Hello, faithful readers. Today is a very personal column. I'm almost at the ten-year mark (and very close to the five-hundred-week mark), yet there are things I haven't yet shared with you. In fact, I'm about to reveal something that might seem inconsistent for a married man with three children, but I've hidden the truth for far too long. This is kind of hard to put into words, so I'll do it with a picture. Brace yourself.
My hidden secret is that I'm...
...a T-shirt hoarder.
Yes, I have so many T-shirts that if all of them were clean at one time, there would not be enough room in my closet to fit them all. Luckily, I have a family of five, so that never happens.
Of my voluminous T-shirt collection, a large number of the shirts are associated with Magic: The Gathering. This is due to three major factors: 1) I'm a big fan of Magic. 2) I believe T-shirts are an extension of the person who wears them and I like to express what I do for a living. Plus, a great way to find other Magic players is to wear a Magic T-shirt. 3) The vast majority of my Magic T-shirts were free.
In today's column (and part 2 in two weeks), I am going to countdown my top twenty Magic T-shirts of all time. With each I'll explain where I got the shirt, what significance it has to me, and what makes it one of my favorites. Be aware that at present I have well over fifty Magic T-shirts and I've given away to charity many others that haven't managed to make the cut.
Before I continue, let me answer a few questions I'm sure were raised by the above photo. Yes, my shirts are color-coded. It makes it much easier to find the shirt I need. Yes, the entire upper right half of my shirt collection is flannels. I currently have around eighty.
With that out of the way, let's get onto the shirts.
- 20) Grand Prix Rio (1998)
Grand Prix Rio was the very first South American Grand Prix. It had an exciting final match between two South American icons: Jon Finkel and Steven O-Mahoney-Schwartz. (Finkel won.) But that's not the reason the shirt's an emotional favorite.
Grand Prix Rio was the site of the second ever Magic Invitational (called The Duelist Invitational at the time) While the giant Grand Prix was being run upstairs in what I believe was the hottest room to have ever hosted a Magic tournament, at least one I attended, downstairs, the Magic Invitational was being run in the only air-conditioned room in the entire building. The room was made of glass and all the spectators were pressed up against the glass watching. At the time, I assumed they were enthralled by all the stars of the game, but in retrospect, maybe they were just really hot.
The Invitational was won by Darwin Kastle, playing against former World Champion Jakub Slemr in the finals. Darwin would go on to be the first Invitational player to claim his prize, in the form of the card Avalanche Riders.
(Olle Rade, the first winner, wouldn't have his card made for a few years—read this article to find out why.)
But the Invitational is not the reason the shirt's an emotional favorite.
The reason Grand Prix Rio will always have a warm place in my heart is because it's where I proposed to my wife Lora. (In Rio, not at the actual Grand Prix.) I think I'll save the full story of my proposal for another column (Think Topical Blend #1: To Err Is Human, but about my relationship with my wife—coming winter 2011 or 2012.) The one tidbit I'll throw your way: I proposed in the ocean.
The shirt also uses the art to Jester's Cap (a throw, I'm guessing to Rio's Carnivale), one of my favorites, so all together it lands at #20.
- 19) German Nationals (2002)
I don't have a lot of foreign shirts in my top 20, but here's another one from 2002 German Nationals. Most of the shirts I've gotten have been from events I've personally attended, but I have never been to German Nationals, let alone the one in 2002. No, the reason I got this shirt was because I saw it and tracked down one of the organizers and begged him to send me one.
Why? Well, I could say how much I love the color or how I like to have Magic shirts from around the world, but none of those is the real reason I wanted the shirt. The number one reason I tracked it down and it's sitting here in my top twenty is that it uses another one of my all-time favorite pieces of Magic art. The art is from Unglued's Squirrel Farm, my favorite card in the set. (It's my favorite overall in that all the elements coming together—mechanics, art, name, flavor text—gel so perfectly.)
The moment I realized that someone had made a Magic T-shirt with the art from Squirrel Farm, I knew I had to get one, which happily I did. German Squirrel Farm sits at #19.
- 18) Generic Magic T-shirt with Commander Greven il-Vec card on back (1997)
One of the coolest things about being a designer on a game like Magic is having the joy of watching your work become an integral part of not only the game but the metagame. This shirt holds a warm place in my heart because it was one of my many firsts. Care to guess why? Go ahead, I'll wait.
