Friday, 23 February 2018

Notes From A Small Convention, by Brother Stebbo

Some diary entries from one London-based Old School obsessive...

Early January 2018, some weekday evening…

GP London is fast approaching, barely three weeks away. Excitingly this means that the thrill of the GP fair (i.e. vendors and artists) will be hitting up London town! 

GP London has been pretty good to me over the years. In fact, if I remember back hard enough……..

GP London, August 2015

Back in 2015 I was lucky enough to win some 1996 product (I had to endure many rounds of Modern, if it’s any consolation). I was 10 prize tix short of a third pack…

Long Suffering Friend, Samy (LSF): “What are you gonna spend your tix on?"

Brother Stebbo: “I think I’ll go for some Alliances”

LSF: “What’s in Alliances, just that rare card, Force of Will?”

Brother Stebbo: “Exactly. But it’s an UNCOMMON. There are about 2.6 per box of Alliances!

I know - I’ll get three packs - I’m bound to get one.

But i’m ten tix short... so gimme ten of your tix!”

*LSF rolls eyes*

Never tell me the odds!

GP London, October 2016

GP London came back a year later, which saw me snag several collectors' items: some swag from Old School artist Pete Venters (pictured below, kindly altering my playmat) and perhaps the rarest of all - a win over Brother Ben in a competitive Old School event! 

 Here’s Pete, and some pics from the side event...
Back to some weekday evening…

Disaster! My hopes of a clean sweep of GP London fun this year have been dashed!!

Brother Stebbo, reading the GP side event schedule…

A quick check of the GP website tells me that there are no Old School artists in attendance, and there is no Old School side event! Sadly the days of winning Alliances boosters are long gone, but I won’t even get the chance to compete for some Ixalan this time round…

Luckily we have COPcon V that weekend, which offers plenty of Old School. And, whatever the shortcomings of the event schedule, at least there will be vendors to trade with.

I then turn my attention to my phone. Brother Jonas is messaging me from the desolate surroundings of the GP venue. He is busy giving up this weekday evening to scout a venue for COPcon V, which is being hosted near to the big event to help those wanting to attend both.

Jonas has met with some early failures, with one of the pubs 'in contention’ resembling something from the set of Neighbours, c.1991. But persistence prevails and a suitable venue is eventually found!

 The COPcon back-up venue

Saturday 20 January 2018 (1 week before the GP)

Our Facebook group receives an unexpected surprise - legendary collector, personality, and vintage Magic expert Daniel Chang is going to be attending the GP and might even drop by COPcon!

I’ve done some business with Daniel over the years, but we’ve never actually spoken. Luckily for me this is all about to change. We are able to fit in a Skype conversation and make plans to meet up in London!

Thursday 25 January 2018 (1 day till the GP starts!)

Work commitments have kept me busy all week. This means I’ve not been able to prepare my loot of foil legacy and modern staples for the vendors at the GP.

The responsible thing to do would be to dedicate my final waking hours that evening to sorting my cards and constructing a price list, outlining what I’d like to get for certain cards, etc. Naturally what I actually do is waste several hours reading about Old School on the internet, before going to bed far too late!

Friday 26 January 2018, GP day 1!

I wake up late, and hastily scramble through my collection to assemble a veritable horde of shiny wares. My plan is to dazzle the vendors with my shiny cards, and in this moment of blindness and confusion, convince them to trade them for some Old School cards at good prices!

I get to the GP site just after lunch. The commute down highlights the quirks of the London Docklands location: I share my train with a mixture of City workers, fellow GP-goers, and the middle-aged attendees of a mechanical engineering exhibition...

The GP hall itself is enormous, but on day 1 and with the main event not kicking off until tomorrow, it’s only half-full and is easy enough to get around.

An artist’s impression of the GP London venue

I take a moment to stroll around the vendors. There are some real gems for sale, including a Richard Garfield-altered Balance! I also find probably the only bit of Alpha power available for less than £1,000.

 I then settle in for a mammoth three-hour trading session with my friend Benedict who works for one of the vendors. But it’s all worth it - as I come away with some '93-era multilands! 

