Monday, February 15, 2016

Tournament Report: Chicago Old School 93/94 2/6/16

I recently participated in a 93/94 invitational tournament with the Chicago usuals, as well as three players from Wisconsin who made the trip to the Windy City. For the first time on this blog, I have a guest tournament report written by Chicago Old School MTG extraordinaire, Dominic Dotterrer. 


On the 6th of February 2015, an excellent cadre of gentlemen convened on the west side of Chicago to partake in beer drinking, trash talking, and some righteous Old School Magic. This was the second event that our club has hosted. Both times, we've had players demonstrate their mettle by making a significant journey to come sling spells with us. For this event, James and Dan made the long haul from Wisconsin Rapids (A four hour drive), and John Beste came down from Milwaukee.

One of the great things about Old School MTG is that it seems to attract simpatico guys with great senses of humor and a devotion to the game. This coterie is no exception; these fellows are one hundred percent top-drawer mensches. I am always stoked to get the lads together, pile up the small ocean of beer that has been carted in, and get down to some antique magic.

This time around, our congress was generously hosted by Jaco at his company's industrial space on the westside. Jaco is a character that looms large in the Old School world. He has cultivated and nurtured our niche game, and its attendant culture over the years. We were very grateful for Jaco's patronage for this event, and Jaco rewarded our gratitude with mandatory Jägerbombs (I guess he is trying to make it the official drink of Chicago Old School or something).

I can't emphasize enough how awesome this group of guys is and how much fun we all have grinding the '94. I often hear, over the din of rounds playing out, the boys saying things like, "Now THIS is what a Magic tournament should be!"

With twelve players, the structure of the tournament was a six-round Swiss with no cut to top eight (intentional drawing is bullshit). The rounds were timed at 50 minutes, with timed out rounds determined by SUDDEN DEATH CHAOS ORB FLIPS. Prizes were determined by whatever people decided to throw in, which included a beat Mirror Universe (donated by Shane), and even more beat Power Artifact (donated by Nathan), an old-school Spellground (donated by Bob), a bunch of sweet playables from Jaco's collection, and a BGS 8 Dandân that we could smash open. Everybody put their signature on anything that got taken home.

John's winnings
Danny's winnings

My Deck:


I've always loved green. I like mana and muscle, and green has both. Green is demonstrably the most busted color in Commander, and for good reason; green is about going big.

I am coming up on one year of playing 93/94 seriously, and I have absolutely gone deep on this format, but one of my main disappointments with our little game is that green really sucks. Despite having one of the best unrestricted cards in the format in Sylvan Library, green fundamentally lacks the efficient interaction that other colors enjoy (little gems like Avoid Fate and Scavenger Folk withstanding).

Anybody who cuts cardboard with me knows I am on a mission to save green. Erhnam Djinn is easily my favorite creature in 93/94; Ernie shows up early and hits hard. Mana dorks are also a love of mine. In Old School, Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves are cheaper, faster Fellwar Stones, which confound combat racing because they leave back chumps while Serra Angel beats in.

To my mind, Birds of Paradise is a better Fellwar Stone whose only drawback is that you have to play heavy green. But Birds and Ernie both pair naturally with Armageddon, and there is no cost to adding white, since pretty much every deck has to play that color anyway.

Erhnam Djinn and Armageddon have a long history together. Luminary of early magic, Bertrand Lestrée, made his second appearance in the Pro-Tour finals again in 1996 with an early Erhnamgeddon build, which is widely regarded as the birth of the deck as an archetype.

It is worth spending a few lines of print to explain some card choices.

Llanowar Elves: It is quite possible that I am playing too many dorks. Elves are probably the easiest to cut, but as you cut them, Geddon gets worse and your top end gets farther away. I also love casting massive Braingeysers, so I've erred on the side of more mana. Elves can also get damage in, and chump while your fliers do the dirty, so I am happy with them. Nonetheless, if jamming a Power Sink or maybe little more beef in the form of Mahamoti Djinn is your inclination, I'd look to the Elves as the flex slots.

Serendib Efreet: This guy is obviously the weak link in the beater squad. He isn't all that fat and he really sucks on a clogged board. But when he comes down turn one or turn two, he can put on a little early pressure and soak up a Swords to Plowshares to clear the way for an Angel. I could easily see cutting a couple of these guys for Mahamoti or Serendib Djinn if you're in the mood for really going over the top.

Extra Armageddons: Three generally proved to be too many, and Geddon is too valuable when it is valuable, so I have settled on two, but that isn't gospel. A maindeck Energy Flux could also fit nicely in the place that a third Geddon would otherwise occupy (depending on your meta).

