torsdag 16 november 2017

Fungal Bloom at the Horrible Horse Gathering

A few weeks back, a couple of guys from the Oslo community asked if I could help set up a 93/94 tournament during the Oslo Eternal Winter. That was an easy yes. It had been a while since I hosted a Gathering, especially as Svante Landgraf took over the recent BSK, so it felt like a good time to get off the horse and do something.
I think I might have a slightly different approach for hosting tournaments than most real organizers of proper formats. But I guess that the core obstacles are the same. Location, location, location. Participants. Refreshments, prizes, something unexpected. This might be as good a time as any for me to rant about some of my experiences hosting, so let's start with that.

Location is the most arduous task. You need a place with a lot of tables and chairs, sure. That's easy enough as long as the head count is below 70-80. But then you want the option to drink beer, which whittles down the options. You also want to be able to drink without having too many unknown drunks swaggering about. An intoxicated nerd with a $20,000 pile of cards left on a table somewhere might get uneasy if faceless thugs straddle about. Then you want the location to not throw you out when the top8 is afoot. Most pubs in the Nordic countries close around 1 am, and you'd be hard pressed to find any place that aren't required by law to throw you out around 2:30. Acoustics is a thing as well, access to Internet, and stuff like that. And you don't really want to pay for the location, at least not a large sum, which makes finding a location something of a treasure hunt.
Our location for the Horrible Horse Gathering might have been slightly overdone in the "treasure hunt" sense though. The place wasn't marked with a street number, and you had to go in to a shopping mall, find a coffe shop, find an elevator in said coffe shop, and then contact me to buzz up said elevator to a restricted floor. And there were no signs. But people managed to eventually find it, and it turned out a sweet place to play.
I'm personally not that big on promoting tournaments online. The locations I use are more often than not hard to find unless you know about them, and I rarely post much about the tournaments I help out with on social media. If I do, I mostly opt to create private events. Why? I don't really have a good answer. I guess I don't feel the need to promote them that way, and prefer word of mouth. Social media can skew a large portion of the community away from the discussions, as many players aren't that active on facebook or twitter, and instead include a lot of people who are mostly looking at the tournament from a non-player perspective. If I want to host a local tournament, one of the most important things for me is that the locals feel that it is for them. Other people view this differently, and it is clearly possible that we could gather even more players if we would spread the word a little more (e.g. by posting about it in the 93/94 facebook group or OldschoolMtG4Life group), but I kinda like focusing on the locals.
I rarely have any real prizes in the tournaments. Not for the Top8, nor even for things like "best unpowered deck" or lotteries or similar. I do think that lotteries and such are nice, in particular as an alternative to give someone else than the winner more value, but it is not something I usually do myself. Instead I mostly try to keep the participation fee - and the stakes - a little lower. I do have Easter Eggs with random gifts at n00bcon, but that's more an exception than a rule. I always buy trophies though. And a card to sign for the winner, but that's rarely more than a dime's worth.
This one is ten bucks though! Crazy. I had it lying around since last Invitational, and it was a Horrible Horse if I ever saw one, so it seemed like a good fit regardless of the somewhat higher price tag.
At the Horrible Horse Gathering, we were 27 players. A solid gathering of spell slingers by any standards. I thought it was particularly cool that 21 of those players were locals from the Oslo area, including Drammen. One guy (Honka) came from Gothenburg, another one (Glenn) traveled from Varberg, one person represented Stockholm (Cermak), and three guys came from Arvika (KungMarkus, Svetzarn and Loff), but other than that it was all locals. It was the biggest 93/94 tournament in Oslo yet, with a fair margin, and the first time I saw almost all of the local players at once including a handful new faces. That's sweet.

The Oslo crew is fantastic. Great people, cool decks and just a very pleasant atmosphere. These are guys I would hang out with for 12 hours without a Magic card in the room. There's no power gaming and people are quick to help out with anything they can. I didn't have a proper swiss calculator, but Michael helped me install and used his credentials to set up Wizards Event Reporter. We didn't have a judge for the tournament, but HaiWei took it upon himself to make sure everything ran smoothly, log the match results and fix pairings.