 Many Foils died to bring us this information

That would probably be enough excitement for one day, but as they say: you sleep when you’re dead. Thus, I'm off to my next engagement: meeting up with Daniel.

Even having come all the way from the US, Daniel is kind enough to give up his evening to hang out and play some games of Magic. It’s a real blast to exchange stories about Old School collecting, community and strategy, amongst many other subjects of conversation. It's also really great to hear a little about some of the icons of Old School and Vintage Magic to whom I've always looked up, such as Steve Menendian and Brian Weissman. 

 Somehow I get the feeling my next spell isn’t resolving…

Saturday 27 January 2018. GP day 2 and COPcon!
Despite only having about six hours' sleep, I'm buzzing with excitement. Firstly I have some trading to finish with Benedict (which will be the subject of a future article…) before rolling over to the COPcon venue.
It's so great to see how far the London Old School scene has come. Two years ago, I organised the first meet, to dovetail with a Legacy/Vintage event at a local games store.  Back then, we were a bunch of fanatics meeting up in a South London pub. Now we're a much bigger bunch of fanatics meeting up in an East London pub!
It's the biggest event yet in the UK.  We have players from across Europe and even Daniel representing the US.  As well as those coming from abroad, we are joined by a host of UK players from outside London.  Some of them claim to be here for the GP, but we secretly know the main draw is COPcon…
At the end of the day I wind down by playing a relaxed Parfait mirror match against Brother Ben, which leads to this lairy boardstate…
Don’t mine if I do! [sorry…]
Credit has to go to Jonas and the Brothers Of Fire for organising a sick brand of Old School, played with relaxed vibes and great beers.
Sunday 28 January 2018
I wake up with a Juzam-sized hangover!...

Saturday, 17 February 2018

“In Praise Of” Part 5: Clone, by Mg

An ongoing series where Old School players reflect on their favourite cards. For this iteration we have a very special guest post by Magnus, the Father of Old School and convener of n00bcon

In early 1995, around the time Revised was phased out in favor of 4th Edition, Magic in Kikås, Mölndal, was an endless sea of discovery. The handful of us versed in Magic played with whatever cards we managed to scrape together. The meta was as small and local as it got. There was no local game store to speak of, and for sure we didn't have access to any comprehensive card lists. For the majority of the world, this was the pre-internet days.

The first true chase-card I ever encountered was Clone. I don't know why we hadn't opened any of them at our local scene; most of us owned at least a couple of Sol Rings and other uncommons from Revised. Juggernauts or the odd Demonic Tutor wasn't that unusual to run across. An outsider would surely even find the occasional dual among our chaff, but none of us had ever seen a Vesuvan Doppelganger.
I believe that I first came across Clone when I ventured out of the comfort of my local scene and visited Björn Albihn. Björn was an old friend, as old as they get. His parents are my godparents and my parents are his, so our families have been close since way before Magic - or the two of us - entered the equation. Björn doesn't play these days, but he is still an important part of my life. And my ventures in Magic for that matter. He is the sculptor responsible for the champion trophies at both The Wizards' Tournament and n00bcon X this coming Easter. But back in 1995 he was living in his parental home the next town over. Our families would often celebrate the holidays together - Easter, New Years, Walpurgis and others - and I believe this was such an occasion. Maybe the Easter of 1995.

I heard that he played Magic, so I brought my cards. And I got my first taste of the power of Clone. When he was behind, Clone would even out the battlefield. When I got a Sengir Vampire, he would easily match it with his Clone. When the board was at a stall, Clone would turn it into his favor. And when he was ahead, Clone would make his Mahamothi Djinn into two and my chances to recover would be null.

These days the matches aren't focused on creature combat in the same way, but whenever we start swinging this is still true. Clone will always be the best creature on the battlefield. For only four mana (a price we didn't really consider back then), the greatest foe or the strongest champion in sight will join your ranks. Clone could also be used as mana acceleration in a more controlling deck, casually copying an activated Mishra's Factory. Or go nuts in decks like The Machine, playing the part of either an extra Hell's Caretaker or the second Triskelion needed to go off. Always doubling its duty by matching an opposing Juzam Djinn or Serra Angel whenever defense is needed.

