Bootlegger’s Ball is my favorite Magic gathering each year. In summer 2018 I moved from San Francisco back to Chattanooga, TN. Unfamiliar with Old School, but hoping to find other players who love old cards, I took a box set of 1995 Inaugural Pro Tour decks down to a local shop, and who should walk in but Josh Burgoa? We battled. Josh introduced me to the Alpha to Alliances format and invited me to BLB, suggesting that I could simply play the 1995 Necro deck out of the box. I made a few changes to the deck and had a blast.
Since that fateful encounter I’ve enjoyed many tournaments and casual weekend play sessions with the Music City Old School crew. It is truly a wonderful group of friends.
Going into this year’s BLB, I knew I wanted to change up my decks for A2A and Middle School. I also knew I’d have to build the decks in October, because I’d be traveling all of November up until the tournament weekend. I spent November meditating with a bunch of yogis in the mountains of France, and then returned just in time for the event. Just normal tournament prep.
Middle School Meltdown
Adding Middle School to BLB is a great move, I love any opportunity to play this format. In Middle School, I am typically a Burn player. I want to cast Jackal Pup and Ball Lightning. No deck is more nostalgic or fun for me. I started playing Magic after Tempest and played Extended Burn at my LGS. However, having recently gone on a tear with Burn at the Gigaball in August, I felt a change was due.
After digging through some online results, I found a template for a “Parfait Oath” deck. Unlike the Maher-style Oath or WG Prison Oath decks, it featured the Land Tax + Scroll Rack value engine and got to cast Armageddon.I was sold. However, many of these Parfait lists won with only Shard Phoenix, Triskelion, Ancestor’s Chosen, or by milling the opponent out with Gaea’s Blessing. I decided to throw in some fatties because who has time for that?
The deck lends itself to some bizarre board states (for a Burn player) which were highly amusing to me. At one point I even got to hard-cast Akroma!
Notes on card choices:
- The Shard Phoenix could be Thunder Dragon but I completely forgot that card exists, having given my copies to Cayce last year after deciding I’d never ever play Oath
- Duress is a dangerous inclusion when you’re sleep deprived. By round four I was always picking the wrong card
- The Engineered Plague in the main could instead be Propaganda, which is sweet with Armageddon. Propaganda could be accompanied by Zur’s Weirding as an alternative lock condition
- Aura of Silence + Armageddon do work. Two Auras in the main felt really good
- I’d like to add a Black Vise to the 75 to help close out creature-light matchups
- The Cabal Therapy prize card was not in the deck. It’s just there to flex
Alpha to Alliances
In prior A2A events, I’ve played Necro, RUG Zoo, and Patriot Zoo. For this event, I wanted to take my favorite 93/94 deck, Naya Bazaar Zoo, and try out fun new toys offered by the additional sets. If you’ve never seen the deck in action before, it wants to empty its hand and utilize the combination of Bazaar of Baghdad and Sylvan Library to ensure it sees a fresh three cards every turn. The rest of the deck is entirely efficient threats and removal. If the games aren’t won quickly (they often are) then they turn into a 1-for-1 grind in which superior card selection pulls the deck ahead. This deck is essentially all my favorite and most nostalgic Old School cards in one pile: Bolt, Disenchant, Plow, Library, Lions, Ape, Strip Mine, Factory. These take me right back to Shandalar on PC.
Notes on card choices:
- Incinerate: This is situationally worse than Chain Lightning because it costs twice as much… but sometimes it’s better because it’s an Instant. This did decide a match. The regeneration clause, however, has yet to matter because nobody here plays Sedge Troll. I would love to try Old School 96 (or Alpha to Weatherlight… anybody?) because I’d love to Incinerate a River Boa. And cast River Boa. Creatures get so much better in Mirage block!
