Last December, I remember looking back fondly on my year of Old School: all of the meetups across the Lords’ local haunts, connecting with friends from across the country over Players Ball weekend, and our year-end blowout at the Party of the Pit Lords. Though none of us expected Lords Haüs to be the end of our in-person tournament season in 2020, it would provide a lasting reminder of the club’s values as so perfectly described by our humble T.O., Lord Agra: it’s not about the Magic, it’s about the Gathering.
This year, Lords Punts & Moss worked tirelessly to keep the spirit of the club alive through Quarantine Cups, one-day “family-only” meetups, and special format variations that encouraged the Lords & Friends to return to the drawing board and brew up their gnarliest stews. The Beef Bash first took place in June 2017 at Lord Jaco’s Westside headquarters, back when Lord Petray still had some of his luscious locks and, for the most part, the crew was all in attendance. This was just a short couple of months ahead of the first Player’s Ball, an event that would become one of the most anticipated annual events for OS players across the country.
It would be another year before I first met the Lords (outside of some chance encounters playing Legacy in Columbus, OH uncovered through a deep dive of tournament results leading up to the dissolution of the DCI), but you could say I’ve been preparing for this tournament since I first found OS. In my short two and a half years of playing OS, Berserk has quickly become my calling card. Where my decks may have been missing a handful of the format’s blue restricted staples, I instead chose to overrun my opponents with good old-fashioned combat tricks and the sheer girth of big green creatures.
This year’s culminating tournament, aptly titled Christmas Beef, came with its own set of rules: every deck must contain at least 40 total power at the start of each game In addition to EC’s standard bans and restrictions, The Abyss, City in a Bottle and Moat were banned, and Maze of Ith and Mishra’s Workshop were additionally restricted. To encourage players to stuff their decks with even more Djinns, Elementals, Lords, and in select cases, Leviathans, prizes were awarded to the Beefiest Deck (highest total base power in the 75) and Beefiest Boardstate (highest total power in a single screenshot during a tournament match). In this sense, victory was not just about having a winning record, it was about being the meatiest mage among us.
The Christmas Beef event brought together 22 Lords and friends from across the country for eight rounds of batch play carried out over webcams. The group raised $531 for the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization whose work includes the support and legal aid of marginalized communities, research for criminal justice reform, and re-entry assistance to the formerly incarcerated. Throughout the month of December, our Beefy brethren carried out their matches over Whereby and Discord, often taking to the virtual homes of various Lords’ haunts, where at any moment another player could drop in to spectate and, in the spirit of the Beef, add to the trash talk. On the first Thursday of the tournament, after Lord Moss delivered me a quick and brutal beating at the hands of giant robots, Atogs, and Shivan Dragons, we bar-hopped across the Discord to heckle Lord Agra and Cam Wall as they slammed Dragons into each other until Bob’s reanimated (and hardcast) Yawgmoth Demons bested our West Coast friend. In this sense, we were able to preserve one of the most important aspects of our in-person tournaments: wandering the tables after your match, talking shit whenever possible.
Naturally, the former math tutor in me also wanted to examine the correlation between Beef count and record, and really I was just itching to make a spreadsheet anyway! With that in-mind, I took each player’s total Beef and multiplied it by their overall match win percentage to generate their Beef Score.
In standard form for me, I opted to bring a plethora of green creatures and the classic Giant Growth/Berserk combo, featuring such quadruple-green behemoths as Craw Giant and Force of Nature, while swapping out my old friend Ernie for Juggernauts and including some select Beef enhancers and accelerators like Lure and Channel. In the end, Beefy Berserk ended up in the middle of the pack in both a Beef count of 78 and in record at 3-5, awarding me a Beef Score of 29.25.
Even batting just shy of .500, I still managed to walk away from the tournament with some new friends and exciting battle stories. Within the first half of the tournament, I had already Channeled my way into double Juggernaut on T2, been brought to near-lethal with a double Berserking Juzam Djinn (after a lucky spin of the Wheel of Fortune), and had my own Juggernauts granted multiple Spirit Links by my opponent. My own Beefiest moment (and the Beefiest Boardstate of the second batch) came through during a match with one of the Midwest’s spiciest red mages, Robert Vincent, where a 44-power, Rampaging and Berserking Craw Giant came crashing across the battlefield and over an Uthden Troll and a Wall of Earth (46 total power).
With the club’s favorite heel, Lord Petray, absent from this tournament, there was a vacancy for the champion’s throne in our virtual realm. Wasting no time, Lord Friedman pulled together his Walls Combo deck that topped our Beef count (168 power) and finished at 7-1, giving him the highest Beef Score among players of 147. Danny explained to me that his goal was to not “play any creatures that appear in competitive/tiered 93/94 decks,” and even extended this to the dominant OS removal spells: no Bolts, Swords, or Disenchants, only Chaos Orb and Balance. As a result, Danny chose a plethora of powerful walls that he could Beef up with Glyph of Destruction before sacrificing to a mighty Sword of the Ages. In addition, the combo of Pestilence and Ivory Tower allowed Danny to wipe out his opponent’s creatures, bring down their life totals, and keep himself afloat between Towers and Diamond Valley.
