There are many points of contrast when travelling from Berlin to Stockholm.
I left my apartment late on Friday afternoon and travelled by train to Schönefeld, Berlin’s ramshackle secondary airport which would have been retired in 2010 had the construction of the new airport gone according to plan (we're still waiting for BER to open). While in line for security I noticed plastic bottles huddled by a wall and balanced on a radiator due to the lack of a receptacle for the contraband. After getting through security (which is nerve-racking when travelling with hundreds of pieces of cardboard whose value is lost on the airport staff who inspect them) I discovered that all the departure gates were closed, forcing people to sit on the floor or on their suitcases in the hallways. The flight delayed itself (as one says in German) but we did eventually depart for Sweden.
The experience at the other end was very different. No lines. No plastic bottles balancing on radiators. No radiators. Within minutes of landing I had bought my ticket for Flygbussarna and was on my way to Cermak's place in the heart of Stockholm. The bus dropped me across the road from his apartment. Inside were Gordon, Björn, Daniel, and my roommate for the night, Jimmie.
It was already after midnight. Gordon, Björn, and Daniel soon finished their drinks and left. I had a few games against Cermak then stayed up a bit longer discussing the possibilities for mono red with Jimmie. We slept for about six hours.
By the time I got up at 8:30 Cermak had cooked a breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, toast with avocado, and orange juice. I love the Swedish commitment to frukost!
We took a taxi to the harbour and met several other players at a cafe by the water. We were soon aboard the charming Norrskär, in its elegant dining room, with a waiter and a waitress to serve us food and local beers.
|Blue skies and calm waters|
|Table settings soon made way for play mats, dice, and cards|
|Proof that Magic and fine dining can mix|
|16 happy faces|
Pairings were announced as the first round of drinks arrived, and the tournament was under way! I don’t recall the details of the first three rounds of Swiss, but action shots are better anyway.
|Every player got a badge made specially for this event|
|Libraries are worth fighting for|
|I hope there’s a Clockwork Beast under those Berserks|
|Yes, that’s an Iron Star (Atog isn’t a picky eater)|
|The green sweeper|
|Nothing says Fuck the System better than “Swing with Sengir, Juzám, go”|
|A completely fair turn one|
|Every asset is a liability, my farfar used to say|
In the fourth and final round of Swiss I found myself at 3–0 and paired against Johan Råberg, who was playing Mono Black Mono Beta! In game one he stabilized on a low life total, and was able to prevent attacks with Will–O–The–Wisp. I played Orcish Mechanics, which threatened to end the game in a couple of turns, but Johan played Pestilence and activated it for one. The game stalled until a Hypnotic Specter appeared a few turns later. I tried to answer it with Chaos Orb, but I couldn’t find my sea legs. I misjudged the swell, and the Orb bounced awkwardly, slid, and came to rest harmlessly an inch from the target.
Game two wasn't quite so close, but again Johan was victorious. I was very impressed by the power of a deck featuring only cards from Beta. I asked Johan whether he had played against the Mono Alpha deck that David Montag played to a 4–3 finish at n00bcon 9. Apparently they’ve had several tight matches. A format in which cards from Magic’s first expansion are considered too new? Now that is old school.
|Johan Råberg’s Mono Black Mono Beta|
The tournament had 16 players, and only four would continue to compete for the one-of-a-kind play mat illustrated by Dan Frazier. The other 12 players were not out of luck, though. The bottom four competed for another Dan Frazier play mat, while the remaining eight players had a three-round single-elimination tournament: mellanmjölk.
|Apparently Sweden, like New Zealand, values being “average”|
I snuck into the top four thanks to good tiebreakers. I met Ceb Selia in the semifinal. Ceb was playing a WUR deck with Savannah Lions, Flying Men, and Serendib Efreets backed by Bolts, Geddons, and Power. I only recall our final game. Ceb and I had one Factory each, but I had Atog and a pantry full of snacks. He played Spirit Link on my toothy monster, played a land (taking two damage from Ankh of Mishra), and passed the turn. I started thinking about ways in which the Atog might still be useful. It could block a Factory, I thought, or… I then realized there was another possibility. I remembered a silly deck I built in my youth which aimed to enchant Orcish Artillery with multiple Spirit Links to gain lots of life. Seb regretted his decision the instant I asked how Spirit Link works. I animated my Factory and sent it into combat alongside the original Dr Teeth. Seb animated his Factory, which I promptly bolted. He scooped up his cards in frustration: he could have played Moat that turn rather than Spirit Link. Ouch. Seb’s post on the game and the tournament as a whole is well worth reading.
|Seb Celia’s WUR aggro-control|
I met Cermak in the finals. We split the first two games. I had access to three Blood Moons and four copies of City in a Bottle after sideboarding, but Cermak's deck was resilient: he could remove some AN creatures for Uthden Trolls and Su-Chis which could be summoned even with both my hateful cards in play. Plus he had a sweet Beta Fire Elemental in his starting 60.
|There she is!|
|Blocking a Factory with three Atogs (there’s a first time for everything)|
Game three was very interesting. I resolved a Blood Moon, and Cermak spent the rest of the game with ample red mana but only a single green source to complement it.
