Our friends at New England Old School run a season of monthly old school tournaments which cover the period between the Winter and Summer Derbies. They are extremely fun to play, and attract some of the best and most creative members of the old school community. Jared Doucette does a fantastic job as tournament organizer; making each tournament an engaging, user-friendly experience. If you haven’t played in one of them, we highly recommend it.
The NEOS monthlies normally run under Atlantic rules, but for its third version Jared decided to shake things up by introducing a new change to the eligible sets or to the restricted list for each month. This required players to adapt their decks to new metagames, and be in a constant state of brewing and deck-refining.
One of our goals for 2020 as members of the Earthquake League was to get more involved in the burgeoning old school tournament scene, and season 3 of the NEOS monthlies provided the perfect place to start. This article sums up the experiences that the members of our small magic club had during the season. It provides insight to the decks that we played, our thoughts on each format, and how we worked together as a team.
Table of Contents
- February - Mishra’s Factory Restricted
- March - Scryings
- April - City of Brass Restricted
- May - Dual Lands Restricted
- June - Atlantic + Ice Age
- Season 3 Conclusions
February - Atlantic, Mishra’s Factory restricted
Mishra’s Factory is one of old school’s most iconic cards. Almost every deck in every archetype uses a playset. It is an extremely versatile tool, with strong offensive and defensive capabilities. Its ubiquity has put it in the crosshairs of many members of the old school community, who wonder how different the world would be without so many assembly-workers being out and about. The February monthly provided us with a glimpse to that potential metagame.
Andrés –Earthquake League’s resident control guru– decided to adapt his version of The Deck, swapping out The Abyss for Moat, and adding Serra Angel’s as wincons. He also chose to leave his copy of Regrowth out of the 75 for an additional copy of Recall.
Thomas chose to play his mono black deck, swapping out Mishra’s Factory for additional Swamps and adding a few main deck Underworld Dreams as an additional source of reach.
Nico and José decided to skip the February monthly.
Thomas took a beating. He lost against Dave Firth Bard, Mike VanDyke, Will Magrann, James Lebak and Jason Dorman; all of them in three games (and with some bad beats to boot), but that’s what normally happens when you play a low-powered, mono-colored deck. He did manage to scrap a victory over Simon Schoofs (2-0); and had a blast during all six rounds in spite of his poor results.
Andrés had a significantly better run. He crowned his group by going undefeated against Josh Reil (2-0), Ben Katz (2-0), Jeff Grasso (2-1), Mike Frantz (2-1), Mark Flore (2-1), and Mark Jonovitch (2-0); and then beating Jason Schwartz with UW Big Fliers and Jon Tschida with White Weenie in the knock-out portion of the event. Andrés lost in the finals against Mike Scheffenacker’s powerful Eureka deck and some busted draws that included a first turn Mind Twist for hand, and a turn 1 Eureka for 25 points of power on the board.
Andrés was happy with his version of The Deck. Under traditional Atlantic rules there seems to be a consensus that The Abyss and Mishra’s Factory is the right place to be in terms of board control, but Moat and Serra Angel have a soft spot in Andres’ heart.
With his Eureka deck, Michael set the tone to what would be an incredible season for him. The deck received in-depth coverage in an episode of Bryan Manolakos’ podcast, All Things Considered.
March - Scryings
In late 2019, Magnus de Laval released Scryings, a fan-made Magic Expansion specifically curated for Swedish old school magic, utilizing cards from Fallen Empires to Weatherlight. The format entered the old school scene with great fanfare, and was enthusiastically received by the majority of the old school family.
The expansion fills many of the gaps in the Swedish format. Green gets decent cards in general, red gets efficient creatures like goblins, blue didn’t’ need much help but still gets a few toys, white gets Tithe and Sacred Mesa, and black got some cool reanimator tricks but its arguably the worst color in the expansion (and was already one of the worst colors in Swedish). Even though it feels that Magnus tried to force some archetypes and combos by the inclusion of certain cards, the pool has enough breadth to be considered unexplored territory for brewers.
In a shocking turn of events, Andrés decided that he was going to use the attack phase for an entire month and sleeved up a blue-white-red midrange deck full of good cards such as Dwarven Miner, Serendib Efreet, Tithe, Swords to Plowshares and Kjeldoran Outpost. He also racked up some style points by using alternate art on some of his staples. This made him immensely happy. During the tournament, Andrés figured out that he could combine Tithe with Strip Mine to take advantage of the stack and search for two plains while Strip Mine’s effect was still on the stack.
