Friday, 28 September 2018

"Coming Back Home" Number 2, by George

The second chapter in an occasional series where members of the London Old School community reflect on their experiences of getting into Old School.

"The Old School Child" by George G

Let me start off the article by introducing myself: Hi! My name is George and I love playing a format that is older than I am! Throughout this article I will be explaining my journey into Old School, the great people I have met along the way, my views on the format, and my hopes for the future.

My journey into Old School started in mid June 2016, in the wonderful city of Prague. I was playing in the main event (which was Legacy). I was celebrating my 21st birthday, receiving my university results and accepting a position at Magic Madhouse (the UK’s biggest and best online Magic: the Gathering store!). I had a lot to celebrate, and did so by setting myself a challenge: I wanted to collect a full set of Unlimited power in one year, which would enable me to get into Vintage, a format that at the time I was very interested in. That weekend I picked up a Mox Ruby, and thus started my momentous journey.

The card that started it all

My position at Magic Madhouse is Social Media and Market Outreach Coordinator, which basically means I create a content for a variety of platforms, including Facebook. The position also includes being a buyer for Magic Madhouse at European GPs and other events. As a result, I attended the Pro Series Grand Finale in Blackpool, which included a 93/93 UK Championship side event.

At the time I had no idea what Old School even was, but after a four-hour drive to Blackpool with my colleague Jason I was well and truly educated about the format!  I purchased my second part of power, a Time Walk which I needed for Vintage, and had a busy weekend selling more cards to the Old School crowd then every other format combined.

I also managed to pick up a few Loti in Blackpool. Sadly they were a little oversized

I met a few people in Blackpool which helped me in my journey towards Old School, the main one being Rod Smith. Rod and I began talking online in the weeks and months that passed, and he showed me the first deck I eventually went on to play, a RWG Blitz deck that I soon started trying to assemble so I could play some games.

This brings me to a part of Old School in which I love - the collecting. Seeing Rod’s collection made me green with envy, but also showed me cards that I did not even know existed, alongside some of the iconic cards. I have always enjoyed the collecting and trading side of Magic.  In Old School, it's enough of a thrill to even locate some of the rarer cards - let alone getting a good price!

At this point I was lucky enough to meet Julian Snape, an ex-WOTC employee who had a lot of cards that I was after, alongside some very rare sentimental cards such as an artist proof Lotus and a Splendid Genesis. Julian provided a much-needed kick start to my Old School collection, and ever since that point I have been hooked.

My first Old School Mail Day - I started off with a bang!

In the following months I would carry on picking up some pieces of power here and there, but most importantly I would get a chance to play the game that I was collecting. At first this was done through Skype with Rod.  But pretty soon I wanted to play without a computer screen in front of me, and here’s the second reason why I have fallen in love with a format older than me: the community.

Not long after this, I met Markus, who invited me to come to London, play some games and drink some beers. Games and beers: the basics of any Old School meet-up, and just the thing I was craving. He showed me the ropes, and explained the mentality behind Old School, his views on the format and what he loved about the game.

My eyes were now well and truly open: the whole mentality of Old School is completely different from every other form of MTG I have played before. No longer was my happiness based on my win/loss (something that normally led to me being unhappy!), but just playing a game the way it should be played, jamming Juzams and Savannah Lions into combat. In my eyes, everyone I have met has similar (or very close) enthusiasm for the game and format, and are extremely welcoming, even to an ‘outsider’ like myself.

By the end of 2016 my collection had blown up! Just a few more pieces of power to go!

After a large amount of testing with Markus and Rod, I decided to attend my first ‘Big’ Old School event. Accordingly, Jason drove us up to Birmingham to play in Mana Leak’s Eternal Weekender, with Old School on the Saturday and Vintage on the Sunday.

