My Old School Recap of 2022
Greetings Old School friends! Now that another year has passed, here is a review of the decks I played and some general musings on the state of affairs. I competed regularly in two leagues – New England Old School (NEOS) and X Point. First of all, huge gratitude to the organizers of these online leagues. Jared, Loekie, and Joe (and everyone else on the X Point committee) do a fantastic job running a smooth operation, it is a true labor of love and they should know how much it is appreciated by people like myself who look forward to these every month. With a young child and a busy schedule it’s been hard for me to get out to play live events. Everyone is doing their best to move past the more isolating times of COVID-19, but the convenience of the online leagues and tournaments is a godsend to someone like me. I hope these will keep up as I’ve met so many great people all around the world during these past three years of Old School play.
2022 Summer Derby (Swedish)
The Deck/Skies (*T4*)
I was on a hot streak in the first half of 2022, and won Season 7 of NEOS (read the report here) and finished in the Top 4 of the Summer Derby as part of the “Hot Moti Summer” experiment. I ran my record in that tournament up to 10-0 until I was stopped in the semifinals by Rich Shay, my testing partner, sporting the same deck. It was an incredible best of 5 series we played on my dining room table. If you want to hear more about the evolution of that deck, check out this episode of Bryan Manolakos’ All Tings Considered (I was the guest on the back half).
X Point – *2022 Tolaria League Champion*
While this was happening, I regularly participated in the X Point league through Tolaria. This variant of Old School utilizes the Atlantic banned & restricted list as a ruleset, with a point restriction modification on top of it. You need to be selective about what cards to fit into your decks as opposed to just jamming the Power 9 and other usual suspects. It makes for a very wide diversity of decks people play and a generally vibrant format; point values are always being dissected and recalibrated by the governing committee to keep it fresh and exciting.
In the end I accumulated the most points over the course of the 2022 season (X Point tournaments #11-23) and was the Champion. I won one month (#18) and placed consistently well in all the others. Admittedly there are a lot of Spice players out there and I stayed on a Spikey track. Nonetheless, I piloted a variety of decks and enjoyed the wide-openness of the format and good natured opponents I faced along the way. What follows is a more detailed analysis of the decks I used.
RUG Aggro (X-Point #11 *T4*, #13 *T4*)
I began the year playing a RUG Aggro deck, frankly because I didn’t have much experience with it in Old School. In 2021 I had tried more controllish strategies with mixed success. It seemed to me that the format was tilted in favor of low curve aggro decks; without the fast mana availability because of the points limiting your ability to load up on Moxen, the default was to rush out threats and finish off with burn. Most people started the year doing this, but as time wore on the metagame pendulum swung to a more midrange and long-game direction as players were finding ways to contain the weenie rush better. There was the emergence of highly successful Desert/Maze of Ith control, Land Tax combos, and Disco-Troll decks.
I still don’t see anything wrong with the aggro builds, other than they are likely to encounter more stiff resistance from these solution decks that can “go bigger.” The only changes I would consider to the list above would probably be finding ways to get Tranquility in the sideboard to address Land Tax/Dark Heart of the Wood combo. I didn’t get a great read on Black Vise out of the board – the philosophy was to side it in on the play against slower decks. Since this list does not have Atog or draw sevens in it there is less usefulness to it in the late game. The fix might be to swap Ancestral for Wheel/Twister. I’ll probably revisit this archetype soon.
Lion-Dib-Bolt (X-Point #16 *T8*, #22 *T8*)
Continuing on a more aggressive tilt, this UWR 12-burn makes use of the White Weenie creature suite (Savannah Lions/Javelineer/Order of Leitbur) while also filling up on burn. A few benefits compared to RUG are less vulnerability to City in a Bottle and Blood Moon (Plains), better outs to Land Tax/Abyss/Moat (Disenchant), and access to some Swords to Plowshares out of the sideboard. Negatives are increased weakness to Desert and Earthquake. There’s a lot to be said for Javelineers and Order – one aspect I like is being able to “go underneath” Land Tax decks by cutting all the 3-drop blue spells post-board against the RW Tax-Edge (“Rob Hackney-style”) deck. The heavy control decks seem to be the worst matchups, especially ones that are packing Deserts and Mazes. For this reason I tried out Stone Rain in the sideboard – the jury is still out on that one. I finally bit the bullet and decided to swap out Counterspell for a second Disintegrate in the most recent iteration. I think that Sedge Troll is such a menace for this deck’s offense that it warrants playing Disintegrate over Fireball. I played this deck three months out of the year, and in the X Point World Championship one day event. While it has a good winning percentage, I never won the big one with it.
