This entry is part 6 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan AKA Sinis

Back when I started playing Magic in the mists of history, cards were really weird. Sometimes you opened a pack and couldn’t tell what card was the rare except by its position in the pack itself, since they were not conveniently colour coded like they were from Exodus and onward. Some cards like Touch of Darkness were printed ‘just because’, while at the same time Wizards of the Coast still had a tenuous idea of balance, reprinting cards powerful enough to be restricted in Type 1, like Mana Vault and Necropotence, alongside the modern mascot of creature derision, Craw Wurm, as late as Fifth Edition. The retrospective ‘silliness’ in Magic, with its Moxen, Ancestral Recall, and other overwhelmingly powerful cards became something of an impossibility for other games that flooded the market. As the CCG market matured, these sorts of deep flaws in game balance and ‘just because’ printings vanished altogether, becoming unacceptable. CCGs that came significantly later than Magic and the enormous crop of games in 1995 needed to be evolved in terms of game design, or be relegated to periphery of the industry as players wanted more competitively balanced games to play. Wizards rotated out their silliness, other games never included it. The result is a sort of unique age of CCGs that has passed, and will never come again.

Playing and collecting during those times was likewise interesting. Competitive decks at the time sported four Strip Mines, creating a low-curve environment where anything more than four mana was not likely to ever be cast, and if it was, it had better be Nevinyrral’s Disk, Ernham Djinn, Wrath of God or Armageddon. Overwhelmingly powerful sets have been printed since, but there is a certain nostalgia to opening packs and playing with cards from sets with crazy balance issues. Back in those days, I was first opening packs and collecting Elder Dragon Legends from the Chronicles compilation set, blissfully unaware of the collector’s ire that those cards in particular had aroused. Among the beasties I opened in hope of an 8 mana 7/7 flier with variable abilities and colours was Johan. Just “Johan”. Not “Johan, Mountainlord”, or “Johan of the Shadowless Hands”, as if every legend since Urza’s Saga needed a paperback novel worth of titles. Just “Johan”. Since it’s Olde Tyme week at CommanderCast, I’ve dug Johan out again, and am going to make him work.

Johan is real money. He was printed in Legends, and then later in Chronicles with its newfangled tap symbol adopted a few months previous, when Fourth Edition introduced it. For those not in the know, Johan is a 5/4 Legend that costs 3WGR and reads “As long as Johan does not attack and is untapped, attacking does not cause creatures you control to tap.” But, even though we’re looking at Johan’s ancient text box, we must use his incredibly obtuse Oracle text, which makes him a “Legendary Human Wizard” and changes his text to read “At the beginning of combat on your turn, you may have Johan gain “Johan can’t attack” until end of combat. If you do, attacking doesn’t cause creatures you control to tap this combat if Johan is untapped.”

Which is a really complicated way of saying “Your creatures have vigilance if Johan is untapped and not attacking, without any weird timing issues.” Is this super-awesome? Perhaps not, few of the older legends really are. But it doesn’t mean we can’t build around it and have fun with it. Vigilance is definitely a desirable creature trait in EDH; if your critters can defend at the same time they attack, you can keep up a defense while still swinging. Also, it might lend vigor to some flagging old creatures.

Since none of our creatures will be tapping to attack, some other grand old cards will be useful. Smoke was last printed in Fifth Edition, and is definitely money here. While opponents’ creatures will be sputtering and having trouble with the untap step, the old man’s troops would have never tapped to begin with. Similarly, Mudslide will institute an ‘untap tax’ on your opponent’s creatures while yours keep on swinging. Finally, Static Orb will not only shut out your opponent’s creatures, but also make casting spells much harder too. This stuff, this is real magic. Never mind your weird new cards like Ajani Vengeant that stop things from untapping.

If you’re feeling risky, Meekstone, it’s cousin Marble Titan and Crackdown are powerful inclusions also. The risk with these — unlike Smoke — is that if your creatures get tapped, they are tapped forever unless you can rid yourself of these. I think they’re worth it, even if you need to play with a Ninth Edition one with that hideous new frame.

Outside of simply playing global untap impediment effects and banking on Johan’s vigilance, there are other ways of abusing the old man’s ancient powers. Castle was a card I loved when I first started playing. The defense bonus it gave was palpable, and as we realized that Serra Angel would retain the +0/+2 bonus while attacking, all kinds of rules arguments about card intent started. If Serra Angel was attacking, how could it possibly be afforded the protection of a castle, some asked. Others said it didn’t matter, and that the letter of the text was the important part. As usual with debates between adolescent nerds, things never got resolved and all parties eventually left in a huff. Jolrael, Empress of Beasts also helps. You can get extra value out of your land by making them creatures, swinging at someone who is open, and then casting spells with them afterwards. It could also be used on your opponent’s lands, now that Wrath of God has so many cousins and people aren’t going to take kindly to your beatings.

Of course, some newer cards also help out the old man. Godo, Bandit Warlord untaps himself and all samurai you control, and creates a second attack step whenever he attacks. Normally it would be pretty hard to take advantage of this; there are not many EDH playable samurai around. However, since the old man’s troops never tap in the first place, the second attack step is much more threatening. Glare of Subdual can let you declare an attack step, declare everyone as an attacker, and then tap out the blockers. Of course, the modern strategy of tapping them during your opponent’s turn, untapping, and then swatting them might work better than tapping out.

Other less spectacular new cards that work well with the old man are Knotvine Paladin and Pristine Angel. Knotvine Paladin was probably intended to be used with the exalted mechanic in the Alara block, where you attack with only one creature and the rest stay at home. Well, back when I played, ‘block mechanics’ were the merest hint of something new, like Ice Age’s snow-covered lands and two cards that interacted with them. Anyway, we don’t care about exalted, or any of that stuff. Knotvine Paladin works just as well for the old man no matter how many creatures are attacking. I don’t know what Pristine Angel was meant to do, but it works here.

And then, there’s Urabrask the Hidden. What the hell is with his red expansion icon? Back in my day, we were lucky if we even got an expansion icon. Now they come in different colours?! Whatever. He keeps your opponents open for a little longer, moves our critters faster, and interacts well with the untap impediments.

Finally, Oathsworn Giant can be a second Johan for redundancy, in case of being tucked.

The rest of this deck is rounded out by more critters and ways to make them better. You kids can enjoy this stuff, even if there’s no nostalgia in it for you. I need to go take my meds and have a nap.

Deck list:

Jolrael, Empress of Beasts
Marble Titan
Old Fogey
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Knotvine Paladin
Pristine Angel
Urabrask the Hidden
Oathsworn GIant
Desolation Giant
Phyrexian Colossus
Planar Guide
Palladia Mors
Taunting Elf
Gaea’s Herald
Wood Elves
Flametongue Kavu
Verdant Force
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Marton Stromgald
Keldon Warlord
Maraxus of Keld
Cinder Elemental
Windborn Muse
Exalted Angel
Colossus of Sardia
Fierce Empath

Fires of Yavimaya
Aura Shards
Night Soil
Goblin Bombardment

Static Orb
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Helm of Possession
Mind Stone
Thran Dynamo

Wrath of God
Skyshroud Claim
Nature’s Lore
Relentless Assault

Swords to Plowshares
Into the Core
Return to Dust
Final Fortune
Order / Chaos

City of Brass
Gemstone Mine
Karplusan Forest
Battlefield Forge
Arid Mesa
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Mistveil Plains
Temple of the False God
High Market
8 Plains
8 Mountain
8 Forest

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