Sunday, 20 January 2019

Q4 2018 Round-up - By Brother Jonas

Happy 2019 everyone! With all the talk of new beginnings, there's also time for some retrospective reflection.  I had a busy few months to close out last year, so for those of you who are interested, here's a largely pictorial canter through it.

October 27th - Fishliver Oil Cup

While our American cousins across the pond had Eternal Weekend and LobsterCon to look forward to, the marquee event in Europe is undoubtedly Fishliver Oil.  I made a late decision to go, joining a UK delegation of Brother Ben and Karl, and Brian.

Upon arrival at Genoa, we headed straight for the hotel which was the main base for the event.  The proprietors seemed to really understand that this was a 93/94 event, laying on decor and service standards straight out of the early 90s!

We weren't here for this piece of architecture - the real gem was the venue for the day one event, the Columbus Trophy, played with Eternal Central (i.e. American) card legalities.  And the biggest draw of all - it was played in the ancient lighthouse:

What a beauty!

Mustering before the event was one of the highlights of the trip as people mingled and I was reunited with friends from across the world of Old School, including Danny and James all the way over from the US, Svante, and many others.  The hosts laid on sumptuous ciabatta and local wine, and after a brief false start, we got stuck in.

Having already qualified for N00bcon, I had a relaxed brew planned for the day after (the main event) and intended to push hard in this one.  My choice was UR powered Goblins.  

The deck pic has been mislaid, but to cut a long story short, after an early win against Michel from Sweden (one of my favourite guys to play - always bringing amazing spirit and banter to our matches) I was absolutely buried by two very fast black decks playing multiple Hymn to Tourachs.  I was only packing two Psychic Purges in the sideboard (I should have had two main-deck and two in the board), and although I fired a few of them off, I was on the lower tables before too long.

Not a bad venue for a tournament!

This didn't bother me too much as the atmosphere down in 'the engine room' was high-spirited and a chance for some fun convivial games.  Picture, if you will, the guts of the Titanic packed with poorly-perfoming but happy Irish folk dancing, while above decks the real players had to fret about sideboarding.  Down at the lower end of the tournament I also enjoyed a fun game against Andrea, who was bravely running a Power Surge deck - but who hadn't counted on the near-omnipresence of Factories undoing the card's utility.

The UR Goblins brew definitely needs some work, in particular calculating the correct number of Psionic Blasts.

The last round of the tournament took place back at Hotel 93/94 and with that done I was able to push on to the real highlights which was getting to hang out with everyone.  In particular, I had the privilege of meeting Bjorn Johnnie for the first time and playing some drunken games which I remember mainly for both of us laughing the entire way through.  Good stuff.

The next day was the main event.  For the British delegation, we continued our tradition of our own national prize:

I wanted to play something fun that would give me plenty of variation through the day, so I opted to brush off a tuned version of my deck 'Parfaitog':

What's fun about it is the number of synergies you can exploit.  Copper Tablet remains an under-appreciated card especially when you can establish a life advantage and then hide behind a Winter Orb.  And making gigantic Atogs simply never loses its appeal for me, even though the real value he poses is more in his bark - the potential that he might go off - than his bite.  But, speaking of bite, check out this 17/18 monster I unleashed against Alise:

"It was big. Really, really, big. No, bigger than that. It was BIG!"

I had an unusual start to the tournament - despite playing fairly fast I drew my first match, and then went to the final five turns of the second.  I was undone here by my opponent doing a fairly dubious Chaos Orb at a crucial juncture and differing with my view on what constitutes one foot!  This, along with the unwelcome experience of being surrounded by people talking to my opponent in a foreign language, left me with a bit of the unwelcome feelbads.  This was only to worsen when my next opponent failed to show up (a feature that was to befall a number of other people throughout the day).  Without wanting to labour the point, I consider dropping from an Old School tournament bad enough, but just walking out without regard for others is not really acceptable.

The event today had a more serious feel - the Italians are known as tight players and I respect that every culture is different - and that everyone has the right to approach the game in the own way.  Nevertheless, the atmosphere down at the bottom end of the tables still felt quite competitive and was rather less fun than the day before.  Fortunately I had another matchup with Michel (in which he avenged yesterday's defeat) which added some positive vibes to the afternoon.

