I’ve never been the collector type when it comes to cards. I regularly under-traded my collection to get a specific card I needed for the weekend. I would leave my binders at tables where people could easily grab them and steal them. I once left a deck in the subway. But most of the time they would simply disappear from my hands. I look back to all the packs opened and cards bought over 25 years of playing magic, and I cannot understand where all those cards went. Anyways, this is probably why I’ve never chased the ideal of a collection, but instead was always focusing on deckbuilding: Magic for me was all about mounting the best deck out of the cards I have, and then when playing tournaments it was about trying to come up with rogue builds, hopefully with cheap, available singles so that I would be spared of those interminable afternoons trading for the cards I needed. I still remember those traumatic Fridays prior to the tournament, when everyone was fine-tuning their decks but I had to waste the whole day trying to make someone lend me some Cursed Scrolls, or Rishadan Ports, or dual-lands to play extended decks. I had such a fame of losing cards, that people would not even rent me cards anymore, as apparently the best economic decision was to keep those cards safe in their binders instead of in my hands for the weekend (in my defense I must emphasise: apart from some subway-related oddities most of the time these cards were stolen, or at least this is what I like to remember).
Luckily, I was still able to achieve some success playing competitive magic. For a moment, back in 2000-2005 I was going to Nationals, Worlds, Grand Prix and even some Pro Tours, most of the time cashing in. I even managed to win the Chilean Nationals twice. Flash-forward 20 years and I’m now playing my first Old School 93/94 tournament. As I’m writing this I already have 2 pieces of power —with one more on its way—, and a collection whose net worth is rapidly—and dangerously—approaching 5 digits. How the hell did this happen? And how on earth am I going to avoid losing all these cards?
The pandemic, at least, means that I’m not going to go out of my house with my deck, so for now my cards are safe…I hope.
As for how and why I ended up playing old school… I don’t really know. My good friend Andrés Hojman (whose collection is one of the most wonderful things you can visit here in Santiago) has been trying to suck me into 93/94 for a while, even offering to lend me quite a few cards (hopefully he will continue lending them after reading this). Then at some point I got the following message, out of the blue: “Juan, there is this guy selling a CE Sapphire for 415, MP, unclipped, it is quite a good deal, do you want it”? Strange enough that people go by offering Moxes from third parties by whatsapp, I figured sure, why not, it would be cool to have a Mox right? Then came another Mox, and duals, and so it began. From the outside it seemed like a really cool format, so there is that. Plus MTG keeps screwing up their new releases. So yes. If I have the choice between standard or old school, then old school it is.
But if we are playing old school magic, then it better be with combo! After I realized I was being sucked into the oldschoolverse, I have been trying to understand how combo decks are positioned in 93/94. Apart from various rogue variants that seemed more difficult to play and pull of, what seemed to be working was either fully powered decks involving Fastbonds, Mirror Universes, Fireballs and loads of mana, or fully powered decks involving Basalt Monolith, Power Artifact to reduce the untap ability of monoliths and finishers such as Fireballs or Rocket Launchers. Since fully powered was not an option for me (yet), I figured Power Monolith was a better alternative to begin playing. Straight away I logged on to Magic Card Market, ordered out 4 copies of Power Artifact and some other cheaper necessities, asked Andrés for Basalt Monoliths (and pretty much everything else). After 3 months of shipping, cards were finally in my possession and I had my first old school deck. Phew!
The list is not very standard because I don’t have all the power I’d like, plus the rules of the tournament forced us to put at least 5 cards from Homelands in, with both Merchant Scroll and Serrated Arrows restricted. Merchant Scroll was there to find Mana Drain (don’t worry, the ancestral is on its way ;) ). Memory Lapse was an obvious choice. I put one copy of Eron The Relentless because I wanted a backup plan in case my opponents sided out creature removal and brought in disenchants (It should have been 3-4 Erons, but I only have one and could not find more on time). Sea Sprites are there because I was afraid of decks with fast red creatures and lapse.
I wish I could give a few comments about this particular build, but after 6 games I’m not sure I understand anything at all about 93/94 (I mean that as a compliment). I finished 2-4 in matches, and the truth is I got run over by a mixture of huge Mind Twists, Sinkholes and Strip Mines, and opponents simply drawing a sick load of cards (more on that later) [EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to old school, Juan!]. Anyway, on to the report!
Round 1. Rubens. UR aggro
After a short explanation on the advantages of using whereby versus zoom, my first old school game starts! I mulligan into a good hand with two Fireballs and a Monolith, but the game lingers as I fail to find a Power Artifact. At some point Rubens gave me the opportunity of Fireballing two Flying Men (for a mere 4 mana), and to be honest I was pretty satisfied with that experience already. I don’t think I’ve Fireballed two creatures since what, 1995? 1996? Anyway, card advantage or not, the Power Artifact simply does not show up and I die from Ironclaws and Factories.
But if you thought Fireballing people in carpets was the ultimate old school experience, buckle up. Game 2 again I have a decent hand, with counters and some combo pieces. My opponent goes land, Lotus, Ironclaw, Ironclaw. A sick play, giving him 4 power to start the turn, at the mere cost of three cards and a couple thousand dollars. The unbeatable clock of two Ironclaws, followed by a Factory, was simply too much for my deck to handle.
So, 0-1 at this point, but I’m now in the select group that has witnessed a Black Lotus being used to speed-up a pair of orcs. I’d call it a tie.
Round 2. Raymond. Bw control, with (as I found out later) 8 disenchants effects post board
It turns out Raymond’s deck was built around the combo of Pestilence and Cementery Gate. This should imply that I’m a favourite on game 1, but unfortunately he managed to leverage a Sinkhole and a Hymn to Tourach to find enough time to kill me before I could assemble the combo. Interestingly, in the last turn he tapped out, using all his three winter Factories to put me at 1 life. This was a good play: I had a City of Brass, had I been able to tap it I would have won the game.
