Drawing cards in Arvika, part 1. Getting there

Please don’t hate me.

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.)


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

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:


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.

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


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:


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.