Unlocking the Vault #1: An Introduction

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 Mishra’s Workshop, Oath of Druids, Time Vault, Sol Ring, Tolarian Academy, Necropotence, Yawgmoth’s 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: Lion’s Eye Diamond, Yawgmoth’s 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.

My Story

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 Mishra’s 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 Lion’s 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:

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 Mishra’s 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.

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 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.

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 Yawgmoth’s 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.

  1. Hello enderfall,

    good to see someone on here who would like to cover some Classic.
    I started watching Classis coverage on youtube and really liked it so far.
    I’ll definitely be watching all your content and comment the best I can.

  2. I’d love to see a dredge deck run. I’ve been building my own, and would love to see some footage of working dredge.
    I like the article. covers the best decks.

  3. This sounds great!!! I look forward to reading your upcoming articles. It will be really nice to see Classic content on MTGO Academy……

  4. Welcome to the Academy Enderfall!
    It’s good to see that the academy is doing an article on classic. It’s my favorite format to play, but unfortunately has seen a bit of a rough patch in the past and I ended up doing articles for Legacy. Classic has been picking up since the release of MED4, and hopefully with your help and Whiffy+gang Classic will become a much more active format. I look forward to seeing some more articles, and if you ever need anything feel free to ask I’m always up for some Classic!

  5. Hi everyone, thanks for the feedback! Please keep the idea’s coming. I’ll do my best to capture everything you guys want to see, though it’ll probably take some time to get through everything!!

    Also, please follow me on Twitter (@enderfall). I’ll try to be active posting things related to the Classic format and once I hit a critical mass of followers, I’ll try to hand out a prize or two!!

  6. Plejades when we get power I have a series ready to go for Vintage haha nothing like playing with power… nothing

  7. Great first article sir, i look forward to more content, once you get your feet under you maybe we can do a dual article where you record and i record for our respective sites, and just grind out matches so that players can see both perspectives of the format. Keep them coming.

  8. Good article. Unfortunately you didnt touch on some major aspects of classic.
    1) there is no viable aggro decks other than merfolk and elves. You will be playing combo/control and against combo/control.
    2) classic is ridiculously expensive if you actually want to win.
    3) very few classic tourneys actually fire
    4) classic has very little interaction other than counterspells and wastelands
    5) the top decks in classic are so overpowered there is very little room for new deck innovation

    That being said, I do enjoy casual classic games. The card variety is unmatched, and virtually any strategy is viable. Legacy is a much more interesting and interactive tournament format though.

  9. @ 420gabriel: There are actually viable aggro decks besides merfolk and elves most notable would be GW Haterade which does extremely well in the classic format. Which contradicts the 2nd statement saying that classic is too expensive if you want to win. I’ve seen plenty of GW Haterade decks, dredge decks, and red deck wins take tournaments, and all of those decks are relatively cheap. The 4th comment saying that it has very little interactions other than counterspells and wastelands is false. Sure it’s no vintage, but the interactions in classic are very complex I would say even more so than Legacy. Last of all little room for innovation is just players laziness to create a new type of deck that can handle the format, and this is true in most formats. If you look at tournaments you see players the same version of a deck until someone decides to take the time to create a deck that beats the format defining decks, but once someone does you see players start switching over to that deck. The only valid point I see is that classic hasn’t been firing many events lately, but I’m sure that over time and with more articles more people will be exposed to classic which will hopefully get more players playing classic. That’s just my 2 cents.

  10. also at 420gabriel
    1. If your going to make an itimized list you should probably know what your talking about.
    2. I know you came off “nice” but this is trolling
    3. the perception that you have is a false assumption shared by many.
    4. i have 50 text articles 8 video articles and 21 podcasts that show exactly the opposite of your “opinion”

  11. just because you disagree with me does not mean i am trolling.
    If a large amount of people share my perception of classic, there is a reason for that.
    Classic IS very expensive. Classic IS dominated by control/combo. Classic IS very uninteractive other than counters and wastelands.
    Maybe you feel that wastelands and FOWs are cheap and interactive, but the majority of people do not. Haterade is still a 300+ ticket deck, and its on the very low end of classic prices.
    Top classic decks-
    workshop-designed to stop the opp from playing
    haterade- designed to stop the opp from playing
    dredge- combos off while ignoring opp
    oath- more combo, surprise surprise
    Real interactive stuff there.

