Duelist #4: Origin Stories

Posted in Feature on November 1, 2010

By magicthegathering.com Staff

I'm fascinated by old issues of The Duelist, the print magazine that preceded this site. During the years of The Duelist's run—1994 to 1999—Magic, and trading card games in general, went from an overnight sensation to an established part of the game industry. The magazine, especially in its earliest days when nobody really knew where all this was going, is a weird blend of the familiar and the bizarre.

For example, Duelist #4 contains an article announcing the formation of a new tournament format called "Type II," in which only cards from the last several sets would be allowed. Type II was later renamed Standard, and the article's take on the format's prospects turned out to be entirely accurate: "We think Type II will become a staple of the tournament circuit."

That article's a little too concerned with matters of the time to make gripping reading now, but below are links to three other articles from Duelist #4 that I think make for interesting reads.

First up is "Wizard's Chess" by Tom Hazel, detailing a fun little set of house rules to bring a chess feel to Magic. (For a slightly different take on chess-themed decks, check out the Daily Deck from Monday, October 4.)

Next is "Magic in the Classroom" by Susan Mohn, which charts a few ideas (and pitfalls) for using Magic as an educational tool. I've read lots of letters from people who tell us that they would have missed a particular SAT vocabulary word or never grasped a concept in probability or whatever without Magic helping them along. This idea rings especially true to me now, as many among the first generation of Magic players are (yes, I know, this is crazy to think about) settling down and having kids of their own.

Last up is the reason I picked up this particular issue of the Duelist in the first place: the monthly installment of a recurring feature called "According to Mr. Pling," compiled by Scott Hungerford. "According to Mr. Pling" collected various stories and musings from around the world of Magic. And in this particular case, I believe it served as the basis for a persistent urban legend in the Magic community.

You see, once upon a time there was a card called Chaos Orb. Chaos Orb, along with Falling Star, required actual physical actions to be used, resulting in messy situations that were so difficult to adjudicate that both cards were (and remain) banned from tournament play. One particularly enduring story involves a player who was in the Finals of a major tournament (before Chaos Orb was banned) and realized that he had one way to win: by tearing up his Chaos Orb and sprinkling the pieces on his opponent's cards. Supposedly it was this incident that led to Chaos Orb and Falling Star getting banned, and the story is famous enough that it inspired a card in Unglued, Chaos Confetti.

Chaos Confetti

Well, in addition to the origin of the Iron Man format, some shenanigans with Ring of Ma'Rûf and Jyhad (Wizards' other major TCG at the time), and a truly horrifying story about thirty Black Lotuses and some turpentine, this edition of "According to Mr. Pling" includes a purely hypothetical, just-for-fun compilation of eight silly things you are definite not allowed to do with Chaos Orb ... including, you guessed it, ripping it up and sprinkling it on your opponent's cards.

Now, maybe the urban legend is true. Maybe the person who did that inspired this list, or was inspired by it. Maybe. But rumors in the wider world often begin with "Wouldn't it be neat if ...?" and end up as "I heard about this crazy thing that happened ....", and I find it a lot easier to believe that that's what happened here.

Don't believe everything you read!

Kelly Digges
Daily MTG Editor

Wizard's Chess

by Tom Hazel

Wizard's Chess is a deck-building variant for Magic in which cards represent the different pieces used in chess. Although the game is played as a standard duel, some Magic rules have been modified and others added to capture the feeling of chess. Wizard's Chess can be played one-on-one, two-on-two, or as a multiplayer free-for all.


Component of the Deck

Each player's deck must contain a minimum of sixty cards: seventeen creature cards, eighteen non-creature spells, one artifact, and at least twenty-four lands. The creatures are chosen to represent the player's chess pieces. These are the sixteen standard chess pieces plus two additional pieces, the King's Wizard and the Queen's Artifact. All decks are constructed using only two colors, one for the King and one for the Queen. Players select a Bishop, Knight, Rook, and four Pawns of the Queen's color, and a corresponding set of pieces for the King.

King and Queen

The King and Queen can be any non-wall creatures with a casting cost of five or more. Appropriate cards for a red/blue deck are Vesuvan Doppelganger for the Queen and Shivan Dragon for the King. A black/white deck could have a Sengir Vampire and a Serra Angel (or, if you're really a power player, a Nightmare for the Queen and a Personal Incarnation for the King).