Yes, this shirt was the first time a card I made appeared on a Magic T-shirt. As I'll talk about when I get there, I've been collecting Magic T-shirts since the very beginning of Magic T-shirts. I've owned many that had cards on them, but up until this shirt none of them had ever been one of my cards.
Commander Greven il-Vec was a design from Tempest, the very first design team I was on (which I also led, something we don't do anymore—that is, let first time designers lead the set). He was designed to be the #2 baddie behind Volrath, the main antagonist of The Weatherlight Saga.
We don't really make this style of shirt anymore—Magic logo on front, full card on back—but once upon a time we made a lot of them. This is the one to make the cut at #18. (There's also another one in the top 10.)
- 17) Duelist Team Challenge (1996)
I spend a lot of time talking about The Duelist Invitational, but it turns out it wasn't the only Magic event I created as a promotional event to publicize The Duelist. Every year at the Origins convention (the event, by the way, that Magic first premiered at back in 1993), we would hold a five-person team event called The Duelist Team Challenge.
Each team member would play a different format, two Limited and three Constructed, and whichever team won three out of five of the formats would win the round. Another twist was that the format was not sanctioned, so each year Wizards would put together one or more teams, one of which was usually an Ramp;D team. I was always the Head Judge.
As a way to do something special for the participants, we would always make shirts that were given away exclusively at the event. If you wanted one, you had to play in the event (or judge it). One shtick that I had come up with at the time for an ad campaign for The Duelist was to take existing Magic art and have the same artist redo it working in The Duelist. For thematic purposes we kept the art to djinns and efreets. This shirt from the very first Duelist Team Challenge (I think there were three, maybe four) redoes the art from Arabian Night's Juzám Djinn. This time, though, the man being held up by the Djinn is reading The Duelist.
As you can see the shirt is starting to fall apart, a sign that I've worn it a lot. My wife has tried to get me to throw it out, but at #17 there's no way that's going to happen.
- 16) Phyrexian symbol (2011)
This is one of my more recent acquisitions. While it's fun to wear a Magic logo on a T-shirt, it is also fun sometimes to wear something that only a Magic fan will recognize. (Although I have had numerous people believe it is the Greek letter phi.) My runner-up for this slot was my other symbol shirt:
The Phyrexian symbol won out over the Planeswalker symbol, though, because I've always been a big fan of the Phyrexians. That love only grew in Scars block when the Phyrexians brought back poison in the form of the infect mechanic. (If somehow you aren't aware—and if so welcome to Making Magic—I'm a big fan of poison.)
This is the shirt that I wore to all the Scars block Prereleases, perhaps hinting at things to come. We're not done with the Phyrexians just yet, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of reasons to wear this shirt in the future. (Game-relevant ones, that is; I still wear it all the time because I like it.) The Phyrexians sneak in at #16.
- 15) Ice Age Prerelease (1995)
Some shirts look cool. Some are a part of history. This shirt is the latter. This shirt marks a moment in Magic history, the very first ever Prerelease, and I was lucky enough to be there. Note when I say the very first Prerelease, I'm not talking about a series of events. No, for Ice Age, there was one and only one Prerelease, held in Toronto, Canada. Wizards started out the idea of a Prerelease very small, choosing to hold it at one special event.
I was flown out to the event by The Duelist to do coverage on it. I was allowed to play in the event (the article was from the perspective of someone playing in it), but when I made the cut to Day 2, I was asked to drop out. The winner of the event, incidentally, was Dave Humpherys, who went on to not only make it into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame but also currently works as a senior developer in Ramp;D.
A few more interesting factoids about the event:
- The cards were brought out by armored guards at the start of the tournament.
- Due to poor logistics, the tournament started hours late.
- The Prerelease was run with ante, meaning players added and lost cards to and from their deck based on whether they won or lost.
- Also at the event was the 1995 Canadian Nationals won by Eric Tam (probably best known as one of the Top 8 at the first PT in New York).
- The entire event was held at a large comic convention. One of the "stars" signing there was Kato Kaelin (of O.J. Simpson fame). There was much discussion about what was the most appropriate Magic card to have him sign. The winner by consensus was Ghazbán Ogre.
There were actually two shirts given away at the event. The other shirt was this Ice Age shirt:
This shirt is interesting in that it had descriptive text on the back of the shirt. Also, the idea of a shirt for the set rather than just for the Prerelease is something that has been sparingly done.
