måndag 23 april 2018

Treasure Island

A couple of months ago, I marveled at the Serendipity of Sindbad. I had been looking for a new project, and the inconspicuous sailor had caught my eye.

We all have our reasons to play and cards to invoke our zeal. Personally, if I am to truly enjoy a deck over a period of months or years, it should have strange angles and creative lines of play. I like to have an "oops, I win" factor in the deck, but I don't want that to be the only plan. My deck should have a fighting chance against most comers, but it shouldn't be consistently broken. Playing with it should be an experience.
Project M was built with all that in mind. That decks basically has three game plans. Go for Guardian Beast combo with Orb, Disk and Transmute; play control with factories, books and permission cards like Icy Manipulator; or just smash face with beasts like Juzam and Mahamothi. Depending on what you draw and how the opponent plays, your game plan can change many times during a single duel. It is a highly satisfying pile to pilot.
Project M, version that won Arvika Festival 2015.
That deck is my pet deck if I ever had one, and I have no intentions of retiring it. But I do like building new things, and I had a plan for a deck that could potentially hit many of the marks I aimed for with Project M.

Now, I'm not getting that much younger and with a more proper adult life comes more expenses. My wife and I are moving to a new apartment this summer and the new loans will chip away on the nerd budget. In a few years I might want to slow down my work schedule a little in the name of work/life balance. And there might be an expansion of the family somewhere on the horizon. These things combine to a weird sense of nerd-FOMO; a sense that this year, 2018, might be the last year I am fully able to spend money on high-end cardboard rather than proper life events.

So I went a little nuts. I decided that I should be able to build the best version I could of this new deck without moving cards from Project M. I wanted to be able to bring both this deck and Project M to a tournament with no cards overlapping. So Power went back on my want-list. In this weird state of mind, 9/9 suddenly didn't cut it anymore.
It had been a long time since I last went looking for power. Deciding on which cards to get was a little daunting and I clearly couldn't afford everything. Fortunately - or perhaps rashly - I had actually bought some coincidental power cards about a year ago. I had saved some money for a different (non-magic) project that didn't pan out, and by a chance got the opportunity to spend that money on an Ancestral Recall, a Mox Sapphire and a Library of Alexandria instead. I found the cards at a good price and decided to take the opportunity. The original plan might have gone down the drain, but I did have some sweet, sweet cardboard instead.
And after all, these are very nice cards.
Stuff happened, months passed, and after a lot of mental back and forth about my priorities I managed to get my hands on this last n00bcon:
She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts.
This is, like, the best card ever! And now I have two, so I'm beyond living the dream of twelve-year old me. Owning two Lotuses is as sweet as having an elevator in the house, or having multiple lavatory facilities made out of gold.

Anyways, Treasure Island. Power and Libraries may be pretty relics, but they don't add actual personality to a deck. Save a deck like Fork Recursion, power cards are never really needed, they just help you turn the dials up to eleven. Having a lucky clover of four power cards is sweet, but it is not the core. This is the core:
Snap keep!
Yeah, this is a somewhat unconventional pile. Let's start with the main engine; our inconspicuous sailor. For those of you unfamiliar, Sindbad is a 1/1 for 1U with the ability "Tap: Draw a card and reveal it. If it isn't a land card, discard it." That is some sweet oracle wording. It would have been so easy for the template guys at WotC to errata this card to "reveal the top card" instead of actually drawing it. But they held the ball high here and we are drawing, which makes a world of difference.
Treasures and hidden libraries on our island.
Sylvan Library pretty much goes without saying. It is one of the strongest green cards in the format even without any additional synergies, and with Sindbad it is just awesome. Most of the time, Sindbad simply taps to draw an extra card whenever a library is in play, but the fact that you can also self-mill unnecessary cards shouldn't be underestimated. Also, as the deck has a lot of synergies and a few different game plans, so card selection is very valuable. The Library is an easy 4-of.

The other two cards might look a little more odd. Aladdin's Lamp is a 10-mana artifact that says that whenever you you draw a card, you can instead tap the lamp and pay X mana to look at the top X cards of your library and chose one of them to draw, putting the rest at the bottom. So here is another neat synergy with Sindbad; as the sailor actually draws a card, you can replace the Sindbad draw with activating the lamp to get all the benefits from the lamp and zero of the drawbacks from Sindbad. The ten mana price tag might look like a lot, but I have certainly hard cast this during playtesting even without the Power Monolith up and running. As the deck plays a lot of mana sources and has a solid late game, this is not as steep a cost as it may seem. And once the lamp is active, life is easy. In particular if we have managed to have a Power Monolith combo going, then all your draw steps are replaced by Demonic Tutor (which should end the game immediately if you have unlimited mana).