I might never have wanted a card like a wanted that Clone. But it was not for trade, and as such I would have to search elsewhere for it. When I got back, I knew I needed to step out of my comfort zone and see what the deeper parts of Möldal could offer. One of my closest friends, Oscar, told me that a certain Viktor had a collection far beyond ours. Viktor had been our old scout master and was older than us by five or six years. When you are 11 years old, that is a lot. Viktor smoked and had relationships we were yet to comprehend. But he knew me from the scouts, and I knew where his family lived.

I think I just went to his house and knocked on the door. They were a fairly large family of seven, living in the Lackarebäck part of Mölndal. We got to talking and playing, and Viktor's collection truly was at another level than the ones I've seen before. Not that he had Power or stuff like that, of course, but amazing creatures and effective spells were abundant. I don't think I ever had seen a Serra Angel in play before; our small playgroup had decided to ban white from our games as the protective nature of the color was deemed "chicken". Viktor had a Clone that I managed to trade for, probably getting seriously ripped off value-wise in the process (as was the custom of the time). I don't remember that much of our trades other than that I traded a Birds of Paradise for a pair of basic lands. But those cards never really mattered to me, and now I had a Clone. As a small sidenote, I also had a better relationship with Viktor, which would prove fruitful a few years down the line when I needed help to buy spirits from Sweden's heavily ID-enforced liquor stores. Clone surely helped lay the groundwork for my youth. Come to think of it, my improved relationship with Björn via Magic got me invited to a middle school dance where I got something most people would describe as my first kiss. But that story is neither here nor there.

My Clone was soon a card to fear in our local meta. Even David, the local mister suitcase with the best collection of all of us, couldn't hide his envy. David had all the big cards; Lord of the Pit, Force of Nature, Island Fish and Colossus of Sardia. But with my Clone I also had them. I could just wait for him to cast one of his monsters and immediately match it. He offered me piles of cards for it, multiple beasts, strong spells and two or three duals just for that single Clone. He really wanted to be the guy with all the best cards. But I wouldn't budge.

Soon thereafter I got the chance to take a trip to Gothenburg city where I found a game store selling Magic in both packs and singles. I was astonished at the prices of some of the cards; both high and low. A dual land was almost a shocking €9. But on the flip side, they had two Clones in store for only €2.50 apiece. On of them was horribly off-center, but I could hardly care. It was time for my first ever singles purchase.
So now, thanks to my travels, I had three Clones. David still offered me piles of cards for just one of them. Well, any one of them except the "misprinted monstrosity" ("det feltryckta fanskapet"), which he didn't care for. Even though I had seen the prices of dual lands in that store in Gotheburg, the personal value of my Clones and the joy they gave to my games was more than any cards he could offer. I still have those three clones today.
What happened next are many stories of life, friendship, and kitchen table Magic. Ice Age was released and we found out about Polar Kraken and Leviathan; a 4th edition card we somehow had missed earlier. We learned of Vesuvan Doppelganger, to this day my favorite creature in Magic next to Juzam Djinn. The mysteries of Magic grew a little smaller as our community grew a little bigger and we ventured more and more into the city of Gothenburg to play. I eventually got my hands on two Vesuvan Doppelgangers, a Deflection and a Mana Drain to make my blue deck a glory to behold.

I traded away the Mana Drain for an Underworld Dreams, but the day after that my deck got stolen. It was not the first nor the last time I had cards stolen back in the 90s, but it was one of the more heartfelt ones. It would take me almost 15 years before I got another Doppelganger, this time for my ventures in Old School Magic. I upgraded it to black borders five years ago, and to this day it has a place whenever I play a blue deck in 93/94.
Glory be to the Doppelganger, but in the end it was Clone who showcased the ability to most players. Clone is truly one of the most iconic cards from the early days of Magic. It is one of very few cards I can think of that got proper homage to the original iconic art when it was reprinted many years later. You can't say that about Sol Ring, Hypnotic Specter or Juggernaut from that same era.
Clone has given me a lot of great victories, but a few shame-inducing mishaps as well. One evening in 2014 I got unusually drunk. I woke up the morning after with a heavy hangover, but as I puzzled together the pieces of the evening before I couldn't recall doing anything stupid at the party I attended. I wandered around in my apartment in haze for an hour before I realized that I had gone online to drunk-shop Magic cards. I checked my emails and saw a list of the cards I had bought; mostly harmless (though kinda odd) things like eight Uncle Istvan. 

