A Magic Journey

Posted in Feature on November 23, 2009

By Geordie Tait

The Newbie Era – Norritt

I started playing Magic: The Gathering in 1997. I don't know if it was before 3DRealms started working on Duke Nukem Forever, or after. I was just glad to get out of the year without SkyNet nuking me from orbit.

Everybody has a story about how they started playing Magic, and everybody starts in almost the same place. Just lately there have been an influx of players who picked things up quickly because they played other card games, but back in the day it wasn't like that. Back in the day it was Magic or some dry-as-a-bone CCG with a space opera license.

1997 is over twelve years ago now, and that time represents about 40% of my life. I was hired for my first real job and fell for my first real girlfriend with Magic looming nearby as the stone idol to which I sacrificed my free time. I was taught the game by a man I no longer see, in a place I no longer visit. Sitting cross-legged on gray pile carpet, we placed our lands in front of our spells in a protective caul and played according to rules that no longer exist.

I was 17 years old.

The first card I have a clear memory about is Norritt.

My deck was whatever I could make with the spare cards my friend had with him. I chose blue cards, but I maintain that that choice doesn't mean I'm a jerk. My first attempt was full of creatures with the word "Vodalia" in the name, which meant I spent a lot of my time swinging with 1/2s and, since it was 1997 and I'm Canadian, complaining about what had happened to Bret Hart.

That it was a slaughter in favor of my friend should come as no surprise to you.

My opponent was sketchy in the way only 17-year-old Magic players can be. He had no compunctions about smacking my underpowered deck around. Later, I heard a story about him clandestinely arranging his opening hand to contain two Swamps, Sengir Vampire, Dark Ritual, and Sol Ring in five consecutive games. Upon being accused of cheating in the sixth game, the story goes, he had his cards forcibly revealed and was caught red-handed with the same arrangement, at which point he dropped some F-bombs and stomped out of the house. So as introductions to Magic go, he wasn't exactly Mister Miyagi.

The way he used Norritt on me was simple: when I would swing with a blue creature, he would "untap that guy so he can't attack." I just accepted this as gospel and went back to getting killed by Thrull Champion. I was too in awe of his deck to complain much. He'd force my 1/2s to attack with Nettling Imp or Norritt and eat them with Sengir Vampire. He'd tap them with Icy Manipulator and blow them away with Royal Assassin. He'd set up elaborate Breeding Pit supply lines to build up his Ebon Praetor. It was like watching the operation of a brutal torture device. Monstrous to be sure, but with enough efficiency to make you respect it even as your own entrails are unfurling onto the floor of the abattoir.

After loss twenty or so, I bid him good day, already hooked like 110th Street and planning Magic revenge. I was at the comic store the next morning with a fistful of pesos, trying to get my hands on some cards that weren't Phantasmal Terrain or a 1/1 for three. The store owner threw in some extra Fallen Empires packs for free. I as astounded by his generosity, not yet knowing that there were more boxes of Fallen Empires in print than copies of Chairman Mao's little red book. On the way out the door, I asked a couple guys at the gaming tables if Norritt could really untap your dudes to make them not attack.

"Sure, that probably works," they said, and then returned to tapping their Dark Rituals for three mana.

I bought four Norritts and made my way out the door. I'm sure I prevented at least a couple of attacks with them before all was said and done. And I made it out of 1997 without getting nuked by SkyNet. Sadly, the Notorious B.I.G. didn't.

Honorable Mention Cards From This Period

Ebon Praetor: My introduction to the black "sacrifice to appease the big dude" mechanic was not the Lord of the Pit version that most people typically get. I picked up the card to read it and felt something akin to what a pious man must feel when he walks into a disused church, ascends to the pulpit, and finds a pulsating book there, writ in Druidic tongues. Which is to say, it was a lot of text I couldn't decipher and the art made me somewhat uncomfortable. I'd call that a design success.

Thrull Champion: When I busted all those packs of Fallen Empires, this was the only card I really wanted. That should say something about the allure that tribal themes have—and also to the ascending decibel level of my F-Bombs when packs increasingly failed to yield one.

