söndag 9 juli 2017

Stories from the Black Summer

June 1995 was the cruellest month. Breeding snow out of the dead lands. Mixing memory and desire.

I was there when it happened. I never saw the snow as relics, it was always nostalgia from a distant present. 22 years has passed since I opened my first booster packs at Tradition in the lower levels of Nordstan in Gothenburg. Almost a quarter of a century. Maybe it's time to look back.

Erik Sundberg has played the format for as long as most of us remember. He has a solid streak at n00bcon and started the first 93/94 Cap Magic community. He developed the idea of 93/94 Rotisserie drafting. He's one of those guys that don't make to much noise at social media but is a pillar in developing casual old school tech. He wanted to delve into the Ice Age. And if someone should break the 7-set limit we usually hold here, I guess Sundberg is the guy. This is a story of the black summer. This is old school. Enjoy! /Mg out

An invitation; to the past, the present and the soon to be present

I jump off my bus. The sun is shining but I am cold to the bone. IS the sun really shining as it did last year?

As all other stories this one takes place in the past. But what is past? According to the “tyda” dictionary: “earlier than the present time; no longer current”. So history can never occur in the present (current) time. Is it then the past? But how long time is “the present/current” time? And when is the past actually soon the future? We play 93/94 in 2017 and we call it old school, but I think we all see that the actual game we play in 2017 is vastly different than the past 93/94 game. But to most people the 1993 and 1994 is the past.* According to our definition, "the past” is separated from "the present” which is the same thing as saying “the past” is dead or at least inactive/non-present. So this article is about the future and the present but starts in the past. This is magic 1993/1994, 1995, 1996 and 2017.

Ah, there they are... I press my face against the glass in the toy store. So many Booster packs of chronicles, fourth edition and the new frosty set. I slam my money on the counter and demand Ice age boosters. 
If the magic baby was born in 93/94 it started to grow up in 1995 with the new mtg expansion: Ice Age, a snow-themed set. Not every card was painted with a winter motive but almost every card in the set shared the same cold barren feeling. Ice Age introduced new mechanics in “cumulative upkeep” and “snow lands” which further emphasized the cold feeling of despair. This was a long way from cheerful high-fantasy used before. Ice Age was cool, really cool.
Just look at these pieces of cold barren beauty.

A new card, a new love, a new age

The smell of new cards attack my nostrils. I stare with awe at this dark, dark card. Maybe it can complement my beloved Frozen Shade? I read the card text and I feel that the life in my body drains away… Pay life? What a lame card. SO much text to no use. How can I be this unlucky to get this rare? How can they throw away a picture this cool on a terrible card?
But I waited until the november 95 inquest with my final judgment of the card. I really wanted this bad ass looking card to be great. In our community, which had no card shop, all prizes were set by the Inquest magazine. This was our holy bible when it came to card prizes and rating. So it was with real excitement I searched for Necropotence power rating. 1-5 in power rankings; 5 = strongest and 1 = weakest.
Hell’s Caretaker 5/5. Hellfire 4/5. Nether Void 3/5. 
Lich 2/5. Hell Swarm 1/5.

1 point... Necropotence got the same power rating as Hell Swarm. The card was officially shit. 

Same card, same love, another new time

The summer of 96 it all changed...
In the New York pro tour format you were forced to play 5 cards from each of the last 5 expansions and a lot of people thought players would show up with some snow-covered basics but stories soon emerged about something new:

“There is some guy playing with Necropotence downstairs—he just paid five life to draw five cards. I don't know how he won.”

“That guy just cast Demonic Consultation and removed half his library from the game. What is he thinking?”

“Good lord. That guy just cast Dark Ritual and Demonic Consultationed for Hymn to Tourach and Hymned his opponent. He had another Hymn for turn two and then played that enchantment and drew seven new cards on turn three! I think his deck might be good.”

Leon Lindbäck took third place at the pro tour with a mono black deck and to the world’s surprise it used the power of the skull to fuel his dark magic. It wasn’t a trick (or a trick deck) but the 1 star card with the awesome art was not garbage, it was golden. Black was back.

The sun is really strange. Smog in this nice small town? Is the factory running hot again so the pollution have started in the delta?

The ramifications in our playgroup were huge. All those who had donated their necros were furious and we, the suckers who had kept the cards, were really happy. Four necros in every deck. We played mono b, r/b aggro necro, g/b life gain necIro, b/w life and death necro. The cards were different but they were all fueled by the life draining power house. We really didn’t understand the deck but Necropotence was so strong that the card by itself compensated for our flaws. In many ways the Ice age card let us younger kids catch up to the more established players cause the deck didn’t require as much power as the old tier 1 decks.  
In our days of necro decks we got the idea that the theme with necro decks were to lose life...

Start of the Current aka more present but non present time

A rainy day our present necro-less world began it’s timeline: "Necropotence restricted".

Minds shattered, hearts broken. Our souls weren’t burned they were defeated. In our group of friends six of twelve played necro. We launched a last tournament where we still could play our beloved decks. Want all loose all. Unfortunately the red sligh deck crushed us all. Necro was restricted and after some trix in extended it was all over. Necropotence was dead...

A dead thing is supposed to not be part of the present and is scuffed away to the past. But a loved thing will not be pushed away easily, so in some hearts the thing is always in the present (even when some people claim it already to be a part of the past*)...

NO! The sun ain’t shining through. There is something going on here in Vargön... Suddenly I recall that we were warned about the “Devil’s island” when we moved here. Can it be black magic for real? In Vargön? 