Nico decided to place the raw power of Phyrexian Dreadnought and Illusionary Mask in a blue-black shell, to support it with disruptive elements and fast mana. When combined, the Hippie-Dib-Nought triple entente and the abundant permission enabled a protect-the-queen strategy that was quite interesting. What we also liked about this deck was the transformational sideboard, allowing it to employ a blue-black disruptive midrange strategy if the opponent ran too many cheap answers to the 12/12.
José Luis went for a four-color Armageddon Zoo deck that sought to apply early pressure with fast creatures such as Kird Ape and River Boa. It also tried to take advantage of Armageddon by using cards with the word “Paradise” on them.
Thomas skipped the March tournament because of a tight work schedule.
Nico went 4-2 in the group stage, failing to pass the cut. He lost against Brett Allan (0-2) and Mike McLaughlin (1-2); and managed to beat Jon Tschida (2-1), Megan Hyland (2-1), Jared Doucette (2-1), and Mike Scheffenacker (2-0).
José Luis went 3-3 in a tough group, beating Jason Beaupre (2-0), Jeff Grasso (2-0) and Paul DeSilva (2-1); while losing to Adam Lemke (1-2), Christian Reinhard (1-2) and Jason Schwartz (1-2).
Andrés won his group by beating Ron Dijkstra (2-1) (you might remember his amazing Teferi’s Puzzlebox deck), Christopher Mason (2-1), Mark Jonovitch (2-1), Robin Hoholm (2-0) and Don Perrien (2-1); and losing to Will Serwetman. Several of his opponents played red land destruction spells, which made Tithe shine even brighter. In the top 8 he managed to take down Bryan Manolakos thanks to some pretty unlucky draws by the Old School Podcaster, but bowed out in the semifinals to the eventual champion, the infamous Chilean-slayer and racoon-aficionado Christian “Maze my Factory” Reinhard.
Andrés and Nico were happy with their decks, but each of them agreed that there was plenty of room for improvement. Andres’s deck had a tension between the go-long, grindy nature of most of its cards, and Serendib Efreet’s upkeep trigger. Dwarven Miner was the deck’s MVP, and he should have run a full playset within the 75. Nico realized that his deck was capable of busted starts, and had the upper hand against the small creature decks that abound in the Scryings metagame; but found that his deck was fairly weak to white-based removal such as Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant and Pacifism. For future events, he might consider playing a more control-oriented version of the deck or splash green for Avoid Fate in order to protect his creatures. Maze of Ith is also a recurring problem, which apparently made the pair of sideboard Sinkholes insufficient. When analyzing the deck, Nico concluded that the absence of Hymn to Tourach (mostly a religious stance at this stage) allows you to keep your Dreadnought in hand until its safe to deploy it with a backup counter to secure the game. He also considered adding white to include Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares and Balance.
José Luis didn’t like his deck. He had too much available mana at the end of each turn (which made Wildfire Emissary an MVP; and never found the chance to use his Uktabi Orangutan’s on his opponent’s artifacts, having to blow one of his own Moxen to get a grey ogre. His cheap drops were bad topdecks in the late game. In hindsight, he should have replaced the Kird Apes with Erhnam Djinns. Going forward, he would consider replacing the white cards for blue ones, such as Man-O’-War and Serendib Efreet.
In retrospect, playing with Scryings was a refreshing experience, and an overall net positive. The expansion is not without flaws, but is nice to play and is a good twist on classic old school to play every now and then.
April - Atlantic, City of Brass Restricted
April brought us back to Atlantic old school, adding City of Brass to the restricted list. City is almost as ever-present as Mishra’s Factory, and is the cornerstone of most mana bases. Modern old school decks tend to play two or even three main colors, and splash for a fourth or even fifth one.
Thomas decided to give mono black another go, with the hope that opponents with weaker mana would be more susceptible to succumb to his disruption package and cheap threats. A playset of Nevinyrral’s Disk acted as a safety valve against pesky artifacts and enchantments, while the janky creature removal aimed to neutralize different threats.
Andrés decided that the whole attack-phase thing that he tried during March was overrated, and decided to kill his opponents with Millstone. Because splashing for other colors was harder without a full set of cities, Andrés decided to eschew Fireball, add more basics, and play Ivory Tower and Land Tax as additional tools to achieve world domination. When adapting his deck, Andrés took inspiration in the blue-white deck that Michael Loconto –patron saint of control players– used to win the first ever pro tour in 1996. He even used some of his World Championship gold-bordered cards as homage. Some people say that Andrés has a picture of Mr. Loconto hidden somewhere in his binder. He has not confirmed nor denied this.
José Luis decided to go with a solid black-red midrange deck that sought to accelerate some aggressive threats and then close the game with reach in the form of Fireball and Underworld Dreams.