Before long, it was over and again there was time for fun games.  Brother Ben and I took on a transatlantic 4-player challenge with Charlie H and Danny, all for the prize of the first pick from Ben's minty Fallen Empires booster.  With the stakes so drastically reduced, my deck seemed to come into its own and I beat all-comers, taking the prize:

This competition only raises the stakes further - if that were possible - for this easter's upcoming Ryder Cup of Old School!  Danny and I will be returning as national captains.

I then took the time to add to my burgeoning collection of back-patch photos.  It's great to see this really taking root in many clubs across Europe:

After a brief spell in Gordon Andersson's commentary booth, we gathered to watch the final.  

It was a strong contest between two high-quality players, and with an unpowered winner, a fairly unexpected outcome.  The edge was taken off a little when it emerged that he had been playing two Shahrazads in his sideboard (hereafter, two copies being Italian Restricted?), but this was a minor quibble considering the champion beat all-comers without Ancestral and the like.  A worthy winner.

The day after we flew back shortly before a rainstorm stranded many in the airport.  My verdict on Fishliver?  A solid event hosted by organisers with a massive and heartwarming passion for Old School.  My experience was that it was on the more serious end of the spectrum in terms of playing style, but I would recommend anyone to give it a try if this is their preferred mode of Old School.

24th November - The Old School Team Cup, London

One month later, London played host to the Old School Team Cup, organised by Chris Cooper.  This was in 'team unified' format.  Swedish banned and restricted lists, UK card legality, and with the team-unified proviso that if all the decks and sideboards were put into one mega-deck, it would be legal - so only one Chaos Orb per team.

Chris went all-out in the preparation for this, with a fantastic venue, custom playmats, and a dizzying array of prizes:

My team 'Argothian Forest Preservation Society' consisted of Brothers Ben, Stebbo, and I.  We decided to make Ben the 'general' and give him the majority of the Restricted cards, with Stebbo and I playing around this with the intention of picking up the second win needed to win any round.

Before the games kicked off, our team had an initial moment of good luck as Brother Ben discovered this little bonus sellotaped to the underside of his chair:

With that excitement out of the way (and no, dear reader - he didn't open it), we got stuck in.  I was on red with a small green splash and didn't have a good day with the cardboard - a few unforced errors and some tidy opponents.  

Brother Oli's sumptuous n00bcon invite delivered today via Swedish illuminati

Pleasingly though, despite the huge draw of three n00bcon spots being up for grabs, the whole day was full of a relaxed vibe with the beers flowing constantly.

It took three rounds for me to establish my first match win, but Ben and Stebbo played well enough for us to be in with a distant shout of making the Top Four.  Unfortunately, we didn't quite succeed.

After some additional hi-jinks and many more beers, Team South Africa took home the win, and will be attending their first World Championships - a great result for the community.

Jesper Myfors's original recreation of Armageddon - not bad!

Guest of honour DFB, all the way from New England, is flanked by assorted team members

December - The Brothers Of Fire Christmas Party

This left one event to close out the year - Brother Markus's splendid annual now-tradition of throwing open his hospitality for a Christmas bash including the cracking of some product.

This year we went about as deep as we are likely to be able to go and assembled this mountain of vintage cardboard:

It was only appropriate to deal with this mountain with a Rochester Draft - opening all the packs in front of each other and taking it in turns to pick a card at a time.  To mark such a historic occasion, we even had Brother Scott on commentary duties.  Everyone had the opportunity to open a particularly valuable pack. 

So what happened?  My own Fourth-ed starter, which I opened prior to the draft, had the following three rares:

With these in-hand, I reckoned I had a pretty good chance of taking home the goods, because Millstone in Limited is, as Bryan Manolakos would say, "a house" - an incredible win-con in a world with everyone running 40 cards.  My ambition was to draft green and black and aim to sit there until I could Mill my opponents to death.  Sadly, the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry and too many of us were drafting green, leaving my deck a little puny.  I did manage some nice millings, but not enough to prevail.

