Keepin’ it Old School

So, I believe most of you are now familiar with the old kid on the block: the elusive, intriguing and vastly expensive format of 93/94 or simply Old School magic.

The format had its humble beginnings in Sweden, but these days it seems more and more people are (triple-?)sleeving up those Savannah Lions, them Icy Manipulators and all of the moxen they can get their hands on. The format is – as far as I can tell – thriving in most parts of Europe.

For those of you who are not familiar with the format, the basics are these:

You can only play cards printed in the following sets: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Summer/Edgar, Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities and The Dark. Yep. Only those! Do you know these sets? Where you even born, when they were released?! Oh! Also Chaos Orb is legal. Go look it up. One of the greatest, most iconic pictures in all of Magic‘s history. Unfortunately also a dexterity-based card (you have to throw it), which makes it banned in all formats. That is, of course, all formats besides Old School (which, for the time being, ensures that Old School can never become a sanctioned format).

The main intention with the Old School format is to relive the feeling from back when our beloved card-game was brand new: Back in the 90’s when Spice Girls was a thing. When Clinton had no sexual relations with that woman and when Christian conservative groups were dumbfounded and outright outraged by the fact, that the original printing of Unholy Strength had a pentagram in the background – surely the youth would now be beyond salvation and the end was, by all means, near!

Back on track. It was also a time – believe it or not – when there was basically no thing called internet. Which mean there was no thing called net-decking. Also no thing called Grand Prix’s or Pro Tours and therefore practically no professional play- and test-groups. This meant that there was a lot of brewing and kitchen-table testing and playing – the original way to build decks and play games. You would play the cards you had access to, and there were no giant internet-shops with every card ever printed on display, so you had to hide your collection from the bullies in the schoolyard, and stay inside to trade and be lucky to find that extra Goblin Balloon Brigade to finish your crazy, blistering fast, friend-removing, mono-red goblin deck (complete with Ball Lightning and Blood Lust)…

It is this format that is now beginning to thrive. But how is that even possible? you ask. And you are right. Make no mistake. Even though it is possible to make a somewhat budget mono-colored deck. It is not that possible. These cards are expensive, and they are on the rise! Remember only the original printings are allowed, which makes it impossible for Wizards – even if they wanted to – to make the format cheaper and more accessible by, for example, printing new versions of the cards. This is a format, where you will have to shell out around 30€ for the cheapest possible Savannah Lions – the unlimited one. Counterspell is around 20€ and Shivan Dragon is closing in on 100€. And I’m not even starting to mention some of the all-stars: the Power Nine, the dual lands, Library of Alexandria, the aforementioned Chaos Orb and Juzam Djinn, Erhnam Djinn and Serendib Efreet. Oh, and beta and alpha versions of the cards! It is a format for the very rich, the very lucky or the very foresighted who bought the cards years ago and held on to them.

But the format is thriving and expanding and it actually makes sense. It is thriving because of several things:

  1. Nostalgia! Even though it is impossible to recreate the feeling from the early 90’s – especially in regards to no net-decking – for a lot of players, there is a lot of nostalgic feeling in playing with these cards.
  2. Players from the 90’s have grown up, cut their hair, shaved their necks, crawled out of their basements and even landed paid jobs, so they are able to actually buy all the Nightmares and Serra Angels they’ve always dreamed of! (and let’s be honest, we have all dreamed of that particular Angel…)
  3. People want to play with and show off their crazy expensive, beautiful cards and decks.
  4. Less restrictive local (or national) rules are emerging all over the world. Which means the price of entering the format is drastically reduced. When revised or even 4th edition becomes legal, you can actually make playable or even competitive decks for a couple of hundred euros. And they won’t rotate out…

Enough of this introduction to a format I am sure most of you have already heard of. What I actually wanted to write about today was an experience I had playing the format at a tournament recently, which led me to think, or at least ponder. It has to do with the differences between playing kitchen-table magic with your friends and tournament-magic against unknown, less-casual players. And indeed about the possible near future of the Old School format (at least in Denmark).

It was no big tournament – 13 players arrived – but it was highly enjoyable and very much fun.

For me at least. People who know me, knows that I am no grinder, I am not a very competitive person or player and, indeed, not a very good player at all. But when I take the time to play at a tournament, for the most time, I am there to try and win. And have fun, of course. Besides being a mediocre to bad player, I also enjoy playing combo and/or prison strategies, and my weapon of choice this day was to play a 5 color PowerMonolith-monstrosity filled with most of the restricted cards of the format. Yep, a combo deck featuring cards like Balance, Strip Mine and Recall. And 4 power sink. I think I’m in love…

Emil’s Deck

It is a very capable deck and without a doubt one of the most powerful of the format. It ends games playing an arbitrarily large fireball to the opponents face or firing a Rocket Launcher (no, actually the card Rocket Launcher – look it up!) for 50 billion damage at the opponents baffled crotch. This is done via the age-old unlimited mana combo of Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact. Much fun is had. At least I think it is much fun. And that may be a problem.

