Dip into Premodern, and a frustrating playset

Every now and then I feel like dipping my toes a bit deeper into Premodern. In my personal - obviously very subjective - sense of what goes under the oldschool umbrella, Premodern is starting to scratch on the door. The door of the umbrella I have my toes in, that is. That was a reasonable metaphor. Two sentences in and already butchering the English language. Off to a good start.

I don't know if Premodern should be an occasionally recurring topic on this blag (the format do have its own fancy webpage and blag after all), but now that the newest set in the format is closing in on its 19th birthday, Pro Tours and all other tournaments from that era has gone the way of the Dodo, and WotC is pushing "old frames" as some sort of exotic promos, maybe a small sense of nostalgia for the cards isn't unwarranted.

I had that Oath deck built four years ago, which I guess translates to me being somewhat early as format adopters go. Four years after Berlin first started the format, but a year or two before there was a blog on premodernmagic.com. The deck was built mostly because I really wanted an excuse to buy Oath of Druids. I had some enjoyable runs with Oath in Vintage just after Kamigawa with Forbidden Orchard was released, but back then I was borrowing the cards from a friend. I always liked the card, but never had my own playset. Enter Premodern, and enter a perfect excuse to get my own Oaths.

I didn't play any Premodern tournaments back in 2017, but I did get the chance to sling a bit in bars. In particular I have fond memories of sitting down with Samuel Korsell at his e-sport pub GG Bar for long sessions against his Trix deck. This was before Yawgmoth's Bargain was banned in the format - and Trix doesn't play any creatures to trigger Oath - so it was something of an uphill battle.

The Trix combo; Illusions of Grandeur and Donate.

I enjoyed playing the deck for some time, but in the end the play patterns just felt too different from the ones I had been so attracted to in the mid 2000s. Oath of Druids with Forbidden Orchard is a combo-control deck, while Oath without Orchard is basically just control. And I crave many different gears in my non-rotating decks if I'm to stick with them and tune them over the years. Eventually my Oaths got a new home in a proper Vintage deck, and I started a slow search for my ideal Premodern deck.

Lots of post-1994 cards going on today. I guess we can just file this one under "causerie" as blag posts go.

A cool thing about Oath of Druids is that it is a 23 year old staple rare card that sets you back $7 or so. Single digit price tags for rares are a bit refreshing, considering how one could get like two playsets of Oath of Druids for a random Stangg or something. On that note, God damn Legends is an annoying set to collect. The abundance of mediocre yet expensive cards is baffling.

Recent mailday. I don't really want to tell you what I payed for this, but it was like $70, and it was painful.

I try to avoid thinking too much about prices of oldschool cards, unless I'm actively trying to add them to the collection. But once they've found a home in my binder, they're meant to be there for the long haul. Barring disasters, these cards come to me to die, and it would serve me little to know exactly how much something like The Abyss sells for today. I have the two I want for Distress, I have no intention of selling them, and I also have no real interest in getting a third. Tracking potential price fluctuations for my "permanent collection" would be time consuming at best and stressful at worst. And in case some card would reach a truly silly price where them diamond hands could turn to paper, I'm sure someone would tell me. Like, people told me about Timetwister.

In case you missed it; the black sheep of the P9 is somehow the second most expensive card in the group these days.

I often like to wantonly presume I follow my own price guide in my head; carefully and rationally weighing prices based on what enjoyment I expect to get from cards. If a card's price tag is equal to or less than what I think it's worth as a collectible or game piece - and I have money to spare - I'm a buyer. But would I buy an Xira Arien for $50 knowing that no one else in the world would pay more than $5 for it? And what if the rest of the world valued it at $500? How much easier would the buy be to swallow then?

In a sense I guess it boils down to how much money we are willing to sink into our hobbies. If I'm buying a horse saddle or hiking shoes for some other spare-time endeavor, I suspect I might recoup somewhere between 10% and 40% of my "investment" if I were to re-sell the gear. Oldschool Magic is weird in that way. If a card drops 60-90% in resale value after I buy it, that would be considered really rough. We almost presume that we could get 100% of the money back if we were to opt out, in a way far removed from how we view hiking gear.  

So would you buy an Underground Sea for $100 if you knew that no one else would ever pay more than $20 for it? Almost philosophical, right? While I suspect many players wouldn't mind paying $100 for an Underground Sea today, twenty years ago that price tag would have appeared outright dystopian. And, I mean, it is the same card, the only thing that changed is how other people look at it. Unless our goal is to flip it, it shouldn't matter that much, assuming a rational point of view.

But price anchoring and context are real, and we humans aren't really rational on these things. I can believe in a price all I want, but at some point I still have to swallow my subjectivity and move my WTP to some seller's WTA if I actually want to acquire it. I mean, I "valued" Xira Arien at around $25 or so, and it suuuucked to pay $70 for it. But I still did, selling out my price tag ideals to the harsh market, with the lofty goal of eventually having a set of Legends in the horizon. Which brings me to my current plans for Premodern, and the most frustrating playset I've ever collected.

This was so draining to collect over the last year and a half that I think I'll have to take a break from Premodern for a while. I'll need like six months before I can start thinking about the glory that is Biorhythm Elves again without being overwhelmed by flashes of off-brand stress and questionable financial decisions. Because in my mind, Cradle is a $150 card, but in real life the first Cradle was $200, and then every new one after that added another $200 to the price tag of the previous. Kicking and screaming every step of the way, I still ran that gauntlet for some reason. 


Did we have a point here? Maybe not. Or maybe it was that cards getting expensive can be both time-consuming and frustrating. Or that Premodern can be a nice filler format to 93/94 as it's both fairly nostalgic and reasonably affordable (excluding Cradles, I guess). Maybe it was something clever about hobbies and secondary markets, or that we should try to spend spare money on things that makes us happy. Or maybe I just wanted to flash my set of Cradles after the emotional roller coaster it took to get them. I don't know. Let's just file this post under "rants" and go back to play Donkey Kong Country 3.

Here's a playset of Uncle Istvan:



  1. A few years ago I read somewhere about premodern and did forbid myself to take interest in this format.

    Then i built one deck from cards I had.

    Now of course I have four decks and at least two boxes of cards.

    My only luck is I don't have time and money to fall deeper into these mtg holes.

    1. Haha, I can relate ;) Though the last year and a half with the pandemic I've had both more time and a bit more money than I've been used to, so I might have started to dig a few unsavoury Mtg holes (Legends in particular, can't recommend that one)...

  2. Super awesome that you share some Premodern love in this blog as well!

    Second, you do have great taste in your Vintage and Premodern decks ;).

    Third, totally aggre on some cards just being exhausting to get. The Cradle playset is however very, very lovely to complete. We need to break Elves in Vintage some day, mg <3


    1. Thanks Glans! Haha, yeah to say that I've been "inspired" by your decks and ventures in Vintage and Premodern would certainly be an understatement! ;) Thanks for leading the way on these awesome decks!

      It feels really good to have gone for the cradles first for Elves; once I go to the drawing board to properly start building, all other cards will be downhill now. It might be a few months down the line, but now that the biggest hurdle is solved I know I will get there eventually.

      Definitly up for breaking Vintage elves!

  3. Very nice article and great choices for the premodern counterspells ;)



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