Ante up!

Today we have a treat! Our guest Greg is probably known to most as @oldschoolmtg. He is the guy that started the first (and most popular) 93/94 Instagram account, posting daily updates to share old school anecdotes and deck techs with his over 10,000 followers. He also started the 93/94 subreddit and was an early adopter of showing the format to a larger number of nostalgic players at different platforms. Today he takes a step into the blogosphere to guide us through the history of ante. Enjoy! /Mg out

Hello! My name is Greg. Some of you may know me better as the guy who runs the @oldschoolmtg Instagram account. I’ve been meaning to try and write an article for “The Blog" for several years now; discovering The Blog back in 2014 was what reignited my love for this great game. In chatting with MG a while back we discussed me writing a post about one of my favorite aspects of early Magic, which has been absent since Homelands in 1996, a mechanic lost to the annals time - of course I'm talking about ante.
The most taboo of all Old School cards
A brief history of Ante

In the mid-90's Magic: The Gathering really was the overprotective parent's worst nightmare. Not only did it teach their precious snowflakes to worship Satan via cards like Demonic Tutor, Unholy Strength, and Sacrifice, but it turned them into degenerate gamblers as well - because Magic was originally played for keeps.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the mechanics of ante in Dominaria - at the start of each game, after shuffling, each player flipped over the top card of their deck and set it aside. The winner of the game won all anted cards. Won as in they became the new owner. This is why early cards like Control Magic and Aladdin specified you gave cards back at the end of game. While those effects were temporary, ante was for forever.

Originally Garfield and company didn’t quite anticipate how players would buy and play the game. They thought players would buy a starter deck or two and hopefully a few booster packs. Their original vision didn’t include the “4 of” playset rule as they didn’t think players would have that many copies of any particular card. Ante was also meant to aid this. Once a player had their 100, 200, or *maybe* 300 cards they’d play at shops and against friends for ante. Winning and losing cards would keep the cards rotating throughout play groups, thus an ever evolving set of cards in your community. Fortunately for WotC's wallets players bought every wax pack in sight, but unfortunately for ante the game’s success was partially responsible for it’s demise. With certain cards becoming rather pricey players didn’t want to risk losing their hard earned Shivans and Serras.

Ante was represented on cards in the original printing only in the color black. There were 3 black ante cards in the Alpha printing of Magic: Contract from Below, Darkpact, and Demonic Attorney. Contract from Below isn’t as infamous as Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall due to it being tied to ante, but it is hands down the most powerful card every printed. It’s like the evil love child of Ancestral Recall and Wheel of Fortune, letting you draw a new hand of 7 for a single black mana… that is insane. Sure you have to ante an additional card, but let’s be honest, you just drew 7 cards for 1 mana, you’re going to win this game. Darkpact was also a semi well known card as it was included in perhaps the most annoying deck every created, nothing but Darkpacts & Swamps. Dark pact reads "You own target card in the ante. Exchange that card with the top card of your library.”, so you basically just end up losing the game and probably a Swamp, but if you are able to cast a Darkpact you get to essentially trade your opponent a Swamp for whatever they anted - pretty dirty and cheesy, especially if they flip over a spicy rare. Demonic Attorney said each player had to ante an additional card unless your opponent conceded the game immediately. Based on the timing when casting Demonic Attorney it could strong arm your opponent into giving up on their original ante to prevent possibly losing a second card.
The evil color had all the gambling cards of course.
Each of the first 3 expansion sets brought with it one or more additional ante cards, this time all stepping out of the Swamps. None had quite the impact as the original black cards, but were still interesting. Arabian Nights had Jeweled Bird, one of the first “cantrip" cards, replacing itself with your anted card. Jeweled Bird could save you from losing a key card and let you draw another card while doing it. Pretty neat. Antiquities gave us Bronze Tablet, an Artifact that could swap itself with a card your opponent had in play unless they paid 10 life. Not only did this remove the threat from play, but you could target your opponent’s best card. Steal that Shivan or Juzam unless they pay 10 and most likely lose the game, they'll likely sacrifice the life to keep their prized cards. The two ante cards from Legends were probably the weakest. Rebirth was a Sorcery that let any player heal themselves back to 20 life in exchange for an additional ante card. Tempest Efreet was a 3/3 red creature that could swap itself with a random card in your opponent’s hand. They may have some specific uses, like when comboing with Channel or Glasses or Urza, but they’re quite specialized. Ironically The Dark, the most evil of sets, contained no ante cards. All ante cards were reprinted in different combinations of Revised, 4th Edition, and Chronicles. There were 2 more ante cards created before the mechanic was abolished, but they were in Ice Age and Homelands, so we won’t go into them here since we don’t discuss “new” sets. Ha.
The rest. White and Blue were never blessed with any ante related cards.
 A proposal to revive ante in Old School

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a tournament variation that keeps the ante aspect of the (very) early game we all love: “Tempor-Ante” (as in Temporary Ante). I’ve laid out what I brewed up as the rules for this variant and I’d like to share that here.

