States of the Stones Address: Stu’s 2022 TO Report
In 2020 I wrote a synopsis of what was a new, weird season for us – the pandemic had huge implications for our scene, and I thought it was worth reflecting on the changes that stemmed from them. I had every ambition of making annual recaps a recurring thing, but then last year, I just . . . didn’t. Well, I won’t drop the ball this time! Without further ado, here are my reflections on Romancing the Stones’s 2022 season.
On one level, 2022 was a year of fine-tuning. Through the efforts of everyone in our community, we ironed out some kinks and got this thing a few steps closer to being an optimized version of what we want it to be. Perhaps more importantly, though, 2022 was a return to normalcy: both the number and manner of events we ran was dictated by us (as opposed to being a reaction to the pandemic), and was basically representative of what we want to shoot for moving forward.
Middle School is here to stay. Running MS webcam leagues over the past 3 years have totally opened our horizons. As players, we’ve gotten to experiment with a new format that’s quite different than Vintage, one that’s somehow simultaneously nostalgic and unexplored. And then as a community, these leagues have brought together our local Texas scene with clubs from Ohio, Chicago, Nashville, Virginia, California, and more.
This year we ran 4 leagues. Each league was a success, but of particular note were the Dance Party as our biggest event to date (51 players), and the Fall Semester, which crowned our first international champion, Masayuki Higashi! The leagues saw a shift away from Blue: while in 2021 every league was won by a Ux deck, this year, 3 of the 4 leagues were taken down by Green (Elves, Elves, and Terrageddon). I’ll leave actual meta analysis and strategic commentary to the smarter members of our community, but would just pose this as an argument against any idea of the format being “solved.”
The truly big accomplishment of the season, though, was our stream. The Romancing the Stones stream has been a work-in-progress over the course of the pandemic, but this year, our stream guru Rob Connolly took it and ran with it. Rob produced (and frequently hosted) 2 Middle School matches a week over all 4 leagues, rarely missing a beat. I can’t understate how big of an undertaking this is, and how generous Rob is to do it: he funds the equipment himself, and makes everything happen without much help. Getting a stream going is technically challenging, and when you’ve got players in different time zones, it’s also an exercise in herding cats: getting 4 people around the country/world to find a mutually convenient time slot is no small feat, and Rob pulled it off every week. If you haven’t been watching the stream, you’re missing out. If you have, make sure you give Rob a big thanks for his work on this and for keeping your Thursday nights full of MS content.
We were born as a local Vintage club, and that’s an identity we’ll never move away from. However, it’s been a tough few years for that: in 2021 we only held 2 in-person Vintage tournaments. Going into this season, we wanted to strengthen our ties to the Middle School community, while also reinvesting in the Austin Vintage scene.
Primarily, that meant committing to 4 Vintage tournaments (or a 50:50 split with Middle School). This began with RTS23 in March, which Kai Schafroth took down on Grixis Tinker. In July we hosted RTS24 at a new venue for us, Conan’s Pizza, where again Grixis won in the hands of Woodrow Bogucki. RTS25 brought us to Houston (more on that later), where H-Town native Satish Subramanian won it on Esper PO. Our last event of the year was RTS26 at the newly-minted bar Tweedy’s, which Bryan Hockey won on a wild UR Initiative brew.
So unlike Middle School, blue reigned supreme in Vintage. Ancestral Recall was everywhere, and Tinker made up 75% of our winning decks.
Turnout was pretty consistent: 16 players seems like it’s our new, post-covid norm. After much feedback over the past few years, we’ve finally adopted the cut to Top 8: we used to cut to Top 4, and while that makes for quicker tournaments, it also means you’re often out contention if you lose Round 1.
Now seems like a good time to talk about a few of the people who make this whole RTS thing happen. Brian Tweedy is the man behind our posters, but just as importantly, he’s increasingly become our go-to-guy for venues. Tweedy owns a number of local clubs he generously volunteers as battlegrounds for us, including Kinda Tropical, Tweedy’s, etc. These are great spots to play in, and it makes tournament organization so much easier when we have a friendly face to coordinate with.
Bobby Scheidemann has been the man behind our proxy trophies since 2019. He’s done a lot of great work for us, historically by incorporating Texicana into iconic Magic cards: see our HEB Library of Alexandria, Bluebonnet Sylvan Library, Hotel Vegas Bolas’s Citadel, etc. This year, Bobby pushed his skills with Tarot-themed trophies:
These trophies were so good, we ditched our traditional posters and used them as our promotional images for the events! These are amazing, unique cards our winners now have as prized parts of their collections. Bobby’s already hard at work on next season’s trophies, which will stretch his skills in a whole new way. We can’t wait to debut them soon and are so proud to call them ours.
As I’ve expounded on in my Invitational Recap, our annual Invitational looms large in the RTS competitive community, but has historically been underreported afterwards. This year we righted that by livestreaming the whole damn thing! Rob Connolly worked his ass off all day to broadcast and commentate on 8 rounds of Middle School and Vintage. It was a herculean feat done entirely from the goodness of Rob’s heart. If you missed it live, the videos are up online.
Bryan Hockey took down the Invitational for, incredibly, the third time! He did it in style, too, piloting the brand new Initiative deck to a very convincing finish. Congrats on the hat trick, Hockey.
The Invitational’s always fun, but this year I think we landed on the ideal formula for it. It was a fun, competitive, dramatic conclusion to the season that was worthy of the events that led up to it and the pilots who came out for it. That we have both a written and video record of it is wonderful.
Outside of Austin
The cynic in me has always been pretty skeptical of the idea of internet friends, but our Middle School leagues have really shown me the light. We’ve been jamming with some cool dudes for the past few years, and as covid lightened up a bit in 2022, we were finally able to convert those friendships into the real world.
