TO Report Alpha Castle 2019

The idea of running Alpha Castle first sparked somewhere in 2017 at one of the Magiccardmarket Series stops. My job at JK-Entertainment at the time included to be the Showrunner of the MKM Series stops. I wouldn’t decide the frameworks of the events, I’ll just execute what goes by plan and solve whatever goes wrong at those events. There’s players who registered online through MKM but weren’t on the pairings. Judges had to receive compensation at the end of the day and be well stuffed to work during the day. That’s my job. The MKM Series also ran Oldschool events, but didn’t exactly specify what ruleset to use. So, some days before, I believe MKM Series Prague 2017, I as the person to direct such questions to was asked “so, what ruleset is used?”. With “expertise” from players playing that format, I came to the conclusion that we’d play “Swedish Banlist with Ravenna reprints”. That was the first time I really got in contact with Oldschool.

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MKM Series Prague 2017

At the event itself, the Old School part was just one of many tournaments. Players need tablenumbers, a Head Judge, a Pairings board and that’s it, right? One of the players “Stinfo” was my main source of information and I believe the driving force to get players there. At some MKM Series stops, I’d give Stinfo the list of players and it’d be run as tournament independent of the rest.

No judges, no tablenumbers, just Oldschool.

Attendance was unstable. Some stop (“Hamburg”?) had 0 to 2 players while the Prague stop had around 25. Always, there were many questions on what ruleset would be used. Ravenna Reprints? CE/IE ? How Many Strip? Swedish?
Today, MKM uses their own clear Old School ruleset.

So, the MKM Series Frankfurt in January 2018 would be the last event for me with MKM. After that, JK-Entertainment decided to run its own series in Frankfurt, the JK-Series. Unlike with MKM, I was also part of the planning now, and I had started to realize that Old School isn’t just another tournament. That’s when I commissioned unique Cities of Brass with Anna Messer for the winner.

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Altered season City of Brass Winter, Summer, Autumn and Spring by Anna Messer

That was my first step from ‘tournament’ to ‘event’, but as you’ll see, there’s still a long way to go.

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The prize cards for 1st to 3rd place, altered by Anna Messer

I wanted to make the Oldschool sideevent open for many, so looked at Eternal Central rules (CE/IE + reprints), but as WotC affiliated/sanctioned event, I can’t run an event with their “no draws”-rule. Whatever ruleset, there were problems, and combining multiple rulesets “We use ruleset X, but with exception Y and reprints of Z” seemed complicated, so for JK-Series I created our own ruleset. The first JK-Series stop had just a dozen players and no complications. Jan Schulze won with Erg Raiders.
The second JK-Series attracted some more players, mainly from the OG German-speaking communities in Southern Germany: Richard Lessmann, Leo Bruder and some others. It was still a tournament, and a competitive one also. At some point, I got called as judge for a Chaos Orb decision. One player said the card didn’t flip “entirely”, and the players were into a heated discussion.

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Close call from Chaos Orb Flip contest on Saturday

Regardless how my decision is, one of the players would be unhappy. Both had a very competitive mind at that moment, and after some investigation and gatherer lookup I believe I decided that the Orb indeed flipped only 270° and therefore doesn’t destroy its target. It made other players high-speed-camera record future Chaos Orb flips in the event and created an overall negative atmosphere in the .. tournament.

Pondering about what’s missing, I thought one can’t create a cozy tournament. Either it’s a competitive tournament with stakes, or a cozy event that’s more a gathering of like-minded people than a competition. Awesome Oldschool events already existed:
Fishliver Oil Cup in a lighthouse. The winner wins a bottle of oil and a signed 1€ card,  Noobcon, where the winner wins a signed 1€ card with 90+ players. Some cruise boat tour in the Baltic Sea that Mitja Held told me about he couldn’t wait for it to happen.

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So, after the second JK-Series stop, I thought about what could levitate a tournament to an event. What draws us into playing Oldschool, and what’s not so important? And I came to the conclusion that most importantly, we’re looking to have a good day. When the relevant quality of an event is the expected value (EV), or buy-in to prizes ratio is, the focus is on winning the whole tournament. But only one can win, only one can get that best EV. So something that is mainly a tournament has many losers, and only one winner. Something that is different, something that is an event can have many winners. When I think of my most memorable Magic events, it was events with friends where I don’t even remember the score in the event. I do remember situations from a restaurant, I do remember a friend who ordered a Pizza for 40€ because he was so desperately hungry. I do remember the same guy horribly insulting the landlord of our appartement because he thought it’s a different person. When I think of the previous Oldschool tournaments at MKM Series and JK Series, I remember who won. That’s all.

