The Oldest School: A Wizards' Tournament Primer

Every now and then a stroke of abandon land in the twilight between awesomeness and lunacy. From an outside perspective, going full old school and playing a Magic tournament like it was August 1993 is a perplexing idea. Even if you go zero-wincon-full-budget and build a deck with only mixed basic lands, that pile of basics will still have a price tag comparable to the winning eternal deck from the last Modern Pro Tour. A single powerful card in this format may only exist in a few hundred copies in the world, and will probably set you back more than a tier1 UBR deck in Legacy. Still we don't use proper sleeves nor protection for the cards. And right here you can actually play a deck of 20 Black Lotus and 20 Plague Rats. It is the most expensive, broken and confusing Magic format I've seen. It is also one of the sweetest.
Snap keep!
I don't know how many players we have signed up right now. 50? 60? Somewhere in that ballpark. Over ten countries representing at least. I am yet to find evidence of a larger tournament in August or September 1993, so it is possible that this is the largest event ever playing the purest form of Magic. Now that's something for the 25th anniversary of the game :)

Looking past the card availability issues of the format, one of the biggest things is how confusing it can be to those of us used to modern rules. And as the only info I've posted about the tournament is a text file without the opportunity to comment, I've gotten a lot of questions about how the old rules actually work. And no, it is not just "modern rules with mana burn between steps", or "dying from having zero life at the end of a phase instead of as a state based effect".  Heh, the oldest rules don't have steps, and that "dying at the end of a phase" thingie was a rule change that came with Revised (and was removed again with Sixth edition).

So, let's take a look at the most frequently asked questions about the original rules. We'll divide this into the sections of New rules, Old rules, Turn structure, and Tournament floor rules. Lets go back to 1993!

New rules!

There are a bunch of rules today that didn't exist back in old school times. These are a few of the more important rules that are NOT in effect during The Wizards' Tournament:

The idea of taking mulligans did come pretty early, and in 1994 the all-land/no-land mulligan was introduced. A few years later the Paris mulligan took its place, and then the Vancouver mulligan most of us know today. In the oldest school however, there are no mulligans. You'll have to keep whatever your starting seven gives you.
Yet another snap keep!
No, there are no sideboards. Just put all the sweet cards in your deck from the start. On the plus side, no one will expect that you play Karma.

Play/Draw rule
What is this, late 1995? The starting player gets a draw phase, so it is very much upside to win the coin flip.


Again, restricting the number of cards you could play in a deck was a fairly early tournament rule, but still something that took effect in 1994. No card restrictions means that you can technically play 9 Ironclaw Orcs and 3 Ancestral Recalls if you have them. Minimum deck size is also 40 cards rather than the 60 we normally use for constructed decks today. Real mages play more than 40 though. And please try to have fun and appreciate the atmosphere. A deck with just 27 Lightning Bolts and 13 Mountains seems supremely boring in a format like this ;)
Oldest School Sligh done properly.
There's no Oracle errata. Uniform errata on card name basis was a surprisingly late addition to the rules; well into 1995 cards like Iron Star had a different effect in the ABU printing compared to the Revised/4th printings. For this tournament, I have added errata to two cards that were misprinted so badly that they would be impossible to use with current wording (Red Elemental Blast and Cyclopean Tomb), and clarified a few more in the Wizards' Tournament document. But the idea here is mostly to read the card and try to figure out what it does. And yes, you may activate Iron Star multiple times for a single red spell.

This being an Instant would make it unable to counter spells. It will be played as an Interrupt.
Then there are a few commonly used words that aren't really defined in the old rules. Like "defending creature" and "target". Basically it works mostly as we'd expect, but you can for example cast a Righteousness on any creature a defending player controls rather than just a blocking creature. This could be useful in the UBW Creature Bond deck I guess.