The Supporting Pieces

The player must select three different creatures to represent the Bishop, the Knight, and the Rook, and four of the same creature to represent the Pawns. Each of these creatures must follow the color requirements and other restrictions for that piece. Additionally, the power of the pieces must be decreasing; that is, the Knight must have lower power than the Bishop, and the Pawns must have a lower power than the Knights. The Rook is the defense of the kingdom, and its toughness should exceed the power of each of the other pieces.

Because artifacts are colorless and therefore can't follow the color of either the King or the Queen, the only artifact permitted in Wizard's Chess is the Queen's Artifact.

These restrictions should be taken as guidelines. It you have a certain card in mind to represent a particular piece, and the card doesn't meet the requirements for that piece, try to reach an agreement with the person you're playing with. If you let her use Veteran Bodyguard as a Rook, maybe she'll let you use Ramses Overdark as your King.

The Bishop

The Bishop is the most powerful warrior piece in the service the King and Queen. To reflect this, the Bishop may be any non-wall creature with power greater than or equal to its toughness.

A Bishop might be a Craw Wurm, Demonic Hordes, a Serra Angel, a Mold Demon, an Akron Legionnaire, Juzám Djinn, or even a mighty Orgg.

The Knight

The Knight is the warrior piece that leads the Pawns into battle, and can be counted on to face any enemy Knight that challenges it. To reflect this, the Knight may he any non-wall creature with a combined power and toughness totaling six or less. The Knight must have one of the following abilities: Flying, First Strike, Trample, Rampage, or Protection from a color.

Examples for a Knight are Black Knight, White Knight, Ghost Ship, Moorish Cavalry, Fallen Angel, Mountain Yeti, Thunder Spirit, Land Leeches, Dragon Whelp, and Knights of Thorn.

The Rook

The Rook is the kingdom's defense and may be any wall. Creatures with special blocking abilities, such as Giant Spider and Veteran Bodyguard, also make good Rooks.

Good examples of a Rook include Wall of Bones, Wall of Brambles, Wall of Air, Wall of Stone, Wall of Light, and Carnivorous Plant.

The Pawns

The grunt fighters for the King and Queen, the Pawns fight most of the battles in Wizards Chess. When Pawns face off in combat, both usually die. If your Pawns beat any other players Pawns, then you've probably chosen Pawns that are too big. Some of the worst examples for Pawns are Rukh Eggs and Kird Apes, as both of these cards would be a battle for most Knights in the game.

Players must select four identical, non-wall Pawns for each color. In general, almost any creature with a casting cost of three or less can work, as long as your opponent approves of the piece. To balance the game, though, Pawns must adhere to the following rules:

  1. Casting cost must be three or less.
  2. Combined power and toughness must total three or less.
  3. The creature's power or toughness cannot be "inflatable" as with Order of Leitbur or Frozen Shade.
  4. The creature cannot have a tapping ability other than one that provides mana.

If a creature has no special abilities, combined power and toughness can total four, and there is no restriction on casting cost. Good examples of a Pawn include Drudge Skeletons, Llanowar Elves, Shanodin Dryad, Grizzly Bears, Raging Bull, Blazing Effigy, and Bird Maiden.

The King's Wizard and Queen's Artifact

Along with the standard chess pieces, Wizard's Chess uses two additional pieces, the King's Wizard and the Queen's Artifact. The King's Wizard provides the magic for the kingdom. The Kings Wizard can be any creature of the King's or Queen's color that has a special ability; the ability should require tapping the creature. This piece may never block or attack unless forced to by a spell or effect. The creature's power and toughness must total four or less and cannot vary.

The Queen's Artifact can be any non-creature artifact, as long as it can't produce mana of a color other than the color of the King or Queen.

Non-Creature Cards

The remaining cards in the deck include eighteen non-creature spells and as many basic lands as the player wants. The spells can be in either the King's or the Queen's color, but no more than two of any card may be selected. Players may use up to four special lands, as long as each land type used is unique within the deck (however, up to four of one dual land can be used). Players may only use lands that produce mana of the King's color and/or the Queen's color.

Banned Cards

Some cards are banned from Wizard's Chess because they unbalance the game or violate the spirit of the rules. In general, cards are banned that damage, destroy, or bury all creatures (or a class of creatures) in play; take control of creatures; remove cards from the graveyard; or force a player to discard. (Cards that generate creatures can he incorporated into a deck, but their creature-generating abilities may not be used.) Some other banned cards include, but are not limited to:

Rules Changes

When the game begins, players must announce which creatures they are using for the King and Queen before drawing their first card. As cards are put into play, the piece each card represents must also be announced. This is done so that opponents can tell which of the following rules apply to these cards.