But then I found what had triggered my shopping; I had found a Summer Magic Clone which I had to get my hands on. It was the most money I had payed for a single purchase thus far (I guess that I mostly had been prone to buy small and trade up before) and my account balance showed that I had made a costly blunder. I presume that it might be slightly cheaper these days, as Summer cards have become much more abundant in the last couple of years, but I guess that it is fun to have one of the Edgar cards that most certaily came from a pack.
I felt shameful over buying it for the next week or so. It was money I couldn't afford to spend at the time. But when the card eventually arrived I could only smile. I have vehemently promised myself not to buy cards while drunk anymore, but thanks to my bad judgement I have another Clone with a story, just like the ones I've kept from Revised. It has seen a lot of play since I got it, both during 93/94 Highlander tournaments and in my crappy Biovisionary deck. That Clone is the only Summer Magic card I own, and if I'm only going to have one, I couldn't ask for a better. All these years later, it feels cool to have completed the journey and have a "linear playset" of Clone, with one from each Swedish-legal expansion in 93/94.

Apart from tearing up kitchen tables, Clone was played in the first deck that won the Magic World Championship in 1994. I can't say if that was the best card for that particular deck, but it is never the less something to consider.

These days a Clone on the battlefield is a rare sight to behold. I've seen it played in the odd Merfolk list and sometimes to top the curve in Suicide Blue, but that's about it. I believe there are more stories to be told from the two pondering soldiers. It might not be as raw in its power as Serendib Efreet, or as swift as Mahamothi Djinn, but it will always stand its ground as the best creature on the battlefield. In an era where people keep exploring the fringes of the 93/94 card pool, I look forward to see more people experience the subtle power of Clone.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Tournament Report - COPcon V, 27th January 2017 - organiser's report by Brother Jonas

With Channel Fireball announcing Grand Prix London at an enormo-centre in the East of the city, it seemed only right for Brothers Of Fire to put on an unofficial off-campus event at a nearby pub.  After a bit of location scouting, and a lot of goodwill from attendees old and new who came together to guarantee our bar tab, we found the perfect venue:

Squint and it looks close enough....

There was time to hob-nob with a few attendees prior in the convention centre.  Although I pay tribute to the organisational chops of CFB, being stuck in a stuffy room under striplights with no access to booze has no appeal for me these days.  I was relieved to make it to our venue after picking up a few items at the Magic Madhouse stall.

Advance ticket sales had been healthy but by the time everyone arrived, it emerged that together we had assembled the biggest-ever attendance for an Old School event in the UK, with 32 players!  Not only did we have people coming from the length and breadth of the British Isles, but we also had attendees from Sweden, Denmark, and the USA - of which more later.  Given that a few months ago we played COPcon 'round robin' in a corner of a pub, this felt amazing - even if the logistics are now rather more intense...

As if this didn't feel like enough of a milestone, I was also debuting a special piece of Brothers Of Fire merchandise:

Before anyone says it - yes, the hat-tip to the Lords Of The Pit in Chicago is very much intentional and has been OK'd by them!  In the future these jacket patches will be available to anyone competing in three COPcons (or anyone winning a Brothers Of Fire or COP at one of our events).  Sadly, like a fading Hollywood starlet at the ball, my brand new jacket was upstaged on the day by this little number:

In London, Old School doesn't stop at the cards - check out the 93/94 swag! (Photo credit: Daniel C)

There was also a moment to pause and reflect on a rather significant acquisition made by one of our Brothers who put his time in the convention centre to very good use:

Sweet Sweet Cardboard
With this much out of the way it was time for some announcements - not least that one spot at N00bcon, the Old School World Championships, would be up for grabs.  This would go to the winner of a Chaos Orb flip-off contest, admission to which would be decided by blending performance in the main event with performance in a mysterious quiz (again, of which more later).  

As someone desperate to return to N00bcon after my debut last year, I took the highly unusual step of slowing my drinking in a bid to remain in the running for the prize.

All that stood between us and the start of the tournament was the group photo - a chance to sit back and take in quite how many people had come!  

The prize pool (First prize is the Brothers Of Fire for the player who demonstrates the Spirit of COPcon, theWanderlust is awarded to furthest-travelling player, and the COP:Artifacts is awarded to the tournament winner.  The Citanul Druid print was sourced direct from Jeff Menges's personal archives by Brother Stebbo - and the Samite Healer was for an MIA attendee).

With that, we were into round one.  I was playing a relatively conservative red burn deck with a larger-than-usual number of artifacts playing off the back of my traditional MVP, Goblin Artisans.  

With the pan-global nature of the field I was hoping to get drawn against one of our exotic attendees, but when I was paired against London scene stalwart Bev, I could hardly be disappointed because my games against her are always such fun.  Today she was playing UW with the Psychic Venom / Icy Manipulator combo as well as some serious countermagic.  In game 1 we were both hit by crazy land floods.  At one point she managed to put a Venom on my City of Brass - not a mistake I would make again after a few hits for three!  In the end I was beaten down by an Angel.

In game 2 she put down an early COP:Red.  I was able to draw out her counters and Disenchant it, but too much energy had gone into removing that brake and again I was finished by Angels.  Not a good start to my personal quest to go to Sweden.

For match 2 I was hoping to play one of our visitors, and my number came in when I was drawn against Daniel Chang of Vintage Magic, visiting all the way from Seattle USA.  Needless to say I've watched a lot of his videos and Daniel was even more charming in person than on the small screen.  

Our matches were non-stop good fun and Daniel very good-naturedly listened to me talk at length about my love of the artwork of Drew Tucker.  I've played some fairly serious Old School collectors in my time but Daniel's was without doubt the most tricked-out deck I have ever seen - from lushly-altered basics to almost everything else in full Summer mode.

Summertime - bring your bucket and spade to the Underground Sea

We enjoyed two fun games full of banter and I managed to launch a few surprises of my own by making some successful coin flips off my Goblin Artisans.  In the end Daniel was one turn away from getting an Ali From Cairo onto the table when I was able to finish him with a Bolt and take the match win.

My third matchup was back to the London crew, but once again a player I always enjoy playing, Brother Scott.  His turn-one Library of Alexandria had me worried but I kept the pressure on him with a Ball Lightning.  When he Ancestral-ed up to ten (!) cards I feared death by card draw, but was able to respond with a trick of my own by playing Wheel of Fortune into my Lotus and delivering burn to finish.

For game two I knew we would both be packing our share of Red and Blue Elemental blasts.  At this point, I'm packing four Disenchants and effectively four Counterspells, plus up to three Forks, so my seemingly 'straightforward' deck has become a totally different beast.  For me, this is where playing "dark pink" gets really fun because the whole approach to the game is different and you can start to get really creative in terms of keeping your opponent off-balance.

We exchange the oldest turn one/two in the book as Scott tables a Dark Ritual and Hypnotic Specter, and I respond with a Bolt.  I'm able to put through a Ball Lightning to, as he memorably puts it, have him "in the yellow zone" early on.  But he wrestles back control and two Underworld Dreams and a Su-Chi to deliver the finish.

Game three feels like an anti-climax - my early City In A Bottle is only a speed bump on Scott's route to victory and I am now 1-2.

Match four is against Brother Oli - a guy I have known for thirty years!  I resolve to ensure I get plenty of casual games in against our new attendees once the competition is done.  Oli knows my playing style back-to-front and we play three games in about ten minutes, with him coming out as 2-1 victor.  His white weenie is a well-oiled machine and impervious to the disruption offered by my Blood Moons and City In A Bottle, giving me dead draws.  With the unusual choice of main-deck Black Vise his build also has its fair share of innovation.

