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.
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…
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.
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).
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).
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)
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…
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!
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.
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!
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.
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,