Summoned from the Dreamrealms: Some Old School MTG Favorites

It’s been almost a full year that I’ve been playing Old School Magic now. When I first started I didn’t know enough about the game to put together a decent deck. I’ve learned a lot in the past year. I’ve grown a decent collection, met a lot a of great guys, and made a blog. The popularity of Old School Magic has significantly grown since I got into the format as well.

If you haven’t heard, there’s now an Old School MTG podcast now out called Flippin’ OrbsIn the episode the two hosts both talk about a few of their favorite cards. It gave me the idea to write a blog post about some of my favorite cards. So here I’m going to look at some cards I’ve enjoyed playing over the past year. Some cards you might expect to be mentioned may not be listed. I still don’t own a Chaos Orb and have never flipped one so it won’t be mentioned. I’m sure it would be if I owned one.

Anyways, let’s get to it.

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Ifh-Biff Efreet. Ifh-Biff is lesser seen compared to his Revised imposter, Serendib Efreet, but the original frilly necked efreet is one of my favorite cards to put out onto the battlefield. Often when I cast Ifh-Biff, people think it’s a Serendib at first. Ifh-Biff is a really strange creature for many reasons. One being the weird art. It’s a green skinned elf guy with a goatee and a perm. He’s dressed like an eighteenth century European aristocrat and, at first glance, he seems to be inspecting a bottle of wine. Knowing that he’s an efreet it’s probably the bottle he came out of or lives in. A while ago I posted a picture of Ifh-Biff on Instagram and someone commented saying that they weren’t sure if the green guy was the efreet or if the efreet was the cloudy stuff in the background. Jesper Myfors, if you’re reading this, call me.

The other weird thing about Ifh-Biff is his ability. It’s basically a built in Hurricane that can be used at instant speed. Also usable by your opponent. If you’re not playing against someone using green, this ability can be really powerful. Especially if you need to wipe out a bunch of flyers. I’ve heard people refer to Ifh-Biff as “Hurricane on a stick.”

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Alpha Icy Manipulator. The round corners of Alpha always look better than Beta no matter what. But sometimes the price difference between the two just aren’t justifiable. At least to me. However, there are a few cards that really are much greater in their rarer Alpha form. Icy Manipulator is one of them. Besides the corners the only difference really is the text. It has less wording and the text-size is bigger. The added text in Beta was to specify that when you tap a card its effects don’t get triggered. Also the Beta and Unlimited versions seem to be darker – like most of the corrected Beta cards.

Though there isn’t much of a difference, I think the Alpha version looks so much better than the Beta version. And I’m not alone in my opinion. The handful of cards that have unique features to Alpha are always desired over their Beta brothers because they represent that primal wild west that Magic once was. That wild west existed through Beta and further through a few more sets, but Alpha represents the fount from which all sprang forth and certainly has some strange things in the set. This is all evident in Alpha cards like Icy Manipulator, Birds of Paradise, Unsummon, etc… It’s fun when the enchantments on a creature are “CARD ed.”

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Juzam Djinn. Probably the most notorious and badass creature in all of Magic: The Gathering, Juzam is simply a beautiful card. In my opinion, everyone should be playing a mono-black just to play some Juzams. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Su-Chi works as a pretty good substitute but isn’t nearly as fearsome as Juzam. I think at this point it’s safe to say that Juzam is my favorite creature. I think I’ll always have a mono black just for the Juzams.  Juzams are also way too expensive to not have them in a deck. on another note, a question I’ve seen a couple times is this: Is the Djinn giant or is the man just really tiny?

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Sinkhole. Conveniently, Sinkhole, like Juzam, is a staple of the mono-black archetype which means that two beautiful cards get to be together in the same deck. How great is that? I’ve posted my Sinkholes a few times over on the Instagram and for some reason they always get a crazy amount of likes. Much more than anything else I post. I mean, they’re beautiful, especially being Alpha, but it’s not like people are always talking about Sinkhole. This particular Sinkhole is pretty worn – which I love about it. It must have destroyed a lot of land in its day. And it still has plenty of land to destroy in the future.

