Big Red/Drain Life

A while back, there was some talk on Discord about a High Tide, Initiates of the Ebon Hand, Drain Life deck as a possibility. Seeing as how I love big mana, High Tide and Candelabra, I was all in on this brew. I tossed around some ideas and came up with this decklist, and played around with it a bit, but couldn’t seem to get it to really work. There are some great synergies in there, but it didn’t flow.

It’s no secret that I’m no blue mage, so I decided to revisit this plan but shift into the other big mana color, red. With red, I was able to get Mana Flare, Gauntlet of Might, Bolts, some great creatures, and of course X spells. These all unlocked other lines of play, and led to the current incarnation.

Big Life

This was taken for a couple hours of test driving on Monday night, and I’ve gotta say, it was a lot more fun than High Life was. The Rukh Eggs are great for making your opponent re-evaluate their decisions, especially when the Gauntlet is in play. A 1/4 creature makes for a solid blocker, and forcing the opponent to decide between letting it live or killing it to bring about a 5/5 flyer is a tough one. I also really appreciate the “if you do this more than 3 times, the creature dies” mirroring between the Whelp and Initiates. I know that it’s a drawback, but it’s still a cool theme, in my opinion, and I plan to pull the Terror and a basic land to get either another Whelp or a Nalathni Dragon and a Wheel. Earthquake is more of a Hail Mary play than something I depend on regularly, as it wipes my Initiates, but it can also rekindle my Rukh Eggs, so…

There are some changes that I feel I need to make, like the aforementioned addition of Wheel, but I find making cuts to be a bit tricky. Terror is probably better in the board, especially in the Toronto meta where black aggro is very prominent. Another Shivan would help out at the high end, and another Fork or two would add some more consistency and interaction to it. I love my Unlimited Uthden Troll, but I don’t think it jives w/ the deck too well, making it a good candidate for removal. The card that I’m really considering adding in is Inferno.

Sure there are better cards, but this card solves a lot of problems, and getting 7 mana isn’t so difficult for this deck to get to. I’ve found that Serra Angels and other T4+ creatures require me to spend my X spells on them instead of to the face. Not the worst thing, especially w/ Drain Life as an easy eight point swing, but having something to really clear the field feels right to me.

Overall, the deck is similar to my CandleFlare deck, I mean, the engine for this deck is literally Candelabra and Mana Flare, but it plays considerably differently. It’s not as much of a control deck as it is a midrange/tempo deck. Kill off the early threats, use a Drain Life here and there to get ahead, and eventually either red X them out or Initiates plus Drain Life them out. I’ll be playing some variation of this for quite some time to come.

In Exile

It’s been a tough time for our heroes here in Toronto since we lost our usual meetup location last month. We’re fortunate in that the community is strong and supportive so despite lacking our Safe Haven, we’ve still managed to find locations to duel at, albeit while feeling stranded.

We’ve done our best to enumerate our needs so that we can quickly assess possible homes without necessarily having to visit them all. The list is basically:

  • Able to accommodate 15 players
  • Has tables that are stable and large enough for 2 playmats
  • Open Mondays until at least midnight
  • Is transit accessible
  • Is vaguely on the west side of downtown Toronto
  • Food and drinks are easily available

I don’t feel like any of these are really asking for too much, but it’s surprisingly difficult. Toronto is a huge, expensive city, meaning that finding a place that has that many vacant tables is a challenge. Additionally, a lot of places are closed or close early on Mondays. Personally, closing at midnight is a bonus, in my opinion, as I’ll easily stay out until the venue closes, and if that’s at 2am, then I’m not getting any sleep for Tuesday. But that’s just me.

Our first venture outside of the now defunct Bar With No Name was two weeks back at a local bar called Cider House on Roncy. It’s a small place with good tables, bad lighting, ok chairs, and a decent location. They seemed pretty stoked to have the 9 or so of us show up and spend some money and play games. I spoke w/ the proprietor who told me that if we give her notice, she can pull tables together or arrange things for us how we’d like them, and that’s a very good sign. We didn’t have a good turnout that night, so it’s difficult to really make a solid call on this location.

