I recently had a passionate Twitter conversation with Reuben Bresler about one of the finest Magic cards ever printed: The mighty Chub Toad. Reuben summed it up well:
In the process of looking for and taking a picture of a Chub Toad from my collection in order to prove my membership in the Chub Club (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I promise), I got to dig through my old Deckmaster box. One of the perennial gems I found in there, along with some Portal checklists, was a copy of “The Duelist: a Special Preview Edition” from 1995.
As a Magic card-carrying member of a Facebook group that posts pictures of old Magic cards, I love the history of this game. I got the idea in my head to comb through this little Duelist-chan and see what interesting or funny things it has to say when viewed through the lens of time. Although I wasn’t convinced it was worth the effort, the idea suddenly seemed timelier now that VH1 has tried to take over our hashtag.
It’s worth noting that we’ve been here for damn near forever. #mtg #mtg #mtg #mtg #mtg #mtg #mtg #dontstopcantstopwontstop
The More Things Change
Every game of Magic uncovers a new card combination or useful strategy, as players duel with custom-built decks assembled from the more than 1,500 different cards that make up the Magic universe.
Yep, there were more than 1,500 different cards in 1995. For comparison, there are 1,144 in the current Return to Ravnica Standard environment, which has two more expansions to go before the block changes. Go look up the total number of cards in Magic today if you want to put this in perspective. Hint: There are currently 1,430 Vintage-legal white creatures — just creatures, just white, just Vintage.
• • •
Long-time Magic player Mark Rosewater will help you put together a Magic deck.
I don’t have the original, full issue, but I can only assume it was a Poison deck. We didn’t have Infect yet. I’ll get you started: 4x Pit Scorpion. You’re welcome.
• • •
Amy [Weber]’s training began at age eight, when her father made her take oil painting classes on Saturdays from a next-door neighbor. She hated it at first, she says, because she had to miss Saturday morning cartoons.
Amy Weber was one of those hugely influential Magic artists that I remember quite fondly. What’s your favorite Amy Weber card? Not close, mine is Divine Intervention. A close second, not close, would be Time Elemental. What can I say? I was a bouncy child.
• • •
To become a member of the Duelists’ Convocation [DCI], complete the membership form below and send it to us with a check for $18 US, made payable to Wizards of the Coast.
I have a mid-six digit DCI number. It’s pretty pimp. However, that means about half a million people beat me to it. See, I didn’t play in any kind of sanctioned event for a LONG time. For a fun bit of trivia, check out FNM Hero: Still Swinging and find Michael Belfatto’s DCI number. Baller status.
• • •
Fallen Empires recounts the struggle between these crumbling civilizations, which spelled disaster for just about everyone.
Truer words were never written. Let me take that out of context for emphasis: “Fallen Empires … spelled disaster for just about everyone.” The set was massively overprinted, flooding the market and depressing card values. On top of that — and it has taken me a long time to admit this — it just wasn’t very fun. Well, by Magic standards at least.
Fun trivia: There are a small number of Fallen Empires cards that incorrectly have Wyvern card backs. Yeah, I had Wyvern cards. I can’t recall, however, if I ever played a single game. I was too busy crushing local Rage tournaments. I almost got my Bone Gnawer political deck flavor-banned from an event once. Crazy Vorthos.
• • •
For [tournaments beyond eight players], you might consider what is called a Swiss tournament system, in which a pair of players play two games against each other (alternating who goes first), and then are re-paired with other players with the same win-loss record.
I found this quote really interesting. It describes Swiss with two games per round, rather than a best-of-three structure. I’ve wracked my brain for youthful memories of the tournaments we played and I’ve come up blank. Leave a comment if you remember this. Were there a lot of draws?
• • •
After each [league] round, a winner is declared, and the decks are kept with the league director until the next “season.”
“Nah, Bob’s cool. We can trust him. Just leave your deck with him. It’s not like there’s anything valuable in Legends anyway. I didn’t get any Elder Dragons at all! Just these stupid Mana Drains. And some card called Chains of Mephistopheles. Hell if I know what it’s supposed to do. It’s like a shepherd’s pie made out of rules text.”
This struck me as one of those nice, innocent little quotes that sounded perfectly reasonable in the days before the secondary market had become a sort of amateur stock exchange.
Here’s a fun thing we used to do: Flip rares. You take a stack of rares and face off against someone else. Flip your card into the air (with all sorts of boring but relevant rules about flipping) and check how they land. If yours lands face up and theirs lands face down, you keep both cards. Otherwise, re-flip.
We didn’t just do this with bulk rares like Underground Sea, though. We were degenerates from an early age. People put in some of their best cards, like Farmstead and Elvish Archer. Maybe even a Darkness if you were a total baller. I have a distinct visual memory of losing my Farmstead in a flip once to my friend Brian, winning his Tropical Island and then desperately begging him to flip the Farmstead against me so I could win it back.
I like to think of this as the precursor to another popular side event at future tournaments: Dollar high rolls.
• • •
If you have access to the Internet, you have many ways to get more information on Magic and other Wizards of the Coast games.
Yeah, kids, that says “if.” Magic the Gathering predates common access for the “modern” household to the open Internet. We’ve been playing this game for longer than we’ve had some of the most common technologies that have defined the modern age and transformed our daily lives, such as cell phones and social media.
For many of you, this is kind of a “duh” fact. But there are plenty of players these days that have spent most of their conscious lives in a very different zeitgeist. One day, we may have professional Magic players who have never even owned a paper card. Maybe we already do.
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If you want more information on our electronic mailing lists or our network presence on America OnLine, CompuServe, Prodigy, or the Imagination Network, just drop us a line.
