Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Preparing for Wizards' Tournament II - by Brother Stebbo

Peace, doting wizard, peace! I am not mad.

William Shakespeare. Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene IV.

Alpha has been a hot topic in Old School for some time - indeed, I’d urge you to revisit this very blog's article on the templating anachronisms in Alpha. But if there's one thing better than talking about Alpha, it's playing it. Which is what makes it particularly exciting that this week all six Brothers of Fire founder members are taking part in the Wizards' Tournament II in Gothenburg. We live in a golden age.

What with building my own deck, lending one to Brother Oli, and seeing that Brother Jonas receives a deck from his mysterious benefactor®, it’s been a busy time at my kitchen table. And nothing could be more appropriate on a kitchen table than laying out piles of core set janky cards...

Wizards Tournament prep – aka: the Joy of Sleeving

One of our number is attending his first n00bcon and it is perhaps the worst-kept secret in the UK Old School scene that he’ll be rocking some white round-cornered cards come Thursday evening.  But what form exactly? There were two initial ideas (pictured below) in the primordial soup – one with a G splash for ramp, and one solid W with a touch of 5/3 beats.

One thing was certain though – this fella had to break out of his cage…

Readers will have to wait until after n00bcon to see the final deck!

Mono Red is another sweet strategy. This brew-in-progress is a favourite as it eschews all of the rules of contemporary Magic by showcasing all of the charming absurdities found only in Alpha: (i) incorrectly-costed cards; (ii) the busted “colour-gain” artifacts; (iii) the nonsense that is Goblin Balloon Brigade and (iv) 5(+) card playsets of format staples doing good things.

Sweet dreams are made of these…
Note the “baker’s playset” of Bolts and the 7 Balloon Brigades taking flight (each activating all their buddies for just one red mana).

My build this year is a “closely-guarded” secret. However I can share my deck from last year:

It missed top 8 after losing a close set of games to a deck full of Benalish Heroes! Which is about as good a way to lose as you can get.  Here are some of the other sweet games it was involved with!
A devastating Chaos Orb, flipped 93-style
A ridiculous number of Sol Rings
Myself and D from the Netherlands only had time for one game in the UW mirror – which ended in a close win for me: facing lethal damage next turn, I resolve a lethal Braingeyser through D’s Power Sink for the marbles!
Fittingly after such an epic game, D and I resolved to use the remaining time in the round to get a beer and get to know each other. And that’s what WT is all about.

Peace. Brother Stebbo.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Road To n00bcon - by Brother Jordan

Editor's note:

Readers from foreign shores will of course be aware of the ongoing wrangling around Brexit here in the UK. Some may even have assumed that these developments imply that we Brits are an insular bunch. In fact, Brothers Of Fire couldn't be prouder to be the world's most multinational Old School team. At n00bcon in a week's time, our group will include representatives from Britain, Sweden, the US, and South Africa. Brother Jordan wrote the below to recount his route to qualification at the Old School World Cup last year. This longread adds to the small amount of existing literature on the Team Unified format which is set to grow in prominence with Mobstercon taking place in New York this Summer.

It was the 2017 Old School World Cup that got Team South Africa (Andrew, Jordan and Pieter) slinging cards again after 15 years or so (we all played in the late 90’s / early 00’s back in Cape Town).

Since then, Pieter has plunged back into all forms of Magic (turning into a bit of a road warrior hitting up events all over southern England - but that is a story for another day) whereas Jordan has been firmly bitten by the Old School bug. Andrew is somewhere in the middle but mostly just enjoys getting to play and discuss cards more than he has in quite a few years.

Preparations went along a similar vein to last year. Lots of good intentions, endless WhatsApp group chats, a bit of Skype Magic and overall not quite enough game time. We all converged on Pieter’s place on the Friday night before the event to catch up in person (Jordan lives in Leeds), exchange a few cards, and iron out sideboards. Thankfully Andrew was talked out of a bunch of cutesy sideboard singletons (here’s looking at you, Hellfire and Chains of Mephistopheles!).

We settled on a defensive mono-black artifact build for Andrew (robots, The Abyss and bunch of good singletons), mono-red goblins for Pieter, and a WUG good stuff deck for Jordan. The decision was based partly on what was a good split and partly on what cards each of us enjoyed playing.

