Boros Emblem, now on WOOD!
Rather, it's all on account of a gentleman by the name of Terry Robinson, and a legacy he has built at Ockanickon one night a week each week the camp is open - for the past 13 years.
Magical Scout Camp
Across the nation, Scout Camps regularly host several hundred Scouts a week for between 4 to 8 weeks during the summer. At these camps, bright Scouts who have picked up the game of Magic play between meals and classes at picnic tables. They battle for honor and a bit of respect. Yet at Ockanickon, there is a rather unique occurrence. Once a week, campers battle it out in a special tournament sponsored on site. It's the only time that I'm aware of that you can see a tournament attended exclusively by Boy Scouts.
A recently retired L2 judge by the name of Terry Robinson comes into camp with some boosters of Magic product and runs a highly customized MTG tournament out of Foster dining hall on the property. Instead of random pick-up games, Scouts can come in and for a very reasonable fee either play in a constructed or a sealed tournament. Because this is a Scout camp and things run on a stopwatch, there isn't much room for a tournament structure as you'd know it as found at a LGS or a GP. One difference is players who play sealed only get five packs and 30 minutes to build. All games are on a thirty minute clock. And no matter how many players there are, he only runs three rounds total - a concession to the need to be done by 10pm, when Scouts have to be back at their campsites.
Photos of the half of the Dining Hall in use for Magic Night
Terry runs a very tight ship, and his experience shows it. But don't let the short clock or limited sealed pool offerings fool you - Scouts know how to game under pressure and almost no one goes back to their tent unhappy. While he is no longer a staff member of Ockanickon, his smile and presence is welcomed by all. Magic Night at Ockanickon is seen by many as the highlight of their summer camp experience. When you offer a program as deep and varied as Ockanickon's, that is high praise.
This past Tuesday night, Terry was a little overwhelmed by the number of Scouts that showed up to play (along with a couple of leaders including myself). He had 36 Scouts for constructed, 27 for sealed and a total of about 90 people in the room at any one time. In a camp with about 500 campers, that's pretty significant. Camp staff are allowed to participate, but only in the sealed pools. Camp staff also helped him run the tables and performed setup, helping to get things running smoothly.
I entered to play sealed. I figured my skills were best in that area, and I had no idea what weird meta-game I'd face in constructed with so many Scouts from Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania playing. My son, Jacob, originally thought to play constructed, but changed his mind at the last moment and entered into sealed with me. We paid our $20 each, received our five packs and found a spot to start brewing. Terry got things going immediately, once he had everyone into his database he started the clock on sealed deckbuilding and moved right into registering the entrants for constructed.
Jacob and I both started with 3 packs of Gatecrash and 2 of Dragon's Maze. While he pulled a Ral Zarak, my best value card ended up being a Watery Grave. Five packs total to pull from simplifies and complicates brewing. It's almost a skill unto it's own. For starters, the obvious thing is your pool is smaller, so it should take less time to evaluate what is good and what direction you need to go into for your build. On the other hand though, your pool IS smaller. Meaning you have to be a little bit more creative and you practically have to be in three colors (unless you get a nut draw like my first opponent did).
Son of Magic Dad, Jacob, with his intense game face.
Thirty minutes goes by fast! But anyone who spends as much time as Jacob and I do drafting, we knew the clock would not be our friend and came up with something we felt we could play with that wouldn't completely embarrass us. His deck ended up being a patriotic mash-up including: Boros Charm, Ral Zarek, Simic Manipulator, and a choice foil Lavinia of the Tenth. While he only went 1-1-1, that was a strong enough showing to earn a pack of M13 with a Thragtusk inside. He made back his entry fee in card value and overall was very pleased with himself.
Decks built and ready to play.
I on the other hand didn't fare so strongly in the rare department. I ended up with a satisfactory Orzhov/Boros deck though, playing Skynight Legionnaire, Sepulchral Primordial, Warleader's Helix, Ripscale Predator, Weapon Surge (a wicked combat trick that won me a match), and three or four Extort creatures. While I was fearful I would have an uphill battle, in the end I did well enough to end with a 2-1 finish. My one loss was to a Scout that somehow pulled a nightmare combination of Selesnya cards - I don't think he could have done better with 8 packs to choose from. My two packs worth of prizes did have some very playable cards, but nothing that is worth reporting as a return on value.
Turning them sideways!
The best part of the evening? There wasn't just one. Playing Scouts from other Troops and seeing the bond that is Magic pull Scouts together in a way that you normally only see when they are faced with a unique task was amazing. Sitting across the table from a Scout no older than eleven and watching him strategize, while keeping a strong conversation going with an adult was well worth the price of admission. Watching a number of Scouts from my Troop, who I had only taught how to play Magic a month ago play in their first organized event was priceless. Even seeing the unique tournament structure that Terry has developed was worthwhile. When the last match had been reported and the last prize had been given out, I sat down with the man who organizes this weekly tournament to talk about his thoughts on the game.
Jacob, on the left, battling it out.
Two Scouts, Oliver and Cole, in their first organized play experience.
As mentioned, Terry is a recently retired L2. His real life job as an Actuarial Analyst combined with the fact that these matches are unsanctioned contributes to his no longer being a certified judge. But that hasn't diminished his love for the game, nor this desire to give back to Scouting. He's been running tournaments at Ockanickon for 13 years, since Odyssey. He seems to have it all down to a science.
Terry Robinson calling out pairings.
With a mounted deer head in the background.
Your argument is invalid.
(Please bear with me, we had little time and I'm not a journalist by trade. This ended up being more of a conversation than an interview. If you've ever talked with him, you'll know that he's fast, smart, and able to leap tall buildings in a single thought. I really should have recorded it, as I have no skill at shorthand).
