Old School Vanguard at GPNJ2019
Or: Better Lucky than Good
Letter from the Editor:
On January 26th, the Sisters of the Flame held our second Old School tournament as an offsite to GPNJ2019. Twenty-four mages showed up to sling spells under the chaotic additional rule of the Vanguards, 32 cards which would effect the field in sometimes dominating, often crushing, ways. What follows is a tournament report by Mike Harris who took 2nd place overall and whose remarks and praise for the tournament melted my heart. An additional tournament report by Seth Roncoroni can be found here. An overview of the tournament rules is available to listen to on Episode 49 of All Tings Considered and an additional audio tournament report by Andy Baquero (a brewer of unparalleled spice) is available on Episode 48.
And without further ado, Mike Harris:
If you had asked me on January 1st, 2019 whether I would attend any magic tournaments in person this year, I would have said, “Sadly no, I highly doubt it.” I had no idea that before January was even over I would end up attending the most fun magic event I had ever been to in 25 years of playing the game. Like most Old-Schoolers, I started playing as a child with Revised/Fallen Empires, moved on to competitive magic around Urza’s block, and played religiously until I quit cold-turkey during Onslaught block. Five years ago I picked it back up and went through periods playing Limited, Standard, Modern, Legacy, even Vintage until 2 years ago when I discovered Old School, or: Magic as I like to play it.
No more having to buy cards before every tournament to stay competitive, no more losing value after rotation, no more having to learn every new card every couple of months, no more rules-lawyering 20 year olds uninterested in the fun part of the game, and perhaps best of all, no more acquiring cards that don’t appeal to me. Flipping through my Old School collection gives me a joy I haven’t had since getting back into the game. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to go strictly Old School, culminating last summer when I buylisted all my modern cards (except for my legacy deck and 15-proxy Vintage just in case) to buy a CE Mox Ruby, Emerald, and Pearl.
Why those? Some of you may know me from Discord as GreenJack, Anglicized Jacques Le Vert, because I always gravitated towards some combination of green, red, and/or white decks back in the 90's. This had the added benefit of keeping me well budgeted by resisting buying into blue power and duals. I was lucky enough to already have a fair amount of 93/94 cards on hand and bought the other cards I needed before the major price spikes. Naya duals were all roughly $50 for revised, $100 for unlimited. So over the last two years I’ve acquired the necessary cards for pretty much every competitive deck in those 3 colors. I’ve since attended 3 Old-school tournaments at Top Deck Games, but being at an LGS doesn’t have quite the same feel as the tournaments in bars I’ve read about on Eternal Central, Magnus’ blog, and the Facebook groups. Last Spring my odds of attending any magic tournaments dropped dramatically with the fortuitous birth of my first child. Luckily, I learned about the online games Facebook group shortly thereafter and figured that would be my magic outlet for at least a few years. The one tournament I attended after she was born turned out to be a major drag on my wife as it was 2 hours drive both ways and ran most of the day. So it appeared to me I had drained my wife credit and that would be my last in-person tournament.
Which brings me to January 2019. I somehow missed completely the upcoming Grand Prix: New Jersey, or Magicfest whatever, until Paul DeSilva (whom I’d met at that last tournament) posted the side tournament he’d be running. Somehow the stars aligned and my wife and I had no plans for that weekend, being at the Meadowlands was only a 20 minute drive for me, four (FOUR!) old school artists would be at the GP (yes I am an alters/signatures fan) and here was a 5 round old-school tournament without a cut to top 8 that wouldn’t go long for any reason. Six months of wife credit banked and spent, I was going. Now the fun began, picking a deck.
In the Winter Derby I played a Naya weenie with Winter Orb to combat The Deck heavy field I was expecting. Unfortunately, I ran into a ton of Maze of Ith and Earthquake heavy Troll Disco decks, so I played to an abysmal 1–6 and a bye. After 2 years of collecting all 12 naya duals, the 3 moxen, black bordered versions of most staples, and artist original alters to a lot of the playsets, I knew I wanted to play a full naya deck. Looking through my google doc of roughly 2 dozen OS decks I can build I knew the deck I wanted to play. It was the first deck I’d wanted to build when I learned about old school back in early 2017, Nayageddon with Jacques Le Vert. It may not be the best list, but it had all the cards I wanted to play. Not just in terms of cards I enjoy, but also cards I’d had altered or pimped out by acquiring the Beta/FBB versions.
