Hello everyone, welcome to Unlocking the Vault, a series geared to provide the MTGO Academy community with a glimpse into the Classic format.
For the opening article of the series, I wanted to introduce myself. I know what you’re thinking already — “…not another one of these articles…” — but bare with me, as I feel it’s relevant to describe how I’ve reached this point. My feeling is that there are many others out there like me, but who are unsure where to start. At the end, I’ll provide some common decklists that you should be aware of in Classic. But first…
What Makes Classic So Fun?
Simply put, doing as many degenerate things as possible! No other format besides Commander allows you to play with almost every card in the history of Magic, including cards like Mishras Workshop, Oath of Druids, Time Vault, Sol Ring, Tolarian Academy, Necropotence, Yawgmoths Will, Bazaar of Baghdad, and many others. But beyond using the most powerful cards in Magic‘s history, there is a distinct difference between the Classic and Vintage formats, and I’m not referring to the most famous nine cards from the original sets.
Some players may not know that Classic has a different Banned and Restricted List from Vintage, which allows for some interesting and powerful decks to be built. Specifically, Classic differs in that the following cards are legal and unrestricted: Lions Eye Diamond, Yawgmoths Bargain, Brainstorm, Thirst for Knowledge, Ponder, Memory Jar, Library of Alexandria, Lotus Petal, Merchant Scroll, and Mystical Tutor. These unrestricted cards allow Classic decks to require innovation over their Vintage counterparts. Truth be told, the format is ripe for someone to come in a break it wide open!
Above all, I’ve found that the Classic community is very welcoming and friendly. We all play Magic because the game is fun, but treating Magic as a social event is what keeps us coming back for more.
I started playing Magic all the way back in 1994, just after the release of Revised and The Dark. I was just a young teenager at the time and was working off an allowance to fuel my spell-slinging. I introduced the game to a few of my closest friends and we formed a regular playgroup. As time went by, we all stepped away from the game for various reasons, but mostly due to time constraints, as we progressed into high school. I myself stopped playing for a time when Exodus was released.
I picked up the game again during Time Spiral but could not find FNM closer than 40+ minutes away, a trip which also included a $4 bridge toll and a train ride. But this past summer, I purchased Duels of the Planeswalkers off Steam when it was on sale for ~$5. I was hooked again. Knowing that I didn’t want to travel far to FNMs again, I turned to MTGO and haven’t looked back.
How is My Story Relevant?
Still with me? This is where I believe that many of you can relate to me. I’ve probably outlined a similar Magic “career” path as many of you. I too marveled at the power of the old Vintage cards I never could afford, such as Mishras Workshop, Library of Alexandria, Mana Drain, and others. These are the iconic cards of Magic‘s long history (well, aside from the Power 9, which is a topic for another article). When I found out that I could play these cards for a fraction of the paper versions on MTGO, I was intrigued. I had heard that Master’s Edition 4 was to be released in early 2011 and started to read up on Classic. I can say that without a doubt, I’ve had more fun playing Classic than any format to date. Truth be told, many of the cards I play with in Classic on a regular basis came from selling my Jace, the Mind Sculptors, as I had grown tired of the Standard format, which basically required anyone that wanted to build a competitive deck to start with a bunch of Islands and four Jace, the Mind Sculptor (a little bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly felt that way). These days, that has expanded to playing some variant of CawBlade in order to be competitive.
I’m sharing this story with you because right now, with MED4 soon to be taken from the store, it’s probably the best time to buy into Classic. The cards never rotate and rarely decrease in price (aside from possibility of reprinting, or short term effects from Nix Packs/Nix Tix queues). There is a stigma that Classic is expensive to get into, and I won’t lie and say that it’s not. But what I will say is that Magic is an expensive hobby any way you slice it and Standard decks these days can cost nearly as much as a Classic deck. Don’t believe me? Pete Jahn recently calculated the cost of building CawBlade to be ~$518, while a perfectly viable Classic Workshop deck runs about $621. Yes, decks with Force of Will and Lions Eye Diamond will run in excess of $1,000, but you do not need those cards to be successful in Classic. At least, not to start with anyway.
