Remembering Magic: The Gathering

Shit, I loved that game! One of my happiest memories growing up was playing it with my dad. My favorite colors to play were black and green together; death and replenishment. I thought that red was for boneheads. I liked blue, but was never able to construct the kind of mindfuck blue decks that won you the game. And white was just… blah. Too pacifist. Green-white decks were for hippies. I remember liking artifacts; Magic was where I learned the word “ornithopter” from. Any time I opened a new pack, I prayed to find the coveted rare card Black Lotus; it would be like winning the lottery and I’d be filthy rich. I loved the artwork, which looks more crude to me now than I remember it being. Phil Foglio and Quinton Hoover were my favorite artists.

While I was a card-flopper, I was never a dice-chucker. I never learned how to play RPG’s because I didn’t know anybody else who played. But at the time, tons of card games were coming out right and left; games inspired by Lovecraft like Call of Cthulhu, the Illuminati card game inspired by Robert Anton Wilson, and the Netrunner game inspired by (ripped off without credit, I heard?) the work of William Gibson. This was my official exposure to all these artists and others, making Magic: The Gathering the official source of What Made Me Weird. My dad got me subscriptions to Scrye and Inquest, which had interviews with people like Clive Barker and Brom. In every issue of Scrye, they printed imaginary cards that readers made up, and I even remember submitting some of my own.

Just as quickly as my Magic phase began, it had ended. Teenage rebellion hit full-force at 13 and I was suddenly more interested in wearing black lipstick and penetrating the mysteries of the Occult than spending time with dad. The Mirage expansion came out, bringing with it new rules that I didn’t get. The last nail in the coffin was the explosion of the Pokemon card game, which brought a completely new demographic to the gaming world. When every other issue of InQuest had Pikachu on the cover, I knew it was over for me.

But right now, at this moment in time, there’s nothing I want to do more than be back there in 1996 with my dad, playing Magic. It’s this completely innocent, pre-9/11 memory for me, a totally different era. I wish I hadn’t turned into a crazy teenager so soon. I wish we’d had more of that time.

20 Responses to “Remembering Magic: The Gathering”

  1. Derek Says:

    Oh man, I haven’t thought about InQuest in such a long time. I used to want to buy every card game they featured. I had starter decks for so many games, most of which I never actually played.

    I used to love Magic, and Rage (the card game based on Werewolf: The Apocalypse). Werewolves are awesome.

  2. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Played Magic a bit, but I was mostly one of those half-assed D&Ders that never used ze books, but managed week-long campaigns with friends anyway. Never tapped on InQuest’s door, but had many Scrye issues I’d bummed from friends. Beyond ze horror, fantasy und sci-fi flicks I adore(d), These games (und novels, of course) were my main source of escapism in those days. I still get a lump in my throat when I walk past a Dragonlance book in bookstores.

    Magic, indeed. :)

  3. Tequila Says:

    Man I loved this game…not cause I played it or was a fan but because the cards became worth serious $$$ at one point. So enterprising young lads like myself found it rather easy to “acquire” many of these cards in High School and cash them in to collectors and other players.

    Fantastic cash cow.

  4. Geoff Says:

    That’s totally my era. I started playing M:TG around Fallen Empires and quit just around Mirage. Inquest the first magazine I actually read regularly.

    I’m so, so, so glad the pokemon thing hadn’t taken off back then, I would have ended up a totally different person.

  5. Jillian Says:

    This post was very strange for me to see. I worked at Wizards of the Coast during the big Magic: the Gathering era, and my husband is one of the artists who does the art on the M:tG cards. In a roundabout way, Magic is why my life turned out the way it did. It wasn’t the thing that ‘made me weird’ (no, that had happened LONG before), but it did put me on the path of becoming a writer and an editor.

  6. joshua Says:

    dude, you can’t even get into rpg’s w/ out bringing up shadowrun…? c’mon, that’s so coilhouses steez, man.

    bad call man, roll a saving throw…



  7. Daniel Says:

    White wasn’t pacifist. White had cards like “Wrath of God” which destroyed every creature on the board. I usually played white and black because I loved the good/evil dichotomy.

    Another interesting story, perhaps, is that I had an Unlimited Black Lotus. I sold it for $30, which I thought was a ridiculously high price for one card. The guy that bought it ruined it by setting a glass of water on it and giving it serious creases.

