Okay, found some time to give this subject a worthy response. Here goes, this is going to be pretty lengthy.
The question of whether or not to restrict Strip Mine in your version of “Old School Magic” comes down to one fundamental question: how closely do you want your games to match those that were actually contested in that era? Do you want to preserve the entire feel and flavor of that venerable format, including its warts, or do you want to alter it to suit your own personal fancy?
Truthfully, enough things are different about Old School format already that it is quite different from the game we enjoyed and innovated in a quarter century ago. The basic rules of the game have changed, from the way the stack is played, to the timing rules, to the ways creatures interacted with each other. Instants and Interrupts were distinctly different in 1994, causing strange situations where you could draw a card in response to something happening, but not actually use it. Mirror Universe was the strongest kill condition in the game, due to the fact you could mana burn during the untap step, and that you didn’t die until the end of a phase. As many of you already know, Mishra’s Factories were much weaker, since tapped blocking creatures didn’t deal combat damage. There were other major differences I won’t detail here.
However, the biggest changes involve the restricted list, which fundamentally defines the format. Without question, the biggest difference is the restriction of Mana Drain. This single restriction completely warps the Old School landscape, rewarding aggressive strategies, making reactive ones more precarious and inconsistent. The single Mana Drain in a deck still shows up often enough to alter the course of plenty of games. Just imagine what it was like having multiple copies of the card in hand on a regular basis! Mana Drain loomed so large over “Type 1” as it was called from 1995 onward that many of Old School’s favorite creatures were all but unplayable. The creature range that includes Serendib Efreet, Hypnotic Specter, Juzam, Su-Chi and Erhnam Djinn was simply too risky to use if you were serious about winning tournaments. For the record, I support the restriction of Mana Drain, the card is too powerful.
But Strip Mine is a completely different story. Not only do I support keeping the card unrestricted, but I think it is vital for the health of the format. The explanation is fairly complex, so bear with me.
Strip Mine serves an indispensable role as a sanity check on Old School. The card was omnipresent back in 1994, but it actually wasn’t used as a four-of by most players until later. In fact, published lists of my deck didn’t include four copies until mid-1996 at the earliest. I opted instead to go with the Blood Moon approach, using seven main deck basics and only three Strip Mines. This was wrong in retrospect, I should have used four Strip Mines no matter what.
There is a huge issue with Mishra’s Factory in Old School communities right now. Strip Mine’s scarcity is one of the primary contributors to this problem. In a format with restricted Strip Mine the decision to run four Factories is easy and automatic. That card offers irresistible upside at minor cost, which is the primary reason many cards wind up on the restricted list in the first place. A set of Factories bolster the defense and offense of any deck that includes them, to the point where most regard them as an auto-include.
This wasn’t always the case. In fact, in the 1994 era, there was tremendous tension behind the decision of which colorless lands to run. I can unequivocally state that there were zero high tier competitive decklists in that era using both Strip Mines and Mishra’s Factories. This was a huge net positive for the format, because it increased diversity in deck design, and it actually challenged people when constructing their mana bases.
In Old School format, with Strip Mine restricted, there is no reason not to use four Mishra’s Factories. This means you see the card everywhere, to the point where many are calling for its restriction. If you had told anyone in 1994 that one day people would be clamoring for restricted Mishra’s Factory, they would have laughed at you.
Strip Mine is needed to keep people honest when deciding what spells to include in their decks, especially if they intend to also include Factories. Loading your deck with Hymns and Juzams and Specters and Counterspells and Mana Drain and Erhnams and Sinkholes and whatever seems fine in retrospect, but it gets a lot more dubious when your opponent goes after your colored mana. I’m all for people trying to try to play these “good stuff” strategies in the post-Mana Drain era, but those strategies shouldn’t also be able to employ Mishra’s Factories with zero consequence.
Additionally, restricting Strip Mine also massively boosts the power of an already ban-worthy card: the Library of Alexandria. I talk extensively about the issues with this card in my videos with Daniel, it is something I’ve pretty much hated since I started playing competitive Magic. Library of Alexandria is just plain stupid, often granting a skillless, auto-win to the person lucky enough to start with it in their opening hand. The card wins many games against opponents packing four Strip Mines, it is beyond ridiculous when that number is reduced to just one.
Because of how broken and decisive Library is, there are two scenarios surrounding it I consider “healthy”. The first is having the card legal, but counteracted by four Strip Mines. The second is having Strip Mine restricted, and Library banned. Obviously I prefer the former scenario. Not only is that what we played back in 1994, but it’s also the most skill-testing interaction. Against four Strip Mines, you can’t just run your Library out there on turn one. Instead, you have to pace the card, testing the waters, only playing it when you’re fairly confident the coast is clear. Conversely, you can’t just Strip your opponent’s lands indiscriminately at the start of a game, because if they’re sandbagging the Library you’re going to be in deep shit when they play it.
I’ve yet to hear a valid argument for the situation the Swedes have chosen, with both Library and Strip Mine restricted. To me, this is the worst of both worlds, counterfeiting a sizeable portion of games when one person draws an early Library and the other person doesn’t draw their 1-outer to stop it. This interaction has resulted in the most absurd of band aids: lots of people main-decking one or two copies of Stone Rain. Not only is Stone Rain a terrible card if you’re not using it to kill a Library, but it’s not even a reliable solution. By the time you’ve managed to cast a three-mana sorcery, your opponent is likely to have already won the game from the Library, or they’ll just have countermagic to stop you.
I’ve seen a few people on Facebook complain that Strip Mine results in lots of non-interactive games where one person winds up with no lands, unable to cast any spells. Having played many thousands of games in the format, I can assure you that situations like that are extremely rare, and are often the result of a concerted effort by one person to constrain the other’s mana, using a lot more than just Strip Mine. Additionally, gross starts like that are generally enabled by other problem cards in the format, like Ancestral Recall and Library of Alexandria. There is no inherent advantage gained from trading your lands one for one with your opponent’s, and sometimes that strategy is self destructive. I’ve seen many games lost by one person zealously stripping away the opponent’s mana, only to watch that opponent cast Balance off of pure artifact mana a few turns later.
Strip Mine was ultimately restricted following US Nationals in 1996, but that was only in Type 2 (now known as Standard), and only because it was included alongside tons of other insane, abusive cards like Hymn to Tourach and Necropotence. It would have stayed unrestricted in Type 1 indefinitely, but for the printing of Wasteland in 1997. Once Wasteland entered the format you suddenly had eight copies of the Strip Mine effect, and restricting the Antiquities version made sense. At no point in time between 1994 and 2018 were you only allowed one Strip Mine-type effect in a Type 1 deck.
Strip Mine helps to rein in some of the other problem lands in Old School, like Workshop, Bazaar, and to a lesser extent, Maze of Ith. The card is an instrumental, indespensible part of that era of Magic. If you truly want to call your format “Old School”, or 93/94 Magic, you have to allow four copies of one of its most defining and skill-testing tools.
I hope this lengthy essay does a solid job of outlining my arguments for keeping Strip Mine off the restricted list. I welcome discussion and comments on what I’ve said, looking forward to reading that.
In case any of you are interested, here are links to the four videos I recorded a little while ago for Daniel Chang’s Vintage Magic Youtube channel. They are a synopsis on my current build of The Deck for Old School format, from background through sideboard.
Part 1: Intro
Part 2: The Deck tech, part 1
Part 3: The Deck tech, part 2
Part 4: The Deck tech, sideboard
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