Behind the scenes here at geocitiesofbrass, along with working to foster and nurture a thriving Toronto Old School/MTGUnderground community, we’ve been working towards something a little larger. At last night’s Monday Meetup, we debuted our plans for the first ever Winter Blast! What is a Winter Blast? you might ask. Well, it’s basically a day for Old School players from all around to get together, have a tournament, do some silly side events, buy and trade cards, and raise some money for charity.
So, without further ado, http://thewinterblast.ca or you can click on the Winter Blast 2019 link above. We hope to see a bunch of our regulars and ideally get some new faces out, and maybe even entice some out of towners to come and jam with us. It’s scheduled as an all day Saturday sort of thing, but it won’t be difficult to organize some casual side events for Friday/Sunday somewhere in town as well.
Now, I’m not exactly the superstitious type, but I really hope that I’m not jinxing anything by writing this so soon. Not superstitious but absolutely optimistic and the last two nights have been full of fun, optimism, meeting new people, playing against different decks, and generally forming bonds.
When my regular playgroup first played Old School and came up with this ridiculous website idea, I had high hopes of building something in the Toronto area. It’s been slow going due to life outside of card games, so I’ve basically only played Old School with those same folks and haven’t expanded much beyond them. We’ve had 2 or 3 other people come over once or twice, and that’s about it. Don’t misread that as criticism, we play often and it’s a rad group of folks! Going back to the origins though, I found a blog post about some players in Toronto way back in 2012 playing Old School, which I discovered via the Old School MtG blog and that got me thinking that there must be more players in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who would want to play. I’ve made some posts in the Toronto and Ontario Old School Facebook groups about getting together to play but didn’t have much uptake on those at all. Undaunted, I’ve still been trying to jam games, write the occasional post, and engage on Twitter with the fantastic #OldSchoolMtG community.
This week, I’ve had not one but two opportunities to get out and meet fellow lovers of old cardboard to play Magic! Monday night, I met up a stranger from Facebook at The Bar with No Name, a place that has regular Drafts and has a bit of a MtG theme to it, and after some quick introductions, food and drink orders were placed and we got down to it. He was on a Powered uW Flyers build whilst I started out with my Wolf Tribal deck. We played a few games, all of which he won, and then I switched over to my pet Candleflare deck for a few more games. Turns out that that deck of mine wasn’t actually a deck anymore as it had been pillaged and tweaked and as such only had 17 lands in it. Needless to say, I got run over in our four Strip Mine world, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures that night as I was too caught up in enjoying the moment, but I wish I could have captured the sequence of two Serra Angels in play, swing for 8, Time Walk, swing for 8, because that was so good!
One of the exciting things to happen that night was having other patrons, as well as the wait staff, come over and talk to us about old cards, the format, what formats they play, and their own origins in Magic. One dude went so far as to go out to his car to retrieve some pre-Shards of Alara decks he had out there, but he never returned to show them to us.
Then Tuesday night, the stars finally aligned for a twitter friend, Owen, and I to actually get out to play! We’ve been talking about it since June-ish, iirc, but being husbands and dads means that getting out to play cards isn’t always… well, in the cards. But last night it happened. We met up at Snakes & Lattes, a local gaming bar/cafe, and we were joined by my old friend Jonesy who lives around the corner, and was able to get out despite also having a little kiddo. Dads of the Magic community unite! As with Monday night, drinks were ordered and we quickly decided to just play three person free for all, rather than having one player sit out every match. Loads of decks came out this time! I had three with me, the aforementioned two plus my White Weenie deck, Jonesy is on a Troll Disco build, and Owen had mono-black Bad Moon, mono-red Orcs and Goblins, mono-green artifacts, and a final deck that I think was UW flyers, iirc. Most of the games were really between Owen and Jonesy, although my Wolves did have a decent run vs the more controlly decks. We got to see an Ifh-Bíff Efreet do a bunch of damage to everyone, a Rocket Launcher get in for some damage, lots of Chaos Orb flips, so many Strip Mines, Guardian Beast and Disk doing their thing together, and generally see old cards having fun.
The last game of the night saw Troll Disco vs Mono Red Orcs and Goblins vs White Weenie, and it was such a wonderful showcase of Old School possibilities. My turn one was very strong, Plains, Sol Ring, Chaos Orb, and I resolved an Argivian Archaeologist on turn 2, really hoping to be able to dig up my Orb a time or two, but sadly the Archaeologist was struck down by Lightning and buried alongside the artifact they never had a chance to discover. Nonetheless, the next turn saw me resolve Shahrazad, a card that all three of us were excited to see. So, we three, all at 12-13 life, set aside that game and started the subgame. My hand was 4 Plains and some removal, so I stuck with it, despite not having any real threats. Loads of back and forth, Orcish Artillery getting in and doing some serious damage, a Mana Clash that did a combined total of 8 damage between myself and Owen, multiple Disks being cracked, an Armageddon clearing the fields only to be followed up by a Disk to completely reset the subgame. I mean, this is what Magic is really about folks. In the end, I managed to win the subgame, taking them both down to 6 life, and eventually sealed the deal with double Crusades in play.
As I mentioned above, lots of dads in the Old School world, which I find very relieving. For folks without kids, it’s not as easy to empathize and understand how fickle children can be, resulting in it being difficult to make and hold plans. Of the limited number of players I know, three of our regular players (myself included) have kids, and the two fine gentlemen I met this week also had kids, both of which were basically in the same age ranges as my own kids. I find it personally very reassuring to have a community of people who I can bond with over sweet old cards while also being able to empathize and share our stories of having children and how that alters our lives.
To bring this back full circle, we’re going to try and get a semi-regular schedule going for games here in Toronto, most likely Monday nights around 9pm, at Bar with No Name. They don’t have a lot of space or the best lighting, but for the immediate future, where I foresee our numbers being in the <8 players, it should suffice, and unlike S&L, it’s free so long as you buy food and/or drinks. Keep an eye on the site for the next dates.
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.
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.