Throwback Standard Gauntlets: Twenty Years of Standard

Posted in Magic Online on April 5, 2017

By Wizards of the Coast

On April 5, we’ll be starting the first of our new Gauntlet series, the Throwback Standard Gauntlet Event. Like the Pro Tour Gauntlet before it, this one is a phantom event that will give you a randomly-selected Constructed deck to battle against others. The twist, this time, is that we’ll be using Standard decks from across Magic’s history. Read on for all of the details.

Note: This event can be found in the Limited Leagues area of Magic Online play lobby.

Mirage-Tempest Throwback Standard Gauntlet League

  • Start Time: April 5
  • End Time: April 12 at 10 a.m. Pacific
  • Location: Play Lobby -> Limited Tournaments -> Leagues
  • Entry Options:
    • 10 Event Tickets
    • 100 Play Points
  • Number of Players: 8
  • Product: One randomly-selected phantom deck from the below list. The cards in the deck will not be added to your collection.
  • Structure: Deck review, followed by 3 Swiss rounds
  • Prizes:
    • 3 wins: 150 Play Points
    • 2 wins: 100 Play Points
    • 1 win: 40 Play Points
    • 0 wins: 10 Play Points

First Gauntlet: 1997–1998, aka "Mirage-Tempest Standard"

The current system of rotating blocks of Magic sets began with Mirage (which launched in 1996) and Tempest (1997). They combined to create a real golden age for Standard, where quite a diverse collection of decks all had success. Aggro, control, combo, and midrange decks all won their fair share, and were all immortalized as the "Decks to Beat" on the original Magic website, the Dojo.

Below you'll find descriptions of each deck included in the first Throwback Standard Gauntlet along with a description of each. All decks and descriptions were prepared by Randy Buehler.

Deadguy Red

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David Price of Team Deadguy was playing aggressive red decks even before the printing of Tempest super-charged the archetype (and helped him win the Tempest Block Constructed Pro Tour). By the time Worlds rolled around six months later, future Hall of Famers like Jon Finkel and Ben Rubin had joined him and were Fireblasting their way to the Top 8. The strategy here is pretty straight-forward by modern standards: play out creatures, burn blockers out of the way, and then burn the opponent down to 0. But this deck is noteworthy not just for being the first good example of the archetype, but also for having perhaps the most "reach" in the history of red decks. "What are you at? 14?"


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Associated with Andrew Cuneo, Erik Lauer, and Randy Buehler, this archetype represents the historical peak of blue control decks. With over 20 efficient ways to say "no," this deck forced opponents to ask permission for everything they wanted to do. The name of the deck also tells you how to play it: draw, play a land, and say "go"; never tap mana on your own turn if you can avoid it. Survive long enough to get to six mana, and Whispers of the Muse with buyback should let you maintain complete control of the game for however long you need.

White Weenie

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Matt Linde won a dramatic US Nationals final over Mike Long with this deck, and then Brian Hacker piloted an identical main deck to the Top 8 at Worlds. Opponents live in fear of Empyrial Armor enchanting a creature with shadow, and the dream start follows that up with a Cataclysm. Note also how good those "en-Kor" creatures are at blocking red or black creatures whenever one of the white weenies with protection from that color is on the battlefield.


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Legendary as the first good combo deck in the history of Standard, Pros-Bloom placed three players in the Top 8 of the European Championships in the summer of 1998 in addition to claiming 2nd place at US Nationals. The "combo" isn't exactly straight-forward, but here's the basic idea: Cast Cadaverous Bloom as soon as possible, ideally by sacrificing your lands to Squandered Resources as a response to Natural Balance to ramp your mana dramatically. Then discard cards to the Bloom to generate mana that you can sink into card-drawing effects that let you build up more cards in hand than you needed to cast them (Prosperity is the most straight-forward of these). Then dump 11-plus cards through the Bloom for black mana and point a giant Drain Life at your opponent's face. The deck is a little more fragile now that death is checked as a state-based effect (instead of just at the end of each phase), which means you can no longer draw cards with Infernal Contract while at 0 life, but it's still a very powerful weapon against much of the field.


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Named after the cards Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest, this deck is packed full of situational "answers" that can be accessed via Survival and then Recurred as many times as necessary. It's also got the ability to put a quick fatty into the graveyard, and a quick Verdant Force does just about everything you could want: it attacks, it blocks, and it provides creatures to sacrifice to bring more and more creatures back from the graveyard. This deck was a terror throughout the time Exodus was legal in Standard, and it won the 1998 World Championship in the hands of Brian Selden.


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The rule of thumb back in the day was that no one could win a game wherein their opponent hit them twice with an Ophidian. The decklist is full of ways to clear a path for the original card-drawing saboteur and this deck was the weapon of choice for Jon Finkel for most of the time its signature cards were legal in Standard (including a run at US Nationals that earned him a spot on Team USA). Like most tempo decks, it can sometimes play like a control deck and sometimes like an aggro deck, but the real skill comes in recognizing when to assume which role.


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The basic idea of a reanimator deck had been around forever, but it had never actually been competitive before. Enter Alan Comer. He and his friends Larry Janicec and Brian Selden shocked everyone and crushed California Regionals with a deck that could make every little kid smile. The deck has twelve ways to get things into the graveyard while extracting value (plus, when on the draw you can just skip playing a land and use your draw step). It's also got eleven fatties and nine reanimation spells. Once Recurring Nightmare was printed, that became the dominant reanimation strategy, but you can still see echoes of this design in the Firestorms and Godzilla himself (Verdant Force) that Brian Selden stuck with at Worlds after he used them to such good effect to get himself qualified for Nationals.

Suicide Black

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Black aggro decks had been around for a while, and they were sometimes pretty reasonable options, but the combination of creatures with shadow and the card Hatred really pushed the deck to new levels. It took some bravery to run in a metagame that often had a lot of red decks, but hey, no guts no glory, right?

Oath of Druids

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Creature (2)
2 Archangel
Instant (4)
2 Disenchant 2 Enlightened Tutor
Artifact (4)
4 Scroll Rack
Enchantment (5)
1 Aura of Silence 4 Oath of Druids
60 Cards

The breakout strategy at US Nationals after the card Oath of Druids was printed, this version of the Oath deck was unique in that it did not actually require your opponent to play creatures in to win. While happy to put free Archangels into play, the ideal state for this deck is one where the opponent is sitting around waiting to draw their enchantment removal. That's when the "Mulch-Rack" card-drawing engine kicks in. You may think you've durdled, but have you ever put four lands on top of your library with Scroll Rack and then cast Mulch? And followed up with Gerrard's Wisdom?

Tradewind Good Stuff

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Sideboard (15)
1 Spike Feeder 2 Cloudchaser Eagle 2 Lobotomy 4 Pyroblast 3 Man-o-War 3 Uktabi Orangutan

There were quite a few versions of the basic Tradewind Rider plus Birds of Paradise plus Wall of Roots and/or Blossoms archetype. These decks had the ability to create a quick lock through high-quality utility creatures plus the Tradewind Rider's ability to bounce not just key creatures, but also the opponent's lands. Some versions went for Winter Orb and/or Armageddon to create brutal "Prison-style" locks (often with Propaganda as well). The more fun versions would use Hermit Druid to fuel a large graveyard, which could then all be brought back with Living Death. The version here is a hybrid of all these strategies and includes both "Peaches" (aka Spike Feeder) and Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle's signature Fallen Angels.

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