The dark skull is back and the Vargön community welcomes you to the black summer of 2017! A time for the present Old school community to meet the frosty dark magic of Ice age!
I was thinking about doing some power level errata on the pictured cards, but we try to stay true to the original printing so we don’t mess the old cards up (but I hope you understand the strange language).
18/8: Necro summer at Vargön 93/94 headquarters (my house) or a bigger location nearby. Black Vise wasn’t supposed to be part of “the present” and is restricted.
19/8: Super secret team unified vintage invitational tournament (dredge banned). Really few slots and it will be a blast (at least 3 people from vintage nationals top 8 will attend).  Mail me at sundberg.erik@gmail.com if you want to participate in a tournament so I can do the proper arrangements.

Special challenge!

Shark winner and hall of famer Olle Råde will be attending Necro summer at Vargön and he has promised that he, besides having a secret tech, will crush the event!!! There is no doubt that the skillful green mage have a lot of power and loads of experience but we wonder if he can truly tame the black beasts once and for all. It is supposed to be a black summer so the whole of Vargön’s 93/94 community (myself) has done a lot of research to help our fellow dark mages. To our satisfaction we have discovered some ancient vods and a pro tour winning decklist.

Special prize = Everyone that loses to Olle Råde will receive a signed copy of Woolly Spider.

This is a tournament that tries to emulate the former current feeling of 1995. You maybe wondering: “But Erik... Why 1995? And how does that feel?”. What can I possible know about the past present (1995) in the present time? I guess 95 is equally depressing and jolly as all other years on planet earth but as a mtg set Ice age adds tremendous depth and skill. And for all you people that just hate literature this tournament is for you! So come and try it out in Vargön and make this summer a black one!

  • The “old school” community: Never felt so good to buy some ridiculously expensive white bordered cards.
  • Placebo_blue: Nice support with great grammar check (I hope).
  • K.a.o.s aka Karlsborgs Anti Oseriösa Spelförening: the sole reason I started this mtg life.
  • Gothenburg vintage and old school scene: Some people will never stop.
  • My fiance: She didn’t force me to sell my (our tbh) power to finance the house.
  • Cardflopper: Who scanned the inquest number.
  • People that always want to ban the first “best” thing and can’t see that there always will be a next, “perceived”, best thing.
  • Too few “oldschool” players are giving vintage a shot. It’s a freaking awesome format where your hated books aren’t dominating ;) 
*Some things are binary and some things are not. This article doesn’t want to wreck some fellow magicians worldview with some metaphysical claims about the relative dimension about truth, knowledge and meaning. But with safety regulations aside and some big reservations regarding non scientific usage of English words (I am trying to exemplify my thoughts in a “alla ska med”-language. If you want some hardcore thinking try out the links at the bottom).

Who creates the definition of “the present”? Is it a valid statement to state that something is not “the present” (valid in the meaning that it can be true or false). Can something be “the present” that is viewed upon? Cause is really my viewing instant? Isn’t there a lapse in time between me viewing and me experiencing an object? An easy example would be when you are listening to music. Every tone is an experience but when am I experiencing a song instead of single tones? Are the tones then not any longer “the present”? To exemplify this further (without trying to be too complex): If you start a song and pause after the first tone, it’s part of, what a lot of people would call “the present”. If you then play the next tones then they are experienced in context with the first tone (that you no longer are hearing directly) but is the first tone still part of “the present” or is it now part of “the past”? If it’s still part of the present because it is creating the context how long is it part of “the present”? If you think about “Seven nations army” as an example. It is a melody/song that is sung by a lot of crowds. Every time you hear someone singing the melody you are (at least I am) recalling the song from your memory. A memory that was created by an experience when you first heard the song. That experience was given it’s meaning with the “the first tone” (and all the others) so you could argue that when you are experiencing  the crowd sing “seven nation army” then “the first tone” is taking place in “the present”. Even when they aren't singing the “first tone” the “first tone” is active as the context.  But the “first tone” experience is a past experience cause you experienced it years ago so “the first tone” is both “the present” and “the past”.

Another example: If I make the statement “now is the present”. Is “the present” taking place when I start uttering the statement or is “the present” present through the whole speech act when I utter the words? Or only the last part when someone understands what I am saying? Or is “the present” a definition that is up to the agent to make? If that is so, it no longer tries to describe an objective object/state. Then there would be merit to claim that there are multiple “the present” and that it’s “true” that for example a bit of time can at the same time be “the present” and “the past”. Or in other words: A proposition regarding “the present/the non present” have a relative truth value or more simply put: If you view something as present then you can’t be wrong.**

** Yes, I ramble around here and in the article as a whole to promote some philosophical thinking. I wanted to write an article for several years so when I managed, I feel obligated to promote some nice thought provoking articles about truth/knowledge and time) Enjoy :)

lördag 17 juni 2017

On books and bannings

Today we have another glorious guest. Svante Landgraf is one of the most prolific The Deck players in the format. Fresh of a top8 in the Stockholm Ivory Cup, and that's just after picking up a trophy in the n00bcon 9 top8, the dude knows his way around old school control decks. He is also an old Pro Tour player with a few success stories from pretty much all sanctioned formats. Svante likes his control decks, and seriously considered the impact of a Jayemdae Tome restriction last month. The Tome got a stay this time, but that didn't stop him from graciously sharing his thoughts with us here. Let's take the ride. Enjoy! /Mg out

I love books and libraries. I love books so much that I spent the last six years getting a Ph.D in what essentially amounts to Comparative Literature (technically, it’s something called "Culture and Society", but wtf does that even mean), to the dual benefits of now being unemployed and being able to call myself a Doctor of Science Fiction. Eminently worth it, I must say.