When we moved onto the draft, what it really remind me was quite how terrible most of the cards in these sets are! We opened a pack of Antiquities that contained 8 howlers, and arguably Legends (we had Italian) was even worse.  There were, however, some great moments of drama - Brother Oli cracked a pack-fresh Revised Bayou, and then took second-choice on a Legends booster that contained both Karakas AND Mana Drain.  So at least one of us made their money back!

The day was packed with great fun and Jason ran out as champion.  When we had played our decks to death we broke out Brother Scott's sumptuous Old School Cube - a beautiful black-bordered monument to the format, and played long into the night.


Well - that was quite an ending to the year.  Not marked by the laurels of victory, but many happy memories.  It's been a privilege to be a part of the London scene and to see it grow over the year, and I'm hoping to meet more Old School legends, and enjoy more games, in 2019.

Monday, 10 December 2018

25 years of Unlimited - by Brother Scott

On a very special anniversary, Brother Scott recounts the history of a notable and misunderstood set...
10th December 2018

Is there any greater misnomer in the world of Magic: The Gathering than the “Unlimited” Edition?

With its severely limited print run of just 40 million cards, even if every single one had miraculously survived the 25 years from its release of 10th December 1993 to today there would only be enough for the world’s 20 million or so Magic players to own an average of 2 cards each. And for every player lucky enough to have a Black Lotus, 13 players would have a copy of False Orders.

To the eye of a non-Magic player, Unlimited must look more like a playtest version of the later, slicker 4th/5th/6th Editions – after all it has wildly varying font sizes, inconsistent rules text (Shatter “destroys”, Disenchant “discards”), spelling mistakes (Douglas Schuler), over-complex junk cards (ever played Camouflage?) etc etc

However, I have always loved the Unlimited set. Compared to the ubiquitous but washed out looking Revised Edition, the rich colours, chunky rules text and reassuringly solid thick white borders of Unlimited have always looked genuinely magical to me.

The first Unlimited cards I ever owned myself were bought from ebay in 2002-04, and I still have them all (pictured below):

Already not legal or outclassed in all formats by 2004, it wasn’t until I got into Old School in late 2015 that these cards changed from being collectors’ curiosities to main-deck contenders: not only have all 8 now been played (7 of them tournaments) but they are of course Swedish Legal, and one has even been played in Sweden itself (more of that later). The Black Knights pictured also have the honour of featuring in my deck for my first ever Old School game, against Brother Stebbo in London in February 2016.

Alas, not everyone shares my passion for the set. Too often Unlimited is regarded as a temporary measure until funds allow upgrade to Beta. Worse still, I’ve heard it described as just an expensive version of Revised: still white bordered, but twice the price. However, I believe that the Unlimited Edition is in fact fundamental to the existence of Old School as we know it. To explain why, let’s go back to the start:

Alpha and Beta

As many of you will know, the original 10 million cards that make up Alpha and Beta were envisaged to last for a year. In fact Alpha sold out within 19 days of Magic’s launch in August 1993, with Beta selling out essentially immediately on release in October 1993. It rapidly became clear to Wizards of the Coast that they needed more cards – and fast!

A more subtle point also emerged from this early stampede for cards: Richard Garfield was well aware before release that the Power 9 were insanely powerful, but he believed that either (A) they wouldn’t break the game, because any individual playgroup would only buy 1-5 starter decks each and so only own a couple of pieces of Power between them or (B) they would sell insane amounts of Magic: The Gathering, they’d all get rich, and they could think about a solution to the broken cards problem later. Essentially he was already in situation (B) 19 days after the game released.

Revised Edition

The solution WotC developed to the above problems was, of course, Revised Edition. A new version of Magic: The Gathering with a much larger print run, leaving out the cards that were too powerful (Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus) or too confusing (Blaze of Glory, Word of Command) and taking the opportunity to reword a few cards that too many players were playing incorrectly (Iron Star etc).

