This is a story about long flights, getting a fever and being nearly scared to death in the middle of the night. This is a story about having a good time. This is a story about winning and losing. This is a story about old school Magic.
DISCLAIMER: Profanity, sexual content, philosophical ramblings, and bad sideboard decisions ahead. You have been warned.
The Build Up
I have been following old school Magic for a little over two years. My level of interaction with the format was limited to looking at deck pictures on the Internet and reading about it on the Swede’s Blog. I remember being captured by the beautiful aesthetics of the old black-bordered, played-in cards, and the beauty of the artwork. It brought me back to a simpler time, when you spellslinged on the school floor with naked cards and played Shandalar in front of a big-ass white Compaq Presario. However, old school Magic was nothing more than a visual experience for me, like going to an art museum.
This changed during 2019. A new job opportunity required me to relocate from Santiago de Chile to Vienna, in Austria. This brought me a lot closer to the places where large old school tournaments were played. The secondary market in Europe is also much more developed than the one in Latin America, so that also helped me to acquire all the cards that were hard to obtain back home. Before I knew it I was walking out of my LGS with a budget all-Revised mono black deck. A week later, I has upgraded all my white-bordered cards to black-bordered German Revised. Then came the Chaos Orb. A while later the playset of Juzam Djinns, and the day before the tournament covered in this report, a Mox Jet.
One of the things that I like the most about old school is that deckbuilding is not just about choosing a combination of spells and lands that will maximize your win rate in a particular metagame or make you have the most fun by making your cards interact, but it also considers the physical and aesthetic aspect of the cards as material objects and -one could even say- works of art wrapped up in a popular commercial product, in a form of Warholian way. In old school, decks are strategic plans intertwined with a design object; in which beauty, symmetry, rarity, and language play as much as a significant role for its wielder as the spell-to-land ratio and your spell curve. Getting the right cards for your deck requires a significant investment in time and money, and makes the whole process more rewarding.
Back at home, some of my lifelong friends had also started to scratch their old school itch. Mario had been quietly collecting old school cards during a period of several months, and accumulated a full set of power and other assorted goodies. José Luis developed a strange fetish for Ironclaw Orcs, purchasing as many copies as he could possibly get, as well of every single cheap old school card he could get his hands on. Andrés had vowed not to get into old school, only to end up with a fully powered The Deck in less than 8 weeks after making such an absolute and fateful statement. Side note: Andrés is awesome; I have never seen anyone love Magic as much as he does, and he is a great guy. This sudden episode of collective insanity/genius gave birth to the Earthquake League, Chile’s first old school organized league, and they are one of the reasons that this report came to be.
Given that I had a built a deck and played a few games with some friends, the logical next step was to travel to another continent to play in the biggest old school tournament on the planet. Right? As soon as Eternal Central opened registrations for their tournament at Eternal Weekend, I had bought my ticket and was ready to play some old school.
There are 7,190 Km between Vienna and Pittsburgh (tons of miles). No biggie.
My flight to London and the Heathrow connection ran smoothly. However, things took a turn south on the flight from London to Pittsburgh. The lady to my left coughed and sneezed like she had eaten an Ebola burrito for breakfast; while the lady to my right (I hate you middle seats) snored making the same noises that the chainsaw in Doom does. I manage to salvage the flight by watching a documentary on World War 1, John Wick 2 and John Wick 3. Perfect sequencing.
One of the things that I liked about Pittsburgh is how it reveals itself on the ride from the airport to the city. You drive through nowhere for about thirty minutes, dive into a tunnel, and when you come out you get hit by this view:
The Uber drops me at my Airbnb. The neighborhood is not spectacular, but it is really close to Eternal Weekend’s convention center and a walking distance from the Elk’s Lodge. The apartment itself is run-down and a bit shabby; but clean, warm and really cheap. Good value-for-money.
The only really strange thing is in one of the walls of the main bedroom there is a weird-ass door. It is locked. I try to open it and it seems bolted shut. I look again at the Airbnb description and it literally said “the door used to connect to the second unit, but is bolted and locked from your side”.
