Monday, 10 December 2018

25 years of Unlimited - by Brother Scott

On a very special anniversary, Brother Scott recounts the history of a notable and misunderstood set...
10th December 2018

Is there any greater misnomer in the world of Magic: The Gathering than the “Unlimited” Edition?

With its severely limited print run of just 40 million cards, even if every single one had miraculously survived the 25 years from its release of 10th December 1993 to today there would only be enough for the world’s 20 million or so Magic players to own an average of 2 cards each. And for every player lucky enough to have a Black Lotus, 13 players would have a copy of False Orders.

To the eye of a non-Magic player, Unlimited must look more like a playtest version of the later, slicker 4th/5th/6th Editions – after all it has wildly varying font sizes, inconsistent rules text (Shatter “destroys”, Disenchant “discards”), spelling mistakes (Douglas Schuler), over-complex junk cards (ever played Camouflage?) etc etc

However, I have always loved the Unlimited set. Compared to the ubiquitous but washed out looking Revised Edition, the rich colours, chunky rules text and reassuringly solid thick white borders of Unlimited have always looked genuinely magical to me.

The first Unlimited cards I ever owned myself were bought from ebay in 2002-04, and I still have them all (pictured below):


Already not legal or outclassed in all formats by 2004, it wasn’t until I got into Old School in late 2015 that these cards changed from being collectors’ curiosities to main-deck contenders: not only have all 8 now been played (7 of them tournaments) but they are of course Swedish Legal, and one has even been played in Sweden itself (more of that later). The Black Knights pictured also have the honour of featuring in my deck for my first ever Old School game, against Brother Stebbo in London in February 2016.

Alas, not everyone shares my passion for the set. Too often Unlimited is regarded as a temporary measure until funds allow upgrade to Beta. Worse still, I’ve heard it described as just an expensive version of Revised: still white bordered, but twice the price. However, I believe that the Unlimited Edition is in fact fundamental to the existence of Old School as we know it. To explain why, let’s go back to the start:


Alpha and Beta



As many of you will know, the original 10 million cards that make up Alpha and Beta were envisaged to last for a year. In fact Alpha sold out within 19 days of Magic’s launch in August 1993, with Beta selling out essentially immediately on release in October 1993. It rapidly became clear to Wizards of the Coast that they needed more cards – and fast!




A more subtle point also emerged from this early stampede for cards: Richard Garfield was well aware before release that the Power 9 were insanely powerful, but he believed that either (A) they wouldn’t break the game, because any individual playgroup would only buy 1-5 starter decks each and so only own a couple of pieces of Power between them or (B) they would sell insane amounts of Magic: The Gathering, they’d all get rich, and they could think about a solution to the broken cards problem later. Essentially he was already in situation (B) 19 days after the game released.

Revised Edition


The solution WotC developed to the above problems was, of course, Revised Edition. A new version of Magic: The Gathering with a much larger print run, leaving out the cards that were too powerful (Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus) or too confusing (Blaze of Glory, Word of Command) and taking the opportunity to reword a few cards that too many players were playing incorrectly (Iron Star etc).


The trouble is, WotC were caught out by just how fast sales had been:

“Beta sold out faster than expected, and Revised wasn't done yet, so they had to do something about the card supply to maintain interest in the game. The set named Unlimited was reluctantly created to fill this need. They didn't want to print more P9 at all. The idea was to only print enough Unlimited to last until Revised could be finished.” – Tavis King, Facebook

Unlimited Edition
Thus the Unlimited Edition was born, essentially as a “stop-gap” solution to keep players happy (and the money rolling in) until Revised Edition could be finished.



WotC was mindful of collectors from the start, and was keen that this reprint set should have an obvious change to the card face to differentiate it from the Limited Editions. However, Carta Mundi were somewhat limited in what they could do cheaply to achieve this, and applying a different card border colour was the best available solution in the time available.


Of course the story from there we all know – by 1994 Revised edition was finished. Just four months after the first ever Black Lotus was printed, the last ever Black Lotus was printed.

The impact of Unlimited on Old School

“We also discussed Unlimited at length. On one hand, it was all reprints, but we decided to keep it anyway, as the manabase could become too expensive otherwise. At this point we obviously had no idea that there would be an international community a few years later.” – Magnus de Laval, Blog

If the manabase would have been expensive if Unlimited hadn’t been Swedish legal, just for a moment imagine the alternate universe in which Unlimited Edition was never even printed.

