Matt's Story

Today I have the great pleasure to share the story of Matt Shields from across the ocean. Enjoy! /Mg out

"Expect my visit when the darkness comes. The night I think is best for hiding all."

Much gratitude to Mg for posting this. My opinions of Old School Magic don't carry more weight than anyone else's. But to a format so entrenched in stories and perspectives, I wanted to contribute my own. If anyone takes any inspiration or enjoyment from this at all, then it was worth writing.


I beat Library tonight. Sean had it first turn, on the play. I countered with double Dark Ritual into Sengir; it got Psiblasted after eating a chunk of his life. I had Land Tax early and he died to a board of 2/2s, fourteen basics, Maze of Ith, Sol Ring, and a dozen cards left in my library. Icy Manipulator did serious work. After the game I managed to acquire a NM Juzam Djinn for my deck. Psiblast that shit.


I was introduced to the game in the first half of 1994, at 15 years old. I'd have put myself younger, but I know the year based on release dates. Here in the US, Revised booster packs were $2. A scattering of Legends packs could be found at $7 and higher. Older product was virtually nonexistent.

The friend who taught me, to this day, is one that I count among my best, despite now living more than 2,000 miles across country. Adam deserves much of the credit and blame for my 22-year relationship with Magic. It's amazing to look back at how that time would shape my hobbies long into adulthood. The game, once it took hold, did not relent. Though its grip at various points lessened, even lapsed, here I sit in 2016, a working professional and dedicated husband and father, having spent the better part of the last three months enraptured by Sinkholes, Scrublands, and Hypnotic Specters. Magic still consumes much, if not most, of my idle thoughts. When my wife casually asks what I'm reading or what I'm thinking about, the answer is usually the same. Magic isn't so much a game as a way of life. Abstinence or obsession; there's little in between.

Adam had worked at getting me to play for a few weeks before I gave in. He and another friend were countless cards ahead, already owning black and white decks, respectively. Their card pools were Revised. Mine would be the same, and in my first few packs and starter deck I opened a Force of Nature. My color was set. There was a dominant rare creature in each color, and I'd pulled one of the Five.
How different would my Magic life be today had I opened Island Fish?
In truth, the color that called to me was black. I was awed by the Dementor-like artwork of Frozen Shade, Dark Ritual, and Bog Wraith. Cards that inspired fear. But Adam had already started his trek down the path to darkness, and for me to choose black would mean suffering to contend against a vastly superior opponent. Adam already had Lord of the Pit, Demonic Hordes, Royal Assassin, Sengir Vampire, and more.
Hooded minions of the Abyss
I lost many games to Frozen Shade. Off a turn one Dark Ritual, Shade or Hypnotic Specter was nigh unbeatable for a pile with no removal. I might have had a Desert Twister. My earliest weeks of playing involved learning the rules, buying more packs and accumulating as many cards as possible. Name a green Revised card other than Tsunami and Lifelace, my deck likely had it. Except for Gaea's Liege, a rare that eluded me. I did have Life Force though; Adam ran Deathgrip and Gloom.

We played mostly chaos matches, the three of us and Adam's younger sister, whose mono-red goblins was tactically ahead of its time. I doubt I ever won. I doubt I even scored damage with my Force of Nature, as Terror and Swords to Plowshares were in abundance. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. I remember the weekend Adam played a release event for The Dark. At the time, his deck had two Nightmares, hellfire stallions that ushered in my ruin every time they touched the table. I went to a bookstore that weekend and bought packs of Revised. I opened a Serra Angel and a Nightmare.

This was significant. It was card quality beyond what my collection knew. I didn't yet know how to put these to use, but felt for the first time that the gap between us was closing.

He called me after he got home. I don't remember the format of the event or how he might have fared. Only that he had opened a card called Leviathan. And that he had traded it for his third and fourth Nightmares.
My worst nightmares
At some point, my deck evolved. I was on a 60+ card red and white pile running Serra Angel, Fireball, and Lightning Bolt. Veteran Bodyguard and Roc of Kher Ridges. Dragon Whelps. Swords to Plowshares. Wall of Swords. Rock Hydra. We played an elimination tournament at a local store. Revised rares topped out around $5 in the case. Underground Sea was $6, same as Wrath of God. The woman that ran the shop inhaled cigarettes like they were oxygen. And she loved her Shivan Dragons. She spoke of them incessantly.

The winner would return the following week for a playoff against the winners of three prior events. The champion would get a box of Legends. I'd not so much as held a Legends card before; the idea of an entire box of boosters was unfathomable. I thought about what it would be like to open it.

I finished in second place, one match away from returning for the playoff. The result, though, was never in doubt. The player that won had beaten Adam, our other friend, and me in grim, unwavering succession. I just happened to face him last. He was older than us, and carried his cards in a briefcase. He played dual lands and Howling Mines and won with Braingeyser. He played counterspells. He played Power. I didn't fully understand what was happening as I tried to cast my creatures and attack for damage. He went through his plays and told me how many cards to draw, and when. It ended quickly. We never stood a chance.

We kept playing. Sometime in the next year, someone at Adam's school offered him a stack of expensive cards for a criminally low price. Said they'd found them, but they were obviously stolen. It hardly mattered. For somewhere around $75, Adam had acquired the full Power 9, all the duals, Forks, Mana Drains, Candelabra, and more. Adam's new deck was a machine. It played moxen and lands and countered your spells. Then it played Mana Flares, Candelabra, and Drain Power. It drained your fifteen mana and added thirty of its own. Then it cast Fireball and Forked it. Twice.

