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Old School Magic: Chapter 10 — Rules of the Road

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 11: The Untold History of Combo in Old School

Chapter 12: Building a Stronger Prison


Welcome back, dear readers and friends, to the tenth installment of my series exploring the landscape, nooks and corners of Old School Magic.  In the very first article of this series, I introduced the concept of Old School Magic and sketched for you examples of this nostalgic set of formats, but took great care to emphasize that Old School is an experience that should be tailored to your interests and community.  Therefore, I concluded my introductory article with three fundamental questions that every community of Old School interest must answer before settling on a particular format.

The first question, which sets should be permitted, was investigated in Chapter 4, which canvassed all of the factors, pro and con, you might weigh as you consider your options.  Chapter 6 explored the second question, of which Banned and Restricted List configuration to apply, carefully weighing the merits of any particular restriction or banning in light of the goals you may have for your environment.

This chapter addresses the most difficult question to grapple with, let alone resolve: precisely which set of rules should be adopted for your local group or community.  This may seem like a silly question in some sense – after all, Magic already has a well-developed set of rules, and the settled rules of the game have been constructed upon decades of experience and wisdom.  Old School communities are on safe ground unreflectively adopting the contemporary rules of the game.  Players are likely most familiar with these rules, and judges can readily adjudicate and fairly resolve any dispute with a well developed body of guidance and available resources based upon these rules.

Although the path of least resistance for any Old School magic environment is to simply use modern rules, doing so is not necessarily the best decision for restoring the feel of the formats and eras you wish to experience. For this reason, many of the Old School Magic communities carve out and restore elements of older rules frameworks to achieve that Old School aesthetic or preserve card functionalities only available under older or antiquated rules.

For this reason, you will quickly discover an impulse among Old School Magic communities to deviate from the contemporary Magic rulebook in various ways. Although not quite a “rules” departure, the ubiquity of Chaos Orb in Old School Magic communities that permit Alpha/Beta/Unlimited (ABU) is a preliminary step in that direction.  That’s because permitting dexterity cards is more than simply a deviation from contemporary Banned and Restricted Lists (since dexterity cards have been uniformly banned for more than two decades).  Use of these cards requires a set of clarified errata and rulings to resolve the countless issues that arise with their use.


Signed Alpha Chaos Orb


Practical questions of timing and operations are foremost when using dexterity cards (e.g.  Are players permitted to move around permanents with Chaos Orb in play? On the stack? If not, when must they stop?). But numerous mechanical questions also arise, such as “if Chaos Orb touches an outer card sleeve, but does not appear to touch the sleeve covering a card’s surface area, is the card destroyed?”, ” Can players blow or disturb the air to disrupt a Chaos Orb flip?”

Errata or rules clarifications for Chaos Orb raise more questions than answers.  Perhaps the questions that most directly implicate the rules of the game, and not simply card errata or floor rules, are strange but rare interactions with other cards.  For example, “How do you resolve a Forked Falling Star? Observe the current Oracle errata on Chaos Orb, which is humorously informal, to get a sense of the issues associated with dexterity cards.

Or, if you need a more vivid demonstration of the problems that arise from this class of cards, what kind of token is permitted for use if Dance of Many is copying Chaos Orb with Animate Artifact enchanting it or a Xenic Poltergeist activated on it? Neither the rules of Magic nor the tournament floor rules seem to fully resolve the practical issues that dexterity cards pose.

The logistical issues that invariably arise and have led to the banning of dexterity cards are also serious concerns for Old School communities.  This has led most Old School groups to gently errata Chaos Orb in one way or another. In fact, the current Magic rules manager, Matt Tabak, has warned off players from relying on the Oracle errata and rulings for dexterity cards.  As such, various communities have developed their own guidelines, and even departed entirely, in small and large ways, from the official errata on Chaos Orb. For example, it’s common practice now that Chaos Orb targets, to avoid the logistical and space issues that used to plague Chaos Orb back in the day.

The Swedish 93/94 group innovated this erratum, but sought to retain as much of the original text as possible, including that Chaos Orb must only “touch” another permanent to destroy it:

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

Although various US Old School communities initially adopted this errata, experience demonstrated that only requiring Chaos Orb to “touch” it’s target is the source of many irresolvable disputes.  For example, Chaos Orb often touches – or nearly touches – it’s target and then bounces away.  Although I’ve been told that the Swedish crew actually requires Chaos Orb to land on it’s target to achieve it’s objective (or, technically, “touch when it stops moving”), US Old School communities have generally modified the errata to make it official.  As a consequence, most Old School communities or organizers in the US now require that Chaos or “land” on it’s intended target.

As you can see, Chaos Orb implicates many different aspects of the rules: card errata, the floor rules, the comprehensive rules, and which sets are permitted. Yet, in most respects, Chaos Orb is not really a departure from the contemporary rules of Magic so much as it is a departure from current B&R list doctrine and contemporary errata.  Yet, the questions that arise from their use do implicate contemporary rules sets, from the comprehensive rules to DCI floor rules.

Moreover, there exist various departures from the actual rules of the contemporary game in many respects among Old School communities.  The most common, perhaps, is the use of mana burn, a long time feature of the game that had only been removed in more recent years.  Reintroducing mana burn, a development led by the Eternal Central group, is more than simply errata on the use of a card or set of cards; it fundamentally changes the value, utility and interaction of various cards and mechanics.  Shattering a Su-Chi might be a game winning play in an environment with mana burn, but is otherwise just an irritant under contemporary rules.