Why I am I mentioning all this? We’ll get back to it later.
On Thursday morning I wake up early and take a walk around the city. The bridges that cross the Ohio River are really amazing. I spend most of my day in the Andy Warhol Museum and strolling around town, checking all of the buildings and relevant sights.
On Friday morning I head to Eternal Weekend to play in the Modern Champs, with a janky Death and Taxes. I win a bunch of matches, lose a really close match against The Rock, and then lose my win-and-in to a cheeky teenager playing Burn. Life sucks, but I get to cash in a playset of canlands for my troubles.
After losing I notice that I had a runny nose, and my throat was sore. Ebola Burrito Lady had infected me. I decide to leave the convention center and go to the Airbnb for some rest. I get in my bed, and quickly turn off the lights.
My rest was interrupted at 1:00 AM by a weird noise in the bedroom, when I was woken up by the noise of moving bolts. Still half asleep, I open my eyes and realize that the weird-ass door in the room was fully open, and saw the sillhouette of a big woman.
“THERE’S A MAN IN THE BED!” she screams.
My only reaction was to scream three times as loud as I could. Why? I don’t know, I just did.
I then shouted “GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE! NOW!”
All of a sudden, a man -invisible from my line of sight- yells at her “CLOSE THE DOOR, WOMAN! IT’S THE AIRBNB!”
Damn right it’s the Airbnb. My Airbnb.
She shuts the door and my room goes dark again. I am left in bed, in my underwear, with my heart beating as if it’s about to explode, and my testicles all the way up to my chest.
Using an old school Magic reference, that door was the Pittsburgh equivalent of the Gate to Phyrexia. Some really weird and evil shit lurked on the other side of that door and it was ready to invade.
Just when I think that things could not get weirder, I start to hear how Phyrexian Lady and Phyrexian Dude start to get it on. They make weird noises, like they were having a threesome with an alligator that just had a tracheotomy.
They do it all night long. They do it hard. They do it loud. I hear all of it.
I think I slept a total of 45 minutes, and I had never been as scared and as freaked out in my entire life. I felt completely wrecked, and really sick thanks to Ebola Burrito Lady’s germs. I still managed to get into the shower, grab my Legacy deck, message last night’s ordeal to the host and head for the convention center.
My Legacy experience was as short-lived as my sleep. I get my ass handed over to myself by two cheeky thirty-somethings playing burn in a row. Yup, burn in Legacy. I pack my things and walk away.
At this point I was really bummed out and tilted. I spent 0 hours testing for Modern, but I did put some effort into Legacy and had chosen a solid Mono Red Prison build; but I felt that variance was really kicking me in the nuts this weekend. Stupid Goblin Guide.
As I head back to the Gate to Phyrexia I get a message from the host. He had removed the key that someone left on the other side of the door (!?) and sound-proofed it so I did not have to hear further breeding noises. At least something was going in my favor.
The Deck: Mono Black Midrange
This is the decklist that I ended up playing at the weekends main event.
This decklist has two controversial decisions. The first one is the absence of Hymn to Tourach. The second one is the absence of Mishra’s Factory. I will not provide an extensive deck tech, mainly because Nico Goles and I are preparing a primer on the subject to be published next month. However, I will address these issues because I know they significantly deviate from standard mono black decklists.
Hymn to Tourach is an amazing card. It provides raw card advantage and the random effect has the potential to be crippling. However, I believe that it pulls in the opposite direction of what you are trying to achieve with Sinkhole and Strip Mine. Eight land-destruction effects give the deck enough clout to ponza your opponent, denying them the possibility of playing Magic. This generates virtual card advantage, since all or most of your opponent’s cards in hand are resources that they can’t utilize. Casting Hymn to Tourach on an opponent who is incapable of playing spells is a waste of mana and cards. You either want to apply pressure by playing efficient threats or keep setting them behind with more land destruction effects. I am not saying that Hymn to Tourach shouldn’t be played. I am just saying that I do not feel comfortable with playing it in the same deck that has the Sinkhole and Strip Mine package. Disagree? Happy to discuss, just contact me on Facebook.