I was surprised at first at the size of the Old School event - much bigger than I expected - but it was a great day.  As I looked around I saw everyone having so much fun, meeting old friends and reminiscing about when they used to play as kids.  And of course I finally got to compete against a lot of new decks!  I ended up losing my 'win and in' for the Top 8, but being able to watch some of the top 8 games instead felt like good compensation.

On the second day I played Vintage, and this was the last time I played the format.  For me, Vintage has all the bad things about Old School, and very little good, leading to worse games and an overall worse time.  I duly decided that I would drop my original reason for picking up power, and turn all of my efforts into Old School.  My journey had come full circle.

The majority of the players of the Birmingham event holding the signed participation card: Boomerang!

Since then I have only been lucky enough to both complete my set of power and attend a few events, the latest of which was COPcon VII, where I ran a deck that has taken me a full year to collect.  I recently had a ‘Eureka’ moment and realised that I now have a fairly decent Old School collection, and it needs to get more use outside of deck boxes and binders.  My plan for the future (2019) is to try and attend and play as much Old School as I physically can around the UK, and even possibly travel to Europe for a few games and beers. Ever since I heard about N00bcon I have wanted to attend. And hopefully with some more practice and a bit of luck at a qualifying event I may one day make it!

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

"Wanderlust" Part 1: inc. King of the North 2 Event Report - by Brother Stebbo

Editor’s preamble – this summer our roving envoy Brother Stebbo left London to discover Old School communities to the north and (very far) west.

This is part one of his journey…

Community /kəˈmjuːnɪti/

  • Noun
  • ~ A group of people living in the same place and/or having a particular characteristic in common ~
  • For example: (i) a group of people could be "Insane Magicians" (ii) the same place could be "planet Earth" and (iii) the particular characteristic could be "Old School Mtg".
Refreshed after our successful raid in Stockholm, it was now in the spirit of the UK Old School community that Brothers Stebbo and Karl made the trip North to Edinburgh, to the far-flung icy wastes of UK Old School. Where an Island might just still tap for Blue mana, as long as it hasn't frozen solid.

Edinburgh has always been good to me. I earned a place at Noobcon last year by winning the inaugural King of the North and had some great games along the way. It would only be right and proper to return as reigning King and attempt to defend my crown.

~~ the Horn of Deafening sounded!! ~~ Time for the Brothers to depart to the North. 
Brother Stebbo: So you're on the 7.30 from Euston right?

Brother Karl: Yeah.

It's profound chat, but it's also 6:38am. But this is what you do in the spirit of community. Nevermind the fact that you had a work party the night before and barely got 5 hours' sleep. But my Old School and Brothers' Highlander decks were packed long before. We are prepared.
~~ We're now aboard the train ~~
Brother Karl has enterprisingly reserved the seat next to mine. Lucky he like aisle seats!

Brother Stebbo’s URb aggro-control
My usual train diet of a Pret sandwich and a nap takes us through the Midlands. Just enough time for a quick chat about sideboard strategy. I'm set on running URb, but through my Celestial Prism I've been seeing concerning images of decks focused on creating towers made of ivory, meanwhile creating the unwelcome bureaucratic levy, or 'tax’ if you will, for making your land drops. These monstrous decks appear to win through excessive lifegain and cruel inevitability in a manner that makes the Deck look like a zaney combo deck!

My biggest concern heading into King of the North II

I muse adding a further Shatter to the maindeck and/or a Shatterstorm to the sideboard to combat this menace. But then what to take out? The choices before this humble mage are never simple.

We also consider who we might see in Scotland. One name crops up who Karl remembers from his past as a PTQ grinder. A former Scottish Nationals Champion no less. It's almost like one of the ancient Scottish kings has returned to attempt to seize the crown from this upstart Southern baron and reigning king (me). Well, they never said this was going to be easy…

~~ Arrival ~~

We arrive in Edinburgh and are greeted by the fringe festival. Brother Karl leads the way as we fight through the revellers. We resolve to take in some of the entertainment later, but first more pressing matters are at hand.
Brother Karl, rocking the denim as we make our way through the crowds that had seemingly gathered to greet our arrival…
Upon making it to the games store – shoutout to Mox in the Hole and Gabor – we are greeted by none other than Brother Scott and Sister Bev! They too have ventured north in search of fame, glory (or seeing their pal in a fringe festival show)…

~~ The tournament ~~


Round 1 - one of the joys of travelling to play in an event is not being drawn against your buddy who you play every week. So imagine my satisfaction when I got to play Rod Smith first up, organiser and Global Old School phenom.

