A Very Nostalgic and Special Tournament Report
Here's a tale from an event unlike any other, impressions and observations about what an Old School tournament represents, the experience of community and nostalgia, featuring all-powerful cards such as Moxen, Black Lotus, Hypnotic Specter—and Fishliver Oil!
When you read a report of a tournament, you often skip to the metagame breakdown, the decklists, and the player's record. You maybe take a look at the matchups and the sideboard choices, but nothing more. You do this, not because you are in a hurry or because you don't like the stories floating around a tournament. You do so because the rituals and procedures, the venue and the prize pool are always quite similar from one event to another.
This is not the case here, because every Old School tournament has a different story, and this one in particular is different from all the others. I'll try to get you into the true spirit of a format that really is unlike any other …
About Old School 93/94This is not the place to explain the full rule set and the typical characteristics of the format. You should check out the introduction to Old School. Then, if your curiosity isn't satisfied, pay a visit to the bible of every Old School player.
The Fishliver Oil Cup
Let's get to the tournament in question. If you have a minute to open the organizer's website, an immediate blast from the past will immediately transfer you back to the early nineties, although it all started in Genoa in 2016. Old School was already spreading across Europe and this tournament took its inspiration from the most famous Old School tournament, the swedish N00BCON: no prize splits, no draws, a raffle every round, a friendly environment, lots of pimped decks, and true old-school spirit everywhere.
For the raffle, sit down, take a breath, and imagine that a player picked at random won an Arabian Nights Library of Alexandria! But they only got it after six rounds of Swiss, meaning: "If you don't battle till the end, you don't earn the price." By contrast, the winner among 133 players won a Fishliver Oil signed by all the participants of the tournament (a classic), a bottle of the eponymous oil, a fisherman trophy, and, yes, a cool artwork from Anson Maddocks.
In addition, every round random prizes were raffled off: Fallen Empires boosters, old singles, signed cards. A City in a Bottle was awarded to the best "non-powered" deck, that is, one without Power Nine cards. But the funniest and most epic was by far the mighty "Eaten by Rats" award, the most sought-after prize of the Fishliver Oil Cup. This was assigned to the player with the most chewed and heavily played cards in their deck.
The Call of the Hyppie
Coming to Genoa, I was convinced to play "Troll Disco"—a deck built around playsets of Nevinyrral's Disk and Sedge Troll with a pack of counter spells, removal, and singletons. But on Saturday morning, the day of the tournament, I woke up thinking that I wanted to play Hypnotic Specter. Some hear the call of the sirens, I've heard the call of the Hyppie …
I also wanted to play blue for some counter spells and Energy Flux, as I was expecting a metagame full of Robots, a deck that is becoming more and more popular. This is the build I pieced together:
When I arrived at a venue, a hotel close to Genoa's harbor, the classic crowd of Old Schoolers was already there. People playtesting, trades between old binders, top sellers full of bombs, Power Nine and Alpha and Beta cards everywhere. Oh, that temptation to buy a BGS 9 Beta Shivan Dragon … Soon the tournament started, and everyone gathered to hear the words of Domenico, Lorenzo, and then Magnus, the creator of the format. After that it was time to play!
Although it's a strange tournament, the games are played normally—even if strange things are happening …
Round 1 versus Gabriele with Land Tax Combo
This deck abuses Land Tax and Ivory Tower to gain the advantage necessary to close with Land's Edge. The deck gained a lot from the London Mulligan rule because now the player can be sure to start the game with a Land Tax in hand.
First game he mulligans to five. I start with a fast Hyppie, he plays Land Tax. I play a second land and drop a second Hyppie. This triggers the Tax, but puts much pressure on him. He gets some lands and tries to play Psionic Blast on one of the Specters, which I counter. Game over.
Round 2 versus Andrea with Ernhamgeddon
He plays a green-white-black version of Ernhamgeddon with a lot of critters, Armageddons, and Nether Void. I start with a first-turn Efreet, he anserws with Library of Alexandria. I play a Sinkhole on the Library, but then he has Spirit Link for the Serendib, followed by Sylvan Library the turn after. I drop a Specter and a Factory, but in the meantime he puts the life from the Spirit Link to good use, draws a pair of extra cards with Sylvan Library, and casts Nether Void. We both have some mana, and I manage to counter a Serra Angel. Nevertheless, he's still at an advantage in the race. I try to recover with Drain Life on one of his creatures, but tapping out exposes me to his Armageddon, and that closes the first game.
I start with a turn-one Specter. He plays some mana and passes. I attack and discard his Spirit Link, then drop a second Specter. He goes down to zero cards in hand soon and dies shortly after.
