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By: hamtastic, Erik Friborg
Sep 21 2007 9:21am
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Note: this is a back up copy of the article.  The original got eaten while I was working on a new article.  Hopefully the final article that was up here can be restored, until then, here's a slightly rougher draft.  -Erik


Classic, a background:

For those that don’t know, Classic is MTGO’s Eternal format.  Eternal formats are formats that designed to use all card sets in the pool, minus any cards that are banned or restricted.  Restricted cards in an eternal format mean that you may only have one of them between your deck and your sideboard.  Currently there are no banned cards for MTGO’s classic pool, however there are two cards that are going to be restricted this month: Flash and Vampiric Tutor

Now, you may be thinking that there is no way this format can be healthy.  I mean seriously, how could it be with all those broken cards?  The funny thing about powerful cards is that allowing everyone to play with powerful cards, the power evens out.  Meaning that each deck is powerful, and each deck fights back with as much power as it can muster, balancing each other nicely.  To quote Cornelius Fudge from book six: “The trouble is, the other side can do magic too”.

If you're already a Classic aficionado, there won't be much revelation in this article as it's mostly aimed at those who have heard about Classic, but don't really know what it's all about.  I'd welcome any feedback that any of you fine Classic gentlemen feel like sharing. 

There are a few myths about eternal formats including Classic, namely the following:

I will tackle each one of these myths to the best of my ability.

Then I will cover some of the archtypes you can expect to see in the Classic format.

Lastly I will cover some of the staple cards of the format.  I won't be able to cover them all of course, but I will try to hit

Classic Myths

Classic, a mortgage:

Price of Glory

Expense of Classic:
I am not going to lie; there is an up-front cost to the Eternal formats that is far more than Standard, Extended or Block Constructed.  The one exception to this rule was Affinity.  That deck cost less than a Standard deck that used the Ravnica duals.  As stated though, Affinity was the exception as most decks run ‘fetchlands’ and Ravnica duals making their base price pretty hefty.  But this is where Classic starts to even out.  In each new set the number of staple or sought after cards is quite low.  For example, the best cards in Future Sight that will be really wanted will be Tarmogoyf, (Summoners Pact), Pact of Negation and possibly Street Wraith.  There are other cards that may fit certain decks and sideboards, but those will likely be the only ‘must have’ cards of the set.  This is true for most sets released.  A handful of cards will see play.  Which means that the quarterly cost of keeping current is quite a bit lower than trying to keep up with Standard and even Extended.  Over time this drops the cost for playing Classic to a lower cost than playing Standard.  You do however have to stick with it for the long haul to see that work out though.  Therefore, if you are into MTGO for the long haul, Classic may be the format to choose.  A slight monkey wrench to this plan for MTGO is Masters Edition and the other old sets that are scheduled to be released.  These sets will cause some recurring spending for a while, but these things too will balance out over time.


Classic, a twiddling

Interaction in Classic:Another frequent concern about powerful formats is that there is little to no interaction between the players.  While the games are often shorter than their Standard and Extended counterparts, there is indeed a great deal of focused interaction as well as strategic decision making going on.  Knowing which card to Duress or Counterspell, which creature to bounce or kill, which answer to tutor for at any given time is crucial to your ability to win or lose.  Instead of making the right decisions over six turns or so, you need to focus your best decisions in the first few.  That alone will often be the difference between winning and losing.  The critical turn is generally earlier, such as turn 1 or 2.  That is where the end result of the game 12 turns down the line is decided.  An improper Duress on turn one can spell the difference between winning and losing on turn twelve.

