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Old School Magic: Chapter 12 – Building a Stronger Prison

Series Index

Chapter 1: Back to the Future – An Introduction to Old School Magic

Chapter 2: Old School Magic – The History of “The Deck”

Chapter 3: Old School Magic – A Visit to the Zoo

Chapter 4: Build Your Own Old School Format

Chapter 5: New Strategies for the Old School: The Transmute Control Deck

Chapter 6: Banning and Restriction in Old School

Chapter 7: New Strategies for the Old School: Blue-Red Aggro Control

Chapter 8: 2nd Place at Eternal Weekend, 2016 with Blue-Red Aggro-Control

Chapter 9: Reanimator Rises to the Top!

Chapter 10: Rules of the Road

Chapter 11: The Untold History of Combo in Old School

Introduction

This series has looked into many corners of the Old School universe, especially 93/94 variants.  We’ve covered well-trod territory of Aggro and Control strategies, although with unprecedented historical depth, and investigated virgin territory, hacking away at the brush to get there, with Combo last chapter.  We’ve systematically explored the three fundamental questions you must answer in designing your own Old School environment, and done so in a way that has never been covered before.  We’ve even found interesting and unique quarry in a variety of tactical approaches, so-called New Strategies for the Old School.  There is, however, one notable strategy that we have not yet seen: Prison.

As noted last chapter, prison strategies feature prominently across the Old School landscape.  The very first Magic World Championship deck, in the hands of Zak Dolan, featured foundational prison elements. Even today, many refer to his deck as “Stasis Control,” despite featuring only a pair of that namesake.

 

Old School

Stasis Control

By Zak Dolan, 1994


 

Creatures and Spells:

1 Clone

2 Old Man of the Sea

1 Time Elemental

1 Vesuvan Doppelganger

1 Birds of Paradise

1 Ley Druid

4 Serra Angel

1 Recall

1 Timetwister

1 Time Walk

1 Regrowth

1 Armageddon

1 Wrath of God

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Mana Drain

1 Siren’s Call

2 Disenchant

4 Swords to Plowshares

1 Black Vise

1 Howling Mine

1 Icy Manipulator

1 Ivory Tower

2 Meekstone

1 Winter Orb

1 Control Magic

2 Stasis

1 Kismet

Mana Sources:

1 Mana Vault

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

1 Library of Alexandria

4 Savannah

4 Tropical Island

4 Tundra

2 Strip Mine

1 Black Lotus

Sideboard:

1 Kismet

1 Chaos Orb

1 Circle of Protection: Red

1 Copy Artifact

1 Diamond Valley

1 In the Eye of Chaos

1 Floral Spuzzem

2 Karma

1 Magical Hack

1 Power Sink

1 Presence of the Master

1 Reverse Damage

1 Sleight of Mind

1 Winter Blast

 

 

Zak’s deck may lack the refinement of a clearly specified strategy or the features we associate with a modern, well-tuned deck.  In that regard, it’s an excellent specimen of a authentic Old School Magic deck, which were not only imperfectly tuned but replete with synergies and contrasting ideas.  More importantly, Zak’s deck contains virtually all of the key components, synergies, tactics and tools that the early card pool provided for, and were associated with, prison strategy, including the infamous combo of Winter Orb and Icy Manipulator.

Prison strategies, sometimes called “asphyxiation” strategies in the early days, were  strategies that attacked an opponent’s mana supply, and thereby prevented them from playing spells.  But what distinguished them from land destruction strategies more broadly was that they did not rely on single-use spells to achieve that end, removing lands one-for-one with Stone Rains and Sinkholes.  Rather, they used clever combinations and more devious tactics to produce the same effect.  Foremost among Old School tactics for imprisoning the opponent were the infamous combinations of Winter Orb with Icy Manipulator and Stasis with Kismet.