You can probably follow that when this reflection kicked in my mind, I set out to try create an event by myself. Value of prizes? Not important. The value participants would get is the experiences made. Pay whatever entry fee for a great day, not for chance of an hourly wage of 15€.

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Castle Frankenstein is a restaurant on a nearby hill. It’s 1 hour bike ride from the city center or a 1 hour hike from the nearest tram station, so I often visit the castle. They have a room one can rent for 25 persons, one for 80 and one for 100 persons. If you order food for so sized parties, there’s no rent to pay. It’s the optimal location for an event.

Ordering several dishes is still a financial risk, and if you book the 80 room but only 40 show up, there’s still a partial rent to pay. So I set up a kind of business plan for the event.:

The goal here was to ensure that I don’t pay more than 100€ out of my own pocket for the event. Without additional expenses, I’d go just break even with 40 players. So, that’s the plan:

July ’19 – Create a Facebook page to allow interested people to follow
August ’19 – Create a landing page/Website for the longterm coverage, and ppl. without facebook
September ’19 – Open registration via manual emails. I can handle 2-3 emails per week, right?
October ’19 – Define last details to generate some last hype with Fishliver just over. Players probably just had an awesome weekend, and talk about it and what events there’s next on the radar.
November ’19 – “Spam all channels to fill the event. I expected to have around 20-30 players here.
December ’19 – “Spam” all channels to fill the event. I expected to have around 20-30 players here.
February ’19 – Alpha Castle Event. Maybe I’d put a donation box so my losses are reduced?

 

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An entrance of one of the still standing castle towers

In reality, things escalated a bit.

The facebook page received more feedback and activity than my workplace at that time. Spending time on the facebook analysis helped me to create even better posts as time went. (Use related pictures!!!) When I turn on my computer and see 50 likes for “my little project”, that gives me motivation to run countless sleepless nights working on this website. What domain name should it have? oldschoolinacastle.com is pretty long. AlphaCastle.eu? That’s it! It’s easy to tell that we’re talking Oldschool because of “Alpha”. It’s the first time someone tries an event in a castle, so it’s kind of the Alpha event. It’s a *.eu domain, so players from outside Germany have less of a “psychological” barrier to join and see what’s going on.

Eventually, I create a simple form for registration, go to bed, go to work and come home, to see I have 20 new emails in one day. What’s going on? After two weeks, the initial capacity is reached. Because I valued my financial security very high, preregistrations were only possible when pre-paid, and after just two weeks, 70 players were registered.

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Happy Organizer Flippi

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Anna Messer at the event altering cards for players

That of course also changed my business plan. I don’t have to worry about going red too much. I don’t even have to worry about “getting more players”. Realizing I’m good in the budget, I can lightly realize some cool ideas. I booked guided tours through the medieval castle, got a custom 50-minutes hourglass and wildly bought more door-prizes. Pairings will be done with hundred Black & White Knights with numbers written on them. Custom beer mats displaying the Alpha Castle on one side and Castle Frankenstein on the other were ordered as surprise for everyone. Instead of Schnitzel for everyone, players will be able to chose between Fish, Vegan and Schnitzel. Soups and different side dishes were added and the restaurant gladly offered the bigger room to host up to 100 instead of 70. A coworker bet a pork sausage against me that I’d get more than 50 players. I win!

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Beer mat for every player at Alpha Castle

In late September and October, instead of scrapping together interested players, I could already finalize the participants list, clear up the waiting list when some players backed out. I planned to go aggressive on advertising the event here, but instead the event is already capped. So, my communication from now on is about those who will be at the event instead of about incentives to go there. I post the exact schedule, what the menu options are and decide, because of the incredible success at this point already, I want to run another event after this one. It started as attempt to bring the event / tournament scale to an event-extreme. Now I see it’s very much appreciated.

In December, I recount the budget and realize I have some leftover for Giant Chaos Orbs to give out as prize in a Chaos Orb contest.

In January, some participants decided to have other plans. While there’s people in the waiting list, I replace those who intend to cancel their registration. Because I always keep an eye on the budget, I can’t do this favor to some 2-3 players. Registration was 40€ and I can return only a portion for the food (that ends up not being made).

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It’s February 9th. Follwing the example from Fishliver Oil Cup, some players get a pick up from the airport. The Oldschool players who play at the 1. German Premodern Championship and I are absolutely hyped for tomorrow. The early birds meet spontanously in one of the many restaurants for a unscheduled Orb contest.

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The guided tour through the castle “medieval weapons” at Alpha Castle

It’s February 10th.

