by Stuart Ziarnik
Despite the energy and organization that have defined the format in the past few years, Austin does not have a centralized Old School scene. With that, I’ve found that local players have many misconceptions about Old School. The biggest one, invariably, is the cost of building a deck. As we’ve just announced our second non-proxy event of the year – the Summer of 94 – we wanted to help prospective and skeptical players come and join us for a day of fun and old cardboard. To do that, I’m writing this article to help new players put a deck together without buying Power, Duals, etc.
Before I dive into that, however, I have one huge caveat: OLD SCHOOL IS A CASUAL FORMAT. Most of us play Old School to have a good time, and as a break from more competitive Magic. So when you’re building a deck, always keep fun at the front of your mind. Your deck does not need to be a world beater, as there’s little glory in winning an Old School tournament. Likewise, if the lists I’ve outlined below don’t appeal to you, please go explore the whacky cards in the 93/94 card pool and build something unique!
The 8 Most Important Cards
Romancing The Stones plays by Eternal Central rules. If you’re going to be playing with EC rules, the first thing you should do is buy yourself a playset of Strip Mines and a playset of Urza’s Factories.
Strip Mine is your best tool in leveling the playing field against fully-powered opponents. Many of the top decks in the format play a Library of Alexandria, as well as extraordinarily clunky manabases comprised of Cities of Brass and Dual Lands. 4 Strip Mines will let your budget deck attack those lands and prevent your opponent from casting their spells, which are otherwise more powerful than yours.
Mishra’s Factory is the best unrestricted card in the format. It’s an amazingly powerful blocker, and also gives you some staying power in case of Wrath of God, Earthquake, etc. And odd as it sounds, it’s likely going to be more powerful than most of the shitty weenies you have available in this card pool!
Under EC rules, all printings of a card that use old frame and original art are legal. As of writing this article (June 2019), Fourth Edition Strip Mines cost roughly $15 each, and Factories are about $1. The $65 you’ll spend on those cards will get you a long way, and will be the useful in almost any deck in the format.
If you’re on a budget, you’re probably going to be playing Aggro. All the Combo decks in the format require expensive cards for both mana (e.g. Moxen) and the combos themselves (e.g. Mirror Universe). The Control decks need a grouping of very powerful, expensive cards to beat their opponents at the card advantage and quality game (e.g. Ancestral Recall, Mana Drain). The Aggro decks, however, rely on efficient creatures and spells that can largely be found at reasonable prices.
Unlike contemporary formats, there’s very little card selection or mana-fixing in Old School, because we don’t have Fetch Lands or Cantrips. As such, multicolored decks rely on running full sets of Dual Lands, Cities of Brass, and Moxen to cast their spells. If you’re missing these cards, you should limit yourself to one color, so that you don’t need to worry about drawing the wrong half of your manabase.
Don’t view this as an impediment. In a format with 4 Strip Mines, sticking to one color safeguards you against being mana screwed. Coupled with your own Strip Mines, you’ll be able to play on curve and keep your opponent on the back foot while overwhelming them with efficient threats.
Now that we’ve settled on playing a Monocolor Strip Mine Aggro deck, let’s jump into our options!
Mono Black Rack
(Deck: Rob Connolly)
Mono Black is the most brutal and controlling of the budget decks. Hymn to Tourach, Mind Twist, Disrupting Scepter, and Hypnotic Specter all do a great job of making sure your opponents can’t cast their powerful spells – especially when you accelerate them out with Dark Ritual! Black Knight and Order of the Ebon Hand are also immune to Swords to Plowshares, which is highly relevant in many matchups.
Budget Considerations: None, really. Demonic Tutor is the only remotely expensive card in this list. If you can’t swing it, an extra maindeck removal spell, like Terror or Paralyze, might be useful.
(Deck: Evan Smith)
Merfolk is our tempo option. Similar to a contemporary Delver deck, your goal is to ride 1 or 2 efficient threats to victory. Strip Mine and Energy Flux are powerful mana denial tools, Counterspell helps you fight on the stack, and Psionic Blast and Control Magic let you control the board.
Budget Considerations: This list’s singleton Mana Drain could be a Force Spike - few opponents expect it, and if you get them, they’ll play around it for the rest of the match. The sideboard Old Man Of The Sea could be a Seasinger or Aeolipile.
(Deck: Derek Walker)
Mono Green’s become increasingly popular in Old School recently. This list has a deceptive amount of play to it. Against Powered opponents, Winter Orb, Crumble, and Scavenger Folk all help your Strip Mine mana-denial plan. Elvish Archers and Spitting Slug can be a nightmare for other creature decks, while Timber Wolves, Wyluli Wolf, Giant Growth, and Pendelhaven are all useful combat tricks.
Budget Considerations: The Mox Emerald can easily become a Forest, and I’d recommend turning the Chaos Orb into an extra copy of either Scavenger Folk or Crumble.
(Deck: Stuart Ziarnik)
Goblins is the most purely aggressive deck on this list. While your creatures are mostly terrible, they become impressive under a Goblin King, and can be converted into lots of damage with Goblin Grenade. Alongside 8 Bolts and a Fireball, this deck can close a game out very, very quickly. Watch out for Circle of Protection: Red, though!
Budget Considerations: Wheel of Fortune is a bit pricy, and could become a 4th Ball Lightning. In the sideboard, the singleton Spinal Villain can become your 4th Red Elemental Blast. Blood Moon is worth shelling out for, but if you can’t, some extra copies of Stone Rain or Shatterstorm could do the trick.
(Deck: Stuart Ziarnik)
White Weenie is nearly as popular as Mono Black, though it’s been waning in recent years. Your creatures are solid, especially with Crusade, but the deck’s real strength is its spells. Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant, and Balance are some of the most powerful cards in Old School, and many players splash White specifically to get access to these cards. Armageddon can also devastate mana-hungry opponents, and your sideboard is full of powerful hate cards.
Budget Considerations: I threw this deck together from spare cards, and nothing in it is expensive. If you don’t feel like picking up a copy of Preacher, Serra Angel can add a lot of hitting power in its place.
Played competently, any of these decks can take down a tournament. More importantly, though, they’re relatively cheap ways of dipping your toe into Old School and getting to experience the fun of slinging really old cardboard in a relaxed environment.
If you have other questions about the format, or if you need to borrow some cards to play, I encourage you to reach out to the members of our community! There are a lot of Old School enthusiasts in Austin who will jump at the chance to play or talk about the format, so don’t hesitate to utilize them as a resource.