5-Color Ponza (X-Point #18 *Winner*, #19 *T8*)
As the season progressed I slid into the more midrange and control decks, including my tribute to this unique brew by Felix Widrig (who finished second on the season, with a couple of monthly wins along the way). The first part of the deck seems logical; twelve land destruction spells supported by Birds of Paradise. The Disco-Troll element is there – seems a little odd with Birds. Then it gets even more eclectic with the splash of white for some Swords and Disenchants, and the single Recall to top it off.
I feel like this deck is built pretty much how it has to be – the white splash is absolutely necessary to answer Land Tax specifically. When I faced a Tax/Dark Heart deck in the top 4, the only saving grace was having the timely Disenchants on the spot when I needed them. A tip for playing the deck is to mulligan aggressively. I think the mana is really pushing it, so best to not gamble as there isn’t a very high likelihood of payoff if you do. A tip for playing against this deck – I know you’ve heard it before – is always Bolt the Bird! Not only is it assisting the ramp to the many 3-drops, but it is doing heavy lifting to fix the colors necessary.
Hypnotic Specter stands out as another controversial choice for this deck but it functioned quite well. If you can destabilize their mana, then one Hippie can close out the game very quickly and hobble their ability to come back even if they do start drawing some lands to play out. I don’t think the Recall is very necessary, I am not quite sure what I would substitute in for the Point other than a Maze of Ith. I would probably add a Flashfires to the sideboard for a Shatterstorm, and just try to fade (or sacrifice if necessary) the one Savannah in the deck. It seems like more Mono White control builds have been cropping up. It also stands to reason that against a UW control deck you could pick off their Blue sources first with the spot land removal to clear the way for Flashfires.
Dark Erhnamgeddon (X-Point #14 *T2*, #15 *T4*, #20 *T2*)
I love playing this deck designed by David Lilleøren and I sported it through three different months this year, finishing no lower than Top 4 each time. David won the World Championship with it and a couple monthlies, I’ve appreciated his willingness to strategize about it and I hit him up frequently for advice. He was playing a similar build back in the original old school days of 1994-95, and it has a great nostalgic feel to it. I also like how it is a uniquely X Point deck because as strong as the Dark Heart of the Wood-Land Tax-Sylvan Library combo is, it wouldn’t fare too well in a normal Atlantic or Swedish environment. But in X Point, it is a force to be reckoned with, and emerged as “the answer” to all the aggressive decks that were running amok in early 2022.
This list continues to evolve, first and foremost because after David’s tremendous run of success with this (and others’ with RW Tax-Edge) the Points committee raised Land Tax’s value from 1 to 2, and Armageddon went from 0 to 1. This kicked out some of the additional “fast mana rocks” like Mox Emerald and Sol Ring which really pushed this deck’s acceleration and power level. Despite these modifications, the shell of the deck still functions well, and clearly land Tax remains playable and powerful at 2 points. I took this particular list to the Finals of X-Point #20 before succumbing to RW Tax-Edge played by Joe Becica.
More recent attempts at this deck have eschewed Mox Pearl in favor of two more Armageddons and Elves (of both the Green and Dark variety). Rich Shay also ran a Bazaar of Baghdad which seems interesting with the Sylvan and Land Tax synergy. Other cards worth exploring are Icatian Javelineers and Scavenger Folk. One feature is being able to cast a Javelineer off a single Plains so you can apply pressure under Land Tax, forcing the opponent to play another land eventually. You’d be surprised by how often this happens, and being able to “needle” to get them to play out land, or to draw a removal spell, or to deal them 5 damage before you start adding to your board is big. Against aggro they can help bridge you to the later game fatties you want to drop, but they also serve double duty in picking off mana dorks (Javelineers for opposing Birds and Elves) or mana sources (Scavenger for Moxen, Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone) before an Armageddon. One thing you’ll notice for sure after playing X-Point for a while is that decks are all itching to speed up their clocks with more creature and artifact mana acceleration – while Erhnamgeddon is less concerned with the opposing acceleration piece (you have great answers to threats in Swords and Disenchants), it is concerned with setting up the board for Armageddon. One final word of warning – if you play this deck, matches can run long, particularly control on control matchups. Plan ahead! Don’t let your dinner get cold or wife get mad because of this.
