Monday, 17 June 2019

Tournament Report: n00bcon XI, by Brother Stebbo

N00bcon XI diaries or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About 7 Orbs and Became the People’s Champ

We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when...

Vera Lynn, as featured in Stanley’s Kubrick’s 'Dr. Strangelove'

The dust has now settled on an amazing trip to Sweden. A festival of Old School – getting to meet friends “from the internet” in real life and reconnect with many global Old School communities and figures. And to do it alongside many friends from our club, the Brothers of Fire, was the cherry on top. Whilst we are lucky to have many Old School events to pick from these days, it’s difficult not to think of these halcyon times as being vanishingly rare and very special indeed.

I’ve also found that it’s surprisingly difficult to write about, and do it justice. It may sound like a trite remark, but n00bcon truly is unique. We are eternally grateful to Magnus, and his retinue of lieutenants (who I won’t name, but all know who they are) for giving us such a remarkable event.

Here’s my account of the weekend, in a light-hearted diary format…

Thursday. 7am – 9am: With my decks for Wizards Tournament II (WT2), n00bcon XI and Brothers Highlander packed I’m ready to take the early flight to Gothenburg from London, having met up with the other Brothers and some other attendees at the airport. I indulge in an Englishman’s birthright, aka a pint at the airport.

Plane-buddy Brother Oli had a reduced night’s sleep, so tells me he could do with 40 winks on the flight. I duly oblige with a somnophoric account of my WT2 deck’s manabase, which I’m worried is a mana source light. This dilemma is (fittingly) resolved with the crude approach I would have taken in my youth – simply “adding a basic” to the pile.

Full English and an “Englishman’s birthright”.

3pm: We make it to the Rotary Pub to mix with aforementioned Old School friends old and new. I scoop up a copy of the amazing Prodigal Sorcerer fanzine penned by MG and friends to read later, and say hello to a few friends. The first treat of the weekend is seeing David M’s amazing Old School Heroes deck. David had really gone all out with this project, with the cards even being printed by Carta Mundi!


It was an honour to be included and ‘immortalised’ in token form!

5pm (ish) – late: Wizards’ Tournament II

Onto the WT2, which was highly anticipated to say the least. Indeed the Alpha-only community has blossomed in the past 12 months, and we were at over 100 players for this second iteration. All 6 of the Brothers of Fire Founders were competing, and you can recap the summary of our preparations here.

Brother Oli went back to remained firmly at his roots with this sumptuous Mono White build.

Oli’s Mono White Dingus Aggro

Meanwhile Brother Jonas was rocking an insane mono red list. Jonas was on a quest to cast 100 Bolts for the weekend, and this deck was playing its part, featuring 10 Bolts!

I really like this mono red build as it drips with Alpha rules flavour: 7 Balloon Brigades with their unique ability, a “charm” artifact in Iron Star, Orcish Oriflamme and Artillery at the wrong mana cost, 10 Bolts…
Jonas’ deck as a work in progress (missing 5 Bolts…)

My own list was like a mini version of the Deck. It contained a bunch of answers, 2 Fireballs and a copy of the Hive. A baker’s playset of Sol Rings keep the machine humming nicely. My goal was essentially to either power out a busted start from which there is no return, or take my opponent into the deep waters and grind a victory from there. With 2 Demonic Tutor and 2 Regrowth, and some singleton powerful spells, you can come up with some fairly degenerate lines, such as multiple Time Walk recursion or replaying Ancestral for absurd value.
Stebbo’s 5 colour good stuff

For the tournament itself, using modern technology was frowned upon. So most of the photos were taken using a “90s” disposable camera. It wonderfully captures the grainy aesthetic of the early Magic events you sometimes see pictures of, even if half the photos are unusable…

I love the ‘find a player’ element of the tournament, which is unique and encourages sociability between the players. I played Bob A from the Lords of the Pit first. I hadn’t gotten the chance to play Bob, one of the leaders of this community, during my time in Chicago last year, so this was a real bonus. Sadly this wasn’t a classic as I swept aside his BG deck (1-0).
Giant Wasps vs Bob’s Giant Spider

