Is Old School the biggest paper format?

“Again with the strange questions with obvious answers, eh?”

Well, yes. Sort of. This time it may be more obvious than back when I was trying to define combo, though. Or at least I won’t spend nine pages exploring data and statistics of participant numbers, tournament coverage etc.

But after attending my latest Old School tournament, the DOS 8, I thought about the amount of people attending Old School tournaments in Denmark. I think we have around a handful of yearly tournaments with around 70 players, and then there are several in the 20-40 attendees tier. Also we have an online monthly. We have more than 700 members of the Facebook Group. Oh, right, and then we have between 10 and 20 established teams, I think. I am not able to find a complete overview, and a new team spawns basically every week. Point is: We have A LOT of teams at least.

Anyway, this is all rather insane in a country of around six million inhabitants.

Right now Old School is by far the format with the greatest number of big tournaments in Denmark. Maybe even the greatest tournament scene of any format ever in Denmark. As long as the measuring stick is +50 player tournaments.

That, I think, is rather surprising. And seeing as Old School is rather non-competitive in essence, it feels like a paradox that this is the format with the highest amount of big tournaments.

So could it really be that Old School is the biggest paper format – at least in Denmark?

Let’s dive a bit into it…

Is paper magic dying?

My first thought was that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with Old School. Could it rather be that all other paper formats are suffering or even dying? I have heard and read this sentiment several times throughout the last couple of years. Especially, of course, during the COVID years.

But also in the latest year or so, when Wizards suddenly decided to release a gazillion new products including both entire sets legal in standard, preconstructed commander decks, collectors items and a whole swath of other stuff, all within a very short time.

It resulted in something of a “product fatigue” where the players trying to follow the release plan was simply fatigued. Not only from the insane amount of money they’d have to shell out to keep up, but also because all these new sets and releases forced Wizards of the Coast to come up with new layers of rules that deepened the ruleset even more, than it already was.

The game has become a lot more complex in the last couple of years!

We don’t experience this when we only play with cards originally designed in 1993-1994, but for players enjoying formats like Vintage, Legacy and Commander, it has been a headache waiting to happen, to try to follow this rapid development of rules as well as mechanic and new cards.

But still, is that really it? Has all the players of more modern formats really been worn out? Why is it, that we don’t see several big Legacy or Standard tournaments each year? Why is Modern not really taking off? Back when I played and organized Legacy tournament, we had 40+ players coming in each week! Not anymore, it seems?

Could it simply be that no one is really playing these formats in paper, but rely on Magic Arena and MTGO? That would explain why Old School has become bigger than the others, because even though you are technically able to play a lot of the format in MTGO, you will always lack the Chaos Orbs. And in Arena the card base is nowhere near close to be able to support an Old School environment.

But then what about Competitive Commander (cEDH) – isn’t the exact point of that format, to play high-powered tournaments and kill you opponent in turn two-three?

I talked to a friend of mine, who is working in the biggest Danish brand of LGS’s about the situation in the paper magic scene. I presented my thesis to him, and he was fast to write:

“We have weekly tournaments of draft, Modern, Legacy and Commander. We are starting up Pioneer and cEDH. We have pre-releases and RCQ’s. Paper magic certainly isn’t suffering!”

One important point here is that a number of the other formats have weekly gatherings in several of the larger cities. As my friend’s quote from above show, they are basically covering all the major formats (except Standard, which I guess is pretty much an online format by now?) each week. And even though they may not attract 50 or 70+ players, they have staple turnouts at between 15 and up to 40 players on good nights. This is in Copenhagen, of course, and I don’t know how things are in the second- or third largest city – or any other city for that matter. But I know that it is the weeklies that keep most of the formats alive.

The biggest city close to where I live is Odense, Denmark’s third-most populous city. When there are bigger events, it doesn’t seem like they attract many more players than the firm base of weekly-attendees. And sometimes the bigger tournaments are even prone to cancellation due to too few pre-order registrations.

Tournaments is the way (… to meet)

Okay, so it is not exactly because paper Magic is dying – thankfully!

But why is it, then, that Old School is the biggest, and arguably most active tournament Magic scene in Denmark?

My knowledgeable friend had a theory that could help explain, why there are so relatively many big Old School tournaments in Denmark. It is simply, that many of us are at an age, where our everyday life is filled to the brim with house, spouse, kids and cars. It can be rather difficult to attend a weekly tournament at the LGS or local pub.

I think said wise friend is on to something.

