In My Day

Posted in Making Magic on August 17, 2009

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Welcome to Exiled Week. This is one of those loose themes where the columnists are allowed to hit the theme in whatever way they wish. I could talk about the exile zone (the zone formerly known as "the removed-from-the-game zone") and my quest to get it renamed; I could talk about designing cards that exile things; I could talk about the creation of From the Vault: Exiled, which Tom LaPille, Mark Purvis, and I put together. When I sat down to write this, I had no idea which way I'd go. I decided to be inspired in the moment.

I've talked about my dislike of the term "removed from the game," as it never meant what it says, but I've covered this topic in my column multiple times. The story is basically: "I disliked it. I complained. Others disliked it. They complained. When M10 rolled around we saw a chance to change it and we did." It's just not a topic that is going to fill several thousand words.

I thought about what I could say about using the exiled zone as a design tool. It boiled down to – "It's nice to have somewhere to put things other than in play, hand, graveyard and library. I make use of it when I need it." Also not worthy of a full column.

I explored what I could say about From the Vault: Exiled and then realized that Tom had already written a column on it. That also got scratched off.

So what do I write about? With nowhere else to turn, I've decided to try something we used to do back in my improv days. I am going to free associate on the word and see where I end up. That will be what I write about today.


Removed from the game

Removed from Magic

Things Magic once had

Got it! Okay, let me set this up correctly. When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me stories about when they were kids and how they didn't have half the things we had as kids. As I got older, I used to always make fun of them for this. (using old man voice) "In my day..."

And then, I had kids. Before I knew it, I was telling them stories about my youth. How we didn't have half the things they have. My eldest daughter Rachel, 9, for example, has been bugging me for a cell phone. I told her to go ask her mother how old she was when she got her first cell phone. I realized that I was taking the first steps towards becoming a crotchety old man.

Show All Footnotes

For today's column I'm going to channel my inner crotchety old man to explain how Magic has changed in the last sixteen years, to show what has been exiled from the game. Non-crotchety me will return next week when I do this year's State of Design column (including some interesting tidbits about the upcoming Zendikar block). As some of you might not get all the references crotchety old me might make, I am going to footnote all the relevant points so that I can explain then in non-crotchety language. All you need to see the footnote is click on the number which will open it up. You might want to read through everything before you come back and read all the footnotes as I'm a little on the wordy side while explaining the footnotes (me, wordy—who could've guessed?).

Until then, enjoy crotchety old man Mark. (Please read this hearing my crotchety old man voice.)

These kids today and their Magic! In my day, we didn't have no sixty-card decks. We had forty-card decks and we liked it. (1) And when you lost, you had a thirty-nine-card deck. (2) That's just the way it was. We didn't have no banned or restricted lists. There was no one telling you how many cards you could play. (3) If you wanted to play twenty Black Lotuses then that's what you played. (4)

Not that anyone had twenty Black Lotuses. It's not like today where you can just walk in a store and buy booster packs. In my day, you had to camp out in front of the store, sometimes for hours. (5) We had to wait on line just to be able to buy a few measly packs. (6) And you weren't even promised a rare. You felt lucky if you didn't get an Island. (7)

Not that we knew what the rare card was. We didn't have any of these newfangled expansion symbols. (8) You know how we knew which card was the rare? We didn't! We just had to guess. Because back then Wizards of the Coast wasn't talking. (9) They wouldn't even tell you which cards were in the set. Sortable card viewer—pfaw! You had to squeeze Wizards just to get the number of cards in the set, and sometimes they gave you more than one number. (10) We didn't have a collector number written on every card to hold our hand. (11) You wanted to know what cards existed, you just had to go out and play a lot of Magic.

Not to mention that sometimes you just had whole boxes missing cards. (12) When you opened a pack you didn't have to mail in for a rebate, you were happy. (13) Then when you opened the booster packs, you found misprints, typos, cards with the wrong mana cost—and that's if they even bothered to write a mana cost. (14) If you understood what a card was supposed to do, that was good enough.

And remember, cards didn't have all the things you take for granted today. Haste, vigilance, shroud, lifelink, deathtouch, flash, reach, fear, double strike, defender, indestructible—none of those words existed. (15) We didn't have equipment or planeswalkers or cantrips or legendary permanents or multicolored cards. Heck, we didn't even have a tap symbol. (16) Artifacts came in four varieties (17) and creatures didn't say "creature" on them. (18) If you wanted to know how something worked, you had to keep trying until you figured it out.

Back then we didn't have none of these fancy rules you got now. There were no trained judges or comprehensive rulebooks. (19) Our rulebook came with a story about two wizards fighting written by Richard Garfield himself, and we liked it. (20) The rulebook even told you to flip a coin if you couldn't figure out a ruling. (21) Like when you tried to Wrath of God a Black Knight. On any given day, who knew how it worked? (22)

Damage on the stack? We didn't even have a stack. We had batches and spells nested inside of other spells. (23) Different card types worked at different speeds. (24) We had concepts like "semi-targeted" (25) and somehow Giant Growth always trumped Lightning Bolt. (26) And if you played your spell before you paid your mana, you got thrown out of Pro Tours. (27) It was chaos. The Rules Manager at the time explained how things worked by drawing it up as a rat maze, (28) and we thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Yes, we had sliced bread back then.

And don't get me started on Limited. Back in the day, when you opened packs to play Sealed Deck, you prayed to get enough creatures to even build a deck. Sixteen to eighteen creatures for Limited? Hah! I played a Legends Sealed game once where my pool only had four creatures capable of dealing damage. (29) And I was thankful to get such a good deck.

We didn't have the number of bomb rares you kids have today. When we opened a pack, we kissed the ground if the rare wasn't a Lace. (30) When you cracked a giant monster you played it and just hoped it killed your opponent before it killed you, because that's just how giant monsters worked back then. (31) Our five-mana white angel had just two abilities, and she was good. (32) Our vampire had a sucky ability, but we didn't care because it was 4-power flier and that just won you games, because that was good enough. (33)

Limited was easy, though, compared to Constructed. We didn't have no Internet building our decks for us. Back in the day, we had to build our own decks. (34) And there weren't no cushy formats to help make things easier. You know what format we played? It was called Magic. (35) And when we wanted to play, we didn't have no namby-pamby "Organized Play" throwing tournaments every other day. (36) No, when we wanted to play, you had to hunt down an opponent. You had to hunt someone down and force them to play.

Of course, back then they knew how to make spells. Not like the kind they make today. What's it cost now to take an extra turn? Five mana? (37) In my day, you could take an extra turn for that much and still have enough left over to draw three cards, get three mana of any color, and make the opponent discard, sacrifice creatures, and sacrifices lands. (38) And that was all on turn one.

Kids these days have no idea how cushy they have it. Playing their net decks in sleeved cards at Friday Night Magic with a well analyzed metagame. (39) That ain't the Magic we played. No siree. You kids don't know how lucky you have it. (40)

Hide All Footnotes(40) I hope my column today has driven home the point that so much of what we take today as an established part of Magic once upon a time wasn't. (Close this footnote)

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