Classic, a Swedish Chef:

'Borken' cards in Classic:
The third item is the concern about decks that are ‘broken’ or overly strong.  There’s nothing wrong with having a ‘best deck’ in the format.  In fact, it tends to make meta gaming the format quite a bit easier.  Prepare your deck for best deck, and pack some good foils against your weak archtypes.  However, sometimes there are ‘best decks’ that are far and away the best deck and are even powerful enough to post a decent win percentage against decks that are expressly designed to beat it.  When that happens, Wizards of the Coast steps in and issues restrictions in the Classic format.  Right now, there’s only two cards that are prepared to be restricted, and those are Flash and Vampiric Tutor.  With those two cards in the format brought back to one in each deck, the format will likely slow down a turn or two giving other decks more time to attack or disrupt the combo players plans.  Before Flash’s effect on the format, the critical turn of most decks was turn 3 or 4.  Meaning that that is when a control player would start to take control, or when a combo deck would most likely ‘go off’, or when an aggro deck would have you in range for a minor burn spell or two to finish the deal.  I expect that that will return to being the status quo once Flash and Vamp are restricted. 

Classic, a hamburger:

Two turns and it's done?:
The last misconception is about the turn that most games end on.  Classic in general isn't meant to be over on turn 2.  This is not generally the case.  The only deck that has the consistency do achieve this is being hit with a restriction wrench (hey, bans have a 'ban hammer' and restrictions were starting to feel left out).  Most combo decks need at least three turns in Classic, and more if there's any disruption.  The restriction of Vampiric Tutor will also affect other combo decks that existed before Flash.  Right now there are a number of different type of decks that can, without disruption, kill you on turn three.  And they're not just 'combo' decks.  For example, a first turn Phyrexian Dreadnought + Stifle means that you are taking 24 damage from attacking on turns 2 and 3.  A RDW (Red Deck Wins) deck can burn you from 16 life by turn three.  16 life is the key to that deck though, due to the impact that fetchlands and Ravnica duals have on starting life totals.

•    Aggro
•    Aggro/Control
•    Control
•    Combo
Of all the aggro decks, Affinity is perhaps the most budget decks of the format, coming in at about $60 if you buy from this site using the ‘paypal’ discount.  Although it may be too easily disrupted in the new metagame with cards like (Hurkyl's Recal) and Shatterstorm, it was a contender before the Flash era, and could be again if people aren’t packing enough hate for it.  I expect this to be the deck that bobs in and out of queues and grabs wins when people stop preparing for it.  Once the hate makes it a non-issue in the format it will disappear, then the hate will change to other decks, and it will come back again.

A sample Affinity list can be found here:

A sample "Haterade" list can be found here:

Fish, CounterTog, BobTheBuilder, and other decks that plan to win through damage from an early creature backed up by counter magic and/or discard fall into the aggro/control category.  These decks were the norm before Flash monkey-stomped all aggro decks out of the format.  When aggro/control has the advantage over both Control and Combo it begins to take over the meta game.  Only extremely aggressive decks can play through it, and many of those will require disruption in some form or another to stand up to the creatures that Aggro/Control will be running.

Discussion about BobTheBuilder can be founds here. 

It’s not that control _can’t_ win, it’s just that the aggro/control decks seem to have all the necessary control elements while having a faster clock than a control deck.  Also, since there are very few straight aggro decks in the format, straight control is weaker than aggro/control.  Aggro/control blends the best of both archetypes and wound up with a strong chokehold on the format before Flash.  U/B Aggro/Control can pack as many counter spells, discard or disruption as they need all while dropping a 12/12 trampler for 1U.  Time will tell what the impacts will be post restriction, with much better tools for straight aggro decks to compete.

Currently defined as “Hulk Flash”, some previous combo decks were: Charbelcher, Sensei-Sensei, Dragon among others.  They essentially would win in one big turn.  Unfortunately for Classic, the power and utility of Leyline of the Void keeps most of the graveyard based strategies from being viable.  That leaves combos that don’t require resources going to the graveyard and sadly those just aren’t generally as powerful yet.  Especially now that Stifle is a main deck card both for stopping the ability from Protean Hulk, but also to keep their own Phyrexian Dreadnought in play on turn 2. Main deck Stifle means that splash damage to combos that rely on activated abilities from permanents like Goblin Charbelcher, or storm cards like Brain Freeze or Empty the Warrens are even more susceptible to the default aggro/control disruption package.