The other card might be even less familiar than the lamp:
The first Wish.
Again, we have a replacement effect on a draw which Sindbad is more than happy to help out with. The ring really over-performed during playtesting and I should try to find space for a second copy. Again, this card will just win if you have Power Monolith going, fetching Fireball if you have a City of Brass in play or Stream of Life if your mana is more constrained. During more normal circumstances it can fetch removal (Tranquility, Crumble, Control Magic), protection (Mirror Universe, Forcefield), or just a big spell on curve to close out the game (Force of Nature or Amnesia). It can also fetch a part of the Monolith combo if needed. This is a deceptively strong card somehow.
Power Monolith package.
The Power Monolith package is not necessarily the main wincon, but rather something that can win out of nowhere and the opponent must spend resources to defend against. Stream of Life is very sweet with Sylvan Library, as you will be able to ignore the life payments on extra cards if the combo is assembled. The Power Monolith win can often look kinda convoluted, one example from play testing was gaining unlimited mana while on the ropes and having Sindbad, two blue and one green mana available. I could then Transmute the Monolith to Aladdin's Lamp, replacing the Sindbad draw with tutoring for Stream of Life via the lamp, and use the last green mana to gain a few Graham's Numbers wort of life. Sometimes you want to wait out a combo that actually wins you the game on the spot, but when time is of the essence the Stream is a very solid Plan B. This is the transmute package:
I think I will replace Tetravus with Triskelion to get a better game against weenies, but other than that this feels good enough. Transmute have a nice synergy with Sylvan Library as well, giving you a shuffle when the top cards fail to deliver.
We will occasionally mill a relevant card or just lose a synergistic permanent to removal, so to mitigate this we have a suit of resurrection spells as well:
Reconstruction is another deceptively capable card.
I should probably test out playing two Recalls main deck now that it just got unrestricted. At the very least, I should have a second copy in my wish-sideboard. But they are kinda hard to find right now, and I don't have a playset of them yet (I have an extra copy in Project M, but again, one of the plans here is to not move cards from that deck). Some more testing will have to decide if I should take the plunge and buy another one for the main deck here. Other than that, these cards make it easier to be aggressive with Sindbad and trade resources with far less fear for the late game.
Playtesting at a local pub in Oslo. 
So, we can win with Sindbad advantage or Power Monolith combo. That can't be all now, can it? Of course not. Let's take a look at the star players of the battlefield:
The glorious Master with his graceful wolves. Yep, clearly wolves.
Before someone (looking at you, Gordon) comes in to say that these cards are bad and I retort by telling that person to suck both my dicks, I'd like to argue why the Wolfmasters are actually kinda solid. Step one is synergy. In a deck where you can get infinite mana, paying GG to get a 1/1 with something close to banding is good. The hunters doesn't tap to create a token, which makes them far superior to things like The Hive or Serpent Generator as swarmyards go. Another part of the synergy equation is that they can run under Meekstone, a Transmutable sideboard card in this deck.

Second, they are deceptively good at handling removal. They don't die to Blasts nor City in a Bottle, they laugh in the face of an Abyss, and the cards that actually kill them will often have to decide between targeting them or Sindbad. If they are removed by a Swords to Plowshares, that is a Sword that didn't hit Sindbad, and if we got to build a wolf or two in the process, we are back in value town. A weird but kinda fun fact is also that Chaos Orb can't kill tokens. I don't know if that will ever be relevant, but it is at least something I guess.

Third, the wolves keep coming and they all have Bands with other. While not fully as strong as proper banding, this can make combat a nightmare for the opponent. They will pretty much never be able to kill more than a single wolf each combat. If you have four or five wolves, there are very few summons that can stand in your way. If you get to untap with Master of the Hunt a few turns things easily get out of hand.

With that into account, I'm not saying that they are obscenely powerful nor that they should be played in every green deck. They are four-drops that die to Lightning Bolt after all, and they take a lot of mana before they win the game. But in a pile like this they offer another attack plan that demands an answer, and they strike from an angle that may be hard to defend against. They have not disappointed during playtesting, and I believe that they may be underestimated in the format.
A few more cards on the defensive side, and a stellar draw spell.
So all-in-all we find ourselves with an UG deck with a wish-board that can take the control role when necessary, randomly win with an infinite combo, smash down with bands of tokens, do stupid things with draw steps, transmute into strange artifacts and recur broken spells. Every now and then a Force of Nature enters the battlefield, and every now and then we get to cast Stream of Life for value. A sailor traveling to a tropical island to dig for rare artifacts and hidden libraries in the company of wolves. I present the latest voyage to Port Durdle:
Treasure Island, v1.6
For some additional Sindbad discussions, check out this episode of All Tings Considered. Some solid tech right there. And when you are surfing around, I can't reccomend the post Not even Venarian Gold from Music City Old School Mtg enough. It is a fairly short post, but really manages to capture the spirit of the format in a fantastic way.

Next time we're gonna look at a proper tournament report from one of our friends in Italy. Until then, I wish you brisk winds on your travels.

söndag 22 april 2018

Banned and Restricted update 2018

Yep, it's that time of the year again!
Yet another snap keep!
So last year we tried and recorded the announcement on the Flipping Orbs podcast rather than posting it here and typing out the discussions. That was pretty fun, so we did the same thing this year (and now it's a tradition I suppose). The episode turned out at an horrendous two hours, complete with my sound dropping off at places. So for those of you that just want to get to the brass tacks, here's this year's update:
  • Recall is unrestricted
...and that's it! As always it will be exciting to see how this works out and what kind of tech people come up with, if any. Feel free to scream your opinions in the comments :) If you have some time, I recommend giving the podcast a listen. It goes into some depth about around twenty cards that were up for discussion this year.


onsdag 11 april 2018

The n00bcon X top8

The tenth world championship of Old School Magic is in the books! 17 countries, around 40 communities and 122 players packed their spells and went to Gothenburg to show who's who in the format.
This was the craziest weekend of Magic I've experienced yet. From the bag of crazy that that was the Wizards' Tournament, to the largest gathering of old school players yet at n00bcon X, to the smaller main tournament hosted in the depths of Gothenburg the day after. I can find no word for this better than simply "Magic". And that's with me not even playing in any of the events except the Wizards' Tournament. It says something special about the people when I don't feel bad missing out playing the main tournament but rather just feel excited to meet all the people.

I could go on for days sharing the joy I feel being a part of this community. There are so many stories. I don't know where to start, nor where I should stop. A few people have already shared their stories, like Dave Firth Bard at the All Tings Considered podcast. And of course there's hours and hours of the video stream up on Wak-Wak. So right know I'll keep my own anecdotes short and just say this.