Some other stuff that might come up is that auras enchanting an illegal permanent won't "fall off" (e.g. you cast Living Lands turning all lands into 1/1s, then cast Control Magic on one of your opponent's lands. If someone then destroys Living Lands, Control Magic will not fall of even though it is enchanting an illegal target, and the opponent won't get their land back), and that an attacker may distribute damage between blocking creatures as they see fit (i.e. no "blocking order" among blocking creatures).

Old rules!

In the original rules we also had a few features that don't exists today. These are probably the most likely to come up.

Mana Burn
From ye old rule book: "You lose all of the mana in your mana pool if you do not use it before a phase ends. The mana pool is also cleared when an attack begins and when an attack ends. You lose a life point for each mana lost in this manner. However, you cannot be deprived of a chance to use the mana in your pool. If a card provides more than one mana, you must draw the full amount into your pool when you use it." This rule (later called "mana burn") changed a few times over the years until it was removed entirely in 2009 with the release of M10. We'll look more at phases and attacks a little further down.

Ante was an integral part of the original game. At the start of a duel, you would remove the top card of your deck and put it in the ante. The winner of the duel would become the owner of all the cards in the ante after the game.

To avoid too much deck metamorphosis over the course of a longer tournament, the first tournament floor rules introduced something called "fake ante", which is what we'll use here as well. It is described in more detail in the Wizards' Tournament document, but basically you just exile the top card of your library whenever a duel starts, and get it back after the duel. Even though we don't use ante with cards from the decks, you are still encouraged to ante something else (like a beer or the monetary equivalent of the card in Scrye #3 prices).

Tapped cards
A tapped card is basically shut off. When an Artifact is tapped, imagine that it has no rules text. You can't gain life from a tapped Iron Star, a tapped Gauntlet of Might won't boost red creatures nor Mountains, and a tapped Forcefield will offer no protection. Additionally, a blocking creature that becomes tapped during combat will not assign any damage.
Damage prevention
There are no rules covering this; the rules from 1993 are before the introduction of the damage prevention step. So just do what seems reasonable. How does Reverse Damage work when you're at four life and get attacked by a Sea Serpent? How does it work when you're attacked by two? Maybe you survive in one or both cases, but there's nothing to back that up. If in doubt about some damage prevention interaction, ask the referee to make a decision or flip a coin.

As long as a creature with protection from a color is in play, it cannot be affected by cards of that color. For e.g. a Black Knight this includes, but is not limited to, surviving Wrath of God, punching straight through a Circle of Protection: Black (if such a card would exist...), surviving all damage from white creatures, and being unblockable by white creatures.
Timing (or lack thereof)
To quote the Alpha rule book: "In general, you should try and cast as few spells at once as possible, because it makes things simpler." Yeah. Timing is weird here, but there are some illuminating examples in The Wizards' Tournament document. Four things that may be good to note in particular is:
  • There are no stacks, batches nor queues as we have known them for the last decades. Once an instant or fast effect starts to resolve, everything else will resolve at the same time. So for instance, if someone casts a Terror on one of your creatures and you cast Ancestral Recall, if you draw an Unsummon with the Ancestral you wont get the chance to save your creature with it as Terror resolved as soon as Ancestral did.
  • The last player casting an instant (or activating a fast effect) in a series of effects that would affect a card in play differently depending on the order of the effects, chooses in which order all the instants/effects applies.
  • An interrupt will take precedence over any other effects. If an interrupt removes a card from play, it will counter any abilities activated by that permanent that haven't resolved yet. ("Interrupts take place more quickly, actually being resolved before actions in progress, whereas instants don't take effect until both players have finished reacting to one another.")
  • As all spells and abilities resolve at once and damage is dealt after an effect dealing it resolves, it is e.g. not possible to destroy a creature by casting a Lightning Bolt in response to a Giant Growth or Frozen Shade activations. Damage will not be dealt before the creature is boosted no matter how you try to time it.

The Turn Structure!

