In the period which historians sometimes refer to as the “Dark Ages” roughly between the eighth and tenth centuries, people from Scandinavia used to set sail in longships to raid and pillage areas such as Northern France and Southern England. This practice was known as going a Viking, and the people who did it were known as Vikings.
Some one thousand years after the later Viking invasions, I had the pleasure of experiencing for myself a little of what it must have been like to be a Viking. Every weekend, I, along with comrades such as Ollie Schneider, John Ormerod, Chris Manners and Tony Dobson, would get into Ollie’s car (the modern version of a longship) and drive to some village hall or other venue in search of plunder in the form of booster packs and rating points.
We never made it as far as Northern France, and the evidence would suggest that we wouldn’t have done very well had we done so, but Southern England was another matter. London, Welwyn Garden City, Swindon, Maidenhead were amongst our favorite locations, but over several years, for us as for the Vikings, the preferred destination was Kent.
Each weekend the local organizers would put on a Standard tournament in a different part of Kent, and most weekends we would turn up, defeat the locals and make off with the boosters and ranking points.
I launched the initial exploratory raid on my own, turning up to Herne Bay and winning the tournament with a White/Green Maro/Armageddon deck after casting Honorable Passage on my opponent’s Fireblast in the final (part of the problem of writing this daily column is that these sorts of shameful details about my past leak out). Over the next three or so years, we would take all sorts of decks – Academy, Red decks, Blue decks, even a Spirit Mirror deck and dispatch a succession of White Weenie decks, bad Red and Green decks and the like. On particularly good days, we were able to prize split in the semi-finals (having managed to all finish in the Top 4) and go home early.
Of all the decks we took to Kent, the one which was most dominant, but which has got lost in the mists of time, was a home designed deck called “The Trap”. The Trap was so good that it made it into the Magic Dojo “Decks to Beat”, and was the first control/combo deck which I ever played with any success. Here it is:
4 Pendrell Mists
4 Enlightened Tutor
3 Gerrard’s Wisdom
3 Aura of Silence
2 Marble Diamond
2 Sky Diamond
3 Mox Diamond
4 Wall of Blossoms
4 Natures Revolt
1 Undiscovered Paradise
1 City of Brass
4 Gemstone Mine
2 Vec Townships
2 Skyshround Forests
2 Gaea’s Blessing
1 Mangara’s Blessing
1 Aura of Silence
The “combo” is Pendrell Mists + Nature’s Revolt + a source of artifact mana. This destroys all creatures and all lands, prevents the opponent from using any more lands for mana, and lets you pay the upkeep for a land which doubles as a 2/2 creature. If you can’t win from that position…
The other cards in the deck support this general theme. Propaganda + Pendrell Mists (or Armageddon) makes dying to creatures very difficult, the Diamonds let you accelerate into your combo and make Armageddon more devastating, and the Gerrard’s Wisdoms and Wall of Blossoms keep you alive against burn or creature decks.
The best thing about the Trap is it had Protection from Kent. It has obvious weaknesses against Blue-based control decks, but none of the players in Kent played them, and even if they did, such players would have a terrible time against the creature rush and burn decks that everyone else had. We just never lost while playing the Trap in the Kentish tournaments.
With hindsight, it is this sort of feeling which makes people love control decks and the color Blue. When you practice more than most of your opponents and have a generally higher skill level then you can still lose (occasionally) if you have, say, a Black deck and you meet Mr anti-Black deck. But when you play a deck which is set up to be good against the most popular strategies, where the chances of facing a bad matchup are minimal, it can be addictive. The downside of this is that when you go to play against people with a higher skill level where they are prepared for your deck and are able to outplay you, as the English players found for some years whenever they went to the Pro Tour.
It is worth noting in passing that the Kentish players were invariably sportsmanlike and pleasant opponents. Some took this to extremes, such as the opponent who I played one time who sat down, introduced himself and then announced that he was going to lose. The organization was also excellent, especially as giving up time at a weekend to put on an event for an arrogant group of players from London to turn up and take most of the prizes does not sound the most enticing. There was, admittedly, a period where they tried to hide the location of the tournaments from us, advertising it only to locals, but I suppose that was fair enough.
Later on, I moved to Oxford to go to university, Chris got a job doing something connected with helping run the international capitalist system and Tony rarely woke up in time to turn up to tournaments, so the raiding parties were reduced to John and Ollie. Without any moderating influences, they turned almost exclusively to Blue decks. This led to a period where each week the men of Kent would turn up with different decks designed to beat these Blue decks which, sadly, failed totally to do so.
There is, however, a happy ending to this tale. A few weeks ago, I traveled down from Oxford to a PTQ in Essex, and met up with John and Ollie. The major contingent of people present were from Kent, some nineteen players. When the dust cleared, Ollie and I missed Top 8, John was defeated in the semi-finals, and the final was between two Kentish players, who took the prizes and PTQ slot back with them to Kent.
Addendum et erratum:
On Monday I wrote about coverage of major Magic events, and mentioned some of the main people who do the event coverage. I omitted to mention one of the top people who does this coverage is, er, my editor and all around ace reporter Ted Knutson (another triumph for the unprecedented levels of research for which my articles are so rightly famed).
I have to say, though, that personally, I thought sending round those security people to my flat yesterday morning at 6am was a bit over the t-, ow, was a perfectly measured reaction and one which set an admirable example to any other Star City writers who don’t check their facts. Is that o.k.? Can you let me go now? Please?