Thank you. Thank you for being good people I love hanging out with even when I'm not drawing an opening seven. Thank you for how much you care and how much effort you put into making other people here welcome. And in particular on a personal level, thank you all who provided the wonderful Easter Egg gifts to me. I really did not expect that. My mom wanted to frame the scroll you guys gave me when I showed it to her.

So, with all those lame emotions out of the way, let's go down to cold steel and brass tax. This was a god damned world championship after all. And the gladiators grinding their teeth in the elimination rounds are about as far away from novices as they come.
Andrea's Cermak. Top8.
Representing the Stockholm in a Bottle crew, Cermak hit the scene with a bang two years ago. He won the coveted Rookie of the Year trophy for the 2016/2017 season, picked up a Giant Shark in Arvika, and then followed that up with a Top4 at n00bcon 9. Apart from a slew of truly impressing tournament finishes the season leading up to n00bcon X (including a win at the Horrible Horse gathering, a second place at the 2018 Arvika Festival, and - perhaps most impressive - a second place at The Wizards' Tournament), Cermak is known as a great deck builder, tournament organizer and community profile. His Old School Magic 4 Life group is the largest Old School Magic page at Facebook, and his King of the Archipelago tournament series (an all expenses paid tournament at a boat in the Stockholm archipelago) is one of the more unique gatherings in the format. Combine that with being credited as popularizing the White Zoo archetype and taking down Alphaspelen 3 with main deck Personal Incarnations, and you have a force in the format to be reckoned with.
Cermak's CermakAttack.
Bringing his signature Savannah Lions to battle, backed up by the traditional slew of Efreets, Cermak has opted for some pretty smart choices in his top8 deck. The Su-Chis may look slightly random at glance, but they are proper beat sticks, as well as your best friend when facing down a Blood Moon
Simon Gauti. Top8.
Simon Gauti is one of the earlier adopters from Denmark, representing red and white at the championship since n00bcon 7. The Danish scene has grown a lot in the last year, and so has Simon's gauntlet and training grounds. A highly proficient Vintage player at heart, Simon never ceases to impress whenever he gets to sleeve up Moxen.
Simon Gauti's. The Deck.
The Deck is the premier control deck of the format. It contains a majority of the most effective permission spells ever printed while gaining card advantage using the Jayemdae Tome. It is a though nut to crack for any opponent, in particular when wielded by a veteran invoker like Simon. Simon's beautiful version is fairly straight forward, but nonetheless he has opted for some interesting choices. In particular playing Moat over something like The Abyss. Moat is a somewhat rarely seen card in the archetype these days, and a very gutsy card to use when your wincon is basically the landwalking Mishra's Factories :)
Kalle Nord. Top8.
Kalle is one of the reasons we play this format at all, and probably the single most important reason I still play Magic altogether. He is one of the original founders of 93/94, as well as the guy who pretty much makes all the original art related to this blog and n00bcon. That banner up here is his making, as well as all the yearly n00bcon pins, last year's playmat, this year's t-shirt, and what have you. He is also the host of the "Head Tournament" the day after n00bcon, as well as just a spectacular human specimen. Among the more braggable stats on his tournament resume is a win at n00bcon 7 as well as being one of only two people to hold more than a single Giant Shark.
Kalle's 5C CounterMidrange
Uh, yeah. It takes some effort to have the most blinged out deck at a tournament like n00bcon, but this is probably it. I don't know where to start describing all the unique pieces. All wb cards are Summer btw, except the really crazy ones (like the square cornered test print Wheel of Fortune). The artist alters and reinterpretations are kinda hard to wrap the head around. And he has two Giant Sharks in his sideboard :D If we ignore the share insanity of the deck, it is a midrange deck with some control elements. Four Su-Chi and three Erhnams are the main beatsticks, backed up by sweet burn and a miser's suit of counterspells.

Tibia. Top8.
The only guy with a perfect record in the swiss, Tibia is a son of Gothenburg and another familiar face around the top tables at n00bcon. Last time we saw him grace the top8 was at n00bcon 8, when his weapon of choice was UR Burn. Even though he is supremely versed in the format and has played at this gathering since around n00bcon 4, it is possible that Tibia might be a fairly new face for many readers. I talked to Gordon a little about it during the stream, and yes, there is of course a large native scene in Gothenburg still. They are just kinda low on the social media accounts and rarely travel far to play. The Gothenburg scene randomly hosts 20+ player gatherings with locals, but don't really write about it on facebook. Still keeping it underground, and still one of the weirder scenes. I think the cradle city represented with seven players this tournament, and at the end of the swiss, we found two in the top four of the standings and two in the bottom four. Go hard or go home. Love to the locals.
Tibia's Fantasy Zoo
I'll just quote the pilot:
Åland provided the framework for this deck when he first piloted it at BSK last November. I saw the potential of Savannah Lions, and since then we have been evolving the deck together.

White is the best color in 93/94 and Disenchant is the best card in the format. So the build starts with four Disenchants. Then you want cheap and effective threats. The fact that also Savannah Lions, Swords to Plowshares and Serra Angel are white clearly doesn't make things worse.

Blue is the second best color and Serendib Efreet is the best creature. Four of those. The fact that blue also gives you access to Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Timetwister is also pretty sweet.

City of Brass makes it easy to splash powerful off-color cards like Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist. We back this up with Bolts and Blasts for reach.

The main plan is then to deploy effective threats at the same time as you keep the opponents threats and blockers / factories at bay with the burn. Then we'll just win the eventual race with Serra Angel.

The big advantage of this deck is that it doesn't play counterspells. We can without any hesitation have a very aggressive game plan, and we'll never end up in a situation where we want to play a threat but at the same time keep two blue open for Counterspell.

Sideboard is basically Circles, Armageddon, Red and Blue Blasts, and Shatterstorm.


