A New Project

If I have one small gripe about oldschool Magic, it's that modern deckbuilding allows us to optimize to a degree that was never possible back in the early 90s. You can't unlearn what you've learned, as they say. Coupled with access to basically all the cards we need (secondary market prices notwithstanding) and the instant and constant flow of information about decks and strategies, the world in which we play 93/94 is far different than that of 25 years ago. I'm not looking to debate whether this is a bug or a feature of the format, but suffice it to say that with it often comes a yearning for a less optimal deckbuilding culture and drive to better recreate what once was. Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

In the spirit of facing facts, this kind of mail day would historically have been supplanted by opening dozens of boosters, or maybe trading away some duals.

Some format variants (singleton/highlander and "Alpha 40" come to mind) seek to foster rawer decks by imposing additional restrictions on deckbuilding, card acquisition, and/or information. This is even one of the tenets of Swedish rules, and the main reason that "traditional" 93/94 doesn't allow reprints past Unlimited. To those who aren't affected by the allure or fulfilled by the satisfaction of the journey, this sometimes rubs off as elitism. But I think, by now, most who've discovered the oldschool Magic community and chosen to stick around well understand and appreciate each other's differences.

On a separate but soon-to-be-related note, I've really been wanting to dip my feet into Magic 95, mainly by carving out time for the monthly tournaments played over Skype. Ice Age was the first set that I vividly remember opening on the day of release: seated on the floor of my LGS, ripping through packs, and getting a fresh look at old favorites (Swords to Plowshares, Dark Ritual, Icy Manipulator), as well as a first look at new hardware (Necropotence, Zuran Orb, painlands). It was a significant moment in my Magic history.

I'd been thinking about these things, and also about what kind of project I might embark on for 2019, when I happened upon this article. Over the next few days, in discussing with my friend and local Magic cohort Sean, the parameters of a new endeavor began to solidify.

Roughly $200 worth of negative EV.

Though I've found great fulfillment working on my alpha deck this year, I'm ready to switch gears to something less costly, but which still embodies the spirit of age-old cardboard accompanied by the relentless pull of nostalgia. In line with the idea suggested by the article, Sean and I plan to each construct a Magic 95 deck exclusively from sealed packs that we add to our pools throughout the year. The goal is to start from a pile that barely counts as a deck at all and build it into something crafted and refined, optimal only in the context of the cards at our disposal. Trades will be allowed, though as our matches will primarily be head-to-head, the cost/benefit of any exchanges will need to be closely scrutinized by both parties.

For this initiative, any notion of passable EV is thrown to the curb. Opening the packs pictured above is likely to yield cards whose total value falls far below the cost of the product. These aren't packs that I've been hoarding; I acquired them online over the past couple weeks at market prices. The two packs of The Dark are guaranteed unsearched, so there's at least an outside possibility of a Blood Moon or Preacher. But they could just as easily hold Apprentice Wizard and Barl's Cage.

Our tentative launching point is a starter deck of Ice Age and a pack of 4th Edition. Decks will be 60 cards from the beginning and no outside basic lands will be used, so trading Forests for Islands could be an actual thing here. I'm expecting our first match to be decided by who draws the mana needed to cast the most creatures (unless someone gets lucky enough to pull a Fireball), but we'll see.

Looking forward, we'll add packs to our pools at the same rate, likely around 15 cards per month (so a pack of Ice Age or two packs of Homelands, for example), though the packs themselves may vary by person. We want to start from an even playing field, but we're not too concerned about future power gaps created by one player opening a pack of Chronicles (which only contain 12 cards, oddly) while the other splurges for Legends. If one of us manages to crack a Tabernacle buying $400 lottery tickets, so be it: the other may just need to go all-in digging for Strip Mines.

That kind of thing is fun to think about, but realistically, buying and opening a pack from one of the earliest sets would be an insane event resulting from an extreme moment of weakness (or strength). Maybe it happens once or twice over the course of the year, but it's not the expectation.

In any case, one of my ancillary goals is to play my deck in an online tournament before the end of 2019, presumably one of the monthly spots run by Olga Dushina through the "Old School 95" Facebook group. Not sure if the aim will be as high as winning a single match or as low as just participating at all, but I have no problem going full-on David and charging pell-mell into a sea of waiting Goliaths with my creation.

Dinna fash, Sassenach.

On a final note, Sean and I are still a month or more away from kicking this off, tough as it is to quell the anticipation for opening these packs. As we go forth, I'll try to post updates as I have this year, hopefully on a monthly basis or thereabouts, for anyone who cares to follow along.


  1. Cool stuff! Looking forward to see where this journey will take you! Here's to cracking a Force of Nature ;)

    1. Oh man. Wild Growth will have never commanded such a premium. ;)

  2. Dude, yes! I'm doing a variation of this with 93/94 and it's a load of fun:


    Good luck, can't wait to see your progress!

    1. Thanks Jason! Yes, your article helped provide the inspiration, and I linked to it in one of the paragraphs above. Really appreciate you writing that and sharing it with the community!

    2. Oh, snap, I see the link! Thank you, glad it got someone inspired! Looking forward to the results - cracking the old sealed stuff is so much fun.

    3. No doubt. I opened many Revised, Dark, and FE packs back in the day, but nothing older. The two The Dark packs were a bit of a splurge, but the "flavor EV" of the set is through the roof. Hoping to procure an unsearched pack of Legends or Antiquities sometime during the year. :)

  3. Thanks for mentioning our Old School 95 tournaments, Matt! Will be so glad to see you playing with us! Just let me know when you want to take part and I'll announce that fun decks are especially encouraged for those particular events :) I'm sure that most players will be happy to brew something less competitive and more fun.
    And thanks for the cool content! Been following your blog since the very beginning and I'm excited to see the evolution of your new project :)

    1. Thanks Olga, that means a lot! Every time I see the announcements for the 95 tournaments I'm tempted to sign up. Time always seems to get away from me, and I still need to get around to buying original painlands and such. But I love the idea of Old School 95 in general. Maybe after the Winter Derby. :)


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