But what about Mind Twist? I still played it. But doesn’t is follow the same logic as Hymn? Yes and no. Yes, it follows the same antagonistic logic with the deck’s land destruction package, but Mind Twist’s ceiling is too high to ignore, specially if you can ramp it out with Dark Ritual.
Mishra’s Factory is the second you-should-always-play-four card that I cut from my 75. The reason for that is that the deck’s manabase is REALLY greedy. The deck needs to play at least 20 black mana sources to be able to cast a two-mana BB spell on turn 2 with a 91.8% chance of success. If we play 23 mana sources which include a playset of Strip Mines and Factories, the chances of casting Sinkhole or Order of the Ebon Hand on turn 2 go down to 72.9%, which is too low for my liking. I decided to cut Mishra’s Factory over Strip Mine because Sinkhole gave Strip Mine a level of redundancy that could be disruptive enough to oust an opponent from the game, as I indicated above.
I woke up on Sunday feeling really sick, but hey, at least I wasn’t ambushed in the middle of the night.
The walk to the venue is warmed by a bright autumn sun, which is nice. As I arrive to the Elks Lodge I can see why the community in this format is so awesome: People I have never met before greeted me and were genuinely interested in how a Latin American living in Europe travelled all they way to play a casual format.
Once inside the venue, a bunch of stuff caught my attention. The huge American flag, Jaco and his crew working at full speed to kick things off, and the copious amounts of beer being ingested before 11:00 AM. Old school players get their drink on.
Before we know it the tournament organizer lays down the rules-level enforcement for the event: “don’t be a dick; no angleshooting; no bullshit, just Magic”. Beautiful.
Pairings for round one are published, and everybody is off to find their table and opponent.
Round 1: Jonathan Brne, playing UR Burn Aggro-Control
I didn’t get to talk too much with Jonathan during our match. I guess we both wanted to start the tournament on the right foot and were more focused on our play than on chitchatting; but I guess it’s understandable, because I could really tell he was happy to be there. And so was I.
Game 1 (OTP) was really grindy. I blow up some of his lands with Sinkholes and Strip Mines, and deploy an early Juzam Djinn with the help of a Mox Jet. It connected once, but Jonathan tutored for what I believe was a Maze of Ith, which kept it at bay. I follow up with a pair of Royal Assassins. We both Mind Twist each other, only to be later brought back to parity thanks to a Timetwister.
Seven two-powered creatures enter the battlefield on my side during the subsequent turns, all of which are scorched by Jonathan’s red magic. The Stabby Brothers continue to chip away Jonathan’s life total, while he keeps digging for answers with a Library of Alexandria and an Ancestral Recall. I don’t draw the land destruction effect to deal with the Maze, but my deck’s heavy creature count is too much for Jonathan, who has to use his soon-to-be lethal fireball to deal with a Hypnotic Specter, only to die two turns later to a Black Knight.
Game 2 (OTD). I swap my removal package for my reach package and we are all set. I start off with a Black Vise, and follow up with an Ankh of Mishra, a second Black Vise and a Sinkhole to his Factory, followed up by a Black Knight. He manages to react quickly and starts bolting and chaining my face which allows him to shut off the Vises. He follows up with a Serendib, which ends ups killing me.
I made a mistake on game 2. Instead of sinking his Factory I should have taken his Volcanic Island, as this was his single red mana source. Taking that line would have prevented him from playing all of his burn spells for several turns, which would have put me ahead.
The Serendib was unexpected, and caught me with my pants down and my balls in the breeze. I think for a little while and I side in a Terror in exchange for an Underworld Dreams.