The bulk of Danny’s Beef total came from his sideboard; 15 of the Beefiest creatures of the format, each purposed to fight off anything from common removal and Blood Moons to the wall’s worst enemy, Juggernaut. In this sense, Danny’s reactive plans would help him maintain the Beefy spirit of the event throughout, and most importantly, play spicy cards and have fun playing Magic.
While the gap between Danny and the second highest Beef Score was large, I want to highlight some of the other flavorful and Beefy decks across the tournament, starting with friend of the club Nick Viau and his 113-beef count Monoblue list with a Beef Score of 84.75. Nick truly dropped the elbow with his nWo-altered Motis at the top end alongside Water Elementals, Juggernauts and Trikes (two of the most popular robots of the tournament). Nick posted a strong 6-2 record while doing exactly what the tournament called for: turning big creatures sideways and occasionally blowing out opposing Beef with a timely Unsummon.
It would be hard to miss Lord Agra’s powerful 86-lb Beefy Reanimator, bringing powerhouses like Shivan Dragon, Yawgmoth Demon, Nicol Bolas, and Deep Spawn back to the field to absolutely pummel his opponents. Bob ended his run with a 5-3 record and a very respectable Beef Score of 53.75. As Bob displayed across the tournament, a creature that can profitably block a Shivan Dragon is a force to be reckoned with.
The only undefeated player in the tournament was our newly-minted Lord Tim Baran, playing a 51-power Charred Beef (With a Side of Cheese), featuring full playsets of Ball Lightning and Erhnam Djinn alongside tournament favorites Shivan Dragon and Berserk. His aggressive threats paired well with some handy Bolts and Chain Lightnings and propelled him through eight rounds relatively unscathed.
Playing Eureka in a format centered around playing the biggest creatures takes an absolutely fearless pilot, and we were graced with the presence of two players doing just that! Lord Semmens approached this archetype with his 84-power Lords & Associates deck. While Shane’s mostly singleton cast of characters alongside a set of Lords of the Pit did not win too many matches, he embodied the spirit of the tournament wholeheartedly by encouraging Beefy boardstates on both sides. Matching Semmens in record and gameplan, friend of the club and OS stalwart Rajah James brewed his own 94-power take on Eurkea, including the powerful Juxtapose to give himself an upgrade courtesy of his opponents and possibly hand off Force of Nature along with a free eight damage straight to the dome.
On the other end of the spectrum of Beef, Lord Blank in his truest form, brought Lean Beef, a 43-power BU deck featuring sixteen of his favorite two-power creatures and only four creatures at four power. Combining combat hosers like Imprison and Darkness with Meekstone, Ian was able to take his army of low-power creatures to a strong 6-2 finish. When asked about his feelings on creatures, Blank said he thinks “creatures are fine, but (he) prefers playing spells like Enchantments.”
In the end, Christmas Beef provided a brief vacation from OS’s famed archetypes, even with restricted staples still in major attendance. While I don’t imagine I’ll see too many copies of Force of Nature hit the battlefield for a while, there is something special about fearlessly slamming big, Beefy creatures into play game after game. Even with Workshop restricted, artifact creatures still found their way out quickly via a plethora of Mana Vaults and occasionally Dark Ritual across the entire tournament, demonstrating as always the power of robots. In speaking with Danny, one thing he had wished for was to see more “firsts” throughout the tournament; casting oddball creatures like Yawgmoth Demon, using Lure to wipe out a Tetravus and its Tetravites with a Juggernaut, just cool card interactions that might not happen all the time in other tournaments.
This raises the ultimate question, how do we truly show Beef? To put it in the words of the great Notorious B.I.G., Beef should be “when you roll no less than 30 (in this case, 40) deep, when I see you, guaranteed to be in I-C-U.” Beef is about confidently staring your opponents down with the biggest, dumbest creature you pulled out of the back of your binder, and absolutely wreaking havoc.
Sometimes it is hard to find the positives in a year like 2020, where so much of our normal has been disrupted, or to put it more bluntly, added to the constantly growing flames of the dumpster fire that has been this past year. Where my year started with some of my favorite people in the world, slinging cards at Der Rathskeller and trekking to Essen Haüs on a cold Madison evening, I’m happy to say it ended in a very similar fashion, even with a computer screen between us all. With 2020 almost in our rearview mirrors, we can hope that 2021 will bring us back to the places that the Lords have called our homes away from home across Chicago.