PAWN STARTING MOVE: Whenever a Pawn is brought into play from a players hand, the controlling player has the option to attack with the pawn during the same turn that it was summoned.

EN PASSANT: If a player brings a Pawn into play and immediately attacks with it, then any other Pawn blocking the new Pawn gains +1/+1 until the end of the turn.

PAWN PROMOTION: Players may also remove one of their Pawns in play from the game during their upkeep to bring any creature of the same color (other than the King) from their graveyard directly into play at no casting cost. The player must have controlled the Pawn since the start of the turn, and the creature from the graveyard enters play tapped. A player may promote only one Pawn per turn.

CASTLING: During upkeep, a player may swap a Rook for a King or Queen from his cards in play to his hand, or from his hand to his cards in play. The piece entering play is brought in at no casting cost, and comes into play tapped. Any enchantments on the card being returned to the player's hand are discarded. The pieces being exchanged must be of the same color, and the player must have controlled the piece in play since the start of the turn. If the creature in play has blocked or attacked since it was brought into play, then it may not be used to Castle. A player may Castle only once per game.

QUEEN SACRIFICE: The King has a fast effect, treated as if it were written on the card: ": Sacrifice your Queen to counter a spell or effect that would cause the King to be killed or removed from play. You must have controlled the King and Queen since the start of the turn, and the spell or effect must only target the King." For example, consider a 4/4 King and a 7/7 Queen. The King is targeted by a 5-point Fireball. The King's controller can tap the King and sacrifice the Queen, saving the King from the Fireball.

DEATH OF THE KING: If a King is buried or removed from play the owner of the King loses half her life total (rounding up). If the King is returned to play for any reason, the player does not gain the lost life back.

Here is an example of a Wizard's Chess deck:

King: Force of Nature
King's Wizard: Niall Silvain
Bishop: Craw Wurm
Knight: Cockatrice
Rook: Carnivorous Plant
Pawns: Llanowar Elves

Queen: Shivan Dragon
Queen's Artifact: Rod of Ruin
Bishop: Fire Elemental
Knight: Dragon Whelp
Rook: Granite Gargoyle
Pawns: Goblin Hero

Aspect of Wolf (2)
Stream of Life (2)
Tranquility (2)
Regeneration (2)
Desert Twister
Fireball (2)
Disintegrate (2)
Fissure (2)
Lightning Bolt (2)

Forest (15)
Mountain (15)
Taiga (4)

Wizard's Chess was created with the help of Eric Landes, Ray Mann, Eric Hough, Adam Dare, and Geir Landesskog.

Magic in the Classroom

by Susan Mohn

Magic or Economics?

You have a red/green deck. In your hand are: Grizzly Bears (, 2/2 creature), Scryb Sprites (, flying 1/1 creature), an Orcish Oriflamme (, gives all your attacking creatures +1/+0), a Craw Wurm (, 6/4 creature), a Hill Giant (, 3/3 creature), Tranquility (, destroys all enchantments in play), a Shivan Dragon (, 5/5 flying creature, :+1/+0 until end of turn), and Instill Energy (, allows you to uncap target creature one additional time on your turn). You also have one Mountain in play. Which do you discard?


Magic or Math?

You have one Plains and one Island in play. You really want to Feedback (, 1 damage to controller of target enchantment each upkeep) your opponent's enchantment. In your hand is a Benalish Hero (, 1/1 banding creature), a Phantom Monster (, flying 3/3 creature), a Pearled Unicorn (, 2/2 creature), a Circle of Protection: Blue (, 1 mana protects you from one source of blue damage), and a Sol Ring (, tap to give 2 colorless mana per turn). What should you do?

Magic or Math?

I have three Mountains and two Islands. I want to put both a Feedback () and a Hurloon Minotaur (, 2/3 creature) into play this round. If I use three lands for the Feedback, I won't have the three I need for the Hurloon Minotaur. Hmmm....

For years teachers have used games to help convey new ideas. Students interacting in a game get involved with its subject and therefore learn it that much better. In recent years, forward-thinking teachers have used roleplaying and other adventure games to teach traditionally challenging subjects. Now educators are starting to realize the possibilities in a game that relies on analytical thinking and creative problem solving: Magic: The Gathering.

