ABC 40: A dazzlingly unfair format

Old School Mtg capture a lot of the nuances from Magic's golden age. The art, the play patterns, the powerful spells, the mediocre creatures and the excitement of getting a new card for the deck are mostly all there. A few "sub-formats" under the Oldschool umbrella - like August-93 and Ante 40K - also implies deck building restrictions in the form of scarcity (or which cards you dare to sleeve up). Scarcity used to be a big deal. One could even argue that formats like Brother's Highlander and other "point-based" systems does a good job in creating a sense of "you don't have every card". But here's the thing: even back in 1994, a few people did. And it was horribly unfair. A small handful Mr. Suitcases in my area back in the mid 90s had access to card pools me and my friends couldn't possibly beat. But it was part of the game. 

Unfairness in card access is one of the things we haven't really been able to capture in Oldschool Magic (arguably apart from the August-93 format, but that's a whole other bag of snakes). Yeah, sure, not everyone has a Black Lotus to play with, but in general it is not like one person has a pool amounting to a couple randomized starters for their UR deck and the other has every card printed to optimize theirs. Apart from the very rarest of cards, most people in a tournament will have a mostly slimmed deck. Today people rarely shows up with e.g. monoblack with only two Hypnotics because they couldn't find the last pair to make a playset. The card pool of players slinging here is on average vast, at the very least compared to how most of us experienced it in the mid 90s.

But how do you capture the mixed blessing of nostalgia that is card pool unfairness? Leave it to Markus "Library, Mox, Mox, Mind Twist" Lundquist to have a plan.

ABC40 is a stupidly unfair format. And I, for one, am a missionary of stupid formats and a staunch defender of the unfair.

The rules are as simple as they are brilliant. Minimum 40 card decks, Swedish B&R, and you only play basic lands and cards that start with the same letter as your first or last name. Middle names and stuff like that doesn't count, so e.g. Luis Scott Vargas would have to settle with the powerful tier 2 letter 'L' and the very mediocre tier 5 letter 'V', but would not have access to the utter brokenness that is the letter 'S'.

Magnus de Laval. M is pretty insane, might be the third best letter after S and C. T and B are up there though.

Bryan Manolakos is a good name to have around these parts. David Chambers - with Demonic Tutor for Channel and Disintegrate backed up by Counterspells and Control Magic - would also be a happy camper. Though twice Shark-winner Kalle Nord is an underdog if I ever saw one.

I guess he could build Kobold Disco?

As this format is almost a week old by now, a couple of sub-rules have risen. One I don't really support is that dual lands can be played in any letter. If that were the case for my deck above, I'd add four Tundra, three Underground Sea and two Scrubland in place of the basics and go more control, as playing Moat and Disenchant would be practically free (not many Blood Moons in the format). And I'd be amiss not to add black for Mind Twist and Demonic Tutor rather than playing randoms like Dance of Many. Makes it too easy.
Update: This rule is currently being discussed and might be removed. Format being less than a week old and all.

The other sub-rule, that I don't really have an opinion of yet, is that a player that has the same letter in their first and last name gets to play up to eight copies of unrestricted cards and two of each restricted. Now, I know that e.g. Bjørn Einar Bjartnes only owns one Black Lotus, but still, a 40-card deck with access to some combination of 8 Black Vise, 8 Ball Lightning, 8 Berserk and 8 Blood Lust would still be pretty damn insane. And Shane Semmens, Chris Cooper or Mikael Mällroth would probably break the format just by showing up. Then again, one of the allures of the format is its inherent unfairness, so I guess it's mostly that I kinda feel playing more than four copies of a card - in particular in small decks - could break randomness and replayability of a format.

Picture of KungMarkus's actual August-93 deck left without comment.

Regardless on stances on Convocation Restrictions (as we in the business call 'em), doesn't it sound fun? Of course it does. Who wouldn't want to play a retro format where Olle Råde is an underdog to Mike Long by order of deck building rules themselves. A few of us I guess, possibly including Olle Råde. But the good thing is, that if you are n00bcon 3 winner Viktor "Oldschool" Petersen and get beaten by n00bcon 11 winner Martin "Fluffy" Lindström here, you can most definitely blame unfairness. And if you actually win, the bragging rights are almost endless. Weird loop-sided games was a non-insignificant part Magic of the mid 90s.

In these pandemic times, gatherings are not recommended. However, there are chances to test the ridiculous sweetness that is this new format using webcams.

Audun Døssland pioneering as usual.

