Once upon a time, there was no Standard, no Modern, and no Legacy. There wasn't even a Type 1 or Type 2. There was only Magic, and you played it with the best deck you could cobble together. Card acquisition was difficult because every set prior to Fallen Empires sold out almost immediately. There were no deck databases. There was no StarCityGames. This world belonged to Dark Ritual and Counterspell, Black Lotus and Erhnam Djinn. This was 1994.
I was nine years old in 1994, and I thought that Magic was a new Sega game. I perked up once I saw a few people playing Magic with shuffled-up Revised starter decks in the school cafeteria, but my personal foray into the world of the CCG didn't really begin until 1995.
If you were a gamer kid in the nineties, you remember the smirk on your friend's face when he drew that one card you couldn't ever beat. It was always an old spell from an expansion that had been out of print for years, and the jerk wouldn't trade it even if you offered him the three best cards in your deck. It was frustrating and unfair, but there was no better feeling in the world than the taste of victory when you finally figured out how to beat him using some combination of Thrull Champion, Goblin Wizard, Blood of the Martyr, and abject confusion. Hey, a win's a win, even when you only 'won' because the bell for fifth period rang before the end of the game, right?
Those days are long gone now. The game is different, card availability isn't a problem, and the best players in the world have their decklists plastered all over the internet. That isn't a bad thing-Magic is better today than it has ever been-but the nostalgia is real for those of us who remember what the game was like back when Mirror Universe and Chaos Orb were mythical schoolyard legends.
Recreating this is the impetus behind Old School Magic, a group of casual but dedicated magicians attempting to bring back the wild and giddy atmosphere of 1994. It's a small movement, and I doubt it'll ever be popular enough to drive prices like Cube or Commander, but it's still worth talking about from a financial perspective.
The old school formats are expensive, but every single card in them has collectors' value that can't be hurt through reprinting, banning, or anything else short of a complete collapse of the Magic economy. These are cards that haven't gone down in price since the first Jurassic Park film left theaters, and I can't think of any safer investment in the game. If you've got a bunch of cards in your binder and you're looking for a new long-term financial goal, Old School Magic might be right for you.
Tell me more about this 'Old School Magic.' What sets can I play with?
It depends! The most popular variant is called 93/94, and it only allows cards from Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, and Edgar/Summer Magic. Even though Fallen Empires was printed in 1994, the creators of 93/94 believe that the format should be limited to sets that were never easily available on store shelves. To them, the difficulty of card acquisition is part of the appeal of the format, and Fallen Empires was overprinted to the point of non-inclusion.
There are a few other old school variants as well, though they are less popular. 1995 Magic includes all of the 93/94 sets plus Revised, Fallen Empires, Chronicles, Homelands, Ice Age, and Alliances as well as the Arena book promos. There's also a Northern California 93/94 variant that allows Revised, Fallen Empires, and Chronicles.
Can you play 93/94 with proxies, reprints, or Italian Legends cards?
Nope! No proxies are allowed in Old School Magic, and that includes reprints. The current 93/94 rules specify that all cards have to be in English, but some local groups don't enforce this policy.
Is 93/94 played with the game's original rules? Is there mana burn? What about the stack?
93/94 is played with the current rulebook. This is mostly because there are a lot of holes in the game's original rules, and playing with them is a good way to frustrate everyone. For instance, the Alpha rulebook's answer to 'what happens when a bunch of instants and interrupts are played at the same time?' is 'please try not to do this.' The original rulebook also encourages people to solve rules disagreements by flipping a coin. Playing Magic like this is no fun.
What about the banned and restricted list? Is it the same one that Magic used back in 1994?
Nope! Banned and Restricted lists were pretty weird back in the day. The first official DCI B&R list stated that you could only play with one of each artifact and you couldn't have more than five artifacts total in your deck. Orcish Oriflame and Dingus Egg was restricted, but Library of Alexandria wasn't. Much like the original rules, this is not a part of Magic's history worth revisiting.
The 93/94 B&R list has been managed and curated for today's savvy deckbuilders. Here it is:
Banned: All ante cards.
