipping, in which I hit two creatures out of the maximum three. Then, it was time for a quiz. Legends trivia quiz.

Anyone remembers the old Question Mark quiz on the mothership? I used to be quite good at that, meaning making top 8 in the world or so, a couple of times. Or the Question Mark live show at Pro Tour when Mark Rosewater still went to them, giving out free packs and promo cards? Those were also sweet. So, it was actually not that fair. There were a few questions I wasn’t 100 % sure on, and so didn’t answer, as a wrong answer was awarded with a negative point, but the ones I answered, I knew. Pretty basic stuff, really; some easy things like where Legends stands in the order of expansions, or how many cards each booster contains, and some slightly harder, like what’s special about the print run. (A version of the full quiz will be up on wak-wak some time in the future, I’ve heared. Keep tuned.) When the dust settled, I had won by a reassuringly large margin, and that N00bCon invite was mine. Sweet stuff indeed!

But before all that happened, we played some magic. Four rounds of swiss before a cut to the top 8, to be exact. I don’t feel like doing a play-by-play report, but I like to discuss the deck I played. It was this pile:

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The invisible red card between Fireball and the Lightning Bolts is another Fireball, for those wondering.

The tournament went as follows:
R1: Enchantress, 2-1
R2: UG fliers, 2-0
R3: UBW midrange, 2-0
R4: BGW midrange, 0-2
QF: Rbu burn: 2-0
SF: Big UR: 2-1
Finals: same BGW midrange, 1-2

Some highlights: winning on the next-to-last extra turn of time in round 1, where my opponent (my friend Råberg, playing a sweet Enchantress brew) played a lethal fireball with REB backup against my hand of two BEBs, going to 2 in the process so I could finish him with the last card in my hand, a lightning bolt (so I didn’t even need that second BEB, but it felt good anyway). Taking a game off of Egil with the BGW deck in the finals; he had won every duel before that! It was his first tournament, almost, and his deck was built from Gordon’s leftovers. Makes me wonder how he’d do with a real deck. :) Then I misplayed the last game of the finals, throwing a game that was won, but it wasn’t obvious at the time, and it involved a Berserk, a card I would never expect out of a midrange deck with no pump. (Although still bad. The play was likely strictly wrong, no matter which cards were in my opponent’s deck.) That game, I was also hit by an unexpected Tsunami. One of these days I will close it out with a win, I swear.

So what about the deck I played? 5-2 is a reasonable record, and I liked getting to play with my newly-acquired Serendibs, as well as going aggro with burn for the first time in the format for me, but I’m fairly certain the list is just bad. Probably the archetype as well. Why? Well, for a starter let’s take a look at the mana base.

1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
1 Sol Ring
1 Black Lotus
1 Strip Mine
1 Library
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 City of Brass
4 Tundra
3 Volcanic Island
1 Plateau
1 Underground Sea
2 Plains

That’s 13 U, 12 W, 9 R, 6 B, excluding the Lotus. Imagine a mana base like that in any modern format. (Reminds me of the time I played UG Madness in Standard to a Top 8 in Nationals without Yavimaya Coasts, having the mana base of 11 Island, 9 Forest, 2 City of Brass.) Too little red, a bit too little blue and white as well. I had even cut the Emerald for another colored source, even though my Serras and Serendibs greatly benefit from acceleration! I should have used more Plateaus instead of Plains, ignoring Blood Moon a bit more, but it’s still far from great. Even if you cut the black, which might be worth it. Basically, the complicated mana bases of this format don’t work if you don’t run Fellwar Stones or possibly if you play a combo deck and can cut the Mishra’s. Also, the Moats aren’t just good enough when there’s so few other valuable Disenchant targets. The red addition might make it better than straight-up UW Skies, as the burn certainly was strong in a lot of games, but this deck is just a straight-up worse version of UR Burn. And one of the fundamental truths of Magic is that you shouldn’t run a worse something else. You could also make a case that it’s also a worse Swords/Disenchant/Counterspell/Moat deck than The Deck, but that part is obvious. The deck might even be worse than the UWR Savannah Lion deck that Åland played at BSK, although I stand by the lions just being a generally terrible card in the format.

Unfortunately, I never got to use Rasputin Dreamweaver, but at least I did grind out Gordon’s Big UR with my Jalum Tome one game of the semifinals, so I got to showcase some of my sweeter cards. The burn was fun to play with, as a change to my usual control- or combo-centric play style, but next time I feel that urge, I’ll do it in another shell. UR, or big UR, or Arabian Aggro. Or even some Underworld Dreams burn deck. I have lots of ideas.

The next tournament for me is probably the Arvika Festivalen in February, but I have a bunch of stuff to write about before then. Something about the decks from Eternal Weekend, probably, as well as reviving Rereading Centurion. Also, there’s Skype playing to be done, decks to be built, cards to be acquired. Take care during the holidays, may you always have Library of Alexandria in your starting hand, and see you at N00bCon! Man, that feels great to say.

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Brewing 93/94 Team Constructed

When I first saw the announcement of the Old School World Cup in London, I knew I wanted to go. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, but I didn’t let that prevent me from brewing. For those of you unaware, the format was Unified 93/94, meaning that you play as a three-people team, and all the decks have to consist of a legal 93/94 deck when put on top of one another.

What does this mean for deck building?

First, there’s way less power around, so games are slower, non-artifact mana acceleration (elves, birds) is more important, creatures and creature removal is better, land destruction or denial is better.

Second, there are way fewer Mishra’s Factories running around, making smaller creatures better.

Third, there are way less Disenchants, making combos and weird decks very much better. Less counterspells means the same.

Fourth, there are less multicolor decks, making Blood Moon less potent.

After thinking about the format for a while, I concluded there are some basic strategies to approach it. Level one is to split the colors, which means two 2-color decks and one monocolor one. Mono blue and mono green are underpowered, mono white gobbles up the excellent white removal spells which are more powerful in a two-color shell, so I firmly believe the mono-colored deck should be either black or red. This leaves a couple of options: either mono-black, GW Erhnam-Geddon, UR aggro, or mono-red, UW control, BG midrange. Or possibly UW control, mono-B, RG aggro. All of these are fine setups, I think. If you have UW control, I’d probably put all the moxen in that deck, as it makes the books that much better. Any green deck has access to accelerating creatures.

Level two is to maximize the good decks, very likely eliminating the mono-colored options. I’m particularly scared of playing mono-red against CoP: Red. There are good clusters of cards which have no home in the level 1 setup, like the prison shell of Winter Orb, Icy Manipulator, Copy Artifact, potentially Armageddon, maybe artifact creatures like Su-Chi and Triskelion and The Abyss, likely at least some number of Transmute Artifact. Not playing that is leaving a bunch of power unused, especially considering how powerful that would be against unpowered (or almost unpowered) decks. There’s also of course the temptation to start with an almost-fully powered The Deck and try to find two other decks to compliment that, as The Deck almost never should lose against suboptimal decks.