This leaves one game to go against first-time attendee Andrew Klein.  His All Hallow's Eve build is an absolute delight, tabling Hazezon Tamar, Adun Oakenshield, and one of my all-time favourite cards, Master of the Hunt.  My Blood Moons, however, have a field day against his rather diverse mana base:

The red lock is on!
We finish up with me edging it at 2-1.  My main regret is that on any other day, Andrew would have strolled away with the Brothers Of Fire prize - but even a deck featuring Master Of The Hunt has nothing on the incredible winner of that award, Stephen Lister, whose deck simply beggared belief:

As Shawn commented online after the event: "The longer you look at the deck, the crazier it gets. Standing Stones? Wall of ICE? Silhouette?! Tawnos's WAND?! GLYPHS?!?!?!?!"
Stephen was also a legend to us tournament organisers - as Brother Oli and I struggled to calculate the Swiss pairings, he got stuck in delivering results slips after a few early baths in his match-ups.  A worthy winner.

Meanwhile, I ended the event on 2-3.  Hardly stellar.  At the top of the event, though, some serious Old School has taken place (deck pics at the end of this post).  The fifth round of Swiss effectively becomes the final and is contested by Brother Ben and Andreas Cermak.  It's been a pleasure to meet Andreas who is a major part of the Old School community online and in person.  Eventually though, it's the home competitor who takes the win.  

Ben has now won three COPcons, but with our field expanding every event, it's hard to see him maintaining that forever.  Crucially he keeps alive the COPcon code of winners changing up their decks for each event.  

To the victor, the spoiled card

Amongst the results, overall standings also reveal that Sveby - one of the founders of Old School, no less - achieved a top eight finish with a borrowed deck!

We then awarded the key prizes - with Daniel C taking the Wanderlust - and moved onto the Old School Quiz.  This would form part of the calculation for the Chaos Orb flip-off, with the winner getting the N00bcon spot.  Here it is:

Now, my performance in the tournament was pretty ropey but I do like to think I know my way around Old School trivia and indeed my score of 8/10 puts me in first place, getting me a seeding in the Orb-flipping.

What we are then treated to is the spectacle of thirty full-grown adults gathering in a circle to watch two of their number attempt to flip one piece of cardboard on top of another.

It's nothing less than Fight Club meets POGs in the school playground!  Markus lends his Beta Chaos Orb and Lotus for the proceedings.  Meanwhile Daniel gives the event some much-needed Hollywood glamour with a US-sports-commentator overview of the action:

After a nervy first round where I edge out Jason (feeling rather guilty given his impressive number-two placing in the tournament), I then enter the final against Sebastion.  For those of you interested in the rather unedifying spectacle (I sense perhaps one had to be there), here follows a video of the final (NB: audio track is NSFW, but the video is fine).

And with that, your gentle author manages to spawn his way onto the team for the World Championships.

All that then remains is - well - the important part of the day: casual games.  I've been talking to Rod Smith online for months and today we finally get to enjoy some fun games against each other.  Sadly there's no time for me to experience Stephen's 'Wall of Wonder / Poison' deck but there is a chance to play some of our visitors and to generally soak up the good vibes (even though these are strained a little when Oli and I inadvertently play rather complementary decks during a game of two-headed giant):

I provide the creatures on the left, you provide the Crusades on the right...  And in front - unimpressed opponents!
Well - that was a mammoth report.  Your reward for getting to the end - some 'plays of the day' and an array of deck pics.

Thank you to everyone who came, especially Oli for running the computing, Damien for being the good sport of the day, and especially all our non-British visitors who made the event seem truly cosmopolitan despite the rather unflashy surroundings!

We hope to welcome more readers to our next event.

1st place: Ben

2nd place: Jason


Bryan M

Daniel O-E

Matthew H

Richard B

And finally:

Scott and Ben get warmed up for some "proper Magic" - i.e. Alpha-only!