We met up at the event on Saturday with Andrew (late as usual) dashing over the Olympic Park bridges to get there in time for the 1 o'clock start. Since last year, MagicMadhouse have moved to the top floor of the building. This is a smaller space, but more importantly they've decked it out with everything you could want for a day of winter gaming including heaters over the tables and draft taps next to the shop counter. Turnout was excellent too, with 13 teams from all over the UK and a few overseas representatives as well.

Sincere apologies for forgetting almost everyone’s names – the beer was flowing freely and we left it too long to write the report!

Round 1: Lords of Atlantic

Comments: A thoroughly awesome bunch of dudes as our first opponents made this match very enjoyable despite the beating. We went in feeling quite optimistic about our chances in the tourney, but there were certainly some jitters. The bad loss was rather disappointing (despite great sportsmanship from our opponents).

Seat A: Andrew vs Chris Cooper (GW prison) - It’s always fun playing Chris but one look at his “Live Slow” sleeves and his well-known love of brewing up decks involving fog effects, island sanctuaries and the like and I was pretty sure I was in trouble. A mix of land tax, sylvan and ivory tower powering up swords and disenchant effects were too much for my robots. A mind twist did some good work in one of the games but it was nothing on the Dust to Dust, Regrowth, Dust to Dust wrecking ball.

Seat B: Jordan vs George Garner – He was running a very solid mostly Black (blue splash) deck. Game 1 he drew weird, and I ate multiple Sinkholes, Terrors and Drain lives. He answered all my threats, hit my mana base and eventually beat me to death with 2 Black Knights. Having gotten the wrong impression about the deck, I boarded out two plows and some other stuff, brought in an extra disenchant (I suspected Underworld Dreams / Abyss - wrongly) and some Control Magics. Won game 2 fairly comfortably, killing his hippies and sealing the deal by stealing a Juzam (I think). Stupidly, I forgot to revise my sideboarding after seeing what the deck actually did, which was a big mistake. Third game saw a turn 1 ritual hippie, which proceeded to do me at least 16 damage and steal 8+ cards. I was left wishing I hadn't taken out those Swords! I never recovered.

Seat C: Pieter vs Patrick – Opponent was running Mono Red Atog, so it was a battle of burn to some extent. It didn’t go well and I lost 0-2.

Score: L/L/L for 0-1

Round 2: vs Team Legion Urborg

Comments: This was another very enjoyable and sporting match. All three dudes on the team were awesome. Andrew’s opponent Iwan Marais was a friend and fellow South African. Jordan’s Swiss opponent had provided all three decks, and was really fun to play against. Pieter's opponent was, we believe, playing his first Old School tourney. Another great dude. The eventual win was a big relief, and our opponents took their loss very sportingly.

Seat A: Andrew vs Iwan - I knew he was running BR and was expecting something Troll Disco-esque. Game 1 I don’t see a creature on his side and lost a close race to Underworld Dreams, Bolts and I think a lethal Fireball. I kept The Abyss in for game 2 (partly as a safety net and partly since they are so mainly worse cards that have to go first, like Terror).  We both mulligan to 6 and exchange a few early sinkholes. The Abyss shows up at a key time and eats a bunch of Black Knights and hippies. Game 3 is a bit of a blank, I think I land an Abyss and Iwan is slightly flooded.

Seat B: Jordan vs Gentleman from Switzerland – He was running red black troll disco variant, possibly with a splash. Game 1 all I remember was thinking how much I hated Sedge Trolls! Game 2  I boarded in blue blasts and Control Magics, and with a rebalanced deck I took the next two games, mainly by beating up his Trolls with my Ernhams.

Seat C: Pieter - My opponent was running Bant Ern-a-geddon. He sounded like a pretty serious online player and played very well. This one was over quick, he flooded game 1 and I just went in underneath. Game 2 went a bit longer with 2x Icys but I drew spells and he drew land. 2-0

Score: W/W/W for 1-1

Round 3: vs Team Chaos Orb

Comments: We went into this game REALLY wanting to win, because at last year's World Cup they had gone on to win despite us being the only team to beat them.