This leads to setups like The Deck, red aggro splashing blue for serendibs, psiblasts, and timetwister, and some black deck, likely monoblack. Or even the above, but with the third deck being Ub artifact prison control, a setup allowing for three blue decks and not a single green card being played other than Regrowth. This is what I’m leaning towards as the most powerful lineup, which I really would have liked to test. There’s also a case for Erhnam-Geddon, UR burn, and some Br underworld dreams combo deck which should be better than mono-black in a vacuum.

So what happened? Go check out Christopher Cooper’s excellent report from the event. My analysis turned out to be quite correct on a lower level. However, there were a lot more sweet stuff around that I’d have expected. Especially the German team’s lineup of 5c MirrorBall, URB Troll Disco, and Mono-Blue Stasis is a thing of pure madness. And they made it to the finals! With a 3-3 record in total, but still. Very sweet. Nobody got into my Ux artifact prison thing, though. I still think that is a very strong thing to be doing. The winners played Rx artifact aggro, GWu Erhnam-Geddon, UW control. Splitting Disenchants and Swords to Plowshares seems like madness to me, but apparently it worked. Hopefully I’ll see those guys at N00bCon this spring. Well played!

BSK 2017: Organizer’s report

This year, I somehow ended up helping organizing the 93/94 event at BSK (Borås Spelkonvent) in Borås, Sweden, this past weekend. In the past, this tournament has had a Shark as the trophy, being what I have understood is the oldest still running 93/94 tournament, but this year, that trophy has moved to Arvika. Still, there was a tradition to uphold and old pieces of cardboard to tap. We ended up being 38 players, although a handful being delayed due to a late flight, and we settled for 5 rounds of Swiss followed by top 8. Which was just as well, considering the finals was finished shortly past 3 a.m. anyway.

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About to start. I believe. Might be later.

The tournament went well, despite a small computer error delaying the start of the top 8. I suggested we ran sudden death chaos orb flips instead of rolling a die to decide between the 8th and 9th place when the tiebreakers appeared to be unavailable, but it got sorted out when the computer restart worked. Maybe unfortunately. There’s a lot of potential there, including gradually increasing heights of the flips and more.

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The standings after the full five rounds of Swiss

I unfortunately did not take nearly as many photos as I had intented (it being one of the duties I got assigned by Mg when I took over as organizer as he was unable to attend), but at least there are some random snapshots of matches in progress:

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I can’t figure out why Morgan looks almost happy, facing down what appears to be an active Library.
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There’s just something about Sylvan Library that makes me happy. All those books inside, maybe.
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Waiting for some matches to finish
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Quarterfinals: Olle Råde vs Felipe Garcia
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Martin Jordö vs myself (Svante Landgraf) in the quarterfinals
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Semifinals between Mikael Lindén and Martin Jordö.

 

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Finals: Martin Jordö vs Olle Råde, not captured at a particularly exciting point. If any of these fine gentlemen would write a report, I’d happily publish it.
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In the end, it was Olle Råde who got to take down the The Fallen and the championship!

Then, it’s time for the decklists.

 

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Olle Råde, 1st place, UR Burn: a refined version of the deck he’s played with great success many times before, among those winning the exact same tournament two years ago!
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Martin Jordö, 2nd place, MirrorBall: especially intriguing is the use of a full four maindeck mirrors.
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Emil Klintbäck, 3/4th place, The Deck. I think I might have finally convinced Emil to cut that maindeck Lightning Bolt he used to run. :)
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Mikael Lindén, 3/4th place, URb troll burn. The sideboard is missing, but at least it involved some number of Nevinyrral’s Disk, as well as the usual red and blue blasts.
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Åland, 5-8th place, Fantasy Zoo
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Felipe Garcia, 5-8th place, TwiddleVault. A beautiful and interesting deck. I don’t understand how it can win but apparently it does, and that makes me happy. Abusing the restricted list is a viable concept, as Martin Jordö’s 2nd place deck is another example of. The Channel feels a bit sketchy with just one copy of Fireball but I might be missing something here.
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Micke Thai, 5-8th place, The Deck. If you want to go the maindeck Serra route, I think this is a very well-tuned list. I wouldn’t recommend it in an environment with a lot of Swords to Plowshares, though, and I would like a maindeck Moat over one of the Lightning Bolts.
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Svante Landgraf, 5-8th place, Power Monolith hybrid: The approach I chose seemed to be quite solid. I got to do a lot of broken things, including a 3rd turn kill, and despite the only 4-ofs in the 75 being Tundra and City of Brass, it felt remarkably consistent. Not the best against The Deck or UR Burn, though.

I want to thank everybody who attended, especially Micke Thai who provided some of the photographs as well as made the top 8 after starting out with a loss due to the late flight, Gordon Andersson for the generally good times, and everybody in the top 8 who managed to provide decklists even though I didn’t grab them all during the night. Maybe I’ll even do more of this organizing thing in the future. Who knows.

 

 

 

 

Drawing cards in Arvika, part 2. Almost getting there

Picking up from where we left off last time.

The tournament starts at about 5.40 pm. It’s going to be a long night. About 44 players, I think. Six rounds of Swiss. The winner gets an invite to Noobcon, there’s a prize for best unpowered deck, as well as some other prizes for top 8. My target is set on that invite. No shark this year, but a fake shark, a Clone with a shark picture taped to it. Which was actually hilarious.

Time for the matches. This time, as I was expecting to write a report, I took some notes, mostly some scribblings on my life pad, but I still have a bad memory as I’m old and the days grow short. Also, a couple of weeks have passed when I started writing, and far more of them now that I’m finished. Therefore, I might be mixing up events and generally making things up, most games being quite fuzzy in my mind. We’ll just have to live with it.

Round 1. I’m facing someone I don’t know. We both play some duals and nothing much else, the first spell being played is a Storm Seeker turn 4. I have 20 life and 7 cards, with a counterspell in hand, but I let it resolve. How threatening can it be? 13 life seems plenty. I don’t recall exactly what happens more, but he deals me some more damage, probably with a mishra, until I play Mirror Universe, exchange life, then beat him down with my lands. It turns out he’s on some kind of non-red midrange pile with mid-sized creatures and a random Storm Seeker thrown in, not a howling/vise/underworld dreams deck as I somewhat had expected. The second game is a repeat of the first one: I Swords a couple of creatures, then switch lives. I suppose I just get a book active. 1-0.

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Round 1: Kalle, Mg, Gordon

In the second round, I face goblins. Actual mono-red goblins with Goblin Kings, which isn’t easy to pull off when Fallen Empires isn’t allowed. Awesome. I Fireball two of the little buggers in the first game, which always feels good, then stabilizing on 1 life after allowing some some bolts to resolve, but manage to take it down. The second game is pretty much the same, probably involving an Abyss. No life gain, though; I do go down to 1, but as the lifepad ends with me at 1 and him at 23, but me winning, a mirror is probably involved in a concession here. 2-0

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Some of the top tables round 2. Morgan vs I think KungMarkus, and Kalle vs Gordon. Of note are the Ydwen Efreets, and Gordon’s Fastbond (his Fork Recursion deck ended up at 4-2, narrowly missing the top 8 on tiebreakers).