Adam played a tournament with that deck. I didn't play, but I attended and cheered him on. I don't remember what he placed, but I remember opponents eating Disintegrates in excess of 100. It was glorious.

Adam stopped playing after selling off that pile for far more than he paid. He went to college out-of-state and thereafter we were geographically separated. He wisely chose abstinence.


A few years went by. Frozen Shade got sultry.
The game changed for me in 1999. That summer, home from school, I started shuffling with a coworker who played competitively. I built a mirror copy of his White Lightning deck and four-color Living Death. He moved on to Bargain. With me as his apprentice, we tore through players and won prizes at local shops. My eyes had been opened. What was learned that summer would never be unlearned.

I lapsed in and out of the game and played casually for a long time. Group games, competitive kitchen table Magic with friends. The occasional prerelease or FNM. In 2009, I decided as a project to rebuild Tempest block white weenie (even though errata had long since killed it) and Living Death. The effort was a precursor to my immersion in Old School Magic. The nostalgia had gripped me; I just hadn't gone far enough back.

In the ensuing years, Legacy called, and I answered. I slowly acquired the staples; my collection value grew, but I've never really been much for tournaments. I enjoy playing the format, but prefer to play it in the company of good friends, and beer.

Acquiring the cards has always been important. Probably for the best, I've never experienced life as a single adult. My wife and I have been together more than fifteen years, long before I had a decent-paying job. We have a four-year-old daughter now, and under such conditions the angel on my shoulder keeps the Magic spending in check. If not for my family, I would be Gandalf wielding a ring of power. My collection would be a fearsome thing to behold.

As it is, the gluttony is tempered to responsible levels and I fund a decent amount through trades. I buy and sell smartly, understanding the market and taking advantage of the virtue of patience. But occasionally time wears patience thin, and something like this results:
Not so impressive on a site where Power and Beta duals are the norm, but it's the most expensive card I own. I traded for about half and paid the rest. I really want a FBB Tundra to go with it, but 93/94 goals have put that far down on the list.

Even when it's something high-end, I try to buy for playability. Power had never been a consideration, since I never had anywhere to run it. No point in having a triple-sleeved Mox Ruby in a binder collecting dust, or getting stolen. That's one of the things that makes Old School Magic so awesome: it gives you a reason to acquire the cards you always wanted to own.

When I started building my 93/94 deck, one of my first acquired pieces was this:
Set your eyes upon it and bask in its glory. The very image gives me chills. When I started playing, an Icy Manipulator was not an attainable thing. I wanted one badly, for its aesthetic and for its promise of power. The reprinting in Ice Age satiated the mechanical side only; the Unlimited version fell to the realm of excess. For years I'd have afforded one easily, but it would serve no purpose, its play value lost to the ages. 93/94 offered justification to indulge.

My first Old School game was against Sean, with whom I've delved into the format alongside. He's on U/R counter-burn, with aggro creatures, Unstable Mutation, and a Library of Alexandria he got in trade for two Tropical Islands and filler. We drew our hands and discussed the implications of turn one Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter. I hedged to make the play, fearing removal, but in the end I was convinced he didn't have it. I was right. Specter came down and I shipped the turn. He topdecked Bolt. We stalled out, baiting spells and allowing the war of attrition to unfold. After several turns, I resolved another Specter. He dropped Maze. I resolved Icy. End of turn tap your Maze, attack with Specter. End of turn tap your Maze, attack with Specter. It was an intoxicating victory. The format was real.


Now, with the spirit of 93/94 at the forefront of my Magic soul, years of perseverance and good fortune have put me in a position that I may look to acquire my first piece of Power. If and when that happens, I'll mail a pic to Mg to let him know. I'll not have acquired it without him or without this site.

I've regrettably seen spatterings of negativity toward 93/94 in the online Magic community, shunning its elitist nature and failing to comprehend the draw of its nostalgia. Those critics misunderstand the format's purpose. Elitism is not the reason the format exists; it is merely a consequence of it existing. Mg and others have done something truly remarkable in re-eliciting the emotions many of us felt when we first starting playing the game many, many years ago. The allure of the art, the challenge of acquiring the pieces. Other formats have tried to accomplish this and failed.

And, as if that alone was not enough, the format has launched a crusade of giving to those for whom that in which we indulge, luxury, has no meaning. To that, all I can say to conclude my post is thank you, Mg. #MtgForLife


  1. Thank you both. Thanks Matt for writing this, your story is very similar to mine and I love reading it. Thanks Magnus for the blog, #Mtgforlife, and for popularizing the only format I play (before diving head first into old school last August I was selling my collection after more than 8 "sober" years and now I'm busy brewing a deck based on my recently acquired time vault, a card I always desired and never had a reason good enough for buying).

  2. Thanks for sharing all of this. It inspires me every time I read someone else's path to the same place I have come to live. The format is the truth.

  3. Like it a lot! A lot of feels in this one as well!

  4. Thank you for the article. I have almost the same beginning story. I feel that I took a longer time 'off' but I get the journey. I, too, have children, and am in Engineering school. I cannot afford Power 9, let alone UL Shivan! Alas, I still love to play, now have all UL lands and lightning bolts and Sengirs. I do feel bad for taking all my Revised out and shelving them, as that is what I discovered the game with and loved to collect. Anyway, thanks for the article!


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