Nico decided to skip this month to spend some time with his newborn son Max, the newest member of the team.
Andrés and Thomas were paired in the same group, and played against each other as their first match. Andrés won the first game by playing a timely Moat that prevented Thomas from attacking, who eventually died from his own Juzám Djinn. Thomas took the second game by blowing up all of Andres’ non-land permanents, which included Ivory Tower, Land Tax, Moat, and Circle of Protection: Black. Andrés drew a second Circle of Protection, but couldn’t find an answer to Mishra’s Factory, which ended up going the distance. In the third game Thomas managed to bring Andres’ life total to 2, but he then took control of the game with a Moat, and finally milled all of Thomas’s Disks to lock him out.
Thomas won the group by defeating Jason Dorman (2-0), Christian Reinhard (2-1), Gerard Siatkowski (2-1), Mark Jonovitch (2-1), and Timothy Moran (2-0). Andrés lost against Mark Jonovitch’s Hymns (1-2), Jason Dorman’s Bolts (0-2) and won against Christian Reinhard’s Yetis (2-0), Andy Swaffar’s Robots (2-0) and Gerrard Siatkowski’s Land (Equilibrium) Turtles (2-0).
José Luis went 3-3, losing against Martin Erne (1-2), Jowel Bowers (0-2), and James Lebak (0-2); and beating Will Kessler (2-1), Brett Allan (2-1), and Jonathan King (2-0).
Thomas ended up winning the tournament by defeating Jared Doucette in the quarterfinals, Mark Evaldi in the semifinals, and William Parshall in a battle of the Juzáms for all the marbles. After the tournament, he realized that there was something really satisfying about winning with your pet deck, especially if it contains questionable cards such as Terror and Black Knight, as well as some outright awful ones such as Paralyze, Weakness and Sorceress Queen. Despite this, the deck performed well, and he beat some very good opponents with good decks in the process.
Andrés felt that his deck had performed well, and had no major comments to it.
José Luis felt that Dark Ritual was underperforming in his deck, and would cut it in future iterations of the deck. He also thought that the deck felt “too fair” and wanted to add more punch with blue power and Hymn to Tourach.
As to the restriction of City of Brass, we did not see a huge difference in what player’s brought to the table, other than shying away from splashing two or even three colors for restricted cards. We are of the opinion that one of the secrets to a fun, healthy old school format that supports a variety of spike and spice strategies is a solid mana base. City of Brass is the greatest contributor to that, and therefore should always be unrestricted.
May - Atlantic, Dual Lands Restricted
The May tournament brought the biggest change yet, adding all dual lands to the restricted list. Duals are yet another staple of the old school format, and are one of the most sought-after cards in the format, because of their playability in sanctioned formats such as Vintage and Legacy.
Thomas decided to stick to his guns, and play mono black, with only a few minor tweaks. The logic was the same: Opponent’s janky manabase + Sinkhole + Hymn + Hippie = good times (for him).
Nico and José Luis decided to pay heed to the lessons learned in last month’s event and decided to go with a red-black midrange deck with a blue splash for power. It swapped Dark Ritual for more jewelry, and attempted to take over the game with efficient creatures and disruptive spells. If the game went long, it could rely on Order of The Ebon Hand, Sedge Troll, and Fireball. A triad of Nevinyrral’s Disk allowed the deck to transform into a Disco-Troll of sorts, and keep more aggressive strategies at bay.
Andrés decided to stay in the control quadrant, but shifted his traditional build to a more prison-oriented strategy, with Winter orb, Ivory Tower, Relic Barrier, and Icy Manipulator.
José Luis went 3-3, losing against Patrick Quinn (0-2), Mike VanDyke (1-2) and Robin Hoholm (0-2); and winning against Mike McLaughlin (1-0), Will Kessler (2-0) and Jason Beaupre (2-0).
Nico went 5-1, losing against Mox Emerald Scott (0-2); and beating Eric Wohlstadter (2-1), James Lebak (2-0), Marc Flore, (2-0) Jonathan King (2-0), and Ryan Rudolph (2-0). He was bested by Eric, who managed to take the top spot of his group with a mere 1.65% tiebreaker difference.
Andrés went 4-2, losing against Will Parshall (1-2) in a hard-fought mirror match and Christian Reinhard (0-2); and winning against Andy Roman (2-1), Matt Mucci (2-0) Paul Paloglou (2-0), and Tino Galizio (2-0).
