This article is meant as a conversation starter. We are certainly not hurting for nostalgia formats at the moment, with multiple versions of OldSchool/93-94, ’95, Original Type II, and Premodern/Middle School. But I believe this format is different enough from the others to warrant a look, so hopefully you will stick with me through my arguments for its charms.
Old School 93/94 is a wild and woolly format, full of powerful cards, and most strategies you can think of. The problems, of course, are budgetary. This blog is largely dedicated to budget builds because I’m on a tight budget for this hobby, but it can be a little unsatisfactory to sit across from decks that aren’t suffering from self-imposed handicaps.
The nature of the early sets and the reserve list doesn’t create any reasonable solutions to this problem. You can elimitate the power nine by starting from Revised, as Original Type II tries to do — but then you still have to deal with revised dual lands, which average about $200 in played condition now. My household’s entire collection is worth less than a playset of, say, the Bayous that would go in my Thallid deck! You can try to incentivize playing on a budget, as some tournaments do, but the criteria are inevitably awkward: Do you go by the total value of the deck, the value of individual cards, or just disallow entire swaths of things? Is a cards utility of any consideration, or just its price? What happens if a card spikes because it was bought out and someone paid less than $1 for a card that is now inexplicably $50? Are cards like Berserk expensive or cheap considering there’s a modern border version? Is Underground Sea treated the same as Plateau for budget reasons? Spot the budget cards, if any, below!
One of my ideas was to start with Revised through the end of 1995 and ban the dual lands. I think this is a completely reasonable format, and in fact I would say that it represents the majority of Old Schooler’s starting collections, and except for Wheel of Fortune, there are no expensive cards and very few on the reserve list at all. The banned and restricted lists would be fairly simple and wouldn’t need to be much different from those that existed at the time.
But it’s ahistoric as far as official formats go, which would probably turn people off. (The price of dual lands is ahistoric as well, but we can’t do much about that.)
However, the first Pro Tour in 1996 offers some intriguing possibilities, most especially the format from the very first PT tournament in New York, which includes Fourth Edition, Chronicles, Ice Age, Homelands, and Fallen Empires, and a peculiar deck restriction that people include at least 5 cards from each legal set. (This rule was instituted to force players to use Homelands. Homelands was terrible at the time, but it has improved very slightly following the creature type update about 10 years ago.) There was a cool box set commemorating the top 8 of the very first Pro Tour to give you some idea of the decks around in that format: