Editor's note: Apologies for the recent lack of content (I'm in the middle of a major international relocation). Stay tuned for a series of tournament reports from recent major events. Today's excellent instalment by Brother Scott below!
On November 10, 2017 Magnus de Laval revealed his idea for the Wizards' Tournament. A pre-n00bcon warm-up tournament that was *truly* old school: only Alpha cards allowed, playing by the Alpha rules. No proxies. No reprints. No mulligans. No play/draw rule. No 4-of limit. No sideboards. No triple-sleeving. Just 40 or more of the very earliest Magic cards shuffled up unsleeved or in old-fashioned clear plastic sleeves.
As soon as I heard about the tournament I wanted in! Who could resist the chance to go back to the beginning of Magic? And there was an obvious candidate deck to play…but to explain what deck and why I have to take you back to *my* beginning of Magic.
Not many players these days (or ever, I suspect) get their DCI number by entering a Legacy tournament playing with an unsleeved deck that includes a main-deck Goblin Digging Team. On June 21, 1999 that’s exactly what I did:
Black/Red deck by Scott Latham
Type 1.5 tournament - Southsea, Hampshire, 21 June 1999
Not only do I have the decklist from this auspicious day, but this was before the digital age of WER and DCI reporter. This was the age of the paper scorecard. So I also have my scorecard!
Amazingly my janky Black/Red deck ended up with a 2-2 record. The tournament winner is however lost to history. I’m guessing it was won by someone whose main deck had more than 2 rares (I had just Dancing Scimitar and Sorceress Queen). However, what I have never forgotten from that day was the joy at winning some matches (I can play this game! Against other people! And beat them!!) and the chastening “headteacher’s study” telling off I got when the judge realised afterwards that I hadn’t de-sideboarded at any point during any round of the tournament*.
(*Side note: don’t explain sideboarding to brand new players as simply “your sideboard is 15 extra cards that you can swap in and out of your deck between games”.)
So of course, when 18 years later the Wizards Tournament came around there was an obvious candidate deck for me – a revival of this original Black/Red deck. The only trouble was, when you look at that original list, it leans heavily on Arabian Nights and Ice Age. Only nine of my main deck non-land cards are actually cards that even appear in Alpha.
However, it became clear that I could maintain the spirit of the deck (small to medium-sized creatures backed up by burn) whilst switching to Alpha cards and making the deck a bit stronger too. Goodbye Incinerate and Lava Burst; hello Lightning Bolt and Fireball. And - much as I love Goblin Digging Team – goodbye to the pure jank and hello to Orcish Artillery (wildly undercosted in Alpha at 1R) and Sengir Vampire (which being flying, un-Terrorable and beyond Bolt range is a serious threat in Alpha).
The tournament also finally presented an excuse for me to join the 1,100 club* by obtaining my first Alpha rare – Granite Gargoyle. I actually ended up buying two copies of it, mirroring the two rares of my 1999 deck, and I had a smile on my face every time I got to play one of them.
(*Side note: about 1,100 copies of each Alpha rare card were printed, hence my - confusing to some people - Facebook reference to “joining the 1,100 club” when I bought my first Alpha rare. Sadly there isn’t actually a club for people who own Alpha rares, and nor is this a euphemism related to low-flying aircraft).
However, one creature from the original deck just had to stay. Bog Wraith was one of my favourite cards when I started, but since my original ones were 5th Edition, an Alpha Bog Wraith was the first card I bought the day after the tournament was announced.
Eventually after raiding my existing collection, scouring the trade halls at GP London, a few frantic late-night clicks on MKM, and a hand-delivered card from Magic Madhouse on the afternoon of the tournament (thanks Jason Savage!) I was able to sleeve up (into genuine 1990s clear Ultra Pro sleeves) the following 45 cards to take on the other Wizards:
The final build ended up as 11 creatures, 8 burn spells, and a bit of utility. From the original 1999 list the only survivors ended up being 19 lands plus 2x Bog Wraith, 2x Terror, 1x Disintegrate and 1x Shatter (upgraded from the sideboard in 1999 to the main deck in 2018). Very early on in deckbuilding I decided that there had to be 5 Lightning Bolts – not only is it the best red card but I couldn’t pass up the chance to legitimately* play 5 of something in a tournament!
(Side note*: I say “legitimately play” as when I made my Standard debut in 2004 I accidentally played 5 Welding Jars in my Affinity deck - 3 in my maindeck and 2 in my sideboard.)
The tournament was announced as being 5 rounds plus a final. Having gone 2-2 in 1999, my ideal goal was to better that, although I will admit I was a little nervous as to what crazy decks might be out there, and whether I would win any games at all!
The pairings system for the Wizards Tournament was absurdly amazing: the judge (sorry “referee”) simply declared to the room: “Find someone to play and play them!” As Round 1 was announced I was standing close to Leo Bruder, a German player. Leo had come to the UK for a tournament in 2017 but we didn’t get chance to play then, so we both thought it would be fun to play here. Leo won the match mainly through abusing two copies of Disrupting Scepter, which becomes a bit overpowered when “discard a card” is interpreted under Alpha rules as “discard a card from play if you don’t have a card in your hand”!
Round 2 saw me play another German, and someone I had often played on Skype but never in person. Florian Von Bredow was as always a charming opponent, although his Fungusaur/Prodigal Sorcerer deck became my Red/Black’s first victim when he unfortunately accidentally revealed a Berserk from hand by starting to cast it and then changing his mind. I was then able to hold mana up for Terror until the Berserk was finally played, nullifying the lethal strike and allowing me victory.
Round 3 gave me a chance for revenge against Old School scene legend Gordon Andersson. He had defeated me on his home turf of Stockholm the previous month, and alas here proved again to be the stronger wizard, with his UR deck missing some of its usual Power but still with enough counter and burn to see me off.
So at 1-2 I was going to have to win both of the final two rounds if Black/Red was to improve on its 2-2 from 1999.
In Round 4 I played the very friendly Braida Andrea from Italy. We had some very good games - mainly with him playing a lot of Juggernauts and me bolting them. However, the decisive moment came when I killed his Mahamoti Djinn, but crucially using Disintegrate to remove it from the game entirely. Though he had Resurrection in hand, his Mahamoti was literally beyond the grave and couldn’t be recalled, leaving me the winner!
Finally, Round 5 was another chance for a re-match from Stockholm as I took on Bjorn. Bjorn had an amazing deck and was playing his Alpha Power unsleeved - much respect for that! However, again the Red/Black emerged victorious with Bog Wraith turning out to be good tech in this one against his blue/black deck. Although I look concerned in the photo below, facing down a two Juggernauts with only my row of mountains, I then drew a Fireball which I split 3-3 to polish them both off and head on to victory.
So I finished 3-2 – improving my score from 1999, and having a lot of fun in the process, both reliving some nostalgia with Bog Wraiths and Disintegrate, and using my newly-purchased Gargoyles and Artilleries. Marc Lanigra and Andreas Cermak, the two undefeated players, faced off in the final, with Marc’s amazing Alpha collection on full display as he and his 5 Sol Rings took the top prize!
Reflecting on the day, of course there is a reason that the game’s rules evolved – Magic is not at its absolute best when you’re forced to keep a 0/7 land hand, when your opponent’s turn 1 is to play 2 Sol Rings, or when someone can destroy all your lands with a Disrupting Scepter. However, it was still a very fun evening and a great excuse to buy lots of Alpha cards. Whilst the Wizards' Tournament may go down in history as a one-off event, I have a sneaking suspicion that in the future this might turn out to have been “Wizards' Tournament I”.