Oh Mono Blue, I Can’t Quit You: Budget Big Blue in Old Schoo 93/94

A long, long time ago, in a state far far away from my home of Maryland, I put together a deck in the format known at the time as Type 1.5, that simply wanted to do this every single game:

Because the dumbest use I could think of for a playset of Mana Drain was windmill slamming Big Daddy Momo on turn three by stealing the mana from my opponent’s 3-drop. It was one of my longest-surviving decks; I played it from 2000 until 2003 (when I sold my Mana Drains along with all the other expensive cards I owned). Mahamoti quickly became one of my favorite cards and was one of the few cards I’ve ever collected: I picked up dozens of them in trades since they were (and still are) worth very little, and had binder pages full of them from every printing.

The rest of the deck was a motley crew of (at the time) forgotten blue cards, most of which are very familiar to the old school community, along colorless lands that weren’t Wasteland:

A full set of Faerie Conclave and Mishra’s Factory made it into the mana base and Counterspells and miscellaneous support cards rounded out the control suite.

That deck was mostly old school cards anyway, so I wanted to revisit it for the battlebox. However, I opted to slow things down a bit to make it more of a control deck. For the moment it has replaced the Merfolk deck in the battlebox, to give a little more variety, and it’s proved a total blast to play without being miserable and overbearing.

Fair warning: There’s a Ghost Ship and a Conch Horn in this deck. You still have time to turn back …

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Everyone Had the Same Bad Idea: Faeries at the Dice City Games Sarpadia Series (record: sad trombone)

There are times where you have a fae-rly lousy but fun idea and roll with it, only to see someone else wearing the same dress to the ball.

For the second Sarpadian Summer Series (Sarpadia Rises), I played a deck with … well, almost no Sarpadian cards. Here’s FaerieQuake:


I picked Faeries in part because I just had the cards, and in part because I thought it was one of the worst tribes with the least support, so I would likely be the only person in the room with them. Then it turned out there were three of us, making Faeries and Goblins the most popular tribes that day.

What a world.

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Building Rainbow’s Edge in 93/94 Old School — With and Without a Budget

This is another deck in my battlebox, a collection of reasonably well-balanced budget decks for people to pick up and play at group meetings.

Before we get to the meat of this deck, let’s talk Bolts, because they haven’t appeared in a battlebox list yet.

Bolts are the quintessenial aggro-control card: A card that as simply as possible can keep you alive by removing your opponent’s threats when you’re on the back foot, and can remove, well, your opponent when you’re in the lead. As part of the original “Boon” cycle of “3-for-1” cards that included Ancestral Recall at their most absurd and Healing Salve at their most disappointing, Lightning Bolt is one of the most influential cards in the game, generating entire archetypes, and is partly responsible for giving us the 4-of-each-card rule, which is why you now need a second card that’s almost identical:

Four of each of these cards in your deck is more than your opponent’s starting life total, which is a good enough reason to consider building around them. Even though the current premier control deck of the format sometimes maindecks a couple Lightning Bolts, there is a certain class of deck that will want a full playset of Lightning Bolt, even at the expense of playing other forms of removal that it can cast, like Swords to Plowshares.

I knew the Battlebox would need at least one Bolt deck in it, and I wanted something other than the typical Sligh or Goblins list. At first I had thrown together a Lestree Zoo deck with the usual Arabian suspects, but that deck doesn’t function without dual lands, and proxies aren’t exactly in keeping with the spirit of a budget battlebox. But a recent tweak to the Titania’s Orb deck I posted a while back presented a solution: Rainbow Vale, Fellwar Stone, and Land Tax make for an incredible mana fixing and card advantage engine. Give them a Rainbow Vale and not only are you guaranteed to have your colors with the Fellwar Stone, but you are likely getting to Land Tax as well.

