Old School Magic – Getting into the Format on a Budget by Christopher Cooper

Rod Smith's pet deck for the format - Mono Black Control
Rod Smith's pet deck for the format - Mono Black Control

Old School Magic – Getting into the Format on a Budget by Christopher Cooper

A few weeks ago I wrote a compendium for resources on Old School Magic. I have received some requests since on how to get into the format on a budget. Well, the first thing you have to look at is the sets allowed and how strictly you want to adhere to those guidelines.

If you want to follow the Swedish group that originally came up with the format, then you are looking at a very tight list of sets. They will only allow Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, The Dark and Legends. They will also allow only English printings of the cards from those sets, with foreign language cards considered proxies. Yes, that’s right, my Italian The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is a proxy in this format. Oh, and Summer Magic. For the pimp value. Because they can.

However, in the USA they have a slightly different format, allowing more sets and far more printings. Fallen Empires is allowed, giving us cards like Hymn to Tourach and Goblin Grenade and… well, that’s about it, and any old bordered, original art printing is allowed. This opens up the foreign black or white bordered cards (FBB/FWB), 4th or 5th edition and other core sets. However, foils are NOT allowed, nor cards with new art, Ice Age’s Swords to Plowshares for example.

The UK Oldschool Magic (93/94) group uses this set list, which is the one I’ll be looking at: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, Summer Magic, FBB and FWB Revised (Italian, French, German), Chronicles/Renaissance, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends (and Italian Legends), The Dark (and Italian The Dark). The current Magic card market (MKM) series allows all of these sets too, but only allows 10 cards not on the Swedish list of allowed sets in your deck.


Chain Lightning mtg wallpaper


So what cards do we want to look at? Well, the obvious entry level strategy for any deck is burn, so lets start with the good old Red Deck Wins. The most ubiquitous poster boy for this archetype is, of course, Lightning Bolt. A Revised copy of this will only set you back £1.99 on Manaleak.com, and will see play in basically every red deck you ever make ever again. Unlimited ones are still cheap only at £3.99 each though, and this won’t eat into your 10 cards for MKM tournaments. Fireballs are just 99p each and Shatters just 49p. All of these are must have spells for your red decks.

[draft]Lightning Bolt

Next we come to look at a creature base. Ball Lightning is another iconic card, and comes in fairly cheap at only £6.99 for The Dark versions, but can be found even cheaper if you look for the foreign Rennaisance versions. Cheap flying creatures are also valuable, with Granite Gargoyle and Goblin Balloon Brigade both reasonable inclusions. Once you have this creature base down you can start looking at other ways of squeezing damage through.

[draft]Ball Lightning
Goblin Balloon Brigade
Blood Lust[/draft]

My favourite ways of doing this efficiently are using pump spells and auras. Blood Lust is probably the best pump spell in terms of sheer damage output per mana, you can be attacking for five on turn two with your Goblin Balloon Brigade if your opponent has no blockers. A Giant Strength can also cause problems on a flyer and can see you outclassing your opponent’s creatures very quickly indeed.

As far as more burn goes, whilst not as fast as the instant speed Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning is about as efficient, making it a virtual Lightning Bolts 6-8. We start to dry up a little here though, with the only viable burn spell then being Mana Clash, a risky spell at best for often little damage output. It is one of the most fun spells to cast in the format though, so do give it a go.

[draft]Chain Lightning
Mana Clash
Stone Rain[/draft]

A final option for this mono red deck is Stone Rain. This is at the top of your curve and helps keep your opponent playing in the early game with you, keeping them off their Serra Angels and Sengir Vampires. A Strip Mine is a must include for similar reasons, and if your budget allows for Mishra’s Factorys I would seriously consider them as they allow for a way to squeeze extra value out of your lands. Finally, a single Hammerheim lets you show off a bit and has use against goblin decks running Mountainwalkers like Goblin King or Goblin Rock Sled.

If your budget allows it, some Blood Moons would be a very strong sideboard card, though not quite as much of a beating as it can be in Modern or Legacy due to the amount of basic lands these decks run by necessity. There just aren’t the non-basic lands around in this format to support it.

