A couple of years ago I was contacted by one of my MTG-friends. He asked me if I wanted to sell my unlimited duals. I asked him why he would want to upgrade from Revised to Unlimited, and he told me, it was because he was building an old school-collection. I had only heard the smallest of whispers about the format, and I ignored it because I thought it was only The Deck and ErhnamGeddon (I started playing Magic during Ice Age, so I never actually played through the true old school years). He assured me that it is a very open format full of great interactions, fun games and a lot of innovation. I was not convinced. But I was a bit intrigued – not least to prove to myself, that my friend was wrong.
So I found a blog written by some guy named Magnus. I read through all of it, and ignited my Google-foo to find out more about this strange and rather fringe format.
And I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of some very sexy pieces of cardboard…
Before I knew it, I started collecting the cards to make a PowerMonolith deck. I already had almost all the cards, because I had a vast Legacy collection including outliers like Power Artifact and Transmute Artifact. I had also been buying most of the power and other restricted cards (including a fun throw-in, very beat up Chaos Orb for about €80) to be ready to enter the Vintage format. But I needed the Monoliths. I don’t like white-bordered cards that much, so I began looking at Beta Basalt Monoliths. They were a staggering 30€ a piece! For played ones! I thought to myself: “This is stupid. It is way too expensive a format.”
And then I went ahead, and bought them anyway. After much thought. And hand-wrenching. And several months of going for and against. At that point I wanted to be able to build at least one deck for all formats (aside Standard). And the PowerMonolith combo is just so very cool!
I assembled a deck. I played it. I didn’t win much. I was immediately sold! Or, as the title suggests, I was sucked in. Old School Magic sucks big time!
Why? Why was I sold, you ask. It is difficult to answer. As I wrote before, my earliest packs of cards was Ice Age and 4th Edition. The only Beta card I ever saw in my elementary school years, was a beat up Beta Terror, but still a legendary card of course – it had “black borders!” Something that became quite the thing at my school. So cards from Beta and Antiquities actually shouldn’t really strike a nostalgic nerve with me. But somehow they do. Big time. There is just something – well, in lack of better words – magical about the earliest editions of this game.
I love the aesthetics of the cards. The vibe and the universe. There is purity and a simplicity that just speaks to me. Just look at the Beta Lightning Bolt:
It is not just iconic. It is art. As I have written something about here.
It is, however, important to note, that I don’t think the game or the early cards are simple! Actually, I would argue the opposite; if you play an old school match against a finely tuned or well-brewed deck you will experience the depths of the game. Even though there are less than 1000 different cards to put in your deck.
It is actually amazing, when you think of it. Playing a game of Alpha-only is as complex as playing a game of modern commander. The individual cards are – for the most parts – less powerful, and of course you don’t have to read as many rules texts on cards, nor do you have to remember as many key words. But in my view, one of the most beautiful things about Old School Magic – and now that I write about it, probably one of the most paramount things that got me into the format for real – is the fact that the game in its purest form, is actually the same game I play when I play Commander. It is just so much more magical!
Don’t get me wrong, I like playing crazy powerful new cards with my Commander-friends, but it is never the same. My Schoolyard Magic experience was Sengir Vampires and Serra Angels. Shivan Dragons (or actually Dragon, not plural as there was only one 4th copy in rotation at my school, and the holder of it was considered a king) and Giant Growths. Hell, I only ever saw one piece of power – a beat up Unlimited Mox Emerald – through my entire elementary school years.
The suction of the format is a strong force. I have met quite a few new Old School players who told me, that they just wanted to build a fun, nostalgic, budget Goblins (or whatever) deck to throw around back home with their old friends – the same deck they played at the schoolyard in the 90’s. Two months later the same guy has a buy post on a Facebook-page looking for a Library of Alexandria, a Mox or something similar.
Or players who start out with a 4th edition/Chronicles heavy deck who try to convince themselves and their surroundings that the white borders are completely fine. Only to meet them a year later, with a deck full of Beta and Arabian Nights cards.
Both these examples, I think, have something to do with another part of the suction of the format. The journey. The hunt! The travel towards your dream deck, your dream collection or simply your dream card. Many of us dreamt of one or more cards in our youth, but we simply couldn’t afford them or even attain them (especially in Europe there was a great scarcity of the earliest expansions), if we had the money. That Juzám Djinn. The Shivan Dragon. The almighty Force of Nature. This is what my dreams were made of!
Today – 20 years, the Internet and payed jobs later – we still have these dreams. Maybe they have been dormant for many of us, but when we suddenly realize, that these cards are once again being played in friendly surroundings, it is difficult to resist! The cards have become even more expensive, but we are now privileged enough to actually be able to save up some money and buy the dream. It is a constant travel towards something spectacular. Something rare. Something unique. What we collect is – as I have argued elsewhere – art. I almost consider my collection a close friend.
For my part, when I bought a Beta Wheel of Fortune around Christmas 2018, I said to myself “That’s it, I now have all the restricted cards (except for P9 and Orb) in Beta, and I no longer need any expensive cards.”
I mean… There could be some debate about the definition of what an “expensive” card is, but since then I have, among other cards, bought 4 Unlimited Volcanic Island, 4 Unlimited Underground Sea, 4 Unlimited Tropical Island, 4 Beta Black Vise, 4 Beta Howling Mine and 2 Unlimited Time Vault and I still need the remaining 28 Unlimited duals and a lot of other Beta cards besides cards from the other expansions. In a fit of temporary insanity I am even considering buying cards to make an Alpha40 deck!
One of my friends once asked me, how much money, I would have to win in the lottery, to buy all the cards, I dream of. I couldn’t provide a very clear answer. But it is well over €100.000. And that is from a guy who’s collection of cardboard is already worth around €70.000. This journey will probably never end, and it is fine. It is part of the format, and part of the reason why I still find it interesting. And every new addition to my collection makes me happy.
Finally, the last thing that really sucks, as in sucks you in, is the community, the atmosphere around the tournaments and the general friendliness in all aspects of the format.
I have played at several GPs, Danish Masters and other highly competitive events. I have also organized more than a handful of events with above 70 attending players. In almost all of these events, I went home in a worse mood than I entered the tournament. A whole day of playing competitive Legacy simply often ruined my mood. Generally, it was not because of the other players, even though I have met my fair share of idiotic rules humpers, it was simply because the entire competitive atmosphere didn’t talk to me. I was somehow always disappointed when I didn’t reach the top8 (even though I am not a great player, and thus, I should never anticipate winning). It simply felt as if I had lost a lot of time and the money I spend to get to the tournament and play in it.
When playing Old School tournaments, it is more like hanging out with friends – sometime literally in a bar – and just jamming some games, meeting new friends and looking at legendary cardboard all day. At some point someone wins – maybe he gets a card, maybe some tacky memorabilia, it doesn’t really matter. For the most part, everyone present is a winner. In my circa 3 years of tournament OS Magic I have met more completely wacky no-chance-of-winning-anything-decks, than I met during my 10 years of competitive, weekly Legacy Magic. And the best part? All of the players piloting these decks seemed to have immense fun.
That says something about a format, and the players forming it.
That is it for now. Remember Old School sucks! If you are thinking of entering the format, do it! It is great, and it is a journey. But it will suck you in, it will empty your wallet and you will almost certainly make new friends!
Wonderful post Emil, thanks for sharing and brightening my evening 🙂
You’re very welcome, Mg. Thanks for reading!