Yep, that sounds about right.
Valerio. Top4.
Valerio! Valerio was one of the first Europeans, and certainly the first Italian, to write a guest post on this blog. Way back in the dark ages of 2015, when he placed 2nd at the 60-player Ovino Old School tournament (back then without Black Lotus in his deck, something that Valerio seems to have corrected since ;)). Valerio is not only one of the premier Italian players and a content provider, he was also one of the last guys to sneak in an invite to n00bcon. Planning a trip in Sweden with his lovely girlfriend at the time of the tournament, he casually contacted me and let me know that they would be in the city if a spot would open up. His strategy proved fruitful, his tech took him all the way to the top4, and the rest of the players got the chance to hang out with a cheerful Italian lady as the top8 unfolded. Win-win-win.
Valerio's Atog Aggro.
Valerio's weapon of choice is a lethal Atog aggro pile, splashing blue for Serendib Efreets along with some extra power. Praying on greedy mana bases with Blood Moons, keeping card engines honest with his playset of Back Vise, and letting big beaters finish the job alongside some burn. This is a deceptively deep pile with some interesting choices. E.g. the sideboard Juggernauts to turn the beatdown up to eleven when needed (or to switch out the Efreets when boarding in City i a Bottle), as well as the 2-1 split between Detonates and Shatters maindeck are sure to stir some conversations.
Ben. Top4.
From the place where the sun never set, Brother Ben of the Fire made a triumphant return to the Swedish turf for n00bcon X. He first showed up at the tournament last year as a member of the British Hill Giant team (honestly, median height of the team members was something like 9 feet; Ben is taller than an average oak), and piloted a sweet pile of stone cold Legends creatures like Lady Evangelina. This year, Ben earned his invite by winning the Old School Team Championships in the UK, and it seems like that taste of glory may have had him step up his deck to something slightly more powerful this year.
Ben's The Deck.
That's a slight uptick in effectiveness. I do find some humor in that the other control deck in the top8 played with Moat (over The Abyss) and no Serra Angels, where Ben plays with The Abyss alongside Serra Angel. Though I kinda get the idea; I assume that Serra Angel is not really a Serra Angel but rather a replacement of the fourth maindeck Jayemdae Tome, either due to availability or due to the fact that a Serra is better than a fourth book against aggro. Actually had the exact same nonbo in my version of The Deck I played at the last Arvika Festival. My excuse was that I didn't own four books and had to settle with three. What's your excuse Ben? ;) Among the other notable card choices we have the Scrubland and of course the Spell Blast. Countering Black Lotus never felt so good. And it is super techy to have a hard counter you can resolve with only one blue mana up.
Olle. Finalist.
Olle Råde is, like, a super good Magic player. He also stays mostly sober during tournaments, which is a little like doping. (editor's retraction: Well, turns out Olle did in fact down his beers like a viking at n00bcon. It just didn't seem to affect him). Dude has won BSK twice and holds the format's coveted Giant Shark. The title of n00bcon Champion may be one of the few things he may still even consider to be on his old school bucket list. Or just general Magic bucket list for that matter, which e.g. includes PT, GP, PotY and Invitational wins. Olle is a journalist by trade, and when he doesn't share his stories in the Gothenburg daily newspaper he can occasionally be seen freelancing pro coverage at the WotC mothership. He also wrote a sweet guest post on this blog a few years ago. Another random fact is that his father is an actual wizard, so there's always that.
Olle's UR Burn.
UR Burn has become something of Olle's signature deck in 93/94. He took down BSK 2017 with a similar list, and we also saw him wielding it in the elimination rounds back at n00bcon 8. UR is one of the consensus strongest decks in the format, by newer players sometimes described as the "Delver Deck" of old school magic. It combines permission and reach with some of the most effective threats the card pool has to offer. Throw one of the strongest players to pick up the game behind the wheels and we'll have a recipe for top8.
Alban. World Champion!
Alban Lauter has quickly reached a reputation as the contemporary "German Juggernaut" of 93/94 Magic. His recent stats from tournaments in Germany and surrounding countries are just staggering. But as for qualifying for n00bcon goes, high standings in tournaments are only rarely the way to go. Many of the communities have been giving out their invites by things like lotteries, quizzing, or even placing in the bottom of a given tournament. So even though Alban won the German qualifier tournament, that didn't give him an invite for n00bcon. The huge Fishliver Oil Cup in Italy did give out an invite to the winner, but at that one Alban "only" finished second place. A few weeks before n00bcon however, the guy who won Fishliver Oil had to decline his place, and Alban was passed down the invite by the organizers.

Well before that, in fact long before Alban had an invite, he was my bet to win this year. I assumed that he would eventually pick up an invite somehow, and he plays at a level above a majority of the field. He was of course still my bet when Gordon and I discussed who would win the tournament during our commentary on the stream at the start of the swiss. So while I can't say that I was really surprised to finally see the first non-Swede pick up the Shark at n00bcon, I am throughly impressed :) This was Alban's first top8 at n00bcon, though he did finish 9th at n00bcon 8 two years ago.
Alban's UWb Tempo.
Alban is known to many as a highly proficient The Deck player, but this year he went for a home brew. The one-two punch of Savannah Lions plus Serendib Efreet has proved immensely powerful in the format. Alban's list is far more controlling than e.g. Tibia's Fantasy Zoo (which puts more emphasis on speed and burn), and somewhat more so than Cermak's (which can take a much more midrange role with Su-Chis and more Angels). Where e.g. Tibia plays two Swords to Plowshares, Cermak plays three and Alban has the full playset. Alban is also the one guy among the three Lion-players in the top8 to run Counterspell, making his brew somewhat closer in spirit to UW Skies than Fantasy Zoo.