Thomas won his group by going 5-1, defeating PJ Melies (2-1), Jason Applin (2-0), Paul deSilva (2-0), Cory Hanson (2-1) and Timothy Moran (2-0); while losing against Jesse Switzer (1-2). He qualified to the knock-out stage in 9th place, and had to battle against Jared Doucette for a chance to play against Adam Lemke. However, Jared dispatched him quickly in three games, avenging his loss in last month’s quarterfinals.
The May gold star was brought down by Mike Scheffenacker, who brought a nine-dual Temple deck.
Thomas was satisfied with his list, but remained with doubts as to whether the second copy of Drain Life should have been the third copy of Terror.
Andrés enjoyed playing prison, but found the deck harder to play than a normal control deck, and lost a couple of games to unforced errors when making his lock pieces interact.
Nico had an amazing run with his deck. Without Dark Ritual, the deck felt a little clunky at times; but his overall strategy worked like a charm, and taking out the black boon felt like a net positive. José agreed with this conclusion.
Unlike previous changes to the restricted list, limiting the use of dual lands to a single copy had a significant impact on the metagame. Most of our opponents during the group stage played mono-colored decks, with a few splashes. The Top 10 decks also had an abundance of mono-colored strategies. However, various decks managed to go with two or even three colors (with a splash!), which helps to show how important City of Brass is for the diversity of the format.
It appears that if tournament organizers really want to disincentivize everyone from playing the same old twentysomething restricted cards in their decks, hammering the format’s mana base is not the way to go. It is simply more effective to ban the restricted cards, and go towards a path similar than the one that the guys developing old school 1.5 are exploring. The obvious drawback of this is that one of the main drivers of playing old school is harnessing the power of all these broken cards.
June - Atlantic plus Ice Age
The team became very excited when Jared announced that the June monthly would be a celebration of Ice Age’s 25th anniversary and that the entire set would be added to the format, with Necropotence and Demonic Consultation being restricted.
Our excitement was justified. Ice Age brought some iconic cards and mechanics -such as cantrips and cumulative upkeep- that redefined the game, while maintaining the aesthetic and flavor of previous sets that sets the tone for the contemporaneous old school format.
As we looked through the spoiler, we realized how many cool things Ice Age had to offer: Necropotence, Knight of Stromgald, Order of the White Shield, Brainstorm, Jokulhaups, Incinerate, Enduring Renewal, Zuran Orb, Portent, and many other sweet spells.
Our “kid in a candy shop” moment was short-lived. Within 10 minutes of the announcement, we received a message in our group chat from Andrés that simply said “Time Vault is broken”. No one took that affirmation seriously, until Andrés mentioned that Lapis Lazuli Talisman and Infuse existed. We looked them up and quickly connected the dots.
Andrés decided to work on a four-color list using restricted cards and Mana Vault, while Thomas went for a mono-blue version.
The decks did almost the same thing, but had different paths to victory. Andrés was still not fond of the whole “use the attack step to do stuff” thing and decided to kill his opponent by aiming back-to-back Braingeysers at them. Thomas chose to use Mishra’s Factory to take his opponent’s life down to zero.
During testing, we discovered that both decks had pros and cons. Andres’ version was about half a turn faster than the blue version, mainly because of Wheel of Fortune and Mana Vault; but had no main-deck tools to interact with the opponent, making it very soft to cards like Ankh of Mishra, Blood Moon and Underworld Dreams. Thomas’ deck was a bit slower -having a turn two-kill chance of approximately 20% and a turn-three kill of about 80%- but had a very solid, simple mana base, as well as a Chaos Orb that could be tutored with Transmute Artifact to interact with the opponent. Also, going mono maximized the chances of triggering Talisman.
We then proceeded to run the decks against a gauntlet of tier-one old school decks, and both of them beat the crap out of everything. They were simply too fast, too consistent, and too resilient. We had broken the format. However, we were pretty sure that everyone else would too, and decided to contact Jared. We told him about the combo, sent him a decklist, and asked him if he would consider restricting Time Vault. Being the good guy that he is, he told us that he couldn’t restrict something after announcing the new format, since people might have already purchased cards, and that would be unfair for them; and then gave us his blessing to “go ahead and break it in half”.
A few days before the tournament began, Andrés had cold feet. He had been playing control for too long, and he felt that playing a deck with such a huge target on its back was dangerous; and went back to what he knows best and sleeved up a good old blue-white control deck inspired, once again, by Mr. Loconto. The possibility of using a couple of key Ice Age cards as Zuran Orb and Brainstorm and a conversation with Quinn Maurman -control master who had reached the finals of the last month with a similar deck- cemented his (not so daring) choice.
Thomas was also working on a combo deck that won with Enduring Renewal, Kobolds, Ashnod’s Altar, Triskelion, Su-Chi, Fireballs and Disintegrate to deal infinite damage, but it never took off. If there ever is another Ice Age tournament, he will definitely try that.