Game 2 was long, but I was never really in the game. I put out a Timetwister to recover from his discard, but learned it was not the best idea, as I simply refilled his hand with more discard and disenchants.
0-2 and hating my deck for losing so much against Factory-enabled pressure. Perhaps I’m running too many counters?
Round 3. Daniel. Bu dreams control with ways of making you draw cards.
Game 1 he drops me down to two life with a Ritualized Hypnotic Specter before I can kill it with a Rocket Launcher. I assemble infinite mana with no kill condition. We then draw a billion lands each, I manage to Memory Lapse his Underworld Dreams (which would be game, as I have a Sylvan Library in play), then topdeck Timetwister into Fireball for the win. In game two he starts slow with Dark Ritual into Underworld Dreams, and I have the combo on turn 4 with counter backup.
After having him killed twice with huge Fireballs, he points out that Fireball is his favourite card, and proceeds to show his amazing collection of Fireballs. He has every printed Fireball, in every language. Plus promo versions, foils, miscuts, alters, etc. I know I said I don’t consider myself a collector, but this sight was simply from another planet. It was definitely the most aesthetically pleasing binder of cards I’ve seen in my life. Also, I won my first match for a 1-2 record!
Round 4. Scott. Clockwork Steed aggro with Armaggedon, other artifacts, Copy Artifact.
The problem with Scott’s deck is that it was capable of putting good pressure with Copy Artifact and Artifact Creatures, disrupting my game with Armageddon, or my combo with Disenchant. So it was tricky because I had to constantly have open mana for countering his Armageddons while trying not to die from his creatures.
Game 1 definitely did not go according to the plan: I allowed him to actually cast Armaggeddon (I was probably going to combo soon so I got carried away) and finish me off before I drew enough lands.
Game two was an interesting game. I was Mind-Twisted for four early on, but he was struggling to find some pressure, relying only on Factories. As he later explained, on a key turn he had the choice of attacking with two Factories, leaving open mana for a single Disenchant, or just one Factory, leaving two Disenchants. He decided to go for two, because I had fewer cards in hand, and possibly my only out was a Timetwister. And a Timetwister I had! those 7 new cards gave me
Power Artifact, Memory Lapse and Wheel of Fortune, and those extra seven new cards handed me a Fireball.
Third game I mulligan into a decent hand, with Mana Drain + another counter + easy mirror ball. But he starts with Library of Alexandria and then everything fades away slowly, but steadily. He finishes me off with a sick Mind Twist the turn before I could combo, although I’m not sure he had a Disenchant, which would have meant I was dead anyways.
So that’s it for my winning streak, coming down to 1-3 in matches. On the positive side, I managed to steal a game from a deck using full power 9 + Library + Mishra’s Workshop. Cool!
Round 5. José Luis Echeverria.
Lots of creatures, lions, efreets. And memory lapses. And disenchants. And ancestral each game. And a Mind Twist for 5 on the second. I don’t want to talk about this really. Both games went simple, with loads of early pressure by José Luis, followed by timely lapses and Disenchats, and some restricted cards here and there.
Round 6. Don. Rabid Wombat aggro featuring Feast of the Unicorn for some sick damage.
At this point all I want is a good hand with 3 lands, Monolith, Power Artifact, Fireball and Sylvan Library. Is it too much to ask? Instead, I had to keep a good hand with a mix of lands, Transmute Artifact, Fellwar Stone and counters. But I was again presented with the ultimate nightmare of old school magic: “Land, library of Alexandria, go”. With the slow hand I kept, Library soon handled me a not-so-quick-but-quick-enough death.
Don was playing green, so Crumbles were probably coming in. Apart from that, his deck was probably too focused on creatures to be able to deal enough pressure and disruption, so I figured it may be possible to come back in this match. For game 2 he started with some early pressure using a pair of green 2/1s for two, which I managed to Fireball (yes! twice in the same tournament). I was low on life, but Don was low on Crumbles, and so I was able to Mirror Universe him, leaving him at 6 life while he was pressuring my 20 life with a Factory. I had to topdeck a Rocket Launcher, wait for an entire turn, until I could finally amass all the mana needed to finish him off.
Game 3 started good with another 1st turn Library for Don. The difference now is that I had everything I needed to combo. I made a terrible mistake when on turn 3 I played just one Monolith instead of two. Don had 3 mana but just one green, the other being a Factory and the Library. He promptly crumbled my monolith and continued drawing cards. If I had played the two Monoliths at the same time, there could have been two options. First, he crumbles the untapped one. But then I untap, play land, Power Artifact the Monolith, untap, make infinite and finish with Fireball. Or second, he leaves mana open. Then I can tap the Monolith, Power Artifact it, Memory Lapse the Crumble and still go off (yes, my hand was that good). Instead, I had to play the Monolith again, which Don promptly crumbles again. Am I going to die out of this bad play? Luckily, no, because I drew another Monolith before Don was able to find his third artifact hate.
And so this is it, the end of my first NEOS tournament. As I expected, this deck is not easy to play at all, and I am not a good magic player anymore. But I ended up having a lot of fun, and I am really impressed by the depth of the format, with a huge number of different decks that one can win with. Yes, many games will be defined by Mind Twist or Libraries. But I realize now that these cards can actually be beaten, and as is usual in magic, at the end it all seems to boil down to skillful play and original deckbuilding.
We’ll see what happens in the next tournament. For now, it is time to think about what cards to get next.