I've included this shirt at #15 because it holds a lot of memories for me. This was the first event Wizards ever flew me out for and it was my first chance to mingle with people like Richard Garfield and Skaff Elias.
- 14) Tempest Prerelease (1997)
Ice Age might have been my first Prerelease, but Tempest was my first Prerelease. They say you always remember your first, and Tempest will always be fondly remembered as the set where I proved that I had what it took to be a Magic designer. I was actually hired as a Magic developer and had to fight to get the chance to design. Luckily, I talked Richard into being on my design team (at the time he hadn't designed a set since Arabian Nights), and that was enough to convince the powers that be to give me a chance.
I still go to Prereleases and it's still quite fun to see players opening up the booster packs of a set I slaved years over, but emotionally none stands up to the very first time it happened. It also doesn't hurt that this shirt has a nice color and an attractive illustration. All that brings it in at #14.
- 13) Great Designer Search 2 (2011)
The Great Designer Search, for those who are unaware, is an elaborate job search where we go out to the public to find a new design intern. For those picked to participate in the Top 8 it's a lot of work. A lot of work. As such, we felt it was important to give them a little thank you to reward them for all their hard work—something to remember it by.
This shirt was specially made for this purpose, so only ten were ever made, one for each of the Top 8 and one for Ken Nagle and I, the two judges that judged the entire show (each week had two guest judges). That makes this shirt quite the collector's item.
Also, because I made the shirt, I was able to pick out the color and the design. The graphics from both the front and the back were actual graphics used in the event on the website. I do owe an apology to Jonathan Woodward, whose name was originally misspelled in the graphic. Although we fixed it for the majority of the event, when we picked up the graphic to use on the shirt we reintroduced the original misspelling. Sorry Jonathan!
As a shirt I like to wear highlighting an event I'm very proud of, this shirt clocks in at #13.
- 12) Duelist Invitational (1999)
If you aren't aware of what things I've been intimately involved with in the history of Magic, this column will fill you in. The Magic Invitational—called The Duelist Invitational at the time this shirt was made—is another one of my babies. This shirt makes the cut because it is the only Duelist / Magic Invitational T-shirt ever made. (Unlike the last shirt, I mean only the design, not the number of shirts physically made.)
How could that be? Well, to try and make the Invitational feel more special than the average Magic event, I used to always make the official Invitational shirts polos. That is, they were all a thicker woven material with a collar. Usually I made the players multiple shirts so they could wear them during the competition. This helped the spectators be able to identify who was playing in the event and also gave the event a much more polished look. If you've ever seen an Invitational posed group shot, you'll notice everyone is wearing their polo shirt.
If I made polo shirts, how exactly did this T-shirt get made? Well, I didn't make it. This shirt was given away at The Duelist Invitational held in Barcelona (won by Mike Long—his prize was the card Rootwater Thief) by the European Wizards offices. As I seldom wear polos, this T-shirt is the one Duelist Invitational item I consistently wear and thus makes it to #12.
- 11) World Championship (1996)
With the exception of the 2009 Magic Championships held in Rome, I have been to every Magic World Championships, dating back to the very first one held at Gen Con in 1994.
Most World Championships have a T-shirt connected to them. I felt it was only appropriate that I chose one of them to make it into my T-shirt top 20. The one I selected is from 1996. This was the year that the event was held in Wizards corporate offices in Renton, Washington (across the street from our current building).
The reason I like this shirt is that it lists all of the countries that took part in the event. Also, historically speaking, a lot of the Worlds shirts have been pretty bland, and this shirt tends to stand out.
My runner-up Worlds shirt is this one from 1995:
This shirt, like The Duelist Invitational shirt, was made by someone in the European offices. I remember joking at the time that the shirt was biased towards the Americans since the art used on the back was from the card Justice and the American champion at the event was Mark Justice.
I really wanted Worlds represented in my top 20 T-shirts, so 1996 Worlds clocks in at #11.
- Shirts So Good
I'm halfway through my top 20, which means it's time to wrap up today's column. I hope you enjoyed this different vantage of Magic's history and my closet. Join me in two weeks as I count down my top ten. Join me next week when I get down to the core of the core sets.
Until then, may you have some emotional connection to the things you wear.