I next edged out Antonio from the Catalan community who is known for creating those wonderful playmats and artwork themed on Old School-meets-cult films/games. The games were fun, if brutal: Game 1 I Fireballed him out. Game 2 He was able to hit me with Channel Fireball for the win. Game 3, I was able to pick apart his hand before unleashing a swarm of Giant Wasps in game 3 (2-0).
Channel Fireball – the timeless combo – from Antonio in game 2

I then faced Elias from the Stockholm in a Bottle crew. A great guy who was playing a very powerful red-themed deck with multiple power pieces, Gauntlets, big X spells and a Shivan Dragon. Somehow I narrowly escaped with the win (3-0)

My next game was against Will M - a decorated Vintage and Old School player whose name I’ve known (and feared) for some time. Yet, pursuant to my ‘Internet of Friends’ comment above, this was our first meeting in person. We split a couple of tight games, where Will’s innovative Psychic Venom deck did some serious work, and where I probably got a bit lucky. Game 3 went my way, largely due to a busted draw and Will forgetting to separate his permanents, not expecting a Chaos Orb! Probably got away with one there... (4-0)
Twiddle your Island for 6?

I then edged a win against Gordon on a quirky direct damage list. This was a super grindy match-up and the highlight was a good natured rules dispute for the ages between Gordon and judge Marc about how Ivory Cup worked under WT2 rules (5-0).

This game narrowly went in my favour (as did this ruling…)

My final Swiss game was against ‘Sister’ Paul - another good friend online that I was meeting in person for the first time. We played for honour, with our places in the top 4 secured, and I squeaked a win against his beautiful combo deck featuring a mental 11 pieces of power! (6-0)

WT2 Top 4

My top 4 opponent needs no introduction, with a literal “school of Magic” bearing his name.

Brian Weissman and Brother Stebbo (colourised)

An account of this game is featured on my Flippin’ Orbs/ATC interview . But it’s worth reliving it here, as it was a real classic.

Brian was running his infamous 7 Orb aggro-control deck, using 2 Fireballs and as yet unspecified number of Juggernauts (in excess of 4).

Game 1 saw Brian’s Chaos Orbs, control pieces and Juggernaught beatdown take the game easily, as I never really got out the gates and the crowd was getting anxious…

Brian rocking 6 Sol Rings, an Icy and a Scepter

Game 2 – realising Brian’s trademark layout for cards gave him an unintended benefit in a game with multiple Chaos Orbs under the original rules and a small table, I adopted the “38th parallel” strategy and actively managed the board space by ensuring my ‘front line’ of cards were in the middle of the playmat to give us an equal share. Brian had at this point nonchalantly revealed he was running 7 Orbs(!) - so I did my best to separate my permanents out as well, to stymie Brian’s Orbs effectiveness!
Game 2 in progress…

The game was very close - Brian had sent off a big Fireball early, but I was able to stabilise with my trusty Ivory Cup, and I began picking off his Juggernauts.

It wasn’t all my own way however as my Ivory Cup was dispatched by an Orb. “Chaos Orb the Ivory Cup - never thought I’d say that!” quipped Brian as the Cup went down...

Brian preparing an Orb flip as various Old School community figures watch on

Not before long we were at end-game. With no way to shuffle his cards back in, Brian drew the last card in his library and had 25 mana up. Enough for a Fireball for 24! Unfortunately for him, I’d managed to accrue 25 life, and I was left on 1 life as Brian decked!

The crowd erupted with a cheer! and a brief “Stebbo” chant went up! This left me in the awkward position of having to inform Brian that it appeared that I was the crowd favourite and he was therefore likely the pantomime villain, much to our amusement. Thinking back, as the man is credited with inventing the Deck, I’m sure it wasn’t the first time in history that he’d assumed the ‘comedy villain’ role in a tournament...!

Game 3. The game saw me gain an initial advantage, as Brian “fake anted” one of his Fireballs. And then he was forced to use his last Fireball to engulf a dangerous swarm of Giant Wasps, which were slowly chipping away at his life!

3 Giant Wasps take to the skies in the decider, as Brian digs for answers with Tome…

With my manabase being devastated from an attack from Brian’s Orbs (to the extent that I no longer had double blue), my Fireball was no longer a viable win con. This left my out being Brian’s rapidly depleting library. My Ivory Cup was gone. Brian’s outs were just an unspecified number of remaining Juggernauts. He also had a Disrupting Scepter down doing the lord’s work, at one point forcing me to discard an uncastable, but lethal Braingeyser...