At one point during the game I did some quick calculations and realized the game was mine. I sent Chain Lightning at Cermak and attacked confidently with Atog, which was threatening lethal. Cermak blocked with Erhnam Djinn. Forestwalk! I exclaimed, pointing at his Taiga. Cermak pointed at my Blood Moon. Oops. I was able to sacrifice a couple of trinkets to defeat the djinn, but I felt pretty silly about the Chain Lightning. I hoped that wouldn’t come back to burn me.
Later in the game the life totals were still fairly even, with both of us hovering in the low double digits. His only threat was Argothian Pixies, which could not attack into my Atog. My Atog could not quite threaten lethal. It was a stand-off. (A Chain Lightning would have been really useful at this point!)
I made a bold and quite possibly incorrect decision: to attack with my 1/2 to deal just one damage, knowing that I’d take two damage from the counter-attack. My thinking was that if I could trade four of my life points for two of Cermak’s over the course of two turns I would force the pixies to chump-block the turn after. It was a risk, though, as I would drop below 10 in the process and could easily lose the game in a flurry of lightning.
I got in for one damage and, as expected, Cermak attacked back for two. Then, he surprised me by pointing a couple of burn spells at the Atog, forcing me to sacrifice three artifacts. This was an interesting decision on Cermak’s part, as he was very close to lethal damage himself. So, we went from a high-pressure, high-variance situation in which any given draw step could end the game, to a situation in which both of us were several draw steps away from victory. With the battleground bathed in soft red moonlight I felt favoured.
Fortunately for me Cermak was not able to summon another Erhnam Djinn and I was able to end the game before he could unlock the powerful blue cards in his hand.
I had won my first Magic tournament since being joint winner of one of the flights of the Onslaught prerelease in Auckland 15 years ago. The prize? A one-of-a-kind play mat illustrated by Dan Frazier specifically for this event!
|These goblins may be thieves, but at least they’re respectful|
|Andreas Cermak’s Fire Elemental Zoo|
|David Chambers’s Trinket Repair Shop|
|Jocke Falk’s Mellanmjölk-winning Bu deck|
After getting back to land we broke into small groups and ventured in search of food and beer (this is Sweden, after all). I went with Seb, Björn, and a couple of others to a nearby outdoor event where a band was playing very loudly for an unappreciative audience. We stood in line for “Mat & Dryck”, which I understood thanks to Duolingo (which also taught me how to tell Swedes that I don't eat turtles). There was apparently no menu, though, so even the locals were in the dark as to exactly what “Mat” might be on offer. It turned out they were out of “Mat”, so we escaped the loud music and found a good burger place. Well, I liked it. Gordon, who joined us there, is a man of exquisite taste whose enthusiastic reviews are not so easily acquired.
We were also joined by Dan Pettersson, long-time Stockholm Legacy player. We ate our burgers, drank more beer, and sat around talking about the games we’d played that day, Dan’s Legacy brews, and possible names for the old-school band Gordon, Björn, and Johan formed recently. The best of the names? Bands with Other Legends.
We wandered to a different part of town where we drank more beer, Gordon ordered a shot of something expensive enough to raise a bartender's eyebrow, Björn helped me with my self-assigned German homework, Dan shared his various hacks for making himself work towards his life goals, and I dropped to the floor a few minutes before midnight to get in a dozen press-ups before I’d lose health in Habitica.
The thing that has stayed with me in the month since the event is something Björn said that night: despite being in our thirties and having played this game for more than twenty years, we’re still making friends through Magic.
|Our tournament organizer|
Thanks so much to Andreas Cermak for arranging the most well-run and enjoyable Magic tournament I’ve ever attended. I love n00bcon, and hope to attend for many years to come, but it’s hard to compete with a tournament on a goddamn boat!
Thanks again to Cermak for having Jimmie and me to stay at his apartment, and many thanks also to Björn for letting me crash at his place on Saturday night. I consider myself very fortunate to have made many friends in Sweden over the past 15 months.