Classic, the Staples

Staples: Combo disruption

If you're not a control deck, there will likely be a time when you need some disruption to have a chance against certain combo decks.  Combo stoppers include Pyroblast. Duress, Chalice of the Void, Leyline of the Void, Force Spike, Mana Tithe, Counterbalance, Pithing Needle, Stifle, and Force of Will.  I once won a game against a Charbelcher Combo deck on turn 1 after I dropped a Chalice for 0 and a Chalice for 1, effectively stopping all of the mana production in his deck.  Unfortunately I was then killed by a robotic doppelganger who has now replaced me and is writing this article.  True story... well, most of it is.

Staples: Lands
Ravnica Duals

The next set of cards are ones that almost all decks in the format run.  If you're more than two colors, you're going to need the fetchlands aka the Onslaught land cycle of Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Windswept Heath, Bloodstained Mire, and Wooded Foothills.  They are surprisingly cheap right now, so I would recommend investing in them now, or at least in the colors you enjoy playing.  The Ravnica dual lands such as Overgrown Tomb et al. are the other half of that cycle. 

Exceptions to the Fetch/Ravnica Duals:
Affinity, Mono x Aggro, Mono x Control such as Mono Black Control or Mono Green Aggro.  Although mono decks will often run a few fetchlands just to thin the deck and to improve the draws in case the game goes long enough for that to matter.

Staples: Blue
Force of Will
Mana Leak
(Hurkyl’s Recal)
Threads of Disloyalty

Most of the Blue cards listed are pretty straight forward as to their necessity.  Stifle is one of the cards that may not seem like a staple until you play the format.  Stifle counts as 1 mana LD (Stifle a fetchland activation), combo disruption (shuts down a storm trigger from cards like Mind's Desire and Empty the Warrens) as well as shuts down Goblin Charbelcher, which was a decently strong deck before Hulk Flash took over the combo slice of the metagame.  It also happens to stop the trigger from said Hulk Flash decks to keep the library search from happening.  Great card if you're in Blue, which there's a good chance you will be.  Threads is included for a way to really hurt a turn 2 Stifle'd Dreadnought, as well as combating the many other low CMC threats that are being run in the format.

Staples: Red
Lightning Bolt
Grim Lavamancer

Again, no real surprises here if you're used to the format.  Pyroblast is one of the critical cards for red decks everywhere.  It's a Counter-Counter.  It's a Counterbalance counter/destroyer, if you're lucky.  Shatterstorm for the Affinity hate.  If anything can slide out of necessity in that list it will probably be Shatterstorm.  Affinity will have a hard time being a top deck with Recall and Kataki already around so I don't think that it will be played with a lot of regularity.

Staples: White
Swords to Plowshares
Exalted Angel
Savannah Lions
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
(Kataki, War’s Wage)

Speaking of Kataki, here he is!  He is a great white weenie creature in that he just causes complete nightmares for the unprepared Affinity deck.  Affinity decks have recently gone mono-black, echewing the normal rainbow manabase in favor of a manabase that can run and cast Darkblast effectively mostly to combat this card's power.  Exalted is a solid W/x finisher.  Life gain, evasion and lives through a bolt.  Pretty much everything you'd want from a finisher.

Staples: Black
Cabal Therapy
Dark Confidant
Leyline of the Void
Dark Ritual
Darkblast - Affinity

Duress is still the gold standard for 1st turn discard.  Other "must haves" include the Leyline for all those graveyard shenanigans like Hulk Flash, and Dragon.  Contagion will see play, if only just from me.  This card is a Worth-send.  MBC often would get behind from an early weenie rush, or get Meddling Maged for a key spell, or even just get too much discard in hand when it's no longer needed.  Contagion is an out for all of these and more.  Lastly we have Darkblast, and according to my scientific calculations, we should see a competitive deck running Soulblast and Saltblast any day now.  Between 'Gro' decks and Phyrexian Dreadnought, the ability to kill 3CMC's is crucial.  Of course there was a good reason to run this before what with (Psychotog) and Arcbound Ravager, but with even more targets