Winter Orb was one of the most efficient ways to tie up an opponent’s mana base.  But it suffered from the fact that it affects both players.  The most obvious way to overcome this obstacle is to use Icy Manipulator or Relic Barrier to tap Winter Orb on your opponent’s end step, so that Winter Orb leaves your mana undisturbed (as covered in Chapter 10, a tapped Winter Orb is inert).  This makes Winter Orb effectively one-sided.  Meanwhile, Icy Manipulator can also be used to tap down an opponent’s lands or mana on their upkeep, such that they have a very difficult time every breaking free of the lock.

 

Revised Stasis and Legends Kismet

A similar approach is possible with Stasis.  Like Winter Orb, Stasis is frustratingly symmetrical.  As with Relic Barrier and Icy Manipulator in relation to Winter Orb, Kismet and Time Elemental are two common tactics to break Stasis’s inherent symmetry.  Kismet and Stasis create something of a virtual hard lock, since every permanent enters play tapped, and Stasis makes it impossible to untap.  Time Elemental allows the Stasis player to bounce Stasis on the opponent’s end step in much the same manner as tapping Winter Orb in the opponent’s end step allows it’s controller to untap all of their lands.

Zak’s deck features all of these tactics and core synergies.  But it also includes a set of complementary tools, such as Siren’s Call, which, with Stasis, is a one-sided Wrath of God.  It also uses Meekstone to keep an opponent’s threats offline in much the same way that Winter Orb does with lands.  The Power Sink in the sideboard is another way to forcibly compel an opponent to expend mana and tap down.

But the story of prison only begins with Zak Dolan’s victory at the first Magic World Championship.  It turns out that prison strategies were among the most successful strategies in the heyday of Type I.

Winter Orb in Type I

It is difficult to appreciate this today, but Origins was once one of the most important places to play Magic.  In contemporary terms, it was probably something like a cross between a Grand Prix and a Pro Tour event.  Origins Game Fair 1995 was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July, and was host for 1995 U.S. Nationals. Although U.S. Nationals was the new Type II format, there was no shortage of Type I competition. There were at least three major Type I tournaments held at that event.  Importantly, Mark Justice, the eventual U.S. Nationals champion that year, was able to attend two of them, and won both! Here’s what he played:

 

Old School

Prison Control

By Mark Justice, Origins ’95 Type I winner


 

Creatures and Spells:

3 Icy Manipulator

3 Winter Orb

1 Disrupting Scepter

1 Chaos Orb

1 Glasses of Urza

4 Mana Drain

4 Power Sink

4 Counterspell

4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Fireball

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Ancestral Recall

4 Disenchant

1 Regrowth

1 Balance

1 Red Elemental Blast

1 Presence of the Master

2 Greater Realm of Preservation

1 Ivory Tower

Mana Sources:

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Sapphire

3 Tropical Island

4 Tundra

2 City of Brass

4 Mishra’s Factory

 

 

Mark Justice was one of the most famous, if not the most famous, Magic player in the mid-1990s.  He was a master of formats, magic strategy, and a popular author of Magic books.  Mark’s skills in deck design were more than evident here, and his strategic interest should be familiar.  With many of the same elements as Zak Dolan’s deck, Mark has done the hard work of refining and strengthening one of the core concepts.  In particular, he’s made the Winter Orb combo the heart of the deck.

The deck develops and maintains a control role, using the most critical elements of The Deck, up to the point at which the Winter Orb combo is achieved.  Icy Manipulator serves on defense, tapping opposing threats, but also makes Winter Orb asymmetrical.  Power Sink, quite importantly, is the key card that brings resistant opponents under the thumb of Winter Orb.  Mark’s success with this more focused archetype demonstrated that this strategy was capable of both frustrating opponents and winning tournaments at the same time.