UW Control (X-Point #21 *T8*)
For X-Point #21 I tapped into another deck that had a successful run, Jorgo Vanhees’ UW Control build. I had tried a creatureless build of this deck in 2021, with mixed success. Jorgo had taken me out in the finals of Tournament #14 when I was on Dark Heart. I do think this is a tough one for Dark Heart to get ahead of, due to all the Wraths and creature control, and a reason why it’s worth thinking about adding more Geddons to the Dark Heart deck instead of just relying on Winter Orb.
The Maze/Desert combination is brutal on creature-based aggro strategies. The 8 creatures (full Serras and Azure Drakes) serve the dual purpose of roadblocks and win conditions. After gaining a month’s experience playing it, I did think that one or two Fireballs would be nice to have, off of some Plateaus and Volcanic Islands. This could also give access to Red Elemental Blast, Earthquake, and Falling Star potentially. I did play a few games where because I only had 8 creature-based kill conditions – and the Drakes were slow at that – it was hard to finish off the opponent. Having a Fireball plus the Recall would mean the chance to close out games more reliably. If I were to add it, I would probably use a Mana Drain over the fourth Maze copy. I think you have enough creature control as is, another hard counter with a few X spell sinks and Tomes seems strong. Again, great deck, I lost in the playoffs to BR Disco Troll probably because I didn’t bring in Feldon’s Cane game 3 and I was decked (between Terrors, Fireballs, and Red Blasts he negated my threats).
So there’s a walkthrough of my X Point year. I toured the format, saw what it had to offer, leaned on some of the great deckbuilders and deck ideas that were out there, put on some of my own twists, and overall had a blast. The community is great and the water is warm for newcomers to Old School. Many of the best decks are unpowered, and there is a very strong spice contingent playing in these monthlies that keep it enlivening. I steer towards the serious side of the format but love tinkering, adapting to points recalibrations, and evaluating subtle shifts in the metagame. I’ll definitely be back for more in 2023.
NEOS Season 8 *11th Place*
When NEOS Season 8 began I wanted to slow things down a bit. I had played a lot of online Magic over the summer and with school starting, Fall is always a busy time of year. I skipped the month of September for that reason (7 Point Singleton), but also because in my current financial state I didn’t want to get snookered into buying a Guardian Beast, Diamond Valley, and Island of Wak-Wak just for a monthly one-off (I ended up buying the Wak-Wak off Pez, anyways, +1 for The Unholy One).
Merfolk (August: 4 Wasteland Month)
I was quite exhausted by the end of the Summer Derby and mailed in the same Mono Blue Merfolk deck I had played in the previous 4 Wasteland month in 2021, with lesser results this time (3-3). I decided to skip nonbasics entirely to limit my Wasteland vulnerability, but in retrospect I think one sacrifices too much in power level by staying monocolored and Factory-less. If I were to approach this ruleset again I would simply look at it the same way as 4 Strip Mine formats (EC, Boreal, PAC, etc.) and run a low curve creature based deck with Lightning Bolts, all the colors, and all the nonbasics. Doing the 16 Island/4 Wasteland plan seemed too cute by half and without enough benefit.
Counterburn (October: Atlantic, *T2*)
What is there to be said about Counter-Burn that hasn’t been said already? Well, for one it’s underplayed. This is probably because it isn’t as glamorous as it is effective. Running the best spells in the format with efficient creatures won’t win you spice awards, but it does get the job done. My ulterior motives for playing Counterburn this month were to experiment in the great “Dwarven-Soldiers-versus-Ironclaw-Orcs” space, and more importantly to get a good field test in for a deck I would potentially play in Lobstercon 2023. My rationale is that though I missed out on last year’s Lobstercon (damn you, COVID), from what I hear there were many black decks in the room. I like a burn and draw seven deck against Hymn to Tourach. I also don’t hate my matchup against The Deck, fearing Workshops most of all, and it is a deck that can win or lose quickly – a premium at an event where I want to be socializing with out of towners between rounds.
