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By: TheWolf, Shane Garvey
Aug 06 2018 12:00pm
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Wow. Happy birthday Magic: the Gathering! It's a little hard to believe that the game is now twenty-five years old, but here we are (and man does that make me feel old). Released on August 5, 1993, my first introduction to Magic was actually a few months later. At the time, I was thirteen and I was heavily into Dungeons & Dragons. I had just discovered Dragon Magazine and would read the thing from cover to cover. Issue 201, published in January 1994, would be a very fateful issue for me.

At the time, Dragon Magazine had a reviews section in it where they would review games from other companies. This particular issue had a review of Magic and, after reading it, I was completely hooked. Including the prophetic line of "...the trailblazer that may become an entire industry category", the review went on to describe how you play "terrain" cards which you "tap" for five colours of magical mana, which you then use to summon mystical creatures or cast deadly spells. It described a few decks you could try; the "Deck of Sooner Than Instant Death", where you would summon creatures and "augment their strength"; a straightforward offense of red magic - something I still enjoy to this day - or a deck that forced your opponent to draw a lot of cards and then dealt them damage based on how many cards they have. 

But the biggest part of the review was the postscript to it, which described how Magic had exploded in popularity and what Wizards of the Coast was doing in response, including planning three new expansions (Antiquities, Arabian Nights and Legends).


The First Game

I was hooked, but it would be another month or two before I would get to play my first game. I was staying with a friend over school holidays and we were looking for something to do. Both of us being nerds, we wandered into a game store in a country town in Australia. We only had a limited amount of money and were looking for something we could both do. Ideally, we wanted to pick up something to do with Dungeons & Dragons, but I spotted some Magic packs behind the counter. I asked about them and the store owner offered to show me the game. He opened up a Starter Pack of what he called "Unlimited Edition" - a 60 card pack that included basic land - split the deck in two and offered to teach me the game. We spent about twenty minutes playing and it once again cemented my interest in the game. However, the owner said my friend and I would need two packs to play and we didn't have enough money. We ended up leaving without any Magic cards. 

A year or two later, I would remember back on this day with abject horror. When we played, I held in my hand a card that I figured was quite useless. I mean, we had land cards - why did we need 0 cost artifacts that did the same thing? Why would you print something that did the same thing as a land but was an artifact instead? It didn't make sense - that Mox Emerald was surely just a worthless card, right?


My First Cards

In early 1995, I became quite ill and ended up in hospital. I was bored out of my brain so, to cheer me up, my Mum decided to buy me some things and I had been looking at. One was a starter set for Warhammer, the other a Starter Pack of Revised. I fondly remember opening up that pack and pouring over every little detail of the cards and the rulebook. I would beg anyone who came into to visit me to play; even though I didn't quite know all the rules at the time. I think a lot of my friends stopped visiting me for that reason - they were sick of doing nothing but playing Magic! But a couple of friends were hooked and I had myself my first playing buddies. 

I don't recall every card that I opened that day, but I do remember some. Everyone loved the Craw Wurm, and we thought the Force of Nature was extraordinary. I was quite taken with the land that tapped for two different colours of mana - I had opened a Tropical Island, and I still have that card today. It's a card I will never part with.


The First Decks

My friends and I started buying cards right at the tail end of Revised, so we didn't end up with too much from that set. We were buying packs from Fourth Edition, Homelands, Fallen Empires, Ice Age and Chronicles mostly, as that was what was available locally at the time. We all had our favourite colours and styles, and would trade among ourselves for the cards we wanted. 

My first favourite colour was black, and the first deck I tried to build was a Plague Rats deck. I traded for a friend's Nightmare and another one's Lord of the Pit, and as many Plague Rats as I could get my hands on. Soon after we learned that you could only include four of any one card in a deck, which left me in an awkward spot to say the least! I began to instead build a deck around The Rack and Hymn to Tourach so that I could still use all my black cards.