My deck of choice was Mycosis; aka GB Fungusaur. Fungusaur is the new big tech around these parts. It gets ridiculously huge, and it is a Fungus Dinosaur. It is somewhat amusing that Jhovalking, myself and Gordon Anderson all had built different Fungusaur decks over the last few months, without knowledge of the other's tech.
You know you're getting deep when you start upgrading to black borders.
This has escalated even further in the last couple of weeks, and by this point there are so many people building Fungusaur decks that Gordon has taken it upon himself to host a Fungusaur Invitiational tournament early next year. I claim an early seat on the bandwagon, as I think that my deck might have been if not the first, at least one of the first around these parts (yeah, the Scania players beat us). I was originally working on a Verduran Ponza with Enchantress, Blight and Kudzu, which somehow morphed into a Fungusaur deck last summer. I will call the pile Mycosis, as that is a fungal infection disease. The deck use Pestilence and Fungusaur to win after all, so it's about as flavourful as it gets.
Mycosis v2.3
I have some ideas for upgrades 'til next time. I should probably go even harder on the Greed / Ivory Tower combo and I want to fit one or two Maze of Ith in the sideboard. And Avoid Fate was a lot better than I expected. But all-in-all it was a pretty solid deck that went X-X in duels, 2-3 in matches. It should be able to cross the "wins more than it loses" threshold pretty soon.
Fear the mighty summon!
Let's check out some pictures from the event.
Starting up the registration. Michael, a well known character in the community working in the Outland store, guides us through Wizard's Event Reporter.
Speaking of local heroes, one of the new faces at this gathering was none other than Simen, the owner of Outland and one of the core pillars in the Olso subculture gaming communities.
Bjørn-Einar Bjartnes, local player and colleague at work, tries to settle a deal with Andreas Cermak to take his deck to the next level before the first round starts. Scandinavian Championship winner Jimmie following the bartering.
And it's a deal! Bjartnes finds himself with his first power cards, 20 years after he first picked up the game. The Oslo community can add three new moxen to their chest of Power. Cermak opts to take the payment in cash, which leads to some nightly shenanigans at the ATM.
The game is afoot!
I'm facing GW Elephants game one, and it is an uphill battle. Those bastards have banding! Combined with Elephant Graveyard and Maze of Ith, not even Kudzu can strangle the onslaught.
Duel two my 10/10 Fungusaur kills the Elephant Master before Eye for an Eye gets to resolve. These things grow quick!
Facing my old room mate and Best Man bro Hardy with The Machine in round three. It's a fairly quick 2-1 in his favor. I have serious trouble beating him in tournaments ;)
The ol' City in a Bottle / Oubliette standoff.
Refreshments and air between rounds.
HaiWei was our impromptu Judge, and is one of the main community organizers in the city. He is currently brewing new plans for conventions.
Moxen, Gauntlets and Trolls.
Savannah Lions did a huge showing this tournament. Here we have Thomas Nilsen and Hasthi working out a stack.
This would get pretty strange with pre-batch timing rules.
Hardy facing down Audun's Jade Statues. Audun also made great work of Wrath of God during the tournament, a card that seems somewhat underplayed in the current meta.
Fist turn LoA, meet first turn Sinkhole. Who needs unrestricted Strip Mines? ;)
There was a n00bcon invite in the pot for this tournament, offered by Thomas Nilsen. Rather than simply giving it to someone who placed well in the tournament, the winner of the invite would be decided by a game of trick-flipping Chaos Orb Horse after the swiss.
JhovalKing doing the double-flip.
Honka preparing for a nonchalant Jenga-flip.
Hashti and the dreaded Tower-flip.
Audun casually approaching the FlipCup-flip.
Last man standing and the winner of the n00bcon invite: Andreas Lövgren! Here posing in his final challenge, the long-distance sitting thumb flip. Andreas picked off a lot of players by challenging to what he called the "Standard flip". As pretty much everyone have different standard flips, trying to adopt another player's personal flipping technique was perplexing to say the least.
Top8: KungMarkus's MonoRed Ornithopthers vs Audun's Titania's Song Control. Behind them, off camera, a brutal battle of Tribelander between Soldiers, Shapeshifters, Witches (Shamans) and Rats are taking place.
Finals! 2016 Rookie of the Year Andreas Cermak vs 2015 Rookie of the Year Thomas Nilsen. Strong players surprisingly on top of things, in particular considering that the clock is well past 3 am.
The gravity of the situation begins to take hold. The finalists, Honka, and yours truly are eventually the last clover standing. Savannah Lions doing a lot of work here.
The proud winner of the Horrible Horse Gathering: Andreas Cermak!
Cermak's Winning Deck. Personal Incarnation shows that it is no one-trick pony.
That's it for today. Next on my list is to update the Decks to Beat with a bunch of decks from recent gatherings, and after that it is back to the drawing board with the Fungusar deck. Thanks for an awesome gathering, I had a great time!

