Rereading Centurion, issue #6

I know it’s been a long time, but I’ve been busy writing about other things, or not writing at all. Now, however, before diving into possible N00bCon reports the upcoming weeks, let’s take the chance to dive into another issue of Centurion.

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The cover illustration this time is from the Kult CCG.

Issue #6, from December of 1995. The news section mentions non-English cards, where Legends was recently released in Italian; whereas an original Legends booster at this point cost about $35, an Italian one could be found for just about $20.

Some new card games are being released: Kult, The Wizards, and Guardians, among others. More important is that a company called Ultra Pro has started making sleeves exclusively for playing with, in sharp contrast to the penny sleeves people have been using up to this point. “They are more expensive than usual penny sleeves, but that should even out in the long run. … Thumbs up!”

The first article concerns how to build tournament decks. Here, Dan Hörning lays down four fundamental principles Magic is about: speed, card advantage, metagaming, and luck. That is actually not a bad analysis. Especially the part about that once you’ve built a good deck, your metagaming decides who gets into the top 8, and then luck decides who actually wins. Not too far off. The rest concerns the usual stuff: can you handle every important kind of threat? Can you beat The Abyss and Blood Moon? And don’t play bad combinations like Stasis/Birds of Paradise/Instill Energy.

Then comes an article that changed my life forever. I had been playing some red-green decks, based on the discussion in Issue #4, for half a year or so. No tournaments or anything, this was just me and four or five of my friends playing in our basements. But I had loads of fun and I won quite a bit; people had eventually to stop playing just enormous monsters and waiting for a big all-out attack to end the game. We were somewhat learning, I think. But then it struck. How to build a blue-white deck. The article, in the same line as the ones on RG and on black discard in the last few issues, starts with a no-rare list and bit by bit upgrading it into a good Type 2 tournament deck. This was something new. Sure, I had seen Leon Lindbäck’s deck from the first Swedish Nationals, but for some reason, it had never really clicked for me. It did now. I have no idea the list I played, I’m sure it was nothing like either of these:

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No matter. It had Counterspell, Power Sink, Control Magic, Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares, Serra Angels. Probably at least some number of Wrath of God. I suddenly countered some spells, let the creatures get played, Wrathed the board, played a Serra and killed them, slowly. I won. A lot. And I was hooked for life. So much that it severely hurt my success in competitive play in the early 2000s, I think, when I always wanted to play control, stubbornly sticking with Nether-Go instead of Fires, for example.

Anyway. The article is not that good, perhaps, but it does have some interesting parts. Don’t miss the Ghost Ships in the beginner’s deck, for example. Or the Jeweled Amulets in the finished type 2 deck. There’s also a part about blue-white in Type 1, detailing how you kill people with Mirror Universe and City of Brass. Those were the days.

Then comes a review of Homelands, concluding that it’s a very bad expansion. Quite right. Except that the writer Dan Hörning thinks Primal Order is way better than Blood Moon. Both Merchant Scroll and Memory Lapse are adequately rated, though. The rest of the article concerns all the fun, bad cards in the expansion. And there’s a lot of them. I had even forgotten most: Roterothopter, Anaba Spirit Crafter, Chain Stasis … Hörning claims that the triple lands are “hard to evaluate”. Not really: they are quite likely the worst multicolor lands ever. Right?

I am going to ignore both the FAQ and the article about deckbuilding for Doomtrooper, not only because it is off-topic here, but because I have never played that game.

There’s another deck-focused Magic article, however, and it’s about Hörning’s favorite deck RG again: this time the Vise Age deck, updated with Ice Age, Chronicles and Homelands since the article two issues back. Channel has just been banned in type 2, which seems like a good thing.

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I did attempt to do a rough translation, but it wasn’t funny enough for the effort.

And now the deck is about Jokulhaups, Orcish Lumberjack, Incinerate and Stormbind, along with Howling Mine and Black Vise. Reading about this almost makes me wish we played Old School 95 instead; Ice Age is surely a sweet expansion.

A short news article reports the winners of the first six BayouCons in Stockholm: type 1 tournaments with a number of participants ranging from 46 to 116 people. I wonder if those numbers were ever surpassed for type 1 tournaments in Sweden.

Then comes an article about “Type n0ll”, translating to “Type Zer0”, a tournament format where almost every good card is banned, including hits like Disintegrate, Disrupting Scepter, Jalum Tome, and Unstable Mutation. To my knowledge, no tournament was ever played in the format; or rather, at least one was probably played, as it was advertised in this issue of the magazine, but no report was ever written. It does not look very interesting to me, but then again, I’m no fan of huge banned lists.

A note about updated official Duelists’ Convocation tournament rules: Zuran Orb is restricted in both Type 1 and Type 2, legends are no longer restricted, and Type 2 is now consisting of every widely available expansion (at the time of writing, 4th Ed., Chronicles, FE, Homelands, Ice Age).

The price list is pretty much unchanged. It is noted that a Beta card is worth about 250 % of its value in Revised and 120 % of its value in Unlimited. Good to know.

A booster box is sold for about $100-150, according to an advertisment. It’s actually amazing that retail prices haven’t risen more over the years, but that’s a topic for someone more financially minded than me.

Well, that’s it. Not the most exciting issue, mostly due to no longer tournament reports at all, but still a few good deckbuilding articles.

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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.