Sunday, 24 December 2017

“In Praise Of” Part 3: Land Tax, by Brother Ben (plus December roundup)

This has been a great month for Old School in London. 

Chris Cooper attracted some criticism in advance of his Team Cup event for charging a hefty entry fee and involving a judge. I confess to have had my reservations, but I was wrong - it transpired the 'judge' was more of a jovial compere, ably keeping the pace up and tracking scores so Chris could participate with his innovative mono brown deck. The entry fee included a three-course meal which was a highlight; eating together was a bonding experience enabling us to get to know the other players from around the world. The traders at Magic Madhouse had a great selection of old cardboard goodies ready for us, and kindly converted my unused legacy staples and junk rares into a beta pearl. A first class event, well done Chris.

Markus hosted the London Christmas gathering and sourced old product for us to draft. A great crowd of relaxed players any of whom I'd be glad to play cards with all day long - not something that can be said of some of the attendees at standard GPs. Indeed, escaping obnoxious punks is a big draw for Old School. Which is why I am troubled by the recent chatter from spikes who are vocal on social media about banning cards that aggrieve them and trying to rewrite the format before they have played it for long enough to appreciate the subtleties. There is a joy to getting a basic deck and gradually improving or pimping it over time, inching towards a Swedish legal version. 

Optimised decks aren't necessarily the most fun to play. At the Brothers Of Fire COPcon events our most coveted prize is awarded for the most interesting deck. I fell in love with N00bcon piloting a deck including Dakkon Blackblade, Lady Evangelina, Knights Of Thorn, and Angry Mob. 

It also included Land Tax, which, like Blood Moon, is a great card for anyone who doesn't have playsets of dual lands. So in keeping with the series of articles at Brothers of Fire, I will blast the trumpet for Land Tax!

I love drawing three cards from Ancestral Recall, and Land Tax can give that happy feeling every turn. It means those have to be basic lands, but this enables easy splashing for non-white cards - including one of my all-time favourites: Braingeyser.  

The card also enables hand and library manipulation.  Your spare basics can be converted to business cards with Jalum Tome.  And searching your deck with land tax is one of the few ways to shuffle away the unwanted top two cards after using Sylvan Library.

Of course, Land Tax is also your best friend against evil decks - I'm thinking here of two in particular.  Firstly, those that try to destroy your mana base, largely negating classics such as Ice Storm, Stone Rain, and Sink Hole.  Secondly, a fistful of basics weakens the power of Hypnotic Specters and nullifies Disrupting Sceptre.

On top of these generic benefits, Land Tax interacts beautifully with a load of my favourite cards in the format. A glut of land can be used to good effect with Land's Edge, Dakkon Blackblade, Ivory Tower, Library of Alexandria, and Armageddon.

Land tax thins your deck so you are more likely to draw non-land cards in the late game, and even allows you to play Blood Moon without drawback.

Truly a card to love!

Happy Christmas one and all.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Event Report: London Old School 2017 Christmas Draft, by Brother Jonas

It's been a fantastic year for Old School in London.  Only a couple of years ago there was just a handful of players.  This year we've seen our biggest events, and COPcon has almost quadrupled in size.

As Brits, we don't need much excuse for a party, but clearly something was needed to mark such a great year.  But what format should it take?  After some discussion in the community we decided that nothing could be better than cracking some product together.

Then came the question of practicalities.  As much as we all admire the purism of the Swedish card set (and have a good number of players who only stick to 93/94 cardboard), we couldn't really stretch to a box of Antiquities.  At least, not until one of us has a big lottery win.

But here in the UK we also allow old-frame original-art re-prints.  This meant we could feasibly chip in for some sealed Fourth Edition starters and a box of Chronicles - helpfully sourced by Jason.  The plan was agreed to open a starter each, and then draft three boosters.

As the day drew nearer, Markus charitably offered up his sumptuous North London pad as a venue.  We were all set for a classic...

Before the event I had been quite blasé about opening new product (particularly given that none of it would be black-bordered), but when I actually held it in my hands there was an unmistakable moment of Proustian reverie.  Fourth Edition and Chronicles (along with Fallen Empires) were the current sets when I got into the game and for a moment I was back in the halcyon days of 1995.