Once we covered the preliminaries, my first question was about whether or not he had noticed any growth in the tournaments he runs at Ockanickon. He was quick to reply that while there's a certain ebb and flow (noting Kamigawa as a lower point in participation), that numbers are definitely up this year. That parallels what the larger tournament scene is experiencing.
He then jumped right into telling me about the format he uses and the challenges it represents. When Jacob and I registered, we did present our DCI cards - only to be told the event was unsanctioned. The format he uses isn't sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast because it's held on private property, thus not open to the public. He spoke about the challenges of running events that fall outside of MTG's definition of a sanctioned tournament. One of the biggest issues for him is it's harder to obtain certain product. Terry mentioned that the most popular product he could sell would be Deck Building kits and other introductory level products, as many of his participants are brand new to the game - where one Scout goes, three other follow along just to see what the fuss is about.
How many Tournaments do you know start with the Scout Sign?
He then changed gears, wanting to accentuate the positive. One area that he spoke very highly of was of the changes to the rules made in recent years. While the Comprehensive Rules is still a scary document for some, he notes that the number of rulings he has to make - even at a large tournament of almost 70 players - really isn't more than one or two a night. Terry expressed that the rules on the cards are so much more clearer than they used to be.
We didn't have much time, but there was one other thought that percolated to the top of our conversation. Terry expressed that for many Scouts, this night would be the highlight of the week. For many, this would be there first chance to play in any type of organized play. Judging by the interactions I had earlier in the evening, I couldn't agree more. Even lined up outside of the dining hall before gaining admittance, there was an energy to the crowd of Scouts that you don't find anywhere else in camp. Terry may have been almost overwhelmed with the number of Scouts that showed up to play, but he wasn't going to allow a single one of them leave disappointed. His prize structure is generous. Even when Scouts don't win a pack though, the ability to hang out in air conditioning for a few hours of a very hot week can be prize enough.
The pairing of Scout camps with Magic - or any other collectible card or board game - seems to be a natural fit. Scout camps are always looking for unique, fun, and challenging programs for their evenings. Many fill these holes by offering a movie night or Troop swims at the pool. But actually offering a mini-tournament using Terry's model is something that I'm surprised more camps don't try to adopt. Obviously, you need an ambassador with Terry's love for Scouting and Magic to make it work. You also need someplace on site to hold a tournament that is air-conditioned (humidity is not a friend to Magic cards). Luckily, Ockanickon has such a place in their dining hall.
I'm paraphrasing some what Terry expressed in his conversation with me, as he thinks that Wizards should create a system that supports programs like the one he runs at Ockanickon. Unsanctioned events shouldn't have to mean unsupported. Scouts can have a tremendous organized play experience that is tailored to their needs with support from WotC. The chance to sell product combined with introducing a legion of new fans to Magic seems like a win-win to me. Terry obviously felt this way, or else he wouldn't give as much of his time as he does every summer. So I offer it for consideration: an unsanctioned format, with custom match software, product support, and a registered judge to oversee the event. Create a system by which product can be obtained that fits the demographic of new students to the game and sold to the Scouts attending. With camps regularly seeing attendance numbers of over 200 Scouts a week, there is little to no reason why some creative marketing can't make this a more common occurrence.
Terry's thought on this extends to even having a flyer with a list of LGS's that are authorized re-sellers within a 50 or 100 mile radius of camp and how to register for a DCI #. This would offer Scouts a starting point after they go home at the end of the week to continue playing and building their collections. People like Terry, who run events of this nature should be able to obtain product and become and authorized reseller with little fuss. There may be a few naysayers that see this as potentially cutting into their profits. To be honest, every single one of them should be thankful that in at least one instance, there exists a man like Terry to introduce new generations to Magic, one sweltering week of summer camp at a time.
Here's one more reason to offer more support to people like Terry offering unsanctioned events. If you were to stop by the Trading Post at Ockanickon during the day, you'd see that they sell boosters, playmats and other gaming supplies in addition to flashlights and hammocks. Aside from the slushies on a hot day, I didn't see anything more popular in the store than the Magic cards. It's a phenomenon, and I can't think of a better way to help capitalize on it than to promote the work being done by Terry and helping him to better serve the community. What works at Ockanickon can be adopted elsewhere with some clever marketing. With the recent creation of the Game Design MB, there is also hope that a formal agreement can be made at some point in the future with the Boy Scouts of America.
Victor, who only learned to play less than 20 days ago in his first tournament!
And that friends, would be a great day indeed. Fresh faces, brought up to be respectful and follow the Scout Oath and Law, would create a whole new generation of players. The perfect match of a quality organized play experience with new people to play the game.
Here's my list of the top 10 translations of the Lenni Lenape word for our campsite at Ockanickon. For those that have camped there in extremely wet conditions, actually for Boy Scouts in general, this should be a good bit of fun. Everyone else, thanks for reading my article and I hope you have a great week!
10. No Lifeguard on Duty
9. Good Fishing Grounds
8. Bathing Attire Required
7. Land of the Longboat
6. Just Add Water
5. Muddy Swimming Hole
4. Campsite That Will Not Drain
3. Home of the Wet Sneakers
2. Wooded Home Surrounded by Frogs (you had to be there)
1. Birthplace of the Muddy Slip-and-Slide
The actual translation for Neshaminy is believed to be - "Place where we drink twice." I think that is an incorrect translation. It should be, "Place where we were dunked twice." Long story behind that one. Seriously, it's all in good fun, we had a great week there and I hope Troop 94 will choose to return to Ockanickon. Thanks go out to Bill and his camp staff for making the week memorable.
Reblogs & Retweets & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.
Photo credits: Christina Preissman, Charles Featherer, Ed Heierbacher (Ockanickon Staff)