Game 3 (OTP) was fast. I sink his turn 1 Library, and then ritual out a Sengir Vampire. He follows up with a Factory and a dual land, which I strip. I keep up applying pressure by casting a Black Vise and a Black Knight. He concedes after taking 3 from the Vise and failing to play his land drop for the turn.
Round 2: Brian Vesgo, playing URG Zoo
Brian handed me my first loss of the day, and he did it in spectacular fashion.
On game 1 (OTP) Brian double strips me and then ramps out two Serendibs with a pair of Moxen, while burning whatever small opposition I could muster.
On game 2 (OTP), I put more of a fight. Brian goes out the gates with 2 Kird Apes. I strip his Tropical Island to downsize them. I play 4 different creatures, but he has a burn spell for each of them. I fail to draw a fourth land to play a Disk, and he plays two Serendibs and the game is over.
We have a really interesting post-match chat in which Brian shared his thoughts on how different the GP circuit is compared to the old school community. Brian mentioned that his wife notices how he is when he comes home after an old school weekend, and how grumpy he used to be when coming back from a GP in which he had obtained a bad result. I guess Brian had a point. If you looked around, all you saw was a bunch of like-minded guys from totally different backgrounds enjoying the game for what it is; and drinking a bunch of alcohol. Sounds good, right?
After we parted ways, I kept on thinking on what set the old school community apart from other -more sharkish- magic communities. I’m sure that there is no single right answer to that question, but one of the things that caught my attention was how must of us guys in the room were, well… old. I guess that what I’m trying to say is that when you reach your mid-thirties (as most of us old-schoolers are within this demographic) real-life stuff like kids, wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, mortgages and careers take the center stage in life, and all of a sudden qualifying to the Pro Tour (or whatever it’s called today) isn’t that big of a deal anymore. You want to channel your limited leisure time and your passion for the game with an experience that is as competitive as you want it to be, as nostalgic as the first time you played on the school floor, and as relaxed as having several beers with your friends. Old school Magic gives you all that. Besides, it’s a really fun, complex format with lots of interesting options.
I lick my wounds, get a beer, and move on.
Round 3: Ben Revell, playing UBR Reanimator.
On game 1 (OTD) Ben kicks things off with a Bazaar of Bagdad, discarding a Shivan Dragon, All-Hallow’s Eve and a land. A chill goes down my spine as I realize I could face a giant reanimated firebreathing monster next turn if he has a Mox and an Animate Dead. However I have a strong hand and double ritual into a turn 1 Juzam. Ben plays a mana-producing land which I blow up with a strip mine and follow up with a Knight. Ben takes a Juzam hit before reanimating a Shivan Dragon with Animate Dead, but the -1/-0 effect does not allow him to trade with the evil genie on the crackback. On my next turn I manage to Chaos Orb his dragon and swing. He goes for a desperate Wheel of Fortune, looks at his new 7 and then concedes.
On game 2 (OTD) Ben starts again with a Bazaar, and commences churning through his library. I ritual out a Specter and follow up with another on turn 3, while he fails to put a threat on board or immediately deal with the 2/2 flyers. The ghosts quickly dismantle his hand, which in turn shuts down his Bazaar, throwing his main strategy out of the window. I take him down to a low single-digit life total and finish him off with a Drain Life.
Ben and I talk about deck and card choices. Once we arrive to the Hymn To Tourach subject he immediately whips out a binder, taking out a Hymn and asks me to sign it. I feel honored. Time for another beer.
Round 4: Jonathan Brumer, playing Five-Color Control.
On game 1 (OTP) Jonathan has a very strong start with Strip Mine, double Mox and a Black Lotus, but fails to use this huge advantage to produce anything significant on the early turns.
Although he strips my fist Swamp, I manage to develop my mana while stripping and sinking his own. I try to cast a pump knight and he responds by sacrificing his Black Lotus for triple blue to counter it and use the spare mana to cast an Ancestral Recall. Sweet. Despite all this high powered insanity, Jonathan fails to further develop his board. A Juzam Djinn comes into play and gobbles up his life total in four swings.