For one of us, however, the moment was slightly lost - this was their first ever opening of any Magic product!  Now that is real Ivory Tower purism!

We had twelve attendees: your gentle author, Markus, Ben, Stebbo, Jason, Oli, Scott, Bev, Graeme, Karl, Bryan, and newcomer Patrick.

Your author experiences the head-distorting curse of being the guy with the long arm

We opened our starters individually.  Talk immediately turned to who was going to open the junkiest rares and Scott quickly stepped up to take first prize:

Two laces and an Island Sanctuary!

I, meanwhile, was pretty chuffed with my own selection, with two highly-playable artifacts leaving me some nice flexibility in the draft:

We took a break to fortify ourselves with Markus's special brew of Glőgg.  This appeared to be a heavily-mulled wine supplemented with vodka, but I am pretty sure there was some supplemental Scandi magic in the concoction.  Washed down with a few fine ales, it nevertheless left us all feeling thoroughly refreshed.

Now it was time for the booster draft: opening Chronicles in two circles of six players.  I remembered from my youth that Chronicles was a set to get excited about - a chance to get my hands on all the Arabians that had passed me by (although of course back then they were super-affordable by today's standards).  It was therefore something of a shock to realise quite how many terrible cards were in the set.  By the time a booster had passed through two or three players it was frequently denuded of anything attractive:

Weirdly though, this actually felt like it made the draft more fun.  Particularly as we had agreed that there was no upper limit on the instances of any one card.  Also I was able to absolutely cash in on Bog Rats!

We then moved into deck-building.

With two white superstar cards in my starter (Serra Angel, Divine Transformation), I was pretty sure I would pick this colour as my base.  As a result I picked up a lot of Repentant Blacksmiths (with their sumptuous Drew Tucker art) and four War Elephants.

I was tracking green and black in the draft but ended up tacking to black to support my Howl From Beyond, Terror, and Drudge Skeletons.  X-damage, regeneration, and removal are just too good to ignore.  Nevertheless it was noticeable that my final 40 was hugely weighted towards 4th Ed cards.  It's understandable, though evident, that Chronicles just wasn't built for drafting!

Yours truly, Angry Mob

What followed was some of the most enjoyable Magic I have played this year as we all grappled with unfamiliar cards - many of them ostensibly terrible but coming into their own in strange ways - and many of us relearned the (surprisingly powerful) mechanic of banding.  At various points of the evening someone would declare the tabling of some unlikely card or other... Perhaps you had to be there, but it felt very much in the spirit of the format despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of the usual cards.  

Here were a few of the most notable board states that I was able to capture:

Brother Ben tables a fourth-turn Shotgun (aka Aladdin's Ring)

Oli holding the fort against Graeme's Time Elemental with.... Sivitri Scarzam!

D'oh'venant! An rather unusual hand and mana screw for Graeme...

Flavour-breaking Power play proves controversial: Scott sacs his Digging Team to undermine the foundations of Markus's... Wall of Vapor.  He was not amused.

Blackplayed: Oli successfully tables Dakkon, to much acclaim 👏 
Markus deploys the lesser-spotted Steal Artifact - but can it hold off one of Graeme's three (count 'em!) Elder Dragons?
Brother Ben went full Urzatron with a serious helping of obscure artifacts (Barl's Cage, anyone?)

With most people playing unsleeved, between rounds there was also the joy of placing your deck back into a proper fourth-edition box - for that authentic 'back to the 90s' feeling.  All it would have needed was for Markus to cue up Three Lions on his soundsystem and I may have regressed totally!

In amongst the hi-jinks there was actually some gaming to be done.  I had enjoyable victories against Scott (despite a pesky Sentinel) and newcomer Patrick, and my deck was performing well.  I had even managed to evade Patrick's unlikely combo of Channel and Disintegrate, although he had come a cropper earlier in the evening to his own strategy when deploying Channel and Earthquake, forgetting the double damage he would receive...

In particular, the combination of Serra Angel and Divine Transformation got me out of trouble on more than one occasion.  For flavour purposes, I'm assuming she had an additional set of wings.

Given time considerations, I was then pitched into a final (of sorts) against Brother Ben (my real life brother) for a shot at a unique prize... the first ever white-bordered Brothers Of Fire trophy card (pulled pack-fresh from my own starter box).

