Tomato Tomato: Three styles of Old School Magic in three weeks

Let me share a story again, as has become my privilege. Let me give this soap box to Marty Silenus to stand on. A man whom recently concluded a three week pilgrimage from the tournament at Eternal Weekend in Pittsburg; to the Fishliver Oil Cup in Genoa; to some casual spell slinging in the apartment of one of the format's founders in Gothenburg; before turning his eyes back across the Atlantic. This is the core of oldschool found in curiosity and wanderlust from one of the players we have the honor to call a fellow. It's my pleasure to share this story. /Mg out

Q: Can my opponent do something that doesn’t make sense, such as casting both Holy Strength and Unholy Strength on his Air Elemental?
A: Yes, these effects are magical, after all.
 - Alpha rule book

   If I meet you for the first time and I find out that you play Magic: the Gathering I can probably assume that you enjoy using your imagination. If I then find out that you are a reader of this blog I can also probably assume that you have a propensity to be creative. But, I try not to assume too much nor presume to have a firm grip on the cosmos, the world, the current American political regime, or opening seven draw probabilities. Certainly there are others that have a deeper knowledge than me in the realm of Magic: the Gathering and there certainly are people that can build a better deck.
I wonder what combination of 60 cards Einstein would favor?
   But, I am not writing here to expound on such discoveries. Rather, I would like to share my experience of playing Old School Magic, a whole lot of it, over a short period of time in three different nations that play three different styles.

   For the record I am a casual player, a modest collector that never really had a format to hang my hat on. For a long time the decks I played had more than 60 cards. Gaea’s Liege, Instill Energy and Hidden Path was THE tech.  A one on one game with the people in my circle would take, minimum, half an hour. We spent the first ten plus turns amassing a magical army, where one player’s field usually consisted of 2x Doppleganger, 3x Mahamoti (one with Invisibility) and a Merfolk Assassin on one side, standing watch against the other player’s field of 3x Nightmare, 2x Royal Assassin and a Lord of the Pit with a Breeding Pit somewhere in play with two swamps permanently tapped underneath it; a statement that they will be feeding the beast until death do they part.  Someone would always be the dick and attack before the other could amass four copies of their favorite creature. Having an Icy Manipulator in play worked much like the dynamics between budding boys and blossoming girls in elementary school; openly you would tell your friends you hate them and anyone who likes one, but secretly you wanted one for yourself. And my God the things you would do with one if you ever got one of your own to play with.

I’d tap that.
  Yes, I learned a bit about how to better build a deck and yes, I now have a keener sense of how to win more. At the conclusion of my travels though I find that I have more questions than answers. I find that my imagination seeks more card possibilities, that there are more card synergies - before this trip unknown to me - to try out. The effects of this game on me in the last month have been indeed, magical.

    For example, about a week after returning to the states I found myself browsing the Alpha rules book. I would not have done this prior to my recent travels. I came across the above insert and, being amused, I wondered if I ever put both strengths on a single creature at one time and successfully swung in. If I never tried to halo/pentagram a creature how many other odd or cool techs have I not tried or seen or remember doing? Most likely this strategy is anything but a winning one, but dumb fun like this is sometimes what this game is about, and musings and conversations like these have been going on much more recently for me.

    To the point, I am not a seasoned magic player that has competed and competed well. I was a sub par Standard player and never played the part of genius drafting a deck. Legacy had my attention for a while and five years ago I longed to find a local group of players that played Vintage. After sampling the popular formats around me though, I came to the realization that if I played any of them that would not allow the best cards in the game, the truly powerful and legendary, I was cheating myself out of a hell of a lot of fun. I just wanted to play Vesuvan Doppelgänger again against an opponent that would not straight up tell me the card sucks. I was tired of watching my opponent Fauna Shaman into Vengevine and rolling me over when all I wanted to do was cast Gauntlet of Might so next turn I could play Shivan Dragon for half the cost and still have enough left over to cast my puppy love, Icy Manipulator. These were dark days.