Limited Edition had only 4,300 of each Rare. Many of them were bought by people who played Magic a couple of times, didn’t like it, and threw them in the bin. Many more have been lost over the years. Many more will continue to be lost over time.

If Unlimited had never been printed – say if Revised edition had been ready earlier, or WotC decided just to wait a few more months before printing more cards – instead of 22,800 of each of the Power 9 printed there would only have been 4,300.

At such low levels, they might have been banned by the DCI much more quickly, perhaps as soon as Revised Edition was published. Black Lotus, rather than being regarded as the crown jewel of Magic, might have ended up just a historical curiosity; another Summer Magic blue Hurricane. A card printed “by mistake” early in the game’s history before WotC knew how Magic would work in practice. A card that someone’s friend once saw in a grading case at a GP.

Would Old School still have exploded into a worldwide phenomenon without iconic cards like the Power 9 and Chaos Orb to catch people’s attention? Maybe…but maybe not; Old School definitely owes the Unlimited set a debt of gratitude.

Unlimited 60 anyone?

But Unlimited is about far more than just the Power 9. Playing with Unlimited cards is, in a way, the purest form of Old School Magic. After all, EVERY Magic player chases after Alpha and Beta to pimp out their deck, whether that deck is Standard, Vintage, EDH or a Cube. It’s only those heading to the Swedish heartlands (either physically or spiritually) who would in 2018 excitedly trade away a Revised Scrubland for an Unlimited Shivan Dragon (a trade that I actually did the day before this year’s n00bcon.)

The reason for that trade is that I was about to attend the Huvudturnerning in Gothenburg the day after n00bcon, a traditionally more casual affair than n00bcon itself - and what more fitting way could there be to celebrate playing Old School in Sweden than with a fully-Swedish-legal, but also fully-white-bordered deck?



Not only was my newly-acquired Shivan Dragon one of the stars of the above Green/Red midrange deck but eagle-eyed readers may also spot in the sideboard one of my original Unlimited cards: a copy of Hurricane. The deck even went 3-3: a satisfying result for a G/R deck in which Strip Mine and even Kird Ape were forced to sit out.

And so to the next 25 years!

Now I’m not really suggesting starting Unlimited 60 as a format (although I’d love to see everyone else’s best Unlimited-only deck photos!)

However, the next time you are tempted to “upgrade” your Unlimited cards to Alpha or Beta, just pause for a moment and reflect – you already hold in your hands a piece of Magic history, from a set without which Old School may never have existed.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

"Wanderlust" Part 2 - by Brother Stebbo

Have Strip Mines, Will Travel… Wanderlust part 2, by Brother Stebbo

Editor: Last time out our foreign correspondent Brother Stebbo was competing in the frozen North of the British Isles. Today he’s a little further afield...

1, 2, 3, 4. Count ‘em. 4 Strip Mines. You know what this means. I’m heading way out West!

I was lucky enough to meet Shane from the Lords of the Pit at Noobcon earlier this year. I even did this to him during the Wizards’ Tournament…

All the fun of the Wizards Tournament Fair!
Shane quickly showed himself to be a great sport, and one impromptu craft beer tasting later we were best pals…


We’ve stayed in touch since so as you can doubtless imagine, I was thrilled at Shane’s enthusiasm when I mentioned that I was up for making an Old School pilgrimage to Chicago.

Indeed between Shane, Ray, Bob, Nathan, Jaco and the rest of the Lords on hand, I was really taken care of. We managed to find time for 2 Old School meet-ups, 1 pre-modern meet-up and another non-Magic meet “because it’s Sunday...”. My liver is still recovering.

This early interaction was typical of my time in Chicago:

Stebbo: Just landed and getting the metro downtown from the airport. Should be with you about 9pm after I drop my stuff.

Shane: Dude, we’ve been out since midday. Some of the Lords may not last much longer! Don’t go to your hotel. Come STRAIGHT to the bar…

Cue a night out till 2-3am (of course, with me dragging a huge suitcase around!)

A fantastic week where I was able to channel my inner Louis Theroux, as we drunk deep from the everflowing cup of subject matter that is ‘differences between US and UK culture’. Add to this with the continuing amusement I caused with my repeated, awkward struggles to tip ‘correctly’ (!) and you’ve got a great time on your hands.

Here are some pics to give you a feel:

Brother Stebbo was able to wriggle free of Shane’s Double Orb + Beast lock to find a Land’s Edge for 18! 

Arabians Showdown in Bucktown! 