On game 2 (OTD) Jonathan keeps 6 and starts things off with a Library. I have the option of stripping his land or come with a turn 1 Juzam out of a Ritual and a Mox. I chose the latter. He plays a Plains and quickly plows the Juzam. I follow up with a Strip Mine on his Library and drop a pump knight. Jonathan follows with a Factory, which gets sunk. I increase the pressure with an Ankh of Mishra, and by the time he plays an Ivory Tower, it is too late and Jonathan dies at the hands of an inflatable black cleric.
No beers this round.
Round 5: Jeremy Chien, playing Eureka-Lich-Mirror Combo
Jeremy is part of a group called Beasts of the Bay. He is a really cool guy. We chat a little before the match about old school, the Bay Area scene, and the great time we are having.
What happens next is one of the craziest games I have played in a while. Buckle up.
On game 1 (OTP) Jeremy blasts off with two Moxen and a Bayou. I try to slow him down by sinking his dual, but keeps ramping by playing a Black Lotus. At this point I have no idea what he is playing, but I ritual out a Mind Twist for 3 because that is normally a good thing to do. He discards a Eureka and two lands, and now I realize what I’m up against. I play a Juzam Djinn, which gets orbed away, and then a Royal Assassin which gets fireballed. Once the dust settles, Jeremy hardcasts a Mahamoti Djinn with the help of his Lotus. Awesome.
I respond with a Sengir Vampire and we start trading blows for a few turns. As we attack each other Jeremy casted a Mirror Universe, followed up by a Nevinyrral’s Disk.
At this point in time I draw an eighth land and I take a short pause to assess the situation, which was the following: Jeremy was standing at 11 life, His board was composed of the Mahamoti, the tapped Disk, the Mirror Universe, a bunch of other lands (two of which were Cities of Brass) and a pair of moxes. He had 2 cards in hand. I was at 3, and had a Sengir and 8 lands. My hand had a Drain Life and a Juzam Djinn.
I was one mana short of hitting with my vampire and draining Jeremy for lethal, and I was not comfortable with gaining a bunch of life to kill his djinn while facing a Mirror Universe; but I had no other choice but drain the Blue Djinn for 6, ticking up to 9 life.
Once I had the biggest stick in the fight, I had to choose whether to attack with the Vampire and drop Jeremy to 7, which at this point was basically attacking my own life total. My only out was to topdeck back-to-back black mana source into the single remaining Drain Life in my deck, but that seemed unlikely. I go for the swing, and pass. Jeremy draws, sighs and passes the turn. I Draw a Sengir for turn, and pause to see if I should attack him down to 3. I think for a couple of minutes and conclude that he has better topdecks, and therefore and protracting the game is not something I would like, so I go for it. During his upkeep Jeremy sacs his Mirror, draws and pops the disk, going up to 9 and taking me back down to 3 while binning his jewelry in the process. I draw a Sengir and play it together with a Black Knight. Jeremy plays a Eureka and drops a Force of Nature.
I chose not to play my Juzam in order to stay at 3 life and cast it during the next turn. I attack with my Sengir, bringing Jeremy down to 5, and play my Juzam. Jeremy is required to pay GGGG for his force, and has to use a City of Brass to get there, going down to 4. He attacks with his 8/8 trampler and I double block, going down to 2. I untap, swing with the Sengir and take the game.
Game 2 (OTD) is equally intense. I start off with a Black Knight. Jeremy looks at it and nods. He untaps, plays a Mox and Eurekas a Force of Nature. As scary as it seems, I use his green sorcery to put a Juzam and a Chaos Orb into play.
Things look good.
I tap my Orb to kill the big monster. I ceremoniously stand up, raise it at least one foot and release it. It flips beautifully several times, like Tony Hawk on a half pipe, only that instead of Tony Hawk it is a gorgeous female Russian ice skater graciously doing a triple, only that instead of a Russian ice skater its artifact designed to kill other permanents after a dexterity test is met. In fact, the Orb is all that at once.
