It’s almost Christmas time. The holidays are a great time to get in touch with your inner-child. It’s an opportunity to forget adult drama for a day or two and to remember what it was like when things were a lot more simple.
You know, Magic used to be a lot more simple.
The game has to evolve, and it isn’t a bad thing to have new mechanics every year adding to the game’s overall complexity—though thankfully, competitive Magic’s formats have limited card viability, keeping things a lot more civil. But regardless, it’s fun to go back to being a kiddie and to re-live those halcyon moments.
In order to do that, I’ve assembled the following monster.
Let’s kick it old school.
Though I like the allure of the recently unveiled (and growth-prone) 93/94 Magic format, the cost and the deckbuilding limitations are a bit prohibitive for me. People don’t even like putting Black Lotus in their Cubes now; imagine how much more overpowered it is when you’re playing it in a format where Serra Angel is a necessary control deck finisher.
Plus, 93/94 is a little old for me. I started in Mirage. I’m a noob.
Don’t let the above images confuse you. Some of them are auto-generated. None of the versions of these cards are new in my Cube. Tenth Edition Shivan Dragon can take a hike.
On the Subject of Cubes
As much fun as it is to play the Magic All-Star game with a bunch of friends, I would like to state that the amount of Magic Cubes is far too limited in scope right now. This is a format you can define with literally any Magic card. Why are we always playing with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Lightning Bolts? Traditional Cubes are fun, and nobody wants to play a Cube where they have to read every obscure card six times, but man, we are really underutilizing this concept in my opinion. Make your own Draft format, people! Explore the possibilities!
Why Isn’t There More Mana-Fixing?
Because lands are boring. In 1995, lands cost way more than other stuff and they didn’t even do that much. Play two-colors, draw basics, or perish. That’s how justice worked back then.
How Do You Balance a Cube Like This?
You don’t. Who cares?! The goal is to capture the feel of casual Magic from the first popular age of Magic (which I cut off at Urza Block. I’m sure it’s different for different people, but Urza Block felt a lot different than Mercadian Masques and the sets after to me). When I was a young nerd-o discovering this phenomenal game that would go on to give me basically everything I have in life, I wasn’t concerned with balancing a cardpool. I wasn’t even concerned with making my deck 40 or 60 cards. So instead of spending a ton of time worrying about that, I didn’t. Instead, I said, “These are a lot of the cards and interactions that defined the games from my childhood.” And so they sit.
There are a handful of archetypes that are possible, but most of the time, two-color good stuff is the order of the day. And by good stuff, I mean barely playable trash. Because this is casual Magic from 1995 we’re dealing with here.
Archetype 1: Shivan Dragon + Anything
Have you ever had this card in Limited? It’s pretty good. A handful of cards trade for it, but generally, it’s the most powerful creature in a goofy environment like this. You can race under it, you can Terror or Dark Banishing it, or you can pick your cards up. Not a lot you can do about this thing, but that’s part of the fun. Respect it or die.
Archetype 2: Armageddon + Little Idiots
One of the most tried and true strategies of early fair Magic. Drop a bunch of mana dorks, blow up all the lands, win. You’ll notice I added Nettletooth Djinn, because having just one hilariously dated green Djinn for this archetype really concerned me.
Archetype 3: Titania’s Song + Artifacts
Ever wonder where Titania, Protector of Argoth came from? I haven’t, though I do wonder which of her hairstyles is canon.
This deck is built by getting Titania’s Song early, then taking literally every artifact you can get. Bubble Matrix, Icy Manipulator, Relic Barrier, Howling Mine, the whole bunch. You can use Wrath of God and Catastrophe to keep the board clear, then once you’ve assembled a really tentative lock, you drop Titania’s Song and start attacking.
Archetype 4: Reanimator.
This deck also has some charm in that Animate Dead is a design disaster. The creature loses a point of power for some reason, and then there’s another fifteen paragraphs of text about other things that don’t matter. I mercifully avoided putting Dance of the Dead in, as it has the most Oracle text of any card ever as far as I know (yes, including Ice Cauldron).
Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. That doesn’t actually apply here, but it sounds good and important.
If you’ve only been in the game a short while or you wonder what it was like to play with cards that were positively awful (I have a friend trying to convince me to cut Ihsan’s Shade. It’s never going to happen), then re-create this Cube (for like $20) and find out what Christmas mornings were like in 1996.
Don’t pass the Shivan. Seriously.
What old cards give you a shot of nostalgia? What are your favorite unusual Cubes you’ve encountered?