Welcome to September, 2001. It’s a pivotal moment in American politics, Windows XP has been out for a month, and the first iPod will be released next month. Invasion block has just been drafted for the last time. Magic’s power level has stabilized at a healthy level after the peaks and troughs of Urza’s and Masques blocks. Dominaria has been destroyed for the second time in Magic’s history (the first occurring after the deadly bowl, the Golgothian Sylex, was activated in Antiquities) and the storyline has jumped forward one hundred years from the death of Yawgmoth, shifting to the previously unseen continent of Otaria.

gloryscale viashino

The flavor text of Gloryscale Viashino aptly describes Odyssey. The block was graveyard-themed (which only Weatherlight had dabbled in). The graveyard was exploited to a never-before-seen degree and was a necessary component of every deck. Card advantage was turned on its head with powerful discard outlets like Psychatog and the mechanics madness, flashback, and threshold. The classic creature types of Magic, from goblins to merfolk, were absent, replaced by underused or new types like dwarves and cephalids. The story was unrelated to the Weatherlight Saga which had dominated Magic’s storyline since 1997. It was new. It was chaotic. It was Odyssey block.

Odyssey is considered one of the most challenging and Spike-friendly Limited formats. It rewards players with complete awareness of not just the battlefield, but graveyards and hand sizes. If your opponent has a powerful Wild Mongrel, three cards in hand, and four cards in graveyard, then her Mystic Enforcer and Nantuko Blightcutter could be powered up at a moment’s notice.

In Odyssey’s expansions, Torment and Judgment, colors were imbalanced in both power and number. In Torment, black was king, being overrepresented in each booster and being disproportionately powerful. Blue and red were relatively unaffected but the few white and green cards in Torment boosters tended to be weak. This was reversed in Judgment when black was the least represented color while white and green cards were both numerous and powerful. This was the first and only time a Magic block had vastly unequal distributions of cards by color, a decision considered to have hurt the Limited format.

Diabolic Tutor

I was among the most experienced drafters at the table, having drafted OTJ once before. My advice to my friends was to try to be in black, since it’s insane in Torment, plays very well with its graveyard and has solid discard enablers. White and green seemed more risky choices for a primary color, since Torment might be a dead pack and everything relies on Judgment. As it turns out, white and green were so deep in pack three and so few people were apparently in either that both should be perfectly fine main colors (particularly since Odyssey is color balanced).

In Odyssey, I first picked Painbringer (who I am convinced speaks with the voice of “Macho Man” Randy Savage—”Oooh yeah! Bringin’ the pain!“), followed it up with a a Cephalid Looter, and went monoblack.

I was rewarded in Torment with a P2P2 Sengir Vampire (who was rare back then), and then picked up three Aquamoebas and two Putrid Imps as powerful discard outlets (even though I ended up with relatively few graveyard shenanigans). Aquamoeba proved insane—it was a two mana 3/1 that helped me hit threshold. Imagine playing with it back when damage stacked it was effectively a 3/3!

Judgment was bad; while I did pick up three Toxic Stench (which was usually dead as I played against lots of black decks), every pack was loaded with insane green and white cards and practically no blue or black cards (playable or otherwise).

Deckbuilding was straightforward; I was monoblack with four powerful blue cards. The only mistake was putting in Cabal Therapy (which I did consciously, since I’d never played with it before and wanted to enjoy myself as I brought the pain). The one time I drew it, it was as useless as I expected it would be. Here’s my forty:

Odyssey block draft

Creatures (15)
Putrid Imp
Boneshard Slasher
Cabal Torturer
Cephalid Looter
Infected Vermin
Childhood Horror
Carrion Wurm
Sengir Vampire
Soul Scourge

Spells (8)
Cabal Therapy
Innocent Blood
Morgue Theft
Toxic Stench
Lands (17)
11 Swamp

Sideboard (22)
Caustic Tar
Aven Fogbringer
Psychotic Haze
Mirror Wall
Thought Nibbler
Cephalid Aristocrat
Diabolic Tutor
Nomad Mythmaker
Pardic Swordsmith
Guided Strike
Teroh’s Faithful
Spirit Flare
Earsplitting Rats
Phantom Nomad
Border Patrol
Nantuko Monastery
Barbarian Ring
Phantom Flock
Flaring Pain
Telekinetic Bonds
Filthy Cur
Famished Ghoul

Yet again, my favorite match was a UB mirror against THE Kadar Brock, this time in the finals. I watched Kadar’s round two where in game two his board consisted of a Zombie Infestation, and zombie token, and no lands, with a stacked graveyard and Stitch Together in hand. In game three he made a surprise comeback from one life after his opponent flooded out before delivering the killing blow and clawed his way to victory and the finals.

Kadar’s Faceless Butcher and Mesmeric Fiend rendered my Toxic Stenches and my creatures useless. He gave me a run for my money, particularly after I mulled down to five in game two (having won the first game). His removal was better than mine, but my creatures were formidable, and my Carrion Wurm ate his graveyard, then forced chump blocks that gave me back my stolen cards. When his own Carrion Wurm hit the field to challenge mine, I’d drawn into enough fliers to close out the game. Final result: 3-0 in rounds, 6-0 in matches.

childhood horror

Odyssey block was a lot of fun to draft. It really rewarded skillful play, particularly recognizing when to ‘throw away’ cards to get in a bit of extra damage with Putrid Imp or Aquamoeba or even just to set up threshold in a few turns. It’s not my favorite Limited format (which I’ll be writing about in August), but it is one I’d like to get more practice at.

As for my readers, I’m curious: have you ever played Odyssey Limited? If so, what did you take away from the format? What are your favorite archetypes or card combinations? What lessons did you take away from Odyssey that have helped you in other formats?

Finally, I’d like to be cryptically express my excitement regarding a project of mine that I’ll hopefully be ready to share with you next week. Until then, happy drafting!

—Zachary Barash

Join the livestream!: twitch.tv/ZennithGP

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and performer, improvising entire musicals every week with his team, Petting Zoo. Zach has an obsession with Indian food bordering on the unhealthy.

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