The trouble is, WotC were caught out by just how fast sales had been:

“Beta sold out faster than expected, and Revised wasn't done yet, so they had to do something about the card supply to maintain interest in the game. The set named Unlimited was reluctantly created to fill this need. They didn't want to print more P9 at all. The idea was to only print enough Unlimited to last until Revised could be finished.” – Tavis King, Facebook

Unlimited Edition
Thus the Unlimited Edition was born, essentially as a “stop-gap” solution to keep players happy (and the money rolling in) until Revised Edition could be finished.

WotC was mindful of collectors from the start, and was keen that this reprint set should have an obvious change to the card face to differentiate it from the Limited Editions. However, Carta Mundi were somewhat limited in what they could do cheaply to achieve this, and applying a different card border colour was the best available solution in the time available.

Of course the story from there we all know – by 1994 Revised edition was finished. Just four months after the first ever Black Lotus was printed, the last ever Black Lotus was printed.

The impact of Unlimited on Old School

“We also discussed Unlimited at length. On one hand, it was all reprints, but we decided to keep it anyway, as the manabase could become too expensive otherwise. At this point we obviously had no idea that there would be an international community a few years later.” – Magnus de Laval, Blog

If the manabase would have been expensive if Unlimited hadn’t been Swedish legal, just for a moment imagine the alternate universe in which Unlimited Edition was never even printed.

Limited Edition had only 4,300 of each Rare. Many of them were bought by people who played Magic a couple of times, didn’t like it, and threw them in the bin. Many more have been lost over the years. Many more will continue to be lost over time.

If Unlimited had never been printed – say if Revised edition had been ready earlier, or WotC decided just to wait a few more months before printing more cards – instead of 22,800 of each of the Power 9 printed there would only have been 4,300.

At such low levels, they might have been banned by the DCI much more quickly, perhaps as soon as Revised Edition was published. Black Lotus, rather than being regarded as the crown jewel of Magic, might have ended up just a historical curiosity; another Summer Magic blue Hurricane. A card printed “by mistake” early in the game’s history before WotC knew how Magic would work in practice. A card that someone’s friend once saw in a grading case at a GP.

Would Old School still have exploded into a worldwide phenomenon without iconic cards like the Power 9 and Chaos Orb to catch people’s attention? Maybe…but maybe not; Old School definitely owes the Unlimited set a debt of gratitude.

Unlimited 60 anyone?

But Unlimited is about far more than just the Power 9. Playing with Unlimited cards is, in a way, the purest form of Old School Magic. After all, EVERY Magic player chases after Alpha and Beta to pimp out their deck, whether that deck is Standard, Vintage, EDH or a Cube. It’s only those heading to the Swedish heartlands (either physically or spiritually) who would in 2018 excitedly trade away a Revised Scrubland for an Unlimited Shivan Dragon (a trade that I actually did the day before this year’s n00bcon.)

The reason for that trade is that I was about to attend the Huvudturnerning in Gothenburg the day after n00bcon, a traditionally more casual affair than n00bcon itself - and what more fitting way could there be to celebrate playing Old School in Sweden than with a fully-Swedish-legal, but also fully-white-bordered deck?

Not only was my newly-acquired Shivan Dragon one of the stars of the above Green/Red midrange deck but eagle-eyed readers may also spot in the sideboard one of my original Unlimited cards: a copy of Hurricane. The deck even went 3-3: a satisfying result for a G/R deck in which Strip Mine and even Kird Ape were forced to sit out.

And so to the next 25 years!

Now I’m not really suggesting starting Unlimited 60 as a format (although I’d love to see everyone else’s best Unlimited-only deck photos!)

However, the next time you are tempted to “upgrade” your Unlimited cards to Alpha or Beta, just pause for a moment and reflect – you already hold in your hands a piece of Magic history, from a set without which Old School may never have existed.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

"Wanderlust" Part 2 - by Brother Stebbo

Have Strip Mines, Will Travel… Wanderlust part 2, by Brother Stebbo

Editor: Last time out our foreign correspondent Brother Stebbo was competing in the frozen North of the British Isles. Today he’s a little further afield...

1, 2, 3, 4. Count ‘em. 4 Strip Mines. You know what this means. I’m heading way out West!