Rod has always had an eye for creative and punishing brews, and since our last encounter clearly the icecaps of the north have thawed, as he has added some blue to his deck, which we'll call "Good Stuff Control".

Alas even his Ivory Towers are not enough, and he is dispatched 2-0.

Credit to Rod for this action shot.

Round 2 is against another seasoned Scottish Old School player, Seb, who is running UB midrange.

We play some tight games, with the most memorable play being Seb casting a Timetwister with Underworld Dreams down. Game over? Not so fast! I am able to Boomerang the Underworld Dreams and avoid taking 7. I squeak over the line 2-1.

Round 3
is against Ed Ross – a relatively new player on the Old School scene. But you remember that ancient Scottish king I was talking about? Well…

Ed is playing The Deck and we shared two warped games and one fantastic one. Game 1 sees me lead off with Land, Mox, Lotus, Mind Twist. Some introduction. Ed is almost able to claw his way back, but I'm able to take the win. Game 2 sees Ed lead with a LoA. He wins that one.

Game 3 saw some brilliant back and forth. He has the Abyss and COP Red. I have Energy Flux and Blood Moon. We go to time, but I'm able to find a way through to take the match 2-1.

Round 4 sees me playing Brother Karl on his traditional UR. He had been considering playing a more unconventional brew on the train, before being talked out of it by me.

These games are played in good spirits, but we know each other's games very well, so control battles ensue. I take game 1 and Karl takes game 2, before we go to time in game 3. 1-1-1

Round 5 sees me face off against Brother Scott. He's playing a BR Artifact control/midrange deck.

Despite an encouraging start, Scott is able to take down game 1, with his volume of Trikes and Su-Chis proving too strong for my defences. However games 2 and 3 go my way. 2-1.

Top 4

Semi Final.

I'm drawn against Brother Karl in the top 4. Game 1 goes to me as I'm able to exert 'Efreet Dominance' on the board. Game 2 is a real squeaker and comes down to me having to Timetwister whilst on 3 life, with Karl on a similarly low score. Both of us need one bit of direct damage to connect… I draw Mana Drain and a Bolt. Karl has drawn two Psionic Blasts. Unfortunately he blinks first and loses with his lethal Psi Blast on the stack. 2-0.


Predictably I have a rematch with Ed on the Deck for the marbles.

Unfortunately for Ed, I used to play the Deck extensively so know the match-up well.

Unfortunately for me, only one of us is a former PT player/champion (him) and he's visibly becoming a more powerful Old School mage with every draw step.

I take game 1, with my arsenal of direct damage proving too much for the Deck pre-board. 1-0.

Game 2 sees me board in 14 cards. A grindfest is forecast. Rod managed to snap this shot of my opening hand. I've drawn my LoA…

We have an interactive game, with a highlight being a battle for control of Ed's Serra Angel by way of a Control Magic/Disenchant etc. However the card draw of Library is too great and Ed is gamely defeated. 2-0.

And stilllllll, King of the North!

~~ Epilogue ~~

After a year of peace over the plane, the Brothers noticed a disturbance in the northern lands. So they dispatched a regal, powerful mage to restore order.

A great tournament, where I was able to meet new players and re-connect with old. Scotland has a fantastic Old School community.

Brother Karl and I went on to enjoy a curry with Rod and Sam (our gracious host), before enjoying some of the sights of the fringe.

