[MtG] The way things used to be

Magic has been around since the halcyon days of 1993. Hard to imagine that it’s been that long. A lot of the players I’ve played against and with in tournaments weren’t even alive back then. And even fewer of the player that were have been playing since then. I myself have only been slinging spells around since my freshman year of high school back in 2000. Magic felt like a game that had already been around forever at that time, but little did I know, it was only in its infancy. So were the strategies. A glimpse into the past reveals how much has changed in how the game works, to what is considered “good” or “bad” or “Chimney Imp awful”. Arguably the single most powerful spell ever printed, Ancestral Recall, was originally part of a cycle that included Giant Growth and Healing Salve. Times have changed. And while the cards, and even the decks themselves have changed, some of the strategies have not. Allow me to take a trip backward to a few spots in Magic’s past, and relive some decks that we may never get to see again, and some that may have new life in today’s game. Gas up the DeLorean, we’re going back to the… past.

We’re going to jump around a bit since I’m not going to make this into a straight history lesson, I’d rather highlight some points that were interesting. Not all of these are the absolute most powerful decks ever, but rather, they show off some aspects of the game that we may never see again. I’ll start with one of my favorite decks, from 2004, Krark Clan Ironworks combo.

Ironworks Combo by Todd Ewer – Wisconsin States 2004

4 Krark-Clan Ironworks
4 Myr Incubator
1 Goblin Charbelcher
1 Fireball
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Thoughtcast
4 Serum Visions
4 Condescend
4 Fabricate
4 Pentad Prism
3 Talisman of Progress
3 Talisman of Dominance
1 Chrome Mox
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Great Furnace
4 Ancient Den
4 Darksteel Citadel
2 Vault of Whispers
1 Tree of Tales


4 Leonin Elder
4 Mana Leak
3 Pyroclasm
3 Early Frost
1 Annul

I pulled this list down, since I cannot for the life of me remember the exact list I played way back when (Although I happen to know that it is still sitting in a briefcase, buried in my parent’s storage unit in Minneapolis). The game plan was simple. You build a board of artifacts, land a Krark-Clan Ironworks, Sacrifice some artifacts to make a massive amount of mana, use that mana to play and activate Myr Incubator, (Usually found with Fabricate on the combo turn) remove all of the remaining lands in your deck, amass a huge herd of Myr tokens, and either attack for a bunch, throw an even more lethal Fireball, or activate Goblin Charbelcher for however many cards are left in your library. The deck was very fast, although not as fast as some combo decks in years past, relatively resilient, as it had a few different paths to victory, and fun to play. The glue that held it together of course, were the lands. I’m not exactly sure what the thought process was for the printing of the fabled artifact lands, but they had an amazing effect on the game. I would say that they were the first lands to be almost strictly better than basic lands since the printing of the original dual lands in Alpha. There’s a reason they were immediately banned when Modern first became a format, and remain banned to this day. This deck harkens back to the old ProsBloom decks that used Squandered Resources to sacrifice its lands for more mana, and then used that mana to draw a ton of cards, then used Cadaverous Bloom to make even more mana, and drain life the opponent out of the game. Ironworks was in many ways more fair, but a definite throwback to that first real combo deck.

Lets go a little bit further and check out one of the first dedicated aggro decks to make a big splash. I’m talking of course about the original Sligh.


2 Dwarven Ruins
4 Mishra’s Factory
13 Mountain
4 Strip Mine
1 Black Vise
4 Brass Man
2 Brothers of Fire
2 Dragon Whelp
3 Dwarven Lieutenant
2 Dwarven Trader
2 Goblins of the Flarg
4 Ironclaw Orcs
2 Orcish Artillery
2 Orcish Cannoneers
2 Orcish Librarian
4 Incinerate
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Shatter
1 Detonate
1 Fireball


3 Active Volcano
1 An-Zerrin Ruins
1 Detonate
1 Fireball
4 Manabarbs
1 Meekstone
2 Serrated Arrows
1 Shatter
1 Zuran Orb

Wow. What a mess. Anyone who wasn’t around back then, I encourage you to look at some of those cards. This was a real deck. Built by Jay Schneider, and piloted by Paul Sligh, this was one of the first decks to focus on a strict curve, and just get the opponent dead before anything else could happen. One of the strange rules that existed at the time in Type II (The format that would eventually become standard) was that every deck must contain at least five cards from each expansion. That’s a really bizarre rule that I’m sure many people are glad went away very quickly. This deck was the true precursor to every full-out aggro deck that has come along since. This one is actually a little easier to port into today’s terms, and I definitely tried:\


4 Falkenrath Gorger
1 Lightning Berserker
4 Village Messenger // Moonrise Intruder
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
2 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh // Chandra, Roaring Flame
4 Reckless Bushwhacker
4 Expedite
4 Fiery Impulse
4 Titan’s Strength
2 Dragon Fodder
20 Mountain

I just put this deck together as an example, not as a straight analogy. This is definitely weaker than the aggro deck of choice in Standard, W/x Humans, and is probably still weaker than Atarka Red, but it follows the old Sligh principle. Make little red dudes, turn them sideways, and throw some burn to end the game.

