While Anne will explore the more niche archetypes in Old School, I will focus on the more common archetypes. These will be mostly creature based decks but I do love a little bit of parfait as well.
Erhnam Burn’em was my favourite deck back in the days. I’ve played it from 1996 till I quit Magic in 1999. In those days it included cards from Ice Age as well, like Incinerate, Zuran Orb & Stormbind. While new sets were released, I hardly changed anything in the deck. It was a winning deck back then although you have to take into account that not a lot of people owned any Power9 in the Netherlands. Splashing Blue for Power and/or playing “The Deck” didn’t exist in those days. When I started playing Magic again in 2017 I had to build a 93/94 Swedish legal version of Erhnam Burn’em. That meant that some cards were no longer an option and other cards like Berserk and Fork were all of a sudden no longer restricted. Let’s look at what makes up a good Erhnam Burn’em deck in today’s Swedish meta!
Yes, I start with the real basics! If you have them, this deck starts with 2 Moxes and 1 Black Lotus. If you don’t, add 3 lands. While it’s obviously not the same, it is what it is. I don’t feel you would need to play off-color Moxes in this deck. Sure you might be able to cast your Erhnam a little quicker but we have other ramp cards available in the deck and we need our colored mana. Next in line is obviously a Chaos Orb. Most of the time you won’t be playing any maindeck enchantment removal and only 1 land destruction spell (Strip Mine), Chaos Orb is essential in a lot of games. If you don’t own a Chaos Orb, I won’t offer you any replacements for it. Go get it! It’s the most fun card in Old School and at the same time an auto-include in every deck.
A Wheel of Fortune is a must in this deck as well. The plan is to empty your hand fast and Wheel is a great refill and often part of your finishing move. Any Red deck auto includes 4 Lightning Bolts so let’s not further discuss these and since we are building Erhnam Burn’em I would suggest some Erhnam Djinns. While 4 might not be the only outcome if we want to determine the optimal number, it’s probably somewhere between 3 and 4. I’ve never tried it with 3 myself, I play this deck to play Erhnam’s so there is little discussion when I assemble my favourite 60.
Creatures that made the (my) cut:
Kird Ape? A 2/3 for R when you have a Forest in play? Apparently people think Savannah Lions is the best 1 drop in Old School these days but I will always prefer my monkeys. If it wasn’t for those pesky Mishra’s Factories nowadays these creatures would rule the Old School scene. Since we’re playing 4 Ehrnam’s, City in a Bottle remains a great card against this deck. This certainly sets a limit to the amount of Arabian Night cards we want to use.
4 Llanowar Elves are always there as well for me. I’ve seen some people play with Birds of Paradise (often in combination with adding Blue Splash) but I don’t think many people nowadays need to be convinced to play Llanowar Elves. We play the Elves to ramp towards Erhnam Djinns but also to cast bigger Fireballs early. The fact that these are 1/1 make them great threats against any creature. Since we are playing with Bolts and also Giant Growth, Elves can trump Serendib’s and equal Serra Angels. The fact that these can be pumped by Pendelhaven makes them even better. In this deck any dmg you do counts, BoPs can’t deal damage by themselves. Sometimes the only creature left on the board is an Elf, add a Giant Growth and a Beserk and it’s game over.
I used to play 4 Scryb Sprites. 1/1 flyers are great pingers. With the help of Pendelhaven these stop Hippies and with the help of a Giant Growth these equal Serra’s and trump Serendibs. I would love to play 4 of these but I don’t think this is no longer the correct amount since I need to make space for other cards. I usually play 2 but I would say it’s up to you.
This deck unfortunately needs some artifact removal. Going all-in is a nice strategy but todays Mishra’s are a real disaster since they are not only stopping Kird Apes, they are killing them. While Shatter and Crumble are fine choices I much prefer Scavenger Folk. If there aren’t any artifacts to destroy, these can still attack. You can’t afford to hold cards in your hand and not be able to play them. Sometimes you wish you had Instant speed artifact removal but overall I prefer these above anything else. How much of these you play again depends. Again I play 2 of these but I guess it depends on your personal preference. Obviously you can test Shatter and Crumble as well but be careful not to go to low on creatures, you need something to pump.