The first Old School tournament I played was last October in a pub outside of GP Providence. At the time I only had three Sinkholes but I realized the power of land destruction that day. Especially land destruction for only two mana. After the tourney I went over to the GP area and looked around at vendors and bought a fourth Sinkhole.

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Flying Men. When I first got into Old School Mtg I was infatuated with blue. I put together a mono blue deck mostly modeled after Mg’s Suicide Blue. It just had a lot of cards I wanted to play at the time. I loved Merfolk of the Pearl Trident as a kid so it was fun playing a deck with four of them. I also really like the art on the Islands. And Flying Men was one of my favorite cards at the time. The art is awesome and it’s a pretty decent card especially if you get it out early with an Unstable Mutation. The deck wasn’t top tier but it was a pretty fun. I still do love everything about this card.

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Moorish Cavalry. Of all colors I’ve played white the least this past year. I did make a couple white decks though. Each time I put together a mono white I tried to not make it a white weenie. The thing is, when you put together all the best white cards for a deck, it quickly becomes a white weenie. There are a bunch of white Arabian Nights cards that I think are pretty cool and not typically played so I always threw in a few Moorish Cavalries to break up the weenie part of the deck. It’s kind of a high mana cost for a 3/3 but if you have a Crusade or two out you’ve got a 4/4 or 5/5 with trample. A few times it won me some games at the kitchen table. It’s always fun to use a card that isn’t commonly used.

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Lightning Bolt. One of the most iconic cards of the format, Lightning Bolt is super fun to play. I absolutely LOVE the art to Lightning Bolt. It’s so dark and ominous. The only colors in the art are different mixtures of black, blue, and a little white. Aesthetically, it’s similar to Icy Manipulator, another gorgeous looking card. If it wasn’t for Lightning Bolt I probably wouldn’t care at all about red. Well, that’s not totally true. I love Mons’s Goblin Raiders and Hurloon Minotaur – mostly because I thought they were cool as a kid. Shatter is pretty fun too. In general, I don’t often play much red though.

Lightning Bolt is awesome because of its versatility. It can be creature removal or just a burn to the face for the win. I imagine someone out there has a crazy burn deck filled with all the red burn cards printed over the years. Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning, Thunderbolt, Shock, etc… That would be a fun deck to play at the kitchen table.

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Library of Alexandria. THE library of all libraries. It’s a bit dirty but still just as beautiful as ever. Getting this card in your opening hand basically promises you two cards drawn per turn. It can be so strong that many people have argued that the Power 9 really should be the “Power 10” with Library of Alexandria included. It’s status is certainly legendary but still just a notch below the reputation of the Power 9. The god-like status the Power 9 have is untouchable by any other card at this point – no matter how powerful.

With all the land destruction in Old School the library often doesn’t stay out too long but even if you get just a few extra cards in the beginning of the game, it can be enough to secure a win. Library of Alexandria played a huge part in the first Magic World Championship in 1994 between Zak Dolan of the U.S. and Bertrand Lestree of France.

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Mox Emerald. Lastly, here is the only Power 9 card I own. It’s in a mono green deck I have and man, every time I draw it in my opening it’s the happiest moment of my life. Well, not really. But it does make me very happy. I love it for two reasons: 1) I love playing green, and 2) I think the gem holder might be modeled after a moblin from Zelda.

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Forest. Last, but definitely not least, is just a basic Forest. This forest was one of the reasons why I love green and put together a mono green deck. I really like all three of the forests but this one is my favorite. It makes me want to jump into the picture and walk down that path. What’s around the bend? Probably Moss Monster.

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This list of cards is by no means exhaustive. There are a bunch of other cards I’ve really enjoyed playing in the past year as well. And I tried to stop myself from just putting black and green cards. In the future, I’m sure there will be more cards that I’ll come to love that I haven’t already.  I also have a bunch of cards that I just haven’t gotten to building a deck around yet but I know I’ll love.

Is anyone able to guess what the title “Summoned from the Dreamrealms” is a reference to?

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8 thoughts on “Summoned from the Dreamrealms: Some Old School MTG Favorites

  1. This was a fun read and I couldn’t help but start thinking of my 5 favorites (power 10 not included) right now:

    Moat- my most wanted card from when I was starting out. That is, except for Power and LoA of course.