Chip Hogan cuts an interesting figure to Old School players.  He was the first person who claimed to be a “Professional” Type 1 player, and, by his own account in an interview in The Duelist, supported his young family entirely by traveling to Type I tournaments all over the country and winning prizes from games with ante.  Although he eventually abandoned that dream and disappeared into the mists of time, he left a fairly remarkable legacy of accomplishments.  There is little doubt that he was one of the most successful Type I mages of the mid-1990s.  One of those resume-building events was a large tournament known as the “Sorcerer’s Open” (Magic tournaments had more colorful names back then).  Here is Chip Hogan’s 1995 “Sorcerer’s Open” winning decklist:

 

Old School

Blue Prison

By Chip Hogan


 

Creatures and Spells:

4 Mana Drain

3 Power Sink

2 Counterspell

1 Time Walk

1 Ancestral Recall

3 Fireball

3 Swords to Plowshares

2 Disenchant

4 Erhnam Djinn

3 Icy Manipulator

4 Relic Barrier

3 Winter Orb

1 Disrupting Scepter

1 Chaos Orb

1 Glasses of Urza

Mana Sources:

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

4 Mishra’s Factory

2 City of Brass

2 Plateau

3 Tropical Island

4 Tundra

4 Volcanic Island

 

 

Quite obviously, Chip started with Mark Justice’s deck, but made further refinements, many of which may be justly regarded as improvements, including the full complement of Relic Barriers and the rest of the Moxen.  Relic Barrier is better the more fully powered your opponents are.  Some aspects of the strategy may have been better in the hands of Mark Justice.  But what cannot be denied is that two Type I masters favored this strategy, and did so at a time in when there was broad interest and respect for Type I Magic.

Despite having been an active Type I player during this period, I confess I did not actually encounter or learn of these decks at the time.  Although my fully powered playgroup was not insular, the internet was not quite the useful reference library it is today, and deck technology was slow to circulate.  Remarkably, I surfaced these decks in research for my History of Vintage series.  But upon exploring and experimenting with Old School formats a few years back, I knew this was a strategy that I’d want to pursue in more depth.  This was a strategy that had proven success, and yet was little played in Old School.

A big reason that Prison was underplayed in Old School formats like 93/94 was that Winter Orb had been neutered by unfortunate intervening errata.  Eternal Central was the first to propose issuing special errata to Winter Orb, and we followed suit at Eudemonia.  Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast restored Winter Orb’s original functionality with a digital reprint in the summer of 2016. Despite all this, Winter Orb remains criminally underplayed in 93/94.

Having already played a Transmute Control deck in my first official “Old School” tournaments, which I covered in Chapter 5, incorporating the Winter Orb combo was a natural next step.  So, that is what I did. I spent many months testing and tuning, and in February, 2016, I rolled into the Eudemonia game store in Berkeley, armed with this deck:

 

Prison Deck by Steve Menendian

 

 

 

Old School

Prison

By Steven Menendian


 

Creatures and Spells:

4 Winter Orb

4 Relic Barrier

3 Icy Manipulator

3 Transmute Artifact

1 Mana Drain

3 Counterspell

4 Power Sink

1 Ivory Tower

3 Swords to Plowshares

2 Disenchant

1 Chaos Orb

1 Maze of Ith

1 Recall

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Braingeyser

Mana Sources:

1 Black Lotus

4 Tundra

6 Island

2 Plains

3 Mishra’s Factory

1 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

1 City of Brass

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Sol Ring

1 Mana Vault

Sideboard:

1 Meekstone

1 City in a Bottle

1 Mirror Universe

2 Circle of Protection: Red

1 Balance

1 Swords to Plowshares

3 Blue Elemental Blast

1 Plains

2 Dust to Dust

 

 

My initial primary contribution to this archetype is the addition of Transmute Artifact.  What makes Transmute so useful here is that it finds whichever piece of the combo is missing, and you can really never have too many Icy’s or Relic Barriers in play.  The marginal value of each copy of Icy or Relic Barrier is remarkably high.  This is because you want to use Relic Barriers to 1) tap down your own Winter Orb, 2) tap down your opponent’s Moxen, and 3) tap down their threats, like Juggernaut or Mishra’s Factory.  Similarly, Icy does all of those things, but more.