The last creatures I always put in the deck are Mishra’s Factories. 4 of them, preferable 1 of each season. Mishra’s are so good nowadays. If people ask what’s the best card against a Mishra, it’s a Mishra! Sure, sometimes they cost you a land drop so you need to be a little careful when playing them early but overall these lands just rock. The fact that The Abyss can’t hurt them is pretty great as well, that’s a card you should always watch out for.
Creatures that didn’t make the (my) cut:
You might have noticed that most creatures are 1 drops and I haven’t included 2 drops. Shouldn’t you have a good ratio between 1/2/3/4 drops? This is obviously true but also depends. Let’s look at the 2 most used options:
Elvish Archers are 2/1 First Strike for 1G. Not that bad, First Strike and Giant Growth & Lightning Bolt go very well together but I can’t just add a couple of Elvish Archers without removing any other cards can I? Argothian Pixies then? Most people love them because they are great against Mishra’s. That’s obviously not a bad reason but I would rather blow them up in most cases with a Folk, since that means you hit their mana base as well. Looking at bad, would I play these instead of Kird Apes, Elves or Erhnam Djinns? Not really. I need artifact removal so my Folks serve another purpose so that leaves me with Scryb Sprites. Sprites are so useful that I don’t feel I would ever pick Elvish Archers over them. Also in T2 there’s often happening a lot due all the 1 drops. Sometimes you can already cast an Erhnam on the back of an Elf and Mox. Often you want to kill anything your opponent has put on the board to keep the board status in your favor. You can definitely experience with them, hence I mention them.
Lots of people used to play Ball Lightning. If you want to spice up the deck I would definitely recommend! Sometimes 6 damage can be so brutal, imagine what a Giant Growth and Berserk would do. Most of the time they are underwhelming. With any creature removal, Maze of Iths, the fact that Mishra’s can soak up 3 damage and RRR definitely hurts your mana base, I wouldn’t play them if you want to win. For sure whenever you play 1 your opponent;s love it as much as you do, so why not?
I’ll mention some other creatures which are fun but not that great in this type of deck. Dragon Whelps are cute but slow, outclassed by Erhnam Djinns and can get killed to easily. Shivan Dragons are to slow, 4RR is definitely not something that fits your aggro plan. If you own a Beta Shivan’s I would just play it because you can but otherwise don’t even consider it. Juggernauts are classic but Djinns are better and Su-Chi is often used for people who don’t own Djinns but once you face a Djinn you’ll regret it. You definitely don’t want to play over four, 4 casting cost creatures, so I would stick with the Djinss
Spells that made the (my) cut:
4 Bolts and 1 Wheel are auto includes but what about our pump spells? Blood Lust doesn’t cut it anymore nowadays although I used to play some of these. Giant Growths are obviously the best and I would always play 4 of these. Giant Growth put so much pressure on your opponent even if you don’t have any in your hand. Timing your Giant Growths is crucial since getting owned by a 2 or even 3 for 1 is what hurts you the most. Always watch how careful how much and which mana your opponent leaves untapped. Bolts and STP can hurt you a lot and you should try to pick up tells from your opponent if he has these or not.
Our pump plan isn’t complete without Berserk. These used to be restricted but not anymore, rightfully so! Playing 4 might be a little heavy since you rather have Giant Growth/Berserk in your hand then 2 Berserks. I like to play 3 but you can definitely play around with it. Finishing with a Berserk just feels so good! Also always remember that you can play them defensive as well. When blocking you can double your blockers Power or even choose to double your attackers Power after which the creature dies end of turn. This is an option which is easy to be missed but I would advise to pay close attention when the situation pops up. It’s in a lot of situations the correct play.