A gaming club was started in the area during this time as well. Although primarily focused on Warhammer, I managed to introduce Magic to the group and within months the focus had shifted to cards rather than miniatures. This was during 1996-1997. After a short time a tournament was organised locally and we had about 15-20 players participate. I bought a new, innovative deck to the fold, based on my The Rack / Hymn to Tourach deck, and that involved a card that most people at the time thought was useless and were happy to trade to me for next to nothing: Necropotence.

In truth, what had happened was I had discovered Magic on the internet. When looking up deck lists that included the cards I had, I discovered the Necro deck. I already had most of the cards, and I knew people in my group thought Necropotence was useless, so I went ahead and built the deck. In fact, I can still actually quote the deck list I used at the time from memory:


I came second in that tournament (losing to an opponent's mono-white Serra Angel deck) but I continued using the deck for months after that and dominated. So much so, in fact, that people started to refuse to play me if I was using it. It was time to find a different deck.


Mono Red and Me

Being on a tight budget and having traded a lot of cards to build the Necro deck, I needed to find a second deck that was cheap. Enter the Sligh deck. I can't remember where I first read about it - it might have been either Duelist Magazine or The Dojo website - but I remember it being described as a "pile of cheap, bad cards that somehow work together". This seemed perfect - I'd be able to cheaply trade for cards no one else wanted. Little did I know that this would start a love affair with mono red decks that continues to this day.


Tournament Magic

Fast forward to the year 2000. Our gaming group had disbanded, with many people going off to university. I met a new friend who introduced me to tournaments in Melbourne, which was a three hour drive from where we lived. My first tournament was an Invasion pre-release, which was also my introduction to limited Magic. This was back in the days where pre-releases weren't held in stores but were larger, regional events. We left at 5am that morning and drove to Melbourne, with a printed out sheet of all the cards and trying to work out what was good and what was bad - an early version of the card-by-card evaluations you see people do these days (myself included). I didn't expect much at my first event, but ended up finishing in 10th place out of 64 players, with a 4-2 record, and walking away with a bunch of boosters as prizes. I don't think we got home until after midnight that night, but it was quite fun.

We'd repeat this process quite a few times over the next twelve months, starting with a pair of PTQs that were Extended format. I went horribly at these, going 2-4 and 1-5 playing with mono-red decks. The next event was the Planeshift pre-release, where I finished 6th out of 64 and went 5-1 with a three-colour deck playing three (!) copies of Phyrexian Scuta and two copies of Armadillo Cloak. I lost the first round and then went undefeated, and felt incredibly good about it. So much so that I was now hooked on limited and would pretty much abandon constructed Magic for a while. 


Taking a Break

After the release of Odyssey, I took quite an extended break from the game. Real life, jobs and girlfriends started to get in the way and my priorities shifted. But although I stopped playing, I never completely quit. I would still read info on the game, from the official website to other forums, like MTGSalvation. I played a bit of the old Apprentice program, and tried out Magic Online when it came out. I would make brief comebacks to playing (on Magic Online exclusively), first when Ravnica came out, then around the time of Future Sight. I read with interest the changes that came with Magic 2010 (how DARE they get rid of mana burn!) and was confused by the introduction of Planeswalkers (wait, aren't we, the players, Planeswalkers? How does that work??) I loved the flavour of Innistrad, and followed along with a lot of articles during that time (but didn't play at all). 


The Return

In 2013, with my kids now getting older and my life more settled, a friend told me that a local store was holding Magic tournaments and asked if was I interested in going? The tournaments were only once a month (at the time) and everyone just played Standard. I decided - sure, why not - and bought an Event Deck and a Deckbuilder's Toolkit and rocked up with him. I did okay, finishing 2-2, but I was hooked again. Over the next few months I would tweak that Event Deck but would always do moderately well. Then I remembered my old Sligh decks.