Where to Start?
Ah, yes, the million dollar question. You’ve come to the right place. I hope to use this series as a platform to tell the story of my journey through Classic. Hopefully, reading about my experiences will inspire others to join me in embracing Classic. If you were to pick up any format, you need to learn about what works and what doesn’t. You’d watch videos, read articles, and start building your own decks to play, in that order I would presume. The Classic community has a brilliant resource in The Classic Quarter. You can find deck lists and forums to discuss all aspects of Classic.
From there, you’ll need to acquire the cards in order to play. I hope to touch on this in future episodes, but I’ll leave this tidbit for you readers now. In most formats in Magic, the mana base is the key to a fundamentally sound deck. Classic is no different. I’d advocate picking up the key lands first. You don’t have to go out and buy all 40 dual lands, and in fact I wouldn’t recommend that. Fetch lands are often as or more important than dual lands and are generally cheaper, especially the Zendikar block fetch lands. Yes, you’ll still need dual lands with the fetch lands, but you won’t often have a deck that runs playsets of duals without fetches. Fetch lands also are a way to work around Wasteland, a card that’s as popular in Classic as it is in Legacy. With a couple dual lands and fetch lands of appropriate colors, you can lay the groundwork for a successful deck. If you are really tight on resources for Classic, my recommendation would be to find a deck you’d like to play and focus on building that deck first.
Speaking of decks, here are some (but not all!) of the most popular and successful decks in Classic:
Shop Aggro by enderfall
The “Shop Aggro” deck tries to lock down the opponent with the various “Sphere” effects and power out large artifact creatures with the help of Mishras Workshop and Metalworker. This is one of the most popular decks in Classic at the moment. Since playing this list in a Daily Event a couple of weeks ago, I’d add two Staff of Dominations and three Phyrexian Metamorphs to the main deck, taking out one Memory Jar, one Mox Opal, two Precursor Golems, and one Myr Battlesphere. In the sideboard, I’d subtract one Staff of Domination and replace it with a Precursor Golem.
Good Game, Oath of Druids by GainsBanding
The Good Game Oath deck tries to cheat out either an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Blightsteel Colossus using Oath of Druids with the help of a Forbidden Orchard. The Dragons Breath helps end the game on the spot by giving the creature haste. It also contains the ubiquitous Time Vault/Voltaic Key combo with various support cards like Tinker and tutors to help speed up the clock. Along with various Workshop decks, this is also among the most heavily played decks in Classic at the moment.
Dredge by Asmodeius
Dredge is a deck that is probably well-known by everyone that has played Magic, but the Classic version has access to Bazaar of Baghdad to power out some degenerate fast kills. While underplayed at the moment, most decks have to at least respect the possibility of facing a Dredge deck and dedicate a significant portion of their sideboards to various graveyard hate cards, lest you get blown out. Typically, Dredge has a fantastic win percentage Game 1, and hopes to fight through the various hate in Games 2 and 3, which is what the sideboard is geared to do.
Classic Storm by Energizer
Storm is another deck familiar to those in the Legacy scene. In fact, there are very few cards differentiating the Classic and Legacy versions. Classic provides access to the tutors and fast mana artifacts such as Sol Ring, Mana Vault and Mana Crypt. The one card that adds to the power level of Storm is Yawgmoths Will. This one card allows the deck to basically win on the spot if it resolves.
With that being said, I’d like to turn this series into a de facto primer for those interested in learning about Classic. In future articles I’ll provide Deck Techs of typical Classic decks and what to look out for when playing against them. I’ll delve into the Classic card market and what cards I think are undervalued, etc. When new sets are released, I’ll highlight those cards which I believe will be playable in Classic, and I’ll also provide video coverage from Daily Events in which I participate. Please feel free to add comments below. I’d love to hear what the community would like to see in upcoming articles.