Restricted: Ancestral Recall, Balance, Black Lotus, Black Vise, Braingeyser, Channel, Chaos Orb, Demonic Tutor, Fork, Library of Alexandria, Mana Drain, Maze of Ith, Mind Twist, Mishra's Workshop, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Recall, Regrowth, Shahrazad, Sol Ring, Strip Mine, Time Vault, Time Walk, Timetwister, Wheel of Fortune.
Wait, so Chaos Orb is LEGAL in this format? How does that work?
I'm glad you asked! Chaos Orb has the following errata:
1, Tap: Choose a non-token permanent on the battlefield. If Chaos Orb is on the battlefield, flip Chaos Orb onto the battlefield from a height of at least one foot. If Chaos Orb turns over completely at least once during the flip, and touches the chosen permanent, destroy that permanent. Then destroy Chaos Orb.
This allows you to have all of the fun of having a dexterity card without having to deal with people spreading their permanents all over the table to prevent the Orb from hitting five things at once. In 93/94, you have to call your Orb shot and hit it.
93/94 and Vintage couldn't be more different. Even though Vintage allows you to play with those older power cards, you still need tons of newer cards like Yawgmoth's Will, Tendrils of Agony, Gush, or Young Pyromancer to build a competitive Vintage deck. As Magic evolves, so does Vintage. After all, many of today's decks kill with Monastery Mentor tokens.
What are the best decks in the format?
93/94 is the most popular Old School Magic variant, and they also have the best record keeping. For the purposes of this article, then, I'm going to focus exclusively on 93/94 decks. Things are obviously different if you're playing the 1995 format and have access to Mana Crypt and Force of Will.
It's worth nothing that 93/94 is a pretty causal format and most of these decks are labors of love, not finely tuned war machines.
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Chaos Orb
- 3 Fellwar Stone
- 4 Jayemdae Tome
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Copy Artifact
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 4 Counterspell
- 4 Disenchant
- 3 Lightning Bolt
- 1 Mana Drain
- 3 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Balance
- 1 Braingeyser
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Fireball
- 1 Mind Twist
- 1 Recall
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Timetwister
The Deck is one of the oldest 'best decks' in Magic. It combines removal, countermagic, and all of the most powerful restricted cards in the format in an attempt to do as many broken and efficient things as possible.
Jayemdae Tome is a four-of in this deck, and it's still relatively affordable for an A/B/U rare. You can grab an MP Beta copy for $30 on Star City Games, and the Unlimited version is just six bucks.
Recall is another solid pickup for anyone interested in 93/94. It's a powerful enough card in the format to garner well-deserved restriction, and the NM Legends version is just $6 as well.
Note the clutch singleton copy of Giant Shark in the sideboard. Winning is not the most important thing when playing 93/94, and most of the tournaments don't have a prize beyond a fairly affordable card signed by all of the participants.
Ehrnam Djinn is one of the biggest creatures in the format, and it's wildly undercosted at four mana. The forestwalk drawback is pretty easy to overcome when you can take out everyone's lands, and this Ehrnamgeddon deck is great at dropping a big threat before locking its opponent out of the game.
It's worth mentioning that both of these decks run four copies of Disenchant. Not only are artifacts really important in 93/94, but Mishra's Factory is a common four-of in aggro decks. In these matchups, Disenchant is a more versatile Stone Rain. In others, it can take out half of your opponents' permanents. Alpha and Beta copies of Disenchant are easy to grab for $10 each, and they're among the coolest and most powerful cards in the whole format.
You can snag an MP Ehrnam Djinn for just $20 as well, and a NM Unlimited copy of Armageddon is just fifteen bucks. Psionic Blast is probably the best buy on this list, though. It's a stable in many of the best 93/94 decks, and NM Beta copies are still easy to get for $25 retail.
Birds of Paradise is going to be a harder purchase to justify, unfortunately-even Unlimited copies go for $60 these days.
While the first two decks existed in some form back in 1994, this Atog brew is a little more modern. The deck is full of burn, artifact acceleration, and a few powerful artifact beaters, some of which provide reach to pair with your bolts. Atog plays a similar role here as Psychatog did back in Odyssey block - once you think you can win in a single hit, feed your board to the hungry critter and swing in.
This deck doesn't need a single dual land, so it's closer to budget end of the spectrum. Juggernaut is a one of the first things you'll need to buy if you build this, and Beta copies are a decently affordable $30 each. $10 for an Antiquities copy of Triskelion isn't bad, either-the iconic robot artwork really pops in its original black-bordered form.