    Then, the Old School format presented itself to me in the form of this blog. I could not tell you exactly how or when I stumbled onto this site. It may have been a google image of a top 8 deck at a tournament. But I was hooked. Nostalgia. I was back in middle school where bodily functions ran wild. My eyes dilated, my nipples hardened, my pants got tight; please do not make me come to the front of the class, not now. Holy mother! People out there were playing with Just the old stuff. I went all in and hawked any cards I had with a copyright printed underneath the name of the illustrator and I began collecting the old stuff. This year, eager to see what others were doing with the format, I went searching for events and groups to play. They had to exist, if there is a large following of an American game in multiple countries where English is the second language, then I can surely find some who play it where it is the first. I mixed into the Chicago crowd, a great crew called The Lords of the Pit, and they also liked the old stuff. A few weeks ago the season culminated at Eternal Weekend where the majority of the Lords made their presence, and I was a part of the madness. But I could not ignore the thought, why stop there? I needed to get overseas and see how the old world plays this game. It was about damn time I found out what kind of magic goes down at the pubs in the far reaches of the world.
We did agree that this game was not for ante, right?
   The Fishliver Oil Cup was the obvious choice. It was the weekend after Eternal Weekend in Pittsburgh and I wanted to keep the gaming high going. I would go there to play... if I could get in. Fortunately, Lorenzo Novaro was kind enough to not only hold a spot for me in both events, but also host me and the other visiting players in early for the tournament to dinner. I had never been to Italy before so everything was new. I was well greeted and warmly hosted. To my surprise I was not even the only American! I learned quickly what is appropriate, and more importantly, what is inappropriate to put on top of your pastas and pizzas. Tsk, tsk if you dare to put parmesan cheese on top of your seafood pasta, you creatures! How dare you make a pizza that are any colors other than red and white, you savages!  And of course, there was Magic.

    The pre tournament was a perfect transition to the overseas meta I knew little about. The night before the main event a selection of the seasoned foreign crowd tried out the EC style, strange waters for them, familiar for me. It was a glorious gathering. The beer flowed like wine, or rather in Italy, the wine flowed like beer. That night was the first time I put together a record that had more wins than losses. Boom! Olle Rade, watch your six. The tournament proper the next day was a hungover haze. My eyes opening only after realizing, hair of the dog in hand, that I had gone 0 - X in the tournament. My only public saving grace was that one of my opponents dropped, specifically, he drunkenly disappeared into the night, vaporized into the air like a strong cognac. There were bad beats, good beats, but none that I would discuss with you without having to fill up your tip jar that says “Insert $5 to tell me your bad beat story.” One fun beat story though happened between me and Jan Juon, the winner of the raffled Mox Ruby, during the swiss. I lost gloriously, horribly in two straight games that each lasted less than two minutes; two minutes including the multiple mulligan reshuffles I needed to still draw a piss hand and two miffed Chaos Orb flips. Jan and I did not speak a common language but we still found a way to have a riot of a time, communicating through exclamations and our mutual love of the game. Magic! I then found myself with 46 minutes free to me to observe my surroundings... and to crack a beer, and how I needed one. As I walked around I mused over my colossal failure and the possibility that there were valuable lessons. Pieces of knowledge floated around my wet brain, later to be dried and assembled when the priority was not where I was to get my next beer. Eventually, I would come to a more certain understanding, maybe even a magic related epiphany. But, later would be the time of thought sorting, because the present was the time to check out the game between the games.

    I think the best thing I witnessed was how to make a trade properly in Liguria. Luca Di Santo, a dedicated dealer at both the Friday and Saturday events, was my instructor, and in solid form. I had the pleasure to observe trades he conducted on both days and both trades were discussed in Italian, a language I am not familiar with, but all the better witnessed in the native tongue; because it was the animation of the interaction, the emphasis on words I could not decipher that gave the scenes flavor. And the hand gestures. No Italian trade I saw was made without emphatic hand gestures. To the outsider viewing the act of Italians trading magic cards, one is sure to believe it an emotional event with most sincere and severe stakes at hand.
Your price is very high. You offer me a card that looks more HP than the HP my fingers made inside of your mother’s panties last night.
   I genuinely felt that someone was being insulted, that someone might get a tooth knocked loose in front of me while negotiating for a playset of Field of Dreams. But, after negotiations that went on with input, solicited and unsolicited from outside individuals, trades were concluded peacefully, ending with mutual agreement, handshakes and genuine smiles.
I have much to learn
    Playing Kalle Nord in Gothenburg rounded out my experience of international magic. I got in touch with him asking to play with short notice. BSK was going on the same night we met up which limited the local available players to just him. Had I known that BSK was going down while I was in Sweden I probably would have tried to attend that event. But, it did not matter. After having the chance to play magic and meet Kalle I would not  trade the experience. I got the chance to not only see what kind of powerful, black bordered and beautifully altered 60 he put together, but how many other cards he compiled with the advantage of being at the forefront of the format years ago.
Kalle establishing a momentum shifting board state with his Su-Chi. I can’t be mad though since it is one of my favorite cards; so often it’s the things we love that end up bringing us down, or maybe it is just that white border cards do not have the Juju.
   Fortunately, Kalle still had a picture of a game that night and sent it to me. I am terrible at taking photos during magic games. I think I am a bit self conscious about taking photos in general. Being half Asian I feel that most expect me to take pictures of everything; food, scenery, board states; and when I do I would somehow fit myself in making double Asian Scissor fingers. Perhaps I will add unguarded, confident photos of sweet tech and insane plays to the short list of things to be better at next year. But I digress.