torsdag 2 november 2017

This month in oldschool: October 2017

Welcome back!
This was a day late. I hope it won't be a slippery slope.

The two big talks of the towns has been the Italian Fishliver Oil Cup and the US EC Eternal Weekend tournament. The fourth annual Eternal Weekend grew almost 50% since last time, and this year Jason Jaco and friends gathered a whopping 118 players, making it the largest old school Magic gathering to date. The Italian Fishliver Oil cup tournament hosted 86 players battling for the Fishliver Oil (casually making it the third largest tournament in the world yet), and also organized the first European tournament using Eternal Central rules the day before the main event. One thing shines through all the reports from the events, regardless of continent: we are having good times with good people. This is our format, and this is Magic as we want it to be.
La Familia.
There has already been a few sweet reports from Eternal Weekend published:
  • Icy Venom in the Steel City, an excellent tournament report by Dave Firth Bard, fighting his way through Pittsburgh with Psychic Venoms. (The Wizard's Tower)
  • Old School 93-94 at Eternal Weekend 2017, all deck lists (!) from the tournament, and a photo report by Jason Jaco. (Eternal Central)
  • White Weenie Weekend, Flippin' Orbs' host Grant shuffles up White Weenie and goes on a rampage with his Lords of the Pit. (Wak-Wak)
  • Spedternal Weekend 2017, the old master Bryan Manolakos shares his story of camaraderie and wizardry at Eternal Weekend. Yet another highly recommended read. (Eternal Central) 
As for the Fishliver Oil cup, there's an abundance of tech, deck lists and pictures on their new Facebook page. And if you want some moving coverage, check out the streams at Wak-Wak's twitch page (with live comments by Gordon Anderson).
But not everything is bombastic and record-breaking. Old school thrives in deeper soil as well. For a couple of more local tournaments, check out these gems:

Report from CopCon IV
The Brother's of Fire in the UK have quickly risen to my personal top3 favorite Magic teams. Their gatherings seem super sweet, their brews are abundant (in both liquid and cardboard form), and brother Jonas scribes beautifully of their exploits. The UK crew keeps attracting new faces, and this time 14 people showed up for brews and cardboard.

Starting up the Candle Factory
Gordon Anderson shares his experience with his latest Candelabra tech at Alphaspelen 3 in Stockholm. The impressive pile took him all the way to the finals in field of weathered Stockholm players.

Drawing cards in Arvika, part 2
Svante Landgraf, a nemesis of many good stories, shuffles up The Deck in Arvika to see if he can claim the title of Scandinavian Champion. It has after all been over a year since a control deck won a Swedish tournament. This is some really good tech for aspiring control players out there, and the emotions are real.

