My History with Magic, part 1

Since getting into the Old School format, I’ve thought quite a lot on my history with the game, what I like, why I continue to play, what has brought me back to it after selling out, etc.  There are two main answers to these: nostalgia and friendship.  I have a hunch that these are fairly universal in the Magic world on the whole, and particularly true for most of the Old School players.  I’ve never been a good player, but I’ve always enjoyed playing.  It’s a reason to hang out w/ friends and have some focused, social fun.

My introduction to the game was with my friend Nick, while visiting two brothers for some D&D playing while in high school.  The older of the brothers was a year older than me, and had a few decks of a game called Magic the Gathering that he and his brother were figuring out how to play.  We paired up, Nick and the older brother, myself w/ the younger, and proceeded to butcher the rules, and since this was around the time of Unlimited, the rules were rather handwavy anyhow.  Regardless, Nick and I were hooked.  We went to our local game store, The Bookery, and grabbed some starter decks.  I remember opening the deck in the backseat of my mom’s car, and my first rare was a Personal Incarnation, which started my love of white cards.  I tried to collect every white card available, which wasn’t very easy due to the lack of resources available around the Revised time period.  But I still tried.  I crammed my deck with Circles of Protection, Castle, Serra Angels, White Knights, and loads of sub-optimal cards.  I had no idea about card advantage, life as a resource, or any real interaction outside of combat.  Nick, however took to blue and black and quickly figured out the control archetype, which pretty much summed up my early days of playing.  Since I got in at the tail end of Unlimited, and I know this is akin to sacrilege in the Old School community, white borders define Magic for me.

I remember Fallen Empires being released, and splitting a box of it, my first time ever buying a box, with Nick and another friend, Vince.  At first it was exciting, but by the end of the box, it was pretty miserable.  When Ice Age came out, we split a box again, and this time it was exciting!  Icy Manipulator was back, Snow Lands were a thing, which meant black border basics were abundant, and there were new Starter Decks to buy.  I didn’t know then that booster packs were the way to go to get good cards, so Starters were far more interesting.




Around this time, we started hitting up local tournaments around the Dayton, Ohio area, and learned about all the other cards out there.  I, of course, did terribly as I played cards that I liked, and always played too few lands, whereas Nick was figuring out real strategies.  He built a deck around Ornithopter, Enduring Renewal, Ashnod’s Altar, Farrelite Priest, Blessing, and trample creatures.  The first time he went infinite, his opponent went berserk!  He’d never seen an infinite combo either and tried to force Nick to go through the combo as many times as mana he wanted to produce, but luckily the judges were on our side.  Imagine a 20+ year old man screaming and cussing out some teenage kids over a game of cards.  It was amazing.

Shortly after this, I went away to university, and my cards stayed neglected in a box at my parents house.  After university, I was unemployed and needed money, so I sold the collection for $300 USD and a terrible laptop.  I was fine with it then, but as I look back on the cards I know I had, it saddens me.  So, my journey back into Magic has involved me trying to replace the cards I miss, and I’m happy to say that I’m mostly there, except for an Angus Mackenzie and a Word of Command.

I’m fairly certain that this relationship effectively sums up a large number of players’s experiences with the game in it’s early days.  I can’t count the number of people I’ve met who tell me the identical story of selling all their cards and the outcome of the conversation is either one of chasing the dragon (like me), or of incredulous disbelief at the value of some of the cards they parted ways with.

We are currently playing with the Old School 93/94 sets, including Fallen Empires, Revised, and reprint sets, but how I long to play a format that includes Ice Age so I can rebuild that Enduring Renewal combo deck.

Candleflare Brewing

Since the days of yore, I’ve loved Candelabra of Tawnos and have sought to play decks using it. In Legacy, I’ve built and played High Tide and 12 Post, and tried to get fun builds together using Tron Lands.  Since diving into Old School, I knew that I wanted to play a deck that I can use my Candelabras in, so pairing it with Mana Flare seemed like an obvious choice.  I’ve read lots of articles on various webpages about CandleFlare decks, so had some good inspiration.

