Jeff Zandi is a four time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events.

Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.



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Fun With Constructed Magic
Beta vs. Arabian Nights vs. Urza’s Saga vs. Champions of Kamigawa by Jeff Zandi
December 26, 2004

I’ve always wanted to find out what would happen if you built decks exclusively out of different Magic sets and played them against each other.

They say that there are just certain things you can’t know, questions that are impossible to answer. Was Michael Jordan better at basketball than Wilt Chamberlain, is flame-broiling better than frying for hamburgers, what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, are older Magic sets more powerful than newer sets? I don’t know if all of these questions can ever be answered, but this week, I did my part to take on at least one of the Big Questions of our time. I took four different Magic sets from at least three different eras of the game and built sixty card constructed decks exclusively from those sets. Then I played each of the four decks against each other in a very strange round-robin tournament.
Warning, do not try this at home. This stunt requires a lot of time to set up and a lot of time to play out. Basically, you have to have the kind of free time available only to the underemployed and the kind of brain usually found only in the chemically unbalanced. Luckily, I happen to be a little of column ‘A’ and a little of column ‘B’.

The four sets I chose included the Beta edition of Magic’s ‘basic set’, Arabian Nights, Urza’s Saga and the most recent set Champions of Kamigawa. I understand that Beta includes some of the most powerful cards of all time. I understand that Arabian Nights has far fewer cards than any of the other sets.


I wanted to play the decks using the most current rules for everything except deck construction. You can’t compare Beta against other sets if you don’t allow a deck including ALL the goodies found in Magic’s first set (yeah, yeah, after Alpha). All four decks would be sixty cards with no sideboards and no more than four of any non basic land card in them. The only limitation I put on the Beta deck was to restrict it to only one of each Mox and only one Black Lotus. Other than that, the sky was the limit.
This may have been a big mistake, but it was a lot of fun to find out, as you may be able to see from the results described in the rest of this article. Understanding that the Arabian Nights deck suffered from having a smaller card pool than the other sets used in this experiment, I allowed four copies of Library of Alexandria.

I couldn’t really spend too much time designing and building each deck. I don’t believe any of the four necessarily represent the optimal build of a deck of its kind. I just took the best shot I could. After playing the decks that I built against each other, I would probably make a lot of changes to all of them. I might adjust the deck construction rules differently if I did it again, or else I would use different sets.

Having constructed these four decks, I played them against each other in five separate games. For each game, I randomly determined which deck would play first. In all, it took thirty games to play each deck against every other deck. The results of this test are documented below. But first, let’s take a look at the decks.


Balance x3
Black Lotus x1
Channel x3
Fireball x4
Demonic Tutor x4
Mox Emerald x1
Mox Ruby x1
Mox Jet x1
Mox Pearl x1
Mox Jet x1
Hypnotic Specter x4
Ancestral Recall x4
Swords to Plowshares x4
Shivan Dragon x2
Serra Angel x4
Wrath of God x2
Badlands x4
Bayou x4
Scrubland x4
Underground Sea x4
Tundra x4

Aladdin’s Ring x2
Desert Twister x4
Ernham Djinn x4
Juzam Djinn x4
Serendib Djinn x4
Dancing Scimitar x4
Bottle of Suleiman x4
Oubliette x4
Sorceress Queen x4
City of Brass x4
Library of Alexandria x4
Island x4
Swamp x7
Forest x7

Morphling x4
Yawgmoth’s Will x4
Skittering Skirge x4
Horseshoe Crab x4
Hermetic Study x4
Gilded Drake x4
Duress x4
Confiscate x4
Expunge x4
Remote Isle x4
Polluted Mire x4
Island x8
Swamp x8

Befoul x4
Nezumi Graverobber x4
Nezumi Shortfang x4
Rend Flesh x4
Swallowing Plague x3
Wicked Akuba x4
Meloku the Clouded Mirror x4
Kiku, Night’s Flower x4
Journeyer’s Kite x1
Diviner’s Top x1
Honden of Seeing Winds x3
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge x1
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse x1
Waterveil Cavern x4
Swamp x11
Island x7


The Beta deck did the best. I guess I forgot how big a deal Channel/Fireball is. Beta beat Arabian Nights 5-0, Urza’s Saga 4-1 and Champions 3-2, finishing with an overall best 12-3 record. Nine of Beta’s twelve victories came from Channel/Fireball. The Saga deck got its only win against Beta by playing a very key Duress to break up a Channel/Fireball that would have won the game for Beta on Beta’s next turn.