Early on in the testing for this deck, I was surprised – and impressed – how quickly and devastatingly the Winter Orb combo was assembled or assembled itself.  Transmute was most often used to reinforce the combo, or find the first Winter Orb.

Look how quickly this hand:

Turned into this board state:

I tested a wide range of cards, intuitive and not, including Mishra’s Workshop, but Workshop wasn’t very good.  I replaced it with Mana Vault (which was restricted at the time), which was much better, especially with Transmute.  I considered, but did not test, Fellwar Stone, largely because I wanted to keep my mana curve down and spell count up.  I did not consider, and regretfully omitted, Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.

Tabernacle is a perfect inclusion in a deck like this, and, in retrospect, seems like it would have been quite effective for either Mark Justice or Chip Hogan.  Obviously, Tabernacle is weaker in a format where Strip Mine is unrestricted, but that, to me, also illustrates how Strip Mine has a tendency to reduce strategic diversity, by weakening decks that rely on specialized lands, like this one, Tron, and others.  In any case, any further version of this deck should seriously consider Taberancle as a complementary prison card.

I could describe in further detail in my testing results, and offer additional card observations, but I hope that a brief tournament report will serve as more interesting reading material:

2/26/2016 Tournament Report

Round 1: Ryan Maddox, Playing Classic Land Destruction

I did not note the identity of my opponent until after the tournament, but could hardly have missed what he brought into battle.  His deck was replete with Stone Rains, Sinkholes, and Ice Storms, and weaponized with Ernham Djinns and Black Vises.

The irony of two mana denial strategies facing off was not lost on me.  And while I was far from certain in the outcome, I had to enjoy the moment.  Land destruction is not regarded as one of the more pleasant decks to face, but the thought of giving as good as I got was entertaining.

In the first game, I dropped an early Winter Orb, although only after he played a first turn Black Vise.  Some quick acceleration and permanents allowed me to fall under Vise range, but his first turn Ice Storm had him fall under my Orb. Every land destruction spell he played pulled him further and further behind, while I continued to make land drops thanks to an above average draw. When I transmuted for Icy Manipulator, he scooped.

The second game played out surprisingly similar, except that the coup de grace was a Power Sink on his Ernham Djinn. Here was the board state at that point:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CcV2EeLUcAEzTLo.jpg

Round 2: Mitesh aka “Mith” with Power Monolith Combo

Mith is one of our areas Old School aficionados.  Unfortunately for him, he lost his first round.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t discover that my Round 1 opponent had incorrectly filled out the match slip until after the round had begun (it was, however, corrected).

In the first game, he opened with Library of Alexandria.  I, on the other hand, rejoined with Winter Orb.  I Power Sinked his first spell, and Transmuted for Relic Barrier or Icy, and he scooped.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CcV2ElaUEAEkITO.jpg

In the second game, I elected to keep an unacceptably greedy hand: Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Time Walk, Transmute Artifact, Power Sink, Mana Drain, and another blue spell.  Although I drew Library on my Time Walk turn, I could neither use it nor did I draw additional mana for many turns.  This gave him plenty of time to evade my weak defense and combo out, which he did in relatively short order (see last chapter to understand how his combo works)

Game 3 was long and complex.  Remarkably, he managed to assemble the key combo, of Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact, but he lacked a victory condition despite having infinite mana.  I resolved a pair of Icy Manipulator, and used Relic Barriers and Icy to keep him off of red mana, in the hopes that he wouldn’t be able to use a Fireball he might draw.

The crucial turn arrived where I had Library in play, but only four cards in hand.  I drew Braingeyser, and the remainder of my hand was Blue Elemental Blast, Mox Jet, and Tundra. I had Mana Vault in play, but in order to cast Braingeyser, I’d have to cut myself off from being able to cast Blue Elemental Blast, unless I drew a Sapphire or a Lotus.  I also needed free mana to use both Icy’s on his lands so he couldn’t counterspell me, if he had one.  I decided to go for it, and try to make a big play, while giving him a tiny window.