CounterspellsPower Sink and Counterspell are good cards, but I was looking to be proactive in this tournament. I left a Mana Drain and a Flash Counter in the sideboard to bring in against control. I don't think Erhnamgeddon lends itself well to more than two counterspells anyway, but you boys and girls should feel free to brew.

Black Lotus: You'll notice the conspicuous absence of Black Lotus in my list. The answer is simply that I don't have one. I'm working on it.

For more on the theory of Erhnamgeddon, take a look at Jaco's in-depth article.

Round 1: Big Red (Nick Rohr)

Big Red

I said I like 'Mana and Muscle', and this deck is another manifestation of that philosophy. Big Red has had a number of successes this year, including Simone Esposito's win last October at the Ovinotournament in Italy (40 players):

There are a lot of approaches to this deck, and Nick has opted for the Triskelion-Tawnos's Coffin package and Mishra's Factory, which provides a resilient way to apply pressure but slightly weakens his most powerful interactive spell: Blood Moon. Some of the other approaches to Big Red involve Gauntlet of Might or the hellahot trifecta of Diamond Valley + Disharmony + Rukh Egg.

These types of ramp decks, just like Erhnamgeddon, suffer from consistency issues; you have to draw the right mix of ramp and business, whether it is Mana Vaults and Triskelions or Llanowar Elves and Erhnam Djinns. The payoff is real, but on off-days these decks can punish you.  I have typically found that ten to twelve pieces of fast mana is really the top end. Five Moxen, Four Mana Vaults and a Sol Ring is generally enough, with maybe a couple of Fellwar Stones if your deck is geared to the long game. You'll notice that my Geddon deck breaks this rule, but Llanowar Elves is somewhere in between ramp and business, and as I admitted above, I probably didn't need all four anyway.

In game one, my opening hand was light on business. I had a couple of dorks, a Disenchant, and Timetwister and some lands. This is the kind of hand I like to keep, because if I ramp into an early Twister, I can find business and I have the slight upside of possibly sticking my opponent with an unplayable seven. The 'Twister was, of course, godly, drawing me an active Library of Alexandria, a Serra Angel and a Serendib Efreet. Nick played a Juggernaut and two Su-Chis to match my board. I got a bit flooded on dorks, eventually having five of the green weenies on board.

But as I mentioned, the late-game dorks can spoil the combat math by chumping on the ground while my fliers bring death from above. Nick failed to draw an answer to my fliers and they sewed it up.

Game two was a bit of tragedy for Nick. I came out swinging with a turn two Energy Flux. He had a strong response, ramping into a big  Fireball and killing three of my dorks. I Plowed one of his Juggernauts and then proceeded to top-deck like a champion, drawing another Swords to Plowshares, a Serra Angel, and then a Disenchant, while, at the same time, he drew ALL FOUR Basalt Monoliths consecutively, which were worthless in the face of my Energy Flux. Blanking that many draws and having a clock on board eventually overwhelmed him.


Round 2: U/W/R Blood Moon Control (Danny Friedman)

U/W/R Blood Moon Control

In game one, Danny kept a one-lander because his opening hand would have bukaki'ed all over me if he drew a land. Danny is hopeful fellow--he lives for the upside--so a speculative keep is hard for him to turn down. A speculative keep is generally a bad idea against my deck because it puts on immediate pressure and rarely give you the opportunity to draw out of it. Danny went on two draw three non-lands, and subsequently got run over.

In game two, Danny found two Plows for my early threats which carried us well into the middle game. Danny found a Blood Moon which shut off seven of my lands (I was playing only two basics in the deck). Normally, the decks I play are very soft to Blood Moon, but Erhnamgeddon has the advantage of Birds of Paradise, and in this situation, my lone Bird carried me through the Blood Moon. I found another Angel and Danny was left without the third Plow. He was at 12 life and with his three draw steps couldn't find another one (or Balance/Wrath of God).

Danny and I played another fun one after the match, and I was handily dispatched. I was the only person Danny lost to in this tournament. Things could have easily gone his way and they didn't; I'll take it.


Round 3: The Abyss Control (John Beste)

The Abyss Control

When you've sleeved up a quintessential midrange deck, you're hoping to dodge the control decks, especially the ones packing The Abyss. Figuring out how to play around counterspells depends on how many you think they're packing. I figured Beste was running about six, so my game plan to try to get him to burn them on Serendib Efreet.

Keeping a controlling hand with Plows and Disenchants is a bad idea; I think our best game plan is overload him with threats (but don't play more than two at a time, or you walk into a possible Wrath of God).