I started to put together mono-red decks and started doing better, so much so that people deliberately started building decks (or at the very least, sideboards) against me. We played constructed exclusively, until the store began to hold pre-releases, starting with Born of the Gods. This once again fired up my passion for limited Magic and eventually we started having drafts. I kept playing both, but constructed once again took a back seat.

With the release of Vintage Masters on Magic Online, I dipped my toe back into the online world of Magic. Here was a set that would let me play with all the old cards I had fond memories of. I didn't have a lot of money to splash on the drafts, but I figured I could do one or two drafts and that would be it. 

I opened Black Lotus in my first draft.

I honestly don't even remember how that draft went, but I think it went poorly. I was way too excited about opening this mythical card to care. I immediately decided to sell it - how many drafts could I do now! My friends and I scoured bots for the best buy price and I eventually sold it for 280 tix. I was set up for quite a while after that!

In 2015 I began writing for this website (September is my third anniversary). These days, I focus solely on Limited, though I will occasionally dip my toe back into Standard, Pauper, or Penny Dreadful (I wouldn't mind some support for Australian Highlander on Magic Online, either). I play exclusively online now; it's much more convenient for me these days. 

Ever since that fateful day in 1994 when I read the Dragon Magazine review, I have loved this game, even when I wasn't actively playing. I truly believe Magic is the greatest game ever created; despite being an avid tabletop gamer, no game has ever held my attention for so long. Cheers, Magic, happy 25th birthday; here's to another 25!


re by Hearts at Tue, 08/07/2018 - 11:56
Hearts's picture

Mana-burn, combat-dmg on the stack, banding and some other abilities, upkeep effects and effects in upkeep, interrupts, damage prevention pockets, land destruction, artifacts that shut off when tapped, sensible ipg/rules, more use of basic lands because less access to "dual-"lands, and more.

Do you miss these ?

I miss a lot of these by Rerepete at Tue, 08/07/2018 - 16:23
Rerepete's picture

I miss a lot of these effects, they added a lot of complexity to the game (and why WotC got rid of them).

With mana burn, Rishadan Port was attack as well as mana denial.

I really miss interrupts as they made control decks more skillful to pilot.

The one thing I wish WotC would do is restrict cards rather than outright ban them.

Damage effects on the stack I by TheWolf at Wed, 08/08/2018 - 02:19
TheWolf's picture

Damage effects on the stack I do miss, actually - I liked using Mogg Fanatic a lot

My first game by Rerepete at Tue, 08/07/2018 - 16:18
Rerepete's picture

The game that got me hooked was against a fully powered Chains of Mephistopheles deck.

Cool beans! Your story by Paul Leicht at Tue, 08/07/2018 - 16:57
Paul Leicht's picture

Cool beans! Your story parallels mine some ways.

re by Hearts at Wed, 08/08/2018 - 06:17
Hearts's picture

I do not understand how "less complexity" is a(n) (good) argument when talking combat-dmg on the stack, interrupts and so forth. MtG is all about complexity from the beginning. If things were about dragon/goblin/merfolk pictures and/or role playing they would play dungeons and dragons or other.

A conversation about MtG with a new player, whether in 1997 or 2016, would necessarily have to go "takes a lot to learn but is very fun" if you wanted to be honest with the person.

By removing the things mentioned in post on top they have removed 50 percent of the "soul" of mtg, things that could be learned once and then known forever.

Things that act as stress factors in games like mtg is *new* things, which happen every new prerelease, completely unnecessarily, new abilities and so forth. Getting recruitment/new players to mtg is not helped with "I can go to the prerelease and win because some things are new and then I can win almost as fast as the experienced ones.", people just dont think like this.

The amount of things that have been thrown at mtg, by "design"(I call them card-makerers) and then scrapped for all future sets is insane, and stupid, and have caused a lot of trouble for judges and players.

Hi everyone by Haroldglole at Wed, 08/08/2018 - 05:22
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Hi everyone :)