  12. Hello 420gabriel, thanks for your comments and reading my article. I’m curious what your definition of “interactive” is? I’m curious simply to see if someone could point out a deck that provides the interaction you might be looking for.

  13. @420gabriel: Also, I forgot to ask…why do you think Classic is any more expensive than Legacy, a format which you claim to enjoy but only casually enjoy Classic? Many of the cards that are not in the Legacy card pool are quite cheap in regards to other options out there: Workshop is ~$13, Mana Drain is ~$18, Vampiric Tutor is probably the most expensive Classic card at ~$22, but you only need one of them. Those are just examples off the top of my head, though I can not think of a single card in Classic that is more than Vamp Tutor and that could not be played in Legacy. When people are prepared to pay $100+ for Jace in standard, I can’t buy any argument that says that Classic is prohibitively expensive.

  14. Nice article! Since Classic is not for everybody, maybe it is best to simply ignore the negative people, who often hold strong opinions that are nearly impossible to sway. It’s just a fact of life that some people aren’t going to have the dough to play this format, while others simply aren’t interested even if they are willing to spend thousands on other formats. But I’m going to agree that Classic is pretty cool, even though I have only played a handful of competitive games. Playing with the most powerful stuff just has its own appeal. Some people find that to be self-evident, while other people are blind to it. Different strokes for different folks. As a guy who has poked around the deck lists for both Classic and Legacy but not actually played in a tournament for either format yet, I think the decks are cooler in Classic than they are in Legacy. Classic decks do some pretty neat things. I’m definitely not hating on Legacy, just saying that my personality is more drawn to Classic.

  15. I can see where people are coming from financially. When I first started MTGO I couldn’t even afford to play ext so I decided to start off doing Leagues then eventually STD. Over the years I was able to afford playing EXT which eventually lead to me having enough cards to play Classic and Legacy. The transition to the format isn’t something that most people can do in a single month, but rather years of collecting and winning events to fund decks. All I can say is that once you finally have a Classic/Legacy collection it becomes so much easier to maintain since you don’t have to continually buy a whole new deck every rotation.

  16. @ enderfall
    I dont think it is that much more than legacy. Legacy is also ridiculously expensive. I think that when you are trying to get people into playing classic you need to be upfront about the true costs. Anybody planning on playing classic in tourneys will need 4 wastelands at 50 ea, along with most decks using force of will.
    Also classic has the distinction of being the only format where people get mocked for not playing “better” versions of cards (ie playing an m11 voltaic key instead of a brown one). This happens all the time and even well known players like whiffy do this.

    As far as interaction goes…show me any interaction that isnt someone playing land destruction or counterspells. Ive watched a ton of tourney matches, played a few competitive matches, and i havnt seen anything other than that. Maybe I just havnt seen the right matches?

  17. @ the degeneresy of this conversation

    from another site and a different article from last week.

    Kuldotha Red costs $32. That’s not a typo, and I did not slip a decimal point. $32 – under thirty with the MTGOTraders PayPal discount.
    Soul Sisters, the cost was $199 on May 30th
    Shrine of Burning Rage, (Winner, PTQ Madison) was $141 on May 25th.
    Valakut, (3rd place, here). The cost was $ 140 on May 18th.
    Caw-Blade, Standard. The cost was $ 518 on May 11th.

    Cephalid Breakfast costs $ 859. Of that total, $600 is the Force of Will playset.
    Paulo’s Blue Control costs $1,608 on May 30th
    Landstill BUG, Legacy, (Winner, Bazaar of Moxen), was $ 1,559 on May 25th.
    Painted Stone, (3rd place, here) Legacy. The cost was $ 1,200 on May 18th
    Team America, Legacy. The cost was $ 1,586 on May 11th.