In hindsight it was a journey which inspired me to go even further in search of Old School goodness.

As some of you have read, Rod recently injured himself practicing some of this new-fangled 'blue magic'. So we awarded him this community prize to wish him a speedy recovery. 

Stay tuned for Wanderlust, part 2, coming soon…where Brother Stebbo packs his Strip Mines in search of Old School adventure!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Tournament Organiser's Report - COPcon VII, 15th September 2018 - by Brother Jonas

Having unfortunately missed COPcon VI during my stay in the USA (long story short: moved there, bought three Strip Mines, job didn't work out, came home), it was good to be back in North East London with my fellow Brothers Of Fire for the seventh iteration of our tournament and meetup.

At twenty players, today's attendance was the healthiest it has been for a free-standing event in our spiritual home of Mirth Marvel and Maud in Walthamstow - although lacking stalwart attendees Markus (stag do) and Ben (injury).  To compensate, we were welcoming back Brother Stebbo from his recent trip as Brothers of Fire's emissary to the Old School communities in the New World.  (See a future piece on this blog for a round-up which will hopefully rival Alexis de Tocqueville in both scope and importance).

The importance of the day obviously wasn't lost on our hosts.  Among the fine ales on offer was what could only be described as a coded warning against overly-casual Chaos Orb flippers:

In fairness I've probably been guilty of a few of these, after a few of these...

With initial niceties out of the way, we set down to tackle five rounds of Swiss, all watched over by Brother Oli in his now traditional role as stats guru.  Having been running WG Enchantress in the run-up to the tournament, I fancied something a bit spikier on the day so I rebuilt a variant of my Atog deck:

The original form of this deck took its inspiration from David Chambers's original Trinket Repair Shop.  However I have cut Orcish Mechanics (fun but, in my opinion, overrated) and Ankh of Mishra (powerful but not much interaction).  Instead, I've gone for a blend of Parfait elements.  This, and the use of Blood Moon and City In A Bottle, brings it closer to what some might term hatog than lovatog.  I have yet to see this exact approach elsewhere, but I won't claim it is original because it strikes me as pretty obvious.  This said, the task of calibrating the exact weighting of Copper Tablets, Black Vises, Howling Mines, Winter Orbs, Mana Vaults, and Relic Barriers is what makes this deck interesting to me.

In its own way, this deck often played out quite controlly - frustrating the opponent's early-game strategy, disrupting the tempo of the game with a Copper Tablet and Winter Orb (or Howling Mine and Vice), and then creating inevitability by Bolting and Chaining my opponent into oblivion in the late game.  (The latter experience feeling not dissimilar from playing The Deck and getting to its equivalent: the three-Counterspell-in-hand tipping point).

As a result, my MVP on the day was Winter Orb, which was absolutely brutal against opponents running lean mana bases.  I only landed a handful of monster Atog hits all day, but the threat value, particularly with two on the table, is enough to bully opponents even when you don't really want to feed your artifacts to him.  More commonly, the Atogs sucked up the hate and cleared the path for Factories, which made them feel like something of a 'control' card in many situations.  If you believe the mark of an interesting deck is that it has several paths to victory, then I would say that this cuts the mustard.

On to the tournament.  It began with setting up a Skype console for Brother Ben to remotely play whoever got a bye.  Unfortunately for him, we had an even number of players, but it was good to know that we can host a virtual player in future - something I'd love to make happen for anyone who can commit to playing the full 5-6 rounds of Swiss as a full participant.

COPcon embraces Skype

My first pairing against Chris Cooper (of extensive Skype fame) was a re-run of our earlier preparatory match in the week.  Thankfully he was not packing his semi-infamous 'Cooper-school extreme recursion' deck from UK nationals!  His mono blue was tight and featured a number of Mahamotis - so unlike his prior deck, it had plenty to love.  Fortunately for me, I was on a strong start.  In game 1 I sneaked through an 11-point Atog hit, and a Su-Chi did most of the work in game 2 after he knocked out my Library with a Chaos Orb.

