What a year. I'd decided after my Scryings spoiler last December that I'd ease off on posting for awhile. Then 2020 happened. I did begin to draft a post at one point sometime during the spring, but it was futile. Trying to talk about everything that was going on in the world in the context of Old School Magic: the Gathering didn't feel comfortable. Besides, Mg addressed our collective situation better than I ever could in this wonderful post about 4th Edition.
Despite all that 2020 has turned out to be, the Akron Legionnaires are thriving more than ever. Though we've socially distanced from one another since March and I've only seen Jim to sell him my Mox Ruby and Bill to help him crack open an Unlimited Plateau, we've managed to descend into the deep underground of the #mtgunderground, and that's what I'd like to talk about today. Where to begin? Probably here...
|A book that needs no introduction.|
We've always been an uber-casual party of mages, but things really started spiraling when we adopted the "tapped blockers don't deal combat damage" rule last year to help deal with Mishra's Factory. When Bill and Jim acquired their Chaos Orbs, they decided to play the card as originally printed, with the caveats that each player's board had to stay within their playmat and cards couldn't be moved around (only tapped/untapped) after an Orb was in play. Over time, a discussion kindled about whether we should start playing by the OG rulebook in its entirety, at which point Bill and Jim informed me that they already were. Done and done. All in all, it's pretty refreshing to not have to think about mulligan choices and instead start every game by saying "I've got land."
The more serious part of this decision is rooted in playing our cards using the rules that they were originally designed for, rather than modern-day rules that leave many 93/94 cards contorted in ways that were never intended, or cherry-picking specific rules and letting everything else fall by the wayside. Nostalgia and friendship are our main drivers when we play (which is typically multiple times per week, over webcam), and fielding decks that feel more like those we'd have crafted 25 years ago under the original ruleset takes our fulfillment to another level. For anyone who doesn't have access to an original MtG rulebook, it's readily available on the WotC website.
From my perspective, while Old School is far and away the best Magic format, blocking with 3/3 Factories and jamming decks full of the best 4-ofs plus every restricted card doesn't do Garfield's original vision much justice. Unfortunately, we've all been tainted by decades of knowledge, experience, and strategy articles that are pretty impossible to unlearn. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, a sentiment that I touched on in this somewhat polarizing article about deck photos awhile back. In the end, I don't want to tell anyone else how to enjoy Old School, but felt like it was worth bringing to light the way we play, in case anyone out there can find appreciation or benefit to themselves therein.
When we build decks for our [mostly] three-person meta, we go to lengths to unoptimize, favoring "fun" and interesting cards and strategies over the roads more typically traveled. It's a gentlemen's agreement between friends, but the result has proved to be many of the most enjoyable and truly epic games of Magic that I've ever played. In our group, no cards are off-limits and neither is playing 4-ofs, yet it's still more common to see a 20/20 Khabal Ghoul get Disenchanted after being turned into an artifact creature by Ashnod's Transmogrant than it is to see a deck running full playsets of Serendib Efreet and Erhnam Djinn. We collectively own a mere five pieces of power (all Unlimited or Beta, since we abstain from CE/IE in favor of cards distributed in boosters), so while you occasionally see a Mox or face down an Ancestral, basking in the presence of an actual P9 card feels more like an exceptional moment than a run-of-the-mill happening that defines every duel.
While we let everyone self-govern in terms of the power levels of their decks, we've adopted some policies like not playing more than one of any restricted card across your personal gauntlet. We make an exception for Strip Mine, with one allowed in every deck to help deal with the occasional "spoiler" land like Library of Alexandria, Maze of Ith, or Kjeldoran Outpost (all of which are legal but restricted in our playgroup). We also allow cards from Ice Age block and, sparingly, cards from Mirage block when played in good taste, though many decks opt to stay exclusively in the 93/94 pool and Bill only likes to play Ice Age cards in winter. Jimmy ran playsets of Warthog and River Boa in a deck once, but it's hard to criticize when the endgame was to combo them with Mystic Compass.
We play with walls, Wanderlust, and Sword of the Ages. Interrupts. CoPs and Justice comboed with Balduvian Shaman. Shivan Dragon, Force of Nature, and Leviathan. We each have a "killer deck" that uses our sweetest (if not always best) cards. Legends are inherently restricted because that was the rule back in the day. We talk with the parlance of Revised-era kitchen table Magic players and pore over Usenet archives and old issues of Inquest magazine to drink in content unadulterated by the passage of time. All as Garfield intended.
I want to stress that all of the above should be taken purely as "YMMV." The beauty of Old School is that you can play by whatever ruleset, deck construction guides, and reprint allowances your group enjoys. Here's to wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and mana-filled 2021. Stay safe!