In round 3, I face Kalle Nord. Kalle is one of the format’s all-time greats, designing playmats, pins and other things, organizing tournaments, frequently winning a lot with innovative decks, including the recent Ivory Cup 2 in Stockholm with some URg monstrosity. He’s also a very good guy. The last time we played, I think it was in Vintage where I managed to screw up my Doomsday piles, killing myself in the process. This time, I knew he was on some kind of Ubw prison deck but I didn’t know any specifics. That would come back to hurt me. In the first game, I resolve a timetwister into a tome, but he gets a howling I should have counterspelled as he has a relic barrier. I draw more cards, but I see only one counterspell and one disenchant in the top half of my deck. Eventually, I misplay on a complicated turn with a demonic tutor for a mind twist which gets power sinked. I was unsure of his counterspell count, putting him on anything from 0 to 4 copies of actual Counterspell. Turns out he ran only 1 mana drain and 1 power sink. Even then, I don’t really know what I was thinking. I went for a mind twist, not defending it enough, just a bad call. Anyway, his array of winter orb, relic barriers, icys and howlings, some being copy artifacts (a card Kalle seems to be a big fan of), disrupted me quite fine, and eventually I succumb to his plan of resolving mirror, burning himself with cities, then tapping his winter orb with a relic barrier and tapping my cities with his icys, destroying my mirror somewhere along the line. It was interesting; Kalle later commented that he forgot to put a Fireball into his deck when the tournament was about to start, having only mishras and mirror as win conditions. I can certainly agree with not running any real wincons but that fireball would speed things up immensely. Kalle’s deck was really sweet, and I’d love to see the list.
I was pretty sure I could have won that first game with better tactics and/or strategy. In the second game, I don’t really know what happened; my notes shows me going from 20 to 19 to 18, then losing, writing “owned” as the only comment. I suppose some abuse of power and/or mana screw was the case. Which is unfortunate, as I think my matchup is quite great once I bring in multiple red blasts and extra artifact destruction. 2-1.

Round 4, I face some kind of zoo, probably URG. I take a mulligan, but start with lotus, mox, timetwister, into an ancestral, into stone rain and disenchant, forcing a concession with lives still 20-20. In the second game, I play my city in a bottle, turning off most of his offensive. He follows it up with a timetwister which is quite horrible for him, whereas I resolve a tome and take complete control of the game. None of this was remotely close, and I regain some of my confidence. Somewhere along here, the pizza arrives, and along with a beer, I’m starting to feel a lot better. 3-1.

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Cermak vs Kalle on table 2 in round 4

Next, I’m facing Elof the Mighty. He’s a real legend, one of the best players in the format; he has three sharks and was one game away from winning a fourth, being the first to trade them all in for a Leviathan, earlier this year here in Arvika. He seems to be able to win with whatever he plays. He’s even so good he’s doing coverage on Noobcon these days, to give the rest of us more of a chance. This time, he was on UR Artifact Aggro. The games were not very interesting, though. I don’t get any book online, but keep my life reasonably high, but then all of a sudden he’s resolving a su-chi into a triskelion and I just die. The most interesting thing is Elof running Sage of Lat-Nam, even in the main deck, which is surprisingly good, allowing him to get an extra card here and there. But I lose, and feel kind of down. At 3-2, I should be out of it, but there’s still one more match to go.

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Last Swiss round starting

The last round of the swiss, I’m facing some kind of black deck. My notes are kind of faulty and my memory is bad; I’ve let this report lay dormant far too long now. Game 1, I get demolished by a triple Hypnotic draw. Once the first one connects, it’s really hard to get back without some kind of power draw. And I didn’t get that. After sideboard, though, my deck does what it should. Game 2, I get a couple of books online and bury him in card advantage. Game 3, we trade some resources, he plays a Wheel of Fortune, but I draw a lot better than him, involving a tutor into mind twist. Those things happen. Giving cards to The Deck can be dangerous for sure.

Some people tell me I might still get in at 4-2, but I’m unconvinced. One or two people might get in but it feels unlikely it would be me. Then the top 8 is announced, and I’m in 7th place, first of all the people with 12 points (of who there were at least 8 or so).

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Final standings after the Swiss

However, soon things get complicated. Returning from a bathroom break, I learn that a result had been wrongly entered a couple of rounds before, resulting in Kalle having three less points than he should have. Apparently nobody realized he shouldn’t have been sitting so far down in the last round, being 4-0-1 instead of 3-1-1 at that point. After a while, that’s resolved, Kalle taking place 8, which makes me happy, as I’d love to face the 2nd seed.

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Top 8 about to start

Why? Because the opposing deck is Power Monolith, piloted by good guy Jhovalking. That’s a powerful deck, as I detailed in part 1 of this report, but it has one glaring weakness: its The Deck matchup. I shuffle up, feeling confident. And start with a double mulligan. Eventually, he just buries me in card advantage, resolving the combo quite late when I have nothing left. The other two games, however, I just thrash him. There are so many cards in the deck which are dead when not everything is lining up perfectly against hate, and with red blasts and additional artifact removal, nothing much ever happens. One of the games involve a particularly filthy Mind Twist if I recall correctly.

Then, in the semis, I face Morgan, playing the B/u deck that won Noobcon and which people seem to thing beat The Deck. Interesting, as I haven’t faced that deck since the swiss of Noobcon against the eventual winner, where I lost a very tight match. I observe that this could have been a PTQ semis in 2002; we were both hard-time PTQ grinders back then. In the first game, I start with ancestral into library; he rituals an underworld dreams turn 1, which I promptly disenchant, and then just have way more cards than him the rest of the game. I also Abyss all his creatures away. The second game, I got beaten down by a couple of mishras, backed up by Gloom and Energy Flux. One of the many cases where I wish I had access to Moat. Then, in the final game, I pick off the mishras with disenchants and swords, landing an abyss and circle of protection to handle the rest. The black deck is just too weak to books to be really viable in my opinion. There was one really interesting spot, though I do not remember which game. I am beaten down by a Black Knight, being at around 7 or 8 life. I have a recently cast Chaos Orb, one land and a Lotus untapped. In hand I have Counterspell, Recall, and Balance, to Morgan’s two cards. Morgan plays some large threat. I decide to counterspell it, and then hit the Knight with the Orb, using the Recall to seal the deal, getting back some powerful things. Instead, I for some reason let the threat resolve, hitting it with the orb, immediately realizing that I must have been to tired to execute the plan I had decided on. Therefore, I have to cast Balance to kill the Black Knight next turn, losing the mirror I had drawn for the turn. I still manage to squeak it out, but it’s bad nonetheless. I hate making mistakes even if I realize them immediately.