Ninth place player was btw some guy named Seb. Sounds familiar, but I'm not sure who that guy might be.

And there we have it! Thanks for an awesome weekend, and congratulations to all you crazy wizards both in and outside the top8!

tisdag 27 mars 2018

Hill Giant Cup 2018: A guest report from Joep Meddens

These are magical times. In a few days the tenth Old School Magic World Championship will take place in Gothenburg. But it is always you guys who make this format what it is; you the organizer, you the player, you the content creator. This is a story of a player, organizer and creator gathering the first round table in his town of Hilversum, North Holland. This is Joep Meddens's story. Enjoy! /Mg out.

The Dutch old school community has been taking Giant steps lately. The gatherings of the Knights of Thorn have become serious affairs, with the last edition in Deventer boasting 40 players.

I had already entertained the idea of organizing a tournament in my hometown of Hilversum. I had even acquired the prize for the first winner: an alpha Hill Giant (for good measure I acquired 5, if it spikes the tournament will be good for the foreseeable future).

Playing in Deventer and seeing 40 spellslingers ready to travel to that somewhat remote part of The Netherlands (sorry Mari!) swung it for me. There should be a Hill Giant Cup, with the winner being crowned King of the Hill.

Luckily for me, my local game store owner Robert Kerklaan (Vendetta Spellen) is simply a games enthusiast who enjoys having people over. Clearing the store for a Sunday tournament between a bunch of old guys? Sounds like a plan!

When announcing the plan on Christmas Eve, I wished for some positive responses to start of with. After that, I hoped it would be possible to fill 32 spots (and Robert's small store by the way) in the months running up to the tournament. Within a week, the tournament was fully booked.

Serious planning could begin. Craft beer from Hilversum was sourced (www.gooischebierbrouwerij.nl, the weizen is my favourite but the chestnut proved most popular on the day), the brewery being so charmed by the idea of their beer entering Magic the Gathering 93/94 subculture that they gave us a deal on the order. Sweet.

Robert cleaned up the store and Dutch trader Wijnand provided us with some nice prizes (a playset of Beta Hill Giants being one of the nicer things). Some Homelands booster packs were added to the prize pool at the last minute; interestingly they ended up with owners of alpha power who were genuinely thrilled to get pack fresh Homelands cards.

Finally, our local alter master Jordy made us a true King of the Hill, and we were ready to go!
But what to play? My trusted GW Geddonless Erhnamgeddon had brought me to the final in Deventer and to the semi's of Dave's Winter derby on Skype. I love the deck and its annoying Ice Storms. But I really wanted to try something UG this time and so set out to make a new deck without the comfort of 4 Swords and 4 Disenchants.

Life without White is hard! A control version of UG sorely lacked the White removal suite. I then tried and failed at a tempo-counter combination (trying to ramp into Serendib/Erhnam and counter afterwards). After a long and hard evening of play testing with Florian von Bredow ("if you like Enchantress, just play her Joep") the Saturday before the tournament, I settled on what can probably best be described as Suicide Ernham'serk'em.
Suicide Ernham'serk'em.
Sunday morning, 36 players show up and we find seating for the two extra players. Coffee is served, pairings are made and we are off!

Match 1 vs. David Croom (mono-Black)
David is a recent addition to the old school group, but it does not show in the cards he rediscovered in his cupboard. David brings a very nice black bordered unpowered mono-Black to the table. Game 1, I see a T1 Hypnotic Specter from a ritual. My blue mana shows up just after I am forced to discard my second Psionic Blast. Hmm... I summon a Serendib Efreet but can only make it count if my Orb hits his Icy. I miss the flip and do no recover: 0-1.

Game 2 and I get to board in my three Whirling Dervish. I see a Hippie again, but only on T3 this time and my Ifh-Biff makes quick work of it. A Serendib added to the front and Game 2 is mine: 1-1.

Game 3 goes according to plan: I cast Unstable Mutation on my T2 Dervish and never look back. 2-1.

Match 2 vs. Tom Posthuma (The Deck)
Not the best possible match-up for any deck, I usually struggle with The Deck. Today it is in the hands of former Knights of Thorn winner (then piloting White Weenie!) Tom Posthuma. Game 1, I surprise myself and Tom by getting of to an unanswered swift start. Serendib Efreet gets some damage in before going Giant Berserk, having been allowed to resolve that I have no problem finishing off with Psionic Blast. 1-0.

Game 2, I have a slower start and an early Timetwister allows Tom to stabilize. I miss another Orb Flip. The inevitable happens ten or so turns later. 1-1.

Game 3 turned out to be the sweetest of the lot. We see two Timetwisters which seem to help me a bit more than Tom. A third resolves and my hand looks promising. A Mind Twist for seven hits me. I try not to cry as I fill my graveyard. Tom has not found anything to kill me with though. Far too slow for my liking I get him down to 3 with my two Mishra's Factories. Tom manages to stabilize however and things look bleak with me topdecking and Tom on an active Tome. With time running out, I am starting to think about Orb flips (and my misses earlier). Meanwhile, Tom desperately tries to find his Fireball. He resolves Time Walk for a turn and two more cards. Nothing. Next turn the Fireball comes and my 13 life look hopelessly inadequate against Tom's mana reserve. He announces the Fireball. I sigh, resigned to my fate: "OK, tap the mana". Tom obliges and taps out to do 15 damage. I respond with Psionic Blast and, to the amusement of even Tom, steal the game and the match: 2-1.

After the lunch break, we head for Match 3.

Match 3 vs. Marten Buhler (RUG Midrange Explosion)
Marten has a collection to envy (mint beta Volcanic anyone?) that he actually loves to use for play. Why own it and not use it? In keeping with this, he advocates the most lenient reprint policy: more opponents equals more use out of his cards. There is definitely a case to be made there, in Hilversum we had a lenient reprint policy and especially for the dual lands it proved useful.

