Looking through the oldest Duelist issues, it's fascinating (at least for those who weren't around at the time) to watch both players and Wizards of the Coast grapple with the concepts and questions that would shape the game. Some of these things now seem quaint or strange; others are shockingly prescient about the course the game would take.
In the first half dozen issues of The Duelist, you can find trading tips from the reigning World Champion, rules for Magic solitaire, and an explanation from the Duelists' Convocation of their plan to keep Magic tournaments from being profit-driven for the people who run them—all ideas that did not catch on. But you can also find the introduction of the Emperor rules, the beginnings of Organized Play, and all sorts of other things that are still around today—even the origin of that urban legend about somebody ripping up a Chaos Orb to destroy all their opponent's permanents (which was stated in terms of "Wouldn't it be crazy if...").
Today, we've got three Duelist articles to give you a look at the way things were over a decade and a half ago. The idea here isn't to point and laugh at how dumb everyone was back then. On the contrary! The first of these articles was written when the concept of a trading card game was only about a year old, and what's really striking is how recognizable much of it all is.
First off is "An M:TGer at Gen Con," from Duelist #3 in the Fall of 1994, written by our very own Mark Rosewater. (You might recall seeing this on the site several years ago, but with Gen Con 2009 just recently on the books, this is a fine time to call it out again.) As Mark explained in A Different Worlds, this article was his big break.
(To contrast Mark's report with the modern Gen Con experience, check out next week's feature article!)
Next we have "The Expanding Worlds of Magic," from Duelist #4, by Magic creator Richard Garfield (with a sidebar by Skaff Elias). In this piece, Richard explains the original plan for Magic's release, and how and why it fell by the wayside. He also lays out the plan for the upcoming "stand-alone expansion," Magic: The Gathering–Ice Age, providing a shockingly accurate road map for the block model that still guides Magic releases today.
Finally, for you Melvins out there, we've got the FAQ for Fourth Edition, compiled by Adam Conus, Tom Wylie, Jim Lin, and Rich Redman. This would have been distributed in The Duelist sometime later; Fourth Edition came out in 1995. The document is loooooong, so we've redacted the portions that don't make for an interesting contrast with the rules today to give you the highlights. Although in part this is a vivid reminder that, wow, pre-Sixth Edition rules were weird, it's also an impressive demonstration that, convoluted as the rules were, the people who needed to know how they worked absolutely did. The game's original lax approach to rulings had given way to a formal system of timing and interaction that. The system we use today, although in many ways based on a totally different system of timing and interaction, owes its formalized structure to the hard work of these long-ago rules gurus.