It lands on the Force of Nature…
…And it ricochets away.
I look at the art box of the 8/8. Its clenched hand depicted is clearly a fist bump celebrating my monumental failure. Even though it has no mouth, I can clearly hear it say “puny opponent, puny Orb”
I look at Jeremy. He says a heartfelt “wow man, that sucks!” But as I look into his eyes, my pathetic, orb-failing, insecure excuse of a man projects onto him what I believe how he is feeling:
I sink into my chair and pass the turn. He untaps, attacks with the big monster and I chump with my 5/5. Unfortunately I have no explanation for why I did that. My notes say nothing about this. After doing some speculation I believe the options were (i) I could blow up his lands to force him to take 8 on his upkeep and eventually win the game; or (ii) I was out of gas and needed to buy time to draw my single Terrror; or (iii) I made a mistake. In any event, the situation looked grim. In his second main phase, Jeremy pauses for a second and casts a Lotus and a Timetwister. I don’t know why he went for this line, since he had the bigger threat on board. I’m sure he had some good reasons. I shuffle up, draw 7 and take a peek.
I got a bunch of goodies. Including a Sengir Vampire…
… and the singleton Terror in my deck.
Sometimes variance gives you a second chance.
I draw, sink one of his lands, and terrorize the Force during his upkeep, after he pays for the GGGG. I follow up with a Sengir Vampire, while he plays a land and a Disk. I draw a Mind Twist which gets a land, Eureka, and a Mirror Universe. Nice.
Jeremy blows up the world with the Disk and used Animate Dead to bring back my Juzam Djinn. I am not clear on why he did not animate the Force of Nature, but probably he did not have enough green to pay for the upkeep.
I draw for turn and play a pump knight, followed by a Chaos Orb, which I tap to try to kill the Juzam. Once again, I ceremoniously stand up, raise it at least one foot and release it. It flips only once; like those failed backflips that you did while jumping into the pool during the summer which you always landed on your back like a chump. It’s a horrible flip, but a flip nonetheless.
It lands on the Juzam. And stays there.
With the Djinn out of the way I play a Sengir Vampire. He stalls me with a Maze of Ith, while the pump knight bites at his life total.
He plays a Birds of Paradise, and on his next turn attacks with it into my untapped Vampire. It took me a while to figure out what going on, until I see the line and let it pass. In his second main phase he then plays the Balance he peeled from the top, forcing me to dump my knight. I topdeck a Sinkhole to deal with his Maze, and finish him off in two swings after he chumps with his bird.
We shake hands and talk for a while on how awesome the match was. I fill in the slip and go to the bar for a Sierra Nevada.
Round 6: Joey playing UR Dragon Burn.
As we sit down Joey and I trash talk a little. At this point in time we are both in contention for a top spot and probably had one too many to drink, but my cognitive functions were still working.
On game 1 (OTD) smacks me hard and early with Black Vise, a bunch of burn spells, and a big-ass Shivan Dragon. I failed to develop a significant board presence and got punished for it.
On game 2 (OTP) Joey starts off with a Serendib Efreet and a Shivan Dragon. I kill the first one with a Terror and a Dark Ritual into a Demonic Tutor and a Chaos Orb to deal with the second one. After Joey failed to present a threat, I deploy a couple of Hypnotic Specters and a pump knight which manage to go all the way.
During this game one of my Specters nabs a Psychic Purge. Ouch. This makes me question if they need to stay on the draw. I end up believing they should, because they are still a threat, and in a worst-case scenario can chump block a Dragon or Djinn.
On game 3 (OTD) Joey starts off a bit slow, and I help him stay that way with two Sinkholes. Joey connects a few times with a Factory, and aims some red spells to the dome paying them with a City of Brass. The first creature to hit the board is a Juzam Djnn. After I swing with it and bring Joey down to 11, I ritual out a second one and a Black Knight. Joey untaps, thinks for a while and uses two burn spells to kill one of my Djinns. I attack with both my creatures bringing down to 4, and then I tap out to Mind Twist his hand, discarding an Earthquake, a Shivan Dragon and a land. He untaps, draws and concedes.