During the 5 rounds of the tournament I had several surprising reactions to my deck and the games we played. My opponents didn’t seem to have much fun. Let me just pause a minute to make something clear – I am not advocating that one has to be happy about being killed by a combo deck, but if playing against combo ruins your day or gives you a feeling of being unfairly treated, is tournament-magic really your thing? My deck is in no way unbeatable. A well-timed Shatter ruins me day! A Blood Moon makes me cry and a turn one Argothian Pixies followed by a turn two Serendib Efreet can be very tough for me to beat! But of course, to beat it, you have to come prepared. It is not a casual deck – you have to bring counterspells, removal or your own combo.

I know that a deck like mine won’t make me many friends at kitchen tables. I admit that it is based on decklists I’ve seen online and I know that there is a lot more nostalgia in attacking with a Sengir Vampire or landing an impressive 2/3 Kird Ape off a taiga in the first round (Kird Ape was actually banned for being too powerful back in the day…). But I will still hold that in tournament-magic it is not unsportmanlike conduct to play combo or prison. It is not being a bad friend to play to win. And especially in Old School it is not very cool to be mad about losing to a bizarre interaction between three old cards. These bizarre interactions is – I would argue – what the format is all about.

Also: many of the games in question were very interesting and not decided before the resolving of the infinite ball of fire. I had to keep my opponent off black mana, so he couldn’t play his mind twist; I had to find a Mox Sapphire AND a Blue Elemental Blast to kill an opposing Blood Moon; I had to play and replay my Demonic Tutor (via Regrowth) to find both mana and a removal to a horrible Energy Flux and the list goes on. This format – for me – is all about enjoying the interactions between cards – often relatively unknown cards – as the game were originally thought. It is quite a simple game of magic but it stills requires you to think. It is about having fun doing that – and even if you should sometimes lose, don’t despair!

In the next round you will face another strange, spicy brew consisting of Triskelions, Titania’s Song, Hypnotic Spector, Sol’kanar the Swamp King or even freaking Copper Tablet. So if all else fails, play your deck, lose or win and just enjoy the immensely powerful, expensive and beautiful decks that are roaming the format. Again: I would consider entering an Old School tournament with a brew of only Mountains and a single Fireball – hell a brew of only Mountains! – just to look at all the incredibly, iconic, sexy pieces of cardboard. They don’t come any hotter than here! But anyway, this is – for now at least – a very open format where many strategies are viable.

And that leads me to the next of my worries. Even though the format is expanding, it is – still – a somewhat obscure, fringe format with a relatively small dedicated group of players. Many of whom have a very casual mindset when playing, some of whom are not very skilled players – or at least not very used to play at tournaments. My fear is that at some point some maybe not-so-nice but great players will take advantage of these facts and begin to roam the Old School tournaments flinging the “Best deck of the format” and simply be almost certain to win. This will be a heavy blow to some of the vibe and feel of the format, and it will probably enhance the notion, that it is impossible to win a game of Old School, without playing the legendary power nine. Which really is not true.

I am aware that many Old School groups and indeed several of the larger tournaments, don’t really play with prices and oftentimes don’t play top4/8. This means that the tournaments have a heavy emphasis on playing games, rather than win. This also helps ensure, that the incentive to grind these tournaments become a lot less appealing. Since you won’t win anything worth anything, and you won’t even gather those sought after Planeswalker points.

BUT as a former tournament organizer, with around a hundred tournaments in the sack, I discovered that, at least in Denmark, one of the best/only ways to make people actually show up at tournaments is to hand out good to ridiculously great prices based on a reasonable entry-fee. And so we have a classic dilemma: No prices means more dedicated, casual players, that ensure the right “Old School vibe”, but also less players overall. Prices means more “outsiders” – players who can’t remember trading their Serra Angel for a Black Lotus – but also, probably a lot more players overall. What to do?

I honestly don’t know. A friend of mine is trying to harness a competitive Old School scene in Copenhagen. That means entry-fees, prices, play-offs and a general feeling of playing competitive magic (which means: if you want to win, you have to play an optimized deck). But he also tries to make sure that the cozy element of just playing whatever crappy combo you wish that specific day, is there. I am excited to see where it ends, as of now some of the more casually oriented Old Schoolers are not too keen on the idea. But let’s see. I think the most important part is to enjoy a unique and highly challenging format.

Brewer’s Kitchen: Splinter Twin in Legacy

Wait. Wasn’t this a Modern deck? And now you’re telling me that it’s viable in Legacy?