Thorn Thallid: Thorn Thallid was my first experience with actual removal. (Probably the saddest sentence you'll see in this article.) Take it easy on me, though. Nowadays, some 16-year-old kid gets pulled away from Counterstrike and his poker-playing older brother shows him a Tarmogoyf and tells him what's what. Within a year he's winning Pro Tours. Listen, my peers were ramming Svyelunite Priests into Walls of Wood. I had a lot less to work with.

Castle Sengir: I filled my decks with these pieces of junk just because I loved the idea of nonbasic lands that did stuff beyond just straight tapping for mana. Flavor people, take heart. New players will use your stuff if you tie it in thematically with a good or popular card, even if it really sucks! If this had been named Castle Johnson or Castle Smith, I wouldn't have given two poops about it.

The Coolness Era – Illicit Auction

Flash forward to 1998. Smoking was officially banned in all California bars and restaurants. On the day of his 52nd birthday, president Bill Clinton made an admission he'd rather not make. On a semi-related note, the FDA approved Viagra. In Magic, Stronghold and Exodus were released, and then Urza's Saga. For the first time, cards had color-coded rarities and collector numbers. I was knee-deep in the game then, and wading further out—down at the comic store daily, making new friends, slinging spells, and "perfecting" strategies even though I had no idea what I'm doing.

I was 18 years old.

This was my "Get Cool Cards And Show 'Em Off In Multiplayer" phase. I remember few spells from this period, and lots of creatures—an experience which is likely typical. Very few of my memorable early games contained, say, a blowout Wrath of God ... but I do remember the Berserked Minion of the Wastes that took one poor sap out of a multiplayer clash before he'd even had time to unknot his dice bag.

Nobody thought Wrath of God was all that great; we just thought it was an inconvenience, like your roommate tripping and hitting the reset button on your Nintendo while you're on the last level of Ninja Gaiden.

I had five different multiplayer decks during this time, one for each color. The green one had massive fatties, plus mana acceleration. Everyone builds this deck in the beginning, and people aim removal at them like they're Salma Hayek's upper lip. The dream dies in a hurry.

My blue deck was filled big fliers like Ephemeron and Silver Wyvern. I feel old. Does anyone remember these cards? This is what we had to work with in Southern Ontario in early 1998, honest. You couldn't just cast Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and call it a day.

Silver Wyvern

My white deck was a Preacher / Worthy Cause deck and also had four each of Archangel and Serra Angel as well as Herald of Serra. Again, Magic R&D—take heart that all of those references you make to old cards really, really work on susceptible people like me. Herald of Serra was not a good card, but I played four of it anyway just because I loved the idea of a Serra-themed Angel army.

Worthy Cause

Four years later you could have named a card Yawgmoth's Sengir Sliver and I probably wouldn't have played it unless Pat Sullivan told me it was a strictly better version of Ancestral Recall. Designers have a small window to work this particular sort of magic on a new player before he or she wises up and fills every deck with Sensei's Divining Tops.

The black deck was simply an improved version of the same Royal Assassin nightmare that had stolen my lunch money so many times back in my parent's basement. That brings me to the red deck, which was probably my favorite for two reasons: Dragons, and Illicit Auction.

Illicit Auction

Illicit Auction was the first card I saw that really seemed designed for multiplayer, and I immediately put four copies of it into my deck just so I could watch people bicker and barter, paying life in an attempt to retain their creatures or steal those of others. I learned a lot about my fellow players by observing their reactions to an Auction. Perfectly absurd bids of life were being offered left and right for the services of underpowered clunkers like Baron Sengir and, in one sordid case, Kaysa—wherein so much life was bid that we had to question the appropriateness of the player's relationship with the card. We found him two weeks later in a hotel room with a jar of peanut butter and a playset of Jacques le Vert.

You got your Jacques le Vert in my peanut butter!