Sling spells at Cider House

This past Meetup, we took over the rear section of our second choice, Pauper’s Pub. This one had some good things going for it, primarily that it’s huge and well lit, but it failed on the comfort and table size metrics. The tables are extremely narrow, so much so that only a single playmat will fit, which also means that all the legs and feet beneath the surface get pretty cozy. The other downside is that it’s all booths with a fairly narrow distance between table edge and booth back, thus making many people not very comfortable to sit at. As for our reception, again we weren’t at full strength, and several people didn’t appear to be spending money which doesn’t do much to win them over. They do have an upstairs that we could reserve, but it sounded like it costed money and/or had a minimum spend, neither of which are ideal.

Where does this leave us?

Quite honestly, I’m uncertain. Bouncing around to various locations is strenuous and seems to result in fewer people showing up; an anti-goal. We need to find a new forever home and get out of Exile, but for the immediate future, we’ll probably still be bouncing around, but we have one solid thing in place. What is that, you might ask?

The first Wednesday of every month, we’ll be playing at Toronto Collective, 389 Spadina Ave, which is a great space, owned by local player and international old school Canadian Ambassador, Shane. He’s graciously offered his shop up, after 8pm, for us to do what we want with it. He’s planning to have a dedicated cam table to stream or play vs non-local folks as a way to help grow the community and unify Toronto with the greater OS community. So, this Wednesday, 1 May, (May Day) will be our first regular meeting there, and we’ll discuss in person what we want to do with these sessions, but it’s been tossed around to have some tournaments there, or cubing, or whatever. I think that this is a great opportunity to have a different variety of games from the usual casual Monday Meetups.

So, keep your eyes on this site, twitter, facebook, and we’ll let you know where the Monday Meetups will be, and in the meantime, let’s play some games on Wednesday.

Alpha 40 – revisited

A while back, I wrote about building my Alpha 40 deck and getting some games in with it over the winter holidays. Well, it’s now Spring, and I’ve gotten to play even more games and picked up a few choice upgrades that I figured I’d share.

So it’s a little more than 40…

The first thing to notice is that it’s definitely more than 40 cards now. To me, an all Alpha format hearkens back to being young, naive, and unknowing about all things Magic, so more cards = larger deck. I am eschewing other colors, which is in itself idiosyncratic of the “I cracked a Starter and some boosters and shuffled up” outlook I try to uphold, but the prices of Islands and the difficulties of 3 colors, let alone 4-5 are enough to keep that in check.

my calling card

An early surprise was finding that my deck was missing a Fog. This is a serious omission, in my opinion, from any deck that runs Green. I know that threats are what win games, but a well timed Fog can make all the difference, and even if not, it generally means you get another turn. I personally love this card in multiplayer games as a way to garner favor from another player by saving them. I’ll give you all a piece of insight into my habits; if I can run a Fog effect in a deck (ie, it’s available in the format and on color), I will.

All around good set of pickups

The next set of cards were what allowed me to really grow beyond 40. I was dangerously low on creature threats, so two more Mammoths and the lands to allow me to cast them, as well as more Mountains to ensure I can cast a Disintegrate when needed, were very much needed. I also made the decision that Paralyze would be the card that I’d run more than four of, since it does a lot of work vs creature heavy builds, which, let’s face it, are most of what is faced in casual A40. Stream ended up not being fantastic but is iconic, so I leave it in, but it might not make the 60 card cut.

Three staple cards

The next set of cards I picked up were a bit more strategic than others which tended to be more “those are on color and affordable”. Giant Growth is the original combat trick, and looks fantastic in Alpha printing. Stone Rain, like Stream of Life, probably won’t make the final 60 card cut as there aren’t that many problematic lands in this format, unlike Old School 93/94. Which leave Drain Life. This card, although tough because it’s basically an X spell that requires B, can be a finisher or as removal, making it a good tool for the box.

Channel + Disintegrate is online

Channel plus an X spell is basically the first combo of Magic history, so being able to pull that off is just awesome. I picked this up off a sale from Face to Face games, and still can’t believe I have it. Every time it comes up in a game, I get excited about what it can do. So far, it’s combined with Disintegrate a fair number of times, but my favorite two plays with it were:

  • Turn two Channel -> Obsianus Golem. I know it’s not a good play, but it was awesome
  • Channel in precombat main phase, play out a Throne of Bone from it, then in combat hit for lethal with Howl From Beyond

I didn’t get to play in The Winter Blast, but I did manage to get in some Alpha games between rounds with Owen, during which we were both giddy to cast Spiders and Elves and such. If I recall correctly, we went 1:1 in our first match up and had a tie breaker, but don’t recall how it panned out. I know I did Channel Disintegrate for lethal in one game, a definite highlight.