As is his habit, my older brother proved too strong for me.  In particular, Pestilence's board wipe proved brutal against my army of weenies.  As a result I had to console myself with second place.  Ben duly took home the trophy card (an edition we do not intend to repeat, barring another opening of fresh product) and the opened display box.  

The winning pile

With that, there was time for some constructed play.  After saving up my mana for War Elephants and Banshee, rolling out my Lightning Bolts and power felt like switching from a pedal-bike to a Ferrari!

All in all, it was a brilliant evening and a reminder of the great community that's here in London.  We're hoping it will continue to grow in 2018. 

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Friday, 8 December 2017

“In Praise Of” Part 2: Spell Blast, by Brother Stebbo

Part Two of an occasional series where members of the London Old School community reflect on their favourite cards.

“Thither he will come to know his destiny.
Your vessels and your spells provide,
Your charms and everything beside.”

- William Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 5)

Probably my favourite aspect of Magic is its counterspells. They are inherently strategic, and automatically enrich the game, providing great depth. When they are going against you, they can feel truly vindictive. When you successfully cast a spell against a blue player, it almost seems like an elaborate ruse where you don’t quite understand how the pieces came to be where they are and how your spell resolved.

As a blue mage, there are those wonderful looks of disappointment, frustration or resigned inevitably on the face of your opponent, as their favourite spell, or a match-saving play, is countered. Then there's the endless poker-game or mental battle within the game of Magic itself - where your opponent is constantly trying to figure out if you have a counterspell, especially when you have two blue open.

When you think of unconditional counterspells, one naturally is drawn to the eponymous card from Magic's first set, complete with that classic camp 80s high-fantasy art by Mark Poole. Then there is its bigger, restricted, brother Mana Drain with its sinister, mysterious otherworldly art by Mark Tedin. 

The Famous Five.

Bold, situationally courageous mages will then turn their minds to the 'Blasts' of Red and Blue, often in the context of a sideboard strategy, or perhaps an Avoid Fate. Beyond that, invariably a mage running counterspells beyond the Famous Five will soften their resolve and turn to the conditional Power Sink generally looking to punish an opponent tapping out to make either an early play on curve or a devastating late-game play, or instead seeking a narrower line where they need their opponent to tap out.

A mage who has softened their resolve, turning to conditional countermagic!

There is however another option that I feel blue mages all too easily neglect: Spell Blast. 

Here Comes the Sun.

Spell Blast is a wonderful card, which relies on a mage having a deeper understanding of the meta and their opponent's capabilities. To the naïve, it may appear too narrow or too inefficient. However in the right hands it can prove a permission weapon of surgical precision.

One of the best uses of Spell Blast is also perhaps its most obvious: from turn one it is a one-mana counterspell against enemy Moxen or a Black Lotus. Whilst it may seem that this is 'small game' for a counterspell, stopping an early mana rock can be devastating; preventing an early, back-breaking play, potentially turning off a supporting colour or, in the case of ‘Blasting’ a Mox Sapphire, preventing an opponent having double blue open early. Fortune therefore may well favour the mage with the gumption to deploy their bonus countermagic early doors.

At two mana the Famous Five are more efficient unconditional counters, however options will come where you can give an opponent’s three or four drop a good Blasting, thereby enabling you to save your more efficient counters for a later battle.

The mid to late game, however, is where Spell Blast truly shines. Often by this juncture decks are playing off the top and not able to string two significant spells together. Often rival blue mages may not be able to protect their threats with counterspell back-up. Here, providing a blue mage has built their mana base correctly and has been playing a land each turn, they can expect to be, at least, on parity with their opponent for mana come turn six or later. Accordingly Spell Blast can be used as a hard counter to virtually any threat an opponent plays, with the blue mage having ample mana to pay the cost of “Opponent’s Spell’s CMC + 1”.

Most threats in Old School cost four mana or less, save for Serra Angel, the Hive and a suite of typically 'one-of' six drops such as Shivan Dragon, Mahamoti Djinn and Triskelion. This means Spell Blast can play a fine supporting role to the Famous Five as a flexible tool capable of unerring accuracy.