    I think we played five games, Kalle taking the majority. It does not matter. Mostly, we spent our time talking magic and non-magic related stuff. It was amazing. We were relative strangers only brought together by the game, but our shared interest bridged the gap. One of the things I remember talking about was how the artists of the early sets sometimes did not know what the card was going to do when they were given the task of painting it, while other artists had never even experienced a game like the one they were illustrating for. Kalle had mentioned that he remembered an interview in which the artist of Reverse Damage, Dameon Willich described what the art meant on that particular card. He said it was a portrait of his ex-girlfriend. Huh? Because, he states, ‘reversing damage’ according to him would be to undo the damage that his ex-girlfriend caused him. Priceless fucking Magic knowledge.

Whip cream:
    The next day I headed over to Mindstage games to meet up with the owner, William Ljungberg. After seeing all the beautiful black bordered hotness at the tables the last two weeks in Europe and Scandinavia I wanted to see what a shop’s collection looked like. I was not disappointed. Agreements were made and hands were shaken; Swedes conduct their trades a little less emotionally than the Italians. But, the openness and fairness of trades with William were second to none. I came away with this:
A toast to the beauty
   I traded nearly 80% of my collection to get that Lotus, but after what I saw the last couple weeks I had to make the effort. Perhaps I am a purist at heart, a fan of the Swedish aesthetics regarding Magic: the Gathering. Regardless, I have been a collector and a player of the game a long time and it was time to get on the level.

   The next morning I was on a plane home. Days passed and after the alcohol cycled its way out of my system, the remaining brain cells beginning to work again and neurons beginning to fire, I was able to take a step back and see if I learned anything from those three weekends of magic.

    End result, I still do not think I can construct and pilot a tournament winning deck yet, dreams of filling all fifteen slots in my sideboard up by Giant Shark is a dream that must be put on hold until I crack that first victory egg. But, I did come away with a better sense of the diversity in the three styles of the format. No one particular style seemed better than the other. The excitement of the players at the Lighthouse Friday night of Fishliver Oil Cup getting a chance to play Hymn to Tourach and multiple Strip Mine did not define anything except that they embraced the diversity of a different style. The Italian meta is close to the workings of the US counterparts, allowing more sets to the card pool for easier access to players trying to get into the game. But, should they allow CE/IE? No. Talking with Kalle about what he would build in EC style that he has not seen anyone else try yet, how he would like the chance to run 4x Workshops did not make him forsake the Swedish style even though he has a sweet tech to try and loves Workshops. And what of my longing to play Su-Chi regularly without dealing with the significant downside of taking four mana burn when my opponent destroys it at an inopportune time? I have no plans on starting the campaign to remove mana burn from EC rules to satisfy my card tastes. Similarly, I like the concepts behind troll/disco, knowing that it will not get over the top often enough in EC's heavy aggro meta with Maze of Ith restricted and Strip Mine not. Am I tickled with restricted Maze of Ith and unrestricted Strip Mine? Not really, but the game is not over when my opponent drops a first turn Library of Alexandria if I run more than one Strip Mine. Although I do not get to take troll/disco to the top in the EC meta I alternatively do not have to play games around here where The Deck floods the field. There are just too many creatures in the average EC deck for The Deck to handle, too many Strip Mines knocking off Mishra’s factory for The Deck to be ‘the deck’ in the US. Shit runs wild over here.
When playing cards with me you keep those hands above the table, pardner.
    Conclusion? The US styles are still developing, younger by years than the Swedish style. Yeah, the US is the wild west once again; the new guys blazing a trail across uncharted country. Aggressive deck builds are in vogue.  And, in order to grow we’re letting everything inside the borders;  we bring in the poor, the hungry, the square cornered. So what? The villages are growing, linking the major cities together; sometime in the future the west will be surefooted and established.

   Someday someone here will discover that yet undiscovered country. What overlooked card will even the field, what tech?
Probably not
    I like that there is a distinction between one style versus the other, it keeps daily magic musings interesting. One magic player will favor Swedish and one will favor EC, just like one pizza maker says tomayto and the other says tomahto. Each style makes for fun games just like either tomato makes a good pizza sauce. Embrace the variety.  And yes Lorenzo, some pizza I like here is topped with cheese that is yellow, and it is fucking awesome!

    Thank you to all those I have met this year in Magic. Thank you to all that hosted me and that shared their knowledge of the game. Thank you William for trading me the mother of all mtg cards. And thank you Magus for hosting this blog. Without it, yes I may have had a larger bank account and a higher I.Q. making it larger, but never would I have had the joy and experiences this year that arose from getting out and playing some Magic.

-Marty Silenus


  1. That was one damn good story, man! Hope to see you in the near future for a re-match :D

  2. This is brilliant! "Tomato tomato" is exactly my philosophy regarding the various styles of Old School, but I never had such an elegant way of expressing it :) What an excellent adventure.
    -- DFB


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