The climax of the game saw me stick a Tome, and Brian stick his final 2 Juggernauts. We seemed to have exhausted the Orbs, so it was down to this and what cards remained in our decks.

I was on maybe 24 life. The Juggernauts swung in, I Disenchant one. 19 life.

My Draw and Tome activation, both blanks. Brian blanks on his draw. Juggernaut attacks. 14.

We both go and blank again. 9 life. Getting desperate…

I draw - blank. Activate Tome... a Balance! After a moment of thought, I reveal the card and the crowd erupts again! The Juggernaut is discarded from play.

Brian, now on maybe 2 or 3 cards in his Library (to my 7+) gamely casts a lethal Wheel of Fortune to fall on his sword and deck himself.
An epic and nail-biting finale, and a fitting end with a Jayemdae Tome activation proving decisive against the man who had made the card famous. I was thrilled that the deck I’d built myself with all cards I owned, and with literally zero test games, had beaten a deck piloted by a Magic great, with access to much greater resources.

What was also nice was that Brian and I both recognised the absurdity of the situation and the format. These were both ridiculously powerful decks. This was a uniquely degenerate moment we’d shared.

Brian graciously posed for some post-match photos, and was incredibly generous with his time the following evening at n00bcon giving me an in-depth history of the Deck and the true “Wild West” days of early 94 Magic, in between rounds at n00bcon.

My final game was against another decorated player, former Vintage champion Steve Menendian. Steve was borrowing the infamous “t1 kill deck” which ostensibly eschews gameplay for raw power.

This was likely the most powerful deck that’s ever been played in a tournament, and it’s fair to say it has been divisive in the community. I resolved to play to my outs, but losing the die role assured defeat for my plucky deck. For good order I played out a game before conceding a match that was inevitably anticlimactic after the epic semi-final that had come before.

Steve’s in-depth account of the deck and the all-Alpha format can be found here. I’ve read and enjoyed many of his published works, so I’d encourage you to check them out if you haven’t already. As a long-time listener of So Many Insane Plays it was great to meet Steve and we had a good discussion on the Alpha 40 format (and its degeneracy) the following day - I hope we get to play another game someday in an Old School format that utilises a B&R list!

Whilst I may not have won the event, I was honoured and surprised by this community prize, given to me in-between rounds at n00bcon the following day! It means a lot to have a prize card signed by so many community figures, and I love the joke. Although now I’ll need to play white in my Brothers Highlander deck so that I can cast the People’s Champ in a game sometime!
With the WT2 running past midnight, I’d missed dinner – but returned to the hotel for some moderate gloating and final tuning of my Swedish deck with some of the other Brothers ahead of tomorrow…

Friday. A chilled start – arriving at the Rotary with time to press the flesh with some of the other communities before n00bcon itself began. I was running a standard Dibatog list which went a respectable 4-3. It was an improvement on last year, but with each defeat being a mix of bad luck and inexperience with the deck, it was a little disappointing. Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.

Quickly noting the main event itself – I was lucky enough to find the endurance to stay until the finals were over at gone 6am. Truly epic games of Magic, and my congratulations to Fluffy, and commiserations to Mano and Svante for their respective runs in the tournament. Performance of the day however should go to Brother Jordan, who made the top 8 with a “suboptimal” Fish list, demonstrating how tight a player he is.

Friday also saw another defeat on the 18th green for the British in the Ryder Cup of Old School. We again had our chances and ran the Yanks close, but their closer Will M proved unstoppable and sealed the tight 3-2 win. Whilst a comedy team event is no time for personal highlights, nonetheless I was pleased to continue my winning streak over Shane S, who earlier had been made an honorary Brother, with Brother Markus kindly gifting Shane his sacred Brothers of Fire jacket!

Saturday. I managed to get about 5 hours sleep after the late finish the night before. But I was up and raring to go at the Brothers’ event of the trip – the Venarian Gold Social. A roaming caravan of Magic players bar hopping whilst playing Brothers Highlander - the connoisseur’s choice of 100-card singleton formats.

We were greeted early by Hunter P, Paul, and Flovo and we got to show off some niche cards and quirky boardstates.

