Battle at Blackpool: The UK Championships in Old School Mtg

One could argue that the last month has been a harsh mistress for the Kingdom. News speaks of political turmoil and an abrupt end in the UEFA soccer cup. But as the scald of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote; The course of true love never did run smooth. For love is there, as good people with good stories will tell. This one, about the first UK Blackpool championships in old school Magic, didn't grace the papers. But it is a tale to indulge. This is the story from the horses mouth. It's my pleasure to give the soap box to the first Blackpool UK Champion in old school Magic; Bryan Connolly! Enjoy! /Mg out

Welcome to my first Old School report, which is actually on my first Old School event... When I first heard of old school, I was disappointed to discover that some groups only allowed up to unlimited printings for base set and no reprints. I can see the attraction of keeping it exclusive, but this represented a big of a challenge for me. I actually started playing round Beta/Unlim' Arabians, but briefly stopped as I thought it was getting too expensive! I came back during Revised/Legends, but tended to trade my older (non power) black bordered cards away, keeping only things like bolts, elves and some basic lands etc. I recently discovered the UK group is more relaxed than some, and will happily allow reprints of from Revised, 4th, Chronicles/Renaissance etc, subject to art being the same. This meant no having to acquire ABU duals or Arabian Serendibs, Cities etc. I actually sold or traded all my Arabian and Chron's Cities years ago to dodge City in a Bottle (before it was errata'd) so had to dig out old Cities along with original picture Icy's and as many old playables as I could from the dustiest areas of my collection. Happily I also found a couple of booster boxes which have been traded or sold nicely in the meantime! I've not played much in the last few years aside from a couple of Vintage events a year since the kids came along, so Old School promised to be a reminder of simpler times and a lot of fun to boot.
Simpler times.
Once I realised the format was playable, it was time to decide what to actually play. My favourite deck of the time was based round efficient critters, counter and burn, with splashes for the good stuff in black and white. I dropped white (and sometimes black) depending on how many Blood Moons were played back then (often a lot). I didn't even get chance to test at my local store (Patriot Games in Sheffield) so after a little goldfishing and jiggling, I decided to cut the white the night before the event and keep the blue fliers, restricted good stuff, counters and burn, plus a little black for tutor and twist (the former allowing more singleton 'bord cards such as Blood Moon.) I was agonising over the final mana base and ultimately adopted the one used by Gordon Andersson a few months back at Noobcon, actually ending up pretty much the same deck, as once you add the black for Twist and Tutor, it's pretty close to optimal, apart from a possible change of some counters to Sinks. The sideboard being the usual complements of REBs and BEBs, Flux, Boomerang, Shatters, Blood Moons and Control Magic that makes UR(B) so good.
UR(B) CounterBurn
The event took place during the season end of a series the UK shop Magic Madhouse was running in Blackpool. Sadly, the turnout was slightly lower than hoped due to the event taking place just after a cluster of other big weekends, plus the Old School event clashed with a couple of things that ate into participant numbers slightly (The main event, a large modern with excellent prize support, Senior Championships with booze based prizes, some EMA events, including an amusing Iron Man that saw a foil Dack countered and thus ripped up!) so a couple of people dropped out quite late in the day and we were a fairly small field. 4 rounds Swiss plus a top 8 promised a good shot at playing the deck a few times. This was billed as the first UK Old School champs, but there was actually a similar event last year, but it's Old School, so no-one is that bothered, the main thing is that it's becoming more popular and people will travel to play.
Pre-tournament signing of the participation card D'Avenant Archer.
My first round was against Steve Rich who seemed to be on a conventional zoo deck. I got very early beats in, including a turn 1 Black Vise on the play, so I slightly misboarded for game 2. It was actually more of a sui build, heavy on the Unstable Mutations, Giant Growths, Blood Lust and Berserks (with some cunning avoid fate to keep things alive.) Serendib swung at me for 10 very early in game 2 and I got too far behind as a result. Once I corrected board and play style (I was not the beatdown) I was able to keep his actual creatures down and strand his pumps in hand to pull out a 2-1 for my first ever round of Old School. Steve's been on the scene forever and has always been a cracking bloke, so first game was a pleasure.
Round one facing Steve.
Second round was against Rod Smith, another stalwart and active supported of the Vintage and Old School scene who turned out to be on a RBW critter list round big hitters like Juzam and Su-Chi, with plenty disruption in the shape of Sinkholes, Plows, Bolts, Disenchants and the like. In the first round, I landed an early Flying Men and was able to keep nibbling away, control his guys and burn him out. I borded to be a little more control oriented and to try to land a Blood Moon as he was very light on basics (2 swamps it transpired.) Took a bit more damage in the 2nd and had to deal with a City in a Bottle, but the dib and burn got there for a 2 – 0.