Not pictured: our first use of the venue's overflow area!

Round 2 against scene veteran Graeme was highly entertaining.  His first turn in game one consisted of laying two Howling Mines on the table.  When I then played my Library of Alexandria, I had the rather surreal task of having to work hard to get my hand size down far enough to make it usable!  He took game one with a Stasis lock.

After sideboarding I was able to wield the all-important Red Elemental Blast, and a Ruby, Sol Ring, Winter Orb, and Factory came together to provide the beatdown.

In game three I made an early Vice stick and although he took me to 12, I finished with a large Fireball.  All three games were by turns aggressive and defensive, with the lead changing hands a lot.

At 2-0 I was feeling pretty good but Stuart, playing his first COPcon in Walthamstow, overcame me 2-1 in another enjoyable match.  Even with the white splash in the sideboard, my deck was vulnerable to both Moat (which was in his 60) and Serra Angel, which is a real pain for RW to get off the table (for obvious reasons, I'm not playing Swords).

My spotless win record was further sullied by an additional 2-1 loss to Jordan.  The contents of his deck have been lost to this ale-tinged mists of time in my brain, but the good vibes of our match and his gentlemanly enquiries as to whether I wished to use my Relic Barrier in his upkeeps remain strong in my recollection.

Like many players with an appreciation for spicy decks, just because I am a member of the Enchantress Fan Club doesn't mean I don't still like to win more than I lose, so at 2-2 I faced George with this objective at stake.

Befitting his professional role at the UK's leading trading house, his deck was a pimped-up beast which always seemed to find an answer for my threats.  In game one, the top four cards at one stage consisted of his full complement of three Swords to Plowshares!  However my early Blood Moon was too hard to overturn.  George had revenge in game two which levelled the scores with brutality: a turn one Juzam, a turn 2 Time Walk and Spirit Link, and a turn three Strip Mine.

As with every match since round one, it came down to a deciding game.  This time I squeaked through with the assistance of City In A Bottle.  Leaving aside my gratitude towards it for this particular game, I'm still firmly opposed to the renewed calls online from people saying it should be restricted.  As my brother has said, if you don't like CiaB, play Artifact Blast.

I finished fourth, and having played different and unpredictable decks in every round, and every match having been close, this felt like the most high-quality day of "competitive" Magic I've played in a long time.

Note to self: taking losing games to 2-1 is ideal for coming in at the top of a points bracket!
Note to readers: Your humble writer appears at number 4 under one his aliases

After five rounds of Swiss we had a clear winner and a play-off would have been gilding the lotus.  It was time to award the prizes.  Bryan Connolly, running URB, stormed through to be unbeaten in the Swiss and take the COP:Artifacts, which will now adorn his seventy-five at all future COPcons.  (Watch out, you Armageddon Clockers!).

The main prize of the day, the Brothers Of Fire for Spirit of COPcon, went to newcomer Chris S who was visiting with a delegation from the recently-formed South of England group.  It's great to hear of new groups emerging in Old School and I'm hoping Brothers Of Fire can make the return trip to an event of theirs soon.  Chris's several off-kilter selections in his WB deck, combined with peerless sportsmanship, clinched the prize on a day that was strong with flavourful decks and good spirit.

Stories circulated of some memorable plays, of which the following three struck me as winners of Play of the Day under many circumstances:

  • One counter war after boarding saw 2 Counterspells, a Flash Counter and FIVE Elemental Blasts on the stack
  • Ehrnam Djinn triple Giant Growthed in the face of a single untapped Island seemingly for lethal damage... only to be Unsummoned 
  • A mulligan to five on the play was offset by dropping a land, Mox, Sol Ring, Lotus, Timewister

Not bad!