I miss those crazy multiplayer battles a lot, and I know I can never have them back. The thing that strikes me in hindsight was that it never mattered how good a card was, or how good any given player was. The games lasted forever, sometimes approaching three hours, and if you were eliminated early you had no recourse but to wait around and watch. A guy who got blown out on turn three was actually legitimately mad that it had happened because it meant he'd been relegated to a few hours of thumbing through issues of Lady Death and Vamperotica while the game proceeded without him. Despite being on the receiving end of early exits more than once, I kept coming back for more, and the summer flew by.

It turns out that for most people, once you graduate past that multiplayer sweet spot, there's no returning to it. If I was asked to sit around in a three-hour game today, I'd be rolling my eyes at every misplay (what a hypocrite I am) and catching a nap whenever I didn't have priority.

If you're at this spot in your Magic evolution right now, where you're just having a great time and you don't care how long anyone takes or how poorly they play, enjoy it while you can. Someday you're going to wake up, the 10 minutes that a guy across the table takes to play his turn will seem like an eternity, and you'll know you've moved on.

Honorable Mention Cards From This Period

Altar of Dementia: I loved this card as soon as I saw it. I was dumb enough to think that milling someone represented an inconvenience and victory on my part. That was fine, because they were dumb enough to believe it, reacting to repeated millings like I had just dishonored their mothers.

Lightning Dragon: I played four of these for the same reason I played four Herald of Serra. And Viashivan Dragon. And Shiv's Embrace. Sigh. Wizards, you know my nerdy, hopeless gamer heart all too well.

Congregate: Everybody who played big multiplayer games in the Urza's Saga era has a story about Congregate. A drawn-out, boring story that probably goes on about 40-50 minutes too long.

The Tyrant Era – Cadaverous Bloom

It was still 1998. In my hometown, multiplayer was still going strong, but one-on-one play was a backwards mess. In world news, Stu Ungar passed away a scant few years before his sport would explode. A police officer was less than impressed with George Michael's latest release. The Galaxy IV satellite conked out in the sky, robbing 90% of the pagers (remember those?) in North America of service for nearly a week. It's still up there, a dead, orbiting hulk.

Some Magic players never grow up—they just stay at the happy-go-lucky, multiplayer-loving stage of the game forever. I wasn't one of those. Somewhere along my journey, my innocence died and I realized that winning was more important than waiting to draw my Leviathan.

It was a dark age. The tournaments held infrequently at my local store were called "Type 1" (now known as "Vintage"), but they were not Type 1 like you know it today, with lawyers waiting until incorrect game states will provide an advantage before tapping the judge. No, people at these tournaments were playing anything they could get their mitts on. Kird Ape, Ernham Djinn, and Lightning Bolt was a hot hand.

I went where any sane person would go if they wanted to learn to stomp on others: the Internet. There, I armed myself with the tools necessary to ruin the fun for everyone but myself. The deck that got me started in being unfair was ProsBloom as played by Hall of Famer Mike Long. I found it by searching tournament report archives, where in between stories of extra Muscle Slivers and enthusiastic dudes gushing about Demonic Consultation I lived vicariously through each first person account. The first thing I did was crib the best Standard deck out there, and in learning to play it, I made a wonderful discovery that many players make and revel in: a deck is like a piano. You can fumble around with it, or you can learn to play it well. And if you learn to play it well, it's exponentially more fun.

Cadaverous Bloom

When I first brought ProsBloom to the card shop, nobody had seen anything like it. Game after game I would Prosperity and throw away the excess cards to Cadaverous Bloom to power up a huge Drain Life. I felt like Royce Gracie at UFC 1—pounding on people who had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I know some of you out there remember this deck fondly. Infernal Contract. Meditate. I even got to experience the joys of hanging around at zero life, a forbidden fruit that new players will never taste.

Infernal Contract

After having their prehensile tails stepped on, my friends staged a rebellion and began to plot against my evil contraption. At one tournament, someone killed eight slots in his deck dead as a stone pigeon just to main-board four copies of Circle of Protection: Black and Energy Storm (look it up) in a metagame call against me. It was like a tribal savage painting an animal god on his chest as abjuration against an incoming tank shell. He went down just like the others.