Antiquities Su-chi signed by Christopher Rush

The impulse among various Old School player groups to carve out exceptions, tweak or otherwise abandon various contemporary rules or reincorporate abandoned rules is not an eccentric grasping for nostalgia.  The rules dramatically shape the power level of the cards in Old School Magic formats, enhancing some tactics and diminishing others.  As discussed in previous articles, the power level of cards like Mirror Universe, Mishra’s Factory and Mana Drain changes dramatically depending on which set of rules you apply.  These rules play a background role, yet they have immediate practical consequences.

But more than that, although Magic players often treat modern rules as if they were engraved on stone tablets bestowed from a higher power, the truth is that the rules of Magic have undergone fairly continuous tweaking and revision since the inception of the game.  There is ample space in the Old School Magic experience to adopt, reject or modify many aspects of the contemporary rules to suit your desire for an authentic or nostalgic Old School experience.

I have heard at least a few critics of Old School Magic complain that the most popular formats are inauthentic, as they do not strictly adhere to historical Banned and Restricted Lists.  Although I disagree with that sentiment, I can at least empathize with this perspective.  As you know by now, I believe that Old School Magic is broad enough to encompass virtually any set of particular rules or B&R lists.  Yet, the question that arises in my mind in responding to such critiques is deeper: should we also adopt the rules as employed at that time?  And, if so, is there anyone knowledgeable enough to resolve disputes that might arise under them?  Some sets of rules, such as those employed under 5th Edition, are now quite arcane indeed.

I have set out for myself a herculean task for this article, but it is one that I believe readers and historians of the game will appreciate: canvassing the most notable and critical changes between editions of the game that may be relevant to Old School Magic players and communities of interest.

There is inherent danger in any effort such as this, that it might breach the scope of inquiry I’ve set out and become a comprehensive review of each version of the rules of magic.  That would be an impossible task to accomplish with any level of meaningful detail in an article such as this.  To avoid that difficulty, and the inherent complexity and indeterminacies of past rule sets, I restrict my discussion to those issues and matters that are most relevant to Old School Magic players.  I will not, for example, get into the mess that is banding. What follows, however, is more than simply a straight-line comparison of various rules regimes, but a quasi-history of the game itself, as viewed through a narrow lens of the rules.

Even if you ultimately decide that you wish to experience Old School magic cards and environments under modern rules, it is an informed choice that you should make, with an understanding of the differences between the throwback environment and the actual old school environment, rather than compelled but reluctant ignorance.  May this article enlighten and reveal.  My approach is simple, but my method is chronological rather than categorical.


            First Edition Rules (Alpha & Beta)

Alpha Starter Deck Rule Book

The first edition of the game was a stroke of genius, and in retrospect, it is remarkable how much the original game designers got “right,” as measured by how much has been retained from that original vision.  It is not simply that the overall framework of the game remains essentially intact, but that, in many respects, key decisions made with First Edition are more representative of modern magic than intervening editions.  Yet, many of the specifics elements of First Edition are archaic and vestigial, and therefore require explanation.  There were, as well, some ambiguities and indeterminacies that were not fully resolved. Unfortunately, the Alpha rulebook wasted precious space with the enchanting tale of Worzel the Wizard rather than trying to clarifying many of these issues.  The following are what I see as the critical distinctions for Old School Magic players.


Beta Sleight of Mind

            Card Type – Interrupt

The first and most obvious difference between the First Edition rules and contemporary rules is the card type “interrupt.” (Remarkably, interrupts were printed all the way up until 6th edition, in 1999 – a fact that many old school players are quick to forget). Under modern rules, every card that is an interrupt has been reclassified as an instant. (A complete list of interrupts is helpfully provided by Ben Bleiweiss here).

Interrupts were a very special class of spells that were played differently and resolved differently than instants.  Under First Edition rules, all countermagic and fast spell mana (like Dark Ritual and Sacrifice) were templated as interrupts, and many special spells, such as Fork, were also interrupts.

Like instants, interrupts are not restricted to a player’s main phase or even their own turn.  However, interrupts are “faster” than instants.  The first way in which they are faster is that a player cannot respond to an interrupt with an instant.  In a sense, interrupts are a little bit like the split second mechanic.  The difference is that, in the case of interrupts, the only thing that the opponent can do is play another interrupt.  You may also interrupt your own interrupt with an interrupt (which is how Sleight of Mind, pictured above, is often used).  But you cannot respond with an instant or an activated ability, unless it specifically says that it may be played as an interrupt (like Reflecting Mirror).

So, for example, if Alan attacks Brian with a Serendib Efreet, and Brian casts Red Elemental Blast targeting the Efreet, Alan cannot respond by casting Swords to Plowshares on his own Efreet to gain 3 life.  The same is true for activated abilities and other “fast effects.”  Alan cannot respond to Brian’s Red Elemental Blast by activating his Tawnos Coffin to “save” his Efreet from destruction.

As these examples begin to reveal, the elimination of interrupts as a card type did more than simply downgrade interrupts to instants, it fundamentally changed the power level of various cards.  Some cards were downgraded worse than others.  One card in particular that experienced a significant downgrade was Power Sink.


Beta Power Sink

Since you could only respond to interrupts with other interrupts, the number of cards that you could play in response to a Power Sink was comparably limited.  If your opponent cast Power Sink, you were prevented from using your lands to draw mana to respond with a Lightning Bolt or Disenchant. When a player resolved Power Sink under First Edition rules, the opponent’s lands were tapped and mana expunged, functioning closer to a counterspell with a built-in Mana Short.  Following the elimination of the interrupt card type, players could now respond to Power Sink with spells in response before losing all of their mana.

The other difference between interrupts and instants has to do with resolution of these spells.  Under contemporary rules, spells resolve as the stack clears, which occurs when players pass priority without taking new actions.  This is not true under First Edition rules (see Timing, below).  Instead, under First Edition rules, interrupts resolve before all other spells or effects.  Why does this matter?

