High End Magic: The Gathering

I always found the expression a bit awkward applied to Magic. It implies that the game is finite, that once you have all the cards the whole thing is beaten, much like a video game. I actually view collecting Magic quite as the opposite. Every time I expand my collection, creativity emerges and my options widen. Magic is truly a never-ending story. This is what brings me to talk about some months ago, when I finally pulled the trigger and traded away a part of my Modern collection to acquire the ultimate high end cardboard, the famous Black Lotus. It is an absolute pleasure to hold the nine, and even more to play with them. I am not missing my 20 Zendikar fetch lands, some of the cards I converted into the Big One that I hadn’t played in the last 2 years. On the other hand, my Lotus will see action almost every week. Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to trade for an Unlimited one to complete my otherwise black border Power Nine. I will definitely try to upgrade it someday. So, here they are united and I still don’t feel like I completed MTG:

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Fast forward to a few weeks ago when Grand Prix Montréal was held. Someone from our playgroup observed that an Old School tournament was on the Sunday schedule. A group formed and I joined late to the party for the two and a half hour trip to play some glorious vintage Magic. We were on a double quest as it is always fantastic to play such an event, but we were also scouting to get in touch with a Montreal playgroup, if one even existed. We would gladly welcome more players in our tournaments.

Since I play using the original Old School 93/94 ruleset and the event organisers opted for the Eternal Central one, it gave me the opportunity to toy around with the different banlist and set eligibility. As most readers probably know, the latter gives us access to full playsets of Black Vise, Mishra’s Workshop and Strip Mine as well as cards from Fallen Empires. Besides it was printed in 1994 for the format sake, there was not much interest in the expansion except for the infamous Hymn to Tourach. Considering the situation, I wanted to exploit theses differences at maximum and my first thought went to a mono white prison build, reminiscent of Le Deck Parfait, using multiple Vises and Mines. I also had a thought for a Workshop brew, but the recent Winter Orb update, thanks to Eternal Masters, made me stick to my first choice. As I decided to take part of the trip pretty late, I assembled this list during the road trip which went pretty smoothly :

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Purists will certainly cringe a bit seeing that I also made use of the Eternal Central set legality playing a Revised The Hive, a Winter Orb and a pair of Black Vise. In my defense, all those are French black border, which is arguably as scarce as Unlimited. Regarding the deck construction, I could also have added red for a Wheel of Fortune and some Fireballs for a better late game plan or black for the infernal Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist duo. Black would also have given me access to Guardian Beast in the sideboard, which would have been a sweet tech against artifact hate. I finally decided to avoid splashes in a format where playsets of Strip Mines are running rampant.

As it turned out, only 5 participants joined to play some retro Magic and we were 4 from the same trip. The other player was from the Ottawa region, which made it a shameful total of 0 players from Montréal, home to the tournament. At least we now know that there is no Old School 93/94 scene in Montréal, or it is buried deep underground. It is also amusing to mention that since the tournament structure was announced in advance, they didn’t downgrade it despite the low attendance. They maintained the 4 round event and gave every player a round 4 bye. Apparently a round robin pairings was not an option. So we played three rounds. I don’t enjoy reading a typical play by play report at all, but here are the highlights of my matchups as I remember them. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera to take pictures, and a stupid smartphone doesn’t own me either.

First round I was paired against the gentlemen from Ottawa, Andy, playing an unpowered classic mono black deck. Nothing spectacular here except for the second game where an Underworld Dreams haunted me turn one thanks to a Dark Ritual. The nightmare brought me at 3 life before I found my first Disenchant to see clear again and reclaim the upper hand before sealing the game prison style. 1-0 (2-0)

My opponent for round two was Christian, which is inevitably one of the guy I made the trip with. He piloted a solid Deadguy Ale variant called Péché Mortel. I remember that our games turned out to be grindfests and we of course went on time game 3. We played the 5 extra turns with excitement, knowing that we would decide the winner on a Chaos Orb flip contest, should the game not end. As is turned out, neither of us won after the extra turns, so we proceeded to execute the flip contest at the judge’s disapproval. We argued that we were using the Eternal Central guidelines, but the judges regrouped and concerted. They finally told us that doing so would be considered gambling and they refused the procedure and formulated threats of disqualification. As far as anticlimax goes, this is up there with the Lost finale. Reality hits me right in the guts. This is DCI sanctioned bullshit. No Scotch, no beers, no fun as we intended to. Turns out I would have won the match using my spectacular Orb-flipping skills. Anyways, games we played were fun and it’s all that matters. 1-0-1 (1-1-1)