Consequently, when it comes to Magic, there are few things I like more than drawing cards. I have a soft spot for broken combo things, but ever since reading about blue-white control in the December 1995 issue of Centurion, Sweden’s finest ever Magic magazine, I was hooked on that archetype. The possibility of playing The Deck again is a huge part of why I’m even a part of the 93/94 community. I know, I know, I’m the bad guy.

So, I’m currently mostly unemployed, and I usually take long runs before lunch almost every day. Sometimes so long, in fact, that I need something complicated to think about in order not to collapse from pure boredom. One day I started building all the basic decks in 94/95, but that’s a topic for another time and another place. And one other day, shortly after n00bcon and before the B&R announcement, I started thinking about what to do with The Deck should Jayemdae Tome get restricted, something I thought quite likely at the time.
That’s the topic of this article. Imagine we live in a world where the Tome got the axe some weeks ago. One day, we might live in that world. What do we do? Is The Deck dead? Do we all have to start playing actual win conditions? Fear not. I will walk you through all the opportunities, starting out with straight-up replacements, working my way towards new directions the deck might take. Who knows, there might be some gems in here which are applicable even in a Tome world?
The most obvious replacement is Jalum Tome. There’s even some argument for including a single Jalum in lists with multiple Jayemdaes, as the two cards are synergistic with eachother. The problem with relying on multiple Jalums is that it doesn’t actually provide card advantage. You can toss excess land or removal, but you never get ahead on resources the way you do with an active Jayemdae. Jalums are best used to quickly cycling through the deck, finding other things that can fill your hand so the cycling can continue. In this way, Jalum plays well with all the restricted cards. Should Recall get unrestricted, this becomes increasingly attractive, as you can use Jalum to find Ancestral or Demonic for Ancestral to draw cards, then Jaluming into Recalls to continue the process for quite the reliable card advantage. With multiple Jalums, I even think there might be a case for running Wheel of Fortune in The Deck. Timetwister is a deceptively powerful card in the deck, after all. Jalum also fits well with the next card on the list: Sylvan Library.
Sylvan Library is one of my all-time favorite cards, easily in the top 5 at least, possibly number 1. I love everything about it: the weird old-school art where it’s hard to make out what it’s actually depicting but everything looks great, the power level, the tricks you can use, the weird wording that has changed more times than I can count. I used to beat people with the Sylvan/Abundance combination back in year-2000 Extended Oath of Druids. I also think Sylvan is criminally underplayed in 93/94. Sure, shuffle effects are hard to come by. The only free one is Demonic Tutor. Still, against decks not hurting you, like the mirror, a Sylvan Library is fine to have on its own in The Deck. But maybe you can get a few shuffles in?
Land Tax is the classic combo with Sylvan, even since the first days of Erhnam-Geddon in 1995, but it requires a bit too many basic lands for what The Deck really wants, I think, not to mention the fact that you have to have fewer lands in play than your opponent. If we had Zuran Orb, Land Tax would work, but now, I’m skeptical. There is another opportunity, however, and that is playing Untamed Wilds. You still need basic lands, but fewer; I think three or four would work. As an added bonus, you get extra insurance against Blood Moon. You only get a few shuffle effects, but timing them correctly, they do provide quite a large advantage. I could definitely see a build featuring some Sylvans and 2-3 Untamed Wilds. The mana base would have to change, using Tropical Islands instead of Volcanic Islands, minimizing the red, probably to only a Fireball and a couple of Red Elemental Blasts in the sideboard, but Ice Storm steps in nicely for Stone Rain.
And you can also get around the Sylvan restrictions by using Millstone on yourself. Millstone also doubles as a win condition, of course. However, as you will be milling yourself occasionally or frequently, as well as drawing more cards than your opponent, winning with just Millstone might be hard. I recommend using one Tormod’s Crypt so you can late-game Timetwister + Crypt and then using Millstone as a finisher. Feldon’s Cane would also work but is much slower.

Another way of handling the downsides of Sylvan is not getting rid of the top cards, either by shuffling or milling, but instead gaining life so you can draw more that way. The best plan is probably Ivory Tower, already fringe playable in The Deck and highly synergistic with the burst card advantage Sylvan can provide. Mirror Universe also becomes a better maindeck card if you play a bunch of Sylvans.
In his original The Deck (or at least in a later version which is what I’m able to find at the moment, a list with Amnesias after the Mind Twist banning), Brian Weissman played 2 Disrupting Scepter and 1 Jayemdae Tome. Randy Buehler runs 2 tomes and 2 scepters in his current The Deck. The latter is horribly wrong, the former only probably so, but maybe there is something here? After all, the scepter does share many treats with the tome, both being mono artifacts converting a bunch of mana into card advantage

However, while the scepter can be effective against control and some midrange decks, it just doesn’t offer the raw power the tome does. It’s not at all an engine for the deck, it’s a very specific tool. It’s not a bad card, and playing fewer tomes might open up slots for other mana-intensive cards like scepters, but it doesn’t remotely do what the tome does for The Deck.