This matters because under First Edition rules, activated abilities cannot be used in response to an interrupt (as noted above, with the Tawnos Coffin example), and interrupts resolve immediately, before any other spell or ability.  So if Brian casts Red Elemental Blast on Alan’s Prodigal Sorcerer, Alan cannot respond by tapping it to deal one point of damage to Brian’s Savannah Lions.  The Red Elemental Blast must resolve before any other non-interrupt effects can be used. Interrupts are much more powerful than Instants, and their elimination as a class of cards reduces the power level of cards designed as interrupts.

But it is not simply that some cards got better and some cards got worse.  Some particular interactions were fundamentally changed.  For example, under post-Sixth Edition rules, Dark Ritual (and a few other cards that could produce mana, such as Sacrifice) were turned from Interrupts into Instants. Under earlier rules editions, a Nether Void would not impose a three mana additional cost on Dark Ritual, because interrupts were “faster” than the Nether Void trigger (at least, after February 1996, as D’Angelo attributes this rules clarification to the Duelist #9).  This meant that both Nether Void players, and Nether Void opponents, could use Dark Ritual to evade Nether Void.

If you were interested in restoring some old school cards back to their original interrupt speed, you would have to make some decisions regarding the issues I just described.  First and foremost, you would need to be clear on how to handle timing rules in relation to interrupts.  That is, you would need to be clear on which set of timing rules (First Edition, Third Edition, Fifth Edition, etc.) you would be adopting with it.  The easiest solution is simply to use the Stack (6th edition), rather than pre-modern timing rules, but deal with interrupts in a similar manner to Split Second cards, except that you can respond to interrupts with other interrupts.  To be candid, this sounds like fun to me.

Second, you would also need to be clear on whether you would permit triggered abilities to stack in response to interrupts (like Nether Void) or not. Split Second does not prevent triggers from going on the stack, like a Nether Void or Chalice of the Void.  In both cases, they may counter the Split second spell.  However, since Interrupts always resolve first under First Edition rules, a Nether Void could not stop an interrupt.  I would permit Nether Void to counter an interrupt unless its controller paid three more mana.  Regardless of whether you prefer that outcome or not, you need to decide how to resolve this issue.


The area of the game that has probably seen the most continuous tinkering over time falls into an amorphous category I call “timing.” In essence, this is the question of how to resolve spells and effects in a game where players routinely interact, and where the order or sequence in which spells and effects resolve have important consequences, sometimes the difference between winning and losing.

Given the primitive nature of the edition, a casual observer – or even an experienced player – might suspect that the First Edition rules contain the least desirable timing rules of the many editions in Magic. Only after this review did I discover how wrong such a presumption would be.  Critical aspects of First Edition timing rules more closely resemble contemporary timing rules than many intervening editions.

In addition, First Edition timing rules are notable (and even admirable) for their (elegant) simplicity.  Under First Edition rules, spells that have been played around the same time “take effect simultaneously.”  Naturally, it’s not entirely clear what this means.  In essence, however, it means that no matter how many spells players cast, the game tries to resolve them all together.  Because this sometimes led to paradoxes and contradictions, there were two exceptions carved out to this general principle to resolve confusion.

First, as already noted, interrupts resolved before other spells.  This helped alleviate some confusion with respect to countermagic and a few other issues.  After all, it hardly makes sense that a counterspell can resolve simultaneously with a targeted spell.  Either the counterspell or the targeted spell resolves, but not both.

Secondly, the rules specified that “if timing of any two effects makes a difference, the player casting the later spell gets to choose whether it occurs before or after the conflicting spell.”  In other words, if it would be impossible to resolve both spells simultaneously, the game created a special solution: the spell played last would trump earlier spells, if it’s controller wished it so.

So, for example, if Alan casts Terror on a Savannah Lions, and Brian responds with Unsummon, it is not possible to resolve Terror and Unsummon simultaneously.  The Unsummon would put Savannah Lion’s into Brian’s hand, while Terror would put it in the graveyard.  In this example, the Lion’s would go into Brian’s hand, since Unsummon was played last (making it Brian’s choice).  This principle, of resolving the spell last played, is the origin of a principle that would become more fully formed in the Revised (Third) Edition, and bloom with the Batch and the Stack.

The notion of “resolving spells” simultaneously strikes the modern mind as rife for confusion.  But as a practical matter, the two exceptions to this rule resolve almost any dispute that is likely to arise.  The second exception, that if resolving two spells would create a paradox, you allow the card played last to resolve first, eventually swallows the rule, as we now know.

        Mana Burn

Although not specifically named as such in either the First or Revised Edition rulebook, this was a critical rule that was eventually eliminated from the game with the Magic 2010 update.  As the Alpha rulebook explained:

“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.”  

The Revised rulebook clarified this matter slightly, and explained “If for some reason there is mana left in your mana pool at the end of any phase or at the beginning or end of an attack, each remaining point of mana is converted into a point of damage to you.”

In other words, a player loses a point of life under First Edition rules or takes a point of damage under Revised Edition rules for every unused mana that has been drawn from mana sources. It may seem odd for players to generate superfluous mana, yet there are many reasons this might occur.  For example, when playing a Dark Ritual, you might generate more mana than is needed at the moment. More obviously, Su-Chi was thought to have a potential drawback, in that it’s destruction in combat or otherwise could suddenly create risk of significant damage, if the controller did not have an immediately available mana sink. In addition, bringing back mana burn restores the full utility of tactics like Power Surge, which is otherwise virtually useless.

Perhaps most importantly, Mana Drain is often a source of additional mana.  This was, in fact, the reason that Mana Drain was not regarded as strictly superior to Counterspell.  There were situations where, lacking a “sink” to dump the mana, Mana Drain could inflict great damage on its user.  I have witnessed countless games over the course of my Magic career where players have died to their own Mana Drains (myself included!).