gorgeous old cards with good people

At The Tundra Wolves Challenge 2 last weekend, the only decks I brought with me were my tournament deck (Wolf Tribal, obviously) and my Alpha deck, and I was determined to get some games in. When we arrived, I immediately started asking if there were Alpha players and was immediately pointed toward a dude in the corner. I sat across from him and said “I hear you play Alpha”, and within minutes we had a 5 player free for all going. One player was even on a mono black Alpha 60 deck for the tournament! Between rounds we also managed a handful of games where some of the great lines of play included Firebreathing Grizzly Bears made unblockable by Dwarven Warriors getting in for damage, and loads of Sengirs eating creatures and players alike. I even saw a Lord of the Pit hit the board!

casual 5 player a40 game in Montreal

I don’t know what my own Alpha journey looks like at this point in time. I recently won a random ebay auction that I low bid on and ended up winning, which consisted of Fire Elemental, Fear, and Fireball, so I’m certain that the two red spells will go in, and that those three put me at 62 cards, meaning I need to cut some things and should probably look at getting another Mountain or two. I still love white, and fantasize about a Banding deck, but I know that I’d want things like Serra Angel, Disenchant, and Swords in it, all of which are a small fortune to pickup, and I really should be focusing on getting the remaining dual lands I want.

All in all, the Alpha Journey has slowed considerably, but is still moving along. Being able to play something is more important to me than playing an optimal deck, and these niche formats (such as ABU 60 and Revised 40) really go a long way towards getting suboptimal cards into decks. I am surprised to see how many people have gotten in on A40, and really need to finalize my cam setup to get more games in.

The Winter Blast 2019 Wrap Up

Editor’s note, this is very image heavy and quite a long read. Probably should have split it up, but here we are. Also, I forgot to get a group photo and a photo of the winner 🙁

Well, it’s been a few weeks since the first Winter Blast occurred, and this post is far later than I’d originally planned, but thanks to Joel, at least we were able to give some insight into the experience before now. I’ll start off with some of my own thoughts and experiences as the organizer and then get into decks and standings.

my card from the pool

Leading up to the Saturday, I had a laundry list of things to cross off before go time, and I think that I did a reasonable job of getting most of them taken care of. One big wrench in the operation was going to San Fran for a week for work, one week before the big day, which meant missing the meeting to finish paying for the space, meaning I had to frantically call and hope that I could pay later or send someone else to pay. The venue only takes cash and checks; very not 21st century. I am not good at delegating, unless they are things completely outside of my wheelhouse, or are things I know a specific person will enjoy, such as Chris making the awesome 93/94 Spotify Playlist (and indulging me in some heavy, less accessible stuff I wanted on there). This meant doing loads of things on my own, and the most important one was making certain that I’d secured the prizes ahead of time. Face to Face Toronto had generously offered to donate the prizes, but working out a time for two parents who also work full time and live/work on opposite ends of Toronto to meetup proved very difficult, resulting in this being a Thursday-before-the-event meeting. It all worked out fantastically though as Kelly was amazingly generous and just kept pulling cool cards and adding them to the pile. At one point, he asked me if some card would be a good prize, and I stepped back and said “at this point, Kelly, it’s whatever you are comfortable throwing in” because we’d already fulfilled every card I had on my list.

Jason Rombouts made these amazing Chaos Orb height checkers/table numbers

Saturday morning, we arrived at 10am to get setup, and the venue finally let us in around 10:15. We had to scramble to find enough tables, which was a bit of an issue. I was assured there’d be plenty, but once everything was set up, we had room for 6 more people at a table, and that was it. No big deal though. Friends were there helping get everything ready, and I forgot the prize cards, so I had to drive home in a very dangerously slippery snowfall to grab them, about 30 minutes before go-time. We got started about 40 minutes later than I’d wanted, which ended up crunching the day a lot, and we somehow missed one registrant in the pairings, so I dropped and gave him my spot. Definitely for the best as I don’t see how I could have played and kept things rolling.