Once we’re on a plan to fire Land Tax as often as possible, Sylvan Library becomes very powerful, letting us see three new cards each turn. And if we’re overloading on enchantments, we might as well add another friend of the Tax man:

Tax–Edge is nothing new, of course. Most often you either see builds that play as a combo deck or go in a very controlling direction. But I wanted to take a different tack, which led me to a tremendously fun 4-color deck filled with little beaters and a Land’s Edge finish.

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Building Green Skies/Transmogrant Stompy in 93/94 Old School — With and … okay, just with a Budget

This not, as far as I know, a historical deck, but man is it a blast to play. And sure it’s underpowered — it’s a green deck in Old School — but it also has some genuine, surprising intricacies, and with skillful piloting it can take matches even against some powerful decks.

As with the other decks I’ve posted, this is part of my battlebox of budget decks for people to pick up and play at meetings. As the title of the article indicates, though, this deck is intended pretty much solely as a budget build.

Back in the early days of magic, besides getting the shaft in general, green got what now seems a surprising number of fliers, beginning in Beta with the Scryb Sprites, Cockatrice, and Birds of Paradise:

Pixie Queen.jpgIn fact, of the 52 creatures that had or could gain flying, 14 of them are green or have green in the casting cost, including one of the only creatures in Old School that can give another creature flying: Pixie Queen. Among the mono-colored cards, green’s fliers are equal in number to blue. Somehow, perhaps because it got Hurricane, green soon lost its flying provenance — although, Earthquake in red hardly meant that red wasn’t allowed to have groundpounders.

Faeries in the early game were green, too. With typical disrespect for the green mage, Wizards has given Green only two faeries native to the new card frame, and the Faeries deck, a bogeyman of standards past, was comprised only of green’s enemies, blue and black.

In honor of this nearly-forgotten piece of green’s history, I decided to make a deck with a bunch of little green flying critters. Since we’re using tiny creatures, Giant Growth was a given, but a little digging turned up some other intriguing ways to make our little critters more intimidating:

From this, a green “skies” deck was born, with an Ashnod’s Transmogrant subtheme.

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Building The B/G Machine in 93/94 Old School — With and Without a Budget

The Machine is a wildly fun deck revolving around Hell’s Caretaker and dancing robots. It’s a little less well-known than some other archetypes I’ve put together. And while it’s not a great deck by any means, usually fun trumps effectiveness, and it’s quite capable of holding its own against decks that aren’t overloaded with creature and artifact removal.

I started working on this one in part for a friend who likes reanimator decks and also likes black-green as a color combination, and most of the parts are cheap, so this seemed like a good candidate for the battle box, my collection of reasonably well-balanced decks for people to pick up and play at group meetings.

Alpha contained two reanimation spells, Animate Dead and Resurrection. Animate Dead is thematic as hell, making the reanimated creature weaker, and being subject to Dispel Magic (er, I mean, Disenchant). Resurrection, similar to its D&D counterpart, had no drawbacks but was much harder to cast. With Legends came a few more guests to the party, Hell’s Caretaker, Triassic Egg, and All Hallow’s Eve, and then Fallen Empires gave the oft-forgotten Soul Exchange.


Some of these choices are more interesting than others. Resurrection and Triassic Egg are interesting in that they put reanimation into colors that normally don’t have access to the effect, but realistically we’re looking to cheat, and four or more mana doesn’t help with that.

Animate Dead is the most efficient, which is why it sees the most play. It’s easiest to cast, and it requires no support except a dead creature in either player’s graveyard.

All Hallow’s Eve has the most dramatic effect, returning a bunch of creatures at once. It gives you a couple turns to set up before firing, but of course gives your opponent some extra time to kill you.

Hell’s Caretaker is by far the most interesting to me, letting you recur a creature every turn as long as you can keep making deals with the horror.  We just need a way to break the symmetry, which is where The Machine comes into play. I decided to go Black/Green with this build, though there are plenty of other homes for the heart of the deck.

