UK Old School Magic: The Gathering – The Beginnings of a Format, by Rod Smith
If you’re like me and you love the Eternal formats Vintage and Legacy, this is a very exciting time to be playing Magic.
A new format is being established across Europe, US and the UK using only cards from the beginning of Magic’s history. This means that iconic cards, like Juzam Djinn, Serra Angel and Chaos Orb are no longer famous only for their flavour, breathtaking art and place in Magic lore, they’re now must-own Magic tournament staples again.
This is Magic: The Gathering as it was originally played, you might even say, Magic as Garfield intended! A semi-competitive format where you play with what you have, with what you can afford, for fun, with friends.
Before I get down to business though, I’d like to explain a few things. For the purposes of this article, I will not be using the term “93/94”. “93/94” refers to a rather exclusive brand of Oldschool, where only Alpha, Beta and Unlimited versions of cards may be played as well as cards from the Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends and The Dark expansions. In UK Oldschool Magic, reprints from the Revised, Chronicles and Renaissance Expansions are also permitted and can be acquired for a fraction of the cost of the original printings. Without this relaxed policy on reprints, having an Oldschool community in the UK would simply not be possible. As a result, these reprint sets will ALWAYS be legal in UK Oldschool Magic.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually need to spend thousands of pounds buying a set of Power Nine to be able to play Oldschool Magic competetively. Many unpowered decks can operate fully and competetively at almost no disadvantage for not having Lotus, Moxen or indeed any Blue Cards at all. Zoo, Mono-Black and White-Weenie are all prominent examples, and there is even a Oldschool Tron deck that wouldn’t be any worse off for not having access to Power. Note also that you do not even need access to Duals to be able to play some of these decks.
For a good introduction to the Format, I would strongly recommend reading Chris Cooper’s excellent and well-informed article. I would also recommend joining the UK Oldschool Magic Facebook Community. By accessing both of these excellent resources, you will find a wealth of information and knowledge about the format, as well as decklists, discussions, and pictures of our latest Oldschool acquisitions.
Getting into Old School Magic
Since this is my inaugural article on the subject of Oldschool (or indeed any subject for that matter) I feel a bit of backstory is required. I’d class myself as a primarily casual player, although I do take an interest in both Legacy and Vintage at a semi-competitive level. I’ve made attempts to get into Modern, but the format has never really captured my imagination. I’ve never attempted to get into Standard. Not my bag I’m afraid.
Learning to play Magic in Mana Vault (in De Courcy’s Arcade in Glasgow) during the late nineties, I played a lot of kitchen table Magic. This was in the days before the instant recall of the internet, we didn’t have any resources to look up older cards. The best way of discovering them was by chance at Local Game Stores and flipping through other peoples trade binders. We would discover cards and combos as we found them, and incorporate them into our decks ad-hoc, instead of net-decking.
Star City Games and smartphones did not exist (now there’s a thought) and so those days are pretty much unthinkable by today’s glossy standards. We used Magazines such as Scrye, and Duellist to get our card prices. Decklists were esoteric knowledge, passed on from player to player by word of mouth. Back at this time, Revised Dual Lands were a tenner a pop, and they were all worth pretty much the same as each other. Static Games Glasgow had a Near-Mint Unlimited Black Lotus in a sealed glass case for sale for £150 and a bunch of Unlimited Moxen for £60 each. That was “too much” for a card for a teenage me on pocket-money and paper-round wages. We all have regrets that we carry through life, one of mine is not immediately snapping those up.
There were always older players telling us kids about the “golden days” of Magic, of buying booster boxes of Alpha and Beta. About the days of playing with Juzam Djinn and Library of Alexandria, of opening Mishra’s Workshops and Argivian Archaeologist and playing with them unsleeved, fresh out of the safety of the pack to the rough of a wooden gaming table. Sleeves and playmats were not widely used during the early days of Magic.