My gambit failed. I Gysered up to a full hand, but he drew Demonic Tutor for a Volcanic Island, which he played to cast Fireball.  Had I held back, I would have been able to stop that with my Blue Elemental Blast.  But, it’s unclear what would have happened after that.  I was dissapointed with the outcome, but had to admit that Basalt Monolith is frustrating to play against for a deck with Icy’s and Relic Barriers.

Round 3: Adam Teleen with the Machine

Adam is a North Bay Old School/Vintage player that generally plays brews or eccentric strategies.  The Machine is the great Mark Chalice’s 1995 invention, and one of the first successful Reanimation strategies in Type I, employing Animate Dead and Hell’s Caretaker for iterative use on Triskelion and Tetravus.

In the first game, Adam was totally wrecked by Winter Orb.  I quickly assembled the combo, and drew the noose tight.  Icy and Relic Barrier kept all of his mana tapped down for the rest of the game.

The second game was entirely defined by a quick Triskelion that I could not remove, despite holding Swords to Plowshares in hand, because I failed to draw white mana.  A few turns later, I was dead.

The third game rolled out much like the first.

Record: 2-1

Round 4:  Blaine Christenson playing Dragon Stompy

Blaine is a charter member of the Bay Area Old School community, and the 2012 Vintage Championship runner-up, but a newborn and professional responsibilities has kept him busy of late.  Instead of playing the Transmute brew recounted in Chapter 5, he rolled into Berkeley with a Dragon Stompy deck, for lack of a better appellation.

In the first game, he leads with a quick strike Blood Moon on the first turn!.  Fortunately, I drew many Islands this game.  A Plains allows me to Plow his Dragon Whelp.  While I allow his Mana Flare to resolve, his threats gradually draw out my counterspells, and I am unable to assemble any meaningful lock.  Winter Orb is hopelessly outlclassed by Mana Flare and the sheer quantity of lands he produces.  When he eventually hits me with a huge Fireball, I am roasted alive.

In the second game, my turn 2 Circle of Protection: Red elicits an audible sigh, and a second one prompts a concession, despite his Blood Moons.

Game 3 was a race between his burn spells and my lock.  I finally manage to not only assemble the Winter Orb and Icy Manipulator combo, but also keep him completely tapped down every turn.  This long game featured him throwing all of his instant speed burn at my head every upkeep, giving him just one chance per turn to do something.  And I although he got me down to 4 life, a persistent attack with Mishra’s Factory every turn eventually produced a win.

Record: 3-1

Round 5:  Heiner Litz w/ Blue Prison

Heiner is also one of the charter members of the Bay Area’s Old School community, helping organize our first meet-up and events, along with Blaine and myself.  And in addition to being the winner of the inaugural Eternal Central Old School tournament at Eternal Weekend, he has also written some interesting articles about the format I recommend to you.

Generally favoring The Deck in our local events, Heiner rolled into the tournament with a brew that was remarkably similar to what I had brought:

At the beginning of this article, I outlined the fundamental prison synergies in the format, including Stasis and Kismet, Winter Orb and Icy Manipulator/Relic Barrier, and supporting cast members.  Heiner’s deck features these and many more.  It features Mana Vortex and Land Equilibrium, two additional prison tactics that he wrote about in his article on Eternal Central.

 

 

The Dark Mana Vortex and Legends Land Equilibrium

 

Mana Vortex and Land Equilibrium are another deadly combo. The Vortex gobbles up all the mana in play, while Land Equilibrium prevents opponents from playing more. With a Mox and a Black Vise, this approximates a hard lock.

You will see, very shortly, how these threats perform in action.

Game 1:

While Old School Magic can be thrilling, and brings a unique level of excitement from nostalgic cards and swingy games while not quite as extreme as found in modern Vintage, it rarely creates the kind of complex board positions that can be found in modern Eternal formats.  This game proved to be an exception.  This game became so intricate and complicated that both of us became lost in the maze a bit.  In fact, despite years of experience with complex combos in Vintage, this might have been the most complicated game of Magic I’ve ever played, involving dueling lock parts, and myriad options with my Relic Barriers and Icy’s. We were both flummoxed at certain points in this game.

