On Thursday, June 6, 2019, I attended my first Old School Magic tournament at SCGCON. I have been playing Magic off and on since 1994, but lately my Magic has been confined to monthly cube sessions with friends and some light Arena/MTGO play. I recently discovered Old School online and thought that would be the perfect way to get back into paper Magic. I dabbled in standard and limited in the last couple years, but I found it difficult to keep up with all the cards. Also, hanging out at my LGS competing for $12 in store credit no longer held the same appeal.
I treated SCGCON as an experiment. Could someone with no cards, no connections, and (essentially) no budget compete and have fun at an Old School tournament? Would the people be nice? Could I win a match without power?
I started by proxying some decks off of Eternal Central and playing them with my brother, just to get a feel for the format. Our first observation was how the entire format warped around unrestricted Strip Mine. Our second observation was that some games were just not actual games. When your opponent goes Mox, Mox, Lotus, Sol Ring, Balance, Ancestral, there’s not a whole lot you can do.
Once I registered for the tournament, I had to brew a deck within my budget of roughly $400. I proxied several brews, but anything “cute” ended up getting smashed. I know the point of Old School is to have a good time, but I also knew I would not have a good time unless I had at least some chance of winning a few matches. Ultimately, I decided to throw together Mono Red Goblins, which at least had the possibility of stealing some games. It was our best deck in testing by a mile.
I could have built this deck for much less than $400, but I wanted to use as many original printings as possible. If I had to do it over again, I definitely would have used more Revised/Chronicles cards, if only so I would have money left over for more cards now!
Initially, the venue (202 Social Club in Roanoke - which was absolutely perfect for the event, by the way) was a little intimidating. Everyone seemed to know a lot of people, and I was hanging out largely by myself. I ended up meeting a few guys from Charleston before the tournament, and they were extremely friendly. One gentleman, Chris, was also running an $80 Mono Red deck, so at least I wasn’t that far afield.
Rounds (and a shift to present tense)
Round 1 - Dave from Boston (Workshop)
Dave is possibly one of the best people to play against in your first round of your first Old School tournament. He is incredibly welcoming and friendly, but he also has no reservations about properly initiating me into Old School Magic on turn 1:
After that explosive start, however, Dave doesn’t find any action, and Goblins of the Flarg take down game 1. I lose game 2 to turns 2 and 3 Su-Chi off of Mishra’s Workshop. After I stabilize with Shatterstorm in game 3, Dave Timetwisters into Triskelion + Copy Artifact to take the game.
Round 2 - Joey from Seattle (Pink Weenie)
In my brief playtesting, I was always happy to see Ball Lightning. Now, as I stared down an army of first strikers, I was less happy. Joey could not find enough lands in game 1, but his army of first strike creatures and Lightning Bolts were enough to take games 2 and 3.
Round 3 - Matt from South Carolina (Nether Void B/u)
Matt and I commiserate briefly about our 0-2 records before getting down to business. Yes, the event is a laid-back affair for essentially no prizes, but people still hope to win matches. It’s a nice balance. Matt’s double Bad Moon puts his Black Knights out of range of my bolts in game 1, and again I see just how bad Ball Lightning is versus Stone Throwing Devils. Matt floods out in games 2 and 3, and I am able to secure my first win.
Round 4 - Chris from South Carolina (Mana Barbs/Power Surge)
I knew what Chris was on from our discussions before the tournament. He and I were both in the running for “least expensive decks in the room.” Chris’s deck took a little while to set up, but Mono Red Goblins does not care about you setting up. I was able to dump my hand to get under turn 1 Black Vise both games and burn him out for the win.
Round 5 - Axel from Seattle (UBR Aggro Control)
Axel is running an almost entirely Beta UBR “good stuff” deck, as evidenced by another impressive turn 1:
I Wheel into 5 lands and promptly die to Hippies and Juzams. In game 2, I have double Strip Mine to keep him off blue mana, and fortunately for me, he drew mostly blue cards. I get Axel down to 6 in game 3 before he stabilizes and starts his come back. Having a board of 7 Mountains, I gamble and Detonate his Chaos Orb, hoping he just takes 2. Unwilling to “waste” the Orb on a mountain, he takes the 2 damage. A goblin carrying a grenade finishes the job. Joey (from Round 2) comes over to console Axel with a shot and a beer.
Round 6 - Nam from Cleveland (Black Blue Aggro)
At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about being above 50% with an unpowered deck. I have also played against entirely gracious opponents, a trend that continues with Nam. He floods a little bit in game 1, and 2 1/1 goblins go the distance. In game 2, his 4 Mishra’s Factory draw lines up perfectly against my sorcery-only draw (Chain Lightning your face… I guess???).
Game 3 ends with him beating me down with a Hypnotic Specter, an Order of the Ebon Hand, and a Mishra’s Factory. On the penultimate turn, he’s at 7, and I’m holding Ball Lightning, Detonate, and a Goblin Grenade. He has an Aeopile protecting him from Ball Lightning. I Detonate the Aeopile, which he flings at my face. He has Terror for the Ball Lightning anyway, so I was behind no matter what. On his turn, my three Howling Mines provide him with enough Dark Rituals to pump his Ebon Hand for the win.
Round 7 - Ted (Mono Black)
This round is for all, or rather some, of the marbles. Can I clear my first Old School event with a winning record? Sadly, no. I think Ted and I are racing in game 1 until he Dark Rituals out a Drain Life to put him safely out of burn range. Game 2 begins with a classic “we both drew 3 Strip Mines” crawl, but ends in nail-biting fashion. He’s at 2 for three turns while cracking in with a Mishra’s Factory. My last four draws turn out to be Mountain, Mountain, Ankh, Ankh, and I end the day at 3-4.
So now we come to the important question. Would I run it back? Absolutely, yes. The event was well run (thanks, Jaco!), the people were nice, and the venue was fantastic. The day had a similar feel to a good cubing session - everyone took it seriously, but only in service of having a good time.
As for the decks themselves, yes, most people have some amount of power in their decks, but power is by no means necessary to compete. Neither is having the oldest versions of your cards. I played against plenty of Revised, Chronicles, and Foreign White Bordered cards. No cares what your deck looks like, except maybe you. That was reassuring.
In light of that, I am going to change my card acquisition strategy and start picking up some Revised/Chronicles staples. I ran Detonates instead of Shatters, largely because I could afford 3 Antiquities Detonates but not 3 Beta Shatters. That cost me a few games. The Eternal Flames also should have been Fireballs or Earthquakes to deal with all the 2/1’s running around. Again, that was somewhat of an aesthetic choice, but I also overvalued the damage from Eternal Flame (who has 4 Mountains in play when everyone is blowing up everyone else’s lands?).
Speaking of Revised cards, the next big hurdle on the horizon is Duals. In the 4 Strip Mine meta, it seems irresponsible to run a 2+ color deck without as much fixing as possible. As I work my way towards a playset of really any Revised Dual, I’ll just keep jamming the mono-colored beats and hoping for the best.
Until next time...