Mana Vault won't come cheap, but the Unlimited copy looks good at $30 compared to (shudder) $600 for Beta or $800 for Alpha.
If you're looking for a budget deck, this WWr deck is a great place to start. It operates fine without the dual lands and Moxes, and you can lock in the rest of the list for a couple hundred bucks. As long as you're okay attacking for two instead of sitting back and playing control, this sort of white weenie brew is a good direction to head in.
Thunder Spirit is among the most expensive 'must-have' cards, but $20 for a Legends rare is a fine deal. Unlimited Savannah Lions will set you back a not-bad $15 each, and Crusade is just $10. I'm almost positive that you can play the deck without City in a Bottle, but $20 for such a unique rare doesn't seem that bad to me. Worst case, owing an odd piece of Magic history is never a bad thing.
This is the 93/94 deck that excites me the most. When older players lament the unplayability of mono-black in current formats, this is the sort of deck that they're pining for. Mind Twist? Hypnotic Specter? Sinkhole? There's nothing this deck can't do.
Juzam Djinn is $250, and it isn't played in any other format, but it's still one of the better buys on this list. For many years, Juzam Djinn was second only to Black Lotus in terms of iconic cards. It was the creature of 93/94, and having access to it is one of the best reasons to play black. The price hasn't grown in years, but it won't take too much interest in this format before it starts to creep up at least a little bit.
If none of these decks appeal to you, there are plenty more listed in the 'decks to beat' section of the Old School Magic blog. A few more highlights:
- A five-color burn deck featuring multiple copies of The Abyss.
- A blue-based artifact deck that runs cards like Amnesia, Mirror Universe, Forcefield, and Transmute Artifact.
- A Twiddle/Time Vault deck that locks the game down with Stasis.
- A Temur-colored Zoo deck with Kird Ape and Elvish Archers.
- An Izzet burn deck built around The Dark powerhouse Electric Eel.
- A control/combo deck with Guardian Beast, Sol'Kanar, the Swamp King, and Vesuvan Doppelganger.
If 93/94 ever really takes off, the first thing we'll see is a massive spike in the price of Unlimited cards. They're not as expensive as they should be based on their relative scarcity, but that discrepancy is easy enough to explain. The people willing to pay a premium would much rather have the much cooler Alpha and Beta cards, while the people who don't care how their spells look can buy Revised copies of everything in Unlimited for much less.
Will this happen? I doubt it. 93/94 will probably remain a niche format. If an old school variant does take off, I'd imagine it'll be one that includes Revised cards for accessibility reasons. Because of that, I recommend holding off on most of your Unlimited purchases and trying to go for Alpha and Beta copies whenever possible. These are the cards that keep going up in price and will remain both expensive and easy to sell should you ever decide to part with your collection. You'll probably need to supplement your purchases with Unlimited cards when it comes to power and $600-$800 spells like Birds of Paradise and Mana Vault, but I'd recommend holding out for black-bordered cards whenever you can.
I'm sold! Where can I play Old School Magic?
Accessibility is the biggest problem with all of the old school variants. It's a format deliberately designed to be expensive, elitist, and hard to play. Most of the 93/94 action right now takes place in Sweden-the format was invented in Gothenburg in 2007-but there are small communities all over Europe and parts of the US. Your best bet is to find a couple of interested people in your city and start hosting your own tournaments. Everyone's decks will probably be pretty bad to start with, but that's part of the format's charm. Just like back in 1994, getting a powerful card to enhance your deck is supposed to be a big deal.
If you want more information about Old School Magic, I suggest checking out theOld School page on Eternal Central as well as the invaluable Old School MTG blog that acts as the de-facto home for 93/94. Both sites host decklists (mostly in image form) and have some scattered tournament info. You're going to have to dig pretty hard for most of your information, but isn't that exactly how 93/94 should be?
This Week's Trends
Let's get the big news out of the way first: Modern Masters is here! Many people (including me) are pretty excited for the new set, but overall demand has been softer than expected. Box prices are down across the board, and card values are dropping in tandem. Could we be looking at the early stages of a crash?
