Saturday, December 28, 2019

Old School MTG: 2019 Wrap Up and Lessons Learned

Robots 2019!

The goal for this year was to build and play a new Old School deck every month. Let's see how I did.

January - UW Prison
February - Red Atog Robot Tron
March - BG Nether Shadow
April - White Prison
May - UB Time Bots
June - Blue Tron
July - Red Atog Robots
August - Colorless Robot Tron
September - Blue Copy Robot Aggro
October - Black Yawgmoth Reanimator
November - Maui Green Untamed Colossus
December - Colorless Robot Tron

Over the course of the year, I used most of the cards in my collection. I put together a few other decks along the way, mostly to have a deck to test against: Reanimator, Troll Disco, the Deck. A theme emerged: I like playing robots. There are a lot of different ways to play a robots-themed deck. It's cool to see what each color brings to the table and how the stance of the deck changes with those other cards included.

Lessons Learned

What lessons did I learn this year?

The primary lesson I learned is that I like robots. Beyond that, I learned that no one I know likes to play against prison, land destruction, discard, or hard control strategies in casual games. There isn't anything wrong with those strategies, but if I'm just playing for fun around the kitchen table it's important to consider that if my opponent isn't having fun, I might get to play less Magic overall.

I thought I would have more opportunities to play Old School, but outside of casual games at home with my family I only went to meet ups twice. I was looking for an experience like I had back when Commander was taking off. I went every weekend to the local gaming store and found a dozen players ready to rumble. Old School, at least in my area, isn't like that. Maybe webcam games are the answer, but I haven't gone down that road yet.

The format is fragmented. Between SWE, ATL, EC, and now PAC, there are subtly different ways to build, test, and collect. Unless you show up to events hellbent on winning, this isn't a huge deal. Where it becomes a problem is trying to sort out who has what deck if you do end up somewhere for casual games (in person or online). Plus, there is an element of argument and superiority about which format is better when the reality is that I believe these different groups of players are looking for different things.

I light up when I see colorless decks in any format, including Old School. Yes, there are iconic cards in all colors and I appreciate seeing how these decks come together. Stasis is cool. Mono-Black control is cool. Beating down with Orggs is cool. But just because I appreciate that those decks exist doesn't mean that I want to play all of those decks. I'm happy to play against those decks. Essentially, the age old advice to simply play what you like applies here. I like colorless decks.

I'm not competitive, but I am looking for a 3-2 deck. There are people at the table who are there to win. I'm not one of those people. But at the same time, I'm not there to lose. I'm there to have a fun and interactive game of Magic. I want to create situations where I am one draw away from winning. I want to wade into complicated board states and work out a solution. And I want that same experience for my opponent. In five rounds, I want the chance to break even in close games. If you look at some of the decks on, you'll see that the community has honed in on optimal piles of cards. The same few decks show up in the top 8 of most tournaments with small variations. In a limited card pool, this is bound to happen. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. It's just not what I'm looking for in my Old School experience.

This year, I played quite a few games of Magic with my family. They play super-casual decks built out of cards from recent sets. It blows me away how "fair" even the broken Old School cards are against modern decks. Between the more efficient modern creatures and stronger synergies, I lose more often than I win despite having power cards. Ramping with moxes into a turn 2 Triskelion is fun, but not game-ending. There were so many times this year I was completely shut down by a creature with deathtouch, for example. With that said, Swords is still Swords and Lightning Bolt is still Lightning Bolt. It makes for some good and surprisingly balanced games.

Deckbuilding for 2020

Based on my experiences this year, I decided to make some massive trades. This resulted in getting several copies of Mishra's Workshop. In my mind, this is the defining card of casting robots and pushes that strategy up to a 3-2 deck. My goal this year is to build a total of 6 different decks, all of which are based on getting robots onto the battlefield. I want to get maximum value out of those Workshops!

Why 6 decks? It will be one deck of each color and a colorless deck. I want to explore what each color brings to the Shops deck. The key is to figure out how to use each color to support the Shops strategy without taking over with superior cards. Each color has to fit into a deck that cares about artifacts. Each deck needs an identity, a different approach based on the color that is splashed in.

White - Argivian Archaeologist, Removal
Blue - Sage of Lat-Nam, Twiddle, Copy Artifact
Red - Atog, Orcish Mechanics, Burn
Black - Priest of Yawgmoth, Animate Dead
Green - Titania's Song, Sylvan Library
Colorless - Tron, Sword of the Ages, Tawnos' Coffin

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