Now, things weren’t always fun in the land of Magic. There used to be a well-established archetype known as Prison. Prison decks were as much fun to play against as serving time in lockup. These decks would assemble cards to protect themselves, and then put the lock down on, and would eventually find a way to kill you, maybe, if they felt like it. Or they could just wait and deck you. So much fun. There were a few ways to put someone in jail, whether through the famed Winter Orb / Icy Manipulator to keep you from untapping your lands, or, my personal favorite (I’m a horrible person) Stasis.

Stasis (As run by Gary Wise at the Gateway Masters tournament)

4x Stasis
4x Gush
4x Impulse
4x Powder Keg
4x Thwart
4x Force of Will
2x Boomerang
2x Daze
2x Claws of Gix
1x Spellbook
2x Foil
1x Morphling
2x Counterspell
1x Feldon’s Cane
23x Island


3x Disrupt
4x Masticore
3x Back to Basics
3x Annul
2x Turnabout

Here is just one version of Stasis that I was able to find, this one being an old Extended deck from 2000. Extended was the format that was eventually replaced by Modern, and even though the card pool for it was huge, it was a rotating format. This deck would deploy a ton of very cheap countermagic, use Powder Keg to keep weenie swarms at bay, land a Stasis to lock the game, and use cards like Thwart, Daze, and Gush to re-play Islands, Boomerang to bounce Stasis during opponent’s turns to get a free untap before replaying it, and eventually win with a Morphling if they felt like it. It was a miserable experience to play against, not particularly fun to play with, and it was a real archetype. Luckily, there is no analog in Modern Magic to Stasis, but that didn’t stop me from trying to make a prison of my own. And no, I’m not talking about Lantern Control. That deck is almost a prison deck in itself, but I wanted to go slightly different. I wanted to really try and prevent my opponents from playing. I went with Erayo, Soratami Ascendant.


4 Hangarback Walker
4 Memnite
4 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
4 Ethersworn Canonist
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Opal
1 Tormod’s Crypt
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Gut Shot
4 Path to Exile
4 Remand
1 Rule of Law
1 Ojutai’s Command
2 Celestial Colonnade
4 Darksteel Citadel
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast

Now, as with the standard Sligh deck from earlier, this deck is probably not good enough for the big time, but it does put your opponent into prison, sometimes as early as the first turn of the game. Something like:

Turn 1: Darksteel Citadel, Mox Opal, Memnite, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, Gitaxian Probe, Trigger Erayo, Flip Erayo, Pass turn

Turn 2: Ethersworn Canonist

Granted, that’s one Hell of an opening hand, but outside of Engineered Explosives or Abrupt Decay, your opponent is stuck playing one spell a turn, and that spell is going to be gobbled up by Erayo. Then, it’s simply a matter of attacking with Memnite twenty times and winning. My list does run some other options, a few man-lands for some closing speed and a little permission and removal for when things go belly-up, but the first time you manage to lock someone out of Magic, you’ll understand a tiny bit of what it used to be like. And you will be hated. I can promise you that. If you do want to look into opening this prison for Magical criminals, check out www.snapkeepgames.com to start building.

I was honestly going to try and come up with a Standard Madness deck to showcase the difference between Madness today, and the OG Persian messenger kicker, but there just isn’t a deck. The old Extended Madness deck was one of my favorite decks that I ever played, but today’s standard lacks cards like Wild Mongrel, Deep Analysis, Roar of the Wurm, and my absolute favorite-named card ever, Circular Logic. Madness today should just be called Mild Angst compared to what it once was. This does lead me into my closing thought, in that the biggest change I see between Magic then and Magic now, is actually in the name. The Magic itself. Magic was once defined by the spells and supported by the creatures. Removal was cheap and plentiful, card advantage was plainly available, and creatures were by all accounts, rather blah. Serra Angel was once a rare, and a premiere finisher. Now for five mana we get Archangel Avacyn. Things have really flip-flopped. Once combat rules were changed and simplified (combat damage used to be put on the stack, much like abilities, and creatures could be sacrificed for effects and still deal their damage), creatures became the star of the show, and spells became the supporters. Removal got a little more expensive and a little more narrow. Instead of Terror, we get Ultimate Price. Instead of Counterspell, we get Cancel. I’m not going to say that it is entirely a bad thing, since Magic is bigger now than it ever has been, but to some of us who have been around long enough, sometimes it’s a little saddening to lose to monsters like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; knowing that a few short years ago, the best ten mana got you was Teeka’s Dragon with a mana to spare. Things sure have changed. But for the better, I think 🙂

One response to “[MtG] The way things used to be

  1. Pingback: [MtG] The way things used to be – Colecty.com·

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