History of Magic: The Gathering as I Experienced It

Today, MaRo (Mark Rosewater, head designer of magic) published his annual State of Design column. Once again, MtG was bigger than ever.

To me, that always sounds strange. I know this is irrational, as I see both players my age and a totally new generation at my local FNMs, but I just sort of still have a feeling that its a dying hobby.

This stems from my late 90’s experiences. Granted, I didn’t have such excellent sources as I do today, because MtG-presence on the Internet was still in its infancy, but seeing how the Fallen Empires just wouldn’t leave the shelves made it feel like the demand just wasn’t there. Later I learned what the story behind that was (I’ll add it to the end).

I started playing just after the Dark was released about 19 years ago. Yes, I’m pretty old school (since the new World Champion was born around this time, I feel old school). I remember the days of trying to get El-Hajjaj to actually do something of any value and the great combo of Royal Assassin and Icy Manipulator.

I do look back and see myself as a sort of innovator, learning early on to not see only the best possible scenarios for the seemingly good cards, to see how the seemingly bad cards could actually be good (many hated Necropotence early on, whereas I tried to make it work from day one), and especially how to abuse the seemingly symmetrical cards (like Armageddon). I was also an early proponent of deck thinning (having bought out all the Land Taxes from our local gaming store just before they exploded… and were soon restricted after that) and using life as a resource.

Not that I was a great player. I was pretty good, but only in the context of a small town. I did pretty well in a number of tournaments all over Finland, especially sealed, but I was never really a top tier player. Probably, because I disliked where the game was going.

Well, this is two-fold. I didn’t like the way spells were more powerful than creatures. It was just boring to play with when both players would just sit there with a grip full of countermagic waiting for the other player to flinch. The bigger problem, actually, were the players who didn’t subscribe to this. For example, a friend of mine put (at the time) a huge amount of money into a Moat. Oookay… Since he had put something like 250 marks (around 40 euros, which was a huge amount of money for us back then) into a card, he wanted to play it. Obviously, we didn’t want to play against it.

I wanted to play type II (now Standard) and I just really didn’t like it when I had this one card I always had to respect. This wasn’t the most innovative player and actually he was never able to let go of the early recommendation of 20 lands in a 60 card deck, even though everyone else played with about 23 and his decks were always manascrewed. I knew exactly how to beat him. It just became boring over time and as many of our friends were moving away to Universities around the country, I was pretty much left to play him alone. That’s when I just stopped playing and sold my cards (what was left of them, as I had been unloading them for a while), although I think there might be a treasure chest of old cards somewhere in my mother’s house. I remember having a load of Force of Wills and I have no idea what happened to them.

In the end, I just didn’t like where the game was going. Now, watching back, I was right about taking a break. Watching stuff like video footage from the Pro Tours of late 90’s and early 2000’s, I wouldn’t want to play that game.

I sort of assumed the game was dying while I was out. I did see some gameplay at gamestores, but there wasn’t a store dedicated to it even in Tampere anymore, whereas we had one in my hometown Vaasa back in the day (that’s roughly 200k vs. 50k population). I knew the game still existed, but I never thought it was actually growing… and actually quite rapidly. The people at Wizards were actually learning from their mistakes and instead of just putting new products out routinely, they put a real effort into evolving the game into new directions and keeping the game as a whole interesting to both new players and the veterans.

My absence from the game extended to 13 years. I didn’t expect to return to it, actually actively working against it at times, but my guild brethren convinced me to take a look and I did. Everything just seemed better. I decided to order a preconstructed commander deck with The Mimeoplasm as the commander and the game was fun again. This was about a year ago. Since then I’ve started playing in tournaments again and now I’m going to a Grand Prix in Valencia in November, because why not.

I actually wish I had restarted just a few years earlier. Zendikar seems great and I came in the tailend of the greatest block ever, Innistrad. Return to Ravnica wasn’t a personal favorite, but I do like many of the guilds and how they work.

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop playing again.

The Fallen Empires story: Why is Fallen Empires still widely available, even though any of the other sets from back then are completely sold out?

In the early days, Wizards wasn’t able to complete all the orders they were getting, as there just wasn’t enough capacity to print everything they wanted, so they completed them proportionally. The retailers quickly learned this and amped their orders. They would order X number of product because they knew ordering X would get them Y, which was closer to what they actually wanted.

Then, when Fallen Empires was released, Wizards had finally gotten their production running on the level they needed, and the logistical chain to support getting the product to the retailers, so they were actually able to get enough product to their retailers to fulfill the padded orders. In the end, the retailers were stuck with X, when all they wanted was Y.

It didn’t help that Fallen Empires wasn’t a very good set (although I do still have some love for the flavor).

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