Seat A: Andrew vs Tom - Tom was out for revenge after my army of green dorks snuck a win (just my match, their team won overall) at last year’s world cup and he definitely got it! Game 1 my early drop Su-chi decides it’ll rather fight for the forces of WU and proceeds to beat me to death while I hold a grip of terrors and the Abyss. I bring in disks and Disrupting Scepters and am expecting a tough game - my only saving grace is Tom won game 1 so quickly that he’s not quite sure what I’m on. His opening hand has a spicy mix of COP Black, Energy Flux and Karma and more importantly enough permission to keep my disks off the table. Karma wrecks me.

Seat B: Jordan vs Brian – He was playing white, blue green (same colours as me). This was somewhat a mirror but despite their similarities our decks were a bit different. He was running much lower to the ground, with lions and pixies hitting the table before his dibs. Also, because their team had chosen to split white and blue (a choice that surprised me), he had fewer copies of plow and similar key cards, as well as less power. Given all that, I think the outcome was likely, though I did drop a game if I'm not mistaken. The bit I lost in speed was more than made up by the Spirit Links, bigger dudes, and more removal.

Seat C: Pieter vs Another Forgotten Name – He was playing Atog, maybe with a colour splash, so also somewhat mirror-like. In the key third game, I stripped an early land, and then managed to Chaos Orb a second land. My opponent managed to Lotus out an Abyss, which shut down my goblins and orcs, but copper tablet went all or most of the remaining distance, aided by the fact that my unfortunate opponent never drew a 5th land, leaving him stuck on 2.

Score: L/W/W for 2-1

Round 4: vs Team Atlantic (we think that’s what they were called)

Comments: Memory getting pretty hazy at this point, but it was definitely another pleasant and sporting match!

Seat A: Andrew vs Rich (AKA Bear) - He was running mono-white and we played 3 close games to full time which were a joy throughout. Game 1 I managed to stabilise very low against an army of lions, heroes, Thunder Spirits and the like and sneak a win. I bring in the Brass Men to gum up the early board and am rewarded with turn 1 Sol Ring into double Brass Man. Even after his turn 2 response is to blow up the Sol Ring and strip my Swamp, I’m pretty confident that I’ve got this game with the board totally stalled. It’s about now that I find out Rich is playing white midrange not weenie and was running all sorts of interesting tech. The game goes long, really long, on the back of my army of defensive robots, Maze, Abyss vs Rich’s card engine of Land Tax and Jalum Tome. Ultimately it’s a Witch Hunter that breaks the deadlock by boomerang-ing my Avian and leaving behind a team of lacklustre dudes of mine to try hold the fort. We’re almost out of time for Game 3, but ultimately it’s an unexpected Army of Allah that tips the balance during a big combat, losing me the match. I really need to start pulling my weight!

Seat B: Jordan vs Someone – I literally have no idea. God damn beer. What I do know is that I won.

Seat C: Pieter vs Someone Else – He was playing G/B Berzerk. Seems bolts beat little dudes trying to get zerked. 2-0.

Score: L/W/W for 3-1

Round 5: vs Team Spain

Comments: These guys had I think come all the way from Spain for just this tournament, and I'm very glad they did. Great guys, though the language barrier was a tiny issue (we have no right to complain, speaking zero Spanish). This was probably our tightest match in the swiss. By the end, Jordan’s was the only game still going, with each team on one match win and us on our third game. It was fucking tense. All three members of both teams were concentrating hard and offering advice. Between us our committee did a great job of making the right plays in a tight game. Also, these dudes had some damn sexy cardboard. All Swedish legal, and nearly all black-bordered. Hot!

Seat A: Andrew vs Spaniard #1 – He was playing Zoo. Jordan didn’t realise the round had started and took an extended smoke break outside (together with a few others). This gave us plenty of time to joke around before game 1 and the jokes continued through the match. Both games follow a similar path, any early army of lions, archers and the like backed up by aggressive sylvan card advantage maul me. Game 1 I gamble that a mind twist for his last 2 cards will save me more damage than playing a su-chi. I get bolted for my trouble but do grab a chain lighting. Score! (kind of). Game 2 is closer, also features a small Mind Twist, but ultimately Regrowthing a bolt kills me.