Game 1 against Marten sees us both starting of with a Library. However, he strips mine (pun intended) and I have to Regrowth it. This sets me back. Coupled to the 8 life I paid to Sylvan Library to get to 7 cards, I get too far behind. Marten gets to use his Regrowth on a Timewalk, and two Bolts mean I am dead. 0-1.

Game 2 and I quickly mulligan to 6. I get what can only be described as the six fingered hand of god. Land-Mox into Timewalk, T2 Timetwister finding my Timewalk again. I can't play it though and I pass for Marten. He scramblers back with a T1 Timewalk of his own that he Regrows on T2. He has to pass though before playing it. I use mine, Chaos Orb his Volcanic in an attempt to block off Blue and put a Serendib on the board. Marten finds City of Brass, casts Timewalk and follows up by casting Su-chi, tapping out and having 18 life left because of the City. I take my turn, and realize my Serendib-Giant Growth-Giant Growth-Berserk is enough for 18... 1-1.

Game 3 and I am under the cosh quickly: T2 Su-chi backed up by a Factory is just too fast. I Timewalk, I even Timetwister, but when my Erhnam is Control Magic'ed, my Pixies get Bolted and my remaining five cards are twisted, the game is up: 1-2.

Match 4 vs. Roy Nijland (mono Black)
Roy is a familiar foe, he beat me with his mono-Black in the Knights of Thorn final.

First game, I am simply quicker. A Serendib gets going and when Ifh-Biff gets in on the act this one is mine. 1-0.

Game 2 and the nightmare scenario unfolds: City in a Bottle hits the table (at this point I realize Roy did not employ any Juzams for this tournament). As my hand fills up with Serendibs I wait for the Crumble I did not board in: 1-1.

Game 3 and I feel I need to get a break on the City in a Bottle front to make it through. I have boarded in the Crumbles, so I do have a shot.

I get some early damage in but my creatures encounter Maze of Ith (Roy plays 4 he tells me) and my clock is slow due to an Ivory Tower adding back to Roy's total every turn. He resolves a City in a Bottle again, but this time I am holding a Crumble. I add Serendib after the Bottle goes, but it does mean I am losing life as well. Knowing Roy plays Drain Life, I am hoping to finish this sooner than later. After some nervous turns, I finally find a way to zero with a Giant Growth: 2-1.

Match 5 vs. Frenk (RUG Zoo)
I am 3-1 and get the feeling one more win will most likely get me in Top 8.

Game 1 sees the classic opener Taiga/Kird Ape. Frenk follows up with a Factory and I am getting some serious beats early on. I am in need of answers and Sylvan Library tempts 8 life out of me in an attempt to get past the lands on top. It helps me find an answer (Psionic Blast), but this also puts me within shooting range. A Chain Lightning ends the first one 0-1.

Game 2 is over quickly as well: I simply fail to match the fast board development and get Bolted to a 0-2 defeat.

I resign myself to my fate, but apparently my losses have come to some really good players (both are in top 8) and I end up number 8 of the lot. This is getting to be somewhat of a theme for me as I ended up nr. 8 in Deventer as well as in David Firth-Baird's Skype summer derby.

Quarter-Final vs. Michel Hollenberg ("That was Easy", UWrb aggro-control by Dyan de Rochemont)
Michel is a laid-back kind of guy from the Alkmaar region where one of the earliest 93-94 playgroups in the Netherlands started. He plays a very pretty deck made by his friend Dyan. It combined Savannah Lions with Lightning Bolts, Swords to Plowshares, Disenchants, Counterspells, Mishra's Factories, Serendibs, Serra Angels and the usual restricted suspects. All of these are clearly staples for a reason and the deck works like a charm as Michel finds the right order of play. I'm not sure whether Dyan will agree, but I'm naming his deck after the Staples company slogan: "That was Easy".
Game 1 and really, I never get a chance. The Lions pounce on me while the control elements take over. I lose and wonder what on earth I am going to do game 2. 0-1.

Game 2 and I get off to a decent start. Some fast board development followed up by a Time Walk and Timetwister allow me to finish the game up with a pumped and Berserked Serendib. I feel happy to have at least shown Michel what my deck is capable of: 1-1.

Game 3 will decide this and despite winning the last game I feel that this is an uphill struggle. This turns out to be true and in this game I feel like I am always one or two steps behind. Savannah Lions doing damage, as soon as I resolve a Serendib the Lions attack again and being behind in life I have to block into the Bolt, after which the Serra hits even harder. 1-2 and my hopes of becoming the King of the Hill are over.

Being knocked out is never great, but Michel was simply the better player on the day. And making top 8 again was definitely more than I had considered possible beforehand. Time to take another beer and enjoy the semi's.

The semi's saw a great Atog/Shivan list defeated by Robbie van Bakel, who brought 3 Two-Headed Giants all the way to the final (pic below). Amazing to see the Big Beaters both guys played actually beating Decks. In the other semi, Michel defeated Marten Buhler's midrange explosion to set up a rematch (Michel had won in the Swiss) between himself and Robbie in the final.
In a battle between Serendibs, early pressure and Control Magic on Erhnam finally swung it for Michel, who took the final 2-1 to become the inaugural King of the Hill.
Beware, mages at N00bcon, because from Holland comes The King of the Hill to challenge you all!

