If it were possible to distill happiness and capture it’s essence in a jar what price would you pay for a single drop? What value would it have if the most wonderful moments of our lives could be harnessed and relived over and over again with a simple drop on the tongue? Happiness presents itself as a paradox, one we can define yet it remains ever elusive. We strive to hold it in our hands yet once obtained it slips away again. If it were any other way, if the fleeting moments of joy were elongated they would lose what makes them special to begin with. They would be cheap and common, two for a dollar in a plastic jug at the checkout counter. Perhaps the most wise course of action, if we had a jar of pure distilled happiness, a finite amount of this nectar, would be to put it on a high shelf and draw from it sparingly, that every moment spent under it’s spell would be special and accentuate the mundane routines of daily life.
And so Old School Magic has been sitting in a jar, on a very high shelf, for me. It’s not the source of the greatest measure of happiness in my life, no that title is held by my children. But somewhere down the line Old School became my one personal indulgence, my one vice. I think I have a unique perspective on this phenomenon, in that I’m completely disconnected from any facet of social media. I’m not on Reddit, Discord, Twitter, Facebook any of it. I’m relatively unknown, all of Music City Old School is really when it comes to the wider MTG world.
I didn’t play magic in the early 90s, never been to a Grand Prix, never had a DCI number. I guess I know some more well-known figures in the underground, folks who organize tournaments or do podcasts or blogs but I don’t ever want to bother them. No, I’ve always felt a bit like an outsider watching everything unfold from down here in Tennessee and I guess I kind of like it that way.
I started collecting Old School cards sometime in 2014, without any idea there was anyone else out there doing something similar. It wasn’t until a year or so later when by chance I happened upon Mg’s blog that I learned Old School was even a thing, and I began building Old School decks to play with my brother. I think in 2015 even the Swedish tournaments were around 10-20 people and I first entertained the idea of going to Noobcon, back when all you had to do was ask. It wasn’t until 2016 I learned there was a gathering in the United States, at Eternal Weekend. I didn’t have an inclination to go but when I found out about the first Player’s Ball in Chicago in 2017 I convinced my brother to roll up there with me and see what it was all about. By that time Music City Old School wasn’t a club at all, it was just four of us meeting in a dingy coffee shop that I’m pretty sure has now been bulldozed and made into a parking lot. Those were magical gatherings. The kind where everyone had to show up because there just wasn’t enough people, so when we did find a time everyone could meet we spent half of it just getting to know each other. That’s how I became friends and brothers with Derek, that’s how it all started. With a White Weenie, two Mono Black decks, and a half-proxied The Deck with a stupid fucking Hive that killed you in 50 turns.
Sometimes I kind of miss those days.
After Player’s Ball Derek had the idea of starting this blog and formalizing our gatherings. And that’s how Music City Old School came to be, how Titania became our patron saint. I traveled to a few more tournaments, usually just by myself, getting to know people from other states who were already laying the groundwork for the United States Old School community. And that’s really what it was all about, community. I respected the traditions. Signing cards, supporting charities. A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post about why we sign cards as prizes, and his take was about making a stand against the investors who have sucked so much life out of this game by destroying the value of the card. I don’t think that’s what it’s about at all (and if we really didn’t care about how much our cards were worth we’d play ante games with our Alpha decks now wouldn’t we Sister? Ha!).
No, the way I see it, once we put something valuable on the line, once we play for something other than to just enjoy the time we have with our friends, then we lose the spirit of Old School. We play the best deck we can, the same one that won the last big tournament. We are trying to beat the person across the table from us, not get to know them and build a relationship.
Everything today is so cold and sterile. A product to be purchased. Prefabricated trends that are easy to buy into. The hot new pop song is the same repurposed simple hook formulated jingle from the Coke commercial. Individuality served with fries and large drink at a drive thru for meaning and purpose, neatly wrapped in foil in a box for your consumption. You have 10,000 followers online but you hardly speak to two people in real life. But not in Old School. In Old School you sit down across from somebody, you shake their hand. You say “good luck” and you mean it. You share something you’re both passionate about, from a time period before power creep and Planeswalkers and everything needing a trigger upon entering the battlefield.