For those who could remain, we then proceeded to power through the Five Inch Drops and onto the fun games.  My Verduran Enchantress got an airing against Graeme's incredible five-colour Elder Dragon deck.  I was able to "enjoy" a Magic career-first of losing my whole hand to a successful Nicol Bolas attack.  Only two cards, but it counts.  Well - it was certainly more fun than being Mind Twisted.

Next up I was eager to play BoF-winner Chris, who had brought a 100-card singleton deck in to our house format: Brothers' Highlander (rules here).  I'm hoping to persuade him to write an article about it, so I won't share the full details.  But suffice to say it was as close as Magic will ever get to a Tolkein set, realised in the rich palette of Old School.  A thing of beauty.

Finally I had a chance to play UK N00bcon 2019 entrant Patrick using his tournament deck from earlier.  At this stage we were running on fumes but I had the chance to witness his lovely new alters up close (see deck pic below).  I was also able to exact partial revenge for the 5-0 drubbing meted out to me by his wife on our last meeting!  In Old School, family pride counts.

With that done, it was all over.  Thank you to everyone who came and made it a really great day.  I hope to see as many as possible at the next COPcon which is going to have a couple of surprises planned.

Group photo, minus two

Deck pics:

Chris Cooper - Mono Blue

 George - BUW

Patrick - RB (see Maze, bottom right!)

Brother Stebbo - WR "Jetlag control"

Brother Scott - Deadguy Ale

Stuart S - UWb Skies (extra card is a Moat)

Brother Jonas - Atog Parfait

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Event Report - UK Old School Nationals, 18 August 2018 – by Brother Ben

Brother Ben meets up with some friendly faces in competition at this evergreen UK gathering...

18th August saw Old School being recognised as a headline event at the UK magic nationals at Watford. (about an hour from central London). Event organisers Elizabeth Kolb-Barnetson and Francois Huchard kindly arranged for us to have a secure area close to the bar. An undisclosed prize was at stake, and everyone brought their A-game.

The event attracted a selection of Old School regulars as well as some old faces from back in the day, including legendary Chad Valentine. In particular it was great to see amiable magic veteran Graham Baker, famous for his love of white cards.

I anticipated a field of counter-burn decks, which are currently popular in the UK. I aimed to play around this, loading my sideboard with blue blasts, COP: Blue, COP: Red, Sleight of Mind, Ivory Tower, etc.

Special mention goes out to Jason Savage who had brewed a sweet powerhouse of a deck, leaning heavily on Mana Vaults, Juggernauts, Su-Chis, and Copy Artifact to power out big fatties early, backed up with an array of restricted cards. He went 5-0 in the Swiss.

Chris Cooper needs no introduction and brought a fresh brew too. While Jason’s creation generated exciting games loaded with power plays and great escapes, Chris took the opposite approach and made a version of Randy’s tax code deck, cutting the Land’s Edge. As far as I could see, this made his wincon getting to 100 life and boring all opponents into submission by looping Timetwisters and Tawnos’ Crypt. Somehow only one of his matches went to time!

So my UW deck squeaked into the top 4 after going 3-1-1 in the swiss. I wasn’t departing much from Alban’s decklist from N00bcon 10. I met Jason in the semis and I was thankful for the advice of Josh Knight from Barcelona to play main-deck Divine Offering. It was intended to help me against Atog decks, of which I saw none, but it came in handy against Jason’s turn 1, 2, and 3 fatties. We even had time for a game of Brothers' Highlander while waiting for the other semi-final to finish. All hope was lost in game 3 of the final, but I managed a great escape. My opponent was a great competitor and I hope we can play again one day.

The mystery prize was a Thunder Spirit. Thanks go to Elizabeth and Francois for a great day.

With the UK Nationals complete, I'm now looking forward to COPcon VII - the next Brothers Of Fire event - on 15th September in London. And after that, I'll be at Fishliver Oil in October.

Thanks everyone, Ben.

A blurry shot of Chris's deck

Using Disenchant to force my opponent to copy a Sol Ring

Brothers' Highlander in progress