Scribbled’em up real purdy like

After round one, we had all of the community prize pool cards laid out for people to sign, and all of the raffle prizes out and on display. During round 3 we ordered pizza (thanks to Jae for organizing that, Kelly for buying, and players for donating money), which was eaten after round 4, iirc. We also had the Chaos Orb flip contest that was a load of fun. In order to streamline it, we set up 4 stations on a table and had people come up, hand over their money, and start flipping. When they missed, the next person in the queue came up, paid and got started. The prize was a Revised Tropical Island, and the winner was Joel. It took him 3 entries to finally get past the 17 hump, but he got there.

Joel with his Chaos Orb flip winnings

We also had a “guess the card” contest, that I completely failed to take photos of, that involved 16 old school cards placed backwards in dark sleeves w/ small windows cut out of the sleeves to reveal bits of the card. This one had a tie, so I had to think quickly, and decided to have the two finalists write down the artists for all 16 cards, which was very close, but Morgan pulled off the win by a single artist. He took home a Presence of the Master and a signed Anson Maddocks’ art print of Serendib Efreet.

prizes w/ a terrible glare

Next up we had the raffle drawing that was super hot. People were very into the donated prizes, with the Chaos Orb mat being a fan favorite.

Tedin and Maddocks early MTG poster
Signed Anson Hurloon Minotaur print, LE Signed Chaos Orb playmat
CE Serra Angel, UNL Icy, Signed Anson Lannowar print
Cyclopean mummy LE print and signed artist proof

Round 6, the final round of Swiss, was finally upon us and there were was a single 5-0-0 and several 4-1-0 players vying for the win. A huge upset, which required a Judge ruling (seriously Brendan?!?) resulted in 4-1-0 Brendan defeating the undefeated Joe, but the victory was short lived as Joe had a better record and still came out on top.

The final standings

And then came the moment everyone was waiting for; the prizes. First up, we had prizes for the spiciest decks, which consisted of an altered Shai Hulud, I mean Elder Land Wurm, that went to Owen for his super rad all Legends deck, and a CE Hurricane that went to Beverly for a creative mono-green Thallid deck that went so wide! We did a sufficient job of making the community pool prizes beyond valuable for those who participated, as well as provided some other wonderful cards. The way I arranged it was starting at the bottom, each player was called to come to the table and choose one signed card and one prize card, which meant that everyone had something pretty cool, and thanks to the generosity of Face to Face, we had more than enough cards for everyone, so even the top placed players got some decent cards, imho.

The spice must flow

Decklists in semi-random order

Andrew Ruschpler – Black Rack
James Everson – RB
Jon Teigesser – Dreams Combo
Joe Schacher – Sweet Void Control
Morgan Criger – Black on Both Sides
James Duncan – The Deck
Beverly Strain – Thallids
Eric Do – Thrull Disco
Jeff Follett – Erhnam-Burnem
John Little – Mono Black
Andrew Donut Boy Oyen – Jeskai Aggro
Matt Michels – Mono Black
Micah Bates – GB
Dave Lee – Troll Aggro
Nate Campbell – Suicide Blue Black
Joe DiClemente – White Weenie
James Flanagan – Red Sligh
Louis Emond – Spider Stompy
Patrick Burt – Nether Reanimator
Owen Fletcher – Legends of the Hidden Temple – Karakas
Jeff Rowbotrom – Rowbots
Tony Van Veen – Pink Weenie
Chris Suppa – Arboria Mill
Chris Anderson – UWb
Christian Brellisford – Panic at the Disco
Rick Blaschke – Mono Black
Karthik Sundaresan – 4C Aggro Control
Raymond Mitchell – ‘Geddonless ‘Geddon
Joel Bowers – White Weenie
Paolo Vago – Green ‘zerk
John O’Keefe – Miami Vise
Derek Shank – UWR Control
Jason Pilarski – Robots
Jackie Reed – White Weenie
Aaron Bowers – Channel Fireball
Josh Jones – Petri Dish
Nick Chen – 4C Zoo
Barry Foss
Brendan Yeats – Pink Weenie
Jason Rombouts – Zoo

Tundra Wolves Challenge 2

I know that all of you are chomping at the bit to get all the details from this weekend’s tournament, but that’ll have to wait a few days (it’s a lot to sift through). Right now, I want to promote the next big Canadian Old School Event; The Tundra Wolves Challenge 2! It’s happening in Montreal, 23-34 March, starting with a team Legacy/Old School duo event, where the winners get free entry into the main Old School event, and then the next day is top 8 and casual games at a Sugar Shack.