Rules at a Lords meet-up were surprisingly strict…

Chicagoans play some interesting decks. Check out this spicy RG aggro brew



Rather than take up space showering the Lords with superlatives, I’ll instead try to briefly describe the scene for our final meet-up:

It’s in a fairly trendy, but narrow, bar in a neat part, or “neighbourhood”, of Chicago. As is not atypical for the bars I’d visited thus far, the one serves a mix of regular beers and Belgian-inspired craft beers. These are pretty punchy numbers, clocking around 8%. It’s the beer equivalent of someone posting an Old School deck pic, and you notice that they are playing with Beta Volanics… (“wait a minute, those aren’t CE!!”)

The Lords have taken over the main tables towards the back. Elsewhere baseball is on the TVs and there is a resounding murmur from the patrons on the other tables, most of whom are either youngish workers or students.

I’m greeted warmly, immediately “hooked up” up a beer and soon settle in for some games. I get to play a few rounds, before swapping playmats with Shane and dishing out some prizes from the Brothers of Fire.

 
The Lords in full flight
I have my pick of the prize cards, which include a tasty Millstone and a Hymn to Tourach (which is only usable in a game of Brothers’ Highlander™). Naturally I opt for my signature card: Spell Blast.
Prize cards!

Shane and Ray were awarded generous flagons of booze for their generosity in looking after me. Nathan took home the honorary Brothers of Fire award for truly embodying the spirit of Old School.

 
Why we fight

On top of being an top laugh and sport, Nathan attended every meet-up during my stay (which was like 4!) and was playing a sweet mono green brew dripping with flavour and Moss Monsters. Well deserved indeed!

I honestly had a blast in Chicago – it was everything I was expecting as a city to visit bustling with culture, pals and Old School. My thanks again to Shane and the crew. We look forward to hosting the Lords at a COPcon in the future!




[Editor: And then Brother Stebbo went home, without further incident?
Wrong!!! He shipped out to Boston…]

Wanderlust part 2.5: Adventures in New England



Dave, or DFB, needs no introduction.

However it would be remiss of me to not mention how we met!

Technically we sat together at the Wizards’ Tournament – but then he was just “a nutter playing unsleeved”. However later that weekend we became friends at Kalle’s ‘Main Tournament’. Dave holds the distinction of being the first person to cast Shahrazad against me. And later that game, also took the distinction of being the ‘first person to beat me with Shahrazad’! No wonder that card is now worth more than a Black Lotus…

However I did get to Psychic Venom his Library (I know right, who plays LoA in a fun tournament!?)


Simultaneous to my communications with Shane, I’d also arranged to meet the New England crew for some games. The NE folk meet regularly at a bar called Moogy’s in the suburbs of Boston, and this was the venue for our showdown.

To tell the truth, I was pretty nervous. Boston is an intimidating place for a Brit. We haven’t got the best historical win-loss record here… Indeed the NE Old School apparel makes references to this very thing! Almost like they’re taunting us! However I was remotely given some words of encouragement from my fellow Brothers.

I also had the key-line ready if the thorny issue of the rules differences between UK and US Old School communities came up: “Well, if you didn’t want to be playing with 4 Strips, maybe you shouldn’t have disrespected our tea!”
Moogy’s is famous for its tasty beers, sandwiches and 90s cardboard 

Insane sandwich. You don’t fight for freedom on an empty stomach…

I had arrived before DFB, however quickly found some of the NE crew and got down to some Alpha 40. Known as ‘your deck for the Wizards’ Tournament’ back in my day, Alpha 40 has really caught the imagination of the Old School community of late. NE is no exception and the momentum is palpable. Or, as we like to say in Alpha 40: “a Forest enchanted with Wild Growth gathers no moss…”
I played some great games against a BU deck, and then had some games with Kramer in the RG mirror. These turned out to be Kramer’s first paper games of Alpha 40. My deck was just able to get the better of his, in some games played in the best spirit. I was touched that he remarked later online that he’d enjoyed our games and was “instantly hooked” on the format. I look forward to our next clash!


From there, I dove into some games of Old School proper. First off, I was thrilled to meet Rich Shay, a whose Vintage content I have long-enjoyed. His appearance was a welcome surprise to me, as I was unaware he was a convert to the format (this is one of the advantages of not following anyone’s Twitter, it seems).