One person excited by the educational possibilities of Magic is Jeff Brain, a teacher in the San Francisco School District. Working in the Computer Lab at the elementary level (K-5), "Mr. Brain," as the kids call him, started using Magic in the classroom in the spring of 1994. Since then he's used the game to teach a variety of subjects, from storytelling to statistics.

"One of the strengths of Magic as a teaching tool is that it allows me to crass between different areas." says Brain. "Take database management. I'll give them five or six cards to build a basic database. The students don't have to know the game well, so it's a good starting place for them. I might ask them: What do a Wolverine Pack and an Air Elemental have in common? They both have a toughness of 4, so the kids can search for that in the database, and lo and behold, Wolverine Pack and Air Elemental turn up. Using cards from a game that kids like and are familiar with as the data elements to be compared gives the kids something that is much more tangible and real.

"This is the real beauty of using games for teaching. It's wonderful for stretching the students, and it's grand for the student who's having difficulty integrating numbers or working with the computer. Magic helps to familizarize them with numbers and storytelling in a comfortable way, because playing cards are very familiar. The student is exposed to a variety of math problems and problem solving all at once.

"In the spring I'll be doing a four-week course on gaming, statistics, and probability in which I'll be using Magic and RoboRally heavily. We can constrict a hand of eight cards, and allow for one animal—a Shivan Dragon—and seven Mountains. So the question is: what are the chances that if I shuffle those cards the Dragon will show up? We shuffle and draw and figure out what the probability is. It becomes fairly apparent that it's one in eight. Then we add a Dragon, remove a Mountain, and do the exercise over again, and it becomes two in eight; then we try four Dragons and four Mountains, and so on."

Brain also believes that Magic offers a valuable teaching tool for the humanities. "It fits right in the slot of Social Studies, especially in the California school system's curriculum. Magic is a really good way to teach fair play, to develop a group dynamic, and to teach students to work as partners."

Mr. Brain also uses the game to work with myth and storytelling, especially in the curriculum for fourth and fifth grade language arts/social studies.

"When you break the colors of Magic down, you can look at how primitive peoples start using color to describe certain elements, such as red for fire and green for growing things and blue for water or air. These are good as writing prompts. A lot of the fourth and fifth grade teachers are talking about process writing and personal myths in the social studies/language arts, and they use Magic to assist in this storytelling. Sometimes we use just the color text on the cards as a writing prompt."

This use of games to prompt and increase learning is self-rewarding. Not only do the students learn new tools and new ideas—the teachers do, too.

"I didn't think about using Magic originally as a database tool; one of the kids thought of it on his own, and I realized this is a good tool. He builds his database and shares with other students who then add to that database. This is an education that is lifelong—I don't think any of us were creating databases in fifth grade."

Mr. Brain cautions that there are some issues to consider before including games in a curriculum.

"I'm wary to some degree—I do use some self-censorship because of the public nature of my position. I am not using some cards— if asked about them, I say we will talk about that after school. I think it's very important that we use intelligence and judgment in what we use to teach. Mixing our hobbies and our teaching is something we need to be very careful with— we have a great responsibility for the impact we can have on the students we teach."

According to Mr. Pling

by Scott Hungerford

On any given day, the Wizards hear quite a few strange stories. I dispatched my "agents" to investigate a few of these bizarre tales—some of the results will remain, of course, classified.


Tokens of My Affection

Reports of people using weird objects as counters and tokens are common. My personal favorite is the player who uses spent .357 shells as blood counters in Jyhad.

"My Tremere does three damage to your Craw Wurm."

The Ring of Ma'rûf from Arabian Nights allows you to bring any card into your hand from outside the game. A player can certainly bring a Toreador Jiisticar or even a Four of Diamonds into his hand with a Ring of Ma'rûf—he can even get them into the graveyard by a variety of means—but is there any legal way to get these strange cards into play?

"Around the television aerial, off the sofa, over the pizza box, nothing but net."