I lol’d. We didn’t even have lol back then. I remember getting infinite AOL discs in the mail, in magazines, in hot dog packages and basically everywhere else you could imagine. I think my cat coughed one up in a hairball once.
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Other players may have cards you’ve never seen before, and by trading, you can strengthen your own deck.
This is another quote that I love, because it speaks to two very different things at the same time. The first is the wonder of a new player running across old cards and realizing how huge our universe really is. The second is the fact that before the pervasiveness of every day Internet, players who weren’t subscribed to a magazine like Scrye or Inquest could honestly only be aware of whatever players had around them in their local hobby shop or bookstore.
It has been a long time since I’ve run across a card that I never knew existed. That was a wonderful feeling. I’m not really mourning the death of that innocence, though, because we get new sets at a pretty regular clip now. Magic continues to evolve and excite. I’d much rather play Magic than, say, watch reality TV. I’m just saying.
The More They Stay the Same
A deck should not be forty or so independent cards but rather forty cards that all work in conjunction with another.
This section wasn’t actually talking about a Limited deck. But the statement is a good one and this principle of deck construction is still one of the basic ingredients that separates the boys from the men, so to speak.
• • •
While it is possible to build creatureless decks in Magic, these tend to be much more complicated and hard to build with the small number of cards a beginning player has available.
No, this statement was not written by Zac Hill. Although in the early days of Magic, the average power level of creatures was much lower than that of spells, creatures were still a statistically significant number of cards. For a player with a limited collection, you often wouldn’t have the cards you needed to build a strategy without dudes.
Here were some of the most sought after creatures from my youth:
- Royal Assassin – It killed pretty much anything except Serra Angel
- Shivan Dragon – It killed pretty much anyone except people who didn’t play Magic
- Elvish Archer – It … umm … was efficient and … OK, fine, we loved the art.
On top of that, we knew that Arabian Knights and Legends cards were baller. Random gold legends like Axelrod Gunnarson and Lady Orca were serious trade bait. Cards like Oubliette were a hot commodity. Even in Jr. High, we knew how supply and demand worked, if not rarity.
• • •
Often games are lost by players who stock their deck with big creatures, only to die long before they ever have the mana to cast those creatures.
The concept of the mana curve has been with us for a very long time. Curve is critical to deck construction in Limited and in most Constructed formats. I remember the first deck that I made which had a real curve and demonstrated a proper understanding of card advantage: A mono-blue mill deck featuring the combo of zero creatures and Nova Pentacle. When everyone else’s deck was playing one Craw Wurm or Force of Nature at a time, it worked out pretty well for me.
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To avoid “mana death” [see Slang Glossary], I’d recommend including nearly 40 percent lands or mana sources in your deck.
What I tell people who ask me how to build the land base for their Limited deck is to start with 17 lands and then come up with a really, really defensible reason to go up or down one, let alone two. That’s pretty conventional wisdom and it rounds up to 43 percent of the deck. For a 60-card Constructed deck, that’s 24 lands. I remember the conventional wisdom among my friends in 1995 being about 1/3, or 20 cards. We apparently didn’t read this article. Of course, we did get to play with multiple copies of Sol Ring so perhaps it all worked out.
• • •
One color is far too easy for your opponent to defend against if he or she has the right Circle of Protection or other “hosers.”
And here, even before the Eh Team, we see the influence of (pseudo) Canadian culture on Magic the Gathering slang.
I love this quote because I think it still says something true about Constructed formats, while at the same time referring to once-loved cards of extreme power that make fleeting, rare appearances in Magic today. The Circle of Protection cards were extremely powerful in my childhood playgroup. They were the original “groan test.” Maindeck Disenchant, as a result, was quite common. We didn’t have sideboards, so if you were playing COPs (as they were called), you had them maindeck too.
These days, they’ve moved away from cards like Choke, Deathgrip and Anarchy toward “fairer” cards like Flashfreeze, Kor Firewalker and Celestial Purge. Most sideboard cards in Standard these days are more designed to counteract a strategy than a specific color or land type. And their impact is much weaker or at least spread out. A card like Knight of Glory might still take apart your whole strategy, but it leaves you much more time to deal with than something like Chill would offer.
• • •
The people that build the best Magic decks are those willing to occasionally fall flat on their faces.
Shout out to Boats!
Actually, what I first thought of when I read this was Shouta Yasooka’s insane Magic Player’s Championship Modern RUG deck featuring AEther Vial, Cryptic Command and Eternal Witness. Without it, I’m willing to say the Modern portion could have been downright boring.
The moral of this story is that while taking the beaten path may have consistent average results for you as a player, the road to glory is paved over the bodies of even more Magic players who never tried to get ahead of the curve.
From Alpha to Return to Ravnica*
I thought a fun exercise to really illustrate how long Magic has been with is would be to make a list of Big Things that have happened between Alpha and now:
1997 – First animal cloned
2000 – Humanity’s first new millennium in an entire millennium
2001 – September 11 terrorist attacks on NYC and D.C.
2002 – The Euro is introduced
2005 – Hurricane Katrina
2007 – Planeswalkers introduced
2010 – Mana burn removed and damage no longer uses the stack
2012 – I wrote this article
We’ve played this game in two different millennia so far. Magic outlived Dolly. Let’s keep it going. While the numbers may have changed, I feel like this excerpt still perfectly summarizes Dominaria for me and most everyone I know who’s still involved with the game:
Two years, four translations, and millions of decks later, Magic: the Gathering still captivates players around the world.
And it still captivates this old man. I mean, I’d almost Marry the Game.
* Before you jump all over me, yes, this is quite U.S.-centric. Being a life-long resident of the U.S., I will admit to being somewhat U.S.-centric. It is also not remotely exhaustive and there are no specific criteria for what made the list other than my interest in mentioning it. If you have something to add, we love comments.
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