Old Time Rock and Roll

Posted in Serious Fun on November 6, 2012

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Let me show something most us have never seen in person.

That is a booster box of Mirage , released in October 1996. It's been fifteen years since players discovered the continent of Jamuraa and its wonderful cultures. It's also been fifteen years since the heyday of when I learned to play Magic with friends. These two ideas are intertwined at the heart of why I love the game.

Among that first troupe of players, only one is still playing with me today. He's one of my best friends and we've shared amazing experiences over the years. Despite playing together occasionally, we have very different investments in the game. He has several Commander decks ready but they're never up to date with the latest. I stay on the cutting edge of the game. He's happy to get a few games in when we meet up. I constantly queue the next game every chance I get.

For us both, Magic is about the experience. We want an awesome time with friends. Magic has changed over the years, and he's lamented there wasn't any way "to put the genie back in the bottle." Magic together always meant using today's cards with today's strategies. The memory of our youthful yesteryear is just that: memories.

I never stopped looking for ways to travel back in time. A few months ago I discovered something marvelous: a sealed box of Mirage. It wasn't in the condition a collector would appreciate, and the sun-faded side showed how long it sat forgotten. Yet inside held the diamond in the rough: A unique way to recreate the feeling of Magic that we first started with.

It was time to give my friend a surprise that would let him remember where we started, with a game he wouldn't soon forget. It's been fifteen years since Mirage Sealed was the format at hand. It's been just over a week since it's been played.

The recent Grand Prix in Philadelphia was where it happened.

The Time-Warp Dance

Since time travel hasn't been invented (yet?), I needed a creative way to put us back into 1996. When I saw the box of Mirage it hit me: When we played in 1996 it was with "whatever we had opened from packs," just like in a Sealed event.

The second piece of the playing puzzle was method. While duels were indeed common between us all, it was multiplayer games at lunch that I recall best. I'd been looking for a way to test out Attack Left as a way to keep a multiplayer game moving (as opposed to Free-for-All, where anyone can attack anyone). I was betting that Mirage Sealed Attack Left multiplayer would be the right mix of nostalgia without the gridlocks we used to run into.

Since I settled on multiplayer, the final catch was to assemble a crew that mixed old and new, both others who'd appreciate the nostalgia and those who never had the chance to rip open a Mirage booster pack.

Let's meet the players:

Nate Holt is one half of the Walking the Planes duo. The traveler of the Multiverse would be a formidable opponent. Philadelphia was home-plane advantage for him. His mystical powers are only surpassed by his wit. Upon seeing the box of Mirage he quipped that it "Does not contain more than 70% ash." Mirage is, indeed, old.

Shawn Delp is the Silent Bob to my Jay. His fearsome beard is proof alone. He's also the guy I've shared Magic with all these years. Every time we meet I give him a new batch of cards to work with and test out the updated configurations of whatever Commander deck he just worked on. We know how each other plays so well that it's almost impossible to trick the other in games.

Mike Cummings is the newest face to Magic at the table. I shared the game with him in college about seven years ago, when Ravnica: The City of Guilds was released. I gave him a Tolsimir Wolfblood as one of his first cards. He still has it today, sitting in his Rhys the Redeemed Commander deck (one of three he had for the weekend).

Jon Corpora is a writer I've had the chance to work with in other ventures. While he carries himself to be a more competitive player, he isn't afraid to jump in where there's fun to be had. One whiff of Mirage and he was hooked.

To frame just what we were working with, here are the decks we each built in the turn order we played.

Adam "The Stybs" Styborski's Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Jon "52 FNMs" Corpora's Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Mike "The Pope" Cummings's Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Shawn "This is How Magic is Meant to be Played" Delp's Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Nate "Walking the Planes" Holt's Deck

Download Arena Decklist

These decks were no joke.

While the cards were created eons ago, we played with the experience and knowledge of today. It showed in our early turns as we all spent our efforts ramping up mana:

Except for Jon, who just played three Mountains in a row, we all had some action. Mike switched to attack mode by adding Crypt Cobra on his third turn and Unseen Walker on his fourth. Shawn, to Mike's left, had plenty of Forests. My fourth turn let me play both Cadaverous Knight and Feral Shadow.

At the end of my turn, Jon was quick to drop his Incinerate on my otherwise hard-to-kill Knight and untapped into a fourth Mountain and a Talruum Minotaur. At the end of Mike's turn, Nate used a Flare on Shawn's Quirion Elves. Shawn just shrugged and added Searing Spear Askari on his turn, which Nate mimicked on his own before casting Rampant Growth.

Talruum Minotaur
Quirion Elves

With the fifth-turn cycle starting I opened my salvo on Jon with a Feral Shadow attack before summoning the pegasi-devouring Giant Mantis. (We all agreed that the art was among the best from the set.) Jon turned his Talruum Minotaur loose on Mike and followed it up with an Igneous Golem—one of the many cards we all had to stop and read what it did.

Feral Shadow
Giant Mantis

Mike continued to abuse the forestwalk Unseen Walker could grant, putting Shawn down to 14 life and up to two poison counters. Wall of Corpses was primed to kill something if Jon attacked. Shawn untapped and surveyed the battlefield before committing Subterranean Spirit, an ostensible answer to Mike's Unseen Walker that would also cause a lot of incidental damage. Nate's turn was a humble Locust Swarm.

While I was able to take another turn to pick at Jon with Feral Shadow, I didn't have a play. Jon continued to pound at Mike, leading to Wall of Corpses taking out Igneous Golem before Gravebane Zombie showed up. Mike double checked that Subterranean Spirit was still summoning sick, then put Agility on Unseen Walker. Together with a forestwalking Crypt Cobra, it dropped Shawn to just 9 life with three poison counters.

Subterranean Spirit
Unseen Walker

Shawn left his Spirit back, choosing to send Searing Spear Askari into Nate and adding Gibbering Hyenas to the mix. Shawn's best hope was the continuous pressure Jon was aiming at Mike. Meanwhile, Nate agonized a moment on his sixth turn.

"I guess this is as good a time to do it as any," was his cryptic statement for tapping six mana. Emberwilde Djinn entered the battlefield.

Emberwilde Djinn

After a round of everyone reading what it did, I untapped into spending to take it. I was sure I wouldn't keep it, but if everyone decided to leave it be I'd be in trouble. After slamming Jon down to 13 with the Feral Shadow, I played Dirtwater Wraith. The swampwalk would be trouble for both Jon and Mike if I could get through.

Jon's calls for help fell on deaf ears as Shawn and Nate neither had Swamps. But he had plenty of gas to work with. After paying for the Djinn, he attacked Mike with Talruum Minotaur and Gravebane Zombie. Mike's Wall of Roots fell, thanks to the three -0/-1 counters on it, and he went down to 11 life. Jon ended his turn by playing Cadaverous Knight.

With his hand depleted and facing a strong force from Jon, Mike paid 2 life to take Emberwilde Djinn and passed to Shawn... who just paid for the Djinn and unloaded a massive attack at Nate. Gibbering Hyenas was blocked by Searing Spear Askari, Locust Swarm regenerated after blocking Subterranean Spirit, and Shawn's Searing Spear Askari cut through clean.

Gibbering Hyena
Searing Spear Askari

Shawn tried to up the load further with Wild Elephant, but Nate had Memory Lapse to slow that down. All Nate could do on his turn was pay to get back his Djinn. My turn was much more productive. After taking the Djinn, I put Grave Servitude on Dirtwater Wraith and sent an 8-damage attack into Jon. At 5 life, Jon pleaded again for some help, even pointing out to Mike what flying and swampwalk would do to him.

While in a precarious position and asking his enemy for help, Jon didn't relent his assault left and forced Mike to trade his Crypt Cobra for Jon's Talruum Minotaur and take the 2 from Cadaverous Knight. Mike spent his turn again paying 2 life for the Djinn, but his plays of Quirion Elves and Granger Guildmage weren't promising defenders. Shawn paid the Djinn's upkeep with before he continued to attack Nate, which put him down to 14 before finally landing Wild Elephant.