Old School is a giant fuck you to modern consumerist culture or a lack thereof. It’s not the adoration of ashes but the preservation of fire. If you’re not making friends and building relationships why are you here? You want to be hip, be cool? Have the expensive, exclusive thing? Be a part of something to impress your peers? You want to win the big prize, be the Old School Champion and then not even play your Shark? Does it even make you happy, does it make others around you happy? Ask yourself, have I made this community, one of the greatest and most generous groups of people in the world, any better with my presence?
This past year, 2018, we’ve had our first documented case of a tournament champion caught cheating at an Old School event. Tournaments for store credit, tournaments at GPs for points and titles. The proliferation of investors profiteering off of what they had no hand in building. Petty YouTube drama. The prevelance of netdecking, Rack, Atog, whatever the fuck won Noobcon by trading out Moats for Savannah Lions. Intentional conceding into top 8 spots at Eternal Weekend just to preserve a reputation and win a fucking Beta Island what the fuck.
Somehow, some way the corporate culture of Hasbro and the competitive culture of the tournament circuit has crept in. It’s become a lot less about community and enjoyment and meeting new people. And you’re seeing, if you pay close attention, some of the people who have been around longer than a year or two start to move away. I can name a growing list of people and at least one entire community that have just completely dropped out from Old School. Others seek to recreate that feeling of playing what you love and what you can acquire by moving towards the more exclusive all Alpha format, others have decided to create new rulesets to rekindle the spirit of brewing new decks, and others still have rejected the financial aspects and started playing cheaper formats using all old border cards all the way up til 2003.
I think I became aware of this change at SCGcon last year. I drove up to Virginia just to play in the Old School Tournament, which was being run by Jaco and as far as I know SCG wasn’t making a dime from as all the proceeds were going to a local animal shelter which is great. Round two I’m having a pretty good time, never met the guy I was playing before so I introduced myself and offered to use my 1994 two player Spellground for the match, which everyone seems to get a kick out of. I knew what a “Spike” was, but never played against one til now. Holy shit what an absolutely life draining experience.
Game two he first turn Timetwisters, cool, and I start pile shuffling before doing a couple mashes and he gets real uppity and tells me I can’t do that. Do what? Pile shuffle? Ok man. I tried to block something, oh you know what it was another fucking Atog, with a Factory few turns later and do the pump trick which he points out in a real rude and condescending way I can’t do as I just played it (always forget they are summoning sick) and then makes some comment about “if people are going to play they need to learn the rules”.
I don’t know I guess that’s what fun is for some people, just being a condescending asshole and stomping people in card games. Kind of killed it for me so I proceeded to get drunk and lose every game I played the rest of the day but I do distinctly recall meeting one really great person from Canada playing some Stasis deck and drawing on a bunch of people’s cards so there does exist some number of “drunk Lion alters” in the wild.
After the tournament I met two pro players who were also assholes, Rob Alexander who was super cool but I didn’t realize who he was until later, and some guy named the Professor who also seemed pretty nice and then I proceeded to challenge everyone to ante games for keeps but nobody accepted.
It wasn’t a total loss but I realized I really don’t like what I guess is “mainstream” magic culture and I regretted going. I just wanted to go home and be with my family. I didn’t go up there to win some cool stuff and be champion and call judges on people for pile shuffling. That mindset was all pretty new to me and I had been playing Old School for what, three years by then? All I know is if I ever have to play that guy again I’m just going to concede and go do something fun with my 50 minutes.
At some point this year, I’ll have been playing Old School for four years. I’ve never top eighted anything, I’ve never gone to Eternal Weekend or Noobcon or Fishliver Oil. I’ve never been on a podcast or done anything of note besides write on this blog from time to time. I’m proud of the club we’ve built down here in Nashville, and I’ve made a few friends and nothing else really matters to me in the end. And maybe, just maybe I’ve performed some small deed or act of kindness and have made a tiny difference in someone’s life somewhere and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Though I think I’m going to leave that jar of Old School happiness up on it’s shelf for now. If I ever run out I think I’ll lose a part of myself. And I’ve already lost a lot over the past year.
– A Lion Amongst Men