Some of us Torontonians are making the trek up-country to participate in this as it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’ll also be nice to strengthen the Canadian Old School bonds with new faces and see some of the Ottawa folks who came out for The Winter Blast. Facebook event link is here, for anyone interested in coming out for it.

If you need more convincing, check out some pics from their last event.

Monday Meetup Update

It’s been a bit quiet here on the blog as most of my attention is directed at The Winter Blast, but that doesn’t mean that nothing’s been happening.

We had a scare that turned into more of a low grade worry approximately 2 weeks ago when our usual Monday haunt, The Bar With No Name, announced that they are closing soon, and then announced their final draft night last week. We assumed that meant they were going to be closed this last Monday, 25 Feb 2019, causing us to frantically search for a replacement locale. Turns out that they will be open until the end of March, so we can kick that can down the road until at least after this weekend. Huge relief there.

monday's turnout
Monday’s turnout

Our latest meetup had a great turnout of players as well as a few observers and traders who swung by to hang out and meet the community. I got in games against 4 or 5 different players and learned that Green Weenie is pretty solid in game 1 vs most decks and then deteriorates quickly post sideboarding. I don’t have a board for it, which is something I should get on for the weekend to improve my chances of winning a round or 2.

Orb flipping!

And here’s a little cell phone video of a Chaos Orb flip, being flipped like a coin! Super fun to see and this table saw some great games with impressive decks. One is almost entirely signed and the other is entirely Alpha and Antiquities!

Next update will most likely be a tournament report/update in the next week or so.

Donations and Prizes

The first ever Winter Blast is a mere 6 days away, so we’re in full blown “cross the Ts and dot the Is mode” around here. As such, some folks have stepped up, volunteered, and/or donated time, skills, and/or donations to the cause. We had Morgan design up these rad 90s style flyers that we distributed all over Magic Fest Toronto.

quarter sheet flyer

Next we’ve had a local player, Jae, reach out and offer tons of great ideas as well as donating time and resources to helping make the day even more awesome. He’s donated a Limited Edition Artist Print, 125/250, from the late 90s, as well as soliciting a donation from Hairy Tarantula in the form of what just might be the first MtG poster ever printed, or at least from very early on, with art by Mark Tedin and Anson Maddocks.


In addition to the above items and assistance, I’ve had several other donations that will be used as random prizes for things, and also had a special music playlist created for the day by my friend Suppa. I’ve not spoiled all the good stuff, but hopefully this gives you all a good idea of what to expect for the day.

So all in all, this coming Saturday is looking to be a spectacular day, full of fun, prizes, cards, and all sorts of good vibes.

Media Promos in Old School

Editor’s note: There’s recently been some more sleuthing and it was pointed out that the copyright on the Windseeker Centaur is 1995, which explains why it’s not actually legal in 93/94, despite the book being available in 1994. According to a post to an mtg usenet group in January 1995, people had not received the cards yet as they were still with Carta Mundi.
So I guess that makes it pretty officially not-93/94 playable.

Over in the Old School Discord, one of the players posted a Dragon themed deck that includes Nalathni Dragon and we started discussing the various media promos of the era. I mentioned Windseeker Centaur, a card they’d not heard of, leading me to dig into it a bit more. I thought it was printed in 1996, so certainly not Old School Legal, but lo-and-behold it was actually printed in November 1994!

pic from bugdoodles tumblr

Reading the rules as published by Eternal Central, they clearly omit this sweet red, vigilant, Centaur, while the Swedes full on explicitly state that it’s not allowed. According to MTG Gamepedia, Windseeker Centaur was the first Centaur, and was included as an insert in the novel Whispering Woods, which has a publication date of 1994 November, leading me to believe that this card should be legal, alongside Arena, Nalathni Dragon, and Sewers of Estwark. I have no idea why it’s omitted and not allowed in the two most popular rulesets, but it seems odd to me.

Personally, I could see the Centaur doing pretty well in a Big Red or Zoo deck. A 2/2 Vigilant for 1RR isn’t terrible for the format, and given the general power level of most creatures in old school, it seems fairly on curve. The double red is a bit rough, not not terrible to build around.

