Tar Heels, Gamecocks, and Bulldogs, oh my!

West Coast, Chicago, New England. Perhaps the strongholds a casual observer would state encompass the majority of the US old school scene. But as many veteran invokers will attest, most old school players in the New World are waiting in the weeds, not craving to stick their head too high above the horizon. Ask the Juzamnauts or TopDecked, or ask the road warriors of the Carolinas. They will tell you this goes deeper than the media platforms, and that what matters is the gathering. That and charity. Also beer. And weirdly complex Chaos Orb flips. This is Dean Costakis story from his third tournament with The Magical Hacks in South Carolina. Enjoy! /Mg out

Life is resilient and often manifests in places where one least expects to find it. So, too, is the case with Old School. Unlike other Old School hotbeds in the States, the Southeastern region of the United States is not particularly well-known for its looming skyscrapers, public transportation hubs, or highly concentrated metropolitan areas. In hurricane country, we are much more widely distributed. But our widespread geographical distribution was not enough to stop thirty-one Planeswalkers, hailing from across the Southeast, from descending upon Columbia, South Carolina to engage in combat - combat fueled by alcohol, sausage, and pimento cheese.

It’s for the Kids

Before I delve into the highlights of the day, I would be remiss not to mention a critical component of Old School tournaments. No, not alcohol. Charity. After [re]discovering Old School, one element that, perhaps, surprised me the most was how significant a factor charity plays in a majority of tournaments. In the past, I have seen charities range from food banks to animal shelters to women’s shelters. This time, all proceeds went to Toys for Tots. Toys for Tots is a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas.

Game On, Wayne!

We arrived at Ready to Play Trading Cards around noon on Saturday, July 28. Approaching the front door, we were greeted by a sign reading, "Sorry, we are closed for a private party." Ladies, gentlemen, Planeswalkers - this was not just any private party. The shop had closed to exclusively host an Old School tournament. The store threshold doubled as a time warp, my deck serving as the flux capacitor. As we passed through the portal, we were treated to a carefully curated soundtrack for the day - music released in 1993 and 1994 permeated the store, its notes nostalgically suspended, transporting us back to a magical time when Tool, Collective Soul, Whitney Houston, Weezer, Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others dominated the airwaves. In total, thirty-one individuals spanning three states - North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia - had attended.  They represented three teams - The Magical Hacks, Juzamnauts, and TopDecked, among many independents. But, to be honest, none of that even mattered. After placing my beer cooler on the nearest table, I immediately brought out my binder and began mingling with many people whom I had never met. Experience levels varied wildly from beginners to seasoned veterans. There were brief introductions, but the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Players immediately began talking about their brews [both alcohol and cardboard-flavored]. They began salivating over other cards they had not seen in decades, like Shahrazad [ok, maybe that was just me]. Each individual in the room felt like an old friend and I before I knew it, my surroundings dissolved as I began discussing deck tech with fellow players - until Lon Starkey, his voice booming like a Psionic Blast to the brain, jerked me back to reality with his round one matchups announcement and a Fourth Edition Mishra’s Factory to have signed by all players. As an aside, the Magical Hacks tournaments always distribute the coolest cards to have signed by the players!

Everyone’s a Winner

There is something special about taking two Goblin Grenades to the face for the loss, particularly after having gleefully proclaimed, "Land, Lotus, Juzám", on turn one. When playing a deck full of resilient Djinns, one does not anticipate a few flimsy goblins posing much of a threat. This double blast to the face to end our heretofore standard matchup was quite satisfying if I am being honest.  Outrageous tactics are part and parcel of Old School and they make losses so much fun - particularly this one!
My next matchup was extremely exhilarating from the outset. My opponent dropped a Forcefield quite early on against which, fortunately, I had boarded in three Crumbles to combat. However, in order to cast a spell, one must draw the spell. Between two Sylvan Libraries and a Library of Alexandria, I could not manage to draw into a single Crumble or draw a Tutor to fetch one. Eventually, I had loaded up my board with a Juzám Djinn, a Sengir Vampire, and a Hypnotic Specter, and had whittled my opponent’s health down to low single digits after many, many turns of dealing one to three damage. Right around the time I figured I would eke out a win, my opponent produced a Mirror Universe - a particularly terrifying drop considering I was at thirteen health and he was at five. Not altogether certain how this would play out, I decided to hold on to both Sylvan Library draws and take a whopping eight damage to tie up the life totals at five. Boom - Mirror Universe advantage gone! My self-imagined play of the century was instantaneously met by a Rocket Launcher, fueled by three Basalt Monoliths and plenty of land, to both appear on the board and subsequently direct two rockets at my face to bring my life total to one. He passes his turn and I summarily meet my demise at the hands of my own large, green, horned fellow with whom I had previously entered into an unholy pact.