When we know several months ahead, that a tournament is coming up, many of us are better able to arrange things, get the family calendar in order, do the dishes more than usually and buy our wife a whole lot of flowers. In short: we can prioritize a Saturday or a whole weekend away from the family. If we are invited a couple of months or three in advance.

Before Old School really took off in Denmark, there were several smaller groups and gangs of friends who may not all have had a word for the format they were playing and enjoying, but who really did not want to play neither Vintage nor Legacy. So they played Old Vintage or whatever they called it.

Our tournaments are often gatherings of friends we don’t meet too often. We gather from all over the country (it is about a five hours car ride from one end to the other…) to play against each other and hang out. We can’t do that every week. Some of us have the sheer luck of being a part of a team or play group that meet regularly, but not all.

So the big Old School tournaments really is the place for us to play against someone other than our usual suspects and team members. It underlines their importance and keeps the format, as well as community, both healthy and vibrant.

The bigger tournaments really glues the format together.

Like-minded and looking alike

Because it strengthens the broader community…

Of course I have written about this several times before, but it is obvious to me, that one – or maybe the primary reason – why we accept to spend said very dearly bought out-of-the-house-time at a more-or-less cramped room, stuffed with grown men growing more and more anxious, drunk and sweaty as the hours pass, is of course because of the community.

Yes, yes, the Old School community is awesome and all that. We don’t have anything left to prove, we all share a love for an obscure hobby and we are all very much alike…

And that was also one of my LGS friends’ points about the Old School format (which he also plays once in a while): that the vast majority of us are basically the same: middle-aged, white, bearded dudes with a middle-to-high income (Danish standards – just very high income in global standards), a nerdy perspective on the world and clever t-shirts.

His point was that in several other formats – maybe especially in Commander – there is a more varied player base, more women (not another players’ wife or girlfriend!), more brown or black people, young people, transgender people and generally just a wider representation of society in general.

This has also been a cause for some smaller rifts in the commander community. Because more variety means a bigger chance that real disagreement increases and that someone inadvertently hurts someone else’s feelings. If you risk getting hurt, you may not want to attend a tournament – you would probably rather just play with your friends or play group.

We don’t really have that issue. At least not in a very visible way. Of course we are all different people with different trigger points, but as a mass, we are very much alike.

This, I think is also a reason why the Old School tournament scene has grown bigger than any other. The hostile environment that is sometimes present at other tournaments, is simply not there, because we more or less all know each other, and look alike.

So is it really the biggest?

It is of course hard to say which format is the biggest. But I am very certain that Old School as of 2023 is the biggest ever tournament scene of any format in Denmark.

Even when we were able to gather 40+ Legacy players at weekly tournaments, it was difficult to arrange more than one yearly big tournament. Maybe because we played each week, maybe because the emphasis on price structure was harder, maybe because there were less privately arranged tournaments, I don’t know! But looking back, knowing what I know about the present Old School tournament scene, it is surprising that we had so few big Legacy tournaments back then.

I am not too sure what I wanted to say – if anything – with this article. I was simply somewhat surprised when I started thinking about the amount of big tournaments here. It is a great pleasure and privilege to live in a country with so many so great tournaments so close.

Thanks to all the great organizers and awesome players out there.

3 thoughts on “Is Old School the biggest paper format?

  1. ???? Der er turneringer i faraos *hver uge* i alle formater?? Der var 1000+ mennesker i øksnehallen sidste år til draft osv.

    No hate, t køber den bare ikke

    1. Jeg opfatter ingen had her 🙂
      Tak for at poste din observation.

      Jeg har tydeligvis overset hvad der skete i Øksnehallen sidste år? Og problemet med sådan en artikel, som den jeg har skrevet her, er selvfølgelig, at det er ret svært at følge med i alle formaters turneringsplan.

      Men min pointe er langt fra heller, at der ikke levende formater og communities rundt omkring. Eller for den sags skyld store turneringer. Min pointe er kun, at det ser ud til, at der er overraskende mange flere Old School turneringer i det “store” format af omkring 50-70 spillere, end jeg i hvert fald har kunnet finde ud for nogen andre formater. Og som jeg også skriver, er det jo nok blandt andet netop fordi, vi ikke har så mange åbne ugentlige turneringer som mange andre formater har.

      Men altså på ingen måde nogen hate i nogen retninger. Jeg synes det er fantastisk at Magic – også som papirformat – er stort i Danmark. Det er virkelig fedt!

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