Other highlights:

Episode 8: Eureka! (Flippin' Orbs)
Gordon, Grant and Seb Celia welcomes a man of many names to their podcast. The Shaman, The Wielder of the People's Cannon, The Librarian, The Ben Perry. Ben talks about his Magic history, the MtgUnderground, and Eureka. A great episode, and the hosts' chemistry is really coming together. Please keep Seb as a permanent feature :)

Building a stronger prison  (VintageMagic)
Eternal Master Stephen Menendian concludes his 12-part dive into the Old School Magic formats. This time he puts the scalpel to prison strategies. Equal parts history, tech, and insights; Menendian's article series is strongly recommended for any player interested in starting a local scene or just getting a broad and deep lesson in old school strategies.

In Praise of Fork (Brothers of Fire)
Brother Jonas reflects on one of his favorite cards. An ode to to the original doubling spell, the card that makes Bjørn Einar Bjartnes unable to fork a Github repo without trying to tap two mountains, and the most chaotic of power cards.

The Power of Titania's Song (Wak-Wak)
Gordon delivers a solid bite-sized analysis of an oft forgotten gem; Titania's Song.

Oldschool in Quebec City (Oldschool Mtg)
Christian Arcand take us to Quebec City and share stories and events from his local scene. If anyone else would like to share stories or experiences from local communities (regardless of size), I'd be really happy to post them here.

Upcoming tournaments

This tournament poster from Liga Ilicitana Old School Mtg may be the coolest piece of old school art I've seen. Had someone showed me this in 1998 I would have lost it. Extra shout out to Martina Bier, an old school player in Bavaria I visited five years ago, who had prominent poster of The Warriors on the wall. Nice flashbacks.

BSK 93/94 2017 (Sweden) November 3
Once one of the flagship tournaments of 93/94 Magic, the glory that is BSK enters its eight year as a gathering for some of the old school old school players. Though we gathered over 50 mages last year, as the tournament's Giant Shark now have swimmed away to other battle grounds it is not unreasonable that this years arena will be significantly smaller. But a glorious battle it will be. This time the fight is for a copy of The Fallen and an invite to n00bcon.

Tournoi "All Hallow's Eve" MTG Old School 93/94 (Canada) November 4th
The Canadian players raise the stakes and gather ghouls for a fiendish Hallowen tournament in Québec City. Sleeve up your All Hallow's Eves and get ready to cast Bog Wraits.

The Horrible Horse Gathering (Norway) November 11
 The Horrible Horse Gathering is the adjacent 93/94 tournament during the Oslo Eternal Winter weekend, an icy gathering for slingers of old card board. There will be beer, eternal vikings and an abundance of four-legged beasts. One of Norway's n00bcon invites is up for grabs, as is an introduction to horseback riding at a local stable. It is hosted by your's truly, so feel free to contact me if you are interested in joining up.

French National Championship (France) November 18th
The first French national championship in Old School Mtg will be hosted at Waaagh Taverne in Paris Novmber 18th. Apart from honor and showing that you are of the same soil as Bertrand Lestree, an invite to the World Championship in Gothenburg is of course in the pot.

7th edition of the Old School Ilicitano Tournament  (Spain) November 19
The Elche players keeps charging and the 7th edition of Ilicitano is coming up. Don't have any power cards? Fear not, as the highly placed players without power won't have to leave empty handed here.

n00bcon Kval (Denmark) Novemer 25
The Danish oldschool communites gather to find their representatives for the n00bcon championship next year. The Danish players are some really sweet characters and I look forward to see what they come up with.

Team Championship (UK) November 25-26
The UK crew, in particular Christopher Cooper, will host the first 93/94 Team Championship. The format is unified oldschool. i.e. if you put all the team's decks on top of each other, the resulting pile should still be a legal (though large) deck when using the baseline B&R. The winning three-player team will get invited to the World Championship.

