Old School Magic: The Basics

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Old School Origins

When Magic: The Gathering had first premiered at the Origins Game Fair in 1993, few could have predicted the enormous amount of success and attention it would garner. Being the smash hit that it was, the original print run of Alpha that was released that August—which consisted of approximately 2.6 million cards—almost immediately sold out. Some changes would be made to the set right after, along with a change in the die cut process to include small 4mm corners, as opposed to the original "rounded" poker-style corners that had been used by the manufacturer, Carta Mundi. The cards would be re-released in October that year—called Beta—and had a print run about three times larger at 7.8 million cards. Not surprisingly, this set would sell out just as quickly, and Wizards of the Coast would go on to release its third core set, Unlimited, by December of the same year with 40 million cards. In the same month, Wizards would also release its first expansion set, Arabian Nights. As the popularity of the game grew, subsequent expansion would be released the following year in 1994 to add even more variety and flavor to the game: Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, and Fallen Empires. Magic would continue to go on to grow by leaps and bounds as time would go on. The game was affordable (2.99 a booster pack), easy to learn, and fun, gaining millions of followers while becoming one of the major factors that would turn the collectible card game industry into a multi-billion-dollar sector by 2017.

Why Play Old School?

Although it has been over two decades since Magic: The Gathering was released, the appeal of playing with the "original" sets from the first two years of the game continue to draw people into what's known as the Old School format. There are a variety of reasons why someone would want to play old school. Maybe it's because they want to be able to play with what are, arguably, some of the most powerful cards in the format, and how the mechanics of those cards interact with each other. It could also be the gorgeous artwork featured on cards of the time, which were richly detailed and hand painted in various artistic mediums, a far cry from the digitized and computer-assisted artworks of today. Or, like myself, they want to relive a piece of history they never got to experience. Naturally, there is a fortunate group of people that were Magic players during the early years of the game, and to them this could also be a form of nostalgia. Whatever the case might be, it's a magical experience (no pun intended) being able to shuffle up a deck of cards from the early 90's, to drop duals with no drawbacks, artifacts with no casting costs, and creatures that although over-costed by today's modern standard, are simply legendary. The basic rules are very straightforward, mainly: Any card printed in 1993–1994, four of each card, a short one-of restricted list, spell priority on stack, and mana burn in effect. It's an extremely fun format, and from a purely financial perspective, one in which many of the cards continue to increase in value over time. Essentially, it's a win-win whether you decide to just collect or play as well!

Collecting Basics

1. Make a Budget, and stick to it.

Although at first glance it might seem intimidating to collect a format the features pricey cards such as the famous Power 9, it doesn't have to be expensive. By starting out with a budget, you can prevent spending unnecessarily on cards you don't need for your collection, or haven't allocated the money for. Many cards can be had for only a few dollars, and some people choose to play Old School unpowered as well. Since many Old School games are held in fairly casual circles, most folks who play Old School are fine with people using later editions of certain cards, such as cards from Revised, Anthologies, or foreign black bordered. Just make sure to ask! Conveniently, early on in Magic's history, Wizards also had the collector's market in mind, and two Collector's Edition sets were released featuring "square" corners and a gold border (not for sanctioned play) that also made their way into casual circles.

A Collector's Edition (International) Black Lotus. Image Courtesy of BigPappyJ | 9647.

2. Leverage PucaTrade and your LGS

PucaTrade has been an invaluable resource of knowledge of information. It's a good trading platform that has allowed me to trade cards I don't need from formats I don't play—like Modern—for ones that I do need. By combining the trades and purchases you'd be making anyways at your local game store with the promotions people offer on Puca, you're able to greatly offset the cost of collecting. Just because a card might not be worth much to you, the same card might be a must-have and worth a lot more for someone else for their deck or collection. Although I've been playing both paper magic and MTGO on and off for some time, it was only earlier this year that I started to collect Old School Magic cards. With a fair bit of trading—some of which included selling three sought-after dual lands to collectors—I've been able to put together about half of an original Beta set on a relatively light budget.

Protection is key with Old School cards. I find top loaders to be a good option to both archive and trade Magic.

3. Be patient

You know that proverbial phrase, "Patience is a virtue?" It's thought to have originated in the fifth century, and still holds true today. I feel this is an often-overlooked element, especially as people rush about their busy daily lives to get things done. Rushing purchases for your Magic collection will usually mean paying top dollar, or even maybe even overpaying for the cards you need and want. Waiting for a sale or new inventory is well worth it, especially if you're stocking up on desirable cards to trade off that people will have on their wants lists on Puca. In addition to waiting for sales, Old School players and collectors will often tell you that it takes time to find the cards themselves. Many first-time Old School players will start by typically playing a mono-colored deck to start and go from there as they acquire duals and other pricier pieces for other deck archetypes.


Mono White is both a popular and affordable first deck pick. “WHITE WINNIE” - Fabien Sanglard. Image used with permission.

4. Pay it forward

Through PucaTrade I've also gotten to know some great people who've not only helped me with my collection, but inspired me more than I would have imagined. It is said that the world is like an echo, and that you reap the benefits of what you say and do. By helping people with their collections, you are helping the community. Whether this is as collectors or players, each person has their own unique set of wants, and everyone wins when the community prospers. As the PucaTrade mantra says: Give and Let Give. The Best Way to Trade.

Wrapping Up

I hope these tips will provide good insight for someone looking to start playing this great format. The PucaTrade community is a helpful one, and if you have any questions, people are sure to chime in and help. Have fun in everything you do, and enjoy this great game that crosses international boundaries and brings people together!

Joseph Black is laid back retro-loving guy from Ontario, Canada, who loves all things related to Old School Magic. He has an interest in creative endeavors like commercial design, web development, travel, learning languages, and meeting new people. He's been a member of PucaTrade since April, and is working towards a goal of completing a Beta set (without Power 9).

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