And don’t forget, Blasting a key spell doesn’t have to just look great on the battlefield. You can look and feel great as well by raising those arms aloft, back-muscles glistening in the Dominarian sun, and emulating this fine card in person as it resolves! Just make sure you’re on good terms with your opponent first…

Because of course, like all Old School cards, Spell Blast has amazing art. Brian Snoddy has done an amazing job in taking a relatively simple concept, and creating ambiguity and intrigue through the perspective and colours involved in this abstract piece. Why are we standing behind the mage? Why is their back so ripped? Do they have a tail? Are they naked? Are they the Blastor or the Blastee? So many questions…

To my mind, I’ve always seen the art as depicting a mage’s spell being incinerated by a searing volley of raw energy. It’s a cross between someone getting a very dodgy tan at some cheap Tolarian salon and someone achieving momentary enlightenment, only to realise that the key message from the presentation is that their spell is getting a Blasting as they stared at the sun too long.

This irreverent look at the countermagic of Old School has touched on an established hierarchy, and one that is not going to change under the current rules. But I’d urge you to give Spell Blast a go next time you’re looking to fill that 60th slot. It’s a fun card which will make you think differently about both how to deploy your countermagic, and how to deploy your spells when playing against a mage with one blue (or more) open.

Because despite burning brighter than the sun, somehow they never see it coming.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

COPcon V date announcement

The fifth COPcon will take place at an East London venue TBC on Saturday 27th January.

Full details on Facebook here:

Please let us know any questions at all ahead of the event.

Here's what the main prize looked like last time!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Tournament Report - COPcon IV, 21 October 2017 - by Brother Jonas

Before today began, I had a feeling that the runes were strong for this COPcon - we were coinciding with Eternal Weekend in the States and that had to mean there was more Old School energy flowing around the earth's gravitational fields than usual.

Perhaps in tribute to our American cousins, the day began for the hardiest competitors with a BBQ feast at Grillstock, next door to the venue.

When I went in early to set up, I was pleased to reflect that we now had enough people confirmed to mean we could occupy the big room at the pub!

Sure enough we had an all-time high turnout of 14 players.  This comprised me, Scott, Stebbo, Graeme, Richard B, Karl, Ben, Oli, Bev, Bryan, Markus, Shawn, Robert, and Steve, which meant we had three first-time entrants.

After a spot of technical difficulties with allocating the Swiss pairs (hat-tip to Markus and Bev for sorting that out), we got under way.  True to our philosophy of playing for low stakes, we are all competed for the signed COP: Artifacts.

I came to the day with my current deck of choice, a red-white Troll Disko which is a joy to play, with nice little synergies popping up throughout the deck.

In particular, the deck gives me a great opportunity to show off my one-of-a-kind Amy Weber-produced Rukh tokens (a rather superb recent gift):

My first match was against Richard B, who was making his first appearance since COPcon I, when his mono-black gave me a good thrashing.  Today he is supplemented with a splash of blue and we played three extremely tight games.  The first came down to luck - his Underworld Dreams has me on the ropes before I top-deck a Chain Lightning for the win.

In the second game, early Glooms totally shut down my white and two Underworld Dreams on top of each other prove too much.  The third begins brutally - five Factories lie in our graveyards after just a few turns, but at a crucial point I am able to Red Blast his Blue Blast and get over the line with an Uthden Troll.

My second opponent is Oli, who is also playing White, splashing Red.  It's an unusual hybrid.  No-one plays White more tightly than Oli and he rolls me over in short order - I only deal him 2 damage across both games!

Third up is Steve, my former teammate at the Old School World Championships.  He is playing a modified version of the blue-green Living Lands which he took there.  It's terrific fun to play against, partly because it's not really evident how he's going to take the win.  It could be a Drop Of Honey eating your lands, it could be a sudden rush of animated Islands and Forests, or it could be a Prodigal Sorcerer pinging off your mana sources.

He takes the first game by getting ahead of me in mana and then deploying Living Lands - weirdly it's the fact that lands have summoning sickness which renders it so disruptive.  The only solace I can take is having the pleasure of Bolting his Library of Alexandria.

On game two I have the play, which feels significant and I am able to Fork my single copy of Blood Lust when an Uthden Troll gets through his defences, which gives me a decisive advantage when Living Lands hits the table.  The third goes to a very entertaining draw.