Having won the roll, I opened with a Tundra.  In a stunning move, however, Heiner played Strip Mine, Black Lotus, Mox Ruby, and Land Equilibrium.

Although a seemingly simple play, the significance of this opening is easier to miss if you aren’t familiar with the tactic. This opening means that Heiner can essentially prevent me from ever putting a land into play.  In other words, it’s very close to a hard lock. If I can’t remove it, I will lose the game.  All he has to do is play Black Vises, and I’ll die. A first turn Land Equilibrium, backed up with Strip Mine no less, is a god draw for him.   All he has to do is never play a land.

Incredibly, I drew Black Lotus.  I played Lotus, and cast Disenchant on his Land Equilbrium, and dropped Winter Orb with the remaining mana.  The game’s afoot.  I stumbled, however, by playing a 2nd Winter Orb, which prevented me from making Orb fully assymetric.  I recovered, however, by Transmuting it away for a Relic Barrier.

To illustrate how complicated this game became, at one point, he had a Howling Mine, Relic Barrier, Copy Artifact on Relic Barrier, Icy Manipulator, and a Triskelion in play.  And I had 1 Winter Orb, 3 Relic Barrier, 2 Icy Manipulator, and Ivory Tower in play, along with a Power Sink, Counterspell, Recall, and other cards in hand.

Little wonder that neither he nor I had a clear vision for how to play this.  As this game unfolded, we both figured that the key was to Relic Barrier the other person’s Relic Barriers on their turn.  It became stunningly clear to both of us that my deck had one key advantage: 4 Relic Barrier.  Although, that advantage was partially offset by his 4 Copy Artifact.

Heiner made a miscue, but I mistepped as well, so he was able to recover.  I was slowly gaining life with Ivory Tower, but I made a fatal mistake when I played a City of Brass, the only one in my deck.  I allowed myself to fall below Ivory Tower range, and he starting tapping my City to inflict one damage a turn, after getting me to 2 by pinging me with his (perpetually tapped) Trike.  I simply did not see that coming.  I could have easily won this game by simply not playing the City, as I had the long term advantage.  But, this game was too complicated – the interactions too unfamiliar – for either us of to enjoy a flawless victory.

We started the second game with under 18 minutes left in the round.  My opening hand had 3 lands and two Relic Barriers, so I quickly started to dominate.  I also had active Library.  I assume a complete command over the game, and end up with 3 Icy’s, 3 Relics, and a Winter Orb, but can’t find a win condition.  By the time a Factory surfaces, I only have 2 minutes left in the round.  I get him to 8 life, but run out of time.

Final Record: 3-2 (5th place), feeling  I definitely should have beat Heiner.  But what an insane tournament!

 

Final standings and all of the decklists were helpfully collected and posted by Blaine shortly after the tournament.

Upon reflection, some of Heiner’s deck choices intrigued me, and led me to conclude not only that I should have had Tabernacle somewhere, but also that I probably need a Trike as a Transmute target for a faster win condition.  Too many of my games were going to time.  Heiner’s deck is also an illustrative foil, as it provides another example of Winter Orb prison in Old School Magic.

But there is a much wider range of Prison possibilities.  My friend Kevin Cron sprung another devious approach upon the Eternal Weekend 2016 field.  Untested but ingeniously devised, Kevin designed a Winter Orb strategy that has many familiar, but also unfamiliar elements. This approach illustrates the divergent directions that prison strategies might take in Old School:

 

http://www.eternalcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/KevinCronDeck2016.jpg

Kevin’s deck contains the core synergy of Winter Orb, Icy Manipulator, and Relic Barrier. Tabernacle, as we’ve seen, works wonders with Winter Orb. But on top of that, Kevin has the additional combos of Living Plane and Drop of Honey. Living Plane turns all of the lands in play into creatures, and Tabernacle and Drop of Honey eventually wipe the board in esssentially the same manner as Mana Vortex and Land Equilibrium.