That being said, maybe the best way to handle the loss of tomes is changing the strategy a bit?
I usually play a bunch of angels in my sideboard. When boarding in Serras, I frequently cut one book. There’s just so much heavy end the deck can sustain. I’m not a big fan of Serras in the main deck, because of all the swords being played, but without tomes, they might be worth it. Without the tomes, you can’t count on card advantage as giving you perfect inevitability, so killing the opponent is one possible solution to that. The problem with the Serras is obviously that they are quite weak against anything with white. Trading 5 mana for 1 isn’t where you want to be. If not everybody is playing white, they get better. They also get better with Disrupting Scepters or Amnesia. If you go too deep on the Serras, the deck starts morphing into U/W Skies with multiple Serras, Serendibs, and probably Moat and Psionic Blasts, but then you’ve left The Deck territory and ventured into unknown lands. The same goes for accepting the lack of inevitability caused by fewer Jayemdae Tomes and going for a combo kill, likely Power Artifact. There might be merit to some more hybrid builds in this world, but it’s not really The Deck anymore then.
But when it comes to durdly win conditions, I have to spare a word for The Hive. I first saw it in action at the very first 93/94 tournament I played, at LIGG in Stockholm in early 2016, where I believe Seb Celia ran one copy (probably in the sideboard) of his The Deck. When tomes are eating your mana each turn, it’s hard to justify paying 10 for a 1/1 flier, or 15 for two, but when tomes are out of the picture, maybe it’s time for the wasps to shine? They do provide a very resilient win condition against removal. They are also some of the only win conditions dodging both Moat and The Abyss. I’m still highly skeptical, and it doesn’t really solve the problem of providing you with enough resources to bury the midrange decks, but it is an option.

So, what would this mean for The Deck and for the metagame in general? First of all, are there any other decks than The Deck which are hit by the restriction? Not really. Some U/W Skies lists might play two tomes, as well as some Transmute decks, but those are few and far between. The Deck would be weaker, no doubt about it, but it would still be viable and probably still very good. Fewer people would probably play it and it would be a little bit easier to beat. It would be less about taking complete control and more about beating down with Serras or paying life to Sylvan. This all would strengthen midrange creature decks and combo decks, which are not so good against The Deck, and weaken U/R Burn, which is probably the worst matchup for The Deck. In turn, combo decks would be even better, as they are usually at their best against midrange creature decks. On the other hand, not very many players enjoy playing the weird combo decks, and they tend to be quite expensive. We might see a more creature-heavy format with a slightly larger chance of some combo deck spiking a tournament. And The Deck will continue to put up good numbers, I’m sure.

But what do you think? Am I right in this? Hit me up in the comments!

måndag 5 juni 2017

Jumping Jesus and 32 decks to beat

It has been a while since I updated the Decks to Beat page, but I've finally managed to find most of the lists from the last few months. Check 'em out if you want some inspiration.

One thing about decks-to-beat though is that they are by definition decks with winning records at tournaments. The X-0 to X-2 decks of the meta. At the last gathering I played, the Jumping Jesus tournament in Oslo, I e.g. got the chance to battle against an awesome Elephant Tribal deck in the swiss. I also got my only loss in the tournament at the hands of a powerless Red/White deck with Granite Gargoyles. There are lots of cool things to build apart from the "high end piles"; just try to find something that you enjoy playing with. Speaking of the Jumping Jesus tournament, here are some pics from the gathering:

Black Vise had a decent showing here, with many different decks trying to make it work. From my experience so far it mostly seems like Sligh and other versions of MonoRed Burn have gotten a tangible boost from the card. And Stasis. I met a Stasis player in Karlstad who was super happy that he now was able to play his deck without constantly going to time ;) Maze haven't really made any noise yet, but I felt good about cutting my single red card in Project M (a Fireball) and replace it with a second Maze. Don't know if it actually works better, but it looks nicer.

Ok, let's dig into the Decks to Beat.

Oslo Jumping Jesus Tournament Top4
9 players, photos of 4/4 decks. Two years after the Joypad Open, the second player-hosted 93/94 tournament in Oslo took place. Oslo is a good city for finding pick-up 93/94 games at the LGS or conventions, but as tournaments with beer and casual ambiance go, we've been far behind adjacent cities like Moss and Drammen. Ascension Day looked as good a time as any for a gathering. Project M managed to take the glorious Jump in the finals against Nether Void Ponza, getting past Sligh and The Machine in the semis.

n00bcon 9: World Championships Top8
102 players, photos of 8/8 decks. Players from 13 nationalities and over 30 communities gathered in Gothenburg for the ninth annual n00bcon and World championship of 93/94 Magic. The Beasts of Borgadan of London faced off against The Lords of the Pit from Chicago, the Time Boaks of Yekatrineburg battled fiercely against the Kanel Fireballs from Varberg. In the end, we had the road warrior Icelander slinging against Hashi from the Växjö Team Kaffebryggers in the finals. The Deck had a big showing in the (fairly sober) hands of old pros from the 90s, but in the end Black Disaster stood victorious hoisting the Giant Shark.

n00bcon Training Day Top4
10 players, photos of 4/4 decks. The weekend before n00bcon, Gordon and Paddan gathered players from the Stockholm area to test out their decks, or just get a chance to play some sweet Magic for those in the area who could not make it to the championship this year. Cermak and his UGW Zoo took the trophy again, cementing him as the new rookie of the year. Two different builds of Power Monolith and a Machine Head Ponza round off the top4.

Arvika Festival 3 Top8
47 players, photos of 8/8 decks (one might be incorrect). The Giant Shark of BSK had swimmed to Arvika, and their 3rd Festival became their grandest yet. Armageddon did a real showing at this gathering, with three of the four players reaching the semifinals playing multiple geddons in their piles. Apart from a couple of Erhnamgeddons and UWG Zoo, we had Power Monolith, The Beast, The Deck, UG Beatdown and Artifact Aggro in the top8.

Kort i Kubik n00bcon qualifier Top4
10 players, photos of 4/4 decks. Players from Arvika and surroundings gathered at Kort i Kubik to have a good time and decide one of the community's last slots for n00bcon. As always, the tech was aplenty. The winning deck in the swiss was a true Goblin deck, playing rarely seen cards like Goblin Hero, but in the end KungMarkus's URB counter/discard deck took the trophy after defeating UGW Zoo in the finals. Monoblack rounded off the top4.