So, finals time! It’s 4 a.m. Not feeling too tired though. At this time I’m sober again, and I’m probably more used to playing magic for countless hours in a row than most old school players from my Grand Prix grinding days. I’m facing Jimmie with a mono red pile that apparently is undefeated for some reason. I can’t figure out why. It looks like crap, like any mono-colored deck in the format, and still people claim it beats The Deck, probably due to its prison elements (Black Vise, Winter Orb, Blood Moon, Ankh of Mishra, along with Atogs, Su-Chi, maindeck City in a Bottle, and bolts). People say that all the time. It’s very rarely true. Still, I’m a bit wary when I shuffle up. On the play, he starts with a turn-1 Library. Not the worst, as I have a turn-2 stone rain for it, but still kind of annoying; I also believe I need him to play a red-producing land so my fellwar gives me red mana. On his second turn, he draws a card with the library, then contemplates for a while, finally settling on playing mountain, mox, city in a bottle. I point at his Library. Not terribly happy, he puts it in his graveyard. I later use the Stone Rain to mana screw him almost out of red and take control easily.

How bad was that play? Is that the sign of a bad player? No. Not at all. In fact, I regard my misplay with the sequencing in the semifinals as worse, and faulty strategies as worse still. This was just a swift misplay. It says almost nothing about one’s ability to play the game. Having bad sideboard plans, or wrongly prioritizing what to fight over in a certain matchup, are things I consider far more grave. Of course, being a technically flawless player gives you a lot of percentage points, but that’s a different thing. Mistakes happen.

In the second game, I mulligan a hand with only one mana source. Into a hand with one mana source. Into a hand with 0. Going down to 4 cards, at least his turn-1 Black Vise isn’t threatening, but neither is my hand of two lands, an Ivory Tower and something non-broken very impressive. Less so once Jimmie lands not only one, but two copies of Blood Moon. For the longest time, I am still back in the game if I draw Lotus, as I have multiple Disenchants and Swords in my hand, but it was not to be.

For the final game, I make what is probably the worst mistake of the tournament, but I don’t realize it until far later, when I de-sideboard a couple of days afterward: for some reason I didn’t bring in my Serra Angel. Still, I have those sweet blue blasts and extra artifact removal, and against his slow and underpowered deck, as long as he doesn’t land a Blood Moon, this should be easy, right?

Then it dawns on me. I’m the villain here, playing the deck people love to hate, uncreative, equipped with all the overpowered cards, facing a new and creative deck on an insane winning streak. I’m the end boss. And the end boss always loses. Still, I shuffle up and draw an okay opener. I have to be aware of blood moon at all times, so I can never use my last disenchant/BEB/counterspell on something else. I let a turn 2 ankh of mishra resolve, probably because I only have one answer and I don’t need that many lands. Also, this deck doesn’t pressure me a lot. I take 6 damage from it, developing my mana base. Then things start falling apart. I never really get any card advantage going, and my life slips away a point at a time. I don’t know what happened. Not now and not really then. It’s a game I’d have loved to be able to go back to re-watch, but alas, there was no stream. So I lose. Defeated, I shake Jimmie’s hand, feeling empty. It’s about 5 a.m. Gordon grabs my shoulder, says he knows how much I’d wanted to win, wanted that Noobcon invite. I don’t even know if I respond. I grad the buckle and the prize card, an Ydwen Efreet. Try to look for a cab back to the town center, but the ones ordered seem to be full. I just walk away. A lonely 20-minute walk through the night, feeling empty, like so many times before. I wasn’t feeling especially bad. I’d felt way worse failing to make day 2 of a GP, many times, but that was a long time ago, and I was feeling more back then. Now I’m mostly numb. Walking through deserted streets, a Saturday night so late it has become morning, everybody already home from their parties and drinking.

I get to the hotel at about 5.30 a.m., setting my alarm at about 11 or something, resigning to not getting any breakfast, my train not leaving until 3 p.m. But that’s another story. Or, honestly, not much of a story at all.

So what does this entail to? My third straight top 8, the first time going beyond the quarterfinals, but still failing to close. Like so many times before. I really should play something else than The Deck. I want to win on my own, not just because I play an overpowered archetype. Drawing cards kind of makes me happy, but you can draw cards in other ways as well. Next time, I’ll be piloting something else, I swear.

Props:
– The Arvika crew, organizing a large recurring tournament in the middle of nowhere
– Everybody else in the 93/94 community. It’s impossible to not have a good time at one of these tournaments.

Slops:
– The town of Arvika, an infinitely depressing backwater. Seriously, that Sunday morning after four hours of sleep, the town was almost more than I could bear.
– The beer selection on site. The only IPA was both bad and sold out quickly.
– Myself, for failing to close once again.
– Myself, for making huge misplays throughout the tournament. At least I didn’t miss any chaos orb flip this time. :)
– Myself, for waiting a month to finish this report, losing a lot of details in the process.

Next thing up: BSK. See you there!

Drawing cards in Arvika, part 1. Getting there

Please don’t hate me.

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Just look at these beautiful cards. How can you not want to play with them?

Or if you do, hate me because I take all the fun in the format and use it for myself; hate me because I’m the villain, because I’m Magneto or Ozymandias, don’t hate me because I’m a boring old fucker with no regards for the true soul of the format.

(As everybody know, the format is about drawing cards. All the cards.)

Anyway.

I did try to play something novel this time, I really did. First of all, I wasn’t really sure I was even going; the tournament, the newly-insituted 93/94 Scandinavian Championships in Arvika, Sweden, is what will confer the Arvika Giant Shark in the future, but not this year, as that one has already been given out at the February tournament, the Arvika Festivalen. Also, Arvika is a shithole in the middle of nowhere and traveling is boring when you’re going alone (and as my loyal readers probably know by now, I’m sitting alone in an ivory tower on the eastern plains of Sweden with no fellow 93/94 player within a hundred miles). I was considering going but didn’t really put my heart into it. Until, about a month ago, I was going to Oslo by train on a business trip, and the train suddenly passed through Arvika. Wait, getting here doesn’t seem so bad after all. Maybe I should go. Looking into tickets, finding them not too expensive and finding a hotel room even though most of the town seemed to be booked already, I suddenly found myself with a trip.

I’ve been meaning to buy into at least one other old school deck for quite a while now; some readers might remember me talking about different options at the Ivory Cup 2 in Stockholm in early June. In particular, I’m always drawn to the combo macro-archetype, being an avid Storm player in Legacy and having had some undeserved success with Doomsday in Vintage. (My history of drawing obscene amounts of cards early on is the topic for another day, harking back to the days of casting Windfall in Standard.) I have a feeling combo decks can be better than they currently are in old school. They are played so rarely that the lists are far from optimized, and that’s attracting the deck tuner in me. For an overview, I recommend Stephen Menendian’s excellent combo primer at Vintage Magic. Most of all, I’d love a chance to play Fastbond again (now that the Gush restriction has basically killed the card in Vintage), but I fear that Fork Recursion might just not be good enough. That is still on the list of decks to get the cards for and try out. However, I’m still regretting me selling a playset of Power Artifact pre-spike a year ago, so when I got the chance, I bought them again, before they rise even higher. I start looking through deck lists, comparing them, seeing what can be done. What are the different ways of building the deck? What is the core? How much mana do you need? I’m using the lists in Menendian’s article above, as well as the one on wak-wak and Jaco’s article on Eternal Central.