I was lucky enough to meet Shane from the Lords of the Pit at Noobcon earlier this year. I even did this to him during the Wizards’ Tournament…

All the fun of the Wizards Tournament Fair!
Shane quickly showed himself to be a great sport, and one impromptu craft beer tasting later we were best pals…

We’ve stayed in touch since so as you can doubtless imagine, I was thrilled at Shane’s enthusiasm when I mentioned that I was up for making an Old School pilgrimage to Chicago.

Indeed between Shane, Ray, Bob, Nathan, Jaco and the rest of the Lords on hand, I was really taken care of. We managed to find time for 2 Old School meet-ups, 1 pre-modern meet-up and another non-Magic meet “because it’s Sunday...”. My liver is still recovering.

This early interaction was typical of my time in Chicago:

Stebbo: Just landed and getting the metro downtown from the airport. Should be with you about 9pm after I drop my stuff.

Shane: Dude, we’ve been out since midday. Some of the Lords may not last much longer! Don’t go to your hotel. Come STRAIGHT to the bar…

Cue a night out till 2-3am (of course, with me dragging a huge suitcase around!)

A fantastic week where I was able to channel my inner Louis Theroux, as we drunk deep from the everflowing cup of subject matter that is ‘differences between US and UK culture’. Add to this with the continuing amusement I caused with my repeated, awkward struggles to tip ‘correctly’ (!) and you’ve got a great time on your hands.

Here are some pics to give you a feel:

Brother Stebbo was able to wriggle free of Shane’s Double Orb + Beast lock to find a Land’s Edge for 18! 

Arabians Showdown in Bucktown! 

Rules at a Lords meet-up were surprisingly strict…

Chicagoans play some interesting decks. Check out this spicy RG aggro brew

Rather than take up space showering the Lords with superlatives, I’ll instead try to briefly describe the scene for our final meet-up:

It’s in a fairly trendy, but narrow, bar in a neat part, or “neighbourhood”, of Chicago. As is not atypical for the bars I’d visited thus far, the one serves a mix of regular beers and Belgian-inspired craft beers. These are pretty punchy numbers, clocking around 8%. It’s the beer equivalent of someone posting an Old School deck pic, and you notice that they are playing with Beta Volanics… (“wait a minute, those aren’t CE!!”)

The Lords have taken over the main tables towards the back. Elsewhere baseball is on the TVs and there is a resounding murmur from the patrons on the other tables, most of whom are either youngish workers or students.

I’m greeted warmly, immediately “hooked up” up a beer and soon settle in for some games. I get to play a few rounds, before swapping playmats with Shane and dishing out some prizes from the Brothers of Fire.

The Lords in full flight
I have my pick of the prize cards, which include a tasty Millstone and a Hymn to Tourach (which is only usable in a game of Brothers’ Highlander™). Naturally I opt for my signature card: Spell Blast.
Prize cards!

Shane and Ray were awarded generous flagons of booze for their generosity in looking after me. Nathan took home the honorary Brothers of Fire award for truly embodying the spirit of Old School.

Why we fight

On top of being an top laugh and sport, Nathan attended every meet-up during my stay (which was like 4!) and was playing a sweet mono green brew dripping with flavour and Moss Monsters. Well deserved indeed!

I honestly had a blast in Chicago – it was everything I was expecting as a city to visit bustling with culture, pals and Old School. My thanks again to Shane and the crew. We look forward to hosting the Lords at a COPcon in the future!

[Editor: And then Brother Stebbo went home, without further incident?
Wrong!!! He shipped out to Boston…]

Wanderlust part 2.5: Adventures in New England

Dave, or DFB, needs no introduction.

However it would be remiss of me to not mention how we met!

Technically we sat together at the Wizards’ Tournament – but then he was just “a nutter playing unsleeved”. However later that weekend we became friends at Kalle’s ‘Main Tournament’. Dave holds the distinction of being the first person to cast Shahrazad against me. And later that game, also took the distinction of being the ‘first person to beat me with Shahrazad’! No wonder that card is now worth more than a Black Lotus…

However I did get to Psychic Venom his Library (I know right, who plays LoA in a fun tournament!?)