    Whiffy’s Null Shops, costs $676. Nice to see an affordable deck. The expensive cards are Wasteland, Null Rod and City of Traitors.
    Noble Fish cost $1,344 on May 30th
    Hermit Druid Combo, Classic (4-0, here.) cost: was $ 949 on May 25th.
    Metalworker, (3rd place, here), Classic. The cost was $ 621 on May 18th
    GG Oath, Classic. The cost was $ 1,126 on May 11th.

    So we see the top end of std at 500+ and legacy is more expensive as a whole to play then classic. does that make it cheap? no. But the falicy of classic being too expensive is just rediculos. for 150 tix more then a std, STANDARD deck, you get a top teir classic deck that never rotates and will invlove minor minor adjusments in cost to tweak, for as long as modo is around!
    also because of the difference in the banned and restricted list, it is far far far far cheaper to build every relavent classic deck and singlkes (about 10) then it is to build every legacy deck about 60. yes i know there is one 6th the amount of decks but also the format has a small player base and no paper counterpart to innovate. its in the hands of dozens of people instead of thousands, so yes slower meta adjustments.

    and as far as mocking, you should put away your elitist attitude. It was an opinion based on aestitcs! Im not allowed to like something else and joke? did i hurt your feelings cause i said pay 50 cents? really?

    the think i dont understand is that you say no interaction, yet enjoy legacy. is it because there are few creatures in classic? because other then that small fact they are equally interactive. classic just unrolls faster then legacy because of superior mana production and deck manilpulation.

    its true classic isnt for everyone, there is just no need to come into a classic article and blast it cause you enjoy another format more.

  18. and another thing

    Top classic decks-
    workshop-designed to stop the opp from playing
    haterade- designed to stop the opp from playing
    dredge- combos off while ignoring opp
    oath- more combo, surprise surprise
    Real interactive stuff there.

    are you kidding me??

    hey guys, check out this sweet new deck i built to win the tournament, you see its cool because i designed it to not win! why would i tune it to maximum profency when i can just durdle around and give my opponent a chance to win.

    some people forget that articles like these are made in an attempt to help people into the TOURNAMENT scene. you wanna play fair decks where every one can do what ever they want? the only format that does that is commander and casual.

    gee I cut jace from my landstill deck cause its unfair to resolve vs my opponent.


    who needs koth? ill play the much worse 6cc chandra ablaze in my std red deck, that way the game goes longer and i have a better cahnce at losing.


    pfffft crypt rats in mbc in pauper? why would i want a wrath of god when i can have a sweeeeeeeeeet plague rats deck!

  19. @whiffy
    thank you for clearly showing how expensive classic is.

    “are you kidding me??

    hey guys, check out this sweet new deck i built to win the tournament, you see its cool because i designed it to not win! why would i tune it to maximum profency when i can just durdle around and give my opponent a chance to win.

    some people forget that articles like these are made in an attempt to help people into the TOURNAMENT scene. you wanna play fair decks where every one can do what ever they want? the only format that does that is commander and casual.

    gee I cut jace from my landstill deck cause its unfair to resolve vs my opponent.


    who needs koth? ill play the much worse 6cc chandra ablaze in my std red deck, that way the game goes longer and i have a better cahnce at losing.


    pfffft crypt rats in mbc in pauper? why would i want a wrath of god when i can have a sweeeeeeeeeet plague rats deck!”

    I am not sure what that whole diatribe is supposed to mean. I never said people should play casual decks. I pointed out the types of decks you will see in classic- namely lockdown and combo.

    “its true classic isnt for everyone, there is just no need to come into a classic article and blast it cause you enjoy another format more.”

    I didnt blast it, i pointed out some major issues that an article designed to bring people in to classic should have talked about. And I do like the classic format, as i said before, or I wouldnt bother trying to help.

    Whiffy, you are seen as one of the leaders of the classic community. You insulting people about the versions of cards they play is a major problem. It shows an elitist attitude that drives people away from the format. It isnt just you that does that, but you have videos up on major websites doing that. If you want more people to join classic, insulting them about aesthetics is not a good start.

