What Once Was (The First MTG Underground Invitational)

The first MTG Underground Invitational was held on April 19th (yes that was over a month ago.) It was four players, $100 buy in, $300 to first and $100 to second. As an additional cost, to enter the venue (my apartment near the freeway) a bottle of scotch had to be donated to the host (me) who would provide food, the quality of which would be judged by the quality of Scotch offered.

The format was Magic 93/94, or Oldschool, the flagship format (though not exclusive format) of the MTG Underground. This nostalgic format aims to capture the glory of our youth, the dreams of the past, and bring them back to life to tower over the mediocrity of what has come to be.

There are a range of variations by region.

The players in Chicago use this list from Eternal Central: http://www.eternalcentral.com/oldschool/

I understand that on the East Coast there is a group that plays with cards all the way into 1995. They use another list.

The Nor-Cal group uses: http://www.eudogames.com/magic/norcal-old-school-magic which, like Eternal Central, has Fallen Empires but a different restricted list

For a number of reasons, we used the list from http://www.oldschoolmtg.com found here: http://oldschool-mtg.blogspot.com/p/banrestriction.html

This is the original group and my contact with European Players about the format has been resoundingly positive. It is the first list I became familiar with since I decided to start playing this again (a few years back my brother and I began the process of playing “Pre-Dark” with the intention of slowly releasing sets to relive What Once Was. It never made it to the release of the Dark due to time constraints, my success with Legacy, our mutual return to Vintage, and the demands of both of our busy work schedule.) While I suspected some of the restricted cards were safe (two of which has since come off, that being Mirror Universe and Power Artifact,) the list seemed solid, thought out, and open enough for us to craft many decks. It also gave me a sense of consistency, as it was the list that the Card and Board Event ( http://www.eternalcentral.com/card-and-board-old-school-magic-93-94-may-2015-tournament-results/ ) was going to use about a month later and gave me a place I could send the other attendees to for information.

The exception we made for this event was Proxies. This was done for a couple of reasons. One, we were all just starting to buy in to the format (Except Barktooth, he still had his deck from when he last played, just after the release of Homelands.) Two, One Player showed up with an illegal deck. Three, I was more interested in generating a feel for what this format was going to be than anything (aside from the cash we were playing for, I was determined to win and buy a pair of Juzam Djinns.)

To Recap the House Rules, Ban/Restriction List, and Legal Formats, I will summarize here:

The game would be played by modern rules, with one exception: Mana Burn would be reinstated. It is a quintessential part of magic, and any player has not been burned by mana has never truly played magic.

Allowed Sets:





4th Edition

Arabian Nights


The Dark


FBB reprints

Collector’s Edition (and International Edition)

(No Fallen Empires cards were played in this format)


Banned (Ante Cards):

Bronze Tablet

Contract from Below


Demonic Attorney

Jeweled Bird


Tempest Efreet


Ancestral Recall


Black Lotus

Black Vise



Chaos Orb

Demonic Tutor


Library of Alexandria

Mana Drain

Maze of Ith

Mind Twist

Mishra’s Workshop

Mox Emerald

Mox Jet

Mox Pearl

Mox Ruby

Mox Sapphire




Sol Ring

Strip Mine

Time Vault

Time Walk


Wheel of Fortune

We also played with OIdschoolmtg.com’s Errata of Chaos Orb:

Chaos Orb (2)


1, Tap: Choose a nontoken permanent on the battlefield. If Chaos Orb is on the battlefield, flip Chaos Orb onto the battlefield from a height of at least one foot. If Chaos Orb turns over completely at least once during the flip, and touches the chosen permanent, destroy that permanent. Then destroy Chaos Orb.


At the request of one participant, no photos were taken during this event. I am not sure if he was hiding from a wife or a parole officer, but I was not about to pass judgment or incriminate a brother in the underground. This tournament was a safe haven from the establishment, and even if he was not fighting against the DCI, his battle was our battle. His crimes were our crimes. We would overcome all odds or burn at the stake together. As a continued gesture of respect, his name will be kept safe in the off chance that whatever was looking for him were to find it here. For the duration of this narrative he will be referred to as Barktooth Warbeard, shortened in a variety of ways as I will surely tire of typing out the moniker in its entirety.

