I’ve been sort of circling around a drain lately that is Magic the Gathering. I go through this every so often, thinking that I really wish I could play Magic again. The key problem is when it comes to this game, I am largely a man out of time… or at least out of synch with the community of the game. I’ve talked about my experiences with this before, but functionally I bought my first Magic the Gathering cards during Unlimited. I managed to pick up a single starter deck, and then was ultimately confused how to make that starter deck work, not realizing that they were by nature completely unplayable without additional pack support. I sat on that until around the release of revised when I finally pulled my head out and learned how to play the game. At this point Magic was really not a big deal in the small town I grew up in, nor the neighboring town where I had a store where I could actually purchase it at. During this time I picked up a smattering of things from Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends… and by the time Dark was released I was 100% in on this game and bought a ton of it the day it was released at my local comic shop.
Back then we largely ignored the way we were supposed to be playing the game and instead ignored the 60 card deck size and played an assortment of whatever the hell the best cards we had were. Most of these decks were somewhere in the range of 150 cards, and were deeply filled with cards we just happened to like playing with like the Sengir Vampire or Hypnotic Specter. I bonded heavily with Black as a color and still to this day I cannot really fathom playing any deck that is not at least aligned with black… my perennial favorite being Black and Green which I have later found out is also called Golgari. The thing is you can pretty much hand me any color combination that includes black and I will be extremely happy to play it. The other place where we broke the rules is that we tended to play with a ton of people around a table and this went down one of two ways. Either we played in a free for all fashion where anyone could attack anyone else… or after the release of the Jyhad card game we adopted some rules from it.
That game had the concept of Predator and Prey… so you attacked the player on the left and defended against the player on the right. We functionally adopted this concept for Magic the Gathering and it left some really interesting things going on… namely you never could completely go full tap on your prey because you would then leave yourself completely open for attack from your predator. Additionally there was a significant amount of bargaining going on… and collusion. Functionally we had one friend who refused to touch Black anything due to I think some pseudo religious conviction… and instead played largely mono White or White and Green. The moment he played Karma which is a card that causes players to take damage for every swamp they controlled during their upkeep… there were deals to figure out a way to either disable that card or outright remove him from the game. Similarly there was usually a significant amount of aggro generated by someone who played a Rack or a Black Vise that has similar effects based on your current hand size.
It was an era when we played whatever seemed cool without a lot of forethought into the deck design. You would sit down and never really know what you were going to encounter, and a good part of that made it exciting. It was less about “combo magic” and more a period of just playing whatever the hell felt good. There was this period during college where I really was not playing much, and I skipped most of Alliances and Mirage… tagging back in during the tail end of Visions and was completely back in my prime for the release of Weatherlight and Tempest. My world largely shifted with me starting to care about what was then called “Type II” magic… which I believe is now called “Modern”. Functionally it is a limited format and was the birth of what became block play where you were functionally limited to whatever the current block was and the previous one for deck construction. I had entered a few tournaments before, but they were largely big sloppy messes that were super fun until the last rounds where they were completely dominated by whoever had the power nine. In college however I started actually caring about proper deck construction and the game shop I played at was both extremely supportive to players but also a fertile ground for really fun pick up games.
The shop was constantly opening boxes of product for singles to sell, because the massive internet sales thing was not really in place. In fact the few sales that I made wound up with me meeting up on IRC with magic players and arranging trades. This is how I completed my play set of Jester’s Cap and Helm of Obedience when I was working on my Millstone deck. What all of these box openings meant more than anything was that the shop had a robust commons bin, and it became tradition to build cheap decks from it and then battle each other. Some of the absolute best times playing magic were done playing with a few dollars worth of cards. However I also had many competitive decks that I broke out when they had weekend tournaments. This is the first and only time I have ever really been deeply engaged with the card shop life. From there I graduated college and got busy with the real world… and largely stopped following Magic the Gathering. It has always been something I am fond of, and over the years I pick up the occasional random booster pack just because I love that freshly opened pack smell. There is something magical… no pun intended… about opening a pack of cards and having the possibility of getting something interesting. I also find it somewhat magical about getting resented with a slate of possibilities in the form of all of those common cards that can potentially interact in interesting ways.
The problem is… I just don’t have a card shop home to even begin to get involved with if I so choose. Nor do I honestly really have the dedication to bring myself to go on a regular basis. Sure there is Friday night magic, but it is a way more serious scene around here than I really want to be part of. I wish there was a weird league of people who played oddball “fun” decks. However for many Magic players… “fun” seems to be “winning at any cost” and that is not exactly drift compatible with my views. In this current nostalgia for a time that never really existed other than the scope of my close circle of friends.. I’ve found myself watching a lot of videos on Youtube about box opening. The one linked at the beginning of this post takes me way back because while I’ve only ever cracked one box of anything… and it was Mercadian Masques that I happened to win from a drawing… I have opened more than my fair share of old school packs of Magic the Gathering. This is one of those moments when I lament not really having a good circle of geek friends in real life to hang out with. Since college I have largely been focused on online communities and have let some of my real world ones atrophy to the point of simply no longer existing. We have a pool of gamers at work and I keep kicking around the concept of trying to create some sort of magic the gathering scene there. The only problem is I am afraid that it might end up not being what I am actually looking for. More than anything I think I just want to travel back in time and partake of some of those big free for all matches that we used to play.