The folks at Team Serious generously invited us to their big event, the Team Serious Invitational. In June, six of us– Kai Schafroth, Patrick Vincent, Bryan Hockey, Jake Baltz, Mike O’Malley, and myself – traveled to Cleveland with decks, tents, and sleeping bags. We spent a weekend camping at The Land, drinking a lot, and playing Middle School and Vintage. It was an absolute delight to meet the likes of Rajah James, Angelo Kortyka, Eric Caffrey, Jake Hilty, Mike Klements, Kyle Wells, Chad Frazier, etc etc (sorry if I missed your name - it’s a long list!). These guys were great opponents and greater dudes. Thankfully, Patrick and Kai led the Stones to victory, claiming 1st place finishes in the Middle School and Vintage events, respectively. It was an incredible weekend, and we can’t wait to run it back in 2023.
Over the summer, we started talking to our Houston brethren, the Falling Stars, about co-hosting an event. That came together as The Hurricane: a double header weekend in Houston featuring Old School and Vintage. The Stars really knocked it out of the park, coordinating wonderful prizes and participation cards, running a smooth event, and fundraising $1000 for charity. Expect to see The Hurricane, or something similar, back next year!
After a few years without it, Eternal Weekend came out of nowhere. I’m sure Wizards and Card Titan had some intense logistical constraints to work against, but for folks not within driving distance, the ~5 weeks notice was pretty inadequate. Still, we scraped together a small crew to go represent RTS at Vintage Champs: Brian Tweedy, Mike O’Malley, and I had the cards, flights, hotels, and PTO to make it happen. Fortuitously, Rajah James was there without much of the TSI crew, and spent most of the weekend hanging with us, too! The chance to get a lot more facetime with Rajah was a gift, and we had a great time together.
Bryan Hockey finished 3rd at 2019 Vintage Champs – the last paper Eternal Weekend. Despite the small crew attending, our circle represented yet again! Years of honing his Bazaar skills paid off in a Top 8 finish for Mike O’Malley. He was joined by Austin-native and recent RTS competitor Lee Webb, playing the new Initiative deck. And then incredibly, Rajah took it all down, bringing a painting back to Ohio and earning some nice coattails for RTS to ride. Apparently, our community is really carving out some competitive ground for itself.
Enhancing the Stones
If 2022 saw us both return to pre-covid norms and slightly move the needle, in 2023 I want to continue improving the RTS experience.
First, let’s look at boring logistics:
- For our paper events, I’d like to move away from written, physical decklists, and will now encourage players to email them to me.
- I’m also considering a move away from cash entries, and having us use something like Venmo. (That’s tricky, of course, because not everyone uses the same cash apps.)
- Lastly, I’m officially abandoning the “loaner deck” system we’ve previously had. This season I was asked for exactly 0 loaner decks, so it’s not worth the effort of keeping them up-to-date.
As for schedules, I’d like to stick with 4 Middle School webcam leagues this season. 4 leagues felt pretty good: it was enough to give us Middle School throughout the year, without having to run them back-to-back. However, I would like to ramp up our in-person Magic. We are planning on hosting 6 paper Vintage tournaments in Austin (and maybe Houston). Because tournaments only take a day to run (as opposed to the 6-8 weeks a league takes) it’s easier to pack more in over the course of the year.
I’m also toying with ways we can stretch our current formula. One thing I’ve considered is the idea of a local league: we’d run it similarly to our webcam affairs, but just for players in Austin to meet up and play here. I’ve also thought about the idea of mixing in 1-2 “oddball” tournaments or leagues in which we play a different format (Old School, Legacy, Pauper, Old Frame, etc).
Now, why am I sharing all this? On the most basic level, it’s because y’all give me your time by playing in our events, so I think you’re entitled to some insight into how we run Romancing the Stones. But I also want feedback: if you’re committed to our scene, please, share constructive ideas for what we can do better! Do you like the idea of in-person leagues? Could we run the webcam leagues more efficiently? Is there a format that players are thirsting for? I want to know!
I’m also interested in collaboration. Tweedy and I can be a little protective of the Romancing the Stones brand: we have a vision for who we are and what we do, and maintaining the integrity of that vision is important. However, the point is also to have fun, and we’re not the arbiters of what that means. If there’s a format you want to explore, or an experience you think would be awesome for our players, talk to us! I’d love to help you set up a tournament, or league, or whatever the hell it is. I can’t tell you how happy I’d be if a local came up to me and said, “I’d like to run a Legacy tournament some weekend,” or “I was thinking of running a small Middle School tournament next Wednesday.”
More intangibly, for me 2022 brought back the feeling of good community events. I can be a little liberal with throwing around terms like “feeling” or “meaning” – they’re elusive and hard to pin down, so when we talk about organizing events with them in mind, they aren’t exactly actionable. But when I got to shout at y’all in player meetings this year, or on the flights home from Cleveland and Philadelphia, I experienced a strong feeling of comradery, of warmth, of the joy and rewards of shared interests and time together.
After Eternal Weekend, Mike and I had a few Yuenglings together at the Philadelphia airport as we waited for our flights. Sometimes after a long Magic weekend, I want to get away from my bros and turn my mind off of the game, but this time, I was running high on my friends’ victories, so I was in the mood to drink and bullshit a little longer. The conversation gradually turned back to the early years of Romancing the Stones: how all this stemmed from Thursday night Legacy at Pat’s, from a group of us who’d grab beers at Billy’s, how a few of us wanted to try out Vintage and we figured we’d run a tournament or two. That was 5 years ago, and now, we’re playing events with guys across the country, and we’re putting our players into the Top 8 of Champs. This Romancing the Stones thing has come a long way. Our players continue to support us, and for as long as we put in the work and keep our hearts in it, I expect to keep having a good time and doing cool shit.