Gathering the Knights of Thorn #3 (Netherlands) December 3
Mari Stenhage gathers the Knights of Thorn once again, this time without a cap on the number of participants. The Dutch Old School Guild is one of the fastest growing in the world. Check out the tournament report from Knights of Thorn #2 here if you want some inspiration.

2 Magical Hacks Charity Old School 93/94 Tournament (South Carolina, USA)
Now, I may occasionally frown upon using proxies in 93/94, but if this tournament actually manages to make me excited about it. 2 Magical Hacks hosts their second charity tournament for Toys for Tots, and for every set of 15 proxy cards you play you'll have to donate $5 to give kids some toys. That is awesome. Also a bunch of Unstable drafting going on that day, so take the trip if you have the chance.

Lucia Legends (Sweden) December 16
In the words of Gordon Anderson of the Stockholm community: "We're going to have a tournament on the 16th of December and there will be a n00bcon invite to fight for in some way.  More info will come soon!"

There's also some word on the street about a new tournament coming up in Belgium. Try to find a man named Nicolas Stael if you're interested.

#OldSchoolMail of the Month

This was a pretty damn sweet month for mail. The postman treated Casa de Laval well on more than one occasion, but this one was the gravy:
That had been a month or so in the making. And yes, it is extravagant in most ways of measuring. I do already own a black bordered P9 after all. But I needed these. For, uhm, strategic shuffling purposes. Or work. Or something. Honestly I enjoy lending out powerful decks to people during tournaments, and had already landed a couple of the other restricted cards for that purpose. So this was somehow the natural next step. I guess I've graduated from 9/9 to 12/18. And it still feels awesome to get new power cards. I guess that we're doing it right as long as they still make us giddy (and as long as we don't have to cheat on the food by the end of the month). Do you know how many cards i can draw now? Like thirteen!

Another, slightly more unsettling, mail came from an acquaintance in Gothenburg. He graciously donated three duals he had had in his possession for quite some time, but had recently discovered were fake. As I've written about fakes on a few occasions (e.g. here), he thought I might be interested in studying them. I was of course, and they turned out to be the best fakes I've seen yet. They are the first fakes I've seen that I probably wouldn't notice if I was flipping by them in a binder. So let's take a deeper look at them!

This month's topic: A batch of counterfeits

First of all, don't knowingly play with fake cards. If you do, you actually suck. That's what I boiled down my arguments to after studying counterfeits and the industry around them for a little over half a decade. You make the game worse and you suck. Just grab a sharpie or something instead.
I literally created this masterpiece in 30 seconds just to how easy it is.
I made this one before a Vintage tournament a month ago or so. It was easier to just draw a lotus proxy than to keep moving my copy between my oldschool and Vintage deck (#FirstWorldProblems). Most Vintage tournaments in Oslo allow proxies anyway. Money spent was around zero.
Ok, so fakes then. Here are three Badlands. Both Revised ones are fake, from different batches.
This is the first time I feel that I really want a Revised Badlands to compare with, but I have since long traded them away for 93/94 legal ones. The Unlimited one has brighter colors than a Revised, but it will still be useful to compare with once we bring out the magnifying glass.
This picture turned out blurry, but the one in the middle is actually really good. Feels pretty OK and everything.  If I hold the one in the middle and the one to the left in my hand, I would easily spot the left one, but the center one would just give me doubt. When I hold them with a real Revised card though, things get easier. So step 1: If you are buying high end cards, bring some cards you know are real from the same set and compare the look, feel and touch of the cards. This is almost always enough.

Because these cards felt decent enough at first touch, I got curious and ripped them up, alongside a real Revised Swamp.
They all pass the rip test. But the rip test is usually inconclusive at best. Step 1.5: Don't rip up peoples cards just to check if they are real.
To make 100% sure that I didn't just rip up €150 or so, I checked the Badlands using my thread counter. It is better to do this before cards are ripped up. So step 2: Get a loupe/thread counter and learn the common print patterns.

