Masterful Memories

Posted in The Inkwell on June 3, 2016

By Inkwell Looter

The cartoonist known as Inkwell Looter first Berserked a Scryb Sprites back in 1993. More recent work includes comics for Gathering Magic, a steady churn of custom token art, and writing card names and flavor text for Wizards of the Coast.

Eternal Masters gets us old-timers spinning yarns. A set of beloved wayback playbacks from dawn and up through the storied history of our great game? You better believe it gets these geezer jaws flapping!

But I don't want to exclude any of you wizard apprentices and young pyromancers who joined the gathering more recently. Here are some annotations to illuminate the above comic's references:

Panel 2—The game portrayed here could have been played in 1993 and showcases the wild discrepancies in power levels of early Magic. The first player starts his game with a turn-one Plague Rats, which costs three and grows as more copies enter the battlefield. Pretty good, huh?
Unfortunately, the second player has one of the game's most infamous turn-one kills. Back before Channel Fireball was the namesake of a juggernaut pro team and content portal, it was a two-card combo that dealt 20 points of damage directly to an opponent's dome. Black Lotus is a pretty good
card, too.

Panel 3—So, the event depicted here didn't exactly happen, but it symbolizes how the early Pro Tour was a wild foray into uncharted waters. These days the Pro Tour is a highly organized endeavor with a skill-testing path to qualification, video coverage, a Hall of Fame, and more. And how did one qualify for the very first Pro Tour? By calling a hotline. That's right! Back in 1996, you qualified for the Pro Tour in the same way that you'd win Spice Girls tickets from a local Top 40 station.

Panel 4—Magic's original creature keyword abilities included flying, trample, first strike, and others that stood the test of time and remain with us today. Others have fallen by the wayside, including the notoriously complicated "banding." The source of a great many battlefield brain-teasers, banding was gone after 1997.

Panel 5—Every old-school player has a painful story or two about cards they wish they still owned. It was all new to us, and it wasn't immediately clear that the splashiest, coolest cards might not also be the most powerful or sought after. Give us a break, we barely had a worldwide web.

Panel 6—Speaking of underestimated cards, Ice Age's Necropotence went from "huh, weird" to such dominance that the summer of 1996 was dubbed "Black Summer." That summer, the top tables of the biggest tournaments were owned by either Necropotence decks or decks warped to
specifically beat Necropotence decks. It's an early, memorable example of a format-defining card and deck-building ingenuity. Blake Rasmussen recently sat down with Erik Lauer to talk about the history of Necropotence. Oh, and the card happens to be in Eternal Masters.

Panel 7—The destruction of land (à la Wasteland or Sinkhole) was a huge part of early Magic. In more recent times, R&D wisely recognized that a player with no mana is a sad player, so they scaled back the sort of land destruction that sees print. Eternal Masters, as a nod to our history, contains some of that nasty old land destruction for those who like nothing more than an opponent with a full hand that they can't cast.

Okay, well, that's enough storytelling for this old magician. Remember to study hard and use all your mana, kids.

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