Tempor-Ante Rules:
  • Normal 60 card minimum deck to start the tournament (may drop below 60 cards later)
  • Standard 15 card (optional sideboard)
  • Players must bring a stack of blank cards for proxies (cardstock, acetone wiped cards, basic lands, or standard poker cards all work great) and extra sleeves to match their deck.
  • All ante cards are legal.
  • Normal restricted list (Contract from Below & Darkpact are currently restricted at the time of this writing).
  • Before each game, each player antes a random card from their deck. Ante is drawn after any sideboarding and shuffling.
  • Cards lost due to ante are removed from the player's deck for the remainder of the tournament.
  • Winner of each game MUST add all ante cards he/she anted back to their deck. For each card won from their opponent that player adds a proxy of that card to their deck (non-optional, all won cards are played with). Use proxies so that ownership is not permanent and you don't need to keep track of cards (lost cards are kept in your possession, just not in your deck).
  • Won cards are not subject to deck construction rules. You may end up with more than 4 copies of a card or multiple copies of a restricted card based on wins.
  • Whenever you lose a card (any type) to ante, you may replace that card with a Basic Land if you wish. This is optional and just meant to keep decks from getting permanently mana screwed by losing cards.
  • Players should do their best to recreate the card won on their proxy because most people can’t draw worth a damn and you should be forced to play your artistic atrocity.
What are the pros-cons of this tournament style? I see it adding some fun and chaos to the format. Here’s some highlights of what I imagine it might bring:

  • You can play with Contract from Below, the most powerful card every printed, as it was intended to be used.
  • Decks will need to be constructed in a manner that they can afford to lose a handful of cards. This should lead to some creative decks without having only 1-2 win conditions or fragile combos. If you lose all of your win conditions, you’re done - you’ll need backup plans.
  • Multi colored decks and cards like City of Brass/Birds of Paradise/Celestial Prism will be encouraged as you may win cards outside of your initial colors and you won’t want dead draws.
  • If luck is on your side you could end up playing a deck with a playset of Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall.
  • Fun between round banter and speculation about who has won/lost what and what it’ll mean in future rounds.
  • You get to play for friggin’ ante!!
  • You of course could lose cards to make your deck incapable of victory, but hey sometimes a dose of randomness is fun!
True high quality proxies are made with Sharpie; none of that "black core", bend test passing, U.V. light glowing, counterfeit eBay bullshit.
I’d love to hear if anyone thinks Tempor-Ante is intriguing and I’d LOVE to see reports if anyone actually gives it a shot in their local group. Perhaps when the Swedes are choosing their annual variant for PWP Invitational they’ll consider ante as the wild card. Would be a great way to throw a little chaos into any tournament and just play the game we all know and love in a way you probably have never played or at least not in the past 20 years.

Thanks everyone for lending me your ear and hopefully I’ll see you back over on Instagram.

- Greg T.


  1. The fun about Old School is that I get to play cards that would not make sense in other formats. I just love it when I take out of my binder those cards but I never thought I´d reach the last sheet...the Ante sheet, the "they've never been out sheet". I really like the idea of loosing the card just for the rest of the tournament. I'll talk to my local OS community (Madrid) about going the the evil/dark side. Cheers ;)

  2. I don't particularly see the point of the tournament format, as it makes winning the ante being frequently more of a bad thing than a good one. Also, no word on playing for real ante with cheap decks? That is one aspect I would like to delve into more, having listened to Mg's musings in the B&R discussion.

  3. I'd say adding the cards you won to your sideboard makes more sense to me. What do you think? That way you don't clunky your deck with unplayable stuff.
    Also, 4 Jeweled Bird meta seems fun enough. I'd play Fastbond or Time Vault combo a lot in this format.

  4. Its the best format out there. The cards looked the best in these sets, and are much more gratifying to play than the garbage they have been printing since. Its all ready become very popular and I know exactly why.

  5. We are more into the limited format, where we play since 1999 a kind of an on-going sealed-league with ante. I can assure, it's very exciting to win or lose every single match a card. In the beginning the specific ante-cards came also up, but of course less than in a constructed format, such as you propose. We include one booster of every mtg edition ever printed (if available... I'm looking at you "Summer Edition"), so naturally there were only a few ante-specific cards from the early editions. But I think, although they might seem spicy, they are really not necessary, it's totally nerving enough, to know you play against losing your ante Nissa... One big rules change we made: The ante cards are still part of your deck until the match is over; this might especially be important for limited, where an bomb card for ante would be devastating (1. you risk your big treasure 2. because you can't play this card, your losing probality is much higher). I think this might come up during a tournament day of constructed as well, when your decks lacks suddenly several good cards...

  6. Almost precisely the rules I've dreamed up and am trying to get my play group to try out!

  7. Fantastic proposal! It is an adequate adaptation of ante to the current tournaments. I love it.


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