Is Old School Magic really that exciting?

Written by Ron Saikowski, January 17, 2018

I hadn't actually thought about this subject until I sat down to reply to a reader's comment on a article I'd posted last week. That's when I found myself sitting in front of my computer having an existential crisis trying to reply to an online comment.

If you're an Old School player, I'll ask you the same question that's been bouncing around in my head for the past few days... Is it really that exciting? Is playing Old School Magic still exciting after all these years? I believe it is.

I wanted to post this article sooner, but I struggled to collect my thoughts and get them down into something coherent. I'm not going to pretend I can explain why it may still be exciting for others, so I'm going to explain what's kept me interested after all these years.

Shouldn't it be boring by now?
You would certainly think so.
There haven't been any new cards added to the Old School card pool in twenty plus years. We're only using about 900 cards or so out of over 16,000 available in the whole game (as of Dec 2016 according to the stats I found online). We all know most of the combinations by either having played them or suffered the consequences of having them played against us.

We aren't learning about "new" cards because a new expansion has just been released. Come to think of it, we aren't even adding new expansions. We've had years of seeing the same cards over and over again and how they interact with each other.

We've been staring at the same card art for decades now. The game mechanics that existed back then still exist now. The card combinations that were great back then are still great now.

We've sat contently by as the game continued on without us.

So if it's not boring, what is it then that keeps it exciting?
That's the million dollar question.
For me, it goes back to all the reasons I listed in the paragraphs before. The very things you would think make it boring are all the reasons it's still exciting today.

No new cards
Exactly. There's no trying to keep up with an ever expanding pool of cards. I'm not constantly buying or feeling pressured to buy something new not knowing if I'm ever going to need or even use it. I have a stable card pool of over 900 cards to draw from as it is.

There's a tremendous amount that can be done with those cards. You know what I find really interesting though... there's no clamoring or crying for allowing new cards or adding expansions to the game to keep things "new" and "exciting."

No new or constantly rotating expansions
I have the luxury of time. In an age when time is at a premium and we're all being pulled in a million directions by things competing for our time, I like being able to explore existing cards and combinations without the fear that I will fall behind. I'm not stressed that the cards I enjoy playing are going to rotate out in a few months. I'm not pressed to use certain cards in my deck right now because I won't be able to next year.

The same art
It's familiar and comforting. There's a reason that McDonald's restaurants around the world all look the same and have the exact same things on the menu. It's comforting. I know the cards in the Old School pool more from art than text. I'm a visual person. I haven't read a text box at the bottom of a card in years. There's a great comfort in seeing a familiar card and knowing exactly what it is in an instant.

Consistent mechanics
Sure the game has changed over time with the addition of the stack mechanism and the removal of Interrupts, but the game is still the same. Having come back after two decades away, it was like riding a bike. A few quick games to knock the rust off and it was back in the saddle.

The Old School community has taken to making some changes in order to smooth out a few things like using a Chaos Orb, but the changes are both practical and intuitive. I love those kinds of adjustments to a game.

Even with different Old School communities using slightly different variations of rules (restricted lists and things like mana burn), there's still no massive conflict or fighting over what's correct or best. Even the restriction of a card doesn't come without great thought and deliberation. Somehow, we all manage to get along just fine.

It all comes down to freedom
Despite what seems to be a long list of restrictions and limitations, there's a tremendous amount of freedom in this format. I am free from all the pressures that come with trying to stay on top of a continually expanding card pool. I'm free from having to constantly rotate out the cards I'm using because they are suddenly no longer "valid."

I have the freedom to take my time and explore the cards and combinations at the pace I want. I have the time to dig a little deeper than just scratching the surface when it comes to card interactions and subtleties.

That's the biggest thing for me. I'm not pressured to play in any other way than how I want to play. The comfort that comes from knowing there's no rush to figure something out, there's no rush to make something work, there's simply no rush to keep up with the crowd.

The format isn't going to change overnight.
I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and have to make big changes to my deck to stay in line with everyone else. Sure, there's an ebb and flow to the local and online metas and some cards will come into favor while others naturally fall out, but there's a comfort to the overall consistency.

In the ever accelerating rat race we call "life," I can step out of all that into this "old" format where things have been paused. Where I can go back and play a game that has been "frozen in time" if you will. Where things don't change every minute with the latest introduction of something new demanding my attention.

I am free to explore a world knowing that the map I create today will not be outdated and lead me astray when I wake up tomorrow. I can set the pace and explore all the cards the way I want to. There's comfort in knowing that the time I invest in this game learning the subtle nuances between the cards will not be for nothing.

It's not something often found in today's constantly evolving world where you can be left behind in a moments notice if you don't keep up.

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IMAGE: WotC Sage of Lat-Nam artwork.
KEYWORDS: Old School Magic, editorial