The pygmies shouted amongst themselves, babbling that I was ruining Magic and gesticulating wildly with their clawed fingers. I launched the killing blow by switching to a Circle of Protection: Green + Hurricane kill and taking ProsBloom into the new world of multiplayer, like Cortez fresh off the boat at Santo Domingo. It was a bloodbath.

Eventually the point was made. A small contingent of the flat-earthers sulked their way back to their caves to dance by firelight to worn copies of Telim'Tor and Aleatory, but most of them got wise and logged onto the Internet themselves.

It wasn't long before the place was modernized. Armed with the latest and greatest discoveries made by players far better than we were, we rolled through 1999, pushing each other to improve. Fast track to the Pro Tour, am I right?

Not quite.

Late in 1999, Turbine Entertainment released an MMORPG and I was quickly hooked. Anyone who ever lost a Magic buddy to an MMO knows what happens next in this story.

I didn't pick up a Magic card again until the year 2001. The internet giveth. The internet taketh away.

Honorable Mention Cards From This Period

Necropotence: Once people started playing Vintage decks that were marginally less embarrassing, I spared them the indignity of misplaying their own downloaded decklists by simply casting Hymn to Tourach and Sinkhole two or three times a game and removing all decisions.

Cursed Scroll: This card revealed to me just how badly people can out-think themselves when I got a scoop by scrolling for Incinerate while holding only a Mountain. I'm sure I'm not the only one who tried something like this. Any other good "bluff Scrolling" stories out there?

Tradewind Rider: One thing I notice about you casual players when they start playing more competitive matches is that they never concede. Even when they have no permanents. Guys, it's OK. You can go on to the next game.

Wall of Roots: Does anyone remember Wall of Boom? You new players don't know how good you've got it with this rules team. Special prize to the first guy on the forums to explain how that deck worked. (Not really.)

The Wall Street Era – Black Lotus

While I was off video gaming, the year 2000 passed and it became 2001. The Y2K hysteria gripping the nation had amounted to nothing. Charles Schulz died, leaving Charlie Brown the chance to finally kick that football. Elian Gonzalez returned to Cuba. In Magic, Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero, Rising Waters, and the entire Prophecy set had their haydays while I was off playing online games. I was also absent during the printing of Anthologies. As hiatuses go, I think my timing was great.

At my home store, Magic had become more popular, and a higher class of cards had come with it. The "Type 1" tournaments were still going on, and the quality of opposition was a little higher, but not much. It's around this time that I bought my first piece of the Power 9—a Black Lotus—and in doing so I felt a giddy excitement at the idea of having paper treasures literally at my fingertips. Every Magic player has some of that wonderment, no matter how jaded. I can even remember the first time I heard about a Black Lotus. It was back in the day—I had just purchased a Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and happened to ask the store owner which card was the most expensive.

"Black Lotus," he replied. "It's probably about $350." I nodded, impressed, and went back to playing the Propaganda / Winter Orb deck I was then using to make my opponents miserable.

It's hard to describe the feeling that comes from owning the most valuable card in all of Magic, misprinted Hurricanes and other mutants excepted. I liked the feeling, the prestige. This was just as big a milestone in my Magic life as the first time I read a tournament report online or the first time I mistakenly cast Woebringer Demon onto a clear board. When I plunked down the cash for my piece of the Power 9 I felt like René Belloq must have when he was about tap into the power of the Ark of the Covenant. Maybe even better, because my Black Lotus didn't end up melting my friends' faces or causing my head to explode.

From the Unlimited Black Lotus I graduated to Beta cards. In this context I opened my wallet for cards that I normally would not have looked at twice, loading my binders with black-bordered trash that I treated like fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the process of building my collection I learned all sorts of interesting things about old Magic cards, the sort of stuff that you readers have been absorbing one Card of the Day blurb at a time. This encyclopedic knowledge of missing Cyclopean Tomb mana costs, Orcish Artillery misprints and absent Plateau artwork drastically increased my popularity with the opposite sex.

