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Old School 95/96


Swords to Plowshares
Hello folks and welcome back to another bolt of casual contentment. Today we’re going to be looking at a new take of an old format, with both Commander and 60 card deck ramifications. After writing my piece last week on the overly homogenous nature of Magic right now, it’s only appropriate to push against the impending flood like the proverbial Dutch Mans thumb in a dike. So, enter Old School, 95/96.

I have 4 or 5 players that I correspond with occasionally on e-mail about Magic in their area. We talk about formats, decklists, and other things that are running around in my area. One of those is Laurent Lignon out in Paris. We have a lot of similar interests in terms of decks, formats, and such, and the local scene is doing some interesting things.

He mentioned to me that he introduced someone his friends to Commander ’95, the variant that I created where you have to play only cards that were initially created up through 1995, but you can play any copy that you own, you aren’t required to run an expensive Arabian Nights Serendib Efreet, you can just run the bulk rare from Eternal Masters. One of his friends commented that, “It was as fun as Old School 93/94 but cheaper.” Which is a great compliment, so thanks!

OS 93/94 is a casual-ish variant of Magic that requires that folks play only cards released in the first two years of the game, and it intentionally only includes the expensive and pricey sets, so sets like Fallen Empires and Ice Age are disincluded. And you are required to play the initial version of the card. So you cannot play the bulk rare Serendib Efreet, you can only play the $100+ initial version. It has a lot of cachet out in Europe right now, as well as migrating to Canada and the States.

Well, Laurent told me about a variant of Old School 93/94 that is popular out in the UK and the French players are picking it up, Old School 95/96. Now, 95/96 has (almost) all of the same rules of OS 93/94.

  1. You can play any card printed in a set in 1995 or 1996.
  2. Preferably (but not required) you play the version printed then. So running a Swords to Plowshares from Ice Age is preferred to one from Conspiracy, but just for flavor, it is not required.

These sets are legal:

  • Fallen Empires
  • Ice Ages
  • Homelands
  • Alliances
  • 4th Edition
  • Chronicles / Renaissance

Sylvan Library
Now, the benefits for this format are many. First, it is innately cheaper than 93/94, by far. Not only do you not have to play that copy if you don’t want to, but these are cheaper sets for staples.

But there is another fun benefit for 95/96 as well. Do you see it?


The broken and expensive cards of 93/94 are missing (for the most part). No Sol Ring. No Moxes. No Demonic Tutor. No dual lands.

Now 4th Edition had its issues. There were cards legal there that had no business in a Core Set. Strip Mine? Balance? Land Tax? Mana Vault? Mind Twist? Black Vise? But those cards are considerably fewer than the mistakes in Unlimited or even Revised. And we still have fun cards like Sylvan Library, Swords to Plowshares, and fun reprints like Xenic Poltergeist that evoke that era very nicely, making it a fun Core set to use. And the other sets have tons of great options as well.

So I wanted to do a few things today.

First, I wanted to make a few 60 card decks as samples of the era and format. And second, make a quick Commander deck using those rules as well. Now none of these decks are designed to be major players, but instead to evoke the times. You don’t see a Necropotence fueled Black monstrosity here, nor a powerful combo deck with Stormbind and Whiteout. (Activate Stormbind and discard your hand, including Whiteout, and sacrifice Snow Land to recur Whiteout and discard again and again until you have killed your opponent).

Nope, just the fun times of the era! Although I’m still pushing a little bit on the first deck. Enjoy!

60 Card Fun Times!

Thou Shall Not Tap ? Old School 95/96 | Abe Sargent

This deck runs a few critters with Vigilance along with tempo cards like Meekstone and Stasis to keep things from untapping. You have a few key cards that play into this theme nicely, such as Icy Manipulator (printed in Ice Age) to tap a creature, Flood too, and Castle to make your stuff a little bit bigger. Then layer in the needed support, and flying Djinn, and you have a deck.

Now let’s do another trio of quick decks

Thou Shall Not Block ? Old School 95/96 | Abe Sargent

This deck works by making the player not able to block one of your small dorks, and then swinging with a now-unblockable creature with a hit-trigger. The obvious choice here is Hypnotic Specter and junior partner Abyssal Specter with their infamous You Shall Discard hit-triggers. And then we are running Murk Dwellers to smash for four damage, and check out the coolness of Diseased Vermin here! Get in a hit or three, and then sit back and wait as the damage mounts.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Tools and Wands, we have the deadly Dark Ritual, and even outside of the dreaded Swamp, Ritual, Specter 1st turn, you can still accelerate a hit-triggered creature early. Getting Diseased Vermin swinging on turn two and piling up the disease counters for more life loss before your foe can mount a proper defense is great. And you have Terror, Paralyze, and Word of Binding helping you to kill stuff or get through. You’ve got this!

You Shall Not Live Past Turn Six ? Old School 95/96 | Abe Sargent

The typical aggro deck of the day that won was White weenie, because of Swords to Plowshares. But Dark Ritual is also an important part of a healthy breakfast. And you still have the dreaded Ritual into Specter follow up. Let’s do one more before Commander Time!

You Shall Not Have Creatures ? Old School 95/96 | Abe Sargent

And there we go. A typical sort of Enchantress into Lure on a Thicket Basilisk or Cockatrice to kill some stuff on the block, and then this with your other stuff. Check out Lhurgoyf in this build which can get big quickly. I’m running Wild Growth over Llanowar Elves, flying Gnats for blocking, and Aspect of Wolf to turn any creature into a threat, including the Enchantress herself. Night Soil is here for graveyard hate and token making, Sylvan Library for general awesomeness and Stunted Growth cutting off some cards (and turns) beautifully.