    Juzam Djinn- the granddaddy of creatures. Another favorite of mine as a kid that I couldn’t afford. His power is even more impressive than I had originally thought, though he eats too many Swords for my liking.

    Argivian Archeologist- I liked to play Bomberman in Vintage and this guy is as close to Auriok Salvagers in 93/94 as we can get. Nothing broken, but fun tricks abound with this little guy.

    Serra Angel- I used to collect Revised versions of the OG angel as trade throw ins. At one point I think I had over 20 or so.

    Counterspell- As a control player at heart, nothing is more efficient than UU: counter target spell. Mama Drain is of course more powerful, but I didn’t own any as a kid.

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    1. That’s a great list. I love Moat too, though I’ve only played against it – your Moat, I think! Serra Angel might actually give Juzam a run for his money for being the most iconic creature in Old School.

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  2. My favourite card has to be DARK RITUAL (original artwork). Not only is it a mechanically great card, it’s theme and artwork is my idea of a perfect black card. There’s not enough genuinely EVIL cards in MTG, but this card just reeks of putrefaction. Talking of evil stenches, I’m sure this will kick up a stink; my friends/fiends and I play Old School MTG with 100% proxies. That’s right, we physically make our decks; that is lay them out digitally, print them on a laserjet, cut & round the corners and sleeve them. We get to play and experiment with whatever we want, for the cost of pennies. Unfortunately we will never be able to find “real” MTG players willing to play against us because our cardboard is fake and thus, we will forever be shunned by the global MTG community. On the plus side, we have an absolute blast and we’re not broke or bitter from buying insanely expensive cards. I really hope this comment gets read just to see what other player’s reactions are. Although I think I would enjoy the thrill of the chase of collecting and trading sought after cards AND I understand many cards are a legitimate investment AND that I’m missing out on a huge part of MTG, I personally could never justify paying serious $ for out of print cards. Opinions/death threats please…

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    1. Yeah there are a lot of players that strongly oppose proxies of any kind. In Old School there aren’t any rulesets that allow them. I suppose at home with friends proxies could be used without any problem. It seems like the main argument against proxies isn’t so much that they aren’t a real card but more so that it might end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t know that they’re fake and they try to sell them for the real price – which is an understandable fear. However, I don’t know how common that situation is. It seems like it’s probably rare to me. Though widespread use of proxies may make it more common. I don’t know. I think for many people, they see proxies in the realm of fake cards which have been used to take advantage of people many times. Personally I’m okay with proxies if people want to use them. I understand both sides argument. Some cards are just so insanely expensive that I will never buy them. And prices are only rising. So because of this, I understand the desire for proxies.

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. You’ve made a really interesting point about proxies that I’ve never considered. Alas, even though the proxies we play with “get the job done” so to speak, it’s quite obvious they’re not “authentic” cards. Apart from a very small pool of Magic playing friends, I pretty much rely on the internet as my main source of info for the Old School format. But I can’t help but notice a strange dichotomy that pops up again and again. As much as I agree that the format is all about “having fun”, not taking itself too seriously and that winning isn’t necessarily a priority, this ethos seems to be at odds with the way players place a monetary value on the cards, black border obsessions and the attitudes to playing proxies in tournaments (which more often than not appear to be just group of friends, or soon to be friends, meeting up in a bar to have a blast playing the game.)
    I can’t help but feel that the price points of cards are always going to keep away the types of people who could enjoy the format the most, simply because some of the cards are so unaffordable. Besides being incredibly fun to play, I also find the brewing aspect of the format incredibly rewarding. It seems such a shame that a lot of players may never get the chance to play with certain cards and thus rule out the possibility of discovering, experimenting and tweaking fun and imaginative decks.

    I hesitate to use the word “elitism”, because I don’t know enough about MTG to start throwing around such terms, but I can’t help but feel that money has too much of an effect on how people are able to enjoy and contribute to the community. I understand you don’t need to be mega rich to play the format, or that you need any power to have fun, but it seems that if you do enjoy the format, you will at some point end up dropping some cash to continue enjoying it.

