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Across the Narrow Sea – Getting in touch with Madrid

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What’s this shit?

Well.. we finally have a bitch-load of content creators and podcasts and it’s awesome. But being from Europe, this is my attempt at balancing the content-bias that weighs pretty heavily towards the other side of the not-so-narrow sea.

This is the beginning of a series to introduce to you Metas, Decks & Thoughts from the legends of First Edition. What do the old Champions of Europe think of the current meta? What is the hottest deck in Barcelona? What can the French teach us about Melee? I think we have stuff to talk about for a long time to come and maybe we can humanize the deadly champions and see who they are and what happens behind the scenes.

Who is this guy anyway?

Hello! My name is Andreas “Buzz” Aldrin from Stockholm, Sweden. I’m mostly known for being a bit brash online, some okay Joust placements, and sweet-talking the Melee tables.

I’m also Andreas Rybeck’s biggest fan-boy and organize many of the tournaments in Sweden

Lets start with a quick scratch on the surface of the notorious Madrid meta, home to several 1.0 Champions. Alvaro have always been who I look up ever since I started playing the game and who inspired me to Try, Win and Fall in Love with Lannister.

Interview with Martin Henmark – Getting in touch with Madrid

*Some paraphrasing have been done to make this readable.*

Hello! For those who don’t know… Who are you?

My name is Martin Henmark I am from Madrid, Spain. Most know me as Alquimista and as the brother of Alvaro’s girlfriend Ingrid. I’ve been an active member in the Madrid Meta for a long, long, long time. I’ve been playing for something like ten or eleven years, haha.

Something most don’t know is that you’re half-Swedish, right?

Haha, yes. My sister and I have a Swedish father.

Was Game of Thrones the first cardgame you played?

No. I’ve played a little bit of other card games, like Pokemon TCG but it’s mechanics really didn’t catch my attention. Game of Thrones is the first one I’ve put any real time into and played seriously. I was reading the second book when I started playing and it got me really excited for more. Luckily there weren’t many spoilers of the books in the early chapter packs, haha.

I think I started about when the third chapter of the first cycle came out in First Edition, back when the LCG was brand new. I was playing World of Warcraft with Alvaro and he convinced me to check out this cool new game. I already loved the novels, so why not? So he took me to the game store where he used to play and I thought: “Hell yeah, I love this game. I want to get into it”.

So after having played at Stahleck the year before and following the discussions in Sweden and on agotcards & cardgamedb, I got this notion that all Spanish players are like Alvaro. Hyper-efficent, unbeatable, super-competitive beasts, I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to do good in a Spanish tournament. But when I got the chance to attend Batalla por El Muro last year I was so surprised about the immeasurable love the players had for the game. Talk to me about that!

We have a very diverse player base in the Spanish meta. I think it’s obvious that many of us play not only for fun but also for the competitive experience to try and prove & challenge yourself. But one thing I think is so great about our meta in Spain is that not all play to compete but some play just for the sake of fun. Because you know playing the game of thrones card game is about so much more, then just competing and winning.

Most of us are first and foremost fans of the books or series and play to experience this amazing world in new ways, over and over again. Some don’t even play that much but come sometimes just because they like the community we have built here in Madrid.

There are metas that will always try to find the best decks, but that is not how we do in Spain. In fact, I think, for example the deck that Miguel Tarin aka Tarkin won the European Championship with. He made it because he thought it was fun, not because it was the best or most efficient deck. Even after the archetype took a big hit with the FAQ he wanted to play it. Some people just play the decks they have most fun with and become very good with them even though a different deck is actually better on paper.

The Spanish are notorious for being extremely House Loyal, what do you think have spawned this behavior?

Well actually, this is linked to the previous question. Even the most competitive players in Spain play because they have fun with the game. Also, when reading the books or watching the series we all find some character that we love or you identify with, it is natural that you play mostly with that house.

Take Alvaro for example, for him it has always been about Lannister. Not because they have always been one of the more competitive but because he loves how the work from behind the scenes, in the shadows.. and of course he loves Tyrion Lannister. There are other people who are very similar, like Manuel who plays Stark all the time. He loves all the houses loyal to Stark and the history. Then we also have Kabe who loves the Queen of Dragons.

So you mentioned some of your players. Of course, we know about Alvaro who has won the World Championship and is considered by many to be the best player in the world.

Yeah, he’s a very, very great player and I have to say that you don’t appreciate how deep Game of Thrones can be until you have played with Alvaro.

But in truth, when it comes to Madrid he is just one of many excellent players. What other names should we look out for in the tournament results?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer without bragging. We have the luck of having a very good roster of players here in Madrid and I’m proud to be a part of it. Besides Alvaro we have, for example, Manuel who is our legendary Stark loyalist. We also have Miguel Tarin a Stahleck Champion who loves combo decks, he is probably one the best deck builders I have ever met and you often see his decks being played by others in tournaments. But we also have others who are often in the top like the “Caceres Crew” and Jeff.