- Gorilla Shaman: This is the best creature in the format by a wide margin and the deck is happy to run four. Between the Strips and Monkeys and other efficient spells, the deck sometimes feels reminiscent of the old Legacy RUG Delver resource denial plan
- Urza’s Bauble: Honestly I just wanted to see if this would be good after enjoying it in Middle School Burn, where it helps fuel Lavamancer. In theory it should be like running a 56 card deck, allowing me to trim land. I wish it synergized with anything in the deck. It’s a bad draw in the late game, and it’s sad against Underworld Dreams
- Savannah Lions and Kird Ape: Savannah Lions is the very first Magic card I ever saw. And I have fond memories of a friend who played a Revised starter deck featuring Taiga and Kird Ape. I love any deck that plays both of these creatures! I recently upgraded my Savannah Lions to FBB and one of them got lost in the mail. Otherwise there’d be four. I’m a big fan of Kird Ape over other one-drops because we want to attack for two on the second turn as often as possible
- Icatian Javelineers: a nod to how many Mox Monkeys I expected. It’s nice to have creatures with activated abilities in this format because there are so few.
- Argothian Pixies: Situationally very good, these feel like meta-dependent flex slots. I’m tempted to try Scavenger Folk main instead, but sometimes these are key for sliding past Factories or beating Trikes
- King Suleiman and City in a Bottle in the board: My plan was to cut the Apes and Bazaars for these against RUG Zoo players. Never faced any, no idea if it was a good plan
- Chain Lightning in the board: This came in a lot. I’d cut the Baubles and add more burn back to the main deck
- Stormbind was a house whenever I brought it in. It seems too slow in some combo matchups but it provides great reach when grinding
- I decided to cut all three drops from the main deck and to remove all spells with double mana requirements (Preacher, Whirling Dervish, Dust to Dust, etc.). I’d rather cast things on time to get maximum value out of Library + Bazaar. Double mana spells increase vulnerability to Strip Mines and the chance of stranding cards in hand prior to activating Bazaar
Going into this event, I had no intention of writing a tournament report, so I’m doing my best to remember what happened based on sheets of paper tracking life totals and a few photos. I have photos from some rounds, but not all
Round 1 vs Charles on UG Madness
This seems like a really rough matchup for UG Madness. Both games felt fairly brief. In game one, I Duressed a Naturalize and then resolved an Oath. Based on life totals, it looks like I first hit Shard Phoenix, then Akroma because I swung for 8 each turn.
Post board I brought in Propaganda and Pyroblasts and cut the Phoenix and Auras. In game two I took one hit from a Wild Mongrel and then Oathed into a Nishoba followed by an Akroma which was enough to draw the concession.
1-0 / 2-0
Round 2 vs Greg on Prison Oath
An early Duress showed me that Greg was also on the Oath of Druids plan, so there was no point in casting my own. He beat down with Mishra’s Factory and Treetop Village, dropping me all the way to 10 before I Armageddoned through a Zuran Orb, bringing my life back to 20. We got into a post-Armageddon Land Tax staring match. His Thermokarsts did not line up well against Land Tax. Eventually I had accrued enough Tax / Rack card advantage that I started playing out lands and hardcast Akroma! His Plows were in the board and my Auras + Seal kept his Oaths off the table, so she went the distance
Post board I removed the Oaths and brought in Meddling Mages and Duresses. In game two Greg had a turn one Sphere of Resistance on the play, but my own Mox Diamond allowed me to play through it. Zuran Orb allowed me to turn on Land Tax to get the Scroll Rack engine running. Then I Armageddoned away his man lands and Sealed his Mox Diamond, trying to bury him under his own Sphere. Meddling Mages closed out the game from there.
2-0 / 4-0
Round 3 vs Bryan on Goblins
In both games Bryan had a Lackey start on the play and I had the Plow. In each game he quickly dropped me down to around 6 via Piledrivers and Warchiefs until Shard Phoenix cleaned things up. There was a key decision point in game 2 in which he chose an aggressive line which would win unless I could Plow his Warchief before attacks, removing haste from multiple Piledrivers, which I did. Afterwards a Nishoba showed up to close out the game.
3-0 / 6-0
Round 4 vs Mith on Rec Sur
This was a long match and we were both tired. I felt super jetlagged. My main takeaway from this match is that I should take more time to think when resolving Duress. Every time I resolved Duress I noticed a mistake in my selection before the selection even hit the graveyard. Game one involved a Wall of Blossoms, an Oath, and a fatty into a concession.