Chiefly, I find one big divide: whether to play more control card, Swords to Plowshares, Disenchants, and things like Jayemdae Tome, or whether to go more all-in on the combo. There are still overlaps, of course. One such is whether to play Transmute Artifact. I like that card a lot, but it forces you into some uncomfortable spots. In particular, Rocket Launcher is just a terrible card. Not only does it cost 4; for some unfathomable reason, it has summoning sickness. Book of Rass might be a better way to actually end the game if you get the combo while having a Transmute available. Also, Triskelion isn’t the best card when you’re not aggressive.

I’m immediately attracted to Sylvan Library, one of my all-time favorite cards. I mean, I even tried to play it in the sideboard of The Deck once. Transmute gives you a shuffle effect here, but I’m still not convinced. If you play Sylvan, you want more green mana, which makes you shy away from white. I’m also very tempted to play the Channel in the sideboard, using that two-card combo as an out to opponents overloading on artifact removal post-sideboard. I get the idea of running Lightning Bolts over swords as creature removal, allowing the white to be minimized to just Balance and a Disenchant or two. Then I could even board Gloom against Disenchant-based opposition. The Guardian Beast plan I’m more skeptical about. Most people would probably expect it, leaving some swords in, and it’s still not very impactful in the horrible The Deck matchup. Also, I don’t own any, but I still don’t really like them.

I want a lot of card draw to make sure I hit the combo, more than any list above, at least 2 sylvans and 2 books, I think. The mana base is actually fine as you don’t run Mishra’s Factories. I’m also not convinced Power Sink is better than Counterspell and decide to run a split, allowing for better defenses at the expense of some combo potential. After having made some hard cuts, I arrive at this:

1 ancestral
1 walk
1 timetwister
4 monolith
4 power artifact
4 fireball
2 power sink
1 counterspell
1 mana drain
2 sylvan
2 tome
(0 bolt)
1 regrowth
1 disenchant
1 balance
1 abyss
1 mirror
1 tutor
1 mind twist
1 recall
1 wheel
1 braingeyser
1 chaos orb

1 library
1 strip mine
5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
2 fellwar
15 assorted blue lands: 3 volcanic, 3 tropical, 2 underground, 3 island, 4 city

sb:
1 maze
1 abyss
1 bolt
1 mana short
2 reb
3 beb
1 city in a bottle
1 channel
2 crumble
1 gloom
1 tranquility

It actually looks quite good. At this point, about two weeks before the tournament, somehow I’ve convinced myself I should play this in Arvika. I’m itching to play something new, so I start acquiring the cards I miss, two Tropical Islands the hardest thing by far, only owning a Beta and four FBB ones. Then, over a week later, last Monday or Tuesday, it dawns on me: I can have both the green and the white if I cut down on the black. Running crumble (against books) and tranquility (against Underworld Dreams) is hard to justify, after all. It’s hipster but hardly good. So I rebuild the deck, playing some swords and disenchants in the sideboard. It looks great. It feels great.

Then I assemble the deck and goldfish for a while. I know I should get into the habit of playing over Skype but I just haven’t bothered to make a working setup yet, so this is the first non-theory I do. And man, does it suck. Nothing works. Assembling a three-card combo without cantrips is harder than I’d imagine. The deck has every problem of The Deck, such as drawing too much or too little mana, or just not getting any action, increased by having a whole lot of air in the deck. Maybe, it would be possible to play a smaller combo in a more full The Deck shell, using monoliths for mana, Power Artifacts for tome fuel, and fireballs as removal, cutting some flex defensive slots. Then, the transformative sideboard plan of Guardian Beasts should probably be two or three Serras, being both defensive and aggressive. But that is far less sweet: no sylvans, no wheel, no channel.

I just can’t do it. Not at this time. I still bring the cards for the deck (missing a few pieces, but those could probably be borrowed on site), but I resign to assembling The Deck again, this time with the changes I mentioned in my Ivory Cup report. For reference:

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Then it’s Saturday, autumn, everything is gray with clouds hanging very low, the alarm going of at 6, the train leaving at 8. Even though not working set hours especially often, I often have trouble sleeping, waking up too early even though never going to bed early enough, so I’m running up a bit of a fatigue tap already. The tournament starting at 4 pm (as if anybody ever expects a Magic tournament to start on time), it’s looking to be a long day. Still, I feel kind of good. I haven’t played more than a few stray and boring games of Modern since early summer and I’m almost itching to draw some cards. I want to win this one; the winner doesn’t get a shark, but he gets a Noobcon slot, something I dearly crave. And it’ll be great to see a bunch of the 93/94 crew again.

So, a fairly eventless train ride, checking into the hotel, eating lunch, relaxing for a bit, then walking to the site about a kilometer away from the town center.

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Upon arrival, Gordon’s pink suit is very fetching

I get there, greet a lot of good people, discuss The Deck with Emil, discuss combo decks with Gordon, grab a beer (the beer selection was bad, bordering on the horrible, but at least it’s cheap, right? I’m not much for playing tournaments while being real drunk, but one beer to start things off is great, as well as having one or two to take some edge off losing later on), collect some cards I’ve bought beforehand, and wait. As usual, we wait, the tournament finally starting at about 5:30, including printer problems.

But that’s a story for next time. To be continued!

Rereading Centurion, issue #5

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I’ve put off writing about issue #5 because nothing in it really interests me. There’s the same price guide with mostly identical prices as in #4; there’s an introduction to Marvel OverPower and a long FAQ for the newest expansion for Doomtrooper; a guide on how to build budget mono-black discard, similar to the treatment of R/G aggro in issue #4 (hint: it sucks, Mindstab Thrull being one of the better cards in the list), a review of Chronicles (Erhnam Djinn is a good card! So is City of Brass! But not Giant Slug!); an article about nonbasic lands (also surprisingly correct; Library is broken, as is Strip Mine, and Tabernacle is heralded as the big thing in mana denial decks); and some terminology for Magic drinking games (Mahamoti Djinn is 5-6 different kinds of gin in a beer glass, Berserk is 20 beers, Leviathan is 200 litres of water, Firebreathing is a Bloody Mary with extra tabasco) …

There is, however, one substantial article, and that is about the 1995 World Championship. As you all remember from last time, Dan Hörning won the 1995 Swedish Nationals, thus qualifying him and the rest of the top 4 of that tournament for Worlds. The Swedes going were Hörning, Leon Lindbäck, Neil Guthrie, Kim Hassellund, Johan Nilsson, Johan Disenborg and Johan Andersson. (Who can say the Swedes don’t have sense for diversity in names?) The format was Type 2 again, this time consisting of 4th Edition, Fallen Empires and Ice Age. (Smallest standard format ever?) Poor Hörning; his Nationals-winning deck, built around Blood Moon and Channel, was not close to being legal. Instead, he plans to play B/W discard, until finding out on the plane, after careful playtesting, that he lost all three games to UW control. Time to start thinking for real. He had played too much “normal typ 1 gaming” and neglected type 2. Oh, the times.