John's deck is particularly light on threats, packing only one Trike, four Factories and two Copy Artifacts, but the Trike itself is very good against decks full of dorks, because it doubles as mana denial.  This kind of configuration is typical--many iterations of The Deck will rely on nothing but four Factories and a Fireball to win the game.

Our games were fast and intense, and I didn't take many notes, but Beste brought the one-two punch of City in a Bottle followed by The Abyss in game three, which was too much to overcome. Typically, against a deck full of dorks and Disenchants, The Abyss is not a stone-cold clincher, but you have to be ready for it when it comes down, and if you get blindsided by it, it will get value or lock you out long enough to take control. In this case, Beste adeptly waited until I was down to one card in hand, which effectively guarantees that The Abyss grinds for a few turns so that I can't race it with my top-decks. Alongside Bottle, it is essentially a lock, because it makes it much more difficult to try to wait and overload The Abyss.


Round 4: B/W Rack (Brandon Sanders)

B/W Rack

Brandon has been cooking with The Rack for awhile. He has his own philosophy about Old School Magic, and the preeminence of white due to Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant, has led him to abstain from playing them--the fact that everybody plays them means he would rather not. As a result, Brandon plays some of the more fun (but unfortunately weaker) alternatives such as Spirit LinkTerror, and Ashes to Ashes. It is worth noting the Alexander Blumke's 1995 World Championship deck ran only one Swords to Plowshares.

This proclivity definitely put Brandon at a disadvantage against me. My guys are huge and I have a running stream of them. Your best bet is to have a critical mass of cheap answers to earn tempo and grind me into a late game, where The Rack and Disrupting Scepter reach the apogee of their power.

The Rack is no slouch. It can be hard to stem the bleeding once Brandon has the lock in place. Once multiples are in play, it becomes extremely dangerous to play your spells. I played conservatively, keeping three or four cards in hand at all times. This was possible only because Brandon's lack of removal allowed me to play one threat and ride it and not have to commit too much to the board.

In game two, I brought in a Spirit Link to deal with Juzam Djinn, but by turn four, Brandon hadn't played a creature, so I Linked my Serendib Efreet, which threatened to put me well out of range of The Rack. Brandon responded with a Spirit Link of his own:

As before, the lack of removal ended up edging Brandon out, since my card quality is so high, but he did manage to get a nice big Balance, which cost me my board and two cards in hand:


Round 5: W/U Workshops (Anthony Collora)

[A pic of Anthony's deck is not currently available, nor is his list]

Anthony is playing one of the scariest decks in the field. The Chicago environment allows unrestricted Mishra's Workshop (which I generally find the most unpalatable aspect of Chicago's relatively permissive BR list), and Workshop is really powerful. Triskelion is one of the best value creatures in the format, and casting the bot on turn one or turn two is more pressure than many decks can handle, especially when it is backed up with four Strip Mines. Add Tetravus and Tawnos's Coffin to the mix, along with a white and blue splash for the best colored spells in the format (and Copy Artifact!), and you have yourself a deck with very few weak spots.

At our previous event, Greg Kraigher ran over everybody with a completely colorless version of Shops

There are lots of ways to build this deck. Blue offers Copy Artifact and the restricted spells, while black offers The Abyss and red offers the explosive Atog. Anthony has kept it simple here with just the highest impact spells he can jam in the deck.

I was ready for Shops this time, packing three Energy Flux in the sideboard (I know Shane even went so far as to surreptitiously slip a Golgothian Sylex into his board).

This match is difficult.  His ramp is faster and his fatties are just as big. Triskelion gets value off my dorks, Coffin pumps his dudes and removes mine, and Tetravus muddles the combat math with Serra Angel. The kind of hand I am looking for here has a mana dork, an Armageddon and a bit of early business. Letting Workshop stick into the middle game is a huge mistake; you need to kill it and you need to kill it immediately.

In game three, Anthony started the game off with a Mox and a Factory, followed by two more consecutive factories. I had a Mox, a Plows and a Geddon in hand, and once I saw the second Factory, I opted to hold off on Plowing a factory so I could get all three with the Geddon (at the cost of taking seven damage in the interim). Anthony Strip Mined one of my lands, which set back the Geddon by a turn and threatened even more damage from the Factories. I had no choice but to Regrow the land so I could stem the bleeding. It doesn't feel good to Regrow a land that you're about to Geddon away, but the result was satisfactory anyway:

In my opinion, unrestricted Mishra's Workshop and unrestricted Strip Mine make the Shops deck the strongest deck in the Chicago / Eternal Central environment, and if you beat it, it is because you cheated or you got very lucky. In my case, it was because my deck drew early threats that I could deal in with an Armageddon or an Energy Flux. I wiped the sweat from my brow, finished my beer and moved on to my final round.