The Madrid meta is one of the older ones in Europe and has produced top results year after year at both Stahleck and Worlds. When I sit down at Stahleck, it is quite obvious to me when you play a Spanish player. You are known for doing very few mistakes and playing with a lot of confidence. How do you keep such a high level and consistency in your play over such a long time?

I think it’s probably down to playing a lot. By having weekly tournaments, which you don’t see in many other metas, you learn a lot. Especially since you consistently play against great players and you learn subtle mindgames like baiting and faking mistakes, which you can only learn by experience. It is also due to the fact that we exchange ideas on the decks, to see how we can improve them. On the forums we usually answer and give advice to the decks that get posted. It is a pretty deep collaboration within the Madrid meta and it’s a really great way to improve yourself.

(J. Hultman) The Madrid meta seems to be in a very healthy state with big numbers and weekly tournaments. What is your secret to keep growing your community after all these years?

Well, I think one of the root causes for the growth in Madrid is mainly because of a very friendly enviroment. When a new player comes to play the game we try to help him improve and give advice for his decks. We have a tendency to build very original decks and encourage the new players to do the same, then we can improve it which is a lot of fun.

Oh, I know about the originality of the Madrilenians. Trust me.. I have played against Satanis.

So you have mentioned some of the really great players. But who are the players that we don’t hear so much about? Who would you attribute a lot of the community-building and heart of the Madrid Meta to?

Hmm, well… I don’t want to give myself flowers. I would say I’m not a top player, I consider myself one of those who come and have fun each week. But let’s see… I would probably say people like myself, Kabé and my sister Ingrid. Or even people who are not that known like Sato who was the European champion back in 2009 and who have now come back for 2.0. These are the people who have helpt grow the community and help to make the environment more friendly, regardless if they get good results in the tournaments or not.

(Kenno) Some metas prepare for big tournaments such as Worlds or Stahleck by building decks together and testing the shit out of them. What is the Madrilenian process like, if any?

Well, you will probably be surprised with the answer to this question, but we don’t have a special process for big tournaments. We just play and go with the decks we most enjoy. We usually don’t do the kind of stuff that for example the DC Meta are known for where you find one or two decks and then all go with the same optimized decks to the tournament.

Even within the Meta we usually keep our decks, not always secret but a bit personal, because we usually try to respect the integrity of the deck builder.

When we discuss decks for like Stahleck, usually we discuss an archetype as a whole and see what cards would maybe fit. For example, we would discuss which version of Daenerys fits best in a Dragon(1.0) deck, but usually don’t discuss specific decks.

(Kenno) I’ll drop some names here… You, Me, Jakob Hultman, Ryan Jones, LaPlante, Donovan. Talk to me about the correlation of a healthy beard and skillful play.

Oh.. I saw this coming, haha. Well, actually I think beards as a general rule are awesome and the bigger the beard the better. Maybe it can influence the game if your opponent is too distracted admiring your beard, but I’m not sure I can correlate that with how well you play in tournaments. All though I think Jakob maybe have a special secret for his beard, who knows?

(Americans) So some of the Americans are wondering how the up-and-coming Swedish Meta have overtaken Spain when talking about #TheBestMetaInTheWorld. Why is this do you think? And how does this correlate with you being half-Swedish?

Hahaha, well. I think a lot of people actually look too much on who is the best player, what is the best deck, what is the best meta etc. You know we have grown both as a Meta and as people by not caring so much about how we look to others. Actually, I think it’s very healthy that other metas like Sweden are growing strong because it means that the European Championships get more interesting each year and we get a really big and connected community. About how Sweden have been growing so fast, I think that all Metas there have stages of evolution and it’s the players that can both create this evolution but also stand in the way of it. A great thing about the Swedish Meta is that they have not stopped at “Okay, we’re doing pretty good” but instead think: “Okay we’re doing pretty good, let’s see how we can improve even more!”.

I think this is the kind of thought process that have enabled them to evolve into who they are now, which is a really cool group of people playing the game.

*Blush*

Okay, last but not least! You guys are the host of one of the biggest tournaments in the World. It will be the first major tournament this year and it is so popular that you have room for “only” 128 entries, which sold out in just a few days. Speaking from experience, it will surely be a blast.. What do you have in store for this year?

I don’t have much to spoil at the moment sadly. But we’re really proud of this tournament and it’s so amazing that it sold out so quickly. Besides being one of the greatest tournaments I have ever attended, I have the privilege of seeing how much work Alvaro and Ingrid put into this tournament first hand and it is amazing. One of the main reasons to come here is also, of course, to see Kabé in his natural habitat. Jokes aside.. coming here is how you can be a part of a very old and friendly meta, if only for a weekend.

Thanks so much for your time! We’ll have to talk again soon.

Thanks for having me, see you! 🙂


For those who speak Spanish and are interesting to get in touch with the Spanish players there are two sites to check out:

http://www.guardiadelanoche.com/

http://www.juegodetronos.com/masalladelmuro/

We will hear back from our friends in Madrid after Batalla por El Muro, stay tuned!

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