All right, Commander time!

Elder Dragon Fun Times

Now I wanted to push an actual Elder Dragon. Many legendary creatures were reprinted in Chronicles and Renaissance. Among them were the super casual-friendly Elder Dragon legendary critters as well, so you can run the creatures that this format was named after. That’s some good stuff

So why not take advantage of that and drop some strong Jund beats behind our good Elder Dragon leader?

I pushed this into a cool control theme. We have sweeping creature control with Red’s Inferno and Earthquake. I felt Hurricane was a little weak given the light quality flying available at the time for Commander and skipped it, but it’s there if you want to run it. Don’t forget that Inferno is an instant, giving you a powerful response to a bad situation. We have Nevinyrral's Disk too! And you can add in cards such Jokulhaups if you wanted.

Meanwhile I pushed removal. Pretty much every reliable targeted removal spell is here. Desert Twister? Fumarole? Fissure? Dark Banishing? Terror? Feast or Famine? Broken Visage? Yeah, there they all are. And I put in a handful of burn as well. I really wanted burn that was either fast and cheap and reliable, such as Lightning Bolt and Incinerate, or had the potential to go wide and kill multiple creatures, such as Fire Covenant, Pyrotechnics and Fireball. But there are a ton of burn options I didn’t explore, such as Pyrokinesis and Lava Burst that you could. I also missed Soul Burn and Drain Life if you wanted to head down that direction.


Now, check out the awesome jank that is Tornado. It works, relatively simply. Play it. Pay cumulative upkeep as needed it keep it around. Whenever you need, toss three mana onto it to destroy a nasty permanent. Put a counter and lose life. Now a few Tornado notes:

  1. The first time you use it, there are no velocity counters on it, so no loss is involved.
  2. The second time you use it, you pay three life and destroy another permanent.
  3. The third, and likely last time, you use it, you pay six life and destroy another permanent

Autumn Willow
That’s a useful amount of flexibility in a format that lacks a lot of hard artifact/enchantment removal of quality, and can hit lands and critters too. If you want, you can use it once, and then let it go and it was a backup Desert Twister. Two times is just three life, and paying three life to destroy two permanents in this card-advantage sensitive format with your 40 life start is just awesome to use. And three activations are not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, although that would be the last I’d use Tornado.

Now that you can see where I was going with my control spells, what control creatures pushed? Well I have a few classics you expect from this era, no question. No one is going to second guess the presence of Sengir Vampire, Erhnam Djinn, or Shivan Dragon, the Triune Ender of Games. Ditto Autumn Willow or Lhurgoyf. And some early drops like Hypnotic Specter and Dragon Whelp need little introduction as well. Neither do the mana-makers of Birds of Paradise and friends.

But what else? I sought support for the theme. Xira Arien can spend some mana to draw you a key card. Many add to my removal options, as Karplusan Yeti can fight and kill stuff, Triskelion can shoot stuff, and Royal Assassin can tap and kill tapped creatures. Giant Trap Door Spider? Tor Wauki? Gorilla Shaman? I’m sure you can see the added value of my control-esque creature cadre.

I pushed my sensitivity for card drawing with Necropotence, Book of Rass, and Jayemdae Tome, in addition to fun cards like Conch Horn. In this three color build where mana is already an issue, I prefer Book of Rass to Greed, but you could run both. And there are certainly other routes to consider too like Jalum Tome or discard in Disrupting Scepter. You’ve got this!

And frankly, most Magic players have most of these cards just laying around in various card collections already. Jayemdae Tome has been printed so many times that is was recently an uncommon. Cards like Hypnotic Specter and Shivan Dragon have no value outside of bulk rare status. Untamed Wilds? Incinerate?

And the handful of cards you probably don’t own and would need to pick up are pretty cheap, like Tornado, Winter Blast, Orcish Librarian, and Eron the Relentless. You could likely build a deck like this with your own cards, a few key trades with your playgroup or at the LGS, and then dropping $20 on coolstuffinc.com. And the format is compelling.

You have a lot of combo engines to figure out. Here is what Laurent told me about combos in the format after playing with it for a while:

Combo is possible but is very watered down. Losing access to any form of direct tutoring (no Transmute Artifact, no Demonic Tutor) means that assembling the various parts of a combo can be tricky, take some time and won't get you an instant win. While some old school favourites are here (Storm Cauldron + Stormbind or Island Sanctuary + Mystic Decree + Howling Mine), you'll barely be able to storm a full table of fighting wizards once you've managed to assemble one. Generally, I've seen Combos used more as a backup plan rather than the main way to win since all the cards than can get you one part of it can also make you exile the other part (Demonic Consultation, Browse, Orcish Librarian . . . ) : right now, I haven't seen anyone in my group managing to release a direct broken game-ending combo but that doesn't mean it won't happen one day.

And I agree. Other than cards that are dangerous or limited, like Merchant Scroll or Demonic Consultation, the tutoring factor is basically non-existent.

Looking for a challenge? How about this? My challenge is to break this card:

Oath of Lim-Dul

For reference, here is Oath of Lim-Dûl’s Gatherer text:

Whenever you lose life, for each 1 life you lost, sacrifice a permanent other than Oath of Lim-Dûl unless you discard a card.

How’s that for a challenge?

The format is cheap, fun to play, and keep’s out the broken stuff. You can drop Commander or 60 card decks with equal aplomb. So what is stopping you from playing it? And taking the Oath of Lim-Dûl challenge?

Are you ready for Old School 95/96?

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