A First-Timers Look at Old School


Trying a new format in Magic is one of the coolest experiences a player can have. From playing unknown cards to learning different mechanics, Rone looks at his experience at an Old School tournament. Let's break it down.

Hello everyone! I'm going to diverge from my normal Standard and Modern fare today. I'll have a Mythic Championship wrap up next time, but I'd rather talk about something new for a change: Old School.

Learning from the Past

Savannah Lions Juzam Djinn Serendib Efreet

What is Old School? I'm glad you asked because a few months ago I had literally no idea, or at least I knew it was something similar to Vintage (which is the oldest format of all times) with a tweak. Here it is the definition from Eternal Central that I'll put here:

Old School Magic typically refers to any type of "throwback" casual Magic format, using an older or limited card pool, or older rule sets perhaps. There are many different variations, often with different rules set regionally by a play group or a local tournament organizer.

If you know my articles' main topics, this is a pretty stark change. Although I am a Legacy lover, I don't possess the format staples anymore since it gets complicated to play IRL especially when you live in smaller cities and I am not very fond of Magic Online.

That been said, it was such a fresh experience to try a different format with old cards since they instantly transported me back when I was a child and started collecting and trading them without knowing how the game works, only amazed by the appealing artwork. 

So, for the rest of the article, I'm not planning to evaluate my deck choice or the "metagame" as there are better experts than I on that front. Instead, I'll try and capture what it is that helped me fall in love with this format for those wondering if they should give it a shot.

Fancy Old Rules

Chaos Orb Mana Drain Mind Twist

Before talking about the tournament I played in, we first have to examine the rules of the game, as they are not the same in Old-School as they are in current Magic.

The rules naturally change based on the variant of Old School you play, so I'll just talk about the ones I learned which concern 93-94 Old School. Keep in mind that none of these formats are sanctioned, so the rules in your local playgroup or community may differ.

First, the mulligan rule is the same as the official one for the rest of Magic formats. When I played the tournament back in June they were still using the 'Vancouver Mulligan. Nowadays, you have the new "London Mulligan."

Secondly, the legal sets and card restrictions are obviously the same one of the aforementioned years, removing ante cards and also restricting the most powerful cards of all magic, also known as 'the Power Nine' as well as some all-stars like: Demonic Tutor, Mana Drain, Wheel of Fortune, Balance, or Chaos Orb to name a few. You can check the Set Legality and the full B&R lists here.

Now onto the "antique" rules. there are a few I didn't know they kept from the beginning of Magic era:

Mana Burn: When mana empties from your pool because your moving to the next phase, you take one damage for each unspent mana that empties. This is actually I rule I got to play with a while back in Extended and was relevant specially when controlling someone's turn with Mind's Slaver or when casting some big mana stuff with the Urza lands.

Chaos Orb: Chaos Orb is one of the most iconic cards from the Old School pool, and now has new oracle text:

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 360 degrees during the flip, and lands resting on the chosen permanent, destroy that permanent. Then destroy Chaos Orb.

No Draw Policy: Additionally, to encourage as much Magic as possible, you can't actually draw a match. After the mandatory 50 minutes of play plus the five additional turns, the result of the match will be decided by a Chaos Orb flip contest. This is, in my humble opinion, hilarious, and I had to do it in order to win a match in the tournament. It felt pretty cool, though traditional Old School players are better prepared than newer ones.

Card Legality: Last but not least, in order to keep the Old School flavor at the maximum, you can only play non-foil cards from the original frame and original art. That's another reason why some Old School staples that see no Vintage play at all have become really expensive due to the increasing popularity of the format. Check out how much Juzam Djinn costs now compared to four or five years ago, though scarcity also affects this.

Deck Choice and Tournament Experience

Grixis Burn, Rodrigo Martin, Impact Returns 2019

For starters, a special shout out to the Impact Returns tournament staff. It was an amazing Magic weekend in the north of Spain with great prizes, side events, a nice team, and all at a reasonable price; check out their webpage if you want to attend next year's event: Impact Returns.