Because an appreciation of rare and interesting cards sorta goes hand and hand with knowledge of the secondary market, I at times fancied myself Magic's version of Gordon Gekko. I got in on the tail end of the golden era of "honest" trading, as Wizards added colored rarity symbols to all cards from Exodus onward, meaning that even the most backwards rube could now see that his copy of Oath of Druids was worth at least $2.

Needless to say I thought I was a big deal and spent a few months at least partially equating Magic: The Gathering prowess with the girth and vitality of my trade binder. That viewpoint, like my others before it, eventually fell by the wayside for reasons that were both practical and moral. It's a lot more fun to just play Magic than it is to chisel marks out of chase rares.

Six years later, I found myself hanging around a game designer and watching him create playtest cards out of foil rares. The rares were from a non-Magic card game that nonetheless had an active secondary market. My eyes were like saucers as he scribbled on gleaming card faces with a black Sharpie. "But that's a foil [insert valuable rare here]!" I said, incredulous, as if he was spray-painting an anarchy sign on a war memorial.

"You know they're all worthless, right?" he said.

He wasn't saying that cards are not worth owning, or games not worth playing. He was only trying to tell me that these cards cost fractions of a cent to print, and that I was working for a card company. It was time to let it go.

Black Lotus is just another card to me now, and while my mind remembers the feeling of awe that once gripped me in the owning of one, that's all it is—a memory. That's cool, though. It's enough to me to remember those carefree days when owning a Black Lotus made me feel like King Croesus, and smile.

Honorable Mention Cards From This Period

Ertai the Corrupted alt
Serra Angel

Ertai, the Corrupted (alternate art): Do you guys remember when this and a couple of other cards were released with alternate art? I traded a foil, alternate-art version of this to some guy for a Mana Drain before slinking away to further manipulate Charlie Sheen.

Serra Angel: The only mint condition Beta card I have ever owned was a Serra Angel. There was a time when I actually knew the difference between Mint, Near-Mint, Excellent, Very Good and so on. I used my knowledge of those terms to grade cards on the spot, with dubious accuracy. It sure sounded impressive, though.

The Community Era – Rout

It was still 2001 when I got my first taste of something that would change my Magic: The Gathering life forever: (relative) victory at a big tournament. Grand Prix–Detroit in 2001 had only slightly fewer participants than potholes (639) which was at that time a large showing. It was my first large tournament, and in between browsing dealer tables and watching Mike Flores get blown out by Plague Spores, I actually went on quite a run. Especially considering I had no idea what I was doing.

The reason I remember the card Rout the most is because I accidentally drew it as an extra card during a crucial late-round match. The mistake was noticed immediately, but that wasn't enough to save me. Called in by my opponent, Level 9000 judge and fellow Canadian Jeff Donais issued the Benedict Arnold match loss. Incensed at his nonpartisan ruling, I swore I would never again tape his hockey stick, buy him a bag of milk, or sing along with him to the Stompin' Tom Connors classic "Bud The Spud."

Despite that setback, I went home $1000 richer and immediately wrote a tournament report. This began a period of aspiring to play Magic at a high level and aspiring to write about it in a compelling way. This stage comprised the bulk of my experiences playing Magic and along the way I got to experience the game in the way that I think most players nowadays experience it—as part of a large community coming together at tournaments and online via the written word. That's why I've chosen to call this The Community Era.

Fast forward to 2003. The United States Department of Homeland Security had just started operation. The Human Genome Project had finally been completed. In California, Grey Davis suffered the ignominy of being supplanted by a man who once been filmed vanquishing an opera-singing, electricity-shooting gladiator. In Magic, Eighth Edition rules changes dictated that a player's card draw no longer used the stack.

This meant the greatest play in Magic history—Mike Long's "stack my card draw, float , Kaervek's Spite you even though you have Memory Lapse" was no longer legal as it was originally announced. Maybe someday only the old duffers at the comic store will remember it, the way they remember Hugh Duffy hitting .438 in an all-white league with a dead baseball. A new card face was also released with Eighth Edition, causing idiots everywhere to promise to quit the game.