Seat B: Jordan vs Spaniard #2 – he was playing mono(?) black. Game 1 I was beaten down by a Juzam I couldn't answer. The second game involved me making what I think was my only major play error of the day. I remember I had a strong hand and went first. He played first turn Library. At this point I was feeling pretty bleak about my chances in the match. I figured I just had to race out the card advantage, and I think that by turn 3 I had a spirit linked dib out. I was also drawing quite a few hard counters, so I figured I had to just try ride the dib to victory. Over the course of the next few turns I kept the dib going by playing at least two counters, and ignoring anything that wouldn't stop the dib. This included two Sinkholes, which left me with one Mox, one (blue) land and one bird. I had one counter left in hand, as well as a regrowth and a few other things. I felt vulnerable relying on the bird for my second blue (think he was one or two dib hits away from dead), and that's where I fucked up. On my turn I decided to Regrowth a Tundra, figuring that since he didn't play blue he couldn't stop me from getting the land out, which would put me back on double blue. But of course, terror is an instant :-( Dib gone, me feeling like a stupid fool who just lost himself the game. Lucky for me, he'd gone off library at some point and I think I might have finished him with his own stolen hippie. Most of the third game was after the other two finished - a lot of tight creature combat which I managed to edge out.

Seat C: Pieter vs Spaniard #3 – He was plaing mono blue Fish. Game one he mulls to 5 and I win. Game 2 was similar to all the other games against people with small dudes not running red. Seems Fish don’t like burn!

Score: L/W/W for 4-1

End of Swiss: This put us at the top of the Swiss, and we were feeling pretty damnb delighted! We didn't want to count our chickens though, so we had a few (more) beers and watched the giving of side prizes before sitting down for the semis at the comfy top table (those chairs were awesome).

Semifinals: vs Team Sweden

Comments: These were some pretty serious Old School players who'd come all the way from Sweden for the tournament. Nice bunch of guys, who seemed to be taking the match quite seriously (as were we). Again, memory is heavily blurred by beer.

Seat A: Andrew vs Swede #1 - He was playing what turned out to be Stasis - but it took a while for me to realise! Game 1 starts off really close as a pair of early Counterspells and a Psi Blast keep my robots at bay, but a ridiculous land flood left him with 10 or so Islands and me with an unexpected win. Looking at the board, I thought he could be on power artifact, but the Psi Blasts got me thinking about suicide blue. As we begin game 2 it becomes immediately apparent that it’s actually Stasis. An early Stasis slows things down but thanks to a lucky Sinkhole it doesn’t stick around too long. Su-chi does some damage but ultimately it’s an Icy which proves critical as it taps down a Howling Mine under a second Stasis which leaves many turns of Vice damage just short of killing me. With him tapped out from Stasis upkeep, a Drain Life seals the game. Timely Sinkholes and a fair bit of luck got me through that match. Phew.

Seat B: J vs Swede #2 – He was playing WBG I think. It's embarrassing how little I remember, but I felt relatively in control throughout the match. May have dropped a game but I don't think so. I think my deck was just well suited to that match-up, with the right type and blend of threats, answers and tech.

Seat C: Pieter vs Swede #3 – He was playing Atog. I took game 1 with a fast start, but then lost games 2 and 3. Good thing Andrew finally started winning some games!

Score: W/W/L and into the finals!

Finals: vs Chris et al

Comments: Really odd to have the last match at the same table, against the same team as the first one. Having lost first time round, we weren't feeling all that optimistic. Fortunately we got there first and managed to sit on the other side of the table! That must have been what saved us ;-) Seriously though, it had been agreed that A/B/C seating would be randomised for the top 4, to increase the chances of different people playing each other. In the end, this panned out great for us. Jordan kept his original opponent, while Andrew and Pieter got each other’s. Also, before the final we discovered that the winning team got a keg (50 pints!) of beer!!! Chris and Jordan took an executive decision to spit that particular prize with everyone still in the venue, and so we made a start on it before the finals!