Round Three Break

Yes, Old School is an entirely made-up, unsanctioned format. Its fans are not "in it to win it" - whether "it" is fame or fortune. However, it must be mentioned that our quarterly Old School tournaments in Columbia are always replete with an amazing prize pool, many of which are awarded for side events - all in the name of raising extra money for charity. Included this time were an Ali from Cairo, Beta Craw Wurms and Disenchants, and other black-bordered beauties! On this particular day, the side event was a Chaos Orb-flipping contest to win the very Orb we each took turns flipping; in this case, a beautiful Collector’s Edition. But this was no ordinary Orb-flipping contest. With each round, the height increased - first one foot, then three feet, then six feet [onto an oversized Chaos Orb, because we are not completely sadistic]. 

After the Orb flips, door prizes were handed out for many categories including best t-shirt, longest drive, most beat deck [for which I am proud to have broken the tie for first with yet another Orb flip], as well as a prize for highest place with an unpowered deck. After prizes were awarded, Chef Tristan Sandersin grilled up some sausages so we could refuel as we headed into the second half of the tournament. By this time, most players were on their third and fourth drinks, and everyone was having an absolute blast winning - and losing!

Presence of the Master

As the night wound down, I reflected on one of the highlights which, until now, was quite unexpected. We had several first-time players joining us on this particular evening, and I was paired against one during an early round. It had not occurred to me that Old School could possibly be someone’s first Magic experience. I do not mean first Magic experience since returning to the game. I mean, literally, their first Magic experience - full stop. That is pretty amazing when you think about it, and it bequeathed unto me an opportunity I had not had in twenty-four years - to teach someone how to play this game the way it was meant to be played. It took us nearly forty-five minutes to finish a single, very simple game, but it was some of the most engaging and exciting time spent the entire evening [I was pleasantly sober enough to explain the crux of the rules]. I am incredibly grateful for the experience, and I am confident she will return for the next tournament - skills honed.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

This was my third Magical Hacks tournament, but the first where I felt a strong bond with players and a "je ne sais quoi" about the atmosphere that made me especially sad to leave.  This time around, Ready to Play felt like a second home.  Its inhabitants, half of whom I had never met, felt like the same people I had played with since the dawn of Magic. 

As I mentioned earlier, I feel extraordinarily lucky to have this place - these people, particularly in an area with such a low concentration of players of an ancient and obscure card format.  It was a privilege getting to know new players and returning players alike.  A very special thank you goes out to Davis Brazell, who graciously closed up his shop so the tournament could be a private event.  Also, a huge thank you to Lon Starkey and Jame Easteppe for organizing the tournament.  Last, but certainly not least, thank you to everyone who drove several hours to attend.  This experience is something that cannot be put into words, so I will let the pictures tell the story.

Top 8 Decks

Nathan Kaufman. 1st place.
Dean Costakis: Bayou Lightning. 2nd place.

Matt. 3-4th place.

Lon Starkey: Fish n’ Chips. 3-4th place.
Brad Edenfield: Black Beast. 5-8th place.
Teddy Carfolite: W/U. 5-8th place.

Jonathan Perry: Shahrazad Burn. 5-8th place.
Tim Urbanek: Tron Deck. 5-8th place.

Notable Mentions

Ash Anabtawi: Mono Blue Robots
Richard Sponholz: Fevered Dreams
Aaron Blue: White Weenie
Chris Youmans: Power Monolith
David Elliot Murray: (Mostly) Mono Black