What direction the deck should go, aside from red, was much less obvious.  Having played High Tide in Legacy, it made sense to include blue so that I could exploit that further, as well as provide a play method that I’m already familiar with.  In testing though, I’ve realized that the card draw that makes Legacy High Tide possible, in the form of BrainstormPonder, and Preordain as well as the tutoring abilities of Cunning Wish and Merchant Scroll, meant I had to rethink the strategy.  I could go for a Kird Ape aggro deck, with loads of artifacts, making Gauntlet of Might a fun inclusion, but at heart, I wanted it to be controlly and to win with X spells.  So, I decided to remove all creatures from the possible pool, except for Mishra’s Factory because they are awesome, and allow me to dump excess mana into them to avoid mana burn.

In keeping with the Old School rule of cool, I also wanted to play cards that I like and own.  Since I’m not running creatures, that means that Maze of Ith and Forcefield should be present, although possibly in the sideboard, and four Counterspells along with four Boomerangs means that I can mostly avoid problematic cards from hitting the board or staying there.  Drain Power is an often underused card that I knew I wanted in there because it’ll either resolve, meaning I could get 2-3x mana from my opponent due to Mana Flares, or I suss out a counter, both of which are wins, imho.  Once I’ve either tapped them out, or am fairly confident they don’t have a counter in hand, that’s when I can go all in with some X spells!  FireballDisintegrate, and Earthquake are the main win conditions, and I back those up with two Mana Vaults to make sure I can go for lethal.  The other X spells that are really fun are Mind TwistRecall, and Braingeyser.  Resolving a turn 3-4 Twist with a Flare and/or some mana rocks in play can be brutal, while the other two can be used to load my hand up with either exactly what I need from the graveyard or allow me to dig deep in the library in hopes of finding answers.  Related, since I wanted Twist in there, I decided there was no reason to exclude Demonic Tutor if I’m splashing black already.  This, however, leads to mana concerns…

I playtested a list a few times against my White Weenie deck, and performed horribly. I wasn’t able to get answers, card draw was way too slow, and hitting double blue for the control elements just wasn’t working.  I’m trying to build this deck with cards I own, and unfortunately, I don’t have a full grip of 40 dual lands, nor do I have a playset of City of Brass, so mana fixing is tricky.  Running 2x CoB, 2x Volcanic Islands, 2x Badlands, and single Underground Sea, combined with 4x Factories, a Library of Alexandria, and the necessary Strip Mine, I was running an additional 9 basics, for a total of 22 lands, which is good for Flare and High Tide, but terrible for finding answers.  I managed to find two Chronicles City of Brass, making the mana base a little smoother, as long as I can avoid City in a Bottle and Blood Moon.

So, the current list looks like this:

Old School Candelflare

Enchantments (4)
 Mana Flare
 Copy Artifact

Instants (10)
 Drain Power
 Mana Drain
 High Tide

Sorceries (13)
 Demonic Tutor
 Mind Twist
 Power Sink
 Transmute Artifact
Wheel of Fortune

Artifacts (10)
Candelabra of Tawnos
 Mirror Universe
 Time Vault
 Sol Ring
 Mana Vault
 Nevinyrral's Disk
 Chaos Orb
Lands (23)
 Mishra's Factory
 City of Brass
 Volcanic Island
 Underground Sea
 Strip Mine
 Library of Alexandria

Sideboard (15)
Red Elemental Blast
Blue Elemental Blast
Active Volcano
Maze of Ith
Island of Wak-wak
City in a Bottle

I think that the next iteration will include some more card draw, either in the form of Jayemdae Tome, Jalum Tome, or Howling Mine.  Jalum seems to fit the red side of the deck more, acting as a semi-Faithless Looting and for less mana than Jayemdae, leaving me more able to keep mana open for counters, but the discard could be brutal.  When I look at other lists, they almost always run all three blue pieces of Power, but those are not an option currently.  Howling Mine is a somewhat obvious, and iconic, choice, but without Icy Manipulator or Relic Barrier to make it one-sided, it’s just as likely to kill me as it is to get me to an answer.