Restoring mana burn is relatively simple in my experience, and few players are confused by the concept.  Yet, the fact that it is no longer part of the regular Magic rulebook means that questions may arise that have no official answer, such as whether such damage can be prevented or redirected, and under which conditions. There is a large enough body of precedent, however, that answers exist to almost every question that might arise regarding mana burn.  I will say more on this subject below.

         Artifact Subtypes

There are a number of different artifact subtypes today, but there were even more in the past.  In Alpha, Beta and Unlimited, there were four different kinds of artifacts:

  • Mono artifacts
  • Poly artifacts
  • Continuous artifacts
  • Artifact Creatures

Mono artifacts were artifacts that could only be used once per turn, like Icy Manipulator, Black Lotus and Chaos Orb.  These artifacts do not say it on their text, but the First Edition rules specified that they were “tapped when used.”  This is important because it means that they cannot be used when tapped.

Poly artifacts, in contrast, can be used multiple times per turn and are not tapped with each use.  Forcefield is a classic example.

Continuous artifacts are a third class of now defunct artifact types that do not have tap abilities.  Examples of this include Winter Orb, Black Vise, and Howling Mine.  It is important to note that the First Edition rules specify that these cards do not operate if they are tapped.  That means that if they are tapped by Twiddle, Icy Manipulator, or Relic Barrier, for example, then they do not generate any effect.

The key point is that there is a class of cards that include Winter Orb and Howling Mine that were intended to “turn off” when tapped.  Many Old School magic decks were constructed on this principle, and do not fully function without this rule in place.  The most famous were those that used Winter Orb and Icy Manipulator or Relic Barrier.

There was a complex set of errata history that sought to preserve this functionality for a select set of critical cards when continuous artifacts were turned into mere “artifacts.”  This was all reversed in 2009, when Wizards gave up trying to preserve original ruled functionality through rules changes.  And for several years, Winter Orb no longer “turned off” when tapped.

As a consequence, many Old School organizers issued special errata for these cards in order to preserve this original functionality.  Winter Orb and Howling Mine are tactically important cards for many 93/94 variants, and making them asymmetrical is a large part of their value.  Fortunately, recent errata to Winter Orb (thanks to a new printing) has restored its original functionality, and Howling Mine’s current errata also preserves this functionality, despite the facial text of the card.

There remain many continuous artifacts that no longer turn off when tapped that might be useful in Old School Magic.  This is most important for symmetrical artifacts that can be turned off for assymetrical effects, such as Dingus Egg (pictured above).  Because these cards no longer function as they used to, it’s unclear to me how many potential playables actually exist in the card pool.  Since Winter Orb’s original functionality has been restored with errata, I don’t believe there is a need for a special rule for continuous artifacts, but it is good to be aware of this history.

              Drawing on the Play

It may seem like a small thing, but I am required to mention it: First Edition Rules (as with Revised Edition and Fourth Edition rules) permit the player who goes first to draw on their first turn.  Note this if you wish to try First (or Revised) Edition rules.


         Revised Edition Rules (aka Third Edition)

The Unlimited (Second Edition) rulebook was identical to the Beta rulebook, which had substituted Worzel’s tale for a few more FAQ examples.  The next major revision to the rules of Magic arrived with Revised (Third Edition).

                 Dying at the End of a Phase

Few readers are probably aware of this, but the idea of dying at the end of the phase actually originates with Revised Edition, not First Edition.  Although either silent or ambiguous under the First Edition (Alpha/Beta) rules, the Revised Edition rulebook changed or clarified a critical point regarding when games are won or lost: “If your opponent’s life point total drops below 1 at the end of a phase or at the start or end of an attack, you win.”  In other words, you did not simply lose the game for having 0 life.  You could play spells, pool mana, use fast effects all with zero or even negative life. You only died at the end of a phase for having zero life.

Why does this matter?  Look no further than Mirror Universe.  With zero life, you can activate Mirror Universe in your upkeep, switch life totals, and your opponent loses at the end of the phase.  This rules element was finally changed with the Fifth Edition Rules.  But it only comes formally into existence with Revised Edition, not First Edition.



Legends Mirror Universe & Arabian Nights City of Brass: Game Winning Combo Under Revised Edition Rules

Incorporating this idea into Old School Magic rules is intriguing, and one that, like testing out interrupts, is one that seems like an approach that should be operationalizable without too many headaches. Doing so, however, not only gives large advantages to Mirror Universe, but it also makes control decks stronger, since they can go to zero life, and search for life gain like Zuran Orb or Swords to Plowshares on their own creature, before dying.  But it also just means more draws or ties.  For example, if both players are at three or less life, and simultaneously throw Lightning Bolts at each other, no one will win, while under modern rules, the player whose Bolt resolves first, and likely the player who cast Bolt last, will win.

It is also important note that phases were defined differently at this time. Combat was part of the main phase from Alpha Edition through Fourth Edition, and was not a separate phase.


One of the most significant changes with Third Edition was a revamping of the timing rules.

The first major change to the rules was to transform the second exception (the “paradox exception”) to the general rule of allowing spells to resolve “simultaneously” into the general rule.  Under Revised Edition rules, the new rule was LIFO – Last In, First Out.  So that no matter how many spells were added to the stack, spells resolved in reverse order.  This also eliminated the need for a special rule for interrupts, since it is not possible to respond to an interrupt except with other interrupts.

In addition to the lexicon of LIFO, a new set of terminology was introduced. Instants, interrupts, and activated abilities were now collectively referred to as “fast effects,” since they were spells or abilities that could be used at any phase of the game under First Edition rules.  This was modified in the Revised Edition rules.  In particular, the rules clarified that fast effects could not be played in the untap step, and further specified that they could not be used in certain parts of the combat step.