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Building Titania’s Orb Prison in 93/94 Old School — With and Without a Budget

I knew I wanted a control deck in the battle box, but budget concerns (and fairness concerns) make building most of the classic control decks nigh-impossible. However, I eventually settled on an Old School version of a deck I played in various forms in the Old Extended format long before “Modern”: Artifact Prison.

Note: Because it contains Icy Manipulator, which has recently exploded in value, this deck is no longer a budget build unless, like my playgroup or like ChannelFireball (whose ruleset is compatible with sanctioned events and allows any printing), you allow reprints without the original art. As I’ve said elsewhere, the Ice Age Manipulator is one of my reasons for preferring an environment where that rule is relaxed, because I actually like the Ice Age art better! (Even though I own a playset with the original art, lucky me.) I think Icy Manipulator is a strong argument argument that the original art requirement under Eternal Central rules will become unjust and even ahistoric, as the value of a single printing is completely out of step with that of its tournament-legal printings after buyouts. I will try to provide some alternatives later for a version without Manipulators for budget constraints in EC.

The family tree of prison runs the gamut from relatively “aggressive” prisons to what I’ll call The Full Turtle. I would consider Turbo Stasis to be aggressive, believe it or not. Edwin the Magic Engineer has done some videos on his build and emphasizes its proactive nature. (I haven’t mentioned Edwin before now, but I should have since this is a budget-focused series: His budget mono-colored decks are mostly very good, so go check out his videos!) Generally it’s not looking to gain small advantages over time by playing around its own prison but to kill the helpless opponent with several Black Vices, so the Stasis is played as early as the pilot thinks they can keep playing Islands to pay for it. For The Full Turtle, my touchpoint is Parfait, a white control deck from Type 1 in the late 90s/early 2000s that used enchantments and artifacts to make all the opponent’s plays irrelevant, Land Tax and Scroll Rack as an absurd draw engine, and mopped up the cards that mattered with spot removal like Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant. But apparently Parfait doesn’t have to be a white-based deck anymore, if this build from Wak-Wak is any indication!

Stephen Menendian’s a fantastic breakdown of prison both in historic Type 1 and Old School is most definitely worth a read. He focuses exclusively on a blue-based strategy with its origins in the very first World Champion deck. I’m going to take a slightly different tack.

The essence of prison is Winter Orb and the ability to turn it off with Icy Manipulator. In that sense, once again we have a deck whose bones were in Alpha. An important piece of the puzzle comes from Legends, and Antiquities gives us the win condition I decided to use:


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Building Merfolk/Fish in 93/94 Old School — With and Without a Budget

This is another deck in my battlebox, a collection of reasonably well-balanced decks for people to pick up and play at group meetings. It turns out that blue is sill powerful even when sticking to a budget in old school. And the little fish are surprisingly resilient even with only a single lord.

Living close to Dice City Games, owned by the Merfolk Master himself Jimmy Cooney, makes me wary of writing anything about Merfolk for fear of sounding ignorant, but I played against similar decks plenty back in the day and ran with fish briefly when Mercadian Masks was in Type II, so I do have a little to say about it.

This is another deck whose core existed from Alpha …

but we needed expansions, particularly Fallen Empires, to have the tools for a deck:

Unlike White Weenie, Merfolk is not a historic deck of the era. (More on that here.) Of particular note, Lord of Atlantis is only a Merfolk now thanks to a raft of errata that gave sensible creature subtypes to every creature (and sometimes nonsensical ones, like making a Jackal a hound).

As with the White Weenie deck, the addition of Fallen Empires gave the deck a bevy of useful small creatures. Merfolk Assassin’s main claim to fame was half of a combo with War Barge (also in The Dark), where you could give an opponent’s creature islandwalk and then destroy it with the Assassin.

Blue being the most powerful color in the Old School card pool means we have to ask ourselves why we would play Merfolk instead of, say, control, and the answer is almost assuredly “it’s fun.” Let’s take a look at some of the tools at our disposal, and a budget deck as a starting point.

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