There was a player, an older gentleman named Paul, who’d been playing since the start of the game. Paul had a wealth of knowledge, experience and stories about the early days of the game. He always used to give us advice on our decks and card choices.
Paul claimed to have at one time owned one of the infamous Blue Hurricane misprint cards (from the long lost Summer Magic expansion). I can believe this story as Wizards had a distribution centre in Glasgow at the time and some of the booster boxes of Summer Magic that escaped destruction were apparently opened there. I don’t remember what happened to it in the story, but I remember that he no longer had it (and regretted it).
The old story about how one guy ripped up his Chaos Orb to destroy his opponent’s entire board and the head Judge who allowed it to happen was also first told to me at Mana Vault, the first of many tellings and re-tellings of that story over the years.
There were many other stories, Will-o’-the-Wisp being the “greatest creature of all time” because it could block anything, a Black Lotus submerged in beer back when Alpha was still on the shelves “because it’s just piece of cardboard”. Black Lotus and the Moxen were actually regarded as pretty poor cards for a time. I also remember a Danish guy who had collected a stack of Moxen, because he liked the pictures. I can’t remember his name, but he had alot of pretty pictures.
Sadly Mana Vault is long gone, but the memories, the stories, and the joy instilled in me of playing and discovering powerful and mysterious cards has never left. My love of older cards and Oldschool artwork has led me on a continuing quest to obtain rare, obscure and valuable older cards.
Back to Old School Magic
As soon as I discovered that the Oldschool format existed, I was hooked. It was the format I’d been waiting for my entire Magic career. I started the UK Oldschool Magic Facebook group about three months ago and things have moved quickly from there. We’ve grown to over a hundered members, and with the format now fully established here in the UK, we’ve already held our first UK Oldschool event.
The Eternal Magic: The Gathering Champion of the North weekend hosted by Fanboy3 in October saw us playing Oldschool competitively in the UK for the first time. I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my personal thanks to Mr Ross Silcock, General Working Monkey at Fanboy3 (according to his Facebook profile) for putting on the event for us at such short notice and 7th City Games for organising prize support.
I’m happy to report that this event was won by a certain Alex Gershaw, fierce promoter and stalwart of the UK Legacy scene, Manaleak writer, and generally all-round decent guy. Alex played an unpowered Zoo deck, with not a blue card in sight. Further proof that you don’t need Blue cards or Power Nine to win at Oldschool Magic.
In Alex’ own words:
“…artifact Power in that format is essentially card disadvantage for Power advantage. Because the top end [of the format] is so crap in Power level and the removal spells so good.
You can fight without Power.”
Here is Alex Decklist, in type and picture form. Decklists are traditionally recorded as pictures in Oldschool, for ease of spreading the format here they will also be typed.
Alex Gershaw’s Championship-winning Zoo
4 City of brass
1 Strip Mine
3 Mishra’s Factory
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Wheel of Fortune
3 Ernham Djinn
4 Granite Gargoyle
4 Savannah Lions
4 Kird ape
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Ghazban Ogre
4 Red Elemental Blast
2 Orcish Artillery
2 Ankh of Mishra
3 Stone Rain
1 Black Vise
Assuming you already have access to the Revised Dual Lands in this list, this deck can be constructed for under £100 and is as fierce and powerful a contender as any of the powered decks of the format. It’s also a joy to play, featuring Lightning Bolts, Kird Apes and Savannah Lions. Classic Magic at it’s best.
Alex innovative use of Granite Gargoyle as a wall to hold off opposing creatures while simultaneously throwing burn spells legions of his own creatures at the opponents head was key to his victory on the day.
Here is the final round from the event (Alex actually lost this round, but won the event on tie-breakers):
Video credit – Steve Rich
And now for something at the other end of the cost spectrum.