I spent a couple of weeks tweaking the numbers here and there. It was really just figuring out the sideboard, the main basically writes itself: a G/W Erhnamgeddon deck with 4 bolts, Serra numbers 2–4 replaced by fatty fun-ofs (Jacques, Orgg, Shivan), the naya restricted cards, and after seeing the power of Maze of Ith in the Winter Derby I threw one in as card #61. I was also factoring in which cards I wanted signed/altered by the artists at GP:NJ. The price of signatures and alters had gone up a lot so I had to get pretty selective. I added up all the cards I wanted and realized I was clocking in around $400, waayyyyy above my price range. So I took out all the signatures I didn’t really want, and figured I could splurge on a heavy alter of one playset. Of the 4 artists Shuler’s Serra Angel was the top of the list. I picked up two more FBB copies to have the full playset, but looking online at alters he had done for Serra I wasn’t too thrilled. I like my alters to enhance to the art already there, see my birds and swords below. Serra angel already has one of my favorite images that I didn’t want to risk an alter I wasn’t happy with. Luckily I came up with an elegant solution, another favorite art from Shuler is Demonic tutor, so I picked up an HP unlimited version to get altered. This not only cut my cost by only altering 1 instead of 4 cards, it gave me something new to play with. I realized with 4 birds, 4 cities, and 2 Fellwar stones a black splash was totally do-able with this deck without needing to pick up a black dual.
So I arrived at the Grand Prix Saturday morning at 10:30 to find the Meadowlands Exposition Center packed, I later found out the event had sold out. Luckily I wouldn’t have to spend too much time there. I headed straight for the artists and got the signatures from Mark Poole and Dan Frazier I’d been wanting. I’d already gotten a number signed by Mark Poole at other events including minor alteration to my Birds of Paradise before his prices went up. I just needed to finish out my completed playsets of Crusade and Howling Mine. It was my first time meeting Dan Frazier so I got my FBB juggernauts and Enlightened Tutors signed, I’d prefer to keep my Moxen uninked. Mark Tedin had a long line so I then headed to the artist I was most looking forward to, Douglas Shuler. Waiting in the line the guy behind me struck up conversation and it turned out he was going to the Old School event as well. I got the signatures I wanted, my Demonic Tutor altered beautifully , and picked up a Force of Nature playmat as I’ve been needing an Old-School specific playmat. I was debating what playmat to get up til the purchase. Serra Angel was the first “good” card I ever owned, Demonic Tutor is one of my favorites arts in the game, and Icy Manipulator is so iconic to me. However, being a Timmy at heart, Force was the right choice, the others are universal to most magic players, Force feels more unique to me. Plus who doesn’t love the swamp thing art, regardless of playability. Maybe I’ll brew a mono green ramp deck since I got my 4 Forces signed to go with. Then I headed to Tedin to get my Beta COP:Red #2 signed, Winter Orbs signed with some snow added, and additional alteration done to my Sol Ring. He had added fiery tendrils to it last time I saw him, and after playing with it a ton I realized the red in the center looked vaguely like an eye. So I had him draw the eye in clearly and outline the tendrils to look like a Beholder.
I then left the overly crowded Exposition Center, and took the 5 minute walk over to the Cheeseburger in Paradise to find exactly the change of scenery I was hoping for. Twenty-four 30-somethings ready to chill and enjoy the day playing cards older than the average Grand Prix attendee. As is tradition every player donated a playable card to be signed and drafted as prizes at the end of the tournament. I had a 5th Dust to Dust in my collection to add to the pool. Paul also put 8 cards as top 8 prizes in to the pot, as well as 6 cards to be raffled off, a copy of Duelist #7, and 3 magic related trinkets to go to the top 3. A pentagram coaster, a miniature Aladdin’s lamp, and a wax sealing kit for sending messages by raven.