In the meantime, I have tuned and tweaked my deck a bit, and played it in some monthly meet-ups, and will share a few changes.  First of all, I’ve concluded that the deck should have 2-3 Tabernacles between the maindeck and sideboard.  Second, the Trike has proved to be very effective maindeck.  I’ve also now switched to Fellwar Stones.  While it does increase the mana density a bit, the additional acceleration is worth it, and Fellwar Stones make excellent sacrifices to Transmute (almost as effective as Mana Vault, in fact!).  Here is my latest list:

 

Old School

Blue Prison

By Stephen Menendian, 2017


 

Creatures and Spells:

4 Winter Orb

4 Relic Barrier

3 Icy Manipulator

3 Transmute Artifact

1 Mana Drain

3 Counterspell

4 Power Sink

2 Swords to Plowshares

2 Disenchant

1 Chaos Orb

1 Triskelion

1 Maze of Ith

1 Recall

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Braingeyser

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Sol Ring

4 Fellwar Stone

1 Black Lotus

Mana Sources:

4 Tundra

5 Island

2 Plains

3 Mishra’s Factory

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale

Sideboard:

1 Meekstone

1 City in a Bottle

1 Mirror Universe

2 Circle of Protection: Red

1 Balance

1 Swords to Plowshares

3 Blue Elemental Blast

1 Plains

2 Dust to Dust

2 The Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale

 

After extensive testing, I’ve found this deck to be extremely effective against a range of Old School strategies.  However, it does suffer some weakness to The Deck.  The main reason is that modern versions of The Deck not only employ full Moxen, and but quite often 3-4 Fellwar Stone, making Winter Orb frustratingly less effective.  Aside from The Deck, I’ve found this to be very effective at a host of other strategies, from weenie to mid-range aggro to odd control and combo decks.

I will continue to tweak and experiment with this strategy, as it’s one I enjoy greatly.  But I also hope to learn from you, and see what you can do with a deck that Mark Justice and Chip Hogan proved can win in Type I so many years ago.

Conclusion

Prison is a pedigreed strategy in Old School. Having won the inaugural Magic World Championship, it was also one of the best performing strategies in historical Type I. Curiously, prison strategies are neither as popular nor as visible in Old School 93/94 as they were back in the day. Although hamstrung by the dysfunction of Winter Orb until it was corrected last year (see last chapter for the details), Prison remains woefully underplayed.  Prison’s relative absence from the top tables of Old School tournaments is not for want of power nor lack of options.

Prison pilots have a wide range of strategic choices in Old School. They can play Sean O’Brien’s Nether Void deck.  They can use Winter Orb in combination with Icy Manipulator and Relic Barrier.  They can use Stasis with Kismet and/or Time Elemental. Or they can use more obscure but often potent combinations like Mana Vortex and Land Equilibrium. As Zak Dolan and Heiner Litz’s decks illustrate, these combos can be packaged together. Kevin Cron’s deck perhaps even better illustrates the obscure possibilities for Prison in Old School, employing Living Plane with Tabernacle and Drop of Honey in much the same manner as Heiner does with Mana Vortex and Land Equilibrium.  If you enjoy locking your opponent out of the game, Old School offers a feast of options.

Thanks to everyone for following, sharing, and supporting this series.  Although this is the final planned article in this series, it is hardly the end of my engagement or interest in Old School formats.  But my goal, of providing a guide to Old School Magic, has been accomplished.

I hope that this series stands as an invaluable archive for Old School players for many years to come.  A series index has been provided at the top of every chapter, so that you may navigate anywhere in the series from any chapter.  Please bookmark any chapter in this series for future reference, and be sure to provide feedback in the comments.

VintageMagic.com is committed to more Old School content, so please let us know what you would like to see!

Stephen Menendian

@SMenendian on Twitter

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