Back in the mid-90s, when the MtG tournament scene was beginning to develop, but as one does in these situations, there was a lot of experimentation. When I started paying, 60 card decks where still a suggestion and ante was a common practice. But hey, let’s look at some of the other weird things happening back then.
Note that I wasn’t able to take part in very many tournaments, as I didn’t have the resources to go everywhere. Therefore, I only managed to play a tournament here and there. Still, interesting ideas that didn’t really pan out, although some of the we should perhaps try again.
My first tournament was a Jokamiesturnaus (Every Man Tournament) in 1995. The idea was that if someone wanted to purchase your deck after the tournament for a set price, you had to sell it. The price was 150 marks, which would be 25 euros. The deck had to be 60 cards and a sideboard, although if I remember correctly, I wasn’t aware of the sideboard rule, so I didn’t have one. The tournament was single-elimination with a weird double elimination rule to make sure the brackets leveled out after a round. There was over 50 players and I made it to the quarterfinals, so I was quite happy with the result.
I think that’s a format we should try again, although I’d be willing to pay that amount of money for a working deck, even if the cards weren’t very pricey, just to save myself the effort of finding them all.
At the same time, there was a completely opposite tournament. It was a free for all tournament, where the decks were built under the original MtG rules, meaning that they were basically what we would think of as limited decks these days with 40 cards and no limit of four. Many games would end before the opponent had a chance to do anything (as at this point Force of Will didn’t exist yet), because the best decks were just a bunch of P9 with one win condition, such as a Mahamoti Djinn.
We also played a lot of Sealed in those days. Draft wasn’t a thing yet. Of course, since we had Starter Decks in those days, we would get one of those and two boosters, but it wasn’t quite that simple. We usually had a choice of boosters. This depended highly on what was available, but we were allowed to choose those boosters from a variety of options. For example, one time I could have a Fourth Edition, Ice Age or exchange one of those boosters for two Homelands Boosters.
Another thing that was different, was that as the packs included basic lands in lieu of commons (or earlier, even rares), we had to play with those. We could add a few basics from elsewhere, but that the first time I participated in such a tournament, that was two basics. Later it was four. I don’t know if this was a local thing or an official ruling, but this is what we went with.
It was also a common practice to ante in Sealed and you could add the cards you won into your deck. You only anted if both players agreed on it, but I always wanted to, because I thought I could gain an edge this way. You need to spike to win tournaments anyhow, and anteing gives you more of a chance to do so. Of course, not many opponents agreed to this as people are afraid of losing certain key cards in their deck. For example, I once won an Ice Age Channel from an opponent, I later used to win the tournament. The final game in the tournament started with me playing a Fyndhorn Elves into second turn Channel -> Scaled Wurm. In those days it wasn’t that unbeatable, actually, because there was plenty of efficient removal at common, but not this time.
The small town I lived in didn’t have judges, so we generally had to figure things out for ourselves. For a long time, the tournaments were run by a guy, who didn’t even play himself. He just operated a shop that sold MtG cards, as well as some other collectibles, but the fantasy elements weren’t really for him (he was basically a very archetypical jock). At some point he ran weekly tournaments, where the format seemed to be based on what he had on hand. He would enforce weird deckbuilding rules to encourage people to buy various boosters that weren’t selling very well. So we would have to sometimes have a minimum amount of cards from Homelands, for example. This was actually part of the rules in Standard as well. You had to have five cards from each legal set in your deck. This was quite problematic, as Homelands didn’t really have very many playable cards, so they would often be pushed into the sideboard.
The most peculiar tournament I ever participated in was probably a weird multiplayer “Iron Man” game. The Iron Man element in this case meant that whenever a card would be put into the graveyard (or removed from the game, as exile was known back then), you would have to tear the card apart. So, we sat in a circle of 15 or so people and played this weird game, that didn’t seem to go anywhere, because the rounds went on forever. You could only attack to your right, which at least made decision making somewhat easier, but since you didn’t want to leave yourself open on your left, you didn’t really attack in the early game. Or ever. It took way, way more time than was fun. I’m pretty sure I just conceeded after a couple of turns.
Black was popular here, because Mind Twist had just been banned from Type 2 (now Standard) and was thus a nice way to make others rip apart their whole hands. Stone Rain and milling were also popular options.
There is some experimentation going on these days as well, but not nearly on the scale it happened back then. This is a good thing, since we do now have good and interesting formats, which people want to play, so there’s no need to go to these extremes any longer. At the same time, new formats do pop up regularly from such experimentation. Think Pauper, EDH, No Ban List Modern, Old School, the different variants of Mini-Master, Frontier, Tiny Leaders, various cubes and so-forth. It’s just not a Wild West anymore (in more ways than this one) and it doesn’t need to be.