Round 6: White Weenie (Nathan Mullen)

White Weenie
Business (37)
Swords to Plowshares
4 Crusade
4 Savannah Lions
4 Tundra Wolves
4 Icatian Javelineers
4 Order of Leitbur
4 White Knight
4 Thunder Spirit
1 Preacher
Mana Sources (23)
Strip Mine
4 MMishra's Factory
15 Plains

Sideboard (15)
Circle of Protection: Red
Divine Offering
Dust to Dust
Circle of Protection: Black
City in a Bottle
King Suleiman

White Weenie is one of the dreaded decks in our environment. It is unforgiving in punishing durdle. It plays a full suite of the best removal spells in 93/94 alongside a hypercritical mass of cheap threats that keep coming. In Chicago in particular, we play with unrestricted Strip Mine, which is rather controversial outside of our city. White Weenie improves dramatically with four Strip Mine, allowing common plays like T1: PlainsSavannah Lions, T2: Strip your land, play another Savannah Lions.

All day, Nathan had been giving it to the boys hard. His deck is so low to the ground that it can easily shrug off The Abyss, and if you are doing anything other than being proactive, you will be punished.  WW is a hell of a deck and it needs to be respected. Nathan was the first to finish his match in every round, and when his opponent would stand up from the table to get another beer, I'd ask, "Did you get the WW treatment?"

Despite the speed of WW, I think Erhnamgeddon is generally favored. My dorks mollify the power of Strip Mine and chump to buy time. All of my creatures rapidly stabilize the board, especially Serra Angel. Although Nathan's Disenchants are generally dead against me, my Armageddons are pretty worthless. In game two, I swap them out for a pair of Psionic Blast.

These games were very tight. I managed to stabilize at nine life in game one and then turn around and get wrecked in game two without putting up a fight. In game three, we had a lot of back-and-forth as he drew two removal spells for my creatures. I ended up casting FIVE (5!) Erhnam Djinn in game three by Regrowthing one that had been triple blocked. It looked pretty dire for Nathan as he was facing down three Ernies and essentially no board, when he top-decked a City in a Bottle that drew cheers, even from me.

This put us in top-deck mode for several turns. Normally, I am comfortable top-decking against WW since my draws are generally more powerful, but with a Bottle on board, many of my threats were un-castable. In typical luck-sack style, I ripped an Angel which Nathan had four turns to answer, and he was unable to find a third Plow.

It is worth noting that these games were very close, and if Nathan had won this match, he would have taken first place on breakers.

Final Standing: 5-1

The Stumble Home
It is important to mention that in a six-round swiss with only 12 players, some weird things can happen. Danny, John and I were all 5-1. John had beaten me, Danny had beaten John, and I had beaten Danny. I happened to claim the top slot on breakers (I ran quite a gauntlet that day, playing some of tightest players in the room), but those boys brought their A-game and in my mind, we split the title.
First place spoils
In my mind, the breakout tech of the tournament was inclusion of Rasputin Dreamweaver in Shane's U/W/R Control list.

I had scoffed at it when he had told me earlier in the week, but Rasputin turned out to be quite the mana battery (especially with Tawnos's Coffin). You chain Rasputin into Trike or Coffin for value and end up with a free 4/1 out of the deal with the possibility for more value. I think this card is actually pretty cool, and certainly earned Shane some style points.

If you'd like to see a photo report of all the decks played, you can find it at Eternal Central.

We were all in good spirits, even poor Dan in the 0-6 bracket. The great thing about playing this niche game with a bunch of great guys is that even if you are losing, you can just grab yourself another beer. James told me that "the main issue with my deck today was the lack of rum I had to drink." Everybody walked out into the street hungry for the next event, which will be forthcoming. In all, we had a blast, and I am so grateful to have this great community of like-minded players. Until next time, boys!

Additional Pictures (taken by John and Danny)

Single Strip and a broken opener got there

Always good to pack a spare Tome for the inevitable Shatter

And then there are those times where Scepter runs away with the game

Jaco drew this amazing Workshop mat

They must have predicted Magic players

This moment brought to you by John Beste

 Liberation – The Main Attraction...


  1. Mg mentioned that you'll be at n00bcon next week! I'll also be travelling from the US to participate. If you're interested in getting together for a drink and/or a few games of Magic one day before the event, send me a message. My email address is [email protected].

  2. Yes! That would be great. Email incoming.