Simultaneous to my communications with Shane, I’d also arranged to meet the New England crew for some games. The NE folk meet regularly at a bar called Moogy’s in the suburbs of Boston, and this was the venue for our showdown.

To tell the truth, I was pretty nervous. Boston is an intimidating place for a Brit. We haven’t got the best historical win-loss record here… Indeed the NE Old School apparel makes references to this very thing! Almost like they’re taunting us! However I was remotely given some words of encouragement from my fellow Brothers.

I also had the key-line ready if the thorny issue of the rules differences between UK and US Old School communities came up: “Well, if you didn’t want to be playing with 4 Strips, maybe you shouldn’t have disrespected our tea!”
Moogy’s is famous for its tasty beers, sandwiches and 90s cardboard 

Insane sandwich. You don’t fight for freedom on an empty stomach…

I had arrived before DFB, however quickly found some of the NE crew and got down to some Alpha 40. Known as ‘your deck for the Wizards’ Tournament’ back in my day, Alpha 40 has really caught the imagination of the Old School community of late. NE is no exception and the momentum is palpable. Or, as we like to say in Alpha 40: “a Forest enchanted with Wild Growth gathers no moss…”
I played some great games against a BU deck, and then had some games with Kramer in the RG mirror. These turned out to be Kramer’s first paper games of Alpha 40. My deck was just able to get the better of his, in some games played in the best spirit. I was touched that he remarked later online that he’d enjoyed our games and was “instantly hooked” on the format. I look forward to our next clash!

From there, I dove into some games of Old School proper. First off, I was thrilled to meet Rich Shay, a whose Vintage content I have long-enjoyed. His appearance was a welcome surprise to me, as I was unaware he was a convert to the format (this is one of the advantages of not following anyone’s Twitter, it seems).

I was playing a riff on the recent Tax/Tower decks that have been popular in Old School. Appropriately, I had a partial aggro transformational sideboard into Atogs.
Brother Stebbo’s RW Federal Control

Rich explained (apologetically) that he was testing for Lobstercon, and was running the Deck. I’d be a hypocrite to in any way criticise such a move, and we enjoyed some close games. However my Shatters and REBs abandoned me when I needed them most…
The highlight was that I did get to surprise him by casting an Atog in our first sideboard game. For my part, it was definitely one of those Eureka moments capturing elements of the Spirit of Old School, here newfound mutual respect and sheer cardboard joy. Although it didn’t last long, as this Atog was soon packing his bags for the arable fields of northern Massachusetts.
Casting an Atog against the Atog Lord. Presumably my Atog receives the standard +1/+1 benefit?

I had two games of Old School left in my trip, and fittingly they were played against both winners of the honorary Brothers of Fire cards, part of a special double-blessing from the elder Brothers ahead of this event.

The first was against Derek, a NE community stalwart, who played a deep mono black brew. Or let me put it another way: it as drenched in flavour as a Moogy’s melted sandwich.

Sadly for Derek, Tax/Tower is a bit of a bĂȘte noire for his deck, however his refusal to concede in the most treacherous of board states was a credit to his tenacity and determination to discover my wincon!

The funniest part was that after our games, I suddenly had a slightly awkward feeling. With one Brothers of Fire reserved for my final opponent, I’d resolved to give the other to the player of the night who best encapsulated the Spirit of Old School. I’d been tipped off that there was such a player in the NE community, and naturally I was ready to follow the recommendation of my gracious hosts. But my games with Derek had been such a blast that I felt he was deserving as well!

So I had a quiet word to DFB, and we quickly established that Derek and this unnamed “NE community stalwart” were indeed one-and-the-same person! Phew!

Fittingly, my final games were against DFB, which to my surprise I was able to edge out with a big Land’s Edge and some beats from Uthden Troll. Although sadly DFB and I were too caught up in discussions on the finer points of the Old School format, so neglected to document our games.

It was then time for pics and prize cards and saying goodbye to my newfound friends. I was touched by the prize card I was awarded – a Lobstercon test-print!!
Oi Oi Oi, me gotta prize card

My thanks to DFB and the NE crew for being such generous hosts.

See you at the World Team Cup in London, or at Lobstercon 2019!