Staples: Green
Troll Ascetic
Seeds of Innocence
Birds of Paradise
Eternal Witness
Quirion Dryad

As usual, green seems like the short end of the stick.  The Emerald in Green's crown is Tarmogoyf...  The card that is making a splash in nearly every format...  The 5/6 for 1G.  The little 'goyf that could.  There's been so much talk about him that if I tried to add to it I'd only be doing him a disservice.  Green also got Berserk from MED, a card that has seen play in Legacy 'Tog builds and is a powerful effect for so little mana.  Oh yeah, I guess that Green also has Ascetic.

Staples: Multicolor
Meddling Mage
(Lim-Dul’s Vault)
Loxodon HierarchPsychatog

'Tog kills you fast.  Mage disrupts you while beating on you for two a turn.  Vault is the next tutor de jour.  Hierarch saw play before and likely will again in some rock builds or in some sort of aggro build.  The Hierarch may be one of the best bets against the Mono Red Burn decks that are gaining strength post MED.

Staples: Artifacts
Phyrexian Dreadnought
Pithing Needle
Chalice of the Void
Affinity Cards

I think that Affinity will be the deck that disappears whenever the hate gets packed, but pops in whenever the meta isn't prepared for it.  If the control decks are packing hate against combo and RDW, Affinity can and likely will, show up and steal an event or two.  Dreadnought + Stifle have been showing up in a lot of decks recently.  And for good reason.  You'll need to be prepared for this card


So there you have it!  A quick run down of the Classic format, the metagame and frequent cards.  I hope that some players who haven't given Classic a chance will give it a second look.  Also, I plan to try my hand at some Casual Classic decks in the near future to see what whacky things can be accomplished based around cards from Masters Edition, Mirage and Visions.   See you next time!


Deck lists courtesy of www.classicquarter.com.  Thank you dangerlinto and company.



by rnugent (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 09/28/2007 - 01:00
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thnx for fixin this up hammy!

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 09/25/2007 - 22:42
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hmmm strange but the only article i see here is a state of the program article. I was looking forward to the classic article too.

by hamtastic at Sat, 09/22/2007 - 11:49
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I'd say for the next couple of years, Classic 'maintenance' will be as high or higher than keeping up with Standard.  That's due to MEDx and Classic Sets and some cards from Standard sets.  Although, based on what's been previewed (and spoiled) so far from from Lorwyn, there's very little that will be must have's for the decks in Classic.  I actually hope that there isn't much in Lorwyn for Classic, as it will make it a bit easier for those interested in Classic if they have a Standard set or two that doesn't require much cost.

Here's hoping, anyway. 

more expensive than standard! by runeliger at Sat, 09/22/2007 - 10:35
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Just wanted to say, for the record, at this point, Classic is actually far more expensive than Standard. The reason is because classic doesn't have the entire cardpool of say vintage and classic, not only is there an upfront cost, but is a slow cost for all the cards you need as they come out, For example when Weatherlight comes out, you'll need to accquire some other cards, as well as more cards that are classic playable in lorywn. If you consider all that, and the fact nobody drafts the sets classic players want, this means that the prices for cards that classic players seek to accquire are so great, it becomes a bit hard to play.

by urzishra (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 09/21/2007 - 20:37
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after re-reading it, you did mention the fetch lands in mono decks.. heh sorry for my ignorence

Well Done! by iceage4life (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 09/22/2007 - 00:29
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Glad to see a break down.  Though I must say I resent my deck with 7 creatures being called Aggro-Control.  I mean add the power and toughness of all the decks creatures and you get a 11/10.  Now granted three of those can swing for 15+ on turn 5 or 6, but I'm still going with it as a control deck :)

As far as staples go:  Sensei's Diving Top, Lightning Helix, Nimble Mongoose, Echoing Truth, Chain of Vapor, Counterspell, and Mishra's Factory should have made list imo (and yeah I know it wasn't meant to be exhaustive but those are some popular/key cards.).

