The year was 2002. I was a sophomore in high school with a driver’s license, a car, and some extra spending money thanks to a part time job. My new hobby I shared with my friends was Magic. Most Saturdays my friends and I would drive out towards the lake and spend the evenings at a run down building on the side of the highway that was our local card shop.
We’d play Magic late into the evenings on old particle board folding tables while the likes of Iron Maiden and Tool blared on a stereo in the corner. After a few games and some discussion, we’d retreat to the card cases, long boxes, and five rows to rebuild sideboards.
Our meta was built mainly out of cards we liked, but of archetypes that are familiar to players now. One guy had Stasis. Another played Oath. Another had mono black control. I had multiple decks that included 10-Land Stompy, a RWG aggro deck, and (my favorite) Trix. We had a blast.
The internet was easily accessible to us, and with it websites like The Dojo, The Mana Drain (RIP), and too many Magic sites that I’ve long forgotten. While the card shop hosted Type 2 (that’s Standard for you youngsters) drafts, we typically didn’t build for that. Why spend money on packs when you could buy singles? Why buy singles for a format that’s just going to rotate? We wanted something that would last.
So we played Type 1 (which was what Vintage was called), allowing us a good assortment of restricted cards. Of course none of us had Power 9. Only a few of us had dual lands. Morphling was $20, but so was Volcanic Island. The limitation in the most powerful cards made us look beyond the tournament reports from Type 1… We turned to a format that had banned all of the power cards, but kept duals. The archetypes available to play were still highly powered and allowed us to play a good mix of old and new cards. While we didn’t build lists 1-to-1, we did lean heavily on the format that was effectively the highest profile way to play Magic.
The format was Extended. It was a format that rotated, but slowly. By the time I began playing every set prior to Tempest had rotated out and everything up to Onslaught Block was legal. But what caught our eye was the Extended of 3 years prior. 1999 was maybe the pinnacle of Magic for me. Everything from Ice Age to Mercadian Masques was legal (including dual lands). Pro Tour Chicago and Grand Prix Philadelphia among other events showcased what Magic could be. If you enjoyed Magic from that time, you certainly know about this–The finals of PT Chicago, where Brian Davis on Necro battled Bob Maher on Oath. Otherwise known as the greatest match ever played:
These players, these cards (all unsleeved!), these decks… all of them embedded themselves in my still-forming high school brain. My favorite deck was Trix. I built it after Scott McCord’s list from Philadelphia (then made it worse by porting it to Type 1). It was only when I came back to Magic around 2017 that I learned that my favorite deck was invented by two women: Danielle Drury, who thought up the idea, and Michelle Bush, who built the first lists.
I could speak volumes about Trix, but will abstain. I will provide this link to Michelle’s Dojo report on GP Philly, which is a wonderful read:
Coming back to Magic, I still had all my old cards, including my Trix deck. Getting into Old School was a great outlet for what I wanted to do. Middle School scratched closer to the itch I felt, but something still wasn’t hitting the spot. We delved into Classic (Vintage through 2003) and that was really firing me up. Then one day my buddy Stephen Bush (no relation to Michelle… that I know of) said that it would be fun to play one of the old Extended formats. We dug up Dojo and SCG articles and watched Davis vs. Maher on repeat. An idea was coalescing in my mind.
During the pandemic I started a project to make a battlebox of 7-8 decks that we could jam. The genesis of this idea began when my buddy JJ gifted me two World Championship decks from the Mirage/Tempest blocks Type 2. I whipped up a bunch of decks with my own cards (and more than a few proxies) to produce everything for that battlebox. That’s another story to tell on another blog… but if I’d done it before, I could do it again.
And I could do it better. My favorite era in Magic deserved as much.
What decks would the battlebox contain? In December, I kicked the discussion around in our Discord. Thankfully, MTG Top 8 has Extended lists from Pro Tour Chicago in 1999 and GP Philly in 2000. StarCityGames still hosts a series of articles from 2000 by Dave Meddish on “Ten Extended Decks to Beat” as well as a look back from 2005 on the Extended season of 1999-2000. This, plus The Dojo archive, provided us with plenty of ammo to start selecting. Feel free to peruse those at these links:
The Past as Prologue: https://articles.starcitygames.com/articles/the-past-as-prologue-extended-1999-2000/
Ten Extended Decks to Beat:
Here’s where we started:
5 Color Green
Mono Blue Control
Immediately, I looked at my battlebox, my Middle School box, and the Premodern/Middle School metas in general… Sligh was well represented. TOO well represented. And with the Extended 1999 season, 4th Edition had rotated out, taking Lightning Bolt with it. Would Sligh really be Sligh without Bolt? Probably, since everyone built their sideboard to fight it. But it took up too much room in the rest of the decks I built. So it was out.