Given all these incentives, I piloted this deck to second place in the tournament. My losses were to Mark Evaldi’s famous Reanimator deck in the group stage, and Rob Hackney’s Burning Lions Tax/Edge deck in the Finals. All were hard-fought matches and I learned a lot about this deck. Dwarven Soldiers held up his end – the philosophy is to replace a couple of the Flying Men with non-Arabian threats with a little more punch. In the great debate between these and Orcs, the ability to block an opposing Factory is huge. Blocking is big when a key strategy of this deck is burning and racing with Serendibs. An extra crackback makes a huge difference. The drawbacks are Triskelion and enemy 1/1’s – I think the pros outweigh the cons in favor of the Soldiers. My sideboard feels pretty decent – I could see trying to find room for the fourth Shatter and maybe a Maze of Ith for opposing Serendib matchups. For the maindeck I like another City of Brass over a Badlands. I tried to swap in a second Blood Moon for the second Shatter in a small Philly OS online League, I think it’s a matter of taste and expected opponents. I lost to Workshops in that one and wanted to find a way to max out on Shatters between main and side. All in all the deck didn’t disappoint. I’m not committed to playing it in Lobstercon this June, but I’m not ruling it out, either.
4-Color Hymn (November: 2-PAC *T4*)
November was a new 2 Strip Mine/2 Factory/2 Maze of Ith/2 Workshop format from the West Coast lovingly called 2-PAC. With the unending community debate over 1 Strip or 4 Strips, the creators split the difference and tried to reach a balanced level. It actually seems rather correct to me, albeit slightly awkward to have a “2-of” restriction on specific cards. To each their own.
My starting thoughts on the format were that with more Strips and fewer Factories around/available, you wanted to play a deck with good threat density (creatures). If other people had the same thought process, Sedge Troll should fit nicely into a land filled with creature combat. I’ve played this deck before and one miserable card to face is Balance. You can have complete control of the board and decimate their hand, but one topdecked Balance or Demonic Tutor for Balance will ruin your day and reduce it to a topdeck war. I guess this is another reason to play The Rack, but I loathe cards that don’t have an immediate impact on the boardstate and sometimes none at all. I did like the second Fireball as a good way to close out should you get into one of these situations, and Underworld Dreams out of the sideboard was hopefully going towards the same goal. I don’t really have anything conclusive on the Dreams experiment, other than acknowledgment that Balance is a known issue and unfortunately something seen in a high percentage of decks. I won a good mirror match against Ándres Hojman in the Top 8, but was dispatched in the Semifinals by Disco-Troll veteran Mark Jonovitch who was on a heater in the playoffs.
Erhnam Burn’Em (December: 20/20/20 *10th*)
20/20/20 with no sideboards was a fun way to close out the year. I perceived Abyss + Workshops to be unstoppable, but I didn’t actually end up playing against it, so no feelbads there. I considered which of my normal decks had close to the golden ratio of 20 creatures, 20 noncreature spells, 20 lands to begin with, and Erhnam Burn ‘Em came to mind. This was not only one of the first Old School decks I built when I joined the format in 2018, it was also one the first decks I had back in the 1990s. The only strategy I had was to play Pixies in case of Workshops, try Blood Moon in a no-sideboards environment, and lean on Fireballs and Falling Stars in the creature-on-creature matchups I knew were coming. I ended up going 5-2 with this build, losing to mono black in a very close match in the group (one in which I chose not to cast Wheel of Fortune in my hand but ended up losing to a topdecked Drain Life), and to friend and testing partner Rich Arevalo on Erhnam-Geddon in the first stage of the playoffs. I think the deck did need another red source, that was my fault.
This deck is a classic “Little Engine that Could,” Atlantic/Swedish/Gentlemen’s legal which makes for some all around fun. Under normal Old School deck construction rules I’d probably swap: -1 Llanowar Elf -1 Granite Gargoyle -2 Falling Star -1 Forest for…
+1 Hurricane +1 Icy Manipulator +1 Chain Lightning +1 Shatter +1 Mountain.
The Wrap Up
So 2022 is in the books, another great year playing Old School Magic online. My biggest regret was not getting to play any in person tournaments. But again, this is why I love the presence of the online scene. And with more and more live events opening up on the horizon, I’m hopeful to be able to get away to some of them in the not too distant future. I’m going to continue to drill into the wide variety of decks I played this past year, maybe return to playing Twiddle Vault and The Deck in 2023. By summertime I’ll be looking towards building Seven Point Singleton and as a collector goal for the year, acquiring a Guardian Beast. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you on the battlefield!