Magic's First Time to GenCon

Posted in Arcana on August 9, 2013

By Trick Jarrett

Patrick "Trick" Jarrett oversees web content and social media for Magic, and acts as the publisher of and Magic content on the web. He's an ardent Commander player and lover of the game he's played since Ice Age.

Given that this week we've been featuring Magic's twentieth anniversary, it's time to dredge up another digital tidbit from the early days of the game. Today I give you a USENET post from a gentleman named Dave Howell. Dave was a very early employee with Wizards of the Coast, contributing in a number of ways including the story he tells about the first time Magic went on sale at GenCon (not to be confused with Origins, which is when it debuted.)

Dave originally posted this to USENET on September 8, 1993. That's nineteen years and eleven months ago to the day! I've left the formatting untouched, not even inserting card images when he mentions cards, nor correcting grammar or spelling mistakes. Enjoy this tidbit of Magic's history!

Enchanting the Masses,
What the Wizards did at GenCon.

We arrived on Wednesday and managed to get people into the hotels w/o much trouble. Setting up the booth was more interesting, since we'd bought a new backdrop, and the first anybody had actually seen it was sitting in it's black boxes in our booth. We managed, somehow, and were pretty ready for opening day on Thursday. New products were Thystram's Collectanaea, Chessboards: The Planes of Possibility (written by yours truly), and, of course, Magic: The Gathering.

We had airshipped about 600K cards over from Carta Mundi, our printer in Belgium, and had the whole shipment sell out to distributors before we left for GenCon. As a result, the last week before we went we were running around scraping together every deck we had left, so we'd have something to show on Thursday. We were supposed to have the rest of our first 2.5 million cards by then, but they were shipped to Oakland instead of Seattle, and would arrive by train on Thursday, after we were at GenCon. After dazzling footwork and frantic phone calls by Lisa Stevens, we found we'd have about 3000 decks for sale at GenCon. They would be air shipped from Seattle, and arrive Friday.

Thursday, we sold out what we had around noon, and started a reserve list. By the end of the day, we had reserves for about 100 decks. Nobody really pushed a product we didn't have yet, so it was a relatively quiet day, which was good. It gave our staff some time to settle into a routine.

Friday at 10:30 our shipment arrived, and we already had a line. That line lasted until noon, and picked up again around 3. There was a mad rush right at 6, when the hall closed. We were playing 2-3 demo games at a time in the booth, so people could see the cards moving around. This proved to be unnecessary on later days.

We started running two challenges Friday afternoon. At the booth was a "Challenge the Masters" competition, where one of our experts (usually Rick D.S. Marshall, the husband of Wizard's editor and a fanatic at assembling deadly decks) would offer all comers the chance to take him on. Why would someone challenge a person going by the title of "master?" Because the challenger would ante up a card from their deck, as normal, but we were ante-ing two booster packs. The final record was 1-18 for our master players. Each card that was won by the master was mounted on the wall behind him as a kill record.


As anyone who saw these challenges can tell you, there were four decks that were being used, three of Rick's and one of mine. Generally considered the most dangerous was the 'decay' deck, which consisted almost entirely of swamp, sinkholes, and plague rats. Lots of plague rats.

The second worst deck was the "walk into this" deck, which had no creatures, no direct damage spells, really no offensive capability at all. What it had were counterspells, power sinks, black vices, brainguysers, and psychic venoms in abundance. In effect, the deck caused the opponent to kill himself. Tremendously frustrating.

The third deck was the 'white weenie' deck, and contained holy strength, benalish hero, and pegasus, along with plains. They all band, the pegasi fly, and they needed so few plains to cast that the challenger was usually quickly overwhelmed by the little buggers. The banding is a key to this strategy.

My deck goes by "The X Deck," which was originally eXperimental. It consists of forests, Llanowar Elves, wild growth, and sol rings to allow a lot of mana to hit the table fast, and mountains, fireballs, and disintegrates. A typical game against this deck has me playing mana cards on turns one-three, and doing a 6,7, and 8 point fireball on turns four through six.

Most such decks (we call them degenerate decks), have critical weaknesses, and if you know that's what you're up against, they're easily defeated. However, against a general deck, they're devastating.

It should be noted that one of the playtesters managed to come up with a deck at the con that makes all four of these look like dirt. I'll just say it was very green.