The deck can definitely use a little more burn and Chain Lightning is often played here. You don’t have any other good instant burn options so it’s going to be a sorcery anyway. I’m a big fan of Fireball and think these are just better. In a lot of situations dealing 1 or 2 damage is enough and having 2/3 mana it not really hard. To equal Chain you need 4 mana which is a little harder to get so when you need exactly 3 damage, chain is probably your card. However sometimes you need a burn spell as finisher and Chain doesn’t work in those situations, for me it’s actually not even close. The only other option would be Disintegrate and I’m struggling a little with this myself. Multi-targets is something hardly ever used, although when used it’s pretty awesome. Since Disintegrate removes creatures from the game they are great against Sedge Trolls and Animate Dead. While I used to play Fireball I think I would go with Disintegrate nowadays, probably somewhere between 3 and 4.
I usually play with Regrowth as well. Often your graveyard is pretty full with cards so there is plenty to choose from. Sure it will cost you 1G but at least you have multiple choices of what otherwise would be a random draw.
Spells that didn’t made the (my) cut:
As mentioned Blood Lust and Chain Lightning don’t make the cut in my book. There is however 1 very interesting spell which I would definitely consider and that’s Fork. If you want to spice things up it’s a no-brainer and adding 1 anyway could work out great. To problem for me is that I don’t like sitting with a card in my hand for to long and while Fork can copy any Sorcery or Instant, you’ll hardly ever use it on a quick Lightning Bolt due to it’s casting cost (RR) and Forking your X burn spell isn’t that useful until late game. The card is best used to fork your opponent’s spells like a Mind Twist, Ancestrall Recal or Time Walk. The surprise element is definitely great and I might have to play them more often.
The reason for not playing Shatter or Crumble I’ve already mentioned but they can definitely be considered. Another Land Destruction card could be very useful, due to Blue Elemental Blast I would always pick Ice Storm. If you want to spice a little more consider Storm Seeker and if you want to make me laugh cry play Avoid Fate. Yes I’ve heard to stories about that 1 time you’ve played 3 Giant Growths, 2 Berserks and 1 Fork only to get your creature Swords to Plowshared. After playing Avoid Fate you are the hero of the day. To me however Avoid Fate is so situational that while it can be the greatest card ever, often it’s not. It needs to be an instant, so Sorceries don’t even count and it needs to target a permanent that you control. If you want 1 tip, avoid Avoid Fate!
Last but not least, why no Channel? Well with 4 X burn spells it definitely becomes an option. What’s easier than a 1st turn kill? The likelihood is however pretty small. The only other cards you would ever cast with a Channel is probably an Erhnam. Going Spice, do it for sure! Otherwise, I highly doubt it but I’ll leave the math to somebody else.
Enchantments, Artifacts & Lands that made the (my) cut:
Since we are not playing with Blue, having access to another way of card draw is essential. Sylvan Library is your best friend in this case. With 1G the casting cost is great and the fact that can’t only pick which card you want to draw but also pay 4 life to draw an additional card is great. When I started playing Old School again I saw people being way to cautious playing Sylvan. Basically only paying 4 life if the additional card was useful. In this deck I most of the time pay 8 life blind, unless I’m behind or playing another aggro/burn deck. Even if you can’t use the 2 additional cards it lets you see another 2 cards in the next turn and reduces the amount of dead draws. While Sylvan is always a great card, if you don’t play it aggro I think it’s actually not that great at all (unless you are playing combo). So make sure you drop the cautiousness and go for it!
Would you play Sol Ring if you only play 4 Erhnam Djinns? I haven’t done the math but 4 cards is probably not enough. Due to Chaos Orb and Wheel of Fortune it gets a little better and activating Mishra’s can help as well. However since I’m playing Disintegrate or Fireball above Chain Lightning Sol Ring makes the cut. While in 99% of the decks adding a Sol Ring is the correct play, I can see that there are variants of this deck in which I would consider not to play a Sol Ring.