The night turned into a hilarious karaoke session, with the high point of a group singalong of Bryan Adams - Summer of ‘93!

The day was casual fun and a breath of fresh air after 2-3 days of intense gaming, although that said, Will M and I tried to squeeze as many competitive games in as we could mid-karaoke – trying to get every possible drop of gaming from the weekend!

Sunday. A relaxed affair and saw some of the Brothers attend the ABU Bloc(k) Party hosted by the Urborg Legion, led expertly by Christian R.

I was unsure what to play, and was limited by what cards I’d brought along for my other decks. I settled on this ‘4c counterless control’ build, hastily constructed in the pub.
It was by no means optimal but ran well enough to finish undefeated and take home this sweet Urborg prize card. Straight in the Brothers Highlander deck!
The Urborg guys are a blast and we signed this in their Magic Encyclopaedia as a memento!
With that, our weekend in gaming paradise was over, until next time…

Huge thanks to the various people who took photos of my games vs Brian Weissman – in compiling this article I was really taken with how they capture the spirit of WT2.

Thanks for reading,

Brother Stebbo

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Tournament Report: Fishing in Sweden: my first Noobcon - by Brother Jordan

About five months after Andrew, Pieter and I won the Team World Cup and got our first ever n00bcon invites, the day had finally arrived! I put quite a lot of thought into my deck over that period, and was pretty happy with what I'd come up with given my constraints - namely that most of my collection is Revised / FBB, which are allowed under UK rules but considered proxies in Sweden.

I couldn't afford to upgrade any of the expensive stuff (duals etc), but I was happy to buy Unlimited random stuff. So that meant I had to go mono-colour, and because I'd recently acquired a Time Walk, an Ancestral, and a Sapphire, I figured I should go blue. Unfortunately I certainly couldn't afford to get Swedish-legal Dibs and although Brother Ben had kindly offered to lend me some, I personally think it's bad mojo to borrow cards. I also don't like playing obviously sub-optimal versions of a given concept (happy to play sub-optimal concepts though), so I wanted to find a mono-blue deck that didn't even want them. I toyed with some weird Ghost Ship / Giant Tortoise control deck, but Ben gave me the sensible advice to play something quicker / easier so I'd have drinking time. I eventually settled on fish!

The only lists I'd seen running the Pearl Trident crew were pretty classic suicide blue builds including Dibs and Unstable Mutations, and generally few to no counters. Some early playtesting convinced me that Unstables suck (mostly because it's so easy to get two-for-one'd, and they're a dead draw when you have an empty board). I also really like countering spells, so I decided to go more in that direction. Ben helped once again by suggesting main-deck Energy Flux (good call!), and then I wanted to play Psi Blasts and a couple of Control Magics (strong card I think). With six three-drops already, I was able to tell myself the deck didn't want Dibs because they'd ruin the mana curve (and in retrospect I think that may have been true!). Anyway, after a lot of thinking and a fair bit of testing, I settled on this list:

I got to Gothenburg around 6 on Thursday evening and ended up having a great first day and drinking until 3-ish. After breakfast and then pizza, we got to the pub a bit early and quite thirsty, only to find that it wasn't open yet! But there was a great atmosphere already and before too long they let us in. At that point I was feeling quite excited and moderately optimistic, but basically I was hoping to win more matches than I lost. Anyway, after a fair bit of waiting, much chatting and a couple of beers, we finally got our first pairings.

I remember shockingly few details from the day's play but here's a rough overview of what happened. Round 1 was against Will, who'd I'd been chatting to earlier and had come all the way from America. He was playing (as I would later discover) the same 75 as Svante and Brian - a finely-tuned and rather potent Atog build. But as luck would have it, I got lucky - or rather, Will got unlucky. I think he drew something like 4 or 5 lands total in two games and the fish came out on curve and made good use of Energy Flux in game 1. Will was a total gent about it, but nobody likes getting mana screwed. I was quite relieved to win my first match, in part because I figured my deck would actually do better against the higher end of the field (things like white weenie or green ramp would have wrecked me I think).