/Joep Meddens

onsdag 14 mars 2018

The Oldest School: A Wizards' Tournament Primer

Every now and then a stroke of abandon land in the twilight between awesomeness and lunacy. From an outside perspective, going full old school and playing a Magic tournament like it was August 1993 is a perplexing idea. Even if you go zero-wincon-full-budget and build a deck with only mixed basic lands, that pile of basics will still have a price tag comparable to the winning eternal deck from the last Modern Pro Tour. A single powerful card in this format may only exist in a few hundred copies in the world, and will probably set you back more than a tier1 UBR deck in Legacy. Still we don't use proper sleeves nor protection for the cards. And right here you can actually play a deck of 20 Black Lotus and 20 Plague Rats. It is the most expensive, broken and confusing Magic format I've seen. It is also one of the sweetest.
Snap keep!
I don't know how many players we have signed up right now. 50? 60? Somewhere in that ballpark. Over ten countries representing at least. I am yet to find evidence of a larger tournament in August or September 1993, so it is possible that this is the largest event ever playing the purest form of Magic. Now that's something for the 25th anniversary of the game :)

Looking past the card availability issues of the format, one of the biggest things is how confusing it can be to those of us used to modern rules. And as the only info I've posted about the tournament is a text file without the opportunity to comment, I've gotten a lot of questions about how the old rules actually work. And no, it is not just "modern rules with mana burn between steps", or "dying from having zero life at the end of a phase instead of as a state based effect".  Heh, the oldest rules don't have steps, and that "dying at the end of a phase" thingie was a rule change that came with Revised (and was removed again with Sixth edition).

So, let's take a look at the most frequently asked questions about the original rules. We'll divide this into the sections of New rules, Old rules, Turn structure, and Tournament floor rules. Lets go back to 1993!

New rules!

There are a bunch of rules today that didn't exist back in old school times. These are a few of the more important rules that are NOT in effect during The Wizards' Tournament:

The idea of taking mulligans did come pretty early, and in 1994 the all-land/no-land mulligan was introduced. A few years later the Paris mulligan took its place, and then the Vancouver mulligan most of us know today. In the oldest school however, there are no mulligans. You'll have to keep whatever your starting seven gives you.
Yet another snap keep!
No, there are no sideboards. Just put all the sweet cards in your deck from the start. On the plus side, no one will expect that you play Karma.

Play/Draw rule
What is this, late 1995? The starting player gets a draw phase, so it is very much upside to win the coin flip.


Again, restricting the number of cards you could play in a deck was a fairly early tournament rule, but still something that took effect in 1994. No card restrictions means that you can technically play 9 Ironclaw Orcs and 3 Ancestral Recalls if you have them. Minimum deck size is also 40 cards rather than the 60 we normally use for constructed decks today. Real mages play more than 40 though. And please try to have fun and appreciate the atmosphere. A deck with just 27 Lightning Bolts and 13 Mountains seems supremely boring in a format like this ;)
Oldest School Sligh done properly.
There's no Oracle errata. Uniform errata on card name basis was a surprisingly late addition to the rules; well into 1995 cards like Iron Star had a different effect in the ABU printing compared to the Revised/4th printings. For this tournament, I have added errata to two cards that were misprinted so badly that they would be impossible to use with current wording (Red Elemental Blast and Cyclopean Tomb), and clarified a few more in the Wizards' Tournament document. But the idea here is mostly to read the card and try to figure out what it does. And yes, you may activate Iron Star multiple times for a single red spell.

This being an Instant would make it unable to counter spells. It will be played as an Interrupt.
Then there are a few commonly used words that aren't really defined in the old rules. Like "defending creature" and "target". Basically it works mostly as we'd expect, but you can for example cast a Righteousness on any creature a defending player controls rather than just a blocking creature. This could be useful in the UBW Creature Bond deck I guess.

Some other stuff that might come up is that auras enchanting an illegal permanent won't "fall off" (e.g. you cast Living Lands turning all lands into 1/1s, then cast Control Magic on one of your opponent's lands. If someone then destroys Living Lands, Control Magic will not fall of even though it is enchanting an illegal target, and the opponent won't get their land back), and that an attacker may distribute damage between blocking creatures as they see fit (i.e. no "blocking order" among blocking creatures).

Old rules!

In the original rules we also had a few features that don't exists today. These are probably the most likely to come up.

Mana Burn
From ye old rule book: "You lose all of the mana in your mana pool if you do not use it before a phase ends. The mana pool is also cleared when an attack begins and when an attack ends. You lose a life point for each mana lost in this manner. However, you cannot be deprived of a chance to use the mana in your pool. If a card provides more than one mana, you must draw the full amount into your pool when you use it." This rule (later called "mana burn") changed a few times over the years until it was removed entirely in 2009 with the release of M10. We'll look more at phases and attacks a little further down.

Ante was an integral part of the original game. At the start of a duel, you would remove the top card of your deck and put it in the ante. The winner of the duel would become the owner of all the cards in the ante after the game.

To avoid too much deck metamorphosis over the course of a longer tournament, the first tournament floor rules introduced something called "fake ante", which is what we'll use here as well. It is described in more detail in the Wizards' Tournament document, but basically you just exile the top card of your library whenever a duel starts, and get it back after the duel. Even though we don't use ante with cards from the decks, you are still encouraged to ante something else (like a beer or the monetary equivalent of the card in Scrye #3 prices).

Tapped cards
A tapped card is basically shut off. When an Artifact is tapped, imagine that it has no rules text. You can't gain life from a tapped Iron Star, a tapped Gauntlet of Might won't boost red creatures nor Mountains, and a tapped Forcefield will offer no protection. Additionally, a blocking creature that becomes tapped during combat will not assign any damage.
Damage prevention
There are no rules covering this; the rules from 1993 are before the introduction of the damage prevention step. So just do what seems reasonable. How does Reverse Damage work when you're at four life and get attacked by a Sea Serpent? How does it work when you're attacked by two? Maybe you survive in one or both cases, but there's nothing to back that up. If in doubt about some damage prevention interaction, ask the referee to make a decision or flip a coin.