The third major relevant timing change from First Edition rules may have created more confusion than it solved, but it was the introduction of a damage resolution step grafted into the combat sequence and tacked onto the end of all “stacks,” so to speak.  This was a step that specifically addressed and dealt with things like damage prevention and regeneration.  Damage prevention and regeneration were areas of persistent confusion in the early editions of the game.  This step was thought to clarify and reduce confusion.


                The 6/13/94 Floor Rules

Not all of the most important rules changes were made as part of comprehensive rules edition changes.  As alluded to earlier, Magic tournament floor rules also shaped the experience of the game.  The Official Tournament rules announced in the Duelist Magazine #2 introduced two tremendously important concepts.


            The No Land/All Land Mulligan

Mulligan rules are one of the most important innovations after the creation of the game.  Yet, it is an area where the game has experienced gradual, but significant, change and improvement.  Rule # 7 of this particular floor rules announcement explained that if a player draws “a) no land or b) all land cards on the initial draw” the player could reshuffle his or her library and draw a new hand of seven.  Many players remember this rule well, and also how limiting it was as well.  A player could not mulligan, for example, out of a 1-land hand in a Strip Mine environment.

On the other hand, players probably forget the caveats to this rule. Not only were players only permitted to use such a mulligan “once per duel,” but that if a player mulliganed, the opponent also has the option to mulligan as well.

The No/All Land Mulligan rule has advantages and disadvantages over contemporary mulligan options.  In the advantage column, it directly addresses the main reason that players mulligan – a severe imbalance of mana – and gives that player a hand at full strength.  On the other hand, it also creates some problems.  In the disadvantage column, it requires the player to reveal their hand, and thereby reveal their strategy that game, including possible sideboard cards.  Perhaps more problematically, having a single land precludes a mulligan, even if that land does not produce mana.  This means that if a player has Maze of Ith as their only land, they can’t invoke this rule to try to find mana.


          Retrieving Cards Outside of the Game


Arabian Nights Ring of Maruf

Ring of Ma’Ruf is the first card that can retrieve cards from “outside of the game.”  Of course, this is an inherently ambiguous phrase. In the context of tournament play, it requires clarification.  Rule #6 clarified that Ring of Ma’Ruf could retrieve any card from your sideboard during a tournament match.  Importantly, other rulings had also clarified that Ring of Ma’ruf could retrieve any card that had been “removed from game” by cards such as Swords to Plowshares, Erase, Eater of the Dead and even Safe Haven, according to D’Angelo, who, for a long time, managed and curated all of DCI errata.

                  Fourth Edition

The Fourth Edition of the rules of Magic was by far the more comprehensive and detailed presented thus far.  Many changes were made, large and small, although most attempted to clarify or add precision to rules already laid down. For example, Fourth Edition introduced the term “active player” to indicate whose turn it is, and further noted that “if both players want to do something at the same time, the player whose turn it is gets to go first.” This added another wrinkle to the “paradox” exception, which became the LIFO rule: if both players want to play spells or use effects, the active player – the player whose turn it is – gets to do so first.  I suppose it is possible that this rule could produce different outcomes than simply following First or Revised Edition rules.

          The Batch & Damage Resolution

At first glance, Fourth Edition appears to preserve the basic concept of LIFO introduced in Revised Edition, which itself was the ‘paradox’ exception under First Edition rules, except that the latter spell’s controller no longer has a choice.  The main difference appears to be that this rule is now referred to as a “batch,” as in a batch of spells.  This is the first time that the term “batch” is introduced, a critical evolution in nomenclature.

However, Fourth Edition rules actually carved an exception to the LIFO rule from Revised Edition.  As the rules put it, “The single exception to the LIFO rule for non-interrupt fast effects is effects that deal damage; damage is always resolved last.”  This is stunning development. Let me illustrate how this might work with an example from the Duelist FAQ insert:

If I cast Lightning Bolt (an instant) on your Scryb Sprites (1/1), the Sprites will take 3 damage.  If you respond by casting Giant Growth on the Sprites (+3/+3 until end of turn), the Giant Growth resolves first, then the Sprites takes 3 damage from the Lightning Bolt, so the creature survives and is equivalent to a 4/4 creature with 3 damage until end of turn.  If the Giant Growth were cast first, then the Lightning Bolt, the overall effect would be the same.  Because the damage from the Lightning Bolt is delayed until the end of the batch, the Scryb Sprites will get the +3/+3 before the damage is applied, and the Sprites therefore will survive the damage.”

As I said: this is a stunning development.  At this time, I have no firm evidence for the reasoning behind this timing change, but I suspect it was driven by a policy desire to try to create a consistent result regardless of who played the spell first in cases in which creatures are potentially being killed.  But, as you will note, this not only contradicts how this example would resolve under First or Revised Edition rules, but also modern or contemporary rules sets.  If the Lightning Bolt is placed on the stack after Giant Growth, the Bolt will resolve first, killing the Sprites.

As a result of this change, the damage prevention step introduced under Revised Edition rules acquires much more significance.  As a special timing article written by Tom Wylie as a supplement to the Fourth Edition rules explains: “Damage prevention effects can’t be used effectively during the normal batch sequence, since at the time the effect would resolve, there wouldn’t be any damage being dealt or any creatures being sent to the graveyard.”  In other words, by holding damage until the end of the batch, damage prevention also needs to be held off as well.  A special “hybrid” step (to use Tom Wylie’s phrase) is created to handle this mess.