Joey and I have a post-match discussion over a couple of beers. Then some of his friends joined in, and we discussed about a bunch of topics, including shady card dealers with Youtube channels, cheating in old school, going out of your way to beat mono red strategies; all of which is not cool. You get the idea.
Round 7: Paul Callis playing UBR Troll.
Paul came off as a really quiet guy. He barely spoke during the rounds, silently casting his spells and finger-pointing at his targets. I assumed we was a bit nervous or shy, but that did not make our match less enjoyable.
My initial hand for game 1 (OTD) was really good. It involved a turn 2 Juzam, followed by a turn 3 Sengir. Not bad. However, Paul has other plans for me. He starts with an Underground Sea, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire… and a Timetwister. Sick.
I say goodbye to my juicy 7 and draw a less powerful, but equally serviceable hand. During the next turns we engage in a war of attrition, in which lands were blown, knights were bolted, assassins were burnt to a crisp, and efreets were terrorized. I gain the upper hand by playing a Juzam Djinn and a Sengir Vampire that go unanswered, while he casts a pump knight of his own and a Gwendelyn Di Corci. Spicy. He double blocks and both of our largest creatures trade, while I follow up with a knight, which gets bolted. He deploys two other knights, and starts to race, but the Sengir manages to go the distance.
Game 2 (OTD) is a different story, and I go down fairly easily on the hand of Serendib Efreets and a bunch of pump knights.
In game 3 (OTP) I try to keep him of mana with multiple Sinkholes, but he keeps playing lands. Once I run out of gas, he plays 3 Sedge Trolls which take me down in a few turns.
At this point I believe that I am out of contention for a top spot, but I’m having such a great time that I just don’t care. I don’t even feel sick anymore.
Round 8: Kevin Elliot, playing URW Ydwen.
Game 1 (OTD) is a ponza-fest, with both of us stripping multiple lands, plus a couple of Sinkholes on my side. Once the dust is settled I play a Hypnotic Specter which connects a few times before getting bolted down. Kevin never manages to develop a mana base and a few pump knights go all the distance.
Game 2 (OTP) Kevin returns the favor by stripping a few of my lands, and then plays a Ball Lightning, an Orgg and a Stone Giant that send me packing.
On Game 3 (OTD) I Sinkhole his first land. He deploys the first threat in the form a Ydwen Efreet, which I terrorize. He keeps up the pressure with an Orgg and a Stone Giant, but I take care of those two with my Ashes To Ashes. Kevin takes a picture of the two-for-one. Once he ran out of gas, I mount an offensive with a Juzam Djinn and lock him out the game with a Sinkhole and a double Strip Mine to get rid of a significant portion of his mana. I follow up with a pump knight. Kevin manages to play a second Ywden Efreet, but loses the coinflip and is unable to block the lethal attack.
At this point the adrenalin was wearing off and I was really feeling congested again, but I stay for the prize ceremonies; say goodbye to my new friends, and head to the Gate of Phyrexia.
I had a truly amazing experience at the old school tournament, which made it up for such an eventful weekend. Missing the top spots is always something that leaves you wanting more, but 19 out of 196 is not that bad.
Post Tournament Deck Conclusions
Despite being a budget deck, I believe mono black is a solid choice for old school under Eternal Central rules. Although I did not play against any Shops or DibTogs, during my run, the deck felt that it had enough power to go toe-to-toe against most strategies. I attribute this to the simplicity of its mana base, the raw power of its curve-topping creatures, and the explosiveness of Dark Ritual.
Juzam Djinn is amazing, and definitely worth the hefty price tag. He is a must-answer threat and becomes game-warping in the way that few other permanents are in the format. So many of my game wins came from the hand of this guy that I cannot recommend him enough.