by hamtastic at Sat, 09/22/2007 - 11:46
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You're right.  Yours is indeed more of a control deck.  (Control the board, big finisher), but as you mentioned, it often plays like an aggro control deck, beefy early creature, backed up by disruption.  The lines between Aggro/Control and Control that runs an aggro type finisher (like, oh, tog...) are kind of blurry, or they can feel blurry when you get tog'd on turn 5. :)

by urzishra (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 09/21/2007 - 20:36
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I liked the article.. the format is more diverse then it first seems.. I would argue though that the Ravnica Duals aren't necessary for mono x decks, but the Fetchlands are obviously worth putting 4 in a mono deck, its like "pay 1 life, you're maximum deck size is reduced by one put an untapped land into play"

The first image is missing... by hamtastic at Fri, 09/21/2007 - 12:26
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It's supposed to be "Price of Glory", which is witty and applicable, however, it's just blank wich is not quite as witty...

I see it by mtgotraders at Fri, 09/21/2007 - 13:01
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I can see it fine.

Hey, there it is by hamtastic at Fri, 09/21/2007 - 14:30
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For some reason I had an adblock filter for 'lor' which well, seemed to include price of g-lor-y... not sure how it's there but I'm happy that I'm witty again!



Or something... 

by Javasci at Fri, 09/21/2007 - 15:16
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It's about time someone did this.  I'd have appreciated more attention to specific decks, but there aren't really any yet.

by hamtastic at Fri, 09/21/2007 - 16:15
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Yeah.  If I would have written this 3 months ago, it would have been easy to break down the meta.  Right now though, it's extremely hard.  We have Flash getting nerfed, we have a RDW deck posting up great numbers, UWB Fish getting crazy cards and a U/x Dreadnought beat down.  And those are just a few of them.

I really can't wait to see what shakes out of all these changes.  Should be fun! 

not broken my backside by Anonymous (not verified) at Wed, 08/12/2009 - 20:54
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You start this article by saying classic isn't broken, and then try to tackle what you call "myths".

Magic has many colors that are supposed to balance each other out, such that people can play any color or style deck and have a chance of winning.

It's broken if you have to limit your deck to using a few strategies and colors where anything else will get creamed in round 2 (xcuse me, round 3 if they aren't lucky enough to start with tutor to get their flash card)

I played green and completely dominated with it on DOTPW, ranking really high in that well controlled and balanced environment.

I decided to try MTGO and then classic because some of my green deck cards weren't legal in standard. I went around to the bots and started buying green cards and was amazed at all the different ones with different abilities. Some were arbitrarily expensive (especially so, since they aren't even capable of winning apparently) and others were strangely cheap.

None of the green abilities were overpowered though, even though I didn't use them for deck management reasons it was cool to see all the flash regen, reach, etc enchantments and creatures with cool abilities.

I probably spent 50 bucks creating an awesome well balanced hand.

My first game I had an amazing hand that would have creamed anything on DOTPW (pretty much do every hand by design). He creams me in like turn 2, only having 2 mana. First he casts a spell that prevents me from reacting for one of the mana. Then he exiles a creature from his hand to get it back. He uses flash (2 mana) to call proto beast, which summons three more creatures upon dying since he was too broke (on purpose) to pay the flash cost. One is a creature that hastes another creature which sacrifices his library cards until it finds a basic land, which he does not have, so it sacrifices his whole library. At this point, some creatures come into battle from his graveyard per their abilities. He then sacrifices three creatures to pay the flashback cost of a spell which lets him pick a creature from the graveyard to bring back. He then calls a trample zombie that gets strength from exiling graveyard creatures, which has haste attached from an enchant that is free to reattach to strong creatures from the graveyard. He exiles creatures till the zombie has 28 strength.

Can I figure a way around this so I can win before he does? Of course I can. Am I going to? Of course not. This is not a game at this point, it's just stupid. I want my money back for all the cards I bought.