Round three was against a close friend of mine, Jessy, who entered the format only weeks ago. He piloted a UR burn similar to Olle Rade’s build including a Big Blue and some Volcanic Islands borrowed from me. We played some fair and square magic, including a memorable game two where he resolved Timetwister with a Time Walk in the bank. All my hopes were lost at that point, but fortunately for me, he drew bricks enough to build the highest Ivory Tower ever to be seen. 2-0-1 (2-1)

After playing three rounds with a full set of Strip Mines and a Black Vise trio, I felt that these cards were not as broken as they seemed to be in 93/94. Black Vise has only won me games once the lock had been assembled. I think that it can be a potential unban in the Swedish rules set as it pushes prison style decks without hurting much other archetypes besides Tax Edge. On the other hand, I’m still on the fence with the Mines. Playing 4 means that you will see 1 or 2 per game which is fine when people are prepared for it. What bothers me the most is that acess to a full set may be too oppressive metagame-wise. Much like I ended up doing, I feel that people will splash less colors. As such, deckbuilding innovation and creativity might be lessened. It also stresses the importance of Moxen in a format where card availability is a problem, and reinforces the statement that you absolutely need them and dual lands to be competitive.

The event went quickly, which gave us plenty of time to shop around the Grand Prix vendors, hunting for relics of the past. We all found treasures of our own tastes from the golden age of Magic. Here is my loot, nothing special at all, some goodies and crappies I was still missing :

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After leaving the convention center, we headed for Dieu du Ciel!, a craft brewery, to satisfy unfulfilled desires. We had a fine dinner and a couple of great beers, including a delightful Aphrodisiaque for me which concluded a nice trip. If you are into craft beer, you should definitely give it a try, they are one of the best brewery in Québec.

Stay tuned as I will post a report soon after our second tournament in Québec on September 10. This time, the event will be hosted at a local pub called Le Corail and the winner will claim an unlimited Lord of Atlantis signed by all participants. Entry fee is a 93/94 Old School legal card representing a creature from the sea. It will also be mandatory that each player orders a beer each hour! Chaos Orb flips during top 8 might miss! This event has all what it takes to be a blast and around 16 players have already confirmed their presence. As a side note, I am working on a series of articles. I will not reveal the details yet, but can’t wait to post the first article soon!

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7 thoughts on “High End Magic: The Gathering

  1. Great read and insights! Weird to hear that flipping chaos orbs were considered gambling to the threat of disqualification; that sounds like intense navel gazing of the infraction guidelines.

    Interesting with some more qualitative testing of Vise and Strip Mine. Vise is the card hanging closest to unrestriction I think.

    Peche Mortel seems like a very fitting name for your friends deck btw, hope he got the chance to pick up a few at the dieu de ciel brewery 🙂

    Thanks for the articles, and best of luck in the Quebec tournament!

    /Mg

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    1. The judge didn’t actually said gambling but something like ” a random way to determine the winner” which is pretty much the definition of gambling.

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      1. We advised that this was “improperly determining a winner.” Unfortunately, Chaos Orb contests are not acceptable means of deciding a match in sanctioned play, regardless of format. We couldn’t allow you to do this for the same kind of reason that we also couldn’t allow CE/IE. Luckily, the latter didn’t seem to present a problem to anybody when I asked you guys about it prior to round 1.

        I probably should have also explicitly covered the no Chaos Orb tiebreaker rule to you guys when starting the event. We did try to take care to list all of the other differences with the EC rules set, but this one got past me.

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      2. No harsh feelings, but yes, the Chaos Orb tiebreaker rule should have been discussed before the beginning of the tournament. I totally understand why this is not acceptable under sanctioned play. On the other hand, we were only 5 guys playing a non-official casual format, so I’m not even sure why the event had to be sanctioned. At last, I wish that judges could use more discernment and address situations like this one not only based on the DCI sanctioned play guidelines, but using their judgment.

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  2. Hey Guillaume,

    I really like your blog! Just wanted to let you know (in case you hadn’t seen it) – I referenced your recent White Prison deck in my most recent post about 93/94 archetypes on Understanding Ancestral. It’s cool build and I think it represents the archetype well.

    Looking forward to more posts here!

    //Danny

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