LepreCon 2 Top4
13 players, photos of 4/4 decks. About a year after the first 93/94 FNM, players gathered in the Leprecaun Pub in Karlstad once again to drink Guinness, eat meat and play oldschool for FNM foils. Deadguy Ale managed to snatch the victory from Troll Disco in the end, leaving two very different builds of Kird Ape decks in the semis.

On the "inspirational decks" note, I suggest checking out Eternal Central this month. They do an Old School June promotion where Jaco and the other guys post a new 93/94 deck tech every day. Also, I highly recommend the latest episode of the Tusk Talk podcast, where Danny Friedman joins to talk about Old School.

This coming weekend I'm traveling to Stockholm to sling spells at the Ivory Cup. Hope to see a bunch of you there!

fredag 26 maj 2017

Ante up!

Today we have a treat! Our guest Greg is probably known to most as @oldschoolmtg. He is the guy that started the first (and most popular) 93/94 Instagram account, posting daily updates to share old school anecdotes and deck techs with his over 10,000 followers. He also started the 93/94 subreddit and was an early adopter of showing the format to a larger number of nostalgic players at different platforms. Today he takes a step into the blogosphere to guide us through the history of ante. Enjoy! /Mg out

Hello! My name is Greg. Some of you may know me better as the guy who runs the @oldschoolmtg Instagram account. I’ve been meaning to try and write an article for “The Blog" for several years now; discovering The Blog back in 2014 was what reignited my love for this great game. In chatting with MG a while back we discussed me writing a post about one of my favorite aspects of early Magic, which has been absent since Homelands in 1996, a mechanic lost to the annals time - of course I'm talking about ante.
The most taboo of all Old School cards
A brief history of Ante

In the mid-90's Magic: The Gathering really was the overprotective parent's worst nightmare. Not only did it teach their precious snowflakes to worship Satan via cards like Demonic Tutor, Unholy Strength, and Sacrifice, but it turned them into degenerate gamblers as well - because Magic was originally played for keeps.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the mechanics of ante in Dominaria - at the start of each game, after shuffling, each player flipped over the top card of their deck and set it aside. The winner of the game won all anted cards. Won as in they became the new owner. This is why early cards like Control Magic and Aladdin specified you gave cards back at the end of game. While those effects were temporary, ante was for forever.

Originally Garfield and company didn’t quite anticipate how players would buy and play the game. They thought players would buy a starter deck or two and hopefully a few booster packs. Their original vision didn’t include the “4 of” playset rule as they didn’t think players would have that many copies of any particular card. Ante was also meant to aid this. Once a player had their 100, 200, or *maybe* 300 cards they’d play at shops and against friends for ante. Winning and losing cards would keep the cards rotating throughout play groups, thus an ever evolving set of cards in your community. Fortunately for WotC's wallets players bought every wax pack in sight, but unfortunately for ante the game’s success was partially responsible for it’s demise. With certain cards becoming rather pricey players didn’t want to risk losing their hard earned Shivans and Serras.

Ante was represented on cards in the original printing only in the color black. There were 3 black ante cards in the Alpha printing of Magic: Contract from Below, Darkpact, and Demonic Attorney. Contract from Below isn’t as infamous as Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall due to it being tied to ante, but it is hands down the most powerful card every printed. It’s like the evil love child of Ancestral Recall and Wheel of Fortune, letting you draw a new hand of 7 for a single black mana… that is insane. Sure you have to ante an additional card, but let’s be honest, you just drew 7 cards for 1 mana, you’re going to win this game. Darkpact was also a semi well known card as it was included in perhaps the most annoying deck every created, nothing but Darkpacts & Swamps. Dark pact reads "You own target card in the ante. Exchange that card with the top card of your library.”, so you basically just end up losing the game and probably a Swamp, but if you are able to cast a Darkpact you get to essentially trade your opponent a Swamp for whatever they anted - pretty dirty and cheesy, especially if they flip over a spicy rare. Demonic Attorney said each player had to ante an additional card unless your opponent conceded the game immediately. Based on the timing when casting Demonic Attorney it could strong arm your opponent into giving up on their original ante to prevent possibly losing a second card.
The evil color had all the gambling cards of course.
Each of the first 3 expansion sets brought with it one or more additional ante cards, this time all stepping out of the Swamps. None had quite the impact as the original black cards, but were still interesting. Arabian Nights had Jeweled Bird, one of the first “cantrip" cards, replacing itself with your anted card. Jeweled Bird could save you from losing a key card and let you draw another card while doing it. Pretty neat. Antiquities gave us Bronze Tablet, an Artifact that could swap itself with a card your opponent had in play unless they paid 10 life. Not only did this remove the threat from play, but you could target your opponent’s best card. Steal that Shivan or Juzam unless they pay 10 and most likely lose the game, they'll likely sacrifice the life to keep their prized cards. The two ante cards from Legends were probably the weakest. Rebirth was a Sorcery that let any player heal themselves back to 20 life in exchange for an additional ante card. Tempest Efreet was a 3/3 red creature that could swap itself with a random card in your opponent’s hand. They may have some specific uses, like when comboing with Channel or Glasses or Urza, but they’re quite specialized. Ironically The Dark, the most evil of sets, contained no ante cards. All ante cards were reprinted in different combinations of Revised, 4th Edition, and Chronicles. There were 2 more ante cards created before the mechanic was abolished, but they were in Ice Age and Homelands, so we won’t go into them here since we don’t discuss “new” sets. Ha.
The rest. White and Blue were never blessed with any ante related cards.
 A proposal to revive ante in Old School

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a tournament variation that keeps the ante aspect of the (very) early game we all love: “Tempor-Ante” (as in Temporary Ante). I’ve laid out what I brewed up as the rules for this variant and I’d like to share that here.

