I want to play some Old School with Ice Age and will organize some online tournaments in that format.
Not a type II Ice Age, type II with Ice Age has its charms, but is mostly an established format, with the best decks very well known. Its top 3 (Necro, ErhnamGeddon and Sligh) are among the most important and interesting decks ever, so I play the format, but only in small measures. Adding Ice Age to the type I/93-94 card pool opens many avenues for innovation and would likely lead to a quite different metagame than the 93/94 one.
Here’s a link to the TimeWalking version of the Old School 95 format.
Old School as Ice
Ice Age is the oldest magic expansion, in a way. When Richard Garfield was tasked to design the first expansion to be released (Arabian Nights), that interrupted his work on the first expansion to be designed : Ice Age. Arabian Nights was rushed, Ice Age was carefully planed. It would be released later but it didn’t exist in isolation of the expansions released in 1994 since it was the first expansion to be worked on, continued to be developed during 94 and therefore had to have some influence on those expansions, and vice-versa. While it is still a ’95 expansion, I don’t think it’s accurate to consider it any less old school than Arabian Nights, let alone The Dark. As of today I maintain Homelands in the format, a set that doesn’t share that specificity, but then again, it will most likely see so little play that it seems hard to consider it any trouble. It’s a set from 1995 so let’s let people play it.
Post The Deck meta ?
While there are many good reasons to aspire to play with Ice Age, one of the main one is to leave the hold The Deck has on the usual Old School, or at least to consider such a thing likely. There are several reasons to expect The Deck to take a back seat :
- It doesn’t seem to gain much :
There are some candidates, but they don’t seem to integrate that easily. Brainstorm, as discussed here, isn’t very easy to profit from in this format, and the deck doesn’t seem to be the good vehicle for such tech. And Zuran Orb isn’t an incredible life gain source in the deck.
- Other decks and strategies do gain much :
The awesome Demonic Consultation and Orcish Librarian aren’t suited to very slow decks, yet they’re awesome cards as already discussed here and there. Ashen Ghoul, Dance of the Dead, and Stormbind are proven cards in successful decks (like Stephen Menendian’s reanimator, and Vise Age). Knight of Stromgald only enhances the resilience to Swords to Plowshares, same thing for Order of the White Shield regarding The Abyss. Incinerate strengthen (counter)burn strategies, already strong adversaries of the deck.
The pain lands would be of no help to the usual 5c control The Deck. Conversely they help -sometimes in addition to Barbed Sextant– two and three coloured deck run with less City of Brass, if any, which makes The Deck’s Fellwar Stones that much less powerful, and the 5-coulour plan risky. The Deck most likely can adapt and possibly tone down to 3 colours (you know the ones), but those sags add up, and what we’d end up with could possibly called a watered down version of the almighty The Book Deck we’ve been all too accustomed to. Zuran Orb, while not great in The Deck, enables two very strong deck : ErhnamGeddon and TaxEdge.
- The TimeWalking’s ’95 version has some features that are unfriendly to the deck :
- The Mishra’s Factory oppression on small creatures is over since we use the “tapped blockers” rule. The MF can block Kird Ape White/Black Knight, Elvish Archers etc. but not eat them (or make them not attack like the mini-moat that they are in old school with modern rules).
- Changing The Abyss’ trigger to happen during the draw step isn’t just making it work almost like it used to, it also makes it weaker than it is with the modern oracle text (its current errata makes it considerably stronger, as if it wasn’t broken enough !) : for instance a white weenie deck will regularly have a disenchant in hand, but that doesn’t mean it can afford to leave two mana open to destroy an Abyss were the opponent to play it. Aggro decks generally can’t afford to to that, so with the official text you’d lose that Savannah Lion during your upkeep to The Abyss, despite having a disenchant in hand, whereas back then you just had to not use The Abyss before disenchanting it. The difference might seem minute, in practice it’s often game-changing.