Seat A: Klein vs Patrick – He was running the Mono-red Atog that beat Pieter in round 1. Game 1 turns out to be a non-event as we both mulligan to 6 and I play 3 Sinkholes inside the first handful of turns. I bring in the Relic Barriers for game 2. Patrick gets an early Su-Chi off a Mana Vault whilst I cramp him with a timely Sinkhole. I manage to stabilise through an Icy followed by a Maze, allowing me to Icy his land. As a result he has to commit to a second Mana Vault that he can't untap. Finally I have a damage clock! (I really need to play more win conditions next year!). I’m pretty low on life though, as we race his potential burn draws against double Mana Vault damage. With me in bolt range and Patrick on 2, he reveals a tense top deck to be a Shatter. I win by a turn (again) as he reveals the next card he would have drawn is a Chain Lightning!

Seat B: J vs George – Rematch time! I don't remember many details, but I think I drew a bit better, and sideboarded much better (now knowing what he played). I'm pretty sure Control Magic was an MVP again, and I think Spirit Link was significant too. What I do know is that I won, and I think it was 2-0. George was again a great sport, despite me turning the tables on him and some really unlucky draws.

Seat C: Pieter vs Chris – Chris’s janky deck had given Andrew major grief, and although I at least had some pressure, I wasn't confident at all, what with all the Ivory Towers, Island Sanctuaries, and COP: Rd and Brown in sideboard. None the less, I managed to win the first game. In the second game, I had the chance to win (my ONLY chance to win) by Orbing a COP:Brown. Unfortunately Chris distracted me with his shoe ;-) and I missed the flip. At that point the game was going to be a slow grind to death for me. But, fortunately, that was around the time Andrew sealed the deal on his, bringing us victory and sparing me the rest of that tragic game!

Score: W/W/L for victory!

In conclusion: I literally cannot tell you how stoked the three of us were to win! Being reunited with the guys to play together in a big (to us) tourney again after all those years was great, and the fact that we were a team meant we could all share the sweet feeling of victory. 

We were delighted! Also, in true Old Schools style, Pieter (who isn't sufficiently into the format to build a deck for Noobcon), kindly passed his invite on to George - the youngest guy there, who was also younger than all our cardboard (at 23) - and who was REALLY keen to go. He seemed pretty stoked too. We all decanted our pints into our sweet new drinking horns and downed them (well, tried, in Jordan’s case) in celebration. 

It was particularly awesome given that it was exactly one year ago at the last World Cup that we all first played Old School, and re-discovered our love of Magic. Pieter has relapsed hardest on the crack, and has been grinding out the GP / PTQ circuit in conventional formats, with increasing success. Magic is awesome! And a huge thank you to everyone who had a hand in organising, judging, hosting and just generally making the event happen.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Event Report - Brothers of Fire N00bcon Training Day, 30 March 2019 - by Chris C

The Brothers of Fire are sending a fair few people to n00bcon this year, in addition to hosting a side event on the Saturday somewhere in the Gothenburg area [yup, the Venarian Gold Social - Ed]. What with community slots, World Cup winners and the Winter Derby champion among their numbers they decided to hold a warm up tournament on March 30th so that their leanest and meanest can get themselves battle ready.

Enter our heroes.

I'd already planned to travel down to London for the day to see friends and chill while slinging some cardboard. Being neither lean nor mean, I'd got my perfect deck picked out, a "Mirrorball" deck that uses lots of mana ramp in the form of moxen, Fellwar Stones, Mana Flare, etc. to power out a huge Fireball/Disintegrate/Earthquake/Hurricane to end the game. I’d done well with it at our recent Lords of Atlantic series finale and wanted to represent my group well at this event.

On this occasion however, my wife informed me that she had a training day of her own on the Saturday and I would need to be on daughter duty. That's fine, I thought. She can play Magic, and even has her own mono-white Old School deck. It's a little more midrange than some builds, but she has got rather proficient with it.

On our way down on the motorway we stopped off for a break and came across this little pub. Thinking it could be a sign, we stopped for a photo...