    The best thing you can do to help this format survive is to be upfront about everything. Explain the costs, the metagame. If my view (which is widespread) that classic is an uninteractive format is wrong, then show how.

  20. 420gabriel: thanks for your note. The fact that you’ve come back to respond is great since it shows that you have some respect for Classic. In writing an article about Magic, you know you can’t strike accord with everyone, but you can certainly hope that people at least respect what you are writing about.

    That said, I thought I did address the cost of Classic in the article. I up front said that Classic is expensive, but added that Magic as a whole, is an expensive hobby. I also highlighted the cost of FoW and LED and added that they are not required to have a competitive deck. I hope to address this point in future articles, so please bear with me while I get to those ideas. It will likely take some time due to the number of ideas that I have and also the frequency that these articles will appear, which is 2x per month.

    As far as interactions go, yes Counterspells and Wasteland are important in Classic. Unlike formats with limited card pools, Classic has the most powerful spells ever printed. If you are to have a chance against playing people with those spells (and not all are uber expensive mind you) you need to disrupt your opponent. But that doesn’t mean that interaction ends there. While creature based attrition wars are not common in Classic, that means there are other ways to interact with your opponent. Discard and spot removal are very valuable in Classic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to revise my strategy due to a timely Cabal Therapy or Thoughtseize, or Swords to Plowshares for that matter. Another innocuous interaction is all the decisions that need to be made in a game. What card do I tutor up? What card do I keep with my Brainstorm vs what do I put back on top of my library? When do I play this spell vs holding off or try to bluff my opponent out of a counterspell? These are all important subtle interactions that are a part of each game of Classic. Building your deck is also a means of interacting with your opponent in that you can completely invalidate some strategies. I don’t consider myself a game theorist, but as far as interacting with your opponent, I think I’ve covered everything.

    Above all, not everyone will see Classic as their format of choice. My goal is not to convince people to play Classic that otherwise would not have any interest in the format. If I can show people that might be interested in Classic how fun and accessible it can be (and I stress “can be”), then I will consider this series a success. I hope you will keep reading my series, if for nothing else than to see what is going on in Classic, even if you have no interest in playing the format competitively.

  21. there is no way to show that in one article, you are saying something akin to the fact of write up a 100 page article. there is no way to change peoples mind in 1 article. even when you throw proof of cost into it. the deck prices show that legacy is the most expensive format and that for a “small” extra upfront cost you can build a classic deck instead of a std deck. is classic still expensive? hell yes. is it outside the realm of reason to build from scratch in a day? yup. but, it is not so oppresive that you can not get there. heck. marin turned a pack into a fouil fow over about 40 hours or so of trading. seems like anyone can do it if effort is put forth.

  22. Hey check it out, i’m famous……

    Great work on the article, I’m always keen to read more classic related material and anything that is encouraging new players to come and join the format is definitely a good thing.

    As a fellow relative newcomer to this format i would wholeheartedly support the idea of finding an archetype you enjoy and working on it as the best entry point to any format, as while some of the expensive cards are essential to their respective decks, knowing how your deck works inside out and in the face of the opponents disruption is more important than even the most expensive cards.

    On the cost issue, this is an Eternal format, meaning that the cards you invest in should be playable for a long time to come allowing you to get a greater amount of value (enjoyment) out of them. Also you can acquire them over time allowing you to start slowly and improve your deck as budgets permit. I admit that some cards are vital to some decks so concessions may have to be made, however some creative deckbuilding can often overcome this. Also many of the key cards in classic overlap with other formats so you can “upgrade” decks you already have to become classic compatible, especially since most of the classic only cards are pretty cheap.

    As for interaction, classic is possibly the most interactive format on MTGO, just it is a different sort of interaction. Maybe we don’t get too many massive board states with huge creature stalls, but the mental interaction is totally off the scale compared to anything else. Knowing which spell to counter, what to tutor for, or what to name with cabal therapy is always an incredibly tough choice and will win or lose you the game every time.

    Anyways, love the new series,I cant wait to read more so keep them coming

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