Tithe Aggro similarly didn’t make the cut because my Mirage box has a white weenie deck that runs on Tithe and Empyrial Armor that I didn’t want to duplicate. 10 Land Stompy is probably more at home here in this Extended environment than it is in Premodern, Middle School, or Classic. But a fast aggro deck with few angles of attack didn’t fit the power level I was going for.
Cocoa Pebbles and Secret Force were decks that I seriously thought about including (and may well include in a future “supplemental” if I decide to do that!). Pebbles didn’t make the cut because there were already lots of Necro decks–Trix and Davis Necro being the automatic inclusions. Secret Force doesn’t meet the power level of the rest of the grouping. Wakefield was always right: it’s bad against blue (Scragnoth notwithstanding).
What was left was the 8. I got to work designing the proxies, trying my hardest to replicate the wording (and line spacing!) of the original cards using the limited tools I had at my disposal. I found a Magic symbol much like appeared on Arena promos and decided to use it for everything. I chose card arts based on my personal preference. Outside of the Maher/Davis match and a handful of others that are on Youtube, there’s no way for me to know who used what arts. So I took some liberties–I chose what I wanted to see. Lastly, the dual lands presented a problem. My card making program can’t replicate the concentric rectangles of the original duals. Using a 5th Edition style gives them that weird tan text box (which I had to live with for Mirage nonbasics). So I decided to give the dual lands the 6th Edition treatment with the horizontal color gradient and the entirety of the original dual land wording. I hope they look good to everyone else, because I love them.
Anyway, that’s the background. Here are the decks.
Tradewind Survival – William Jensen
Tradewind Rider has fast become my favorite creature. I’ve built this deck countless different ways in Premodern and Middle School and it’s never not a blast. This deck is the genesis for all those ideas. Four Brainstorm. Land Grant for mana fixing with Duals and shuffling. Tons of counters. Board interaction. Win with Squirrels. The list is just immaculate.
Well, I say that. I’ve built a separate version outside the battlebox that does make a few tweaks. I think a list like this should include Devout Witness (Masques spoiler!) and more life gain with more Spike Feeders or Radiant’s Dragoons. Still, there’s lots to love here and nothing else in the field quite does what this deck does.
The Iron Giant – Lan D Ho
I knew I wanted a Tinker deck, and I owned the very fun Finkel World Championship deck (which was Urza/Masques Standard). I dug the mana denial side of it. But Alan Comer ran a “Suicide Brown” list in Chicago that relied on 4 Phyrexian Processors backed up with countermagic.
When Stephen (friends with Lan up in the NYC Premodern scene) talked about this, Lan sent him his decklist, which Stephen shared. Lan’s list originally Brainstorm, but he swapped them for Impulses for Chicago and recently told Stephen that he “was almost certainly wrong” in doing that. I loved the list and decided to remake it–with the intended Brainstorms included. I certainly hope Lan gets a chance to relive the experience with this recreation.
Three-Deuce – Trey Van Cleave
It wouldn’t be a battlebox without some aggro. Notorious TVC’s Three Deuce list with 61 (!!) cards works just fine. Putting Rancor on a Treetop Village is just the best. This deck has everything it needs to apply pressure and interact with the board. The DNA in this deck is obvious in how people build Old School decks these days (and in these colors too!)
Again, Trey had Sanctimony in the sideboard to fight Sligh. Without Sligh in the battlebox, I chose to replace them with Choke and Compost, giving this deck more game versus the other 7.
Forbidian – Jon Finkel
This is one of my favorite control decks of all time (my favorite coming later…). Attacking to draw cards, Morphling–Superman–as a wincon, 14 main deck counterspells at minimum (buyback is real). What’s not to love?
Playing against it.
The biggest thing we noticed in this list was the 4 Flash in the sideboard. It clearly wasn’t banned since Finkel played it. So why didn’t Flash-Rector exist? The answer was that Flash worked differently back then. The card rules stated that you put the creature into play ONLY if you pay the difference in mana cost. If you didn’t the creature never came into play and goes directly to the graveyard (in Modern rules, it momentarily comes into play and is then sacrificed). So Finkel was using them to sneak in an Ophidian or Morphling while the opponent was tapped out. A very fair way to use a busted card.
