For a while now, Twenty Sided Store has been running ALT.MTG drafts—meaning random old sets, chaos (wacky), and store cube drafts on Monday nights. And while I don’t love drafting formats that I have zero first-hand familiarity with, such as Invasion block (much as I know that format is a great one), I’m always keen to revisit old formats that I have known and loved. (And chaos draft, too, which is a new favorite of mine.)

Thus, I had been really looking forward to this past Monday’s full-block Scars of Mirrodin draft, because that was the first format I really played competitively, at GP Toronto back in the fall of 2010. So you can imagine my disappointment when, on Friday night, waking up on the couch after falling asleep watching TV with my fiance, I didn’t register that my foot or leg was asleep, and stepped off the couch to roll my foot really badly, basically putting me on the disabled list for the next few days. I didn’t leave the house once on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday—I worked from home on Monday—and didn’t think I’d be able to get out of the crib, hobbled as I was, for the ALT.MTG draft.

But my fiance convinced me it would be good for me to get out, and so on Monday night I limped in the soon-to-be-super-freezing temps in New York over to 20SS and signed up for the draft.

We got seated in an awkward 11-man pod, and got to picking cards, in the order of New Phyrexia, Mirrodin Beseiged, and then finally Scars of Mirrodin. I first-picked the always-solid Pith Driller, and end up settling into a control-y blue/black deck. Here’s the list:

Scars-dale Surprise

Creatures (12)
Myr Battlesphere
Dross Hopper
Pith Driller
Nested Ghoul
Palladium Myr
Phyrexian Rager
Spined Thopter
Trinket Mage
Bleak Coven Vampires
Plated Seastrider

Spells (11)
Virulent Wound
Trigon of Thought
Trigon of Corruption
Quicksilver Geyser
Grim Affliction
Flayer Husk
Parasitic Implant
Geth's Verdict
Lands (17)

On-color sideboard (10)
Parasitic Implant
Turn the Tide
Neurok Commando
Bonds of Quicksilver
Gitaxian Probe
Ruthless Invasion
Spine of Ish Sah
Stoic Rebuttal
Bladed Pinions
Razofield Thresher

Can you see the problem with this deck? I basically have one way to win, and it’s Myr Battlesphere. If that gets killed—well, what the hell am I doing? I really do feel like I had the controlling shell right, but my deck had three key problems: One, it didn’t really have enough synergy—it wasn’t doing a Scars of Mirrodin “thing”—two, it didn’t have enough finishers/win cons; and three, it was really weak (given that I basically had just the one win con) to artifact removal, which of course was prevalent in Scars block. I seemed to remember artifact removal going down in value with the addition of Mirrodin Beseiged and New Phyrexia, but I think I may have misremembered. And, in any case, with the addition of Glissa’s Scorn and other cards like it, the sheer amount of artifact removal went way up.

Nevertheless, I didn’t totally wash out. In round one I faced the perpetually cheerful Jason Chan:


We had three really tight and complex games wherein I had to play around Jason’s ample artifact removal, protecting my Battlesphere with my bounce spells—but in the end his impressive recursion suite, highlighted by Morbid Plunder (which is just brutal in the long game), eventually won the day. 0-1

I was a bit bummed by this loss, as I feel like with a slightly better deck (more win cons) I could have gotten there, but the games were really excellent and interesting, and really that’s all I want from a game of Magic. Winning isn’t everything, and of course you can’t win all the time; but you can hope to have fun like this *most* of the time, and that’s why we play.

Round two I faced this dastardly rake, Sean Morse:


I mean look at that mug. I managed to defeat Sean, who was on the BG infect plan, in two games. Sean had been passing to me in the draft, and in pack three he hemmed and hawed over whether to pass me the Myr Battlesphere in favor of the Skinrender, which he did in fact end up doing. I’m not sure whether or not this was the right call—Battlesphere is so strong—but it may have been, given that A) he was on Infect/smaller dudes, and B) like I said, artifact removal is plentiful in this country. 1-1

In the last round I faced Rob Kofsky, an all-around good dude and friend of Hipsters:


Rob was on blue/green with a very tight—if unexciting—deck, and he beat me down with Tangle Hulk and Thrun, the Last Troll. The former card is just a house, and Thrun is just so hard to deal with for my deck, which basically only has one answer to it: a singleton Geth’s Verdict. Rob got me in game one, while my mana flood managed to beat his mana screw in game two. But in game three Rob got there while I burned by tricks and removal, trying to build up to Myr Battlesphere and getting there a bit too late. On the last play of the game, with me at one life, I finally hit seven mana for the Battlesphere and played it out, only for Rob to hit me with two ways in which to kill me: Steel Sabotage and Vapor Snag. 1-2

Even though my record wasn’t so great, I had a hell of a time. And it’s really testament to the game of Magic that different sets can play out so differently from one another. You’d think that you ought to easily be able to switch in and out between different draft sets at will, using your standard-issue card evaluation skills—but in practice, even within (modern) Core Sets, it turns out you really can’t. The synergies at play in each set just run so deep that you really have to be in the Scars of Mirrodin (or any other set) mindset in order to succeed. And when you’ve been playing other sets, such as Theros (which plays out way, way differently), that’s just hard to do.

Still, it’s great to know that these old formats are out there, ripe for the drafting and—reissue? Sometimes I think about what will happen once Magic burns itself out, design-wise, and I find it comforting that there are almost an unlimited amount of old draft formats that we can return to, whether online or (even better) maybe in an official “greatest hits” package one of these days.

Also one morning this week I saw a dog in a backpack in front of me on the subway stairs! Man that made my day:


23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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