I. The Gathering Storm
The dancing torchlight cast uneven shadows amid stalactites and stalagmites in the narrow cave. That distant, echoing sound… a falling stone? Some other denizen of the underdark? Silence. It was nothing. You creep forward, sword drawn, a cold sweat on your brow. You trained your entire life for this night, your chance to prove yourself, to retrieve evidence of the awakened evil prophesied long ago. The cave path terminates at an underground hollow deep enough to house a keep. A narrow staircase, unused for generations, spirals into darkness. Once you reach the floor, you pick your way warily amongst the boulders when, suddenly, the torch is snuffed out. Silent terror stiffens your limbs. A cruel laughter shatters the void as a massive bulk rises to face you, its leathery wings unfurled. With a clawed hand, it points…
…thus began my email that circulated throughout the MTG Underground. As the second annual Old School Players’ Ball approached, I thought it might be fun to have a small Gathering for the Lords of the Pit to mingle with our inbound guests. Big Brain Bob and Jaco the Snake-o had their hands full with Saturday logistics, so I bounced ideas off Lord Semmens for a Friday night shindig. Originally, I planned to host an open house at mi casa, but as interest continued to swell, I thought it better for my own marital status to move the event off-site. I put out the S.O.S. and Lord Semmens bailed me out using his contact at our stronghold, DMen Tap, to secure a more suitable location. We chatted about the details and he upped the stakes.
I demurred, thinking the stipulation imprudent on the eve of the Ball.
“We’re supposed to be ballers,” he counseled. The gauntlet had been thrown down.
II. Contractual Obligations
Let us fast-forward a tad here and assume that, if you’re reading this, you’re conversant with Contract From Below and Magic-for-ante. Now, for the uninitiated (or rather, for the sane), here is a brief history of the Lords’ errata to Contract From Below: in March, 2017, Lord Sanders devised a South Side meetup titled “Contract to a Duel” in which Contract For Below was legalized, though restricted, with the “ante” taking the form of liquor. Upon resolution, Contract’s caster would be required to (a) take a shot, then (b) buy his an opponent a drink of his choice (usually a shot). Thus the ante be settled. Following said imbibement, the caster would then discard his hand and draw a fresh grip. Broken? Yes. Fair? No. Easy on the bar tab? We report, you decide.
DMen Tap proved the perfect venue to host Chicago’s second* “Contracts” Gathering. Not only was the private backroom perfect for hosting our cardboard carnage, DMen also features the wonderful Hamms + Kabanes (think Jager with a little less horsepower) special at a mere $5. Boom, we had a baseline price to pay for Contract: $10 to ante up a pair of the Special and “draw seven and win.”
(* The second “ever” Contracts event actually took place the night after Eternal Weekend 2017 Old School, the devastating “Steel City Contracts.”)
III. Wind Up
I sat alone at Kuma’s bar nursing my Old Fashioned and watching Fight Club. Proved apropos. It was late afternoon and it was going to be a long, long weekend of boozing and Magic, in that order. A gang of Lords met for dinner (our proverbial Last Supper) after which we crossed Belmont Ave, ever-under-construction, to DMen, down the long hallway to the backroom where wizards were already congregating. Preliminary Hamms and Kabanes were had and it was time to mingle with the dudesweats. The Magic started our mildly. I battled Lord Etters in a test matchup using our decks for the following day (Atogs vs. Naya). Nothing sinister quite yet. More dudes arrived. Hugs, handshakes, beers. Prize cards appeared, signatures accumulated, and the stench of Old School filled the air as metal music set the tone. Suddenly, the first one rang out like a Satan’s firebolt:
Someone across the way left for the bar to make good on their ante. The first soul had been sold and the crowd went wild. It was now time to heed the call.
IV. Coin Flip Red!
Any simp can add four Underground Sea to support a Contract From Below, but it takes true diabolical intellect to break Contract. How so, you may ask? Fork. This two-red instant is the key to weaponizing Contract From Below. You want to cast one? Fuck you, mine resolves first, let’s hammer ‘em down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PONW46BP18s
The shell I grafted Fork/Contract onto was Coin Flip Red, the brainchild of Michigan’s own “Cap’n” Mike Lupo, a dear friend of mine who had to forego the second Ball. To honor him, I jacked his signature recipe. The premise of Coin Flip Red is to play as many different, funky “flip” cards as I can. Ydwen Efreet and Mijae Djinn were down to party, Mana Clash provided some additional support for Fork, and hopefully I’d swill from the Bottle o’ Suleiman.
Playing against Coin Flip Red is a bit like wandering the jungle at night trying to avoid claymore tripwire. Poor Josh Burgoa**, my nemesis from Chattanooga, TN, soon fell prey. During one of our games, I led with a Mountain, Ruby and a pair of Mana Clash. We each took eleven to the cabeza. That’s a whopping 22 damage for two red, a tidy little ROI that even the #mtgfinance bros can understand. Onto T2 and Josh Tutored… Fork! Then he passed; bad for him. I Wheeled (via the Fork as I didn’t have black mana to Tutor up Contract at this point), ripped Lotus, Bolt, Bolt, Chain and left Josh a smoldering husk on T3. Clash and Fork done did him in. The Red Wizard proves a vicious foe.
(**Josh took vengeance on me at Table 3 the following day where we met each with a record of 5-1. He took the match 2-1 and finished 3/84 on the day. Maja big ups!)
Later, I sat with Dan Ersch a.k.a. “Old School Dan” and asked if he wanted to borrow a copy of Contract. Yes, I’d packed three extra copies (signed, of course) to lend. “Sure!” he responded, “It’ll make my deck even better.” Oh shit, he was on Reanimator! One black mana to bin his dudes, Draw 7, and win the game. Dan put the boots to me and I don’t recall winning a single game, though Ydwen and Mijae nearly got me there once. After this the train derailed. During my three game set vs. Old School Dan, we loaded up on five, count ‘em, five Hamms + Kabanes. Cans and shot glasses littered the battlefield. Dan even double-Contracted me a game on the back of a Recall.
The evening finished a zany success. We didn’t take a proper headcount, but it seemed we had at least two dozen dudesweats that dropped by to battle or just hang out and grab a drink. Our “prize” cards were awarded via ad-hoc Chaos Orb shootouts and Lord Mullen captured most everyone’s mugshot (see the rogues gallery below). As the Old School Players’ Ball continues to scale up, side events such as this evening’s will become an integral part and allow Old Schoolers the chance to chill away from the hustle and bustle of the primary tournament.
V. On the Value of Camaraderie
As I drunkenly balanced on a chair, surveying the throng, I tried to remember everyone I wanted to thank. Of course I’d left my notes in my bag. It came out a rushed, drunken ramble: Bob and Jaco for the organizing Ball, Shane for help lining up DMen, all the fellas for dropping by, etc. etc. This Contracts meetup was my first foray into event planning and it was a blast. At the very least, it made for interesting storytelling throughout the weekend. Perhaps the kindest words I received in return came from one guest who told me he entered the backroom at DMen surrounded by strangers but was immersed in hugs, beers and Old School MTG; he said it was one of the more surreal experiences he’d ever had. Therein lies the true magic, the spark that makes Old School special. Wherever we are, wherever we go, we are never alone.
(Extra special thanks go to Lord Mullen for chronicling the evening’s madness!)