The gist of this is that a new step of the game is created at certain points in the game, generally whenever a creature or a player would take damage, a permanent would be destroyed or buried, or at the end of combat.  In essence, players must now wait until the end of batches in order to prevent or redirect damage or regenerate creatures.   This step does more than simply hold spells or effects until this special time to take effect – it actually prevents some cards, like Eye For an Eye, from being played at any other time than a damage prevention step.

To see how this works, here is an example from Tom Wylie’s article:

Example: Carrington shoots Hannah with a Lightning Bolt; it is now her chance to respond. Powering up her Circle of Protection: Red now would be pointless and, in fact, impossible, since the Bolt hasn’t done anything yet. There are no responses to the Bolt, so the batch starts resolving. The Bolt resolves first, but the damage is not dealt until later, so the Circle still can’t be used. Only when the batch is finished resolving is the damage actually dealt. This is when the damage can be prevented, but since effects cannot normally be played during or at the end of the resolution of a batch, a damage prevention step is generated. It is during this step that (finally!) Hannah can use the Circle to stop the damage.

If you want to play under Fourth Edition rules, I recommend boning up on the damage prevention step.


                 Fifth Edition

                Drawing on the Play

Organized play had been testing an optional rule that whichever player takes the first turn of the game skips their draw phase for that turn.  With Fifth Edition rules, that rule was now codified as part of the standard rules for Magic.  Ironically, this may be the most enduring and important change instituted by Fifth Edition rules.

                Mana Burn, Revisited

Fifth Edition instituted a change to mana burn.  Recall that under First Edition rules, unused mana resulted in a loss of life.  Under Revised Edition, this was converted to damage instead.  With Fifth Edition, mana burn was reverted back to loss of life so that it could not be prevented or redirected.  For communities of Old School interest that wish to reincorporate mana burn, they must make a decision as to whether mana burn is loss of life or damage.  First and Fifth Edition rules are consistent on this point, but Revised and Fourth Edition are the exception.

               Mana Sources

The pattern of development thus far had been the removal of card types (and, what we might call subtypes).  Fifth Edition introduced a new card type, but it was one that was not simply a new category, but a re-categorization of old cards.  This card type was “Mana Source,” and its existence has proven to be a source of confusion ever since (No, Mystical Tutor cannot tutor up a land, as a feature match player asked at the 2016 Vintage Championship).  What were mana sources?  In essence, any card or ability that generated mana directly, like Dark Ritual (and Culling the Weak, the only other “mana source.”)  Activated abilities, like Llanowar Elves or Mox Pearl were also considered mana sources under 5th Edition rules.  The critical point about mana sources is that mana sources were used at interrupt speed, which made since since both cards re-templated as mana sources were formerly interrupts.

Mirage Dark Ritual

          Interrupt Clarification

Red/Blue Elemental Blast and Pyro/Hydroblast create one oddity if playing them as interrupts.  Because you can only respond to interrupts with other interrupts, it creates a weird situation where if you target a permanent for destruction, such as a Prodigal Sorcerer, with a Red Elemental Blast, the controller of Prodigal Sorcerer cannot use it in response.  The Fifth Edition rules clarify that if interrupts are used to target a permanent instead of a spell being cast, then they are to be considered instant speed spells.  This is a sign of things to come.


Instead of clarifying matters, the introduction of the batch and the revised damage prevention step under Fourth Edition rules may have inadvertently complicated matters. Fifth edition was an attempt to clarify, but may have actually made things even worse. The batch, which was a metaphorical concept for organizing spells, was originally coined under Fourth Edition after Revised’s “LIFO” rule.  Fifth Edition complicated this concept by essentially asserting that different spell types should be organized into separate batches.

Another change from Fourth Edition rules was that damage occurred wherever it was placed on the batch, as in earlier rules editions, and was not held until the end of the batch. Therefore, the idea that damage is held until the end of a batch or stack is an anomalous to Fourth Edition only. As a result of this change, damage prevention steps were no longer held off until the end of the batch, either.

What was new under Fifth Edition rules, however, is that once a batch begins to resolve, players cannot add new spells or effects to the batch.  This makes the batch, once fully formed, a closed circuit.   This means, for example, you could not resolve a draw spell mid-batch that surfaces a counterspell, and then use that counterspell to target a spell that was played earlier in the batch.


                 The Paris Mulligan

Although not technically part of the Fifth Edition rules (so far as I am aware), a change to the floor rules was announced around the same time as the release of Fifth Edition.   Because it was implemented with Pro Tour: Paris in 1997, it has become known as the “Paris mulligan.”

This mulligan rule permits players to mulligan for any reason whatsoever, except draw one fewer card.  Note that if you do mulligan, you do not get to “Scrye” a card at the top of your library.  That option only comes with Pro Tour Magic Origins in 2015.

Sixth Edition (aka Classic Edition)

Sixth Edition is rightfully regarded as the most sweeping and successful attempt to completely clarify and redesign the rules of Magic.  Much of how we play the game today is owed to Sixth Edition.  To understand Sixth Edition in relation to the rules paradigms described thus far, we need to begin by describing what was removed…

           Something Lost (Interrupts, Mana Sources)…

Interrupts and Mana Sources were completely expunged from the rules of the game.  All interrupts became instants, which represents a significant downgrading of power, as noted earlier.  Dark Ritual, which had been both an interrupt and a mana source, was converted into an Instant.

            Something Gained (The Stack)…

The batch was completely eliminated as well, but it was replaced with “The Stack.”  The Stack took the LIFO rule, and applied it uniformly and consistently too everything: spells of every type, activated abilities, and triggered abilities.  Now, all spells and abilities resolved in reverse order.  Unlike under Fifth Edition, however, new spells or abilities could be added to the stack as the stack resolved.