Speaking of idiots, I was 22 years old.

At this point I'd written over 100 columns about Magic: The Gathering, and I could recite my DCI Ratings and DCI Number from memory. I was regularly participating in Grand Prix, Provincials ("States" to you), and National Championships. I played in my first and only Pro Tour, in Chicago early in the year. I didn't make Day Two, but looking back at the resulting tournament report I can see an honest enthusiasm for Magic and the people who play it, an enthusiasm free of any jaded disillusionment. In reading about and remembering 2003, I feel like an old man looking into a time capsule and finding a picture of his own smiling face, free of the ravages of age.

I think I was able to stay in that zone for so long because I was "good" at the game but not even in the same zip code as "great." Or maybe because I could understand game theory but not formulate it myself, a fact I proved with several written excursions I'd like to forget. Or maybe because I could put together a sentence about missing Day Two, but not a deck list that would help me avoid that fate. It was a blessing and a curse.

I think it was probably 2004 or 2005 before I resigned myself to waving at the gravy train as it passed by, never to set foot inside. By then, like a lot of people who love Magic, I was less interested in getting behind the wheel, and more interested in what was under the hood.

Honorable Mention Cards From This Period

Lavamancer's Skill: The only time in my Magic career where I felt like I was playing at a Pro Tour level was during Onslaught block, and only in Limited. Thanks to Magic Online, I probably put a Lavamancer's Skill on a Mistform Wall about a thousand times, and stacked damage before flipping Wall of Deceit another thousand.

Shock: I beat Gabe Walls in a feature match at a GP by holding three Shocks when he cast Form of the Dragon. I sat with the best in the world. And I won.

Crown of Fury: I took Glory Seeker over Dragon Roost in the draft that led to me qualifying for Chicago. My deck was fast with a curve topping out at Menacing Ogre, and it was the right choice. Eric Taylor complimented me on knowing how to draft an archetype (fast red-white in this case). As a result, I thought I was a big deal. As a result of thinking I was a big deal, I drafted this card (Crown of Fury) over Smother, first pick, first pack, in my next draft, causing everyone watching to shake their heads and walk away in disbelief.

Stalking Stones: Once I sat down to play a match on the behalf of Canadian Magic legend Phil Samms because he had to run an errand. I asked him if the deck had good mana. He said it did. My opening hand featured Fangren Firstborn, Spire Golem, and a splashed Shatter. This is the next card I drew. (I tell this story every chance I get.)

The Great and Powerful Oz Era – Crucible Of Worlds

Back to 2003. My first attempt at really contributing to Magic: The Gathering design was a flavor text submission for Crucible of Worlds during the "You Make The Card 2" design contest. It made the short list of votable choices but ultimately did not win. I was stung, because I thought it was really good. I logged back onto Magic Online and forgot about it, telling myself that taking down another 8-4 was more important than getting some silly text published.

Crucible of Worlds

It nagged at me, though, because the truth was I had always been interested. I couldn't deny it, especially not to myself. "If you are such a utilitarian, rules-text-only hard case," I asked myself, "then why do you remember that Necrites killed Jherana Rure, ending the counter-insurgency"?

There must have been something about the aesthetics of Magic that resonated with me. After all, I'd pulled Necrite out of a pack six years before and seen it only sporadically since then. How was it that I could remember that piece of information, along with the image of a Necrite licking the blade of a knife?

Flash forward a bit in our timeline and I'll set the scene again. It was 2006. Celebrity rug-monkeys Suri and Shiloh had been born, beginning their respective races toward almost certain dysfunction. Mel Gibson was about to have an interesting chat with a police officer.

I was 26 years old. Whatever hair I had pulled out due to land flood I wasn't getting back.