Most importantly, this event had a unique game-play change. Before each round every player would receive a random Vanguard to make the games play out very differently from your average game of Old-School. We all soon found out that the quality of Vanguards varied WILDLY. Hence the title of this report, I doubt I would have done nearly as well had I not been lucky in my Vanguard picks. Of the five rounds 3 of my Vanguards were broken, only 1 was bad, and the 5th was pretty much average. So I have no delusions about my results, luck was on my side that day.
Round 1: Phil Dituri
Right off the bat I need to apologize to my opponents for anything forgotten or mistaken in this report. I didn’t think I’d write one until after the tournament so I only recorded the Vanguards we drew. The rest is based only off of life totals and my memory days/weeks later.
When looking over the various Vanguard cards, the most obvious thing to us now, after decades of learning about magic, is that the critical aspect of each character is the starting hand size. The life total change only matters if it’s a large amount, which most aren’t. The abilities can be insane, but I’d say the majority are only minor. So Phil and I settled in and pulled our Vanguards, he let me pick for him and I happen to draw Multani for him and Sisay for me. We were both down cards, but the difference in 4 and 5 is pretty major. On top of that Multani’s “ability” is a non-bo with the starting hand size, whereas Sisay has one of the best abilities out there. Especially for my geddon/fatty deck, making every land a Sol land was broken in half. Multani on the other hand is possibly the worst Vanguard out there (*looks to camera and winks, “Foreshadowing”).
I got out an early Argothian Pixies that chipped away for a while. He played a Timetwister to build some semblance of a hand, but of course had to discard down to 4 at the end of turn. Luckily for him he got some artifact mana out of it and I don’t believe discarded more than 1 card. He dealt with most of my fattys before they could get hits in, but the game was pretty much a steal thanks to Multani. So from what I saw he was on a Grixis control deck. I didn’t see any creatures so I boarded out my main deck Preacher and Swords along with some mana dorks unnecessary with Sisay’s ability. I brought in Red blasts, Dust to Dust, Disenchant and Avoid fate.
He obviously opted for no Multani. I got some hits, but early he played a Wheel of Fortune for answers. Then I made a bone-head move and treated it like a timetwister throwing my hand and graveyard into my library and shuffling. Only in old school is that kind of mistake treated casually. My opponent was cool enough to let me pull back the cards (thankfully the game wasn’t too far in) and resume it as a wheel of fortune. I play some creatures that he removes, then he lands 2(!) blood moons. Since I have literally 1 basic land in my deck I’m crippled, luckily I topdecked said Forest. I also had 2 disenchants in hand to blow on the moons, but as I drew and played birds each got bolted giving me no outs. Thankfully the forest allowed me to play Erhnams, and after getting him down to 6 I got a second Erhnam out for the next turn win. My opponent had other plans however…he calls attention from our neighbors and Earthquakes for 5 bringing him down to 1, me to 6. Plays a Shivan, and I lose next turn. GG.
Unfortunately he must play Multani again, and it’s never really close. Pixies are joined by Erhnam and he’s done before he can even build much of a mana base.
Round 2: Seth Roncoroni
Tahngarth is a relatively average vanguard, he’s down a card but up 7 life. I’m pretty sure my opponent’s deck was light on creatures though because I didn’t see any game one, and he wasn’t thrilled by the ability. Maraxus on the other hand…one of the best vanguards. He’s plus on life, plus a card, and all your creatures are +1/+0, so literally no downside. As I said, luck was on my side.
Game 1 started out extra rough as he was already down a card, then had to mull to 5, while I’m on 8 starting. I hit him with a 2/1 Llanowar Lion a couple of times as he stumbles a bit on land, I had some fattys, geddon, and a mind twist in my hand and was trying to figure out the right order to play them. I luckily hit the ramp just right for the necessary mana and mind twisted him for all but 1 card. Followed by next turn fatty and geddon which he scoops. This started the conversation with our neighbors about what’s more powerful Library of Alexandria or Mind Twist…ultimately I think we all agreed Library is more powerful, but Mind Twist feels worse on the receiving end. I was very happy after this game that I made the black splash addition.
