Magic as Garfield Intended: In the Beginning


There's something to be said for the way things used to be.

Back when everyone was just starting to figure out this game called Magic: The Gathering, local game stores didn't exist, and we leaned on counters in comic and sports card shops, picking our own packs out of the booster box because you made your own luck.

The closest thing we had to netdecking was Scrye Magazine, and if you were reading that you were already in deep. Deep was your stack of maybe a couple hundred cards that you crafted a deck of a bunch of one-ofs out of to beat up on your playgroup that usually consisted of brothers and a few friends from school. Deep was having the single Legends card among your group of friends—even if it was awful—because it was a unicorn and everyone had to pick it up to read what it did and set it down in awe. 

I traded a dual land for this guy back in 1994. I regret nothing.

We played on cafeteria tables, sidewalks, floors, countertops, and learned the hard way that a rubber band made a terrible deck holder and baggies worked just fine. Sleeves? Those penny things? Nah.

Real Old School Magic was glorious. And, being nostalgic about these kind of things, I'd love to recapture that spirit—same card pool and all.

That's where this little experiment comes in.

I'm going to build an Old School 93/94 collection from scratch the old way. And there's nothing you can do to stop me.

The Rules

1. Follow Eternal Central's Old School rules

Maybe you're new to Old School Magic. It's a fantastic format aimed at nostalgia, playing only the earliest sets using only the original frames and art. There are a few different flavors depending on where you are in the world, the largest two being Swedish rules that allows only cards from Alpha/Beta/Unlimited and expansions through The Dark, and Eternal Central rules typically played in the States that allows Fallen Empire and any reprints as long as it's original art and frames. There is also a slight difference in B&R between the two.

Working with the Eternal Central rules and its fairly liberal reprint policy allows me to really operate on a budget. Any non-foil, old border, original art printing of any card between Alpha and Fallen Empires is legal. This includes Collector's Edition and even World Championship cards.

Brass bordered City of Brass? So meta.

2. Start with a budget of $100 in sealed product

Thanks to EC's reprint policy, starting an Old School collection with sealed product just like back in the day, while not at MSRP, isn't as cost prohibitive as one might think. With $100 to start, the collection will begin with:

  • 1 4th Edition Starter ($50 and still available via Troll & Toad)
  • 2 4th Edition Booster Packs — French ($25 via eBay)
  • 1 Chronicles Booster Pack ($12 via eBay)
  • 2 Fallen Empire Booster Packs ($10 via eBay)
  • 1 250-count card box ($2 via LGS)
  • 1 pack of gum ($1 via LGS and to be consumed after my first win)

Christmas 1995 has arrived!

In 1995 this starting point retailed for around $30 and would have made for a pretty sweet collection out the gate. French packs weren't exactly readily available, but the English are currently creeping up in price so this was the budget solution. Also, getting your hands on foreign printings was the old way of pimping a deck before foil, so I'm already starting out better than 16-year-old Jason could have hoped to.

3. Build with what I crack

This will give me 128 cards to start with. From this collection, I will build and play a 60 card deck. Most of my games will be played online via webcam against folks playing with real collections and real decks so I don't expect to win a lot, but that's how it went back in mid-90s. If there are local games or tournaments, I'm there with this pile of awesome. And by awesome I mean four-color YOLO, because the I fully expect the landbase to be awful.

You see, whatever lands I crack are the lands I play with to start, because back in the day stores weren't awash with free lands to give away. You had to trade for them or buy them, so I'll be in the same boat. I expect my first deck to be frightening, but that'll be fixed thanks to...

I'm probably going to open this guy in both packs. I'm probably going to have to play him.

4. Have a monthly allowance of $10

If I do all of my chores, I get $10 to spend each month to expand the collection. I'm not going to TCGPlayer for this part—I'm locally sourcing my singles just like the old days. I have the luxury of living in a town with half a dozen game stores, of which a few carry enough Old School stuff to support this experiment. I'll readily admit this rule might adjust based on stock should stores dry up, but I'm going to hold off as long as I can.

One purchase I will allow online is sealed stuff if desired. This may only be a Fallen Empire pack while they're still cheap enough or a steal on a Chronicles pack should it get on my radar, but it'll be hard to resist cracking packs if I can afford to.

5. Allow online trading

This is where I'm cheating. Yes, there's a local Old School scene. But being able to trade for what I need among the group may be tough - small collections focused on optimizing decks and all. So I'll allow myself to trade online - either through Old School Buy/Sell/Trade groups on FB, the Old School Discord, or right here on PucaTrade.

What's the point of all of this?

Sure, it's nostalgia, not just for the cards but for the spirit of Magic back in the beginning.

Old School 93/94 does a lot of that by having the hands-down best community of Magic players I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. These are folks who just love the game and want to sling beautiful cardboard old enough to rent a car.

Or in some cases buy a car.

But even Old School kinda misses the mark when it comes to the atmosphere in the mid-90s. It's like playing Magic back in the day only with cheatcodes on. Budgets are bigger (and they have to be), collections are larger, and the internet makes any card available at any time with the click of a button. Also, what we know about Magic and deck building and metas and card interaction has grown leaps and bounds over the last 25 years. You'd think a format as old as the game itself would be solved, but there are new decks constantly being brewed that challenge what were the best back in the day. It's a brewer's paradise, spice over spike, and it's pretty fun.

It's still missing a lot of what made Magic so fascinating in its infancy, however, and part of the charm that Richard Garfield wanted baked into the game: The brewing, the building, the trading not with dollar value in mind but for what you needed for your deck, the mystery of what other cards might be out there that you hadn't discovered yet.

Whoa, dang, this is a real card?!

We can't really do much about that last point—while some cards still surprise me (I'm still finding "new" cards that I'd never heard of in Legends), the cards are known. But the brewing, the building, the trading—what if we could recreate that experience?

This challenge is a bit about stripping away a lot of what we take for granted today in Magic: Netdecking, online vendors, and LGSs entirely dedicated to the game. It's going to involve brewing and rediscovering some fantastic cards that are lost to the ages. It's going to involve binder and bulk box diving in game and comic stores, sifting through cards that haven't been touched in a lifetime. It's going to involve interacting with a community who not only love playing these old cards but love helping other people play with them.

A bonus here is you can come along if you'd like. Whether you're already into Old School or just getting started, this is about playing the format on a budget that most Magic players can afford. Even you can walk in cold turkey on the cheap, have no idea what you're going to play, and still have a great time.

If I get one of these I'll play it. And lose a lot because of it. For giggles.

The dream is to build a semi-competitive Old School deck on a budget over time. It's going to take patience and some losses (a lot of losses), but I also hope to give you, dear reader, an insight on some of the wheeling and dealing and janky brewing of the olden days. Together we'll revisit some of these old cards that haven't been played in decades. You can laugh at me as I show off my Timmy ways as I oooh and ahhh over really terrible cards. You'll get to meet some of the folks that make the Old School community great. You'll learn some of the neat tricks of the Old School trade like playing online via Skype with actual cardboard from the comfort of your own home after putting the kids to bed.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll develop a newfound appreciation for this game we love.

Jason Kenney (@WritingJay) has been a casual Magic player since 1994. After a long hiatus, he came back to Magic in 2014 and discovered Old School MTG in late-1996. He’s admin of the Old School MTG Discord Server and runs with The Wretched in Richmond, Virginia.

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