Tempor-Ante Rules:
  • Normal 60 card minimum deck to start the tournament (may drop below 60 cards later)
  • Standard 15 card (optional sideboard)
  • Players must bring a stack of blank cards for proxies (cardstock, acetone wiped cards, basic lands, or standard poker cards all work great) and extra sleeves to match their deck.
  • All ante cards are legal.
  • Normal restricted list (Contract from Below & Darkpact are currently restricted at the time of this writing).
  • Before each game, each player antes a random card from their deck. Ante is drawn after any sideboarding and shuffling.
  • Cards lost due to ante are removed from the player's deck for the remainder of the tournament.
  • Winner of each game MUST add all ante cards he/she anted back to their deck. For each card won from their opponent that player adds a proxy of that card to their deck (non-optional, all won cards are played with). Use proxies so that ownership is not permanent and you don't need to keep track of cards (lost cards are kept in your possession, just not in your deck).
  • Won cards are not subject to deck construction rules. You may end up with more than 4 copies of a card or multiple copies of a restricted card based on wins.
  • Whenever you lose a card (any type) to ante, you may replace that card with a Basic Land if you wish. This is optional and just meant to keep decks from getting permanently mana screwed by losing cards.
  • Players should do their best to recreate the card won on their proxy because most people can’t draw worth a damn and you should be forced to play your artistic atrocity.
What are the pros-cons of this tournament style? I see it adding some fun and chaos to the format. Here’s some highlights of what I imagine it might bring:

  • You can play with Contract from Below, the most powerful card every printed, as it was intended to be used.
  • Decks will need to be constructed in a manner that they can afford to lose a handful of cards. This should lead to some creative decks without having only 1-2 win conditions or fragile combos. If you lose all of your win conditions, you’re done - you’ll need backup plans.
  • Multi colored decks and cards like City of Brass/Birds of Paradise/Celestial Prism will be encouraged as you may win cards outside of your initial colors and you won’t want dead draws.
  • If luck is on your side you could end up playing a deck with a playset of Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall.
  • Fun between round banter and speculation about who has won/lost what and what it’ll mean in future rounds.
  • You get to play for friggin’ ante!!
  • You of course could lose cards to make your deck incapable of victory, but hey sometimes a dose of randomness is fun!
True high quality proxies are made with Sharpie; none of that "black core", bend test passing, U.V. light glowing, counterfeit eBay bullshit.
I’d love to hear if anyone thinks Tempor-Ante is intriguing and I’d LOVE to see reports if anyone actually gives it a shot in their local group. Perhaps when the Swedes are choosing their annual variant for PWP Invitational they’ll consider ante as the wild card. Would be a great way to throw a little chaos into any tournament and just play the game we all know and love in a way you probably have never played or at least not in the past 20 years.

Thanks everyone for lending me your ear and hopefully I’ll see you back over on Instagram.

- Greg T.

torsdag 11 maj 2017

Banned & Restricted update 2017

It's that time of the year again!
Still something a little off with this picture...
Last weekend we talked a little about the current meta. But rather than ranting on about the updates here, Gordon Andersson asked if I would like to talk about it on an extra broadcast of the Flippin' Orbs podcast. That sounded like a fun approach, so that's what we did.

You can check out the episode here.

For those of you who can't or won't listen to podcasts for some reason (random cool fact; the national deaf Italian record holder in 50-100-200m breaststroke is an active 93/94 player), here are the changes:

Darkpact is restricted*
Contract from Below is restricted*
Black Vise is unrestricted
Maze of Ith is unrestricted

*Note that Ante-cards are still banned if the tournament/game you play isn't played for Ante. There haven't been a tournament played for Ante yet, but as casual Ante games have started to slowly rise in popularity, we felt it was important to make these distinctions as well. The deck with 56 Swamps and 4 Darkpacts is perhaps the single most annoying deck in the history of the game.

As always it will be exciting to see how this works out and what kind of tech people come up with. Feel free to scream your opinions in the comments :)

söndag 7 maj 2017

Some pre-B&R meta ranting

I ran a mudrace called Råskinnet yesterday. Now everything hurts and I keep finding new wounds on my body. Should probably not have topped it of with a pubcrawl. Damn traditions.

Anyway, did you guys follow the latest B&R update from Wizards a couple of weeks back? They banned Sensei's Divining Top in Legacy which made people very upset, both due to the fact that it was banned and due to the fact that it hadn't been banned earlier. And they didn't ban the CopyCat combo in Standard, which made people super upset. Then they decided to ban it after all, and people on social media got even more upset.
The yearly B&R update here is by far the post that promotes the most reactions. Some people go full tilt over the fact that the consensus isn't aligned with their own gut feelings. It is fun to see that people care so much, but my day job isn't douche bag whisperer and it's impossible to cater to everybody. If we would just follow all the suggestions received, this would be the start of the changes:
Well, I don't deny that it could be an interesting format. Maybe we'll land there someday. Would be cool to see everybody happy at once ;)

Before we do the B&R update this year, let's do our first ever top-tier meta analysis and look at the over-all health of the format. As one other variation of 93/94 has grown a lot overseas during the last two years, this time we also have the opportunity to do some comparisons with another B&R approach to get better data. This isn't super scientific as our sample sizes are still kinda small, but it gives us a good road map and feel. Let's start with the top16 decks at n00bcon 9 (102 players):

1. Disaster (Black)
2. The Deck
3. Zoo
4. The Deck
5. The Deck
6. UW Skies
7. The Deck
8. UR Burn
9. Michael's Toolbox
10. Transmute Burn
11. Artifact Aggro
12. UB Beatdown
13. Lestree Zoo
14. Eureka
15. Power Monolith
16. Arabian Aggro
Kalle's Transmute Burn. Perhaps the most blinged out deck ever ;)
I'm not sure about all of the decks that went 5-2 at n00bcon (place 8-21 in the standings), but I saw that two of them were MirrorBall and The Machine. But let's skip the ones outside the top16 in the stats for now. To make sure that we have a decent sample of top decks, let's also check out the top8 of the ~50-player Arvika Festival 3 tournament (the last Giant Shark tournament before n00bcon 9).