The Cast of Characters and Weapons of Choice:

The “Shaman” Ben: Host and Author. I chose to play Atog Smash.

Brother Andrew the Oblivious: My Brother and Betrayer of Scotch. He was playing a RUG Zoo Deck.

Dan the Hermit: A friend who was suspended by the DCI at the Legions prerelease for a year, then extended to five years for playing in the Scourge prerelease. He was playing a variation on “The Deck.”

Barktooth Warbeard: Last played before there was Force of Will. He was playing Mono Black Aggro, which had to be updated last minute to meet format requirements.

An Overview of the Soundtrack for the Day, All Music recorded in 93 or 94:



Morbid Angel




At the Gates

Warren G


The Crow Soundtrack

Cannibal Corpse


Cypress Hill



Wu Tang Clan





Sharing this was as unnecessary as preparing it was, but there was an atmosphere that I wanted to capture and music was no small part of it. I assumed that the bands included covered most of what the four of us had been listening to back then, and for the most part I was correct. It caused more than one distracting conversation throughout the day, making my efforts worthwhile.

The Day that Was:

I spent the morning cooking and sobering up from the prior. I dipped into a stash of Serum Powder preserved for just such an occasion, as I wanted to start things out with a full grip. Festivities were scheduled at Eleven AM, but I was skeptic about promptness and it was almost half past when I had the first wave of food ready. Usually my brother is the first to arrive for anything, often early, but as it closed in on twelve there was still no sign.

Hermit Dan and Barktooth Warbeard arrived together at noon. Dan bought in with a wad of five dollar bills and a bottle of 18 year Chivas Regal. Barktooth mocked the blended scotch loudly, offering up a 10 year bottle of Laphroaig and a crisp hundred dollar bill. I put the money under the Cthulhu Statue in the center of the play area, along with my own, and I put the bottles in the Shaman Cabinet next to the sacred Goblin Charbelcher.

Just about that time my brother Andrew came strolling in, holding a just purchased bottle of Jameson and apologizing for being late while complaining about the liquor store not opening until Eleven. I reminded him that there is a liquor store in my building, which is usually open by nine, and shook my head at the bottle. Apparently he thought Scotch was a synonym for Whiskey, and, knowing my penchant for Jameson, thought he was showing everyone up. I decided to let his rivals educate him before asking him if he packed a lunch.

A man without scotch is a man without food.

Rules are rules.

The music kicked in and I brought glasses along with some 7 layer Avacado Bean Dip of the Apocalypse to the table. We killed most of the Jameson and a bag of Tortilla Chips by the time pairings were determined for the first round. Much to the benefit of my brother, rules are meant to be broken, ignored, or openly mocked, and as soon as I started drinking I forgot about withholding and invited him to dive in.

The Decks:

Shaman Ben’s Atog Smash


4 Taiga

4 Volcanic Island

3 Tropical Island

4 Mishra’s Factory

1 Strip Mine

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

4 Mana Vault

4 Fellwar Stone

4 Howling Mine

4 Relic Barrier

1 Chaos Orb

2 City in a Bottle

4 Atog

4 Berserk

3 Avoid Fate

2 Fireball

1 Regrowth

1 Wheel of Fortune

1 Timetwister

1 Time Walk

1 Ancestral Recall


2 Fireball

1 Disintegrate

1 Channel

2 Blue Elemental Blast

3 Red Elemental Blast

2 Shatter

1 Detonate

2 Tranquility

1 Avoid Fate

Barktooth Warbeard’s Baronless Black (he had to cut a Baron Sengir to be legal)