My fourth match-up of the day, Robert, has just got back into Magic and his deck is 'fresh from the loft'.  He later goes on to win the coveted 'Spirit of COPcon' with his fantastically nostalgic Red-Green Zoo deck which includes forgotten favourites dripping with flavour, including Cat Warriors!

Unfortunately he faces mana problems in both games and my army of Uthen Trolls prove too hard to contain - although he does managed to land a couple of Disintegrates on them.

At just 2.5 wins out of 4, I know I am out of contention for the win, but looking forward to my final match against Karl, another former member of this year's UK n00bcon team.  Again we have three entertaining games.  Karl is playing a similar deck to mine, although he is playing green and comboing Diamond Valley off his Rukh Eggs.  He hits me with a Ball Lightning and a Blood Moon in game one.  Game two is tight - we both get down to one life and face a gunfighters' face-off which I win with a Bolt.

Third up, he borrows another trick out of my playbook by forking my Bolt onto his Rukh egg, and he cleans me up with the resulting dragon.  Although I am tasting my own medicine (it tastes quite Lightning-y, with undertones of juvenile dragon musk) I've enjoyed the match.

Thus brings the end of my day's play.  Meanwhile, the competitors at the top of the leaderboard have been tight.  One of three could win it in the final round, but Oli and Ben require race leader Stebbo to slip up against Scott.  He doesn't, and therefore the King of the North takes the COP!

With the "competition" out of the way we are free to get down to the real day's business which for me includes entertaining games against first-time entrants Bev and Shawn, and then some two-headed giants.

A few pints later and we are down to six attendees, so Ben suggests a game of Old School Emperor magic, with a rather special prize at stake:

With champion Stebbo flanked by me and Oli, facing up to Emperor Scott flanked by Bev and Ben, we are feeling confident.  However, it's a one-sided contest and the Zone 6 contingent take the Brothers of Fire.

The hardcore continue to the Victoria for some impromptu cabaret performance, and reminiscing about a brilliant day of Old School.  Sunday's hangover is certainly worth it.

Here follows Stebbo's winner's report!  See the foot of the page for deck pics and some of the classic plays of the day.

I initially had the idea to play ErhnamGeddon after facing my friend Bryan Connolly on the deck at the summer King of the North tournament. Around this time Grant's enthusiasm for the deck was prominent on an episode of Flippin' Orbs. Plus the genies from Arabians are awfully sweet. So, I decided to build ErhnamGeddon over the summer.There are a few different ways you can take the deck, play straight GW, a light splash of U, playing four-colours for access to U and also B for Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist.

Stebbo's 'Arcades Sabboth' ErhnamGeddon

My approach of a stronger blue element isn't one I've seen before. My love for U means I really wanted to run a full suite of Counterspells and a Mana Drain. I eschew early aggro (e.g. Savannah Lions or Argothian Pixies) for the privilege. The payoff comes as the deck can: (i) protect its key cards better, (ii)  defend against the omnipresent back-breaking spells of the format (e.g. Mind Twist), and (iii) mix-it with the control decks better if the game goes super long.My other deck selection choice is Llanowar Elves over Birds of Paradise. Despite the obvious benefit of Birds (especially in a three-colour deck), the philosophy of ErhnamGeddon is basically to take away your opponent’s foundations and then crash in with the beats. The Elves add valuable pressure, and can get the job started early, chipping away against the slower decks in the early turns.Aside from a well-timed Armageddon, the other main strategy of the deck is continually throwing 'grenades' in the form of hyper-efficient beaters. I am running 10: 4x Serendib Efreets, 4x Erhnam Djinns and 2x Serra Angels. We are susceptible to the Abyss and City in a Bottle, but running 4x Disenchant and 2x Crumble in the board helps bolster our permission suite against these mass-removal threats. Like every good Old School deck, I am also running my vanity card of choice, the big Mahamoti Djinn in the sideboard to help fight against City in a Bottle.

After a middling run at an Old School meet in September, I felt like I learned a few of the limitations of the deck and understood better when to execute the deck's namesake play - Armageddon - and I was ready for COPcon! Contrary to some perceptions, I've played a different deck at each COPcon: (the Deck, UW Skies and Nicol Bolas Artifact Toolbox) and this run was set to continue, which pleased me greatly.