I was playing a riff on the recent Tax/Tower decks that have been popular in Old School. Appropriately, I had a partial aggro transformational sideboard into Atogs.
Brother Stebbo’s RW Federal Control

Rich explained (apologetically) that he was testing for Lobstercon, and was running the Deck. I’d be a hypocrite to in any way criticise such a move, and we enjoyed some close games. However my Shatters and REBs abandoned me when I needed them most…
The highlight was that I did get to surprise him by casting an Atog in our first sideboard game. For my part, it was definitely one of those Eureka moments capturing elements of the Spirit of Old School, here newfound mutual respect and sheer cardboard joy. Although it didn’t last long, as this Atog was soon packing his bags for the arable fields of northern Massachusetts.
Casting an Atog against the Atog Lord. Presumably my Atog receives the standard +1/+1 benefit?

I had two games of Old School left in my trip, and fittingly they were played against both winners of the honorary Brothers of Fire cards, part of a special double-blessing from the elder Brothers ahead of this event.


The first was against Derek, a NE community stalwart, who played a deep mono black brew. Or let me put it another way: it as drenched in flavour as a Moogy’s melted sandwich.

Sadly for Derek, Tax/Tower is a bit of a bĂȘte noire for his deck, however his refusal to concede in the most treacherous of board states was a credit to his tenacity and determination to discover my wincon!

The funniest part was that after our games, I suddenly had a slightly awkward feeling. With one Brothers of Fire reserved for my final opponent, I’d resolved to give the other to the player of the night who best encapsulated the Spirit of Old School. I’d been tipped off that there was such a player in the NE community, and naturally I was ready to follow the recommendation of my gracious hosts. But my games with Derek had been such a blast that I felt he was deserving as well!

So I had a quiet word to DFB, and we quickly established that Derek and this unnamed “NE community stalwart” were indeed one-and-the-same person! Phew!


Fittingly, my final games were against DFB, which to my surprise I was able to edge out with a big Land’s Edge and some beats from Uthden Troll. Although sadly DFB and I were too caught up in discussions on the finer points of the Old School format, so neglected to document our games.

It was then time for pics and prize cards and saying goodbye to my newfound friends. I was touched by the prize card I was awarded – a Lobstercon test-print!!
Oi Oi Oi, me gotta prize card



My thanks to DFB and the NE crew for being such generous hosts.

See you at the World Team Cup in London, or at Lobstercon 2019!

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Deep Flavour Decks - Part One - By Chris Sartin

Crank up the spice! The first in a series of articles in which contributors will share their pet decks, with a strong emphasis on the flavour of the decks and the stories behind their construction.  The series begins with a story from Chris about his Brothers' Highlander deck (full details on our house singleton format here).

That Brother’s Highlander deck - by Chris Sartin

I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to attend COPcon VII, an Old School gathering hosted by the powerful Brothers of Fire and I loved it: beautiful cardboard, great venue, and supercool people – everyone. I can safely say it was the most fun I have had at a Magic event. The casual nature of the day and the laid-back attitude of all of the competitors was a breath of fresh air from the usual Standard/Modern grindfest punctuated with yells of ‘Judge’ all over the room. I was also chuffed to bits to receive the spirit of COPcon award and a Brothers of Fire signed by all the competitors, a prize I will really treasure.

I had seen Brother Jonas’ article on the Brother’s Highlander house format on Facebook and I was instantly sold on the idea. I love ways to give unloved cards the light of day and there are so many Old School cards which don’t make the top tier but deserve their time in the limelight - I mean, I had a headless horsemen across the table from me!

So I played around with a few ideas. Initially I looked at trying to build RG because I had a copy of Stangg from Chronicles. Maybe I could even stretch it to RGW so I could include my Palladia-Mors. These cards had sat in a binder for probably twenty years and were opened from Chronicles boosters some-when in 1995. So I started looking through my first ever binder and shoebox of Magic cards and pulled out cards to fit the deck. Then I started looking at the pile of Goblins... I also had a Revised Goblin King...  Could there be a tribal goblin deck?

Well, no.

In the legal sets there are 21 cards that mention Goblin and only 14 are creatures - not enough for a 100-card deck.
(Oh yeah, they have a cave troll)

But Goblins often go hand-in-hand with Orcs. Could this be the theme - Red Orcs and Goblins?

Well, no.  There are only 12 cards that mention Orc and only 9 are creatures
(Yep there is a bad moon here - Orcs only fight at night unless you cross-breed them…)
But, suddenly the theme hit me – Mordor, the realm of the Dark Lord Sauron!  After that, the ideas came thick and fast.