Mishra’s were already in. 1 Strip mine definitely should be in to destroy LoA’s, Mishra’s and Maze of Ith’s. The amount of City of Brass is situational. I’ve played with 0, which helps post SB and with a maximum of 3, which helps your mana fixing. The amount of CioB you face is really dependent on the Meta. Sometimes due to the last local tournament or a big global tournament all of a sudden you see more CioB. You can also be lucky enough to avoid all players in the room that play them or have the exact opposite. There are 2 more considerations you have to take into account. 1 is that post SB your Blood Moon’s might turn them into mountains and the other consideration is that you want enough Forests to turn on your Kird Ape’s. Therefor I think 4 is definitely not the correct answer and I often keep it to 2.
While I always include 1 Hammerheim because the worst that can happen is that it turns into a mountain, the question how much Pendelhaven you want to play is a lot harder. With roughly 8 1/1 creatures, the pump ability is great. But they also turn your Kird Ape’s into 1/1 creatures instead of 2/3. If you would replace some of the 1/1 creatures going down to 2 might even be the correct number and I don’t think you ever should get to 3. Again 2 seems like the magic number.
Enchantments, Artifacts & Lands that didn’t made the (my) cut:
Library of Alexandria is another auto include in most decks but that card really doesn’t make the cut for me. While card advantage might always be the best strategy, in this deck a Library really holds you back. It’s probably always good enough if you are on the draw but on the play I really doubt it. You could use it in your sideboard in case you are on the draw but since City in a Bottle wrecks your deck after SB, I wouldn’t think that’s a good idea either.
Sideboard cards that made (my) cut:
For me the auto includes are: Red Elemental Blast, Whirling Dervish, Tranquility, Blood Moon and some sort of Artifact removal. With all the blue (splash) around, REBs are fantastic. Within the Netherlands we’ve seen a lot of mono Black decks but also against The Deck, Whirling Dervish is a great card. When I suspect that my opponent sideboards in, CioB I often replace my Erhnam’s with Dervishes. Most people think Tranquilities are a must have due to COP: Red but don’t focus to much on that. Almost all your creatures are Green so most damage done is actually Green damage. Only when you can’t use your Burn spells on creatures they become useless and in some cases that means you should sideboard them out for REBs, Blood Moon or something else. Still Tranquility is a very good utility card against many enchantments like The Abyss, Land Tax and Moat.
T2/3 Blood Moon can be very hard to get rid of. Some these are almost lethal on their own but other times they seem to do nothing all tournament. This is way I don’t play with any maindeck but I still think these should be part of your sideboard, putting a deck like The Deck under pressure. Next to that it’s the easiest way to get rid of multiple card that hurt your deck like LoA, Mishra’s but also Maze of Ith! I rather play Blood Moon than single Land Destruction cards like Stone Rain or Ice Storm. Artifact removal can be added in many ways. Adding more Scavanger Folks, some shatters, or crumbles are all great options. I always like to add 1 Shatterstorm, the surprise element is often great and it can totally wreck some opponents.
Sideboard cards that didn’t made (my) cut:
Some of the cards earlier mentioned can be good/fun sideboard cards as well. Storm Seeker of Fork for example could do well. Tsunami is another fun and sometimes great option, especially since a lot of people play with Dual lands which tap for blue. I’ve seen people play Black Vise which is on the play a pretty good option. Maze of Ith is something I don’t prefer myself since I rather wack creatures or play Blood Moon but it remains a good card. You can consider Hurricane and Lifeforce and there’s obviously more cards to consider but I hope that by now I’ve covered most of the usual suspects.
So we’ve discussed many cards and it has become a very lengthy decktech. I’m not sure if you like this detail so please let me know. While some cards didn’t make my cut, they might make yours and I’m happy to hear what works for you! Below is the version I’ve played in my first Old School tournament in December 2017, The Gathering of The Knights of Thorn. I made T4 which shows that with a little bit of luck this deck could be both fun and good! Below that the version of how I would build the deck now. I can highly recommend this deck as it’s really fun to play, happy brewing!