Magic cards are printed using four colors; cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. These colors from a sort of rosetta pattern on the cards if we zoom in. But the pattern is somewhat fuzzy, and it can be difficult for an untrained eye to discern the differing patterns on a counterfeit if it was made with high enough resolution. So instead we can just check the black. As black is one of the main colors used in the printing process, any solid black on the card will be completely without pattern or fuzzy edges. A great place to check this is in the card text.
Badlands #1. Kinda acceptable rosetta pattern, but fuzzy text.
Badlands #2. This was the "good one". Slightly more prominent rosetta pattern, but still the text is fuzzy. An obvious fake on inspection.
Real Badlands. Yeah. This is obviously a different ball park. Note that the red and grey colors are brighter in part due to this one being from Unlimited. But the important thing is that the black is actually black, and that the text is clear.
A loupe can be found in most hardware stores for around €5-€10. I personally use this one these days, but really anything with a good enough magnification works.

If you are buying collections and want to check a lot of cards at once, I suggest getting a blacklight. A blacklight will help you to quickly find almost any fake card in a batch of real ones as the ink on real cards illuminate in a certain way and the fakes will stand out. Sometimes they don't illuminate at all, but mostly they just look dull. Here's another of the duals I received next to a real one on the right. The fake card on the left do illuminate, but looks much duller than the real one under black-light.
Step 3: If you are buying a lot of cards, get a blacklight.
Fun facts, Alternate 4th Edition don't illuminated under blacklight at all, and cards from the Quick Start supplement look orange. So if you think someone passed you a fake 4th Stone Rain after blacklight testing your collection, odds are that it is Alternate 4th instead. Here are two of my unlimited Disenchants and one from Alternate 4th. It is not hard to spot the difference.
These are bad cards to sleeve up at a rave.
That's it! We could go deeper if we were inclined, but this is really most of what it is to it. Light tests and weighing are mostly gravy if we learn how to use the loupe (e.g. re-backs can be spotted by checking the sides of the cards as well).

So should we be worried? Nope. First of all, it is stupid to counterfeit 93/94 cards. They are a quarter of a century old, and most people buying a €300 card in nice condition will check it. Also, the market for cards like Drop of Honey is much lower than for cards like Tarmogoyf. It isn't a sustainable business model to fake these cards. And playing with actual counterfeits (not the sharpie proxies) in most old school communities will make the player pariah, and wont win either money nor friends by doing it. So no. But what about when they start making perfect fakes you ask? I actually don't think that will ever happen. Because it is really hard to make a convincing Magic card, even if WotC would do everything they could to actually support a Chinese counterfeiter.
Take that Alternate 4th Disenchant. It fails many tests apart from the blacklight, and it has a story. Starting with 4th Edition, Wizards exclusive contract with Carta Mundi had ended, and they began experiencing with many different printing companies. They wanted to print cards in the US to cut down on shipping costs. The United States Playing Card Corporation, Shepard Poorman, Quebecor and Yaquinto have all tried their hand on printing Magic cards with the encouragement of WotC. And WotC lost millions trying to learn USPC to print cards to no avail. USPC had months of accesses to all the scans, expertise and materials needed. Like the paper i Magic cards. It is called Corona, only produced in three factories in the world, and hard to buy. That an unaffiliated actor somehow would manage what WotC themselves couldn't do is far fetched to say the least. So lets just chill out and bring a loupe to high end trades if we feel uneasy.

This month's deck

This month's deck is a glorious pile of Icy Manipulators and Psychic Venoms piloted by Dave Firth Bard at Eternal Weekend. Sweet tech Dave!
Ended up 4-4. Not shabby at all, in particular when we realize that Dave plays Psychic Venom as the main win condition.
Also the winning deck from the 86-player Fishliver Oil Cup. This is a thing of beauty and looks really fun to play. Congrats Andrea Giarola!
Sage of Lat-Nam and Guardian Beast. I'm sold.