The Hope and Champion…

The day got off to an ominous start for me when my daughter crushed me in a couple of games of Brothers' Highlander, a 100 card singleton old school variant with a points list to prevent too much in the way of broken shenanigans. The point where I countered her favourite card, a Serra Angel, could have put her on tilt, but she dusted herself off and the following turn she built herself another one, slamming a Mesa Pegasus and giving it a Divine Transformation before upgrading it further the following turn into a Mahamoti Djinn by way of a Holy Strength.

When pairings were eventually called there was a little surprise at Ruth's involvement. She was drawn against Andrew Tucker - the Queen Bee of local playgroup The Hive. (I have no idea whether or not he calls himself this but having come up with the pun I intend to use it!).

Ruth took a quick Game 1 with an aggressive start before Andrew came back to nick Game 2. A long series of combo turns from myself against Brother Markus meant that I didn't manage to see her clinch an inaugural victory in competitive play against a strong opponent. Had I gotten another turn off Markus I would’ve had the match in the bag, but, alas, he recurred Time Walk over and over to end up the victor against me.

Ruth then had the chance to avenge my defeat to Brother Markus. He knew better than to underestimate her, having lost to her 2-0 before when she was at the tender age of just 3 and a half!

Turn 1, Game 1, this happens:

She lost that game but was NOT happy about it. She played with a Steely Resolve for the rest of the round, showing patience with a Disenchant to not take down the Nevinyrral’s Disk that wiped her board, instead holding it for a Forcefield, allowing her to mop up the game, and the victory, shortly after.

The best was saved for the end of the decider, as Markus miscalculated his mana and life total, Psionic Blasting Ruth’s creature to leave himself at one, with one untapped land and an Icy Manipulator for Ruth’s solitary creature. No takesie backsies Markus!

2-0, 4-2. My baby’s on a roll!

I came up against my team-mate from the World Cup in Round 2, George Garner, who was readying himself for his first n00bcon experience. I never quite clicked into gear in either of our two games and missed the chance to send him a lethal Channel Fireball. Instead, I split it between his two creatures and I died shortly afterwards to his own Fireball. I was given the bye for Round 3 and decided to drop so that I could support my daughter properly.

At this point I was starting to feel a little worried as she sometimes can lack stamina after a few games. However, when I looked down at the table in her third match against Brother Ben and saw his The Abyss against a collection of White Knights on a Crusade, my fears proved unfounded. Some Disenchants and Swords to Plowshares from Ben saw him "stabilise", or at least pass the turn expecting to see another, at 3 life with just a White Knight on board, having just blown up the Crusade she'd played the previous turn.

I turned to Jason standing next to me. "Watch her peel another Crusade here for the win".

She draws for the turn, grins gleefully, slams the Crusade and turns her Knight sideways.

Game 2 was tougher for her, and she lost to a flying army of Serendibs and Serras. However, she stabilised in Game 3, sticking a Serra Angel, suiting it up with a Divine Transformation, and beating down with an 8/8 angel!

Round 4 saw the last two undefeated players face off as she took on Bryan Mueller, who was also on an aggressive deck.

The first game followed a similar play pattern to the previous rounds as she curved out perfectly. Topping out with a 5/5 flyer is sweet, and multiple punts of not quite lethal burn spells at crusaded creatures didn't help Brian's cause. However, he recovered to take Game 2, taking the final match went to a decider.

Ruth got off to a great start on the back of a good mulligan decision and top-decked like a boss. I cringed at the missed opportunities for factories to get in for damage but it ultimately didn't matter. We had our clean sweep anyway and, quite probably, the youngest ever Old School tournament victor!

The rest of the field made a big fuss of her victory and she loved every minute of it. A Serra Angel was produced and signed by all attendees for her, including SIX of this year's n00bcon invitees. Having beaten three of them, she had proven her Old School mettle.

On our way back to the car park we went to a cake shop, where Ruth got cake and I didn't, because losers don't get cake, daddy. Our soundtrack for the way home was Queen's Greatest Hits, Vol I.

I certainly got some stick when We Are The Champions came on, though it was sweet music to my ears listening to my daughter enjoy the game I love so much.

I would like, as always, to pass on my thanks to the Brothers of Fire for running a tight tournament in testing circumstances (a last minute change of venue could’ve been a lot more chaotic!).

Good luck to all the Brothers and the rest of the team heading out to Gothenburg later this month.