The turn is divided into six phases. Most of the time, you wont notice the difference from the modern turn structure, but it can be a good idea to note this just in case. Here's the original turn structure:

1) Untap. Untap all your previously tapped lands, creatures, and artifacts. I will go out on a limb here and state that you cannot do anything before you untap permanents during the untap step. This is by no means defined in the rules, but it is clearly against the spirit of the game to tap your Prodigal Sorcerer to deal one damage to a Knight at the start of your untap phase, then untap it and deal one more damage during that same turn. As it was never intended to be played that way, I'll interpret the rules to disallow it for this tournament.

2) Upkeep. Deal with any enchantment, creature, or artifact that requires upkeep or has an effect at the start of a turn. The card will tell you if a given item requires upkeep. Note that you cannot activate abilities of permanents requiring an upkeep cost before the upkeep has been paid.

3) Draw. Draw one card from your library.

4) Main. You may do several things during the main phase. In no particular order:
 - You may put any one land from your hand into play.
 - You may make one attack against your rival with any or all of your creatures in play except those that came into play this turn. Combat is divided into four turn sequences: Player Declares Attack; Opponent Declares Defense; Fast Effects; Damage Dealing.
 - You may cast any spells in your hand, provided you have enough mana. You can cast spells before and after taking other actions.

5) Discard. If you have more than seven cards in your hand, discard until you again have only seven. Note that Library of Leng make you skip this phase altogether, which means that if you have a Library you go directly from Main to End.

6) End. Let your rival know you are finished. Note that you may cast instants and interrupts after you have discarded.
Super high tech with end phase Ancestral Recall. And I know at least one fellow that just picked up a second Ancestral for this tournament. Craziest deck I've heard about will be playing 20 copies of a certain Alpha rare btw, but I wont spoil which one here. It is a bad one though ;)

Tournament floor rules!

Again, please check out the Wizard's Tournament text file for some more clarifications on the floor rules.

So back in the days there were no judges in the modern sense of the word. Instead there were so called referees that had a surprisingly large mandate. The referee is the person with final say on interpreting rules, as well as someone that may at will terminate or influence matches he/she finds going excessively long. So if you are the last match playing, the referee might go up to your table and drop a pair of Copper Tablets on the play area to speed up the match or state that next person dealing damage wins, or whatever. The referee will also interpret Declarations of Forfeiture; e.g. disqualifying players that cheat. The ones of you participating at the Wizard's Tournament don't have to worry too much about the referee holding grudges or being unfair though. The referee during The Wizards' Tournament will be none other than the man mostly known as Flax; the man holding possibly the lowest active DCI number in Sweden as well as the friendliest Magic player most of us will ever encounter. He was my clear first choice for the role, and I am surprisingly stoked to have him on the team! He is also one of like three people I know that are versed in the original rules.

If you use sleeves, it is very much encouraged that you use sleeves from the era. This means penny sleeves, toploaders, or something else available in 1993. While you might be frowned upon for using more modern sleeves, you obviously won't be disqualified for doing so. However, if you use more modern sleeves, use clear ones where you can see the back of the card.
The Italian gang use old credit card sleeves for their decks. Dope!
Participation fee
The participation fee is 50 SEK, which translates to about $6 in a more international currency. This almost covers the rent of the pub ;)

I did design playmats which I was going to offer for 50 SEK, but didn't find a good way to properly get the paint on the cloth. So unfortunately no. Here's the design though, might be something similar for next year:
Prize structure
Pretty much nothing. You could try and win something sweet playing for ante though. The person who manage to destroy all other players gets a unique artifact however, handmade in a single unit by master craftsmen and painters. It is awesome, and you can use it as a necklace to look supremely dope while summoning beasts.
All n00bs must be discarded.

Bonus FAQ!

Q: Can I come visit and look at the games?
A: Only players are allowed at the site. It would unfortunately be far too crowded if we allowed visitors.

Q: Will there be video coverage?
A: No. We will avoid most modern technology.

