A Love Letter to (Nearly) 25 Years of Magic

Posted in Feature on June 12, 2017

By Corbin Hosler

Adrian Sullivan has always been competitive. Renowned as one of the best deck builders in Magic's history, he is one of the few players in the game's storied history to post premier event Top 8 appearances in years so far apart—he made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Memphis in 1999 and later reached a high point in his career by finishing in 4th place at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in 2015. It was the culmination of a long and rewarding journey for the La Crosse, Wisconsin, native.

The Top 8 and the drive to better himself didn't come as a surprise to those who knew Sullivan. Before he was Adrian Sullivan, Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and deck builder extraordinaire, there was a litany of other activities he competed in. Debate, cross country, track—as Sullivan puts it, the competitive streak has always been there.

But nothing has held him quite like Magic.

"I remember there were three or four guys who ran the game store I was at. They came back from an event [with] four starters of [Limited Edition (Beta)] along with a couple of packs, and they let us play Magic," Sullivan recalled fondly. "I bought two booster packs that day and had a small set of cards.

"We all got hooked. Not too much later [Unlimited Edition] came out, and we all bought our own starters. We would play with all the cards we owned and played for ante. We thought we were competitive, but no one knew what was good. [Moxen] were traded for basic lands. I lost a Black Lotus to ante. And that's how we played for a long time."

Adrian Sullivan
Adrian Sullivan

Welcome to the early beginnings of Magic. It was, to put it mildly, a different world. No one knew how many cards there were or even the rarity of the cards they had. Shivan Dragon was a bomb. Mox Sapphire was just a weird basic land. Speaking of basic lands, those were often in short supply. Dual lands and Black Lotus were shuffled frequently—card sleeves didn't even exist yet. And no one really knew exactly how the rules worked. But there was something there, something that drew players like Sullivan in. (For him, it was the interaction between Lifelace and Deathgrip—"There was just something about it, it was so convoluted but so appealing!") Something that kept their interest long after the new-game fad died down.

Still, no one would have guessed they'd still be playing Magic almost 25 years later.

And yet here we are. You can still find Sullivan at a game store in Wisconsin, combining cards into convoluted-but-so-appealing plays that haven't lost their luster even after nearly a quarter of a century.

Magic turns 25 in 2018, and it's bigger than anyone could have ever imagined when they opened their first Giant Growth. In a world where most games either fail to launch or stall out soon after release, it's hard to overstate how special it is that Magic has survived to be the game we know today.

Because it's been a long road to here. The game's initial popularity caused massive shortages as Wizards of the Coast struggled to keep up with demand. We've seen rules changes; bannings; power dips and spikes; the coming of winters filled with Combo and Eldrazi; card-frame changes; mythic rares; Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded; New World Order; and untold other developments that created real or perceived hurdles for Magic to overcome.

The years have not dulled the disdain for Magic's smallest planeswalker.
The years have not dulled the disdain for Magic's smallest planeswalker.

We've also seen the creation of Friday Night Magic and the Pro Tour. We've seen fan-created formats like Commander become a staple of Magic play. We've seen hooks of all kinds for players, from tribal decks like Slivers or Goblins or Merfolk to Commander to Two-Headed Giant to Draft to Vintage to six-player free-for-alls, from the kitchen table or elementary school lunchroom to the Pro Tour and everything in between. We've seen a community that found a common interest capable of so much more than just filling time—it has changed lives.

It's that community that made David Windmiller realize he was going to be around for a long time. Introduced to the game during Beta when he was just nine years old, he got in deep when Revised Edition rolled around and "suddenly the entire school was playing Magic." Little did Windmiller know when he was building his Millstone deck that the Magic gods had something special in store for him.

"My uncle's wedding was in Seattle on the exact date of the Magic World Championship, and obviously I had to check it out," explained Windmiller, two decades later still slightly in shock about the turn of events. "The highlight of the trip was meeting Richard Garfield. I stood in line to get a free oversized Black Lotus, which he signed, and we talked for a bit. He was very impressed that I was so young playing Magic, and he was very happy to hear that it was taking my elementary school by storm. To this day, I still have the oversized Lotus and one-day pass to the event."

We all have our own Magic story. 20 years before he was making the Top 8 of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, Sam Pardee learned to read so he could play Magic with his dad. 2015 Player of the Year Mike Sigrist got into Magic on a whim when he and a friend found a $20 bill on the ground. Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl learned the game from a childhood babysitter trying to entertain their charge. R&D member Gavin Verhey was first introduced to Magic as a child when he took a wrong turn at computer camp and walked in on some college students playing the game.

For its long-time players, Magic isn't just a part of their lives—it is a part of who they are. Pro Tour Champion Jacob Van Lunen credits Magic for saving his life. Through Magic, Hunter Burton inspires years after his tragic death. When medical science couldn't help Jimmy Bucknell, Magic gave him back his life.

There are the Magic stories that grab your attention. Then there are the ones that slip by quietly. The loner who finds Magic as an outlet to make friends. The married couple that met over a game of Standard. The artist who found their creative outlet in Magic. The kid who learned math while playing the game. The friends who bonded over yet another 10-hour car ride to a Pro Tour Qualifier.

All thanks to a game that Richard Garfield hadn't even intended to pitch when he first stepped foot inside Wizards of the Coast 25 years ago. In that time, Magic has gone from Seattle to Singapore. From childhood hobby to lifelong passion. From kitchen table to world stage.

It's been a good (almost) 25 years. Here's to 25 more.

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