Sengir Vampire was a revelation. In a world full of Lightning Bolts, Chain Lightnings, and Serendib Efreets, a 4/4 flying body with an upside is king. The stats seem mediocre for the 3BB cost, but it commands an impressive aerial board presence that requires two cards from your opponent do deal with it or it risks taking over the game. The +1/+1 ability is there to be used, and I am ashamed to say that I missed the trigger twice throughout the tournament, just because I considered it negligible. Three appears to be the right number.
Following up on points 2 and 3, I don’t believe that Juzam an Sengir contend for the deck’s curve-topper. However, I have yet to fully understand what the best way is to ramp out your upper-half of the curve with Dark Ritual. Turn 1 Hypnotic Specter, turn 2 Juzam Djinn and Turn 3 Sengir all have their merits, and while there are pros and cons to each decision, I’m not yet at a stage in which I can provide a heuristic approach to each scenario. I will come to this in a future article.
Black Knight was mediocre, and was the card that I sided out the most. I have thought of swapping a number of these for Mishra’s Factories, but I guess that they are really good against popular strategies as White Weenie and The Deck. I am not sure about the right number, but 4 seems to be too much.
Royal Assassin was lackluster, mainly because in a format infested with red one-mana burn spells it usually lives a short life. However, it was almost always killed as soon as it entered the battlefield, which means that it commanded respect from my opponents. I believe that if Serendib/Bolt strategies are as common as they are right now, they should be replaced by other sources of removal, and maybe go to the sideboard in order to deal with other more black-centered strategies. I do believe that Royal Assassin is a mirror breaker, and should find some space in the 75.
Speaking of removal, I was really stressing out the thin numbers of my removal package throughout the tournament. Despite its limitations, Terror was fantastic, and I would have definitely loved to play a second copy. I would even consider playing a third. I only drew Ashes To Ashes Once, but it was completely backbreaking when I played it. I think 1 is the right number, but I would add an additional copy in the sideboard. The format is more creature-based than I expected, and having mana-efficient responses to key beaters such as Serendib Efreet is necessary.
The Sinkhole + Strip Mine package worked as expected, really punishing the format’s flimsy mana bases. Turn two Sinkhole into turn three Strip Mine plus a knight provided to be a solid tempo start.
I didn’t miss Hymn to Tourach, except maybe against the Grixis Troll deck. Maybe because the land destruction package worked as well as I thought it would; or maybe because I simply didn’t know I was missing out on one of the color’s most powerful weapons in its arsenal. Further testing is required. However, I do believe that it is good not to hold any card as untouchable. The merits of each spell and land should be taken into consideration with rigorous analysis. If Hymn were to go in, I might cut a couple of Black Knights, a Drain Life and a Royal Assassin, but that’s just me thinking out Aloud.
My sideboard was completely off, and it overreacted towards creatureless control decks. 12 cards were too much. Underworld Dreams provided to be near useless. Vise and Ankh package provided to be really effective against control decks, but I wonder if it is worth the eight slots. I would easily replace the Dreams for more creature removal.
Drain Life didn’t see a ton of action, but I believe that two is the right number. The deck tends to flood out in the late game, and having an additional mana sink that also provides reach and life gain is a really good thing to have. Relying heavily on Juzam also makes you want to have a safety valve in order to not die from its upkeep trigger. Last but not least, it makes topdecking a late game Dark Ritual less painful.
Jaco and the guys at Eternal Central for organizing such an amazing event. It was a truly memorable experience, and I will definitely be going again next year.
Brian Espinoza, for being the other Chilean on the venue, and for the amazing talk.
The American old school community, and in particular to all my opponents. Each and every one of you showed an impressive amount of friendliness and sportsmanship.
The guys from the Earthquake League, for all their support during deckbuilding and testing.
Einstein’s Bagels for the quality breakfasts.
British Airways, for bringing back the Coronation Chicken sandwich.
People who play burn in Legacy.
Ebola Burrito Lady.
Elk’s Lodge basement acoustics. I think that the top tables should be on the first floor. Something to consider for next year.