The creation of The Stack single-handedly simplified much of the confusion created under Fourth and Fifth Edition rules with the batch.  The creation of the stack also allowed the removal of the damage prevention step, which was created to help resolve confusion under Revised Edition rules and updated to deal with the fact that damage was held to the end of the batch under Fourth Edition rules.

          Life and Death

One of the major changes under Sixth Edition Rules was a change to the timing of when you lose the game.  Recall that Revised Edition clarified an ambiguity, that players die at the end of phases. With the advent of the Stack, an alternative was created.  Now, players die if they are at zero or negative life at the end of the stack.

        Tapping Continuous Artifacts

Alpha Dingus Egg

Recall that continuous artifacts were a discontinued card type formed under the First Edition rule structure.  Recall further that continuous artifacts “turned off” if tapped, and that this was the rule under intervening rules editions as well, even after the card type was phased out.  Under Sixth Edition rules, the idea that an artifact with a continuous effect turned off or no longer generated that effect when tapped was eliminated in a belief that it simplified the rules.

While probably making the game more intuitive, it did raise the problem of what to do about cards like Howling Mine or Winter Orb, cards that were templated without reminder text that they turned off when tapped, because they were understood to do so under the rules.   That wasn’t a problem for Howling Mine, as it was reprinted in Sixth Edition with a new clause.  But Winter Orb was issued special errata.  Eventually, that special errata to preserved original ruled functionality was removed.  As noted above, a more recent printing of Winter Orb has reversed this earlier problem, and Winter Orb now functions as it did in the early years of the game.

Nonetheless, as noted before, the issue of whether there may be continuous artifacts out there impacted by Sixth Edition rules is one that you will have to learn for yourself, as it may create problems for other artifacts with continuous effects.  Applying earlier rules editions may fix this issue.


The Sixth Edition rules clarified that combat was now its own phase rather than a step within the main phase, and that there were now two main phases.  There were other changes as well.  Here is the Fifth Edition phase structure:

  1. Untap Phase
  2. Upkeep Phase
  3. Draw Phase
  4. Main Phase
    1. First main phase
    2. Combat
    3. Second main phase
  5. Discard Phase
  6. Cleanup Phase

Here is the Sixth Edition phase structure:

  1. Beginning Phase
    1. Untap Step
    2. Upkeep Step
    3. Draw Step
  2. Main Phase
  3. Combat Phase
  4. Second Main Phase
  5. End Phase
    1. End of Turn Step
    2. Cleanup Step

This change to the phase structure of the game under Sixth Edition rules probably only matters if your Old School community wants to play under the pre-Sixth Edition life and death rule, but otherwise use a modern rules framework.

                Stacking Combat Damage

There is one specific item innovated under Sixth Edition rules that has not survived the test of time, but it is a very popular rules feature, and I can easily imagine players re-enacting Old School environments from the early 2000s wishing to reincorporate it: stacking combat damage.  By having creature combat stack rather than automatically occur, it allows creatures dealing damage to also activate abilities.  A very detailed comparison of how combat damage and the combat step/phase worked pre-6E and post is provided here.

The most famous example of damage on the stack may be Mogg Fanatic, who can attack or block and still sacrifice itself once it’s combat damage has been placed on the stack.  But it is also true of cards like Morphling, whose full value depended on the capacity to stack damage, and then boost its toughness to survive an attack.


Urza’s Saga Morphling AKA “Superman”


You could pump Morphling within combat to 5/1, and then with damage on the stack, pump Morpling to 0/6, so that it was effectively a 5/6 (and often with shroud and flying).  Morphling was such a pivotal creature of its era that players seeking to experience Type I circa 2002 will likely want to play with combat damage on the stack.

One related note is that Sixth Edition rules now permitted tapped creatures to deal damage.  Otherwise, players wouldn’t be able to fully take advantage of the damage on the stack rule.  This does, however, contain a serious drawback for Old School players: it makes Mishra’s Factory far more powerful than before.  Now, Factory can block a target, then tap and pump itself and deal 3 damage.  For people in Old School communities unhappy with Factory’s prevalence, you may consider reversing this rule.


                Magic 2010

Fast forward a decade.  Although there were many elements of tinkering with the game, especially with things like the card type and creature classification systems, between Sixth Edition and Magic 2010 there were no fundamental, earth-shaking rules changes. In 2009, the rules for Magic 2010 were announced with shock and awe.  The key changes were helpfully summarized by Aaron Forsythe here, but I will cover them anyway.

                Combat Damage On the Stack – No Longer

Perhaps the most controversial change, Magic 2010 reversed what many in Wizards felt was a counter-intuitive rule. This was, of course, a reversion to the pre-Sixth Edition paradigm.  A revised and clarified description of combat was provided, but the essence is that once blockers are declared, and both players pass priority, combat damage is dealt in a special combat damage step.  The changes to this rule necessitated additional corollary changes to lifelink and deathtouch, which are now static abilities.

                    Mana Burn Eliminated

Aaron Forsythe explained this directly: “Mana burn is eliminated as a game concept. Mana left unspent at the end of steps or phases will simply vanish, with no accompanying loss of life.”  The explanation for this is fairly simple: “Many players aren’t aware of the existence of mana burn as a game concept. Discovering it exists, especially via an opponent manipulating his own life total for gain, can be jarring. Its existence impacts game play in a negligible way, whereas its existence impacts card design space somewhat significant.” In short, Wizards felt that mana burn was an unnecessary and counter-intuitive rule, and that eliminating it prunes a complex game of one additional complexity.

The problem for Old School players is that the cards most directly affected, like Su-Chi and Mana Drain, are cards that are popular and important in Old School formats.  It’s little wonder that so many play groups prefer to retain mana burn.