I ended up winning my next three matches as well, one of which was against Svante. I didn't yet know that it was exactly the same list, but it was clearly Atog. This time round we did actually have real games, but luck smiled on me again. Flux did some good work for me, and City in a Bottle did some good work for him. I think I managed to win one of the games after Svante's deck didn't give him a single land on a Timetwister, allowing me to finish it with my seven new cards. In the last game, a lengthy back-and-forth led to the point where Svante had nothing much on the board, and I had a DanDan and two flying men, with one Counterspell in hand. He played a Bottle, which I obviously had to counter, but he followed it up with a Balance - his last card in hand (I had several). Luckily for me I went on to draw a few fish while he drew vices and land, allowing me to sneak the win.

In round 5 I was paired up against Bryan, who finally got revenge for the Atog list. In the first game he had to mull down to 4, ultimately keeping a hand with no lands. He was on the play, so his first turn involved doing literally nothing. Needless to say I was pretty confident of the win at this point, but it wasn't to be. I had kept a hand with just one land and a Sapphire (a reasonable keep on the draw for my deck), but I ended up drawing only one more land in the game. He dropped an early vice (turn 2 maybe), and I happened to have a hand with mostly counters. The net result was that I couldn't play enough cards to get under the vice, and didn't have much by way of pressure. The vice and a bit of burn ultimately did me in, for a rather embarrassing loss. The second game was another sound beating, leaving me on 4-1 and bringing my winning streak to an end.

At this point I knew I couldn't afford another loss, and fortunately I managed to win round 6. The final round of Swiss was incredibly tense, since the winner would make the Top 8 and the loser wouldn't. I was paired up against a gentleman whose name now escapes me, and I had no clue what he was playing. In contrast to the rest of the day, this match involved minimal chit-chat - we were both focussed on getting the win. In the first game he played a Sylvan, duals of various colours and quite a few restricted cards, but his deck didn't really do anything. I had a fairly aggressive start and won it quite quickly with a swarm of little dudes, but I was left with no idea of what he was playing. Having seen that he played islands, I boarded in two more DanDans and left it at that. In the second game it quickly became apparent that he was in fact playing Twiddle Vault, and despite drawing loads of extra cards off his howling mines, I wasn't able to finish him before his deck went off big time, taking about five turns in a row by recurring Time Walk before eventually dropping the Vault with multiple Twiddles in hand, at which point I scooped (although in retrospect I maybe should have made him play it out - he still needed to kill me somehow). 

Having now seen what the deck did, I boarded out my Unsummons and Control Magics and boarded in more Energy Flux (for the Mines) and a few other things. I played first and dropped a 1/1 dork, followed up by two more on my second turn. But there was a nasty surprise waiting for me on his second turn: Mana Vault into Erhnam, follwed by another Mana Vault and another Erhnam on turn three! Turns out he had a transformative sideboard that made it more of an Erhnageddon type thing. Suddenly my hopes of victory were dashed, having taken out most of my answers to big creatures. 

After a turn or two of me swinging with little dorks and him swinging with big scary Djinns, I managed to kill one of them by blocking with a Pearl Trident and then Psi Blasting, leaving me on 3 and him on a lot more. As luck would have it, I top-decked Chaos Orb. This was probably the highest pressure flip I've ever had to make, but I made it and took out the second Djinn. Miraculously he drew no further threats, and over the next few turns I managed to kill him with a few fish.

To my amazement, my tiebreakers meant that I finished the Swiss in second place! My quarter-final match ended up being a bit of an anticlimax, losing fairly quickly to an opponent playing a different Atog build with Su-Chi and some other stuff. In retrospect I think I was playing quite badly (there was a long delay before the Semis, during which the adrenaline wore off and the beer started catching up with me), but I'm not sure if my misplays were decisive. Of course I would have loved to go further, but I was totally happy to have gotten so far and walked away with a trophy and, fittingly, a copy of Deep Water!

Finally, I wanted to share some thoughts about the deck, having played it quite a lot against a wide range of opponents (both at n00bcon and in preparation for it). Overall, I'm certainly not going to pretend it's a Tier 1 deck - I wouldn't have gotten as far as I did without quite a lot of luck. But it's relatively affordable, fun to play, and stronger than it looks at first glance.