4 Mishra’s Factory

1 Strip Mine

1 Maze of Ith

1 Urborg

16 Swamp

1 Mox Jet

1 Black Lotus

1 Sol Ring

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mind Twist

2 Drain Life

2 Oubliette

4 Dark Ritual

4 Sinkhole

4 Underworld Dreams

2 Royal Assassin

1 Demonic Hordes

3 Black Knight

2 Sengir Vampire

4 Hypnotic Spectre

4 Juzam Djinn


1 Gate to Phyrexia

2 Terror

2 Hellfire

2 Jovial Evil

4 Gloom

1 Oubliette

1 Royal Assassin

1 Icy Manipulator

1 Hell’s Caretaker

Brother Andrew’s Genie Zoo


4 Tropical Island

4 Taiga

4 Volcanic Island

4 City of Brass

1 Mountain

1 Island

1 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Hammerheim

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

4 Erhnam Djinn

4 Serendib Efreet

4 Kird Ape

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Chain Lightning

4 Psionic Blast

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Wheel of Fortune

1 Regrowth

2 Sylvan Library

1 Fork

1 Black Vise

1 Chaos Orb


4 Red Elemental Blast

4 Blue Elemental Blast

4 Psychic Purge

2 Tranquility

1 Maze of Ith

Hermit Dan’s The Deck


1 Maze of Ith

4 Tundra

4 Volcanic Island

4 Underground Sea

4 Mishra’s Factory

4 City of Brass

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Strip Mine

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Ruby

1 Sol Ring

1 Balance

4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Disenchant

1 Mind Twist

1 Demonic Tutor

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Counterspell

1 Mana Drain

2 Power Sink

1 Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

4 Jayemdae Tome


1 Forcefield

3 Red Elemental Blast

3 Blue Elemental Blast

1 Serra Angel

1 Icy Manipulator

1 Wrath of God

2 Ivory Tower

1 Feldon’s Cane

2 Control Magic

Round One: The Fajita and Second Bottle of Jameson Round

My vegetarian Fajitas were done as we sat down to play. No one seemed to notice that I was serving them tofu instead of meat, and the only complaint was the size of the Tapatio bottle. I was paired against Hermit Dan, who I was fairly certain was playing land destruction, while my brother squared off against Barktooth and his Baronless Black.


I found out very quickly that I was not in for the match I was hoping for. I lost the die roll and he led with a Tundra, Mox Sapphire, and Sol Ring. I boomed through my hand of artifacts and cast my last card, Wheel of Fortune, only to get it Power Sunk and leaving me empty handed with no threat on board. Virtually everything I played of relevance after was countered or destroyed while I was slain by Mishra’s Factories. Game 2 was nearly the opposite. I played an Atog on turn 1 off of a mox and he bolted it on his turn. I needed the Ruby (Land on board and in Hand was Tropical Island, so it was my red source) so I let it die. On Turn 2 I cast a City in a Bottle and passed. He missed his second land drop (He had Cities, and drew Library I learned later) and passed back. I drew Ancestral Recall into Black Lotus into Atog and Timetwister. My new hand put 3 more artifacts on board. He drew and discarded, missing a land drop again (his new seven had a city and his library.) The game ended on my turn, when I berserked Atog for lethal. Game Three he opened with Library of Alexandria. The game dragged out with him killing my first two Atogs, always ahead on cards, with me doing little to advance my game. He killed me slowly again, and by the time the match was over I had lost track of just how much I had drank.

In the other match my Brother Andrew smashed the Black Deck with his Genies. From the way I understand it the Games were very close, but the quantity of Burn Spells proved overwhelming. Psychic Purge out of the board was in his hand when he got Mind Twisted for 5 on turn 2 in Game 3.

Round Two: The Girl Scout Cookies and Green Mana Round

After some intense games, we fired up the Green Mana Battery and passed it around. After a few turn cycles we were ready for Girl Scout Cookies, which I fortunately found in a bag on the counter labeled “FOR YOUR NERD PARTY” scribed with a Sharpie and left without a signature. If I would have thought the process through I would certainly become suspicious of my Girl Friend, as she is the only other person living in my home, but the mysticism of it in the moment did not feel like it needed an explanation.