I didn’t see much of his deck, but based on the removal I saw I figured Avoid Fate would be good and added the 4th disenchant for the artifact mana. He opted for no Tahngarth in the next game, but unfortunately still stumbled on lands. He got out a Sylvan to try and shore things up taking 4 next turn, but I’m able to land more creatures than he has answers for and put things away a few turns later.
Round 3: Sammy Haghour
You can’t win ’em all, and this round the vanguards were not in my favor. I’m down two cards while he’s up two cards, he gets an Exploration effect while I get to draw a card when a creature dies. However, I am up 4 and he’s down 5 life so there’s that. Of course opening hands with a 4 card spread are pretty lopsided. On top of that, my opening hand had bolt, disenchant, two lands and a mana rock. I consider mulling to prioritize creatures to take advantage of Rofellos, but the thought of going down to four cards is unbearable so I keep. I quickly realize it doesn’t matter; the game is a blowout. Sammy has a sweet Jund deck that I’m happy to see in action. He gets me with a Sedge Troll, then lands a Bartel Runeaxe. Like many an Old-Schooler, I’m blessed with seeing a Legends card I wasn’t aware is playable and pretty sweet. For those who don’t know, he’s a 6/5 for 6 mana in Jund colors, with vigilance and he can’t be enchanted. He definitely beats my Jacques Le Vert.
Needless to say I choose not to use Rofellos for the next game. I bring in more creature removal and the 2 Black Vises. I usually run 2 in the board to bring in against tower based strategies, any slow deck that relies on card advantage (especially The Deck) but for this tournament they were also to fight against someone getting a great hand boost from their vanguard. I did manage to get the Vise out, although not on turn 1. Unfortunately, Titania’s ability allows him to lower his hand count doubly quick by laying 2 lands per turn, so the Vise doesn’t help me much. His Jund Troll Disco deck runs Rukh Egg and I do manage to get him when he tries to Chain Lightning his own Egg which I have the Swords for. But other than that, he’s ahead for most of the game and based on my life total (17, 14, 7, 0), I think I got Trolled followed by Troll plus Djinn.
Round 4: Petr Bocak
Petr was playing next to Phil and I round 1 so I had already seen he was playing authentic old school without sleeves. He was on mono red goblins mostly out of Revised and Fallen Empires which really took me back. Sisay’s ability was not so great in his deck, although he did use it for a huge fireball at one point in Game 1. Mirri was decidedly marginal in my deck. The +5 life was actually the only relevant part against mono-red. He got some hits in and some direct damage, but he was pretty mana-flooded. He got me down to 8 in game 1 before I locked it up, so maybe a lightning bolt in hand would’ve done me in without Mirri’s life bonus.
He opted not to use Sisay, as expected. Being down 2 cards in a goblins deck sucks. We both had pretty fast starts: he gets some goblins out; I get some ramp and removal to pick off the little 1/1s. I had an Spirit Linked Erhnam and he had 2 Goblin Flotillas out. So I made a dumb misplay and Regrowth’d my Mind Twist when he had 3 cards in hand. I figured whatever he had in hand I’d take care of, but of course he just plays it out next turn: Mountain, Balloon Brigade, Goblin King. Should’ve saved the regrowth for a bolt, because now his team is sizable enough for me to not attack in with the Erhnam, and he has the mountainwalk to chip away turn after turn. We go through a number of different combinations of attack/block, but he’s getting flooded again and I start topdecking well. First I get a Geddon to take care of the mountainwalk, then I get an Orgg and decided to get bold. I attack in with the Erhnam I’ve been holding back and he double blocks to kill it with the Flotillas. In retrospect I think we both forgot Flotilla’s drawback, but he had the red mana so it doesn’t really matter, so Erhnam trades for a flotilla and I land the Orgg.
Quick aside on Orgg, the first time I ever went to a Comic Book store to buy Magic cards was January ‘95. I was 8 and my brother was 15, he and his friend from high school brought me. His friend was the one who taught us to play and gave us our first cards. At the time, you could buy Revised starters for $10 or Fallen Empires packs for $1.50. Being 8, I could only afford 2 Fallen Empires packs. My brothers’ friend bought half a box. In my 2 packs I pulled an Orgg, which they told me was the best card in Fallen Empires since it was a 6/6. He said he didn’t get a single good card in his stack. I guess I’ve always been lucky at Magic. Of course I don’t think we knew Hymn was good either.