Nico and José Luis decided to skip the June tournament. They also wanted to play with a version of Earthquake League’s time machine, but card availability in Latin America, as well as the disrupted courier system made it impossible to get their hands on the cards that they missed.
Andrés went 6-0, beating Peat Simp (2-1), Mark Gabriel (dropped), Andrew Mattus (2-0), Jason Dorman (2-0), Ryan Rudolph (2-0) and David Third (2-0). In the knock-out stage he defeated Jeff Grasso in a series of hard-fought games where Zuran Orb stole the MVP crown, but was bested by Bryan Manolakos and his skilled piloting of his Jokulhaups deck in the semifinals.
Thomas took down a star-studded group by beating Michael Scheffenacker (2-0), Jared Doucette (2-0), Jesse Switzer (2-0), Adam Merkado (2-1) and Jason Beaupre (2-1); and losing the mirror match against Will Parshall (1-2). In the top 8 he beat Scott Bradley’s Erhnamgeddon, Duncan William’s Red green beats and Bryan Manolakos in a nail-biter to take down the whole thing.
Thomas was really happy about winning two tournaments in a season. The deck that he built was insanely powerful. Andrés was right that the deck had a huge target on its back, but the power level was simply too strong for the rest of the format and it managed to shake off whatever the opponent threw at it. During the tournament Thomas played games in which he was hit by a turn 2 maindeck Jester’s Cap, Jokulhaupsed twice, had multiple Time Vaults disenchanted, faced opponents with over 60 life, and faced an active Magus of the Unseen; and still managed to win all of those games. However, his victory was also bittersweet: Once the deck was “going infinite” playing it felt like a chore, sequencing cantrip after cantrip until the opponent was bored to death and scooped. The games lacked the excitement and interaction that are characteristic of the old school format.
Andrés was also happy with his deck. It felt like playing Magic like Garfield intended (it might be tough to accept but yes, Garfield intended that you can play control), and the combination of Land Tax and Brainstorm led to some challenging decisions, although Brainstorm felt lackluster in a deck that cannot shuffle nearly as often as decks that use Brainstorm in other formats.
As to the addition of Ice Age, we felt like it was a huge success as a one-of tournament. The expansion brought so many new tools that it completely changed the metagame. It also fostered a lot of deck diversity, which was made evident by the fact that the top 8 had eight different decks. However, if this were to be done again, we would strongly suggest restricting a few cards that enable twiddlevault, such as Time Vault, Infuse, or Lapis Lazuli Talisman. Time Vault is an obvious offender and needs no further explanation. Talisman is an odd Magic card, but making every blue card of your deck into a Time Walk is simply too powerful. Also, we believe that the restriction of Necropotence was unnecessary, since Black Vise and the abundant burn spells of the format should be enough to keep it in check (or at least we would have wanted to see them try!).
Putting it all together - Post Season Conclusions
As a team, we had a blast paying throughout the entire season, sharing a good time with amazing people in the process. The community that surrounds these tournaments is amazing, and we feel truly welcome by everyone who is involved. We also had an amazing season in terms of results. One of us made top 8 every month, and managed to win two out of five of the season’s tournaments (we tied with team Scheffenacker on this one), placing two players in the overall top 8.
We are also happy that we truly worked as a team, despite the current situation and the fact that the members of our club are spread across three continents. Before each month everyone brewed, presented their creation to the team for feedback, and then went back to the drawing board to implement what was discussed. During the top 8 of each tournament, we analyzed each matchup as a group, focusing on what was the best strategy to win. Every victory was a victory of the entire team, as was every loss.
The season itself was also amazing. The idea to spice things up with different changes each month was incredible. It also gave us the excuse to buy more cards.
We want to congratulate Michael for winning the whole thing, and show our gratitude to Jared and the guys at NEOS for hosting such an amazing event.
Given our positive experience as a team, we believe that this is something that could be enjoyed by other clubs. It would be great that the NEOS monthlies also had a team series running in parallel to the main event. This could work similar to the team series that used to exist in the Pro Tour, where players created teams of three or four players at the beginning of each season, and each point a player made during each month was also added to their squad for purposes of the team series. At the end of the season, the two teams that racked up the most points play a season team finals in a team format. In our case, it could be unified team trios or OS4. We believe that a team series is a good idea to keep players engaged, and it could foster a sense of camaraderie among the various teams that are out there. If this idea gains traction, we are happy to provide any assistance that could be required.
We hoped you enjoyed this article! We will be preparing another piece for season 4. Take care and stay safe!