In terms of the creature suite: Flying Men are great (pity they die to Bottle), and the Merfolk (mainly the Lords) are possibly even better. The DanDans proved surprisingly strong, even in main deck (though again the Bottle thing really sucks!). At worst, they're a 4/1 wall for UU, which trades with pumped Factories, Su-Chis, and various other things. At best, they're a pretty fast clock! The Serendib Djins didn't pull their weight (extremely situational), so I plan to cut them for two Clones (mainly to copy Lords). I'm not certain Dibs would actually make it better, but they might.

In terms of mana base: It felt about right overall. Not sure about the Sol Ring - it should maybe be a 4th Factory or another Island).

In terms of other spells: I was VERY glad to be playing counters - you need them against all the higher-impact cards out there. Adding a Mana Drain (mine is Italian) probably wouldn't hurt, but the Spell Blasts were pretty great (so many of the things you want to counter are only 1 or 2 mana). The two main-deck Energy Fluxes were very useful, as were the Control Magics. And the one main deck Phantasmal Terrain was pretty handy, mainly as another answer to Library, Maze, and Factory - but occasionally to make an Island for the fish. A second one wouldn't hurt, but there isn't anything I'd cut for it.

I hope someone out there finds this useful! Happy Fishing!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Tournament Report, n00bcon XI - Brother Jonas

What, a hundred, man?
- Henry V
Henry IV, Part I, [II, 4]

This year's n00bcon was shaping up to be the largest festival of Old School ever held, thanks to the ongoing growth in the popularity of the format and the fact that in addition to the World Championships, a series of independent side events in Gothenburg presented an overload of gaming and socialising opportunities.  On top of that, the list of attendees was a veritable Who's Who? of global Old School.

With so much to look forward to, all I could think beforehand was that the only danger was that expectations would simply be too high.  In accordance with the scale of the event, I decided to set myself a personal Everest: to complete 'The Century of Bolts' by casting Lightning Bolt 100 times in real play over the days we were out there.  A handheld clicking-counter was duly purchased on eBay for the purpose.

Qualification for n00bcon is tough - there simply isn't room for everyone who might want to attend.  But thanks in part to success in the World Cup, the Brothers Of Fire was again a large delegation this year, with plenty of first-timers in our team.  As a result, a large group formed on Thursday morning at Stansted Airport for Roc of Kher Ridges Airways to ferry us to our destination.  After, that is, the now-traditional full English breakfast:

Stebbo keeping it tight in 1993 swag
With time for some in-flight warm-up games against Brother Ben, I was able to make the first two entries in my quest to scale the Century.

After a quick stop-off at the hotel, we headed on to the Rotary, the spiritual home of Old School.  It's always an experience to walk in, but this year felt even headier than usual.  In the early 00s Weezer made a music video in the form of all the current memes of the time, inviting the participants back to a large studio to recreate their moments of fame.  The participants commented afterwards that it "felt like walking into the internet", and there was something of this for me, especially given the growth of podcast content in the last year which has brought people's voices to eager ears.

We also had the chance to see David M's incredible contribution, the Old School Heroes card game!  Probably the first and last time I will be immortalised in cardboard form, complete with Minor Threat flavour text...

With that done, we were into the Wizards' Tournament 2, a chance to turn the clock back to 1993 and enjoy the game in full throwback style.  With a very meagre Alpha collection myself, I was assisted heavily by a 'Mysterious Benefactor' who lent me my deck.  By bringing my own Alpha bolts to the table, we were able to unleash 'the DecaBolt', which meant I was packing 10 bolts in my 40-card deck.  If you're going to break the four-of card restriction, then you may as well do it properly! Plus, it's a common card - so, you know, " Garfield intended", right?

Brother Pat and I in obligatory backpatch mode
Seeing as they were his cards, I'll leave my Benefactor to discuss the exact makeup of the deck in a future article, but suffice to say, for a "cut-me-and-I-bleed-red" burn mage like myself, this was the Old School equivalent of driving a drag racer.  But then, performance was secondary to the richness and fun-factor of the event. For my first game, I was lucky enough to be seated next to Jason Schwarz and to watch his jaw-dropping fully-powered deck in action, all without basic compromises to modernity like, er, sleeves.

Chaos Orb countermeasures, Deckmaster-style

As well as a frankly indecent number of 93-era Orcish Artilleries, I cast a fair few Lightning Bolts in the course of the action, and tracked every one on my trusty Bolt-counter on my way to a solid 3-2 finish.  My running total provoked a few moments of mirth, although I did feel sorry for Alex P who was on the end of no fewer than eight of them in the course of one short game.  I don't think I will ever cast so many again.  I also learned that in 1993, Iron Star was absolutely busted!