Oath is heavily favored here and Rec Sur really needs cooperation from Oath to pull out a win. Fortunately for Mith, I love to aggressively draw cards with Sylvan Library. In game two we both mulled to five and had a long strange Land Tax staring contest. Feeling no pressure, I eventually paid enough to Sylvan Library to later die to an unexpected Firestorm, which Mith had skillfully hidden from Duresses all game under Scroll Rack. After 16 Sylvan life and a fetch, I was at three. I had used Funeral Pyre to give Mith a 1/1 spirit and then Oathed into Nishoba. This allowed Mith to Firestorm the Spirit, Nishoba, and me for the win. Pretty sweet, I had to laugh.
Game three went to time. I recall having initiative but not being able to close out the game before our five turns elapsed. I cast three Funeral Pyres and Mith cleaned up the first two tokens with Firestorms, and then cleaned up a fatty with Living Death. I recall an early Duress mistake… I took Recurring Nightmare instead of Living Death which mattered later when we went to turns, allowing my fatty to be buried, ensuring the draw.
3-0-1 / 7-1-1
After four rounds, Mith and I were each 3-0-1, but I was declared winner of the event on tiebreakers. Didn’t expect that, but yay!
Alpha to Alliances
Round 1 vs Mith on Necro Dreams
Feeling rested and refreshed, we gathered at Yazoo and I was paired against Mith again! Game one was not even close. Not knowing what he might play, I kept a hand not suited to pressuring a creatureless combo deck quickly. An unanswered Ivory Tower and little interaction from me gave Mith plenty of time to combo off easily.
In game two Mith had an early Necro which he used aggressively. I think there may have been an early Abyss slowing me down? Details are fuzzy. Sometimes it’s hard to pick a Disenchant target against Dreams. In the key turn of the game, at seven life, Mith went off, casting his a Underworld Dreams into a Timetwister, dropping me from seventeen to three life. I had four mana up so I prayed for Bolts. I drew into Bolt, Incinerate, Chain Lightning. Only enough to bring Mith to one at instant speed. Chain Lightning being a sorcery is a bummer sometimes. Mith cast Demonic Tutor for Winds of Change and cast it with his last land, a City of Brass. At this point I snap fired off Bolt and Incinerate. A short City of Brass oracle text check later, we moved on to game three. If Winds of Change were an instant, Mith could have tapped the City of Brass, stacked the trigger, held priority, and then cast Winds of Change before the COB trigger resolved, winning at one life. However, being a sorcery, Mith must first announce casting the Winds of Change, then pay costs, resulting in the City trigger resolving before the Winds of Change, opening a narrow window to steal the win.
Game three was quick and involved Zoo doing its disruptive thing and Mith’s draws coming up short.
1-0 / 2-1
Round 2 vs John on Necropotence
John played Black Red Necro. Urza’s Bauble revealed nostalgic throwback Balduvian Horde. The deck featured several double black or double red spells. This is the kind of manabase Zoo preys upon. In game one Zoo exerted pressure on his mana via Strips and Monkeys while attacking with a bunch of little dummies into an early Necropotence.
In game two I paid a quick eight life to Sylvan and closed out the game early with double Bolt reach when John went a little too low with Necropotence. Without efficient removal, Necro struggles against this deck.
2-0 / 4-1
Round 3 vs Mike on Blue Shops
In game one my early Argothian Pixies managed to draw a Force of Will, which later made more sense as Mike played out multiple Factories and a Trike. Based on life totals, in game one I attacked for two each turn, plowed a Juggernaut, and then attacked for three each turn until he died. Along the way I paid eight life to Sylvan. I think this devolved into a grinder in which we each emptied our hands and then played off the tops of our libraries, and Sylvan Library pulled me ahead
Game two is a bit more crisp. It featured a really early Juggernaut. Like turn one on the play IIRC. I had a weird hand with two Moxen, Balance, and no lands. I went for the turn one Balance to wipe his board, but he Forced. I remember negating a Copy Artifact on the stack by plowing the only artifact on the table, the Juggernaut, in response. Then I got a Sylvan online and turned a bunch of dudes sideways while his draws came up short
3-0 / 6-1
Round 4 vs Paul on Living Plane
Paul, AKA Dread Pirate Tim, is known for Living Plane combo. I have played this deck casually in 93/94 and enjoy it. It’s a really mean deck that wants to turn all lands into 1/1 creatures and then Tim them off via Prodigal Sorcerer (or Pirate Ship) and Pyrotechnics (or, in A2A, Pyrokinesis). Pyrokinesis is what Zoo wants to fade all day. Game one involved an early eight life to Sylvan Library. I spent life aggressively for cards to get ahead of his removal. I wish I had better notes for this game. I remember it being long, and Living Plane + Pyrokinesis happened mid game and by late game lands were very scare on both sides. The game became very grindy but Zoo pulled out ahead
In game two I remember overextending, sensing he had no Pyrokinesis. Then he drew Demonic Tutor for Pyrokinesis, which slowed me down a bit but was not enough as a Sylvan allowed me to trade more life for cards to pull ahead.