1. UWGb Zoo
2. ErhnamGeddon
3. ErhnamGeddon
4. The Beast
5. Copy Toolbox
6. Power Monolith
7. The Deck
8. UB Beatdown
Gordon's The Beast.
That gives us a basic meta breakdown of the top performing decks in the largest tournaments in 2017 like this:

5 The Deck (20.8%)
4 Zoo (2 UWGb, 1 Arabian Aggro, 1 Lestree) (16.7%)
2 Erhnamgeddon (8.3%)
2 Power Monolith
2 UB Beatdown
2 UR Burn (1 "classic", 1 Transmute)
1 Disaster / Monoblack (4.2%)
1 Copy Toolbox
1 UW Skies
1 The Beast
1 Eureka
1 5c Toolbox
1 Artifact Aggro

So 13 different archetypes among the 24 decks, and obviously some big differences between the decks in the same archetype.
Sehl's ErnhnamGeddon from Arvika.
If we were to go back and check the data from the top8/top4 in all tournaments over the last two years that have deck lists and reports on the blog (a total of 21 tournaments with 136 decks in the elimination rounds) we see that The Deck drops to 14.7% of the top tier meta. If we ignore the smaller tournaments and only look at gatherings with 20+ players, that number rises a little to 18.2%. And, as we saw, if we look at the latest of the "most competitive" Shark tournaments (n00bcon and Arvika), we're up to 20.8%. That is actively looking for a sample that gives us the highest number of The Deck though, and perhaps not a very professional way of choosing a sample if we look at the format as whole. But if we want to make a comparison with the Eternal Weekend tournaments, I still think that the correct approach is to only look at the Shark tournaments right now, as they have comparable size and similar "bragging rights" in the pot.

The US Eternal Weekend tournament uses EC rules, which means that e.g. Black Vise, Strip Mine and Mishra's Workshop are legal as 4-offs, and Fallen Empires is a legal set (with unrestricted Hymn to Tourach). Glorious tournament organizer and "Grandfather of Pimp" Jason Jaco hosted a major 93/94 tournament at Eternal Weekend last year (86 players). He also posted all the the competitors' deck lists and the top16 standings. This was the top16 at the 2016 Eternal Weekend:

1. WW
2. UR burn
3. UR burn
4. The Deck
5. The Deck
6. Monoblack
7. Shops / Tron / Artifact Aggro
8. Troll Disco
9. Shops Prison
10. The Deck
11. O'Brien Prison
12. The Deck
13. Erhnam Burn'Em
14. Deadguy
15. Monoblack
16. UR Burn
Dario Moreno's Shops Prison. Can't really be built the same way without EC rules.
To get more data and an equal sample size, we can also go back and check out the Eternal Weekend 2015 top8 (54 players, similar to Arvika in size, and I only found the top8 standings), and compare those with the n00bcon 9 top16 and the Arvika top8.

1. The Deck
2. The Deck
3. UR Burn
4. The Deck
5. Trick Deck
6. Zoo
7. UR Burn
8. UWB

This gives us this top tier meta breakdown for Eternal Weekend:

7 The Deck (29.2%)
5 UR Burn (20.8%)
2 Monoblack (8.3%)
1 WW (4.2%)
1 Shops / Tron / Artifact Aggro
1 Troll Disco
1 Shops Prison
1 O'Brien Prison
1 Erhnam Burn'Em
1 Deadguy
1 Zoo
1 Trick Deck

(It could be interesting to note that we see a slightly higher number of Mishra's Factories here (3.3125 per deck at EW compared to 3.125 at Shark tournaments), and an average number of 3.0 Strip Mines per deck.)

A healthy 13 different archetypes here as well; clearly the EC rules also offer a lot of variation and exciting brews for those who might think it's just a Strip Mine lottery with control or prison decks. Both B&R approaches look healthy and produce similar decks in the top of the standings; perhaps skewing a little more in favor of Prison decks using the EC rules and a little more in favor of Combo using the baseline rules. Though that might also be due to the players. Sean O'Brien will play prison, and he will play it well.
The school of Magic carries his name after all.
A weird thing, which I hear almost constantly in discussions regarding the B&R, is that some people seem to assume that allowing some combination of Strip Mine, Black Vise and Hymn to Tourach should relegate The Deck to tier2 status. I never got that argument, and it is one of the reason I wanted to delve down a little and compare numbers. It is amusing theory crafting, but not much more than that. Another thing is that people assume that The Deck is the end-all-be-all of the format, and that it shouldn't be fun to play now that it's "solved". Having the most popular tier1 deck taking up 21% of the top spots in the format isn't a sign of an unhealthy format. It's a sign of a solid deck that you have to have a plan against if winning is important to you. And I promise you that the format it still fun to play.
Just look at how happy he is.
But we do see that Mishra's Factory is a very popular card. Not really a surprise there. 15 out of 16 decks in the EW 2016 top16 played multiple factories, as did 14 out of 16 decks at the n00bcon 9 top16. It could be worth noting that only one of these decks at n00bcon 9 played less than the full playset, but a full 5 of them played 2-3 copies at EW 2016. This looks to be mostly due to avoiding mana screw, as the decks with less than 4 factories at EW play 3-4 Strip Mines. Playing the full playset of both can be very constraining for getting colored mana. 
Still, the numbers clearly tell us that unrestricting Strip Mine isn't an answer to having people play less Mishra's Factories. Maybe people just feel they need a more powerful answer to the Factories while still having them as a major part of the meta, and prefer facing an average of three Strip Mines per deck?