Kevin Rodgers Power Artifact Combo Deck
4 Mishra’s Factory
1 Mishra’s Workshop
1 Strip Mine
Kevin is one of the Irish Vintage players who like many in the UK & Ireland Vintage community, has recently turned his attention to Oldschool. Fully Powered and packing a copy of Mishra’s Workshop, Kevin’s deck is ready to go landing threats right off the bat. A turn-one kill is possible using the Power Artifact combo and a hand with Black Lotus, although this is considerably unlikely.
Simply put, Basalt Monolith + Power Artifact equals infinite colourless mana. Throw any “x” spell into the mix and that means a very quick death for the opponent. If the quick-fire combo dosen’t kill you, the hard-hitting Juggernaut, Triskellion and Su-Chi will.
Kevin’s deck is fully black-bordered, and fully Alpha-Beta, where possible. Truly a thing of beauty.
For a final taste of the format, I present my own take.
Rod Smith’s Mono Black Control
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Strip Mine
4 Dark Ritual
2 Nevinyrral’s Disk
1 Sol Ring
1 Mox Jet
1 Black Lotus
1 Chaos Orb
1 Mind Twist
1 Demonic Tutor
2 Jayemdae Tome
2 Icy Manipulator
3 Juzam Djinn
4 Black Knight
4 Hypnotic Specter
2 Guardian Beast
4 Underworld Dreams
1 Black Vise
2 Disrupting Scepter
2 City in a Bottle
2 Gate to Phyrexia
The idea is simple. Power out an early Juzam Djinn or Su-Chi, while disrupting the opponent’s hand and mana base, and beat them to death with it. Repeated Sinkholes and Strip Mine while chomping away at their hand with Hypnotic Specter is another fine tactic. I’ve beaten Modern Decks with this beast when playing against them for fun.
The deck also features some subtle combos.
Get out a Guardian Beast and Chaos Orb simultaneously and it’s Rekking Time. The Beast prevents your Chaos Orb from being destroyed as a result of its own activation, enabling an extra flip of the Orb every turn thereafter. A devastating combo, Guardian Beast also interacts well with Nevinyrral’s Disk to leave you with the Disk and your other Artifacts intact after activation, at the cost of the Beast itself.
Key Cards of the format
To conclude, I shall offer a perspective on some of the most powerful (and fun) cards of this unique format.
This thing is without doubt the best land in the format. Period.
Almost every deck wants to run some number of these and it’s mostly 4. They’re a creature, and a land. Un-counterable and difficult to destroy, they’re a 2/2 when attacking and a 3/3 on the block (a fact that many players forget when attacking into it). They can also be “pumped” by additional copies to reach greater heights such as a 4/4 to get in an extra few points of damage.
For when you really want to punish your opponent, bring in City in a Bottle.
No more than two copies are required in a sideboard, this card also affects reprints for example Revised Kird Apes and Serendib Efreets, and Chronicles City of Brass because they’re still classed as Arabian Nights cards within the rules of the Oldschool format.
Players in the UK Oldschool facebook group have been calling for the banning of this card due to it’s sheer destructive power. Sorry fellas, it ain’t gonna happen. [Note: that this is only because Rod recently bought four – editor]
This card is nuts. It can destroy anything on the battlefield for a paltry 3 mana investment and a small degree of practice.
This is part of what makes the format so special. Being able to play such a wacky, obscure card that’s not legal in any other format and still have it be competitive. The price of this card has more than tripled in the last year as a direct result of the Oldschool format becoming more mainstream.
I wanted my Chaos Orb to look like it had been thrown down the stairs, to give it character, and to make my opponents hate it just that little bit more.
Here’s an example of some textbook-precision Orb-flipping, as demonstrated by one of our esteemed UK Oldschool players, Rich:
Video credit – Steve Rich
Well, that’s about all I’ve got space for with this article.
Many thanks for reading, and if you have any comments, questions or opinions on the topics discussed, feel free to leave a comment below, or better yet, join our community on Facebook.
You may be interested in this article: Magic 95-96 (Not As Old-School As Old School) – Brief Summary, by Steve Rich