Match One (2-0 vs Ben) 
Ben has the head of a UWx control player and the heart of a mono G player, is a stalwart of the community, and is someone I've had a fair few scraps with over the years. Most recently Ben ruthlessly dispatched me at COPcon II to end my promising run and grab the glory for himself!Today Ben was on a form of UWx control. Game one saw neither player take full control, however a Mind Twist from Ben for five, later followed be a Regrowth into Mind Twist, did much to slow me down!My white removal was able to keep his board in check however, and he wasn't able to put me under enough pressure, with meanwhile my threats slowly exhausting his Countermagic. As such, when the inevitable Armageddon cast darkness over the land, I was able to put the game away with an Erhnam Djinn. Game two saw me mull to five…but my five included Library of Alexandria, Mox, Lotus and Serra Angel! Sadly Ben had a Swords to Plowshares, but a tone was nonetheless set: my Library warming up whilst Ben tried to edge ahead on board using the card advantage from his initial keep.However much like the first game, there again wasn't much pressure on me, so with my Library about to go online, Ben was forced to make the dubious play of casting Timetwister into my open Library. He didn't hit anything meaningful from his seven, and unfortunately for him I did, before then promptly crushing him…

Match Two (2-1 vs Karl) 
No gimmes at COPcon as I then faced another community stalwart in Karl on RB aggro.Game one saw Karl set to face down the 'classic' Erhnam Djinn into Geddon, however he had the temerity to resolve a Blood Moon, the turn before the Geddon, breaking up the combo! Despite having a Sylvan Library down, I wasn't able to find the answers I needed (Moxen/Lotus) to utilise my Disenchant on the Blood Moon, and my Erhnam Djinn lost the race to his burn.Game two: my deck was able to make an aggressive start and put the game away before Karl could seriously threaten my life total.Game three was one of the games of the day. I was able to establish an Erhnam Djinn, sat behind a CoP Red, and things looked good. However Karl had other ideas in the form of a City in a Bottle, a Gloom and a Shivan Dragon!From then on I had to play a patient game of recovery, first removing the Gloom, then the City and then finally the Shivan to put the game away. I was racing the clock as much as Karl being able to draw into enough spells to 'alpha-strike' through my CoP Red, but I was able to get there with a Serendib Efreet as time expired on the round.  
Match three (2-0 vs Shaun, a new player in our community, playing mono black) 
Game one saw me able to deal with an early threat or two, before the tried and tested Erhnam Djinn into Geddon put the game away.Game two saw me draw into Time Walk, Ancestral and four Moxen in one my 'historic' keeps. Shaun was a very good sport, and I felt a little sick inside, as my broken draw immediately crashed through his defences...

Match four (2-0 vs Oli) 
A grudge match against fellow CEGS member Oli, who is running WR aggro. Game one is incredibly close, as Oli is able to apply real pressure to my life total, before I am able to stabilise with some creatures and then a backbreaking Armageddon! Game two is played out along similar lines.

Match five (2-0 vs Scott) 
Another community pillar is my last game of the day, playing COPcon I champ Scott on WB. Game one saw Scott mull into a keep that enables a turn one Underworld Dreams. However I was able to deal with his key threats (such as a follow-up Su-Chi) and put the game away quickly, with Scott slightly under the cosh of having mana problems. Game two saw Scott suffer with mana problems again, and being defeated by a ruthless assault from my Arabians beaters. And with that, I had run 10-1 in games for a perfect record (before preceding to lose several casual games that evening)! My prize was a signed COP: Artifacts! Thanks as always to Jonas, Ben, and BoF for organising the event. 

Ben's second-place five-colour synergy deck (4 Tundra and 4 Swords are cropped out)

Scott's Dead Guy Ale (complete with shiny new Jet)

Bev's black-blue

Markus's black plus UR splash

Shawn mono-black artifact

Robert's RG Zoo feat. Lure-Basilisk (WINNER of Spirit of COPcon IV)

Bryan's Blue-Brown

Graeme UG Berserk

Richard B's BB Black with U splash

Pic: Oli facing down the barrel of a gun

Plateau Inception: I christen my Drew Tucker playmat (my absolute favourite Mtg artist) by playing out a full complement of Plateaux

Pic: Ben lays out a full set of jewellery