He begins the third game with Library of Alexandria. I hold Sinkhole, but he delays it with Strip Mine and Chaos Orb destroying two of my black lands, generating quite an advantage. When I recover, he already has various critters in play plus Nether Void. No way I can turn this game back around.
Round 3 versus Stephan with Red-Green Zoo
This deck sure is an aggressive one with lots of fast creatures and direct damage. He opens on Kird Ape and I start with a Specter. He drops a pair of critters in Scavenger Folk and another Ape, while I play an Efreet and attack with Hyppie to bring him down to zero cards in hand. Unfortunately, he topdecks Su-Chi to race my fliers. I'm at 9 and he's at 11. I attack for 5 bringing him to 6. He brings me to 5 with Su-Chi, then I take 1 Serendib damage. He topdecks Lightning Bolt and sends me to 1 … to die during my upkeep.
The second game is quite unreal and truly Old School. I start pretty well with a quick Serendib and two Control Magic in hand, so I'm feeling pretty confident. But he … with me tapped out … plays Channel … makes 19 mana … and Fireball, leaving me stunned at the table.
Round 4 versus Joaquin with Land Equilibrium
Here's a peculiar deck featuring the combo of Land Equilibrium and Armageddon. He starts with a lot of mana, while I only have black mana. He gets the Equilibrium into play with both of us at four lands and starts to beat me to death with a pair of Jade Statues. When I finally find the blue mana to play Energy Flux it's already too late.
Game two is totally absurd. We both get some spells countered or removed until I resolve Energy Flux against his Moxen. He casts Disenchant on the Flux and then plays Land Equilibrium. The turn after, he geddons. At that point, he has only Sol Ring in play and my board is empty. We start to draw and discard cards for something like ten turns till he finds Mox Pearl to disenchant my Mox Jet. He also sees a Fellwar Stone and suddenly he's in a good shape. However, then I topdeck Black Lotus to cast another Flux. He disenchants the Flux, but he again loses his board and we restart to draw, discard. He has fewer cards left in his library than me, so he's forced to play lands to try to drop a Jade Statue and win. Since he plays lands, I can drop lands too. When I have Counterspell for the Statue, he concedes.
The third game is not epic at all. He has quite a slow hand, I start with a quick Hyppie followed by Serendib Efreet. His Library of Alexandria doesn't do much because of my Specter, whereas my Library does. In the end, he has to surrender.
Round 5 versus Gus with White Weenie
He plays the classic version of the deck with Savannah Lions, White Knight, Thunder Spirit, and Crusade. First game, he drops a Lion and I drop my faithful Hyppie. I also have Ancestral Recall and a Serendib. He tries to race me dropping a Spirit and another pair of creatures, but another Hyppie and Time Walk win the race and game.
Round 6 versus Miguel with Blue Robots
Finally I meet the Robots: Su-Chi, Copy Artifact, Triskelion, et cetera. I play a first-turn Sengir Vampire and a second-turn Mana Drain on his threat. When his pair of Mana Vaults leave him at 8, I attack for 4 and play a Psionic Blast for the win.
He begins game two on a mulligan, while I begin on a Serendib. I counter his artifacts with Energy Flux. He's forced to play Chaos Orb on it, and still loses a pair of Moxen. He tries to recover, but I generated too much advantage.
I finish the tournament 4-2. I'm out of the Top 16, but as usual in Old School, I had fun!
The Tournament in General
After awarding the Library, the Top 16 playoffs took place. Various decks were represented, including the classic and feared "The Deck" (the famous Five-Color Control), several artifact decks, and some White-Blue Skies. Troll Disco and some other decks also reached the final phase.
In the end, André Brunet from Italy won it all and claimed the trophy. He was kind enough to send me a picture of the deck he played:
A solid deck with a solid plan: play a quick Lion, Factory, or Serendib and then beat down while protecting the creatures with counter spells, Plowshares, and Disenchant. Serra Angel brings up the rear. André told me he faced all the expected decks of the metagame and managed to win thanks to the consistent build. The only problem he pointed out was that with just four lands providing black mana he had some issues casting Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist.
I hope I was able to share with you some of the fascination I feel for this wonderful format with this short report of a wonderful tournament. If you have any doubt about the friendly atmosphere, here's a final fun fact: There was a judge working at the event, but there were almost no judge calls. (I called him to sort out an Energy Flux stack.)
P.S.: If you think you can't compete in Old School because Power Nine pieces don't fit your budget, consider Collectors' Edition and International Collectors' Edition. Many Old School tournaments now allow these versions, and they are way cheaper.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.