I think for this environment, Flash should work like it did then. Call it power level errata if you want. The intention here is to relive the moment. Not to make something new. Middle School and Premodern rightly ban Flash. Classic allows it as a 1-of due to its power. So you can Flash in a Rector in 2003 Vintage if you like. No one should be Flashing in Rectors. That’s too busted.
CounterSlivers – Christian Luhrs
Slivers has always been my favorite tribe. Each sliver you play makes the others better. What a great concept of design. This deck is where they were at their best. Backed up by a slate of counterspells and removal, this tempo deck made Slivers a force to be reckoned with. Demonic Consultation also glues the deck together. DC is one of (if not) the best tutors ever printed. We had to restrict it in Alpha to Alliances because it made things too good and too consistent. Extended is full of examples of why it rightly deserved the bans it later received.
Michelle Bush – Trix
I spoke about Trix earlier, so I won’t repeat myself. Michelle Bush is maybe my favorite deck builder because of this pile right here. Scott McCord won 2nd in Philly with a straight UB list with Contagion in for Firestorm and Brainstorm in for Lim Dul’s Vault. But the red splash has always been my favorite. Michelle’s use of Firestorm to not only deal with tiny problems and also negate the problem of life gain really makes the deck, in my opinion. And the sideboard transforming into Phyrexian beatdown is a great angle in game 2.
Michelle’s blog did state that she originally ran 2 Badlands and more Swamps–again because Price of Progress was so prevalent in Sligh and at the events. Without Sligh in the box, I upped the Badlands count again. Sorry I took that liberty, Michelle!
My last word on Trix: I love this deck. And this was when it was at its best.
“Pitch Black” Necro – Brian Davis
The deck that should have won it all. It’s so difficult to find something new about this deck to say. It’s simply the best a Necro deck has ever been as a pure-Necro deck and not a combo deck. It wins with Drains and Corrupts. It has Disk. It pitches to 8 spells for free. This is a monster.
In Alpha to Alliances I’ve built a proto-Trix deck using Necro, Force of Will, and Mirror/Drain Life to win. That deck is a lot of fun as a combo deck. But the Necro deck I play more has its roots in Davis’s list here. Small creatures, discard, board clearing, paying 4 or 5 to refill a hand.
I didn’t change a thing with this list. There simply isn’t anything better…
Oath – Bob Maher
Back in high school a buddy of mine played an Oath deck a lot like Maher’s. It always beat me. If I was on creatures, it just dumped in a Morphling and went to town. If I was on Trix, it gained 2 life or Swords-ed a manland and I (like a dummy) didn’t play Firestorm. If I tried to grind, it out grinded me.
Bob Maher had the best control deck in history, and this was it. Replicating this in Premodern or Middle School is almost impossible. The mana is perfect. Brainstorm works so well with Oath. The tutor package is immaculate. Have you ever Abundanced three Sylvan Library draws into your hand without paying 8 life? That’s better than Ancestral Recall because you can do it again next turn.
The dream behind this battlebox was to play Maher’s Oath vs. Davis’s Necro. We all thought we could do better or do things differently. Now we get the chance.
Bootlegging is a tradition that runs deep here in the South. When the powers that be made liquor unconstitutional, hills and hollers flowed with white lightning and corn came from jars up on Rocky Top. That streak of independent “you can’t tell me what I can’t have” has persisted all the way up til now in Music City Old School. Our marquee event is Bootlegger’s Ball, of course. And we ourselves do a bit of bootlegging. Since I couldn’t partake in the 1999 Extended environment, I’d just distill some myself.
Magic is expensive. It sucks, but it’s a reality. To have what we want at the low price of not a whole lot, there are professional means of circumventing the worst parts of the Reserved List and the secondary market for cards. Utilizing those means alongside some rudimentary photoshop skills I picked up along the way, I was able to come up with a design language to fit the cards that would make up the battle box decks.
To recreate the feel of a World Championship Deck, I knew the borders had to the gold. Along with that, the decks had to have an info card with the deck list and the pilot printed on them. And it wouldn’t be a World Champs set without a custom card back. We needed a local flourish too, so an MCOS Titania watermark was added. Most of that I could do, but some artistic flourishes needed more firepower. Thanks to Tom for the card back and Josh for the Titania watermark.
Upon receiving the package of decks, I was elated. Things turned out much better than I could had ever imagined. I’m excited to play these against my friends. I’m excited to hear from others who are playing with these. I want others to go out and build their favorite decks from this era too. And maybe some day soon I can gather with MCOS and have a Top 8 playoff to relive Extended 1999.
(Brian Davis should have won that match)