  8. Paul Komoda Says:

    I have to admit that I missed out on this phenomenon completely. No exaggeration.
    I never even knew of it’s existence until a friend of mine told me he had been working on some illustration work for it.
    It seems to have showcased some beautiful artwork.

  9. Shay Says:

    Man, what a repressed nerdgasm I had when I saw that Shiva Dragon on my rss reader. Good call Nadya.

  10. bizarroworld Says:

    What is amazingly funny about this article and the comments are that you folks seem to think the game is no longer made.

    They sell them at the damn Target store down from my house.

    Seems like you are being retro nostalgic for something that actually became mainstream long after you forgot about it.

  11. Peter Tupper Says:

    I was into MTG in the early days, before all the expansions came out. When I left university, I didn’t have anybody to play with. I kept the cards as an investment, and over ten years later, I sold my Mox Sapphire card for $400 on eBay. That helped pay my back rent.

    BTW, the Netrunner game was based on R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020 game, which was indirectly based on Gibson’s work, but that’s like saying GDW’s Traveller ripped off Isaac Asimov.

  12. Gooby Says:

    When the game first came out, I went nuts! I loved all the critters, the variety in the artwork, and it made me reminiscent of my old D&D days (Mmmm.. Cheetos, Doritos, Mountain Dew, and staying up all night long farting!) I bought and bought and bought till I had an entire set of the first series, which wasn’t too hard at the beginning. Then I played the game for about a month, realizing that I liked collecting them way more than I liked playing, kinda sad.. The storytelling and strategy used to be so much fun!

    So.. I gave all my cards to a good friend of mine who was newly into the game, figuring I was doing a good deed for someone who was more into RPG’s than I. And what did he do? HE SOLD THEM!! SOLD THEM ALL! the entire set for like $5000, and then bought himself a nice new computer! (it was 1994, you remember how much memory cost then?)

    He should have at least bought me lunch, or a new toy robot or something?

    Stupid Magic…

  13. RPG Says:

    I would go for Netrunner (and Spycraft) any day, if I have to make a choice!!
    Tabletops and RPG’s is preferred, LARPG’s even better, but ARG’s with LARPG elements is the favorite! :D

  14. fran Says:

    My brother and three cousins were mad Magic fans. I didn’t play much, just to help my brother get better when he didn’t have another person to play with (I guess he trusted more in boys than in a girl like me xD), but I loved it anyways. I LOVED the illustrations, I think they were one of the things that made me a fan of fantasy in the first place, and a drawing freak. Our oldest cousin died when he was 12, sadly, but as a legacy our aunt gave my cousins his HUGE collection of Magic cards. It was so awesome…of course the cards are still on the stores, but they dissapeared of our lives as we grew up….

    But now I’m 19 and still a nerd; I play World of Warcraft! hahaha

    btw, great post, I have so many memories with MTG :)

  15. D Says:

    Only one card caption stuck (speaking of the good whites)
    ‘I love going down the street, kicking down the doors of the guilty and the impure.’
    Got a ton of cards, got bored in a month or two and sold them all to a store at about 20 times what I’d shopped them for. They came in these boxes of packs and I’d unknowingly shopped a full box of some discontinued edition. Not my cup of cortado but nice cash.

  16. Nadya Lev Says:

    Wow! Whether you played it, profited off it, or were involved in making it, looks like you M:TG left quite an imprint on many people her.

    I’ll concede that white had its ass-kicking moments, for sure. Armageddon was another one that meant Serious Business: all lands are destroyed!

    bizarroworld, I get the sense that people who played M:TG back in the day know that the game is still around, but that it’s not really “our” game anymore. I don’t know who plays it these days that played it back then, actually. Who buys it… at Target? A bit of a mystery to me.

  17. kris_ether Says:

    Yep.. played it. I was prime instigator for all these strange games (Magic, V:TM, Mage, roleplay in general, wargames) and I guess is one of many things which made me weird. Sold all my cards about a year or two ago. In some respects a sad thing to do, but also a sign of the times.

  18. James Roden Says:

    My preferred shop for RPG’s was also the main place for grabbing Magic stuff, too. There was a little bit of overlap, but where I was at it seemed like the RPG people didn’t touch Magic and vice versa.

    Was it like that anywhere else?

  19. Nadya Says:

    I don’t know about the rest of the world, but all the people I played Magic with didn’t touch RPG’s except for one friend who did both.

  20. zack Says:

    doea anyone know what stores still buys magic cards??