I think I've heard almost all possible arguments for Strip Mine. Errata it to Wasteland, allow two per deck, allow three per deck, and a myriad of others. I don't think allowing it would "destroy the format" as some other people argue (just look at the diversity at Eternal Central), but I do believe that more people currently would dislike an unrestriction than would enjoy it. The proponents are more vocal but the opponents seem more numerous. I'm sure that we'll eventually try out playing with four Strip Mines "officially" here as well, but it's not in the cards yet.

It could be kinda sweet to play it like Ghost Quarter?
Let's take a step back again and consider fetchlands. They break Brainstorm in two, fills the graveyard for Delve, Delirium and Threshold, dances circles around Wasteland, and fixes your mana in a way not even the original ABU duals do. They help you avoid lategame mana flooding and they have great synergy with cards like Crucible of Worlds, Knight of the Reliquary and Grim Lavamancer. Apart from a small handful of decks in eternal formats (e.g. Shops and Eldrazi), every deck plays loads of fetchlands; usually for more advantage than just mana. In most ways of measuring, they are ubiquitous and simply too good. So should they be banned?

Brainstorm is too good in Legacy. Sol Ring is too good in EDH. But when a too good card work in every strategy, we need to look at it from a slightly different angle than we would looking at a card like, say, Mana Drain.
Will it be the winter of our discontent?
Some people have argued for power level errata on the Factory. Some others, like the Varberg and Scania players, are in strong support of restricting it. Others just love it and think that it balances out the playing field. Every deck can use them, and most every player can afford them.

I personally think that the only way to make the Factory less of a factor in the format is to restrict it; I don't think unrestricting Strip Mine would have that much to say in terms of how many Factories we see in a top8, nor would giving it power level errata. But I think the real question is if it is a card we actually want to see less of. Or if it is a card like the fetchlands or Brainstorm in Legacy.

(Sidebar: I wouldn't consider myself a strong The Deck player, but I think I'm fairly decent. So just to test out how The Deck would work without Factories, I tried playing a The Deck without them. My wincons were two Fireball and a Braingeyser. I played five games against a couple of different decks, and from that short experience there seemed emerge some sort of pattern. My mana was better so I had better control of the games. The games took much longer, as my way of winning was usually gaining control, casting a fireball for 10, Recalling it, and casting it for 10 again. My opponents seemed to suffer through the motions quite a bit. I didn't get "free wins" from the Mishra lottery, but the deck became even more consistent and I won all my games. Make of that what you will. End sidebar.)

If we still think we want to hurt The Deck, what would achieve that? Making other archetypes stronger, or restricting key cards like Jayemdae Tome or Counterspell probably. But again, having a ~20% cut of the top performing decks isn't really that crazy for a tier1 deck. It is a good chunk less than e.g. Ravager Shops in Vintage (~30%), and far below that aforementioned CopyCat combo in Standard they went back and forth about banning (~45%). So we ask ourselves, do we really need to restrict the Tome? Of the players I talked to at n00bcon, one guy was in clear favor of it; Martin Lindström, the top rated player in last year's PWP Standings. Dude has the highest win percentage of any any player in the format right now, and he felt that the Tome made it almost too easy. Most other (non-The Deck) players I talked to didn't care much, and felt the card was safe and The Deck wasn't that big of a problem. A fairly common answer from the people I talked to a tournaments were actually "no changes" when asked about the B&R list.
But we do kinda like changes. We've done it for 10 years now, and it's an interesting way to stir the pot and see what people come up with.
Black Vise might be the most discussed card. The main issue with Black Vise is how swingy it is and the "feel-bad" of the card. Sometimes it's "oops, I win" and sometimes it does nothing. It lies in that rare land between either being too good or too bad depending on when you draw it. And this is already a swingy format, with cards like Mind Twist and Ancestral Recall turning tables. Increasing the random factor with a card people dislike losing to isn't an obvious choice. Also, it is stated in Mastering Magic Cards that it is the most sucky card ever and should be avoided during friendly play.
It also says that it is necessary to defeat counter decks though.
I personally kinda like Black Vise. I think that it would be a cool addition to Sligh and some versions of Atog to name a few outside the Prison strategies. Some players have argued that we shouldn't underestimate the "feel-bad" of the card, which could have an discouraging effect on new players in he format. It will also increase the importance of low mana curves even further.
The winning deck from NoviceCon in Chicago a week ago (using EC rules). There are arguments to be had that this is a far worse deck to face than The Deck. Just sucking up all the fun and having it for yourself ;)
So where do we end up? Well, basically that the format is healthy with no really oppressively dominant strategy. A myriad of different decks can be considered in the top tier for those of you who care about those things. And a few of you will probably get upset by the update coming in next few days, but like the previous years it will probably end up ok ;)

Let's end with a picture of The Machine (5-2 at n00bcon 9, missed top16 on tierbreakers):
Hardy's The Machine. Ridiculously sweet pile.