Worlds was played in Seattle, at WotC, where the players were given a guided tour of the headquarters. At an information meeting the night before the tournament, they got told they would play five rounds of sealed day 1, followed by five rounds of typ 2 the next day, before a cut to top 8. Apparently that information wasn’t given beforehand. The sealed deck format, however, was a bit odd: the product consisted of two 4th ed. starters, four Fallen Empires boosters, one 4th Ed. booster, and one Ice Age booster. That is a lot of cards, even considering Fallen Empires is only 8 cards to the pack. Nobody seemed to know very much what they were doing. Hörning writes that his deck “might seem quite mana heavy”, playing 17 out of 40.

In the first round of the day, Lindbäck beats reigning world champion Zak Dolan, who seems even more clueless about the format. None of the Swedes reached any kind of satisfying result day 1. During that night, at a dinner for the players, Hörning decided to play UW control, just like Lindbäck. Classic multi-format tournament practice of choosing decks in the last minute. Two other observations of note about the first day: the swiss here is based on duels, which makes 2-1 a lot worse than 3-0, something that appeared to be quite common in those early years of organized play, and likely creating interesting collusion opportunities. And secondly, at one point time is called in Hörning’s match, leading to both players being awarded a loss. That is some hardcore ID prevention going on, I tell you.

During day 2, Hörning beats a Greek player with mono-blue control with no Jayemdae Tomes, Zak Dolan on RG land destruction, then losing and winning some rather pointless matches. One of the other Swedes distinguish himself by losing every match of the tournament by 1-2. Skillful.

So, who won? Alexander Blumke from Switzerland, running a black-based discard deck with small blue and white splashes. His price was “a lot of cards, a t-shirt and a Hurloon Minotaur jacket”. (Truth to be told, it is a very sexy jacket.) The real story was the success of red-based Black Vise, Howling Mine, Stormbind, burn decks. Necro was legal, but I’m not even sure how good that would have fared against all of those Black Vises; the Black Summer is still one year away.

Anthing else about that Worlds trip? Magic drinking games, the differences between Swedish and US gaming conventions (the players all headed to GenCon some days later), some uninspired type 1 games.

One interesting thing, however, is one casual format mentioned in the report and fleshed out in a small article later in the issue: Alphabet Magic. I’m not much of a casual player myself, have never been, but Alphabet is something I’ve tried and enjoyed back in the days. In short, you build a deck of 40 cards, and no cards other than basic lands can share a beginning letter. So you have to choose between Armageddon and Ancestral Recall, between Black Lotus and Balance, and so on. Everything is restricted, obviously, although I’ve seen later versions of the format where this isn’t true and the decks contain 60 cards. At some Invitational, maybe? Anyway, the format kind of balances itself, and rewards deck building. Maybe that could be something for an Old School version? This is the deck Hörning played:

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Is Air Elemental better than Ancestral Recall? (No.) Is Maze better than Mox? Obviously, mono-colored decks are encouraged, which I always dislike; it could possibly be averted by allowing a single dual land as a 4-of (but still eating up an alphabet slot, of course). I somewhat feel like brewing.

That’s it for this issue. The next post will likely be a report on the Scandinavian Championship, held in Arvika, Sweden, the coming weekend, unless I completely embarrass myself there. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @SvanteLandgraf for some live coverage this Saturday. Take care, and may your orbs always flip and hit, unless you’re facing me.

Rereading Centurion, Issue #4: 1995 Swedish Nationals

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This cover image, like most used by Centurion, is taken from Mutant Chronicles/Doomtrooper. Probably because of the editor’s connections to Target Games. The magazine was always more about Magic than any other game.

Oh, we should have been there. We should all have been there, at the 1995 Swedish Nationals, slinging dual lands and Demonic Tutors in Type 2 for the first and only time. That tournament is the subject of a couple of long articles in Centurion issue #4, the first Magic one, written by the recent staff member and eventual champion Dan Hörning. The format was Revised, Fourth Edition, The Dark and Fallen Empires, with a Type 1-ish restricted list, including Channel, Mind Twist, Balance, and Fork, but not Strip Mine. Hörning played the following deck:

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Interesting things of note:

  •  It plays Orgg. Orgg is awesome.
  •  It runs a second copy of Jayemdae Tome in the sideboard “to combat the discard decks”. (Jayemdae Tome was popular at the tournament. “Some even ran three!”)
  •  “Sometimes, my deck feels like a zoo”, writes Hörning, referring to his apes and bears. What we call Lestree Zoo appears to be referred to in Sweden as Serendib decks at this time.

An aggressive R/G deck with a light black splash, built around Channel/Fireball and Blood Moon, to punish all the greedy decks. And boy, were there greed. Think about the mana bases possible in the format. The only fixing available are the original dual lands, Birds of Paradise, and Land Tax. Nothing else is close to playable. There’s also unrestricted Strip Mine and Mishra’s Factory. Strip Mine is not mentioned even once in the article, though, except that the runner-up in the finals, Leon Lindbäck of PT1 fame, played one copy. This is his deck:

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Yeah, zero basic lands turned out not to be very good against Blood Moon in the finals. I’m no stranger to playing one color too many, but splashing green for Regrowth and Sylvan Library in a format like this is too close to madness even for my taste. Something UW with a small black splash for tutor and Mind Twist seems feasible, though. Maybe with 29 mana sources, 2 Strip Mines, Sol Ring, a couple of Fellwar Stones, and 0 Mishras, a mana base could offer 14 blue, 14 white and 8 black while sporting 6 of each basic. That is bad, but not horrible. And the power is there: card drawing, restricted cards, the cheap answers we all love.