                     The Exile Zone

The final shocking change was the elimination of the Removed From Game concept and the creation of the exile zone.  Because so many cards were retrievable from Removed From Game area, Wizards of the Coast gradually came to believe that this concept was a misnomer, and that there needed to be a different term to describe this space, and that it needed its own zone designation.  Thus the creation of the “Exile zone.”  All cards that remove another spell or permanent from game send them into exile.  Thus, Swords to Plowshares no longer removes a card from game, but sends it into exile.  Same with Yawgmoth’s Will.

This would all be well and good if not for one key thing: In 2002, Wizards printed a set called Judgment that had a cycle of Wishes modeled on Ring of Ma’ruf.  These wishes, like Ring of Ma’ruf, could retrieve either cards from the sideboard or cards that had been removed from game.  This was especially important in certain combo decks and control decks that used Burning Wish and Cunning Wish.  In a Psychatog deck, for example, the Tog pilot could cast Ancestral Recall, then exile Ancestral with Psychatog, only to cast Cunning Wish to retrieve it.  Similarly, cards exiled with Demonic Consultation or Yawgmoth’s Will were routinely retrieved with Burning Wish before Burning Wish was restricted in January, 2003.  In fact, an entire Doomsday combo was built around Research/Development.

Judgment’s Burning Wish

The use of Wishes in this manner was essential to their overall utility and the strategy of important historical Type I and Vintage decks. Unfortunately, since the Exile zone is no longer “outside of the game,” these cards can no longer retrieve cards that are exiled by Jester’s Cap, Swords to Plowshares, or Tormod’s Crypt.  Players wishing to restore the Wishes original functionality may have to play under a pre-Magic 2010 rules paradigm, or create an exception to it (such as allowing Wishes to retrieve cards in the exile zone).



As you may better appreciate now, the rules of the game dramatically shape the strategic possibilities and options within a format.  Old School communities need not feel compelled to unreflectively adopt modern rules frameworks.  In fact, that’s part of the fun of Old School.  Just as you get to play with old school cards in old school metagames, you can certainly experiment with old school rules concepts.  These ideas, such as interrupt, putting damage on the stack, or dying at the end of the phase are responsible in no small part for the power of cards like Power Sink,  Morphling and Mirror Universe.  Experiencing old school cards in their original milieu may require some deviation from the contemporary rules sets.  I hope this article has given you a guide map to consider your options as a well-informed traveler.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian



Chuck Cochems says:

May 26,2018

AS someone who played old school (back in revised) here' how i remember it.

1) interrupts. Red elemental blast could not only kill the Tim if played before it was tapped, it could happen first and kill the tim before the poke if it was cast AFTER. Everything else regarding them is already mentioned. Any spell that gave mana, modified a spell, or countered a spell was an interrupt. Ones that didn't were instants. Well except for fork. 🙂 Elemental Blasts were an exception, and could destroy at interrupt speed. Power Sink was very useful. "Destroying the source of an effect did not counter that effect." But interrupts were an exception because they actually happened first.
2) bolt vs giant growth/healing salve. regardless of the order, the creature would survive under older rules, because the damage death check was delayed until all spells resolved, even for creatures. the survival of your creature was always prioritized if damage was dealt. This was understood by players at the time.
3) LIFO. while it affected resolution, spells were understood to happen simultaneously, with the exception of interrupts, which happened before the spell they responded to. A number of other simple hacks, such as damage delay, and checking life total at the end of phase, were in the rules to facilitate this. The evil mirror universe trick worked. People could go negative with damage (but not loss of life as a cost, because you couldn't pay life you did not have) and come back with card drawing and further casting. Or deck the other player before end of phase. You could channel to zero and fireball, but that would be a draw, because death from damage was delayed until end of phase. Eye for an Eye had to get special errata to work as intended to make sure it didn't let you win by resolving first.
4) trample. While people could gang up to block and kill a trampler, the trampler would assign damage to the weakest link, to squeeze more damage through. And trample damage was ALWAYS assigned last. This mattered when attacking in a band. If a creature with banding attacked along with a trampler, first all the other creatures damage would get assigned, THEN the trample damage would get assigned after, so more trample got through. But a single creature with protection could stop an entire trampler, because it's damage would be reduced to zero and the excess didn't go through unless the creature died. If a defender had banding, then the defenders got to assign the damage, and could either choose to assign as much as possible to their creatures or let more through. Under current rules protection does not stop trample, but all the creatures have to have enough damage assigned to get more through, and banding allows you to stop ANY trample from getting through, at the cost of loosing a single blocker.


Clynn says:

Dec 09,2017

Excellent article. Somone who played on the PT back then once told me tapped blocking creatures didn’t deal combat damage. Which would be very interesting because it makes Mishra’s Factory a much less effective blocker. Not being able to kill attacking Kird Apes. When blocking Savannah Lions you would need to choose between killing the lion or saving Factory etc.


Cardbreaker says:

Sep 25,2017

The rules for Trample changed at some point also.
From the Alpha rule book, on assigning damage: "A blocked attacking creature may distribute its power in damage to the blockers in whatever arrangement the attacker chooses."
and on Trample damage: "If a blocker has sufficient damage to destroy it then any trample damage done in excess of that amount is applied to the defender instead."
The way it was worded, if my trampling creature was blocked by more than one creature, I could choose to assign all damage to the one with the lowest toughness, and anything beyond what would kill that one blocker would be dealt to the defending player. This is one reason I loved Craw Giant and Varchild's War Riders – Rampage was Trample's best friend!


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DavidK says:

Apr 22,2017

Hey Stephen,

I love reading about Magic's history and the evolution of the game since Alpha came out. Very informative article, I enjoyed the read a lot. Thanks for the content, please keep up the good work.

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