My name is Niklas Holtmann, this is my first guest article at Snapcardster and I’m not talking about a 100% competitive Legacy deck, but about a deck I had some success and just like to tell other people about stuff that’s not too mainstream. Welcome to Brewer’s Kitchen.


How it all started

On my way back home from MKM Frankfurt 2017 I just had this idea to play Splinter Twin in Legacy. Why? I’m not really sure about it, I just had a really bad tournament with Elves, a deck I was running hot with the last couple of months (Top 64 in Chiba and good results at our local tournaments), but after the ban of Sensei’s Divining Top I wasn’t really sure how to play with the deck so I ran my good old Elves without Natural Order which was really good for me in a format where Sensei’s Divining Top was legal. Needless to say, I was wrong. playing against Storm and Show&Tell was horrible.


Back to the drive home, I thought playing something like Splinter Twin could be really funny to troll people and to have some fun with blue cards in Legacy. After my ride home I didn’t think a lot about the deck until me and my friends were traveling to Hamburg for a weekend of Magic, alcohol and friends we don’t see that often, so I just went with it and played the following list:

UR Splinter Twin in Legacy

Creatures (11)
Pestermite
Deceiver Exharch
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique

Spells (30)
Force of Will
Brainstorm
Counterspell
Spellpierce
Spell Snare
Fire // Ice
Lightning Bolt
Ponder
Blood Moon
Splinter Twin
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Lands (20)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Arid Mesa
Island
Mountain
Volcanic Island
Plateau
Tundra

Sideboard (15)
True Name Nemesis
Engineered Explosives
Pithing Needle
Red Elemental Blast
Pyroblast
Flusterstorm
Wear // Tear
Rest in Peace
Surgical Extraction
Umezawas Jitte
Pyroclasm
Sudden Shock
Sulfur Elemental

I went 5:0:1 in that tournament.

So I have to admit, this deck wasn’t 100% my idea. Two years back I read an article on mtgthesource about a guy (Ma Ansbro) who made Top8 at the Eternal Weekend in the US with a Splinter Twin Deck that was Jeskai colors (well, he had Dig Through Time in his deck), so I took his list as an inspiration. The other inspiration was the Modern Blood Moon Splinter Twin deck.

I thought about the meta game I saw in Frankfurt and thought to myself that I have to punish all the greedy BUG Leovold Decks and the best thing I could find was Blood Moon and I really wanted to try out Splinter Twin just for the LOLs.

Due to my succes in that tournament I was hyped and thought about how I could improve the deck and what was good and bad about the deck. So obviously the worst thing in the deck is the Splinter Twin Combo and the deck wasn’t able to answer True-Name Nemesis and Sword of Fire and Ice, otherwise the deck was great, you can really get Legacy Players of guard with the combo and to Blood Moon out someone out of the game is awesome.


So I had to look at the bad cards in the deck which were:

Due to the fact that True-Name Nemesis was so hard to deal with and the best color to answer it is black, I shifted to splashing black in my deck, furthermore I cut Deceiver Exarch and replaced it with the 4th Pestermite and 2 Baleful Strix just because I thought that Delver is a bad Matchup, but having some Flyers to block and kill delver + being able to stall Gurmag Angler is really powerful.

With some more tournaments under my belt with the deck I came to the following list:

UBr Splinter Twin in Legacy

Creatures (11)
Pestermite
Snapcaster Mage
Baleful Strix
Vendillion Clique

Spells (30)
Force of Will
Brainstorm
Lightning Bolt
Counterspell
Spell Pierce
Fire // Ice
Kolaghan’s Command
Blood Moon
Splinter Twin
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Ponder
Lands (20)
Island
Mountain
Swamp
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Badlands
Scalding Tarn
Polluted Delta
Bloodstained Mire

Sideboard (15)
Flusterstorm
Diabolic Edict
Red Elemental Blast
Pyroblast
Surgical Extraction
True-Name Nemeis
Fact of Fication
Abrade
Invasive Surgery
Engineered Explosives
Pyroclasm

And I have to tell you, I’m really happy with the list right now!

So why should YOU play this Deck?

Well, when you are a highly competitive player I can’t recommend playing the deck, just because there are some really hard match ups that need a lot of brainpower to win those and in some matchups you just lose Game 1 since you have so many bad cards in your deck. But when you are a johnny like me who just wants to try something different it’s a super good deck to do so, not because of the Twin Combo, but because of the power of Blood Moon and Jace.

The deck is super consistent in what it’s doing and Blood Mooning people out of the game is just one of the best things you can do in magic.

The next positive thing about the deck is that you have so many basics and you’re basically immune to Wasteland and slamming Jace consistently on turn 4 is really strong.