Q: Why would anybody play with $25,000 decks for no tangible EV in a dirty pub using only penny sleeves?
A: It seems fun.


  1. So if someone would show up with a VHS-camera to record this, wouldn't that be contemporary enough?

  2. Yes. I did strongly consider filming and exporting the video to VHS tapes myself in fact. So if anyone brings a VHS camera, they will be very welcome :)

  3. Amazing! just finished a deck for a friend as well.
    If i Magical hack a Circle:red i might be able to get circle:Black maybe :)

    Be there or be Square!(CE/IE n00bs ;) //Jhovalking

  4. awesome tournament. really wish i could attend. heres a penny sleeve pro tip: if you choose to play a $30k deck in penny sleeves, one option you have for extra protection is to seal the top with an impulse sealer to keep them safe from spilled wine and the like. Ultrapro for some reason falls apart in the sealer, but kmc perfect fits dont. As an extra tip be sure to keep the sealer held down for at least 30 seconds after it seals to give the plastic time to harden and cool.

  5. Any problem with the players from the main noobcon coming to spectate and drink? Cheers

    1. Might be, we're 50-60 players crowded in a smaller area than for the main n00bcon tournament, so we aren't able to open for the 70-80 players at n00bcon that doesn't participate on this one. And it might be hard to keep track on people if open the doors. We'll probably lock the front door when we start to avoid too much unknown indivduals in the place (drunk people with rare cards, and all that). But if you're in the area you could give me a call and perhaps we can solve something :) Cant promise anything though...

  6. No problem, main mission will be find the venue. Will drop you a pm to see if it's OK to sneak in. Failing that can test and get wrecked at the hotel. See you soon folks.

  7. Interesting to see how this turns out. However, if you are playing with >> 4 copies of a specific card, isn`t that a bit against the "please-try-to-have-fun"-spirit? Anyway, sounds fun, wish I could join. But Easter is skiing time! LT

    1. I think it will work out well. A few decks wouldn't be possible to build in the same way if we restricted down to four of each card; my personal deck is e.g. a pile that wins with Icy Manipulator and Psychic Venom, and playing 6 Psychic Venom is what makes it somewhat viable ;) Also the Plague Rats deck would be much less of a cool thing with only four rats. There are a few handful cards I could see as problematic though - in particular Channel - but I haven't seen any indication that it'll go overboard.

      Thing is, sure you can play 10 Black Lotus and it would make you deck insane, but I don't know of anyone in the world having access to that kind of Alpha card pool. Alpha rares as super rare after all. Most powerful deck I've seen plays five Chaos Orbs (which is insane), but on the other hand, losing to five Alpha Chaos Orbs is actually kinda cool ;)

    2. I would say that it fits perfectly into the "try to have fun"-spirit rather.

      My deck is kinda jank, but I'm pretty sure that I will have fun loosing against people playing insane decks with an insane cardpool, and thanks to Swiss, when I lost a round or two I will probably have a fun, more even, match at the 0-2 table.

      Its fun to let people play the cards they own, its fun to build decks that would not be possible in any other format.

  8. I’m really interested in what happens too because social norms can be more powerful than anything else. A format like this with no rules, but strong “have fun don’t be a dick” culture could be less broken than modern w tons of rules. For example, at Stanford university the professors will acually leave the room during exams. This is counter intuitive because there is no one to enforce no cheating policies, yet students don’t cheat. I don’t exactly know why it works but it has something to do w culture... cheers!

  9. I hope there will be sweet photos of decks and a great report to read!

  10. If you choose an instant or interrupt with word of command can the opponent cast it in response using these old timing rules?

  11. Good question. I would rule that the opponent can't respond after the hand has been shown, as the card says "Opponent must play this card immediately; you make all the decisions it calls for." The way the card uses "immediately" clarifies that the opponent doesn't get a chance to react after you've seen their hand.

  12. Hi there

    I am looking for Oldschool tournaments recently. Is there a schedule for the tournaments which take place in Europe? Thank you



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