The deck I chose was a recommendation from a friend that had played before and it made sense to me, as it's basically Grixis Delver with burn, permission, draw, alongside a light black splash for broken format staples like Mind Twist and Demonic Tutor.

The main threats are Flying Men which is like the weaker Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration of the era and Serendib Efreet, which is hard to compare but let's say is your Tue-Name Nemesis without any protection. He kills as fast as the Legacy merfolk though.

Finally, you can add some Mishra's Factory to the mix but almost everyone plays them in their main deck so it's really hard to win a Mishra's battle when you are the aggressor.

Overall, I ended up with a 3-2 record, which wasn't too bad for my debut in the format. I won't go into details of every round since it's hard even to give a proper name of my opponents' strategies. I have listed some of the highlights though:

  • In round one, I played against some sort of Black Vise + Underworld Dreams deck. They seemed to have the plan of burning me out with those cards and cards like Winds of Change. During the third match, my opponent played the Winds with the two aforementioned cards on the battlefield. I still managed to clutch it out though, reducing his life to zero during my upkeep with a choice Lightning Bolt and Psionic Blast.
  • In round two, we ran out of time so, as I mentioned before, we played the Chaos Orb contest while everyone else looked on. It was embarrassing as we both missed several times, but I ended up with the victory.
  • Round three was the shortest I played. I was on camera against a good friend who was also playing Old School for the first time. He crushed me with his four color Zoo deck, curving out Savannah Lions, Erhnam Djinn, and Juzam Dijnn. His most explosive start though was a turn one Black Lotus into Serendib Efreet.
  • During round four, I learned how strong the black cards in my deck are when I Demonic Tutored for Mind Twist with a bunch of mana in play and took my opponent's hand from them, leaving them at the mercy of their top decks. There's good reason that card is banned in Legacy!
  • In the final round, I won game one and during game two, I was on the draw with Library of Alexandria in my seven card hand. From that moment on, I was on the "Library Rollercoaster" of card advantage, drawing an extra card every turn, something that usually only happens in Vintage. I'd never experienced it before, but, to be honest, it felt incredible. Needless to say, my opponent didn't find their Strip Mine and I won in a few turns with my hand full of cards.
Flying Men Fireball Braingeyser

Wrap Up

All in all, I hope you've learned a bit more about Old School and that there is a small chance that you've decided to give it a shot. The format is expensive but regular players are more than eager to lend some decks for newer players to give it a shot. There is an avid budget deck scene too, if you absolutely have to play with your own cards.

It also gives you a throwback to early stages of Magic development, with different type of artwork, rules, and mechanics, but it keeps the essence of Magic: The Gathering. That special quality that makes the game one of the best trading card games of all time.

I loved the experience and got the chance to explore the earliest days of Magic. I recommend you seriously think about checking it out if there's an Old School tournament near you.

As usual, thank you so much for reading an please, leave your comments or questions below or you hit me up on my shared Twitter account.

Rodrigo Martin.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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RonePro(18.08.2019 20:33)


Thank you so much for your comment, I did know the original art only and no draws are a Old School thing and never happened at other formats but thank you for showing the difference.


sal196(14.08.2019 02:32)

Glad you enjoyed your first taste of Old School :)
As a point of detail perhaps, whilst mana burn is an old rule re-used, the Chaos Orb, "no draws" and "original art only" rule are not past rules of Magic, but instead invented over the last few years as part of the evolution of Old School (and both mana burn and 'no draws' are not universally used; as you note, different groups apply different rules.)

MakutoPro(27.10.2019 23:41)

Sal196 please note that there are at least 3 different old school formats, and not in all of them mana Burn applies. Also not the same cards are restricted in all of them. Eternal Central (EC rules) is the most commons set of rule among the players in my community. It is important before going to an old school tournament to make sure which rules will apply there (i. E. If you can play with 1 or 4 strip Mines)

sal196(29.10.2019 00:08)

MakutoPro thanks for your comment - you're absolutely right that people wanting to play old school should double check the rules for their group before building their deck - I actually mentioned it in my comment above when I said "mana burn and 'no draws' are not universally used; as you note, different groups apply different rules" :)