Last but not least, winning with Splinter Twin in Legacy is super funny due to the fact that there are many Legacy players out there who don’t know the combo and just randomly lose to it and as I said the LOLs are on your side.


Matchups:

Grixis Delver:

This matchup is really tough, winning through twin is just out of the question just because they have good removal, Daze or Stifle to attack your mana and their threats are super hard to beat. Deathrite Shaman taxes your Snapcaster Mages and Gurmag Angler and True-Name Nemesis are nearly unbeatable in game 1. But there is a chance: Blood Moon.

Game 2 gets a lot better because you can board out Splinter Twins and other bad cards to bring in True-Name Nemesis and more removal:

Boarding Plan against Grixis Delver

Out (11)
Splinter Twin
Pestermite
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Force of Will
Spell Pierce

In (11)
Pyroclasm
Pyroblast
Red Elemental Blast
Abrade
True Name Nemesis
Engineered Explosives
Diabolic Edict
Flusterstorm

I like to board out some number of Force of Will against Delver decks just because of the card advantage, but also like some to get rid of threats that are hard to beat like True-Name Nemesis or to protect Blood Moon from countermagic. Pestermite isn’t that bad against Delver just because it blocks Delver and taps Gurmag Angler.


Lands

I think this is probably the best matchup you can get. They can’t beat Blood Moon game 1 and even if they get to Marit Lage you can just tap it the whole time. I had a game once where I tapped down Marit Lage for 5 turns with Fire // Ice or block it with Vendilion Clique and finish him off with the combo. The next advantage is putting their Life from the Loam on the bottom with Clique. You are also immune to their Wasteland.

Boarding Plan against Lands

Out (10)
Splinter Twin
Pestermite
Lightning Bolt

In (10)
Diabolic Edict
Surgical Extraction
Invasive Surgery
True-Name Nemesis
Abrade
Fact or Fiction
Engineered Explosives

After board they will have Krosan Grip for your Blood Moon but that’s fine. Diabolic Edict will kill their Marit Lage and Tireless Trackers.

Surgical Extraction for Life from the Loam, Punishing Fire or just in general the combo pieces when they are dredged. Invasive Surgery to have more counters for loam or Gamble.

True-Name Nemesis is a threat they can’t beat and that just wins you the game. Abrade kills Tireless Tracker, but it’s mainly there for random artefacts they bring in or to kill their Mox Diamond to screw their manabase under Blood Moon. Engineered Explosives kills Exploration or to handle Molten Vortex. Lastly I think a card advantage spell like Fact or Fiction is needed in the matchup just because you burn so many resources.


Sneak & Show

Another good matchup for our deck, we have good countermagic and can leave up mana to flash a threat in at the end of their turn. After boarding it get’s even better just because we have more countermagic and surgical extraction. The only weakspot for us is Boseiju, Who Shelters All, that’s why I tend to not board out Blood Moon.

Boarding Plan against Sneak & Show

Out (7)
Lightning Bolt
Baleful Strix
Fire // Ice

In (7)
Surgical Extraction
Flusterstorm
Red Elemental Blast
Pyroblast
Invasive Surgery

Sadly there are more cards you could board out but that’s ok, your cards are super efficient while their cards aren’t. You could argue to board out a Jace and they second Fire // Ice for the Strix to have a cantrip, but I like to win a counter war and than just play Jace to win the game. Fire // Ice can tap their lands and cantrip which I think is very helpful to buy a turn.


Czech Pile

This matchup is super tough, you will loose game 1 most of the time just because you have the Splinter Twin combo in your deck and they are a much better controldeck in game 1. That being said Blood Moon can still win you the game. The sad thing is that you always need an answer for Deathrite Shaman.

Game 2 gets a lot better just because they will fetch basics and cripple their manabase. Three Jaces are a real powerhouse in this matchup, but still it will be very tough for you.

Boarding Plan against Czech Pile

Out: (10)
Splinter Twin
Pestermite
Spell Pierce
Force of Will

In: (10)
Diabolic Edict
True-Name Nemesis
Red Elemental Blast
Pyroblast
Engineered Explosives
Abrade
Flusterstorm
Fact or Fiction

I’m not a big fan of Spell Pierce in matchups that go very long but being able to counter a Jace is very important. I bring in one Flusterstorm just because I think having too many forces against a deck that wants to 2 for 1 is not the place you want to be, but in the late game it’s often a dead card. You could bring in Pyroclasm as another removal for Deathrite Shamans but I think that’s to much with all the removal you already have.


What’s next?

I will continue playing the deck because I have a lot of fun grinding it and my results with it are pretty good for now.

If you like to want to know about more matchup or if you have general questions, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter 🙂

Thanks for reading