Drawing Cards

Long ago, in the early days of Magic, the concept of card advantage wasn’t a thing, and certainly wasn’t exploited like it is in the current formats.  Ice Age introduced us to Brainstorm, a card that now dominates in any format it’s legal in, but before that, there were some competitive decks that began to understand the true power of drawing cards.  Looking at an obvious example from Old School, The Deck, which runs four Jayemdae Tomes, Ancestral Recall, Timetwister, Braingeyser, and a Library of Alexandria, it’s a powerhouse of card advantage.  We all know that the blue Power spells are very powerful, as is an early Library, but what about the card drawing artifacts?  The main ones in the format are Howling Mine, Jayemdae Tome, Jalum Tome, and Book of Rass.

Howling Mine is the cheapest to cast, allowing for very early card draw, but it’s also reciprocal, thus speeding up your opponent as well. Lots of decks pair the Mine with Relic Barrier or Icy Manipulator to make the card advantage one-sided, but then the low cmc of Howling Mine is wasted on controlling factors.  Howling Mine seems to work best in decks that punish the opponent for drawing cards with Black Vise.  I’m often hesitant to cast a Mine because I don’t get the immediate benefit of it and I worry that my opponent will draw into an answer on their first use of the Mine.

Jalum Tome comes in one mana higher in cmc than the Mine, but it also requires 2 generic to draw a card, making it essentially cost 5 for that first card.  Not too bad, but it has the downside of discarding a card.  Since Old School doesn’t have a huge amount of graveyard recursion, this means that the user has to be much more careful with Jalum tome than with other draw mechanisms, lest they end up behind.  That said, this one feels very “red” to me, and seems like a natural fit in most decks that run red.  It also works well in creature heavy decks where discarding a 2nd/3rd/4th copy of a creature is less vital than in a control oriented deck where there might be less redundancy.

Jayemdae Tome is the workhorse of the format.  It’s got a four cmc as well as a 4 generic activation cost, but it’s one-sided and has no additional drawbacks.  Paying 8 mana to draw a card seems ludicrous when viewed through the lens of current Magic, but at the time, and thus in this format, it’s basically the bar by which all card drawing cards are judged.  If a deck can afford the mana to use it, it should run it.  Su-chi is also the Tome’s best friend as it translates into “when this creature dies, tap Jayemdae Tome to draw a card”, which is a really good deal.  Opponents are punished by the 4/4 for 4 beater by either damage or giving you a card. Win win!

Book of Rass is a very interesting addition from The Dark that is more expensive than the others, is still one-sided, and is not a mono-artifact.  The downsides to this card are numerous though; 6 cmc, 2 mana to draw a card, and lose 2 life whenever you use it! I don’t think that this card is an instant include in most decks, but for decks that have decent life gain, via cards like Ivory Tower or Spirit Link for example, could make good use of it.  Another build could be one built around Mirror Universe to race yourself down to low life total so you can swap and then finish the deal more easily.

There are other card drawing artifacts that could be used, like Aladdin’s Lamp or Jandor’s Ring but neither of those are particularly playable, in my opinion.  Personally, I lean more towards the two Tomes as being the most useful for most decks, while Book and Mine are both situationally better.

Off to a good start

a strong naya zoo t1

We’re only a couple of weeks into this whole Old School format and have played a few pickup games, and last night a few of us got together for some casual cardboard fun.  We had a Naya Zoo deck, a mono-blue budget control deck, a White Weenie deck, and a BurnAtog deck in attendance and all four of them saw some play.  Not enough photos were taken, nor were decklists collected, but we do have some work in progress decks to share from amongst us.

BwU control

This is a fun control deck that wasn’t out last night, but shows some of the cards we are playing with, and one of the most Old School decks to show off.

mono-blue control

This mono-blue control deck that is a work in progress makes it extremely difficult to keep a creature on the board. It very closely mimics what I remember my usual high school mtg playmate wielding to great effect vs my white decks.  His use of High Tide to buff his mana pool when necessary can make the deck very explosive.


white weenie

Here we have a fairly standard White Weenie deck, that includes some sub-optimal cards that highlight the fun and nostalgic value of cards over the more competitive lists.  I’ve gotta say that Beta Samite Healers look fantastic!


This is a pet deck that is mostly a pile of cards that I love, and am trying to figure out how to make them work.  It’s changed quite a bit from this form into a more aggro deck, but is sure to see lots of table time.