But what else is there? My first instinct, in a format with horrible manafixing and unrestricted Strip Mine and Black Vise, is to play some mono-colored aggro deck. The cards are just so bad, however. Going mono-red, you have to play goblins, and beyond Lightning Bolt and Goblin Grenade, you’d have to go to Fireball for burn. What’s worse, the deck can never handle a Circle of Protection outside of Disk, a card you wouldn’t even want. Mono-blue has Counterspell, Control Magic, Serendib Efreet and Mana Vaults to accelerate out Air Elementals and Mahamoti Djinns, but the rest of the creatures all suck and there’s no cheap removal, nor enough good card draw and counterspells to play draw-go reliably. Mono-green has Grizzly Bear leading their creature suite, as Hörning’s deck shows. Mono-black has Hymn, Knights and Erg Raiders and Hypnotics, Dark Ritual, Sengir and Disks, but no Juzam, no Su-Chi, no Sinkhole or Necro. The power just isn’t there, you just have a bunch of small-to-mid sized creatures backed up by Hymns. Not the worst deck by any means, probably better than most multi-colored decks with their faulty mana bases, but not where you want to be. White Weenie is probably the most promising. You have synergy between Strip Mine, Black Vise, Armageddon and an aggressive plan, you have good removal and okay creatures between Savannah Lions, Icatian Javelineers, Knights and Serras. You’d lose to Wrath of God but that’s WW life.

Maybe GW is the best. All the good removal, Birds of Paradise, Land Tax, Sylvan; you can’t kickstart the Land Tax, but running both Strip Mine and Armageddon should help. There’s no Erhnam, but there’s Serra, as well as splashing black for a couple of Derelors in addition to Demonic and Mind Twist. That actually doesn’t sound halfway bad.

Anyway. The tournament seemed to be dominated by BW control decks with Hymns, Serras, Sengirs and removal; multi-colored aggro decks, presumably with Serendibs, Sedge Trolls, Kird Apes and the like; and some white weenie decks. Including one of the semifinalists, as well as one player in the stage of 16, “Olle Rydå, a small kid I remembered from [Gothenburg game convention] GothCon”. Some things never change.

But some things do: the tournament was run as 35 groups of 4, where every winner and the 13 best runner-ups advanced to a second group stage of 12 groups. After that it was, for some reason, cut to top 16. Pre-sideboarding (boarding for game 1) might have been allowed, or just practiced anyway.

Interesting cards seen throughout the tournament: Twiddle, Divine Transformation, Disintegrate, something white with banding (Benalish Hero?), Elvish Riders.

Also, there is a detailed play-by-play of the finals, including one game where a turn-2 Blood Moon forces a concession. Probably decipherable even for those who don’t know Swedish:

But what more is covered in this issue? An article covering every deck archetype, featuring goblin decks with Goblin Shrines and Goblin Caves (“the non-blast one”, meaning not using Chain Lightnings and more burn), classic Stasis decks with Time Elementals or Obelisks of Undoing, but otherwise mostly sane concepts. A guide to building R/G aggro with 59 commons and an uncommon (guess which). A look at the fresh Ice Age set, highlighting Orcish Lumberjack, pain lands, and cantrips (but not Brainstorm), while not being as high on Jester’s Cap than everybody else. Rules for multiplayer games and tournament play. A list of useful websites (this is 1995, remember), including newsgroups and the official Magic site at http://www.itis.com/deckmaster/magic. And, finally, a price guide. Preceded by a still very useful guide of print runs from the available sets (Alpha through The Dark, at which point print run numbers cease to be public, as far as I know). Oh, but the prices. The prices. (Quoted numbers are in SEK, Swedish kronor, which currently are about 9 to the dollar, 10 to the euro; the exact numbers in 1995 I don’t know). Jester’s Cap at 150, which isn’t that surprising for the chase card of a new set, but also Pentagram of the Ages at 100. Revised Jandor’s Ring at 30-70. Fourth Edition Blue Mana Battery at 40-70. Dual lands at 80-150, Bazaar at 200-270, Tabernacle at 270-350. The power wasn’t insanely cheap, comparatively, at 1500-3000 for the Lotus and 1000-1500 for the moxes. Guardian Beast at the same price as Juzam, 650-900. In general, bad cards are expensive, good cards are cheap.

Man, those were the days.

We should have been there.

Rereading Centurion: Introduction, and issue #3

So there I was, wide-eyed and stressed out, browsing through the shelves of non-plastic-wrapped role-playing games at the Tradition store, deep down in the Nordstan mall in Gothenburg, Sweden. Discovering games I’d never heared of, weird and strangely beautiful games, like Shadowrun with its glossy pages sporting full-color illustrations of street samurais and elvish cyberpunk wizards. It was late October or early November. The year was 1994.

Whenever possible, I tried to travel to Stockholm or Gothenburg from my small home town, usually together with my mom, to buy games, books and other things I was interested in. This time around, however, I had a mission: I was to bring home a couple of starter decks for this strange new game, called Magic, for me and my friend. There were no single cards on sale yet, as I recall, just some packs and decks at a stand by the counter. (I’m probably just mistaken.) A few days later we were trying to figure out the Revised rule book, having a hard time understanding how long the Frozen Shade bonus lasted, or what Circle of Protection: Black or Dark Ritual really did. It was a beginning, but we did not know that.

But why? Why was I out to get the Magic cards in that faraway fall? It was all because of an article in the Swedish gaming magazine Centurion. The brainchild of gaming profile Olle Sahlin, once heavily involved in the influential Sinkadus magazine from the rpg producer Äventyrsspel/Target Games (publishing games such as Mutant, Drakar och Demoner, Mutant Chronicles, and Kult), it wasn’t really a fanzine, more a small-scale commercial magazine, with black-and-white interior, professional-looking photographs on the cover, containing articles on subjects like Ars Magica, live role-playing, Space Hulk, Kult, and general storytelling. And, in issue #3, in August 1994, an one-page article on this new game called Magic: the Gathering.

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Cover of issue #3

Beginning with issue #4, and continuing until the last issue, #13, Centurion was solely about Magic. Starting today, I’m rereading those issues and writing about it. We will revisit the first ever Swedish Nationals, where Blood Moon defeats a The Deck list with zero basic lands; we will watch Olle Råde taking down Pro Tour Columbus with Giant Trap Door Spiders; we will ponder set reviews of Homelands and Ice Age; we will delve into the earliest history of Stockholm Magic; and we will marvel at the prices of Black Lotus and Jester’s Cap in 1995. I’m not committing to any particular posting schedule, but it will be a regular feature of the blog from now on.

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But the start was a single one-page article, written by someone called Fredrik Säterby. Titled just “Magic The Gathering”, it explains the game in terms of a “playable card collection”, used for several different things: trading and collecting the cards, looking at the pictures as art, playing with them and “experiencing interesting scenarios”, or just sitting quietly, building decks. There are several kinds of cards, you build decks with no more than 4 copies of each card and at least 40 cards, a game usually takes between 10 and 20 turns. You want to have not too few and not too many lands in your deck. And there are five colors of mana, representing “the battle between good and evil, life and death, and the four elements”. This game surfaced in Sweden only half a year ago, in late 1993, but now it’s spreading like wildfire in certain circles, the article concludes, especially at gaming conventions. It’s quick, portable, compact and financially interesting.

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The caption says “playing Magic”, but they’re obviously building a deck or sorting through cards. The editor probably wasn’t as versed in Magic then as he would later become.

