Step Into 1995: The Fall Brawl Report
I. Time of the Season
Summer is ended and autumn descends. The leaves are coloring, the wind begins to bite and the threat of Chicago’s winter looms ominously over the horizon. It’s been a busy year for the Lords and for Old School MTG writ large, with the largest event, Eternal Weekend, just around the corner. Since not everyone can sojourn to Pittsburgh in two weeks, it only made sense to organize a Gathering to satiate the appetite of our cardboard cowboys in this harvest season. The Lords descended once again on our unofficially official clubhouse, the back room of DMen Tap, to engage in the arcane arts of Old School Magic, this time with the expanded selection of spellcraft offered by MTG’s 1995 sets, the mighty Ice Age and the misfit Homelands.
1995 was a turning point year for Magic: The Gathering. The manic growth of 1994 ended with a misstep as Wizards printed Fallen Empires into oblivion. Then nearly six months went by until mid-95, when the new core set, now at 4th Edition, was dumbed down even further from the already weakened Revised. That was followed up with the first new content of 95, the inscrutable Ice Age, which included new mechanics such as Snow-Covered Lands and Cumulative Upkeep, that left players nonplussed. Following were two more misplays that nearly crippled game’s vanguard: the reprint debacle that was Chronicles and the tepidly-received Homelands. Magic continued to see growth in its player base and sales, but the “Old Schoolers” of that time felt a cheapening of the game in its second full year. Nonetheless, the game had pivoted from the early-adopters to the masses. Cards were cheap and plentiful, from comic shops to grocery stores, and MTG was everywhere.
As a retrospective format, Old School 1995 or OS95 grafts this curious year onto the 93/94 format to create a parallel universe version of what would have been known as Type I at the time. The 93/94 game as it exists now is so much more sophisticated than it was in “prime 1994,” that the inclusion of the 1995 sets primarily serves to augment already-established strategies, though some new archetypes emerge specifically for OS95.
While the Lords have dabbled with OS95, having some informal meetups and using it as part of the “mixed format” proceedings at Novicecon II, the Fall Brawl was organized as our first “OS95 exclusive” tournament of 2018. It was a welcome palate cleanser given the tremendous amount of 93/94 played this year.
III. Back in Black at the DMen Tap
The Hamm’s + Kabanes flowed as the Lords once again took over the back room. Cobwebs, bats, demons and other horror tchotchkes and Halloween decor set the mood as the 95-themed prize cards were laid out for inking. I checked and then rechecked my internet connection as I set up the MTG Arena web app; this would be my first time running an event and I wanted to be certain I wouldn’t lose the results to any computing mishap. Surely enough, my laptop crashed right out of the gates. “Hear me baby, hold together,” I thought. We would click Save early and often.
As a bit of pre-game shenanigans, Lord Elleman took the Chaos Orb Marksmanship Challenge and passed the test with flying colors! The patch and the respect of his peers were his prize.
In total we summoned 22 mages to the Fall Brawl, the back room was filled but remained comfortable. I was ecstatic at the interest we were able to generate in this fringe variant of a fossilized game. The software held, the round one pairings were barked out, and battle commenced.
IV. The Brews & The Stews
The card that immediately comes to mind from 1995 is Necropotence. We have a much better understanding of Necro’s power these days than we did at Ice Age’s release, and Bonehead was found in abundance at the Fall Brawl. Hell, one of the main draws to OS95 in the first place is the opportunity to play with unrestricted Necro! That note aside, we only saw one copy of the well-traveled Mono Black Necro in the room. Necro powered up some other brews, however, such as Lord Semmens’ Mirror Ball or Lord Elleman’s Tax Edge decks.
OS95 is also well known for its burn decks. Incinerate gives access to 12 total bolts and Stormbind is a great Necro-stopper. Lord Piquard went small, featuring Kird Apes, Elvish Archers, Argothian Pixies… and the mighty Centaur Archer! He topped out his curve with Lhurgoyf (a solid tech vs. Reanimator) in keeping with his moniker as the “Lhurgoyf of Logan.” Lord Etters, meanwhile, went big with his RG Ponza plan, running 12 land destruction effects (feat. Ice Age Stone Rains*) and big beaters like Ernie and Shivan. His Pyroclasms from the SB were his tech of choice to punish weenies.
(*A special note has to be made of the “OS staples” reprinted with new art in Ice Age. It was a pleasure to see them out in force at the Fall Brawl. Players embraced the glorious art on staples such as Shatter, Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant, Stone Rain and Dark Ritual, just to name a few. The Ice Age basic lands (and Snow-Covered Lands!) were a sight for sore eyes.)
Now we had Lord Petray, the man who himself looks like Necropotence, audibiling away from Necro to play his UW Turbo Sssssssssssssssssstasis. Carter proclaimed to possess the solution to Reanimator, but his quixotic stew was trampled under foot by my Deep Spawns in Round 5. Once a meatball, always a meatball.