End aside, Petr reads Orgg and goes, “Oh, that’s not very good.” I laugh and say on the current board yeah. He’s at 8 and I’m in the teens. I figure he’s so aggressive he’ll start attacking with the Flotilla and the Brigade and I can swing in against the Goblin King which he’ll block, then lose his +1/+1 bonus. Instead he doesn’t block the first attack and goes to 2, then attacks with the flotilla. Next turn he blocks with the Balloon Brigade. I point out that Orgg has trample.
Round 5: Michael Scheffenacker
I recognize Michael’s name from many Old School tournament decklist posts so I know he’s a veteran with a sweet list. We sit down and await our vanguards, and here comes the foreshadowing pay off: he rips Multani and I rip Squee. This match is not even fair, he’s on 4 cards I’m on 10. Squee is insanely broken and Multani is insanely bad. Michael accurately says, worst Vanguard vs. best Vanguard. Game 1 I’ve got lands, ramp, creatures, removal and then some. He plays out his few cards and as I remove what he has and put down threats, he scoops.
He’s on a copy artifact build so I bring in my artifact removal and red blasts. He tosses Multani away as fast as he can. This game starts off as a bit more of match, but since Squee gives me perfect information I know what artifacts to hold my Disenchant back for. I unfortunately am a bit threat-light, so I’m just swinging in with a Preacher at first. Said preacher is however preventing him from playing the Juggernaut in his hand. He plays out a City in a bottle which gets my City of Brass, I later draw an Erhnam, but I still choose not to Disenchant it so I can deal with the creatures I see he has in hand. I get down a Pixies (perfect against him) and he gets a Triskelion to deal with the Preacher, but I have the bolts and disenchants for his guys. My Pixies are getting him turn after turn and pretty soon it’s over.
And there you have it, I’m 4–1 with great breakers so I go to watch the only undefeated player’s match. It’s Blake Burkholder up against my round 3 opponent Sammy. Blake is on a Temple of Sped type deck and I get to see more of Sammy’s deck. In addition to Bartel Runeaxe, he’s got Xira Arien, another cool Jund legend. Anyway, Blake gets the win for an undefeated 1st place. Before the last round I took a good long look at the prizes to figure out what my personal pick order would be. It had been decided that the 8 un-inked prize cards should go in the draft pool along with the inked cards that way value would make its way past the top 8. I was fine with this because I know my finish was largely thanks to the Vanguard picks. This did however make my choice a bit harder, there were two Su-Chis: one inked, one not. Blake took the clean one (the clear first pick) and I don’t own any Su-Chis, but I’ve been brewing some berserk heavy lists and only have 3 so I figured the best move was to take the CE Berserk, the NM condition being icing on the cake. I also netted the miniature Aladdins’ lamp. By the time things wheeled back to me it was an easy choice as Jayemdae Tome was one of the few playables. Now to brew up a naya deck with a Tome.
Closing Remarks by Paul DeSilva
From the beginning, I knew this tournament was going to be a strange one, and that Lady Luck would have a heavy hand in the results. So I decided early that I didn’t want big prizes to go to only the top performers and that I would spread the value a little thinner. We also ran the normal community prize pool in which people donated cards that were drafted at the end.
To my surprise, most participants had read this article I’d written a few weeks before and the prize pool cards that were donated far exceeded my expectations. Some people even threw in multiple cards so we had enough to wheel the draft. All in all, I was very impressed by the sense of charity and willingness to contribute to make the prize pool as incredible as could be.
And finally, like our last event, I wanted this one to benefit a charity. And, being that we’re Sisters, I specifically wanted to select a charity that benefits women. This event had a $15 entry fee and we sold $5 raffle tickets for the items pictured above. I’m proud to report that between entry fees and our raffle, we raised $600 for Madre, which brings our total raised to $1,100. We hope this number grows steadily in times to come.
I want to thank everybody that came out to put your Spike on the line and add a little Spice to the mix. Meeting and getting to know fellow Old Schoolers in the community and the memories of the downright bonkers plays and boardstates that I saw throughout the day will persist long after my memory of the final standings fades.