As long as a creature with protection from a color is in play, it cannot be affected by cards of that color. For e.g. a Black Knight this includes, but is not limited to, surviving Wrath of God, punching straight through a Circle of Protection: Black (if such a card would exist...), surviving all damage from white creatures, and being unblockable by white creatures.
Timing (or lack thereof)
To quote the Alpha rule book: "In general, you should try and cast as few spells at once as possible, because it makes things simpler." Yeah. Timing is weird here, but there are some illuminating examples in The Wizards' Tournament document. Four things that may be good to note in particular is:
  • There are no stacks, batches nor queues as we have known them for the last decades. Once an instant or fast effect starts to resolve, everything else will resolve at the same time. So for instance, if someone casts a Terror on one of your creatures and you cast Ancestral Recall, if you draw an Unsummon with the Ancestral you wont get the chance to save your creature with it as Terror resolved as soon as Ancestral did.
  • The last player casting an instant (or activating a fast effect) in a series of effects that would affect a card in play differently depending on the order of the effects, chooses in which order all the instants/effects applies.
  • An interrupt will take precedence over any other effects. If an interrupt removes a card from play, it will counter any abilities activated by that permanent that haven't resolved yet. ("Interrupts take place more quickly, actually being resolved before actions in progress, whereas instants don't take effect until both players have finished reacting to one another.")
  • As all spells and abilities resolve at once and damage is dealt after an effect dealing it resolves, it is e.g. not possible to destroy a creature by casting a Lightning Bolt in response to a Giant Growth or Frozen Shade activations. Damage will not be dealt before the creature is boosted no matter how you try to time it.

The Turn Structure!

The turn is divided into six phases. Most of the time, you wont notice the difference from the modern turn structure, but it can be a good idea to note this just in case. Here's the original turn structure:

1) Untap. Untap all your previously tapped lands, creatures, and artifacts. I will go out on a limb here and state that you cannot do anything before you untap permanents during the untap step. This is by no means defined in the rules, but it is clearly against the spirit of the game to tap your Prodigal Sorcerer to deal one damage to a Knight at the start of your untap phase, then untap it and deal one more damage during that same turn. As it was never intended to be played that way, I'll interpret the rules to disallow it for this tournament.

2) Upkeep. Deal with any enchantment, creature, or artifact that requires upkeep or has an effect at the start of a turn. The card will tell you if a given item requires upkeep. Note that you cannot activate abilities of permanents requiring an upkeep cost before the upkeep has been paid.

3) Draw. Draw one card from your library.

4) Main. You may do several things during the main phase. In no particular order:
 - You may put any one land from your hand into play.
 - You may make one attack against your rival with any or all of your creatures in play except those that came into play this turn. Combat is divided into four turn sequences: Player Declares Attack; Opponent Declares Defense; Fast Effects; Damage Dealing.
 - You may cast any spells in your hand, provided you have enough mana. You can cast spells before and after taking other actions.

5) Discard. If you have more than seven cards in your hand, discard until you again have only seven. Note that Library of Leng make you skip this phase altogether, which means that if you have a Library you go directly from Main to End.

6) End. Let your rival know you are finished. Note that you may cast instants and interrupts after you have discarded.
Super high tech with end phase Ancestral Recall. And I know at least one fellow that just picked up a second Ancestral for this tournament. Craziest deck I've heard about will be playing 20 copies of a certain Alpha rare btw, but I wont spoil which one here. It is a bad one though ;)

Tournament floor rules!

Again, please check out the Wizard's Tournament text file for some more clarifications on the floor rules.

So back in the days there were no judges in the modern sense of the word. Instead there were so called referees that had a surprisingly large mandate. The referee is the person with final say on interpreting rules, as well as someone that may at will terminate or influence matches he/she finds going excessively long. So if you are the last match playing, the referee might go up to your table and drop a pair of Copper Tablets on the play area to speed up the match or state that next person dealing damage wins, or whatever. The referee will also interpret Declarations of Forfeiture; e.g. disqualifying players that cheat. The ones of you participating at the Wizard's Tournament don't have to worry too much about the referee holding grudges or being unfair though. The referee during The Wizards' Tournament will be none other than the man mostly known as Flax; the man holding possibly the lowest active DCI number in Sweden as well as the friendliest Magic player most of us will ever encounter. He was my clear first choice for the role, and I am surprisingly stoked to have him on the team! He is also one of like three people I know that are versed in the original rules.

If you use sleeves, it is very much encouraged that you use sleeves from the era. This means penny sleeves, toploaders, or something else available in 1993. While you might be frowned upon for using more modern sleeves, you obviously won't be disqualified for doing so. However, if you use more modern sleeves, use clear ones where you can see the back of the card.
The Italian gang use old credit card sleeves for their decks. Dope!
Participation fee
The participation fee is 50 SEK, which translates to about $6 in a more international currency. This almost covers the rent of the pub ;)

I did design playmats which I was going to offer for 50 SEK, but didn't find a good way to properly get the paint on the cloth. So unfortunately no. Here's the design though, might be something similar for next year:
Prize structure
Pretty much nothing. You could try and win something sweet playing for ante though. The person who manage to destroy all other players gets a unique artifact however, handmade in a single unit by master craftsmen and painters. It is awesome, and you can use it as a necklace to look supremely dope while summoning beasts.
All n00bs must be discarded.

Bonus FAQ!

Q: Can I come visit and look at the games?
A: Only players are allowed at the site. It would unfortunately be far too crowded if we allowed visitors.

Q: Will there be video coverage?
A: No. We will avoid most modern technology.

Q: Why would anybody play with $25,000 decks for no tangible EV in a dirty pub using only penny sleeves?
A: It seems fun.