    Saying all of that, I am envious and impressed of the amount of time, passion and money players are willing to pour into the format. Anyway, I hope you don’t think I’m ranting, the blog is killer and I hope you don’t mind fakers like me intruding…

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    1. Hey man, sorry I took so long to reply. I feel the same way as you do on some of your points. The rising prices are really a fun killer. And you’re right, it takes away a lot of options for brewing. There’s still Revised, Fourth Edition, and Chronicles that will most likely always be cheap but there’s a lot of important cards that weren’t printed in those sets. And those are usually the cards that make a deck competitive. And those are the ones that are out of reach for many people. And like you said, you don’t necessarily need those expensive cards to have fun, but they are fun and anyone who wants to really get involved with old school mtg is going to have to drop the money for at least a few of them to really enjoy the format.

      If I hadn’t gotten into old school mtg over a year ago and started collecting then, I wouldn’t get into it now. Prices are just too insane. Still, there are many cards that I don’t have that are now out of reach for me limiting what I can brew with. People have been talking about “buyouts” happening for the rising prices but I also think it’s the rising popularity of old school too. These old cards are more in demand than they were before. It makes me wonder if proxies eventually will be allowed to try to make the format more inclusive. We’ll see. I can’t really see myself getting into proxies – even if they’re obvious proxies and accepted by the community – because they’re not “real” cards. It’s really just a vanity thing for me. I actually don’t like that I feel that way ha. I’m just glad I finished a couple decks with all the cards I need before prices went up. I can brew with changing up those decks with other cards I have but, say, if I wanted to brew something completely new – maybe with 3 or 4 colors, it’s just out of the question. I just don’t have the cards and I’m not going to buy them. Maybe I’ll feel differently if my salary goes way up or something.

      It’s funny you bring up the black border obsession. The bb thing is funny to me – and I wrote about this in a post a while ago – because the whole format is built upon nostalgia and to play the cards we had as kids which most of us had Revised, Fourth Edition, and Chronicles and many players got into magic as kids during the ice age block. Yet, we play with Alpha, Beta, and the few early expansions. Really though, it’s not so much to play the exact sets we played as kids, it’s also what we would have wanted to play when we were kids. The cards that were out of reach to us back then. (Funny, I just realized that it’s becoming like that again!) The cards that were out of reach to me in 1994 and 1995 were actually unknown to me. I didn’t know Juzam Djinn or any of the power 9 existed until maybe 1998.

      Anyways, in the post I wrote about what I called something like “black border vanity”. And to take it further I wrote about something I called “round corner vanity”. I can’t remember what post it was exactly. I wrote how crazy it is that we spend more money on cards for a different colored border and also crazy to spend even more money on alpha cards for the round corners. I also admitted that I’ve done it quite a bit while recognizing the vanity of it. I used the example of Sinkhole. Unlimited Sinkholes at the time were around $10 -$15 I think. I bought four alpha Sinkholes for the black borders AND round corners which sold at the time for around $40 each. (I just looked up prices and seems the value of Sinkhole has actually dropped! That’s great! Hopefully others do too!) Anyways, I made the point that when playing the game the alpha, beta, and unlimited versions of the card do exactly the same thing. It’s not like if you buy the more expensive version you get extra power out of the card or anything. I doesn’t help you win. This is obvious, of course, but it’s funny that so many of us pay extra for how a card’s border is colored. Sometimes I think about it and want to become like the buddha of old school and use only white bordered cards haha. Other times I embrace the vanity and spend extra for the black border. I think this black border vanity is driven by how we showcase our decks. We rarely see decklists. It’s always pictures of decks. Somehow, that’s how the culture of old school mtg decided to be the way we show decks – which I think is great in a way. It’s a bit more organic and raw than the usual magic formats. But then we have the emphasis of how the deck looks which we wouldn’t have if our decks were showed primarily through written deck lists.

      Thanks for commenting your thoughts. And again I apologize for taking so long to respond. I think there are a lot of people who feel the way you do. Especially now with the recent price hikes.

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  4. Likewise tasylor, sorry for the delayed reply (I’m currently in the process of moving. Very hectic). But your reply was super cool. It’s really amazing how you’ve put so much thought and effort into writing back to me! Cheers!

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