- Having 3+ Strip Mines legal may help to fight the deck. This is a disputed and debated point. I agree with Magnus de Laval when he finds in testing that a MF-less version of The Deck seems to be virtually at least as powerful as the usual 4MF-one (in this format MF aren’t restricted, but with 3 Strip Mines legal, lots of pump kinghts and the rules on tapped blockers, it makes sense that you wouldn’t rely on them neither for survival nor to win). I did the same tests, ended up with the same wincons, the same strategy and had the same impressions. And this was true too with unrestricted Strip Mines. The resulting deck is considerably slower though. Drawn matches already being one of the main problem of the deck in timed rounds means that in this configuration the deck is much less apt at gaining points in tournaments. The slower the deck the weaker -all things being equal. Also, playing and abusing all colors becomes much harder with such cheap and uncounterable land destruction. And just having two islands untapped is much less of a guarantee to be able to counter a spell when Strip Mines are easily available. Not to be forgotten is that The Deck is (one of) the best deck to abuse Library of Alexandria, and the more Strip Mines the less chances of such abuse to happen (to me fighting LoA is the main reason to loosen the restriction on Strip Mine, it would be tempting to say that it also lets you unrestrict Mishra’s Workshop, which is nice as it opens the door to new strategies, but since it also hinders considerably the Bazaar of Baghdad-based strategies then it seems we have a tie there).
Overall those “Time Walked”/original rules (Strip Mines restricted to three isn’t even that anachronistic, if you played back then, you’d rarely find people play more than that, it was basically a card you would only play 4 of in a dedicated land destruction deck) all help keep the deck in check.
One thing the suggested version doesn’t do though, is letting Necro decks go on the loose. Those would most likely be natural predators to traditional control decks, but like Eudogames we’ll start by letting people be more creative than just recreating the Necrodeck with the bonus of dual lands to make them even more broken.
While expecting a post-TheDeck metagame is great, it isn’t all there is to this format of course. While I don’t want to spoil too much and prefer to let people explore and exploit the cards by themselves, here are a few interesting Ice Age cards that I’ve already alluded to on this blog, on my instagram account, or that are just well known already :
Nature’s Lore gets you the dual you need as long as it’s a forest and puts the land in play untapped, effectively costing one green mana, and shuffles your deck in synergy with Sylvan Libary, Brainstorm and Diabolic Vision.
Orcish Librarian is the cornerstone of the original Sligh deck, and is like a Sylvan Library with incorporated shuffle, that is : incredible.
Ashen Ghoul hits hard and fast but is also a recurring threat in the late game. An excellent boon to reanimator.
Brainstorm needs no introduction, though it takes some work to make it “happen” in this format. No fetches around, not even a Thawing Glaciers.. you’ll have to earn it ! 🙂
Portent was an underplayed cantrip I think. Not only can it dig for almost 4 cards, but also it can disrupt your opponent’s topdecks or shuffle yours.
Forgotten Lore is the crucial card of several recursion decks. The key play being to cast a Timetwister, draw one of your four FL, get the twister back for only one mana, find a Time Walk and repeat. Sometimes you also just have an Ancestral Recall and a Forgotten Lore in your opening or twisted hand and you’re not exactly unhappy either 😉
Jokulhaups was played in the Vise Age deck. It destroys a lot of stuff, but it keeps enchantments in play..
The environmentalist’s best friend, Orcish Lumberjack at least put those forests to good use, making them do a convincing Black Lotus impression.
Pox is a classic. How to make a Pox deck in this format is a question for you to answer though.
With Pyroclasm the challenge would be to have something to say about it. I fail, read the card.
Stormbind is a key part of the historical Vise Age deck. It’s also a discard outlet. Could this be used in a reanimator deck ?
In my opinion the most underused Ice Age card, Tinder Wall was part of the Vise Age deck though so there’s no point in being coy : it’s a star. It ramps, it accelerates, it blocks and trades with weenies, and it does all of those things very well. What more could you ask for ?
And just a reminder that Homelands isn’t just for decoration : Merchant Scroll. To fetch your Ancestral Recall or Mana Drain while shuffling away your Brainstormed cards isn’t exactly a bad deal, and is really just scratching the surface.
There are many more to find and exploit, but I’ll leave that to you.
Wanna play ? We have monthly “Skype”/webcam tournaments announced on the Old School 95 facebook group. So register, we have a monthly tournament every 15th of the month !