You might also note that of the five decks listed, the colors are black, blue, white, red and green, and green. You can make a killer from just about anything...


Far more interesting was the "weenie pack" challenge. We gave three of the playtesters a total of three decks and three packs. With just this raw material, they assembled three decks, and took on challengers, one card to one booster pack. The challengers, of course, were given no restrictions on their decks. They could play from a deck made from 20 booster packs, and enhanced by trades with anybody they could find. Despite this supposed handicap, the win-loss record was 28-4.

Lesson: Even if you only get one deck and one pack, and trade with only two friends, you can still put together a competitive deck.

Saturday we really got into gear, with our tournament starting at noon. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of rules confusions, and one round of 2 out of 3 ran for almost two hours. Someone recorded a blow-by-blow of the final set, but I don't have it here. The finalists were showing an excellent grasp of the game. The winner, Alex Parrish, was playing a red and black deck, and the 1st runner up was playing green-white. Alex took home a free membership in the Duelist's Convocation, our Magic Dueling organization, a Magic T-Shirt, a certificate, and a display case of (36) booster packs. That's 540 cards. Finalists got the membership an shirt, and the 1st runner up also received 5 booster packs.

Sunday, we were even more swamped. About 10:30, we started running two receipt books, and still had a line until closing.

What many of our staffers reported, and I experienced first hand, was that you could wander the Mecca halls and spot a game of Magic just about everywhere you went. Wearing a Wizards exhibitor badge gave me a celebrity status that was intoxicating to experience. Retailers were telling us that they were tremendously excited to have a hot new product. The last big seller, 2.5 years ago, was Vampire. Gamers would say "This is such a great game" over and over, until I walked away. Darwin Bromley, the head of Mayfair games, called Magic "The Babe of the Con."

Of course, what really stands out are the other company's reactions. TSR did nothing, of course. White Wolf had already expressed interest in the game, after just seeing prototypes. They reaffirmed their desire for a Deckmaster game based on Vampire: The Masquerade. It goes to playtest soon, and should be out early next year. R. Talsorian signed a letter of intent for a Cyberpunk game. Both they and the FASA Shadowrun team lamented that there isn't any good way to simulate network warfare, so the Cyberpunk Deckmaster is hopefully going to be a netrunner game. The Camarilla had already given serious thought to using Magic as an optional method of resolving battles between vampires. Presumably they'll switch over when the vampire Deckmaster is out.

Unfortunately, R. Talsorian beat FASA to the punch, so the Shadowrun Deckmaster that FASA wants will probably not be out in '94. The status of a Battletech game is still iffy, but an Earthdawn expansion set for The Gathering is very likely. I had more than one FASA artist tell me how excited they were about that, since their contract prohibits them from taking outside work on a competing product.

Other too-soon-to-say-for-sure items would include distribution in B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, and what might come from the Marvel (or was it DC?) rep that was seen around our booth.

But enough blue-sky speculation. Cold hard facts, that's what we need. Remember that shipment that came into Seattle? Well, a bit less than half of it was already spoken for before we left for GenCon. On Tuesday, the day before it actually reached our warehouse, it was all sold, and more. Some distributors called three times that day to increase their orders. The bad news is we won't have the rest of the print run until mid-September.

At the present time, our near-term plans for Magic include a new edition of the Gathering, visibly different on the face of the cards to distinguish them from the first edition, and a Collector's Edition complete boxed set of the cards, marked on the back so they can't be used w/o an opponent knowing of them. We're hoping to get all of the above out in time for Christmas. Also scheduled for a mid-December release is 1,001 Nights, the first expansion set for The Gathering.

The company hopes to maintain a strong presence at cons throughout the country. Those we can't get to ourselves we will cooperate with local people to provide prizes for tournaments and such. If you're involved with a con and wish to run such a tournament, call Wizards at XXX XXX-XXXX and ask for Steve, our Convention Coordinator.

I will see some of you at WorldCon. Drop by the booth and say hi.

I'm having so much fun!

Dave Howell, aka Snark
Production Manager, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Keeper of the Magic FAQ

This post was sent to me by the previous author for the Arcana, Monty Ashley. Even though he's moved on from Wizards of the Coast he still feels compelled to contribute to the daily Arcana. Thanks Monty!

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