Not sure if that’s a flail or a decorative sphere on the spear, but it’s awesome

The art on this card is pretty great, as is to be expected of Anson Maddocks. I particularly appreciate that it’s a female warrior wearing not overly sexualized armor that looks mostly practical. I mean, the obvious breast cups are still strange, but are a very common trope in fantasy art (how else would we know this warrior is a female? :eyeroll:), and are still better than chain mail bikinis and exposed skin that is rife in the fantasy art world. Unrelated to Magic, but I recently read this fantastic post about how revolutionary Warhammer was in it’s early years when compared to the rest of its scifi/fantasy contemporaries, so this sort of art observation has been on my mind. I know that the original designers of Magic worked hard to desexualize women and to be inclusive of persons of color (although I can no longer find the specific article about this era), which I greatly appreciate, and feel like it deserves more attention than it usually gets, but that’s outside of the depth of this post. Back to the look of the card, these media promos were printed with similar tones and saturation as 4th edition, but in black border, so they look great, even if they do have a date line on them.

To conclude this ramble, I’m not sure why the lowly red centaur isn’t included in the major rulesets for the format, because from my limited research of release dates, it certainly seems like it should be. I’d allow it at our events anyway. As always, if any of you mtg historians are reading this, I’d love more details on this decision. We definitely got more information about this, and got to the bottom of it’s legality in the format. Sadly, but not surprisingly, I was wrong.

Great Mail Day

A feature that I absolutely love is seeing all of the mail day posts on various social media outlets.  Not only does it show off cool cards, but it also gives insight into the posters’ ideas, plans, and collections.  It’s easy to get caught up in all of the deck pics with full Power and a bunch of black bordered cards and be disparaged by not having those, or feeling a pressure to play those kinds of decks.  The truth of most of the old school world is that there’s a ton of people playing Revised, Chronicles, and 4th Edition cards and having a blast doing so.  But, this post is about mail.  Specifically one package that I’ve been anxiously awaiting for some time now.

Sadly, the ink rubbed off in the envelope, but that says Anson Maddocks Art.  You see, earlier in the year, I came across a fundraiser to help out a fellow Magic player, David, whom I’ve never met, but dude was in need of assistance, and the person who organized the fundraiser had come up with some amazing incentives to donate.  Now, I’m not going to sit here and claim to be entirely altruistic, and I’m sure that loads of us see GoFundMe’s for strangers all the time and scroll passed them, but this one that Kevin had organized, well, it was different.  It wasn’t just a GFM link on FaceBook, no, it was a story about friendships and Magic, written up on a definitively old school looking website.  This spoke to me, and since I had a good job at the time, I sent over some money to these strangers and notified Kevin that I’d done so, in order to be entered into the raffle.  Well, some time passed and I’d basically forgotten about it, but then I received an email from Kevin telling me that I’d won one of the raffle prizes. Not just any raffle prize though, I won the Grand Prize, the Anson Maddocks Visa for Life! Now, I’m not an art collector, and am not overly into autographs or alters, although my opinion on the former has certainly changed over time, but I was definitely excited for this.  I’d entered this before this website existed and certainly before I had started planning any local tournaments.

The contents

That has now changed, what with The Winter Blast coming up in March, as well as some other opportunities in the works, so my mind has been filled with ways to ensure the events are successful, fun, and offer something for everyone.  Spike players will be happy to have bragging rights of winning the tournament and getting some sweet loot out of it.  We plan to reward unPowered decks and spicy decks, to help satisfy the other player types. Chaos Orb flips and another secret challenge will be ways for people to compete without having to worry about their deck/card pool/Magic Skills, so I think that activities are pretty well covered.  Now that I’ve figured out the “what to do”, it comes down to the “how to reward these things” part of planning, and since all proceeds are for charity, I want to ensure that we raise a decent amount of money.  A large chunk of the entrance fee is eaten up by renting the venue, so I’m planning on the side events to have small entrance fees that hopefully will add up to a decent amount of extra for the the Red Door Family Shelter, and this mail day is giving me good ideas.


I did a little research in the old school discord to see what sorts of things folks would like to see as prizes and used that as input into my acquisitions, which should be here soon. You’ll have to wait until (closer to) The Winter Blast to see them though.

Alpha 40

Alpha puppies!

There’s a relatively new kid on the old school Magic block. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say “kid” since it’s actually 25 years old, but I think it’s fair to say that there are more games of Magic happening nowadays with only Limited Edition Alpha cards than there have been since 1993.

