“And I would do anything for love; I’d run right into hell and back. I’d would do anything for love; I’d never lie to you and that’s a fact.”
If you were the kind of person who had ears a couple of decades ago, you would have heard those words, sung by a forty-something year old man (at the time) known to most as Meat Loaf. He would do anything for love, but he wouldn’t do that.
And honestly, until I looked it up just now, I didn’t know what it was he wouldn’t do. Truth be told, I’m somewhat disappointed; my mind had gone elsewhere.
Of course, the relevance to Meatloaf’s blisteringly successful song and this article is the year. He wasn’t doing that while other people were shuffling up Magic cards for the first time. People who probably didn’t really understand the rules, were willing to stand up and shout at their opponent about the timing of their interrupts, and traded Mox Jets for Craw Wurms because one says 6/4 in the corner. I loves me a Craw Wurm. Rawr.
Nostalgia is a strong emotion which can cause otherwise sensible people to do some very insensible things. One of those things is to sit around a table, shuffle up cards worth far more than their game-affectingness suggests, and try to play by Alpha rules: the hard core Old School Player.
Not that there’s a requirement to play with Alpha Lightning Bolts in order to be considered Old School. Now comfortably into its third decade, Magic is old enough that people who have an affinity for Mirrodin era Magic (pun intended) are pretty much Old School; I’d even go as far as to say those who want to play Rise of the Eldrazi limited are close to that label. Old School is having a love for the nostalgia of a bygone time.
For most though, Old School Magic players are the ones using cards with the original frame, waxing lyrical about Combo Winter and how disappointed they were with Homelands. Old School players consider creature combat to be not true to the spirit of the game, and expect that two open Islands means a Counterspell is coming.
There’s an easy confusion to make here. It’s a simple, yet lazy, wave of the tarring brush to suggest that Old School players are simply the Vintage or Legacy crowd, but no, that is not the case at all. A Vintage player has a tuned deck which knows it may have to deal with an incoming Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn one (or at least, a Blightsteel Colossus). A Legacy player considers Abrupt Decay, Liliana of the Veil or Jace the Mind Sculptor to be part of a normal arsenal. The Old School player considers no such thing; he is busy playing around with Parallax Wave or wanting to drop Necropotence off a Dark Ritual.
Old School players rarely win. After all; how can you win if you limit your weapons to nothing printed in the last decade (or even two!)? It isn’t about winning, it’s about having fun the way Magic was intended (as you see it). Old School players do shuffle up at Legacy (and occasional Vintage) tournaments, but that’s only because it’s the only place they can really get to play in any sort of competitive environment. Old School players are a true casual Magic crowd, who tend to play irregularly and often haven’t seen any of the cards from the last handful of sets – and they do all this while proudly wearing a faded Meatloaf ’94 tour t-shirt.
Truth is, many of the Old School crowd don’t get to play any more. They have ‘real lives’ which pull them away from the game. Responsibilities like wives, families, work, bills. They remember the mid-nineties with a fondness and sort of wish they were still living in it despite the fact it would mean listening to Shaggy singing Boombastic everywhere they went. It’s a consequence of this that means when they do play Magic, they are a little out of date. If anything, it becomes a cycle: too busy to play and keep up with the latest sets, play older cards, hang out with the Old School players, pay 2, discard this and draw a card… If they were able to come out twice a week and pour for hours over the latest deck tech articles, then maybe they would stumble their way back into a Standard tournament, find themselves at a PTQ and then spend a season chasing a blue envelope, but then they’d have to shelve the old mono-black control deck and learn exactly how planeswalkers worked. It’s all too much effort.
There’s nothing quite as much fun as playing with an Old School player though. These are people with a love of the game which can be quite entrancing and there’s plenty to learn from them. Convince one to make a Commander deck and watch as he beats you around the head with something focussed around Sivitri Scarzam (not quite as good as a Craw Wurm…) while picking up every card you play to read it, often accompanied by the words “oh, they reprinted Lightning Bolt! When did they do that?” And then, once the game is done, there’s a moment of joy where they open a trade folder filled with original Legends and Arabian Nights cards and want to trade them for enchantments from Theros block.
For the Old School player, Magic is a joy first and foremost, and a competitive challenge very much second. Like Dragon Boy from a couple of weeks ago, Old School players are in it for the experience of the game itself. It’s so easy in this world of WMCQs and limitless online draft queues to forget that Magic is about sitting across the table from a friend and laughing over the wackiness of it all. Magic began as a game meant to be played in between role-playing sessions, something to tide over a few minutes while you waited for your fifth dungeoneer to arrive on his bicycle from the other end of town. It wasn’t the event itself, but somewhat like nachos (this is going to be a starter/main course metaphor, work with me, OK?) it has moved from being a pre-dinner snack to the full plate itself. And if anyone hasn’t had the joy of eating a massive mountain of tortilla chips covered in cheese for their evening meal, may I suggest you go do so as soon as realistically possible?
As for playing Old School, well if you weren’t around then, then you probably don’t have the cards for it and honestly, there’s little point going out and trading for them just so you can fake Old Schooliness, but you can play with these people. You can take out your any-format-you-like deck and say to them “go on, play with your old cards, let’s see what you’ve got” and enjoy Magic at its very best. If you are really brave you can even dump the modern deck construction rules and let your Alpha Old Schooler hit you with chained Ancestral Recalls into something utterly bonkers. Seriously though, if you find a guy with the card pool to do that, let me know, I’d love to see it!
Old Schoolers remember feel that the mid-nineties were a good time to start Magic, with Alpha, Ice Age and Mirage. To be honest, the late-nineties were good too with the whole Urza’s craziness. Or the early 2000s with Odyssey into Mirrodin, and the mid 2000s where Time Spiral gave way to Lorwyn… Whichever time you started Magic was a good time to start – the game’s like that, and everyone who keeps at the game will eventually be able to shuffle up sixty cards from their favourite set of the past and have a new player think of them as Old School. Maybe it is a destiny none of us can run away from.
At least younger players didn’t have to sit through Meat Loaf.