Third Round was against James Griffin, piloting a mono white deck which was a thing of beauty to behold. He does his own alterations and every single card was altered (and by altered, I mean entirely repainted) himself with a monochrome feel with subtle colour used to good effect. I was able to keep multiple Crusades from hitting, meaning I could Bolt or creature trade efficiently, and I cast my mind back 20 some years to remember how best to counter the mono white builds. I was able to get a favourable combat trade by a sneaky Boomerang of a Crusade. I avoided getting 'Geddoned and once the creatures ran out, the burn could go to his face instead for another 2 – 0.
James's monochrome altered WW.
Fourth round was against Jim Brophy, one of the Irish crew I've known for years, and was faced with a similar deck, albeit much prettier (entirely black bordered, and I mean Beta rather than FBB.) Jim didn't have the Black splash, but went with heavy hitting top end in the form of Serendib Djinn. We could have easily drawn in, but where's the fun in that? The first 2 games were slug fests, each of us taking it down still on double digit life, with the last one being such a close one. We both mulled and traded blows, it came down to the wire with us on one life each, but I edged it in the end with sneaky use of blasts. Top 8 and undefeated in my first Old School, and having a ton of fun to boot.
Jim's blinged boardstate.
Quarter was against Chris Cooper on a Dead Guy style build chose to plow my Flying Men early rather than take evasive damage, but that was one less answer for Factory later. His Twist did little other than empty my hand of instant burn. His life total went down in the usual increments of 2 from factories and 3 from Dibs and Bolts, plus the odd Psi Blast here and there.
Quarterfinals vs Chris.
A tactically timed shatter on his City in a Bottle in the second game let me drop my City of Brass and Twist his entire hand away before following up with the last few swings, all taken in good grace. By this point I'd realised that without exception, anyone playing Old School is pretty much certain to be a truly nice person.
Good people
Semi was against Alastair Kennedy, another Sheffield based bloke who I try to get the odd test in with in the local shop before Vintage events, but neither of us knew what the other was on thanks to a minor domestic trauma that kept me out of the shop the week before. He turned out to be on U/W deck control and got a nice bonus of a free mull' out of me, as between chatting, eating and drinking, I managed to shuffle some my board in for game 1 and I saw an Energy flux in my opener – I immediately advised the judge and I deboarded, got a warning and a compulsory mull. This one promised to be a grind, especially with untimed rounds, so mid way through, I decided best way to actually win was to try to fight permission on my terms even it if meant 2 for 1 to deal with Serra's and use life as a resource to thin him down. 
Alastair vs. Karl in the swiss.
With us both getting a little low on cards, I managed to set up a situation where I had a plan B of Wheel to run him too low on cards left to kill me, but instead got plan A off: This was to wait till he tried to resolve a Serra, and ultimately get to Mana Drain it, then have enough mana left to pull off a near lethal Braingeyser, with exactly enough mana to pay for a Power Sink in case he had one left. Decking win in the first with Alastair at 18 life! All the hate in the world came in for game 2, and with my smaller flyers and some Chains replaced with REBs and Fluxes, his Moxes were going to Lotus Petals, and Tomes and Icy's a bit of a liability. An unpleasantly timed Twist when we got to mid game let 2 swings from a Serendib and a fist of burn seal the deal. The run of fun and pleasant games continued.
Alastair's UW Control deck.
Final time, against Rod Smith again. Game 1 was a bit of a roll, as he had turn one library, which is always tough to beat. After bording to more control, game 2 went my way, having to 2 for one a couple of times with the library Gods favouring me this time, with a strip ready for Rod's, and we were down to the one for all the marbles (or in this case, a wee trophy and choice of which oversized card we got.) Rod was back on the draw and didn't look 100% happy with his 7, but kept. 
The final seven.
I decided to chance keeping my opener, which one of the onlookers took a pic of: City of Brass, Bolt, Ancestral, Shatter, Blood Moon, Twist and Fireball. After a bit of early trading, Rod was forced to drop City in a Bottle to stop Serendib, and I decided not to shatter it till I absolutely needed. Another game of life as a resource, saving my counters for the biggest things (like CoP Red) not risking a Serendib killing me while being neutered with Maze, Imprison, Spirit Link or the like. I had to go very low to take control and keep multiple counters while on 2 life, with Rod then having to plow a couple of my factories to avoid going too low himself, thus giving me a cushion against Bolts – I was back up to 8 briefly. 
Finals vs Rod
He ended up under a Black Vise with multiple Arabians cards in hand, and even had to cast a “do nothing” Balance to free up his hand a little and cut down on damage. As the game ground down I ended up with multiple Counters, a Control magic for Su-Chi, Trolls or Black Knights, plus Bolt and Psi Blast and a Serendib to beat with if he did blow the City and start dropping Juzams. Got to the point that I couldn't see an out with likely played cards (I gave Rod credit to not run Healing Salve) and showed him my hand of “no” and burn for the handshake.
So, what have I learnt about the format? Suggestions that Vise should be de-restricted are not realistic, it just deals too much damage early, keeps card drawing (especially with Library EOT) in check, and gives free kills off Wheels and Twisters. Speaking of the Library, in the absence of Wasteland, early LoA can be a deciding factor, especially for controlling mirrors. Having had a run on one classic deck from the era, I'm torn whether to fettle with it, or dig out some other old stuff and go combo or heavy control.

Wonderful day of magic at a well run event with friendly people and no unpleasantness. Magic Madhouse even donated a proportion of entry fees to a charity of the winner's choice and sprung for a nice glass trophy. Am hoping to fiddle with more deck types and get to more events, am certainly sold on Old School. There are still complex decision trees, different archetypes to explore and metagame, but less anguish over whether they're holding a Force/Mis-step or Daze, and more booze and junk food. I'll be back for more, that's for sure.


  1. Awesome report! You can see more of my altered monochrome white weenie deck at fb /Jamesgriffinalters (: many congrats on your win dude, it was as you said, an absolute pleasure!

    1. James no thunder spirit main deck?


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