Some players still use Chaos Orbs and Falling Stars, and many show an unsettling mastery of nailing cards that offend them. I have seen airborne Chaos Orbs that defy the laws of gravity and physics; I have seen well-flipped Falling Stars turn arpimd a runaway slaughter and secure a decisive victory. I have even seen secret government documentation that space aliens from Alpha Centauri are waiting to kidnap the world's top twenty Magic players at GenCon and force them to become combat pilots, just like in The Last Starfighter. No matter how weird things get, though, you cannot:

  1. Cover any part of the playing field with plastic wrap.
  2. Cover your cards with card protectors, pieces of stained glass, or hundreds of little lead figures.
  3. Use large encyclopedias, animals, or people as counters. (Using your little brother as a counter just isn't legal.)
  4. Shred your Chaos Orb into little pieces and let the fragments drift across your opponent's side of the playing field. (The Chaos Orb becomes an invalid card, or at the very least can safely be considered marked and cannot be legally used in play.)
  5. Tape or staple cards to the walls, ceiling, underside of the table, or yourself.
  6. Hide your cards underneath your opponent's cards.
  7. Coat your Chaos Orb with Stickum(tm) so you can nail the Pearled Unicorn your roommate stapled to the dorm room ceiling.
  8. Nail your opponent in the eye or any other vital organ with a well-thrown card. Just because you're losing doesn't mean you have to blind or cripple your opponent—it's just poor sportsmanship.

Preliminary reports have also confirmed that one employee at Wizards of the Coast owns a huge Chaos Orb, roughly the size of a box of breakfast cereal. Now wouldn't that be nifty to fling at your opponent?

The Frozen Shade from Heck

In an Emperor's game, a 32/33 Frozen Shade was Berserked to become a 64/33 Frozen Shade, then was Forked and enchanted a hideous number of times by the General and his Lieutenants, making it a 19,000+/33 Frozen Shade. Unfortunately, the opponent blocked this monstrosity with a Wall of Shadows from Legends—all damage the Wall of Shadows receives from creatures is reduced to zero....

Ironman Magic

I have personally taken part in this bizarre variant of Magic. In Ironman Magic, when a card is destroyed, it is really destroyed: the offending card can be ripped up, flushed, burned, dunked in tomato juice, or downed in a two-liter of generic diet grapefruit soda. This game was meant to be played in front of a large crowd, with only Alpha and Beta cards allowed, but I have also played it with everyday common cards and simple decks. Mutual consent must be established for who gets to destroy which cards, but the following rule generally applies: the player responsible for a card going to the graveyard gets first say on who gets to destroy the card in question. If you Disenchant your opponent's Mox Sapphire, you get to decide whether you want to flush both the Disenchant and the Mox. Sometimes it's better to force your opponent to tear up his own Mox, just to watch the tears bead up in his eyes.

The game is best played with tournament legal decks, and both players should start with forty life points each. Starting with this much life guarantees that both players will go through a large share of their libraries before the game comes to a close. The sole survivor from my last game is a ketchup-stained, stapler-hashed, black-handlebar-mustached Lord of the Pit.

Complete Trading Mastery

My operatives recently verified that someone had successfully traded a couple of Revised starter decks into a full set of Legends. The person did it in just a few months, without ever spending a cent of his own money. How did he do it? He contacted every game, hobby, and toy store in his area and traded fairly with everyone he could. When his hometown resources were exhausted, he checked the Yellow Pages at his local library and sent fliers to every game store in the region.

"Can I Death Ward Myself?"

A rather strange individual called the WotC customer service line right after Halloween, asking about spells that would protect him. After a few minutes of convoluted conversation, the confused customer service representative finally figured out that he wasn't asking about Magic: The Gathering—he wanted a magical incantation that would protect him in real life. Once it was explained that WotC could only help him with questions about its card, roleplaying, and board games, not about magic, voodoo, or matters of the occult, he quietly hung up....

Also from WotC's customer service files: a young child once called up and asked what the cover of Spider-Man #238 looked like. When he couldn't get an answer to the question, the child began crying hysterically.

Paint Thinner Blues

An avid player of Magic suffered through the Chicago floods with devastating losses. His basement flooded and most of his cards were either soaked or floating. Although it's possible to iron out cards and save a few against the trauma of water damage, a can of turpentine was also mixed in with the water in his basement. The turpentine didn't combine well with all thirty of the Black Lotuses he had painstakingly traded for over the course of the previous six months.

Strange Sightings

I've heard stories that Magic cards have been seen for sale at the occasional 24-hour restaurant, and even across the counter at a small gas station in California. There are even rumors of Fallen Empires booster packs being sold at a Victoria's Secret.

Wizard's Chess, by Tom Hazel
Magic in the Classroom, by Susan Mohn
According to Mr. Pling, compiled by Scott Hungerford

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