Old. School. Magic. For anyone who plays the game, it brings you back to the beginning or your Magic journey, whenever that may be. Similar to the music you listened to in high school that you will consider to be ‘classic’ for the rest of your life (for me, it’s Weezer’s Blue album; as an aside about getting old I have found that actual ‘classic’ music stations play the songs that I remember best from those years), the cards that you first learned the game and played with hold a special place in your memories.
I began playing when I was in grade ten, and Revised and The Dark were still in print. I would sometimes take my bus to the last stop in order to get off at the comics store to buy packs, and then walk home from there. I got sharked on occasion by the local scumbag trader at the store counter, but once Scrye was readily available I was able to avoid that fate. A good friend and I would even travel to the University Game Day on Saturdays once we had access to a car, and between the two of us were able to trade into a set of Arabian Nights and Antiquities.
Friends and I would play at lunch in the science room, and my brother and I built decks and played at home as well (he always played mono black). It was truly an innocent and casual way to play, and the exotic cards from Legends, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities and the elusive powerful and out of print cards from Unlimited and before were rarely seen at our tables. In fact, part of the reason I stopped playing Magic to start with Decipher’s Star Wars CCG was because those powerful, old cards were so hard to obtain.
Fast forward to winter of 2017, when time is precious and disposable income has a very different meaning supporting a family with four kids! I had stayed in touch with a couple of my Magic-playing friends from high school over the years, and got back into the game around Zendikar. It was this friend who introduced me to ‘Old School (93/94) Magic’ as a format, and it has changed my collection in a significant way. Outside of actual power 9, the power level of cards in this format is very different from new Magic sets (Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon are playable along with Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt, and Thunder Spirit is a staple of many white decks). Since I don’t get to play very often, building a deck would be a labour of love and the chase for a single card is very real. I used Pucatrade, (promoted trades, reciprocal trades and use of their Discord server) to assemble a fat pack full of cards I could use to build my first deck.
I haven’t travelled to a far-off land to play in a tournament, but recently I had the chance to run my decks against a friend. I braved the -30 weather to get to his place, and he was kind enough to set up his dining room to record the gameplay! I ended up having 4 decks ready to play versus his 5, so each deck got its chance to play at least once. We played best of 3 and didn’t use a sideboard, and if you would like to see how the matches played out, you can view them here:
(Blue/Artifacts vs. Red) I felt like I drew a good mix of counters and threats, and having access to direct damage in blue sure feels good (thank you, Psionic Blast!). Jade Statue can be a good attacker if left unopposed, but once tron gets assembled and you have something to do with all that mana, look out! Even Rocket Launcher got to pull its weight, taking out a Ball Lightning in game 2.
(G/R Kird Ape pump vs. Mono Black control) Good thing I didn’t like having cards in hand or need more than 1 or 2 mana at a time against this deck- between the hand and land destruction and all of the other ways to get pinged, I was lucky that the first Kird Ape took me the distance in the first game. He had to be thinking it was a GG after his opener in game 2 (Mox, Sol ring, Tutor and Sinkhole my land), but my threats had to be answered since he doesn’t have many creatures. We agreed (rightly or wrongly?) that he could spend more mana on Drain Life to avoid mana burn, but that it just didn’t do anything beyond the toughness of the creature. After getting a Kird Ape in play I thought I would be able to finish the game, but was taught a lesson on the power of Mishra’s Factory being able to animate and turn itself into a 3/3 (I would use that in a later match to my advantage). The march of the Argothian Pixies made for an uneventful end to this match. I currently only have 1 Berserk and am looking forward to adding at least one more to this deck.
(Blue Aggro vs. Blue/White fliers) Unstable Mutation on a Serendib Efreet demands an immediate answer (which I did not have) in game 1, but Dandan was the one needing an answer in game 2. Recall takes a lot of work to get you back cards from the graveyard, and facing down 2 Old Man of the Sea is not going to end well for a deck that needs to attack (although I was a topdecked Psi Blast away from the win).
(Mono black vs. Mono white) This match was nostalgia at its finest, with the two colour pie opposites facing off. Black Knight vs. White Knight, and whoever could come up with the better colourless way of dealing with the other would come out on top (game 1 showed off the speed that the white deck could hit with). I was not using EC rules and didn’t have access to Hymn to Tourach or Order of the Ebon Hand, but I think that Pestilence showed me that it deserves its place in the deck. My reason for having Icy Manipulator in the deck was to work with Royal Assassin, but it kept his Order of Leitbur locked down in game 2. I will chalk up beginner’s luck to my Orb flip at the end of game 3 (we were discussing technique before I 3-1’d him).
(Blue/Artifacts vs. G/R midrange): It took multiple tries to get rid of the Efreets, but a lucky Orb flip helped to seal the deal along with trusty Sindbad to dig for more lands. Luck really is required to get those Urza lands together, but they came at the right time to help assemble a pesky Triskelion. The lands were used again right away to take down the mighty Ernham Djinn with a Rocket Launcher, and Juggernaut brought home a win to end the evening.
This evenings achievements unlocked: Flipping an Orb (got lucky two out of three times)
Achievements still locked: Drawing an extra card from Library of Alexandria, looping Triskelion with Tawnos’ Coffin, lethal damage from a Berserk, using Icy Manipulator/Royal Assassin combo
Some cards I’m chasing to upgrade my decks are: Transmute Artifact, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Earthquakes and more unlimited Taiga and Plateau. My next deck is going to be R/W and try to use Rukh Egg, Preacher/City of Shadows, maybe Su-Chi/Ashnod’s Altar and some burn.
The most common rules in North America can be found at Eternal Central that includes Fallen Empires and allows for reprints as long as they have the correct are and frame: http://www.eternalcentral.com/9394rules/.
An even more restrictive card pool is the goal of many Old School 93/94 players, including only ABU and the three original expansion sets: http://oldschool-mtg.blogspot.ca/p/historik.html.
Join us in the Discord ‘OldSchoolMTG’ server: https://discord.gg/GqQjGx
So what happened to those sets that my friend and I worked so hard to trade for, you might ask? He traded his Arabian Nights for 64mB of RAM for his computer (approx. $900 value at the time), which made it lightning fast, and I traded my Antiquities for a full set of Star Wars Premier (black border), which I still have to this day.
Craig is a husband and father of 4 living in the frozen north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Outside of collecting cards to build old school decks with, he has a love for merfolk in modern and occasionally drafting online.