Why did this somewhat bland description of the game capture me so, making me talk some of my rpg buddies into trying the game out, even buying their own cards unseen? I honestly have no idea. It had something to do with the examples given, how lightning bolts were cast on unicorns which suddenly grew to giant porportions and survived, or the possiblities of using weird magic spells (one of the examples given is dealing damage to every creature by the plague – as an example of a sorcery). But I cannot really recall the state of mind of that fourteen-year-old I once was. Needless to say, I got hooked. All because of Centurion (although, gamer as I was, I probably would have discovered the game sooner or later, anyway). There I was. And here I am.

Why you should read Titus Chalk’s Generation Decks

There has never been an official history of Magic. Back in the days, the early days of tournament Magic was chronicled at The Dojo. Formats, like Legacy or Vintage, have had their respective histories written in article series in places like Starcitygames or The Mana Drain. Mark Rosewater has written countless articles about the history of the game’s design back on the mothership, and almost every detail of the Pro Tour has been debated in one way or another. But nobody, as far as I know, has ever tried to tackle the whole history of the game at once. That is, until now.

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Titus Chalk, Generation Decks. Solaris, 2017, 276 pp, $17

Titus Chalk’s Generation Decks, released earlier this year, is an unofficial history of the game, but, being a journalist, Chalk goes to the original sources, digs up truths and speaks to very many people who were there. Loosely chronological and thematic, the book start with the meeting between Richard Garfield and Peter Adkison in 1991 that kicked it all into motion, covering the pre-Alpha playtest phase, the 1993 GenCon release, the early success and incredible growth of Wizards of the Coast as a company, the introduction of the Pro Tour and its first heroes and villains, the Schools of Magic and The Dojo, the rise of Jon Finkel and Kai Budde, the exodus of many pro players towards a career in professional poker, the sale of WotC to Hasbro, the secondary market for cards, the role of Magic Online, and the lack of women in the game. Sprinkled in, there are autobiographical parts, describing what the game means to the author, illustrating how it can make you meet new friends and give you a stable point in life.

If you’re interested in old school Magic, in Magic in general, or just in gaming history, you need to read this book. I’m fairly well versed in the game’s history, having played since late 1994, read The Duelist since 1995 and compulsively consumed every internet article from The Dojo to current-era Starcitygames, and there were still lots and lots of things in the book which were new to me. Like the part about the original artists’ contracts, or the actual early history of The Deck (my favorite part of the book, to be sure). If anything, my only negative note is that the current Pro Tour part ends in 2013. It makes an otherwise timeless book feel a bit dated right off the shelves, but in a few years’ time, it won’t matter. And this is a book for the ages. The prose style is clear, fluent and at times witty. Chalk’s passion for the game is eminently evident, making the British-born, currently Berlin-based author fly around the globe, attending tournaments, talking to different people, and tracking down even more by phone and Skype. It is a joy to read, and it should stand on every serious Magic player’s shelf.

Catching a BUG

So, how about building a deck based on some color combination? How about BUG?

Sure, sounds fun.

What’s BUG about? What are the first things which come to mind?

Juzam, serendib, erhnam. Elves of deep shadow, for some reason.

Okay, let’s go with that. First shell. What’s the mana like? With full power, we can’t fit too many elves in. Birds have to be better. How many duals? Let’s start with the other stuff. Moxen, lotus, sol ring, 4 city, 4 mishra, strip mine; that’s 16 already. Probably not library. Maybe 30 mana including 4 mishras and a strip mine (which do something else than produce mana) and 4 birds (which die a lot) seems reasonable. That leaves about 10 duals. Should be workable. Not great when the birds die, but it will have to do. One color will have to be the splash, and it’s likely it’s blue, as we want juzams and birds.

After the mana, let’s add the broken stuff. 3 blue cards and braingeyser (which should be good with all that mana). Tutor and mind twist. Regrowth. A couple of sylvans seem like a good idea when we’re aggressive. Chaos orb. That’s 10 more cards. 20 more to go.
A couple of nether voids seems like a good plan with all this acceleration and heavy board presence. Some removal maybe? Two or three psionic blasts, maybe we have to run a crumble. A couple of sinkholes might be good. Not a full set, just two, to handle mishras, kill library and as general tempo. We don’t want to flood on non-impactful cards late game. 13 more to go.

We probably want something like 10 or 11 creatures; the full eight djinns are too much, I think, but 4 serendibs seems good. Add a mirror for some extra reach and life gain against aggro; we have enough acceleration to get it down early enought, I think.
What is missing now? No rituals, no hypnotics, no argothian pixies. Rituals don’t go too well with birds and serendibs, and they cause us to lose cards too much (cf. the Handleman school). I prefer not to have any important creatures to die to lightning bolts, I think that is a real plan. Not very much removal, but we have giant creatures. If we really need to kill some permanent, we have an orb and a tutor and a bunch of card draw to find it with. No recall, but I doubt we have enough cards in hand to use it effectively most of the time.

So something like this:

5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
4 birds
4 mishra
1 strip mine
4 city
4 bayou
4 tropical
2 underground sea
1 ancestral
1 time walk
1 timetwister
1 braingeyser
1 regrowth
1 demonic tutor
1 mind twist
2 sylvan
1 chaos orb
2 nether void
2 sinkhole
2 psionic blast
1 crumble
4 serendib
4 juzam
3 erhnam
1 mirror universe
1 mystery card

This actually sounds sweet. Too bad getting juzams is far away in the future for me. What could I use instead? Oh yeah, su-chi is quite good, also not dying to lightning bolt.
Wait. What are we using black for, exactly? Why are we not just splashing nether void and the broken cards? Sinkhole is hardly important. That would help the mana base a bit, possibly freeing up a mana drain.

Thinking about the mana base: we have 4 cities, 4 birds and moxen and lotus. That’s roughly enough to play any splash we’d want. A fireball or two would probably be good as a way of utilizing all that mana. And upgrading the crumble to a disenchant can be useful.

This, then:

5 mox
1 lotus
1 sol ring
4 birds
4 mishra
1 strip mine
4 city
2 bayou
2 forest
4 tropical
2 underground sea
1 ancestral
1 time walk
1 timetwister
1 braingeyser
1 regrowth
1 demonic tutor
1 mind twist
2 sylvan
1 chaos orb
2 nether void
2 psionic blast
1 disenchant
4 serendib
4 erhnam
3 su-chi
1 mirror universe
1 fireball
1 control magic
1 mana drain

What about sideboard? 4 blue blasts to handle blood moon and burn. Some terror maybe, another control magic against midrange. A crumble. Gloom, probably. Maybe a concordant crossroads as more removal for the abyss. An avoid fate or two. Something along these lines:

4 beb
1 terror
1 control magic
1 crumble
1 steal artifact
2 gloom
1 concordant crossroads
2 avoid fate
2 whirling dervish
Man, this looks kind of good. Now I need to start aquiring serendibs, and erhnams, and birds and nether voids and …