And for the rest of us, we have a strange new brew space at the very least. If you're wondering if this is for you, and how much bragging rights you might get from beating a particular player, I made a tier list of letters using personal opinions and theory crafting. The tier of some letters could change depending on what else you have of course, e.g. D seems exceptionally potent with C or G, but I'd argue it's "only" a (high) tier 3 on average. R and H - while both tier 4 letters here - appear to work very well together to punch above their weight class. And S and T can build very powerful decks on their own, so Quentin Tarantino would still have game despite his first name. Namedropping five cards for each letter except the tier 1s, here is my current take:

Tier 1
  • B (50 cards, including Balance, Black Lotus, Black Vise, Braingeyser, Birds of Paradise, Bazaar of Baghdad, Basalt Monolith, Berserk+Blood Lust, Ball Lightning and a couple of duals)
  • C (65 cards, including Channel, Chaos Orb, Chain Lightning, City of Brass, Counterspell, Control Magic, Copy Artifact, and a bunch of solid wincons)
  • M (50 cards, including Mind Twist, Mana Drain, Moxen, Mana Vault, Mishra's Factory, Mishra's Workshop, Mahamothi Djinn, Moat and Maze of Ith)
  • S (88 cards, including Sol Ring, Savannah Lions, Sedge Troll, Sengir Vampire, Serra Angel, Serendib Efreet, Shivan Dragon, Swords to Plowshares, Sprit Link, Strip Mine, Sylvan Library and Su-Chi)
  • T (53 cards, including Time Walk, Timetwister, Tetsuo Umezawa, Triskelion, Tetravus, Terror, The Abyss, Tawnos's Coffin, Transmute Artifact, Time Vault, Twiddle, three different duals and some solid wincons)

Tier 2
  • A (55 cards, including Ancestral Recall, Armageddon, Air elemental, Angus Mackenzie and Ankh of Mishra)
  • G (52 cards, including Goblin King, lots of Goblins, Granite Gargoyle, Gauntlet of Might and Greed)
  • J (18 cards, including Jalum Tome, Jayemdae Tome, Juzam Djinn, Juggernaut and Jade Statue)
  • L (34 cards, including Library of Alexandria, Land Tax, Land's Edge, Lightning Bolt and Llanowar Elves)

Tier 3
  • D (48 cards, including Demonic Tutor, Disenchant, Disintegrate, Dragon Whelp and Demonic Hordes)
  • F (42 cards, including Fallen Angel, Fellwar Stone, Fireball, Fire Elemental, Fissure and Forcefield)
  • I (25 cards, including Icy Manipulator, Ifh-Biff Efreet, Ice Storm, Inferno and Ivory Tower)
  • P (44 cards, including Pestilence, Preacher, Psionic Blast, Power Sink and Paralyze)

Tier 4

  • E (29 cards, including Earthquake, Earth Elemental, Erhnam Djinn, Elvish Archers and Elves of Deep Shadow)
  • H (30 cards, including Hypnotic Specter, Hurricane, Howling Mine, Hazezon Tamar and Hell's Caretaker)
  • N (15 cards, including Nevinyrral's Disk, Nova Pentacle, Nightmare, Nether Void and Nicol Bolas)
  • R (48 cards, including Recall, Regrowth, Rukh Egg, Royal Assassin and Roc of Kher Ridges)
  • W (55 cards, including Wheel of Fortune, Witch Hunter, Wrath of God, Winter Orb and 21 walls)

Tier 5
  • K (20 cards, including Karakas, Kille Bees, Kird Ape, Kismet and Kobolds)
  • O (12 cards, including Old man of the sea, Orcish artillery, Obsianus golem, Oublitte and Onulet)
  • U (18 cards, including Underworld Dreams, Unsummon, Uthden Troll, Unstable Mutation and Urza Tron)
  • V (11 cards, including Vesuvan Doppelganger, Vaevictis Asmadi, Verduran Enchantress, Veteran Bodyguard and Vampire Bats)

Tier 6
  • X (2 cards; Xenic Poltergeist and Xira Arien)
  • Y (3 cards; Yawgmoth Demon, Ywden Efreet and Yotian Solider)
  • Z (2 cards; Zephyr Falcon and Zombie Master)

Tier inf
  • Q (2 cards; Quagmire and Quarum Trench Gnomes)

So, well played Markus. This got my juices flowing, and I love the idea of tapping into the odd nostalgia of unbalanced card pools. I'd surely be down for a few games of this once the mist clears. 'Til then, keep safe.


  1. Feeling pretty good about G and S.

    1. Those are some solid letters!

  2. guess im a natural tier 4,5 type of guy / Olof Robertsson

  3. Mikael Mällroth7 maj 2020 20:20

    And I thought that one of every moxen was enough. . .
    Well, I've got two pearls.
    I want this card:
    Madlands. Tap to add one mana of a random color to your manapool.

    1. Yeah! make Gem Bazaar from Shandalar a real card!


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