I’m not sure how it all got started, but I have a hunch that it started as a funny thing to do, and then the internet got a hold of it and ran with it, as it is wont to do. If you know the actual history, I’d love to hear it. I know that there is the Wizard’s Tournament, first hosted in 2018 in Gothenburg, so I assume there must have been people playing it casually before that. But that was the first I heard about, so that’s my starting point.

At first, I thought it was ludicrous for most of the reasons pointed out by Magnus in the above post. However, it planted a seed. When I got back into Magic, just before Theros, I placed an order for some cards and thought “Jason, you’ve never owned an Alpha card, let’s buy one” so I picked up a Throne of Bone for three Canadian Dollars. Not a playable card, but it was cheap and Alpha. It lived in my binder as a fun thing to look at. Fast forward to 2018, when that tiny Alpha seed was planted and I realized that I’m 1/39th of the way towards an Alpha deck, and so it began.

my first alpha pickups

Anyone who is into Old School, or really any niche collectors even outside of CCGs, will tell you that the hunt is a huge part of the fun. It’s why collectors often sell the things they hunted; once they have it, it’s less interesting, so they’re soon after the next thing. Now, I have no intentions on selling my Alpha cards anytime soon, but damn if the hunt isn’t exhilarating! Granted, it’s easy nowadays to go to any online retailer, add some cards to your cart, enter your credit card details and buy all the things, but that’s not totally fun. Since I didn’t want to break the bank on an Alpha deck, I used a lot of store credit and also hunted for good deals on beat up cards.

Initially, I planned to go mono-black so as to maximize my returns on the Throne, but as I started looking at sweet cards, and thinking back to my early days with Unlimited and Revised, I realized that what I really wanted was a deck that wasn’t quite “cracked a starter deck, cut it down to 40, let’s rock” level, but also no “I bought 18 dual lands, let’s rock” level either. Some happy medium that’s akin to having bought a deck and maybe a few packs, or traded some cards to get a little more consistency out of the deck. Surprisingly, I eschewed my favorite color, White, while unsurprisingly ignored Blue (Islands are expensive!), which left me with RBG. These are three colors that I’m pretty comfortable with and have loads of options. But before that conscious decision was made, I was at a somewhat local card shop and found a beat up Alpha Giant Spider for $2 Canadian and had to have it. That’s how I ended up with Green in my mono-Black deck. As for Red, similarly, I saw someone selling some Disintegrates for cheap, so I scooped those and my RBG deck was born!

initial incarnation

It took me close to 8 months to get to a complete forty card deck, and it’s been absolutely worth it. Due to a strange ebay/shipping/tracking mistake, and my impatience (in my defense I waited more than 60 days before giving up on the card arriving) I ended up with two Alpha Timber Wolves, that bring me smiles and joy every single time I draw them. But enough about the individual cards.

Very first hand

How is playing Alpha 40, you might ask? Plain and simple, it’s a blast. My first games came over winter holiday while in Ohio. I’d made a joke in Discord to someone about “if you can make it to Dayton, Ohio, we can play!” because I didn’t have a laptop with me. Someone else chimed in that they were in fact in that city and would like to play. One night after the kids were in bed, I went out to a LGS and met up with Tylur and his buddy to play some games. I somehow managed to leave the country without my actual old school deck, but had my Alpha 40 with me, so that’s mostly what we played. Let me tell you, facing down Craw Wurms or hordes of Ironclaw Orcs is intimidating in a format where there aren’t really archetypes and answers aren’t necessarily easy to come by. That night, I learned that Fear is a real card, when my T1 Scryb Sprites, which I enchanted on T3, went the entire distance doing 20 damage to my opponent, who was on a mono-green build, with a wall of useless Giant Spiders.

Did not go well for me

The next time I played was at the first Monday Meetup of the year. I got smoked. My opponent has a gorgeous, and lethal deck that is basically a Pink Sligh variant that has 8 Savannah Lions, some similar number of Ironclaw Orcs, Crusades, Swords to Plowshares, Bolt, Fireball, and Disenchants. It’s a thing to behold, and immensely powerful. I think we played 5 games and I didn’t land a single point of damage, and I loved every single game. My opponent was even awesome enough to offer to trade decks for a game so I could pilot it. That’s the real spirit of Magic.

swapped decks

To wrap this all up, Alpha 40 is very expensive, so it deviates quite far from my personal views of “play what you’ve got and have fun”, but there is something special about it. I foresee more economical variants becoming much more commonplace in the coming months, and welcome them with open arms.

Magic as Garfield Intended