This Round I was to battle Barktooth and his Black sword. I took it down in two games. The first involved a City in a Bottle keeping Juzam off the table and Bolts killing his specters, while a pair of Atogs took the slow path to victory. The second game saw a Turn One Mind Twist for 5 against my Mulligan to Six. I was left with one card: Timetwister. I drew Black Lotus. It was a dream. My fresh Seven had Library of Alexandria, Mox Sapphire and Ancestral Recall. I quickly ran away with the game, attacking for lethal on turn 4 by double berserking an Atog that was being blocked by a Juzam Djinn.

In the other match Hermit Dan was down game one against my brother before winning two post-board games, one from stealing an Erhnam with Control Magic and the other from a slowly grinded advantage and a solitary Factory going the distance. It would have been rather bland if we were all not so jovial in our revelry.

Round Three: The Random Beers from the Fridge and Stuffed Mushrooms Round

The highlight of my food preparation was enjoyed with some miscellaneous beers found in my fridge, left from some gathering or other in the month prior. It was mostly Mexican Beer, as well as some stuffy and pretentious nonsense that the others seemed delighted to consume. I found a pair of hard ciders and spiked them with whiskey, explaining to my brother I would drink one each time I beat him. I needed to win and I needed Hermit Dan to lose to the Black Deck that was not exactly putting up results.


I crushed my brother in two quick games. By the end of them he seemed suspicious of the fairness of berserk, but he lost as much to my luck and he did to his lack. I was at 2 at the end of game one and at 4 when I killed him game 2. I also killed both ciders, so we did a few shots of whiskey and turned to an interesting game 2.

Barktooth took game one off an effective Mind Twist, and was winning Game 2 with a Demonic Hordes. Dan had no lands in play and only his Emerald and Sol Ring on board. A pair of Hypnotic Specters finished him off as we began watching, and I felt the instant excitement of having my chance to win this little event in a sudden death playoff with the only deck to have defeated me.

Sudden Death Round: The One where I am Way too Drunk to Understand

75 tanker fire

I insisted that we each do a shot for each game we had lost on the day. Hermit Dan seemed annoyed by this, but he was not about to back down. By the time we were done shuffling I was tricked into agreeing to let him go first while being unsuccessful in convincing him to play for all the money. He wanted to just split it and play for fun, but I told him the only way it would be fun is to increase the stakes. He declined repeatedly and I lost game one after mulling to five and casting an Atog into a Mana Drain into a Mind Twist that took my hand. After my quick defeat he changed his mind about the split, and became receptive to playing for all of the money. I responded with unintelligible profanity and Cthulhu references before we moved to the greatest game of the day.

We both kept Seven.

My Opening Hand:

Taiga. Black Lotus. Channel. Fireball. Mana Vault. Atog. Tropical Island.

I killed him on turn one.

It was like activating a Charbelcher in 1994.

I began to celebrate.

It took probably fifteen minutes before I was calmed down enough to be made aware that we still had a third game to play. I was ready to take the money. After killing on turn 1, I felt like I won.

Unfortunately, Game Three was much more like Game One than Game Two. I lost without doing much, and my dreams of buying Two Juzam Djinns became Hermit Dan’s dream of paying off a Loan Shark (or staining the siding on his garage, I cannot clearly remember.)

I took second, won my money back, and above all had more fun playing magic than I had in any memorable time. It was clear to all of us that this format was not just a new gimmick to keep us from growing bored until we found something else. This was what we were trying so hard to find. This was the past, and it was alive. What once was had become again. It felt prophetic. It felt nostalgic. Above all, it felt fresh.

In the weeks that followed we talked a lot about the format, the cards, and what was to come. I began preparing for the Card and Board Tournament just under a month away, and I put off writing this piece by doing anything else whenever I had free time. I will have a report for that tournament at some point in time, perhaps including the Kevin Sorbo Stole My Toaster anecdote that he alluded to. But for now, I am escaping back to the real world, where I am watching Ancient Aliens on Netflix and wondering why there is a Ceramic Horse Head in the middle of my hallway.


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