I highly doubt it. People are overestimating supply and underestimating the quality of the set right now. Many players were put off by the number of bulk rares included in Modern Masters 2015 and are underrating the quality of the mythic rares. At some point soon, the trend should reverse and prices will start to climb again. I'm a buyer for boxes at sub-retail prices, and now is a great time to start thinking about buying whatever Modern Masters 2015 singles you need.
The other big Modern Masters news sweeping the internet last week had to do with the idea that the booster pack wrapping is extremely easy to tamper with. A YouTube video showing a pair of hands opening a flap, taking out the pack contents, replacing them with basic lands, and replacing the flap in a matter of seconds went viral. Is it really that easy to scam people with Modern Masters 'repacks?'
Wanting to see for myself, I bought a couple of Modern Masters packs from my trustworthy LGS earlier today. I wanted to see if I could really tamper with a Modern Masters pack to the point where I could open them up, take out the rare, and re-seal the packs well enough to fool an unsuspecting trade partner.
The first thing I learned is that the video failed to show the part where every flap in a Modern Masters pack is sealed with some kind of industrial adhesive. I tried to open the bottom flap with an x-acto knife, but I screwed up and ripped the paper. I was able to pull out the cards, but the cardboard was full of dings and the interior flap was pretty well destroyed. There's no way I could have passed the pack of as legit.
I used a hair dryer to unseal the glue on my next effort. The first problem I ran into was that the glue on the top and bottom flaps are under two layers of cardboard that is also sealed by adhesive. If you want to get at those flaps, you have to nuke the entire pack with the hairdryer. I was able to do it, but the cardboard was warped and unusable afterward. There was no way I could have ever put it back together.
I went back to the knife for pack #3, this time opting for a larger blade. I still ripped a little bit of the paper, but this time I didn't damage the outer packaging. I pulled out the cards, grabbed the rare, put them back in, and re-sealed the flap with glue. It looked okay at first glance, but the glue didn't really match the industrial stuff that WotC used, and it was pretty easy to tell that something was up compared to a normal pack. If I'd used the right knife, purchased the right glue, and spent half a day trying to get the process down, I probably could have gotten the pack about 90% of the way there. It would have required a lot more trial and error, though.
If we see any pack tampering, I suspect that it'll come from the same sort of dodgy people who sell 'repacks' on eBay where they blatantly remove all of the good rares and re-sell the packs to people who 'just want to draft.' Don't buy unsealed boxes from untrusted retailers, especially online. Don't buy loose packs from people you don't know who are wandering around outside a tournament hall.
Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it. Major retailers like StarCityGames are never ever going to scam you. The LGS you've been playing at for six years isn't going to scam you. Your lazy buddy who kind of wants to see if he can buy a box, pull out the good cards, and dupe some unsuspecting newbies with repacks is going to get frustrated after two or three tries and give up. Gaming people with these packs is possible, but it's not as easy as that first video made it seem. Quite frankly, my bigger problem is how loose the cards are inside the packaging. It's very possible to open cards that aren't NM straight from a booster, and that really bothers me.
In other news, the Modern staples not included in MM15 have continued to rise. Crucible of Worlds, Blood Moon, Goblin Guide, Inkmoth Nexus, Creeping Tar Pit, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, Serum Visions, and Inquisition of Kozilek are all up again this week. Buying personal sets of these cards is fine, but be careful of anything that might be reprinted in Battle for Zendikar!
Heritage Druid also spiked this week, likely due to a speculator-fueled buyout. Modern Elves has started to see a little more play on MTGO, though, and a Morningtide uncommon that wasn't reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 certainly has scarcity on its side. I doubt it'll stay too far above $10, but it shouldn't drop back to $5 again either.
In the world of Standard, Deathmist Raptor, Collected Company, Dragonlord Dromoka, and Den Protector are still trending upward as players continue to refine the format's already dominant green-based strategies. Eidolon of the Great Revel is also continuing to rise in price, and it's starting to feel like the card is going to defy normal rotational economics. If you've got a set of, hold onto them for now.
Everything else in Standard is either holding steady or slowly dropping. As the eyes of the Magic world turn to Modern Masters and the multi-GP weekend, I doubt we'll see too much movement here. By the way - if you're attending Grand Prix Las Vegas, come say hello! I'll be hanging out all weekend long, and I'm always up for a chat or a draft.