4-0 / 8-1
Round 5 vs Jaco on Necro Dreams
Jaco’s EC article about Naya Bazaar Zoo is the reason I came to know the deck. I was excited to meet and play him. Like Mith, he was also on Necro Dreams. Game one was very one-sided. I think it involved an early Abyss, Ivory Tower, and Necropotence. My hand lacked enough answers. He must’ve drawn half his deck before he finally found an Underworld Dreams to combo off and kill me.
Game two I had Black Vice in the opening hand. I wish I’d had more of these in the board. Between the Vise, his own Necro, my removal for an Ivory Tower, and me taking him off of Disenchant mana, some burn closed this game out.
Game three I had a beautiful hand ready to go on the draw featuring Disenchant, Strip Mine, and multiple Gorilla Shamans, but Jaco’s turn one went: Land, Mox, Sol Ring, Wheel of Fortune. I discarded my beautiful hand and drew a fresh seven with no mana sources and proceeded to roll over and play dead.
4-1 / 9-3
Round 6 vs Sonny on Naya Bazaar Zoo
Before round five, thinking we were only playing five rounds, I made a wish: I’d like to play Sonny in the last round, beat him in the mirror, and win the event. I figured a Naya Zoo finals mirror would be the coolest. When I was paired against Jaco, I assumed this dream was lost. But then a surprise sixth round appeared!
Turns out the mirror is a miserable grindfest in which both decks contain only creatures and removal which all line up neatly against each other. It plays out like two very fair Pauper decks. Keeping the opponent off of Sylvan + Bazaar engine is key. Game one seemed to last forever. We were both close to decking ourselves. Sonny was at risk of decking himself first, due to more Bazaar activations earlier. I had two Sylvans and felt good about my position, but I was too low on life to draw extra cards to Sylvan. Sonny still had life to spare and spent that extra life to pull ahead on cards. 1-for-1 removal was no longer enough to keep up with his multiple threats, so I died. Sonny had warned me that it’s better to be on the draw in such matchups, but I did not heed his advice in game one.
For game two I brought in the Stormbinds and opted to be on the draw. Game two and game three followed a similar pattern. We’d 1-for-1 into oblivion, I’d aggressively pay life to Sylvan, and eventually Stormbind would win the game. In game three I remember falling all the way to three life and needing to find a window to safely Plow my own Kird Ape to pull out of Bolt Range before eventually paying more Sylvan life to close out the game with a double Stormbind activation with one life point remaining.
5-1 / 11-4
The End Step
After six rounds, I was one of four players at 5-1. I assumed that I was long out of contention after losing round five to Jaco, but Jaco also ended up at 5-1 and somehow I was declared winner of this event on tiebreakers, too. Didn’t expect that either, but yay!
Combined record between the two events of 8-1-1 / 18-5-1, an unusually good run!
Overall this was a really well run event full of great folks. It was nice to meet so many internet faces IRL. The gathering is still the best part of Magic. I feel fortunate to know others who are content to pretend that MTG ended twenty years ago, and I’m glad we’re still finding fresh things to do in A2A! (But seriously if you want to try Alpha to Weatherlight lmk)
- Alan, Cayce, Josh, and all who for organized and ran the event!
- JJ and Josh for the beautiful prize alters
- Tom for the sweet gold-bordered cards so that I can leave the valuables at home
- Evil Mailman for the sick white-bordered Scroll Rack
- Dread Pirate Tim for the Pirate Ship
- MCOS for ending events after swiss without a top 8 so that we can go eat and hang out instead
- I’m sure I’m forgetting more prop-worthy people! Thank you
- None, I love you all. I do wish we’d remember to take a group photo, though!