Nate skipped stealing back the Djinn and just added Quirion Elves and Sea Scryer to the table. I didn't hesitate in taking the Emberwilde Djinn with before I cast Regeneration on Giant Mantis. With a lethal attack at Jon incoming, he fired back in a dying flail by Dark Banishing my enchanted Mantis.

Mike took the Djinn on his upkeep again and attacked Shawn with Unseen Walker. At 7 life, Shawn passed on the Djinn game and instead tapped Subterranean Spirit to wipe out a pile of creatures with 1 toughness. He dug Nate down to 10 before adding Burning Shield Askari to the mix. Nate's lonely Stalking Tiger didn't seem enough to stop the bleeding.

Without my Quirion Elves I had to use life to steal the Emberwilde Djinn, but it was the first "damage" I had taken all game. With a quick attack of my unblockable Dirtwater Wraith and Feral Shadow, Mike was dead. I took a gamble and cast my draw for the turn: Ravenous Vampire.

Shawn put an upkeep into the Djinn before adding Uktabi Faerie to the battlefield. He didn't attack. Nate seem relieved for a reprieve, and after a quick check on how phasing worked put Sandbar Crocodile down and attacked me to 15.

I untapped and couldn't pay 2 life fast enough for the Djinn, then sacrificed it for Ravenous Vampire's upkeep cost. Nate's audible "Ah ha!" was followed by concern when I played my eighth land and pointed a 7-damage Kaervek's Torch at Shawn's head.

He died surprised.

My follow-up attack on Nate was less than successful thanks to the regenerating Locust Swarm. Nate's Sandbar Crocodile phased out and he simply passed back to me. With Zombie Mob already in hand I decided to sacrifice Feral Shadow to Ravenous Vampire, putting it up to a 5/5, and attack. Nate's Stalking Tiger traded with my Dirtwater Wraith and the Locus Swarm regenerated from my Vampire. But that set the stage for a massive Zombie Mob with five +1/+1 counters.

"Nicely set up!" Nate complimented as his Sandbar Crocodile returned. We spent the following two turns passing back and forth, neither of us able to attack. Nate added a Gibbering Hyenas, which let him attack with Sandbar Crocodile. I took the 6 damage, dropping to 7, and hoped for the draw that would let me bust through.

The Grave Servitude was the card I needed for the Locust Swarm. After putting the Swarm's toughness to 0, I attacked with my Zombie Mob. Nate had just 3 life. While he lost his Sandbar Crocodile for a turn, the Gibbering Hyenas put me down to 4. Wild Elephant upped the creature count in Nate's favor.

I didn't have any removal in hand, and I needed to draw something to stay alive after my turn. Instead of hoping for the best I let my Zombie Mob die to the Ravenous Vampire: I was going all-in. When I drew a land for the turn all I could do was cross my fingers and attack.

After a well-placed pause, shuffling of cards, and counting of mana, Nate revealed the two lands in his own hand. I could only laugh at how well he sold me on having an answer. He laughed at the absurdity of almost killing me with a time-shifting crocodile.

The game was everything we hoped it would be: close, colorful, and comical.

We Have All the Gigawatts in the World

"Was this what Shawn was looking for?"

It played beautifully. It ran close. Shawn was beaming. While we all used modern methods to build decks and play games, the memories of splashing a third color just for Kaervek's Torch and being frightened of phasing flooded back.

Using old boosters isn't a long-term solution. There is only so much out there. But for a brief game among a handful of friends, it felt like 1996 all over again. And for that, everyone found something they were looking for.

The time for looking back is over. Let's look forward with the poll from last week's article about social rules for Commander.

Previous Poll Results

Will you follow through with these rules for Commander?
Yes, I plan to try them out. 770 26.5%
Yes, and I'll share these rules with others too! 612 21.0%
No, I don't think these are the rules we're looking for. 203 7.0%
Rakdos 764 26.3%
Selesnya 561 19.3%
Total 2910 100.0%

Rakdos and Selesnya were nonsensical (and accidentally offered) answers many of you enjoyed plugging in, those who voted among the three real choices agreed with me. Pursuing Magic on your terms is always a good call, even if we all don't agree with each other.

Join us next week when a hare-brained scheme comes to fruition. See you then!

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