By the end of the day, I retired to grab dinner with a number of the others, and was pleased to reflect on a very healthy count:

While eating, we learned that Brother Stebbo had heroically made it to the final of the event, which was the subject of some celebration.  That he was beaten by an unbeatable deck was perhaps a shame.  Personally I consider Alpha-only Magic to be even more of a "who gets the joke?" format than Old School, which in itself ought to be played very much in recognition of the absurdity of the game.  On that basis, the fielding of the kind of deck we whispered about in school playgrounds seemed amusing and fitting.  On the other hand, the complete removal of chance maybe took it too far - with similarly insane resources at my disposal, I would have been tempted to run with the mythical Benalish Hero / Crusade megadeck.  But each to their own - I felt that the winner had proven his point, but for Stebbo to reach the final using his own cards, and only singles of many of the power (including Chaos Orb) was a notable achievement even by his spiky standards!

Few of us wanted to overdo the festivities that night, conscious that tomorrow was the big event (no, not the Ryder Cup, although more on that later).

In traditional style, this began with MG's balcony address, much good cheer and anticipation, and the signing of the greatest prize of them all:

Upon picking up my name tag I also noted that I have finally entered the select coterie of nicknamed n00bcon attendees...

This year was an evolved version of the deck I have fielded twice at n00bcon - every year I add more white to the red base, which means I am now pink and will presumably soon be turning a whiter shade of pale. By 2023 I will be running a certain WWW Arabian Nights card with a risque title...

I built this deck to ensure interactive games - in Bolt, Disenchant, Divine Offering, and Swords it has answers to pretty much everything, but plenty of early threat value in the form of Lions, and then some mid-range power in the Su-Chis and Angels.

Unfortunately, its performance in the tournament fell below expectations - I came out 3-4.  Despite this, I had some brilliant games against Charlie H, the dapper Martin Berlin, Alex Raja, Vincent Protic, and a particularly memorable (and close) final match-up against Francesc Montserrat. I was also able to cast a LOT of Lightning Bolts, taking me to 74 for the weekend:

With the formality of this event out of the way, we proceeded to the Ryder Cup - the annual Chaos Orb flip-off contest initiated by the UK and competed for by delegations from our side and from the USA.  (It has since been commented that the 'other' Ryder Cup - in golf - is actually competed for between the US and Europe - in fact this has only been the case since 1979).

While the trophy had been in possession of the US team, its custodian, Shane, had given it the mother of all makeovers.  I was rendered speechless upon seeing the formerly humble prize now elevated to something closer to its full status:

With the US holding the trophy from last year's narrow win, I once again captained the British delegation.  Unfortunately, our colonial cousins were once again stronger, edging the prize 3-2.

It was an emotional defeat, but with the consolation of knowing that with the new trophy and this fresh infusion of interest in the competition, its international future feels assured for the coming years.  I congratulate my opposite number as captain, Danny - although it's fitting that our personal head-to-head score as captains remains 1-1.  (This ongoing contest also doesn't dim the spirit of fraternisation between our countries - with Shane made Brothers of Fire's first-ever honorary member and Will M and Mano becoming official trial prospects for membership).

Even now, the fun was not over, with Markus's much-anticipated '40K' ante tournament taking place. This was one for the serious players, but made good watching.

Too rich for my blood, even with all those Jewelled Birds flying about!
The World Championships ran late - with Svante's Atog build (co-authored with Mano and Will M) competing in the final against Fluffy's The Deck. The fact that the meta in Sweden is still evolving feels to me like incredible validation of the depth of Old School as a game in the purest sense, which remains 'unsolved' even after the collective engagement of millions of brain-hours.

By day three, it was time for something different and the Brothers Of Fire held our own side event: the Venarian Gold Social.  Guest of honour was Brother Jordan, who upheld the honour of our entire club by absolutely smashing it at n00bcon - going to 2nd in the Swiss and bowing out with much acclaim in the quarter-finals.  Not only this, but a feat he achieved without any borrowed cards, and running mono-blue Merfolk!  An achievement for the annals.