First, there is Sauron himself:

(Or, to be honest, it could be the one ring)

The realm of Mordor is surrounded by blighted marshes and mountains – perfect:

(“Don’t follow the lights... or little Hobbits go down and light candles of their own”)

I like the idea of the Ebon Stronghold being Cirith Ungol or even Mount Doom:



There are lots of Goblin caves and Dwarven ruins as well, which fit right into the theme:
"Drums. Drums in the deep. We cannot get out."


By extending the theme to cover a bit of The Hobbit I can also have Smaug and his Dwarven Ruins:




And then there is Moria and the evil that Lurks in the deep:

“You Shall not pass”


Ok, so we have the locations fairly well covered and the mass armies of Orcs and Goblins. But what about the truly terrifying followers of Sauron, the Ringwraiths?  I just chose nine black creatures here.  The Bog Wraith and Murk Dwellers could also be denizens of the blighted marshes. There may be better choices but these are all wraithy enough:




There were several spells I thought captured the essence of the Ringwraiths as well, especially their overwhelming terror and power:



The dark Lord draws allies from all across Middle earth:




Above, the Harad or Easterlings.  If I can find my Desert Nomads, they will defiantly have to go in. I remember around 1995 really wanting any card from Arabian Nights. I would have settled for a Camel but with no internet, no eBay, no online card sellers, it just wasn’t possible. Years later I built a Pauper cube and as a tribute to this dream I bought a Desert Nomads (and a Moorish Cavalry). The Nomads have a new home now.

Oh yes and then there is 'Golem' - can’t forget poor Smeagol!
And the machine they use to smoosh him with: “Shiiire, Baaagins”. Poor Smeagol.

Ok, so the last few cards are not really on theme, just some good cards and spells to round the decks out. I couldn’t leave out Tor Wauki in a RB deck.



So that was the deck!  I’m a little sad there wasn’t an on-colour Mammoth or Giant Spider, but I think it would have been a little excessive to splash green for these two cards.

I managed to play two games against Brother Jonas and Brother Stebbo and had a blast with both of them. This format really does capture those early days of Magic when our decks were one big pile of all the cards we had.

So, where next? I think I want a deck to fight the good fight against Mordor, although the good side is a little harder. I think I may go with a WG Elves, Ents, and Men.

So what do you think? Any glaring omissions?

The format is super fun and great to brew, and I hope this inspires a few of you to dig through those old shoeboxes to find that revised Sea Serpent and jam it into your new Brothers' Highlander mono-blue Oceanna deck. Actually, wait a minute... Deep Spawn, Hormarids, Merfolk... This might work!

Hope to see you at an Old School gathering soon.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Format announcement: Brothers' Highlander Autumn 2018 B&R&C update

Our house Highlander format, Brothers' Highlander, has been going from strength to strength as a chance to play fringe cards and enjoy the greater variability of the singleton format.

Check out this smattering of deep flavour action shots!



With a number of games under our belt, here is a revised Banned, Restricted, and Controlled set.


Brothers' Highlander rules version 1.1 - October 2018

Deck sizes: 100 cards exactly.

Legal sets: ABU, AN, AQ, LE, TD, FE, 93/94 promo cards. (Note: Fallen Empires is legal).

RESTRICTED: All cards apart from basic lands.

BANNED: Library of Alexandria, Mind Twist, Karakas

Players have 10 points to spend per deck on CONTROLLED cards:

The Controlled List

Ancestral Recall - 7
Balance - 1
Braingeyser - 5 (new entry)
Black Lotus - 7
Demonic Tutor - 5 (+1)
Icy Manipulator - 1 (new entry)
Jayemdae Tome - 3 (+1)
Maze of Ith - 2 (new entry)
Mirror Universe - 8
Mox (any) - 3
Recall - 4 (new entry)
Sol Ring - 3
Time Vault - 6
Time Walk - 7 (+1)
Transmute Artifact - 1

Rules: Swedish Old School rules (i.e. modern but with errata for Chaos Orb)

Printing legality: Standard UK reprint policy, i.e. any non-proxy non-foil card with original art in the original frame is legal. Revised Serendib Efreet and Plateau are also legal.

Mulligans: Paris Mulligan is not played. Instead, after drawing their initial 7 cards, either player may declare a Gentleman’s Mulligan and show their hand to their opponent. In the event that it contains 0 or 1 mana source, or 6-7 mana sources (i.e. a mana screw or a mana flood), that player can shuffle their deck and draw a fresh 7. There is no limit to the number of Gentleman’s Mulligans that can be declared. (A mana source is any zero-converted-mana-cost card which produces mana - i.e. a land or a Mox, or similar).