Tournament Report – Arvika Festival, February 2023, by Brother Jonas

If Old School had “heritage majors”, then Arvika would be one. A small-town event played for many years largely off-grid in a historic centre of Old School.

Having played a few times before in Gothenburg, I had developed a mental picture of the event.

At the centre of this image is the OG Swedish player, the oldest of Old School tribes. They are the spiritual foundation of the format, combining a commitment to pimped-up cardboard with playing the game tightly, while generously lubricated with beers. Most of all, they shun the limelight and appear only when they choose. 

In my mind, Arvika – itself a relatively obscure and remote town – would be the Mecca of these noble backwoodsmen. I was seeking the Cathedral of Serra of Old School. I had also heard that the town itself was a run-down backwater, which somehow added to the gonzo appeal of a crazy pilgrimage. 

This year, the return of a Giant Shark as a first prize whipped up a high degree of general interest in the broader community. With a critical mass of friends attending, a trip felt like a no-brainer and Brother Stebbo and myself made plans to join in. 

An early flight on Friday from London to Oslo passed without incident. Upon arrival, the first of many happy accidents occurred when we bumped into Mg at the railway station and joined him on the train. As we sped through the beautiful snow-covered plains, crossing the border from Norway to Sweden, we drank beers and played sealed deck ante cards, provided courtesy of our friend the Reindeer. 

This beer may have been depleted by some traditional Brothers Of Fire spillages

Sadly, all I won was an Island, but I had the chance to enjoy closed card-pool trading by exchanging three basics for a Llanowar Elf. 

We alighted in Arvika two hours later and made our way to the hotel. I was expecting grim lodgings in a grim locale, but the town had been unfairly undersold by the Swedes and was actually reminiscent of a Scandi Smallville, populated by happy-and-healthy-looking folk, ambling amiably through charming boulevards. 

Our hotel was also comfortable and offered excellent food and liquid sustenance throughout the weekend. Good venues make for good events. 

What ensued was perhaps the highlight of the weekend, drinking beers and catching up with Old School players from across the world, as well as meeting new faces. My name, Jonas, may be pronounced with a very un-Swedish hard ‘J’, but it was impossible not to feel that I was somehow being drawn closer to the arcane heart of ancient cardboard tradition. 

After a few beers and some traditional ten-pin bowling (the UK delegation taking a creditable bronze medal), I retired for a much-needed rest.

The next day Stebbo and I exacted reparations for the ancient Viking pillage of the British Isles by enjoying a hearty breakfast from the buffet. It was then time for the main event. As if anything else could bring us closer to the spirit of The Gathering, we were joined by Alpha artist Drew Tucker, the embodiment of the unbridled visual creativity and boldness of the original cards.

I had prepared a deck drawing almost card-for-card from the classic “DFB Green” list, which suited me well given my lack of Swedish-legal blue multi-lands. With a Legends booster on the line for the best unpowered player, I opted to make the relatively painless cut of two Moxes and a Library to push for the potential boon of cracking a pack-fresh Wood Elemental.

Team Captain: Ifh-Bifh Efreet

With limited time to test ahead of the tournament, I had been able to carve out an evening in London with the Brothers to put the deck through its paces. I went unbeaten in games all night long, the serried ranks of elves amassing effortlessly, the main-deck CIty In A Bottles blowing away my opponents’ defences, while Ice Storms stymied their puny resistance and Moxes Crumbled to dust all around.

I joked at the time that my luck had been used up in testing and so, dear Reader, it proved, as I slid to a catastrophic 0-4 record at Arvika. I consoled myself with three things. First, many of my friends were putting up strong unbeaten runs to occupy the top tables. Second, I still had the potential to take home four Homelands boosters for the ‘wooden spoon’ prize. And thirdly – I was having too much fun to mind.

My fourth match, a hugely entertaining 2-1 loss to Michael Ahlberg on PowerBall, marked an inflection point. With a game win finally under my belt, my luck turned. My record rallied from 0-4 to 2-4. This left my final match, a mirror against a similar mono-green build, deployed by local Rick, playing in his first Old School event.

This was a close one with Rick’s Gaea’s Touches providing some strong acceleration, but by edging it 2-1 with a Pendelhaven’d Scryb Sprite, I restored some finesse to my tournament record, closing at 3-4. 

The socials continued long into the night, with the tournament somewhat extended by some technical issues. I watched a bit of the Top 8 to see real players playing real decks. Danny’s game on Twiddlevault against Svante was an epic of recursion and frankly egregious card draw.

Brother Wheel brought glory on our club with an impressive run to the final of the event, only to be defeated by Format End Boss and all-round Magic hero, Olle Rade. Getting a Shark is hard – I think this was the strongest field of players I’ve ever seen assembled in Europe.

A few hours of snatched sleep later, we hopped into a car for a lift back to Oslo, lucky enough to be accompanying Drew Tucker himself, who was as affable as one could possibly hope and good-naturedly answered a few fanboy questions about Magic art over the decades. Again, the snow-covered scenery was incredibly beautiful and made me resolve to return to this part of the world in a non-gaming capacity. 

Stebbo and I parted ways in Oslo. With a few hours to spend before my flight home, I took in some of Oslo’s sights – a museum of the WW2 Resistance (for such are my interests), and the impressive Edvard Munch complex. I have seen Munich’s work exhibited before in London and knew he was prolific, but the true extent of his works had been unknown to me. A visit is recommended to both.

A fabulous weekend, all made possible by dozens of people. Opponents who made every game a pleasure. Organisers who worked hard to make a welcoming event, and who responded admirably to the technical hiccups. Stebbo, not only a great travel buddy, but also a generous lender of key cardboard. And the other international visitors who generously distributed swag and trans-national bonhomie. Proudest of all, I took away an honorary Lords Of The Pit back-patch… Worth more to me than any Tabernacle.

Airport beer, a mere £12.81!

I intend to continue with mono-green. As Aland put it, playing this deck is a bit like playing mono-red – you have to earn your wins with very tight play as there are no power cards to give you blowout starts or dramatic comebacks. DFB’s list has two- and three-ofs, which to me always suggests serious tuning has taken place.

Maze of Ith feels like the strongest card in the deck. A well-timed Maze can turn a game, more commonly in aggressive mode, allowing you to send forth weenies into unfavourable combat, only to pull the blocked ones out again. These situations then make Giant Growth even more lethal and create real pressure on-board. I would almost be tempted to put another GG in the board purely as a quick three damage against combo decks.

Hurricane also did steady work, not only as a finisher but also for dealing with Spectres and Dibs. The elves give it surprisingly early reach for the latter.

I came to realise quickly that a powered player would have to play their draw-sevens early against me, if they were going to play them at all. So instead of protecting Pendelhaven from a Strip Mine, or holding back an Elves of Deep Shadow to present a Llanowar Elf for bolting, I tended to play the best cards early. 

Sideboarding started hard, but got easier as I got more used to the deck – and admittedly played opponents on more fringe strategies. The threat of Moat and The Abyss was always on my mind, although I only saw one Moat all day. 

With these and other insights, I hope to improve on this performance at a future event. If it’s a third as good, it will be worth the trip. Be sure to reach out if you fancy joining up with us for a future outing. 

Brother Jonas


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