[draft]Blood Moon
Red Elemental Blast
Goblins of the Flarg[/draft]

For other sideboard options you can look at Red Elemental Blast or Active Volcano to hate on the blue decks, Goblins of the Flarg or Goblin Rock Sled for the red matchups or Wheel of Fortune for the grndy black decks that like to kill all your things to allow you to draw a new hand then unload it all at once.

In taking the deck on from here, I feel that there are two real options: green or blue. Either way, a playset of Chronicles City of Brass can be bought for less than £8, so this is a big starting point.

[draft]Kird Ape
Erhnam Djinn

Green opens up more cheap, efficient creatures for us, as well as a little ramp in the forms of Llanowar Elves or, for the less budget minded, Birds of Paradise. We are given creatures from one drops in Ghazbán Ogre and Kird Ape (yes, its red, but its basically a Mons’s Goblin Raiders in mono red) to the four drop Erhnam Djinn. We also get some better pump spells in Berserk and Giant Growth.

However, the downside of all this is that you probably want to get some Taigas, which, whilst cheap for a dual land, are still fairly pricey at £49.99 each.

City of Brass
Volcanic Island[/draft]

Looking at our blue options though, this is a steal. A Volcanic Island will set you back between three and four times that amount, so if you’re on a tight budget you might have to stick to basic lands and City of Brass!

Blue/Red is the way that I decided to go with my second deck (the first being a mono-black attrition deck) and managed to put most of it together for less than £50 (before I, ahem, tweaked it a little with cards from my collection).

Blue does give us a lot of options though. It gives us Counterspells, efficient creatures and even a solid pump spell and some… burn? In blue?

Ancestral Recall
Mind Bomb[/draft]

Yes, you read that right. Blue gives us both Psionic Blast and Mind Bomb to damage straight to the face. I have personal preference for Psionic Blast, but Mind Bomb can certainly be useful for the hyper budget orientated player as at just 49p each for The Dark versions it fits just about every budget.

But the real reason we play Blue is for the card draw, right? Alpha Ancestral Recall may set you back the best part of two and a half grand, but an Unlimited one is just a shade under £1000, so should be achievable for most budgets. For the cheapskates who can’t afford that restricted card, fortunately we have Braingeyser to draw us all the cards when we flood out for a reasonable price of £1.99 for a Revised copy (here is a good pace to save money by going Revised for the MKM series as the an Unlimited one is well over £10). Recall also allows us to buy back our gas cards in exchange for lands, albeit at a slightly worse exchange rate. Again, Chronicles is our friend here.

[draft]Power Sink
Force Spike
Spell Blast[/draft]

As I mentioned before, Blue also gives us Counterspells. I opted not to run the namesake card, though it is still fairly cheap these days, instead opting for the less colour intensive Force Spike and Power Sink. Spell Blast can also work if you’re really budget minded as it’s cheaper than Power Sink, though Power Sink has more uses if your opponent is baiting for counters. There is also Mana Drain if you’re into that kind of filth.

[draft]Flying Men
Serendib Efreet
Electric Eel[/draft]

The creatures I added were Flying Men, Electric Eel and Serendib Efreet. The first two are nice and cheap, both in mana cost and monetary price. The Serendib Efreets, however, can cost you a lot. An Arabian Nights one is £89.99 and the Revised ones have a famous misprint whereby its Erhnam Djinn‘s everything apart from name, text and mana cost, making it rather confusing and nigh on unplayable in real tournaments. But this is Old School Magic. It can probably slide. If you, like me, like the old art and want your blue cards to be blue, again, foreign is your friend. I went for French black-bordered and got my playset for less than £20, a pretty good price.

The final addition was a playset of Unstable Mutation. Whilst this will eventually wear down your creatures, it generally won’t do so quickly enough to kill them before your opponent is dead. For example, a Flying Men can be enchanted with two on turn two and deal 16 damage by himself before he cops it. Just one will do 10 damage.

This left me with the following deck list, once I added in all my little extras:

2015-11-13 22.52.21

Electric Eel
Flying Men
Serendib Efreet
Giant Strength
Unstable Mutation
Time Walk
Mind Bomb
Chain Lightning
Ancestral Recall
Lightning Bolt
Power Sink
Force Spike
Blood Lust
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Black Lotus
Volcanic Island

Thanks for reading, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me, or contact me on the UK 93/94 Magic Facebook group.

Thanks for reading,

Christopher Cooper

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