The Venarian Gold Social was a chance to step back from usual Old School and to take in the sights of Gothenburg while playing some Brothers' Highlander (our house format of 100-card singleton).  Needless to say, this was a great day.  I even managed to add to my bolt count, although I still lay some way short of my century:

The day unfolded perfectly to plan as we were joined by a succession of people who also fancied a change of pace.  What wasn't in the plan was a considerable late-night escalation as the Venarian Gold Social achieved lift-off and became a major karaoke party in a downtown bar.  Much hilarity ensued (some of it captured elsewhere on the internet).  Some things are maybe left better in the memory, but personal highlights included a group singalong to Bryan Adams's 'Summer of 93', a live rendition of the All Tings Considered podcast theme tune by its host, Mano, and some incredible hi-jinks from Gordon Andersson.  For me this was possibly the highlight of a weekend full of them.

The winners of the Social: Hunter P (Gold), Mano (Silver), and Florian von B (Bronze)

Gordon giving it everything

Two brothers doing Weezer

With our flights home booked for the evening, we had one day left.  Thankfully the amazing chaps of the Urborg Legion had organised a final day event at a pub - ABU only.  Upon arrival, we also discovered that Christian had banned Mind Twist to keep the day fun - this went down less well with some of our group:

Let's (not) Twist Again
As well as wanting to do well in the event, I also had one eye on completing the century.  Brother Stebbo agreed to play games in the departure lounge if that was what it took - but I wanted to achieve it in open play if I possibly could.

For this event I wanted to give some play to Goblin King as well as air a few under-appreciated core set cards - but crucially I wanted to see plenty of bolts.  I had fun matchups with Elias, Bjorn Johnnie (who avenged our last match with a clinical 2-0 win), Brother Stebbo, and Martin J.  With one match to go, I was achingly close to my goal at a total of 96, with this photo taken shortly before:

Cometh the hour, cometh the man - Christian himself stepped up for my final game in the tournament.  After he was forced to Berserk my Dragon Whelp in our first game I feared I wouldn't make it, but fortunately there was enough in the tank and I crossed the line just in time, bolting him to the face at the start of game two just to make sure.

With that milestone done, and the ceremonial raising of the bat, it was time to complete the tournament (won overall by Brother Stebbo), and after final handshakes we returned home, complete in my case with a LOT of new swag:

Reviewing the other reviews and podcasts about the event, I am struck by a strong shared theme of people feeling an incredible sense of connection to the event. To those who weren't there from our community, this probably feels disappointing to have missed out on. And to those who might read this someday who have no idea what Old School is, the whole thing might feel baffling, overly-sentimental, or even a bit weird.  I guess, on both counts, it really was one of those things where "you had to be there", but after all the cards are cleared away what stays with me are three things:

Firstly, the sense of people getting together in real life to share something they are passionate about. The internet is becoming a more crowded and, with that, a less-pleasant place to discuss Old School. But what happens online isn't really Old School - it is at best something that keeps you going between bouts of the real thing, which is sitting down and sharing a beer with a stranger but walking away with something gained on both sides. When that happens, good vibes are inevitable.

Secondly is the sense of continuity. We know that the format of the World Championships is due to change soon, and that this may be the last year that n00bcon takes on this kind of form. If this really is the end of this phase of Old School, I feel that everyone there will have drunk deeply of this spirit and it will continue to flow through the other events round the world that will continue to take place. And hopefully part of that continuity will continue to be the dozens of little traditions including our (very-unserious-honest!) biker gangs, the Easter Eggs, the Gentleman's badge, and the Ryder Cup.

Thirdly and finally, it's about good people getting the joke. My deck featured cards of not insignificant value gifted to me in the days before the event, both by people in my team, and by people I've never even met in the flesh. We are all grown adults rotating cardboard, but within the envelope of that, there is so much scope for the things that matter in life - meeting new people, showing kindness, and enjoying a shared passion. In the end, 'getting the joke' isn't about sarcasm or the need to put up a barrier between your 'serious' life and your 'fun' hobby.  'Getting the joke' and committing to the community is what sets the stage to enjoy - without the need for irony - the pure fun of events like this.

If that sounds mawkish or over-sentimental well, I guess maybe you did have to be there!