In Magic, it was time for the Great Designer Search. I really wanted to participate, but I couldn't—I wasn't able to legally work in the United States due to being a maple-syrup-drinking socialist. Like any headstrong rejectee, I went about player-hating the people who actually did get selected. Outwardly showing indifference, I was actually so envious of their chance to help design Magic cards that I wrote a blog satirizing the contest under the pen name "Mark Tyneside." Eventually, the winners went on to their awesome jobs at Wizards of the Coast and I went back to using purple money to buy fries at Taco Bell. Professionally, I filled the void by doing flavor text and art direction for cards from a bunch of games that weren't Magic: The Gathering. I enjoyed the work, but it just wasn't the same. I was like a baller playing in Russia when my real dream was to make the NBA.

The top three finishers in the Great Designer Search: Graeme Hopkins, winner Alexis Janson, and Kenneth Nagle.

I call this the Great and Powerful Oz Era because the Great Designer Search revealed once and for all the mortals behind the great gaming monolith, and all the tricks they use to put out the product we all find so exciting. It wasn't just this contest—Mark Rosewater had been deconstructing the magic, Penn and Teller–style, for years—but I remember this being the first time I really thought the inner workings had been laid bare to everyone, even the layperson. Suddenly, everyone was an amateur designer. Rubes were talking about "tension" and "linear mechanics" as if they actually had some clue what they were doing.

In the end I found myself in a weird place, almost feeling like I'd seen too much. I couldn't look at a card and feel the same wonderment—I'd know that I was looking at the product of six months of database comments and revisions, Future Future League trials, art requests, art revisions, and flavor text submissions. I knew I wanted two things: to be part of the process, and to put it back under wraps so I didn't have to listen to PrinceVegeta26525 talk about his "Fires of Sifallus" homebrew set on the forums.

This is probably what every fanboy feels—horror at the desecration of his favored pastime by "amateurs." But then again, what am I but the biggest amateur of them all?

A hypocrite, I suppose. Try to forgive me. I just really liked Magic.

Honorable Mention Cards From This Period

Propaganda: I still remember it because of the strong flavor concept: Karn, the pacifist, being forced to kill against his will via placement in an ever-moving room filled with beings who would be crushed under his weight. I told Mark Rosewater about this personally in a conversation I'm sure he remembers.

Bequeathal: Probably my favorite flavor text of all time. I hope I'm that cool on my deathbed.

Goblin Offensive: They certainly are.

Sanguine Guard: "Father of machines! Your filigree gaze carves us, and scars dance upon our grateful flesh!" I just quoted that from memory and hope I'm right. Flavor text writers, take heart! Somebody actually cares when you're good!

Terminus – Norritt

It's 2009. I don't go to many events anymore, even though on Facebook I see status updates from guys winning Pro Tours. My Black Lotus now belongs to someone else. My Magic Online account has been liquidated. My DCI rating hasn't budged since Moses wore short pants, and I don't rightly remember what it is. I sold off every valuable card I had: The Library of Alexandria that was the first compensation I received for my work as a columnist. The Jackal Pup signed by Dave Price. The Yawgmoth's Bargain signed by Zvi Mowshowitz. There was even a Cursed Scroll autographed by Richard Garfield, with the words "Ban Me!" written on it. It was given to me by a good friend, and that's one I wish I'd kept.

I am 29 years old, and I keep those memories in my head, now. I don't have many Magic cards anymore—just the ones that I find floating around like loose change, the remnants of drafts I don't even remember.

I do still have a Norritt.

It's beaten up, and it has "Decree of Pain – cycle 3BB" scrawled on the face. I'm going to take it down to the card store one day and put it into a pre-con. I'm going to sit down and start a match against someone I've never met, a wide-eyed kid who is just getting into the game.

"Have you played before?" he'll ask me.

I'll tell him that I've played a time or two. Maybe I'll tell him I took my shot and missed. Maybe I'll tell him that I like to tell myself I'd be designing cards if I'd only been born five miles further south.

He'll swing a blue creature at me. I'll turn my Norritt sideways and say "I'll untap that guy so he can't attack," in confident tones.

"Does that work?" he'll ask.

"Yeah," I'll reply. "Of course it works. It's Magic."

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