Champions of Kamigawa came in second, winning three of five against Arabian Nights and Urza’s Saga and winning two games against Beta. Champions’ 8-7 game win record. The strength of this deck was the variety of removal spells and the low casting cost threats. The Graverobbers were surprisingly weak for some reason, never amounting to more than a 2/1 creature. Kiko was very good against every deck except Arabian Nights. The most important card against the Beta deck, believe it or not, was the card drawing of the Honden of Seeing Winds. Meloku was the decisive card in many of this deck’s wins.
This deck managed to hold down the Beta deck in the decisive fifth game of their match up, eventually running out of cards with two Hondens in play, having survived all three Balance and both Wrath of God cards the Beta deck had to offer. It was kind of disappointing that I couldn’t find a good all-around Champions deck that was balanced enough with creatures and spells that could make the most of Splice Onto Arcane technology. Maybe next time.

Arabian Nights came in third, winning two of three games against Champions, three out of five against Urza’s Saga and winning no games whatsoever against Beta. Arabian Night’s final record of 5-10, the same as the Urza’s Saga deck. However, the fact that this deck did as well as a deck built from Urza’s Saga, a set with three times as many cards, is quite impressive, as well as the fact that this deck beat the Saga deck straight up 3-2. The worst card in this deck is clearly Sorceress Queen followed closely by Dancing Scimitar. Both seemed like a good idea at the time. Bottle of Suleiman only produced one giant 5/5 flyer after four coin flips in three different games. Oubliette was surprisingly good, and Aladdin’s Ring was a very necessary eight mana card. Obviously too expensive to be good against Beta, the Ring was very important in one game against Champions. In that game, the Champs deck only won when it was able to play Meloku with eleven remaining untapped lands available to make 1/1 flying tokens with. A complete lack of mass removal technology is a major problem for this deck.
The Arabian Nights deck only lost the fifth and decisive game against Champions of Kamigawa when Ernham Djinn was forced to give Forestwalk to Champions’ creatures with Forests in play.

Urza’s Saga finished fourth, winning two of five games against Arabian Nights and Champions but winning only one game against Beta. Saga finished with a 5-10 record. None of the cards were completely bad in this deck, but a lot of the cards were sub-optimal. Expunge was probably the worst. Being able to cycle Expunge was a good thing, but too many black creatures in the other decks made this card almost worthless. Yawgmoth’s Will was too hard to use to include four copies. Yawgmoth’s Will was one card that Champions’
Graverobber was able to make largely worthless. Yawgmoth’s Will was also bad against Beta because games were simply over too fast for it to ever be useful. I thought the Hermetic Study was a bit too much of a combo, but it really did play an important part in a third of the Saga games.


Five games for each deck match up is really not enough games to decisively determine which deck is the best. Still, I felt like this test provided a lot of insights about the cards in each deck involved. Clearly, the Beta deck, using the deck construction rules that I used, was too powerful for the other decks. On the other hand, if the Vintage construction rules were imposed on the Beta deck, I think the deck might be too weak and more importantly, would no longer be representative of the cards that were put in the set in the first place. Beta deck aside, the other decks played very competitively. Basically, once you get rid of massive mana acceleration and a few of the more broken cards from long ago, Magic sets of similar size are somewhat evenly matched against each other. Each set has something to offer, and most large expansion sets need access to cards from other sets to be truly powerful. Sometime in the future, it would be fun to build decks from each of the large expansions and play them against each other. Maybe I’ll get around to the task by this time NEXT year!

The best part of this week’s experiment was building with and playing with the old cards again. It makes me genuinely wish that there were more ways to enjoy the oldest and most powerful cards in Magic. I’m not satisfied with the Vintage (Type I) constructed format, much less with Type 1.5 and I think Extended constructed is kind of a joke right now. I’m trying very hard to NOT get on my regular soapbox about a new format and a new collectible set that would reunite today’s Magic player with the great cards of the past.
That is a matter for another day!

As always, I’d love to know what YOU think.

Whatever you believe in, cherish it this weekend. If you don’t believe in anything, think about doing something about that!

Happy holidays!

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


Copyright 2001-2004


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