The gnarliest brew at the Fall Brawl was fielded by an Old School neophyte, Mr. David Velasco. I’m not sure what he titled his monstrosity, but for the purpose of this report we’ll just address it as “Camarids & Catapults.dec.” His masterplan called for ramping into Homarid Spawning Bed to create Camarid (read: lil’ homarid) tokens to launch from Skull Catapult! I saw this in-action in Round 1 and it was splendid. An Apprentice Wizard (the ramp) was used to block my Juzam, then was sac’d to create Camarids, one of which was catapulted into a Ghoul. Such siq value! Granted, David’s list didn’t win many games on substance, but he certainly conquered every game on style. Maja big ups!
V. Reanimation Domination
We must address the elephant in DMen’s back room: 95 Reanimator. Both Lord Jaco and I played it to a combined 9-1 record, with my only loss being to him on the mirror, and finished atop the standings. Mr. Kyle Houtman was also on the Reanimator plan and finished at 3-2, making the deck a stellar 12-3 in matches on the day. Couple this result with last OS95 tournament, 2017’s Essen Haus ‘95, where Johnny Beste finished 5-0 on Reanimator, and we have an astounding 17-3 run. The list is, simply put, the best-in-format. Four-of Bazaar of Baghdad plus four-of Demonic Consultation gives the brew so much consistency that, when paired with eight reanimator effects (Animate Dead + Dance of the Dead), it quickly overwhelms hapless opponents. While Tormod’s Crypt is the obvious answer to the deck’s strategy, a cagey wizard can play around it (enter the humble Crumble). To paraphrase Lord Petray, you need a combination of both Crypt and Blood Moon to truly slow it down, but by the time you get those pieces out, it’s usually too late.
Deep Spawn remains the key beastie in any Reanimator build. Landing the lobster early not only delivers an indomitable threat, but also fuels the graveyard with ghouls, shadows, etc. as your opponent races to find an answer. My version of Reanimator ran Juzam Djinn as the “fair” creature that could be hardcast in a pinch (I had one instance of Land-Lotus-Juzam on the day). I also brought some of Homelands’ legends off the bench to add spice. I was thrilled to see the Good Baron, a personal favorite from my teenage years, make the board several times. Jaco’s iteration of Reanimator, meanwhile, was robot-focused with 4x Trike and Tetravus and he sided in Workshops to hardcast them. Though I fell to his list in Round 4, my pick-to-click was in G2 of our series where my two Juzam stared down his Deep Spawn + Chaos Orb. He was tapped out and couldn’t activate Orb or Spawn’s shroud. I clutched in my hand a Demonic Consultation and the only out in my library was Chaos Orb. I went for it, knowing the risk of Consulting for the restricted card. It was a success, though I paid a heavy toll in terms of exiled cards. I landed the Orb flip, blew up the lobster and the Juzam twins crashed in for 10 to swing the game and send the series to G3.
VI. OS95 Watch List Update
There are but two relevant cards from Ice Age that bear watchlisting: Necropotence and Demonic Consultation. The Fall Brawl, being a rare tournament-style OS95 event, offered some interesting data on these cards’ true power level and ability to control the meta. Granted, five rounds of Swiss among 22 dudesweats remains a very small sample size, but Demonic Consultation appears to be too busted as a four-of, especially as part of Reanimator. DC makes any good deck more consistent, as it represents Tutor nos. 2-5. It also stifles creativity as it awards as much redundancy as possible. On Reanimator, I had Turn 1 or T2 Bazaar in 11/14 games. That being said, is it necessary to restrict such a card to hamstring just one deck or is there still room in the meta to gameplan against Reanimator in different ways? The conversation continues.
Necropotence remains fine as unrestricted. While a very powerful draw engine, the card puts its caster at tremendous risk in a format fully-stocked with burn strategies. At the Fall Brawl, there was no hyper-consistent combo that featured Necropotence that would signal that the enchantment is overpowered. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to state that no such deck has been deployed yet. Plus, were DC to be restricted, Necro would become even less potent as it would be less consistent.
VII. Why Generosity Matters
In keeping with the autumnal, harvest theme of the event, the Lords selected the Greater Chicago Food Depository as the Fall Brawl’s charity of choice. Established in 1979, the GCFD is a nonprofit organization that fights hunger throughout Cook County, IL. The GCFD distributes donated and purchased food through a network of 700 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and community programs, serving more than 800,000 people every year.** They distribute 159,000 meals to needy Chicagoans every day.
When you are hungry, nothing else matters, and the Lords raised enough cash at the Fall Brawl to fund over 600 meals. The generosity and the camaraderie of the Lords, of the overwhelming majority of Old Schoolers, continues to amaze me. While a detestable handful of individuals may seek self-aggrandizement and profiteering from this wonderful game, they shall never define it. We understand that this game brings out the best of us and so we will serve the greater good and not ourselves.
(**Synopsis and statistics from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Chicago_Food_Depository and https://www.chicagosfoodbank.org/programs-services/ )