Until noon, not much. I hand out small leaflets for the players and the two for the guided tours start their thing by drawing everyone’s attention. The tour is split into two parts, the idea was that they swap locations after one part is done.
The tour is polarizing. Some participants don’t even go with the guides after their theatralic entrance. More and more come back inside to jam some games with rather negative feedback about the guides. Too childish, too artificially entertaining. After half an hour, more players join back inside as the swap idea wasn’t clearly communicated by me. Communication is an important facet of my experience as TO of Alpha Castle. The leaflet helped, but wasn’t enough. What I needed to do there was an announcement to all players before the tour about how ‘it would work’. Then, everyone would be aware of the swap and not miss half of it.
As the last players return from the rain outside, the buffet was already setup.

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The buffet: Soup, Schnitzel, Fish, Vegetables, missing a dessert

After the buffet, at around 2:30 PM, the first round starts. That’s a problem. Some players drove this morning, starting at, say 6 AM. In the end, we’re here to play Magic cards, and that’s half a day until the first time the Magic part of the event starts.

In future events, I want to start the day with playing Magic, and do things like lunch, tours or other special parts in the middle or after the event. That way, players don’t “have to” participate in it. And during lunch, there’s already some stories to tell!

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Pairings with White and Black Knights, Matt’s Castle. He had everyone sign it as memory.

Pairings are created at random every round. The advantage is it’s very efficient. A clear disadvantage is that the Top ranked players don’t necessarily get paired against each other, so there’s more than usual players with a score of 6-0, 5-0-1 and 5-1 in the end.
In hindsight, the disadvantages are too big. There were players with 5-0-1 (unintentional draw) that didn’t get more than a random raffle prize.

 

Prizes for flavorpoints were given out to “the first player” who got certain achievements first. “Defeat a Knight in combat” and other Castle or Frankenstein related goals could get everyone flavorpoints, as with the OG German Oldschool events. The details were posted in my blog way in advance. The problem here, again, was that not everyone was aware how exactly those points are being recorded. I intended that players call for me or my helping hand if they think they’re the first to get an achievement, and simply mark it down on their leaflet to later count the points. But again, I didn’t exactly communicate that in advance, so I have the feeling that many flavorpoints achievements were ignored or incorrectly recorded. The flavor points side was unclear.

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The leaflet that was supposed to include all information for the players.

For Sindbad Cup, I decided to have two kinds of flavorpoints. Unique achievements that only one player can fulfill, and checkbox achievements that multiple players can and hopefully want to fulfill:

Checkbox Achievements for Sindbad Cup Reference Points
Destroyed an Island 1st voyage 1
Played a creature with flying 2nd voyage 1
At least 1 Sindbad in the deck 3rd voyage 1
At least 7 AN cards in maindeck* 4th voyage 1
Control an opponents’ creature 5th voyage 1
Connect because of landwalk 6th voyage 1
Activated Bottle of Suleiman 7th voyage 1
Each City in a Bottle in Main/Side Gentlemen -1
Each Strip Mine more than 2 in Main/Side Gentlemen -1
Unique achievements for Sindbad Cup Prize Card Points
Least lands in MD Islandfish Jasconius 2
Most different lands (names) in MD Merchant Ship 2
Most whiteborder cards in MD Bottle of Suleiman (signed) 2
Most artifacts in the MD Serendib Efreet (fwb) 2
Best unpowered after Swiss Old Man of the Sea 2
Longest Travel (km) Sandals of Abdallah 2
Most subgames won Flying Men + Bird Maiden 2
Most cards originally from Arabian Nights** Flying Carpet (signed) 3

*Cards actually from Arabian Nights
** non-Mountain cards originally printed in Arabian Nights, including reprints like fbb Erg Raider, Chronicles City of Brass, Timeshifted Flying Men and revised Serendib Efreet

And that’s my Tournament Event Organizer’s report from Alpha Castle event, which took place on February 10th in Castle Frankenstein, Germany. I hope I got the point across that it wasn’t my idea. Awesome events exist everywhere already, some smaller, some bigger. Without the inspirations from Karlsruhe, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, UK and USA I’d never be able to make Alpha Castle what it was. Be courageous to create your own event. Have a theme and go all-in on it, the Oldschool community is eager to attend it. Alpha Castle inspired around 30 players for their first Oldschool event. Everyone can do that, but it of course needs some investment.

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My next event is Sindbad Cup in September 22nd. The initial idea was to run it on a boat, but budget forbids that, if I am to host another event with more than 20 players. Players who played at Alpha Castle should have received an email with the option to preregister. Registration for everyone else will open at some point June 17 to June 24.

 

 

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