Over at Gathering Magic, Abe Sargent takes a trip down memory lane to the very beginnings of the game:
“As someone who played in the halcyon days of Magic, I still have a fondness for some cards and concepts. The cards in the first set continue to influence us today. I thought it would be fun to build some decks just from cards from this era.”
If only the time machine were a real thing. I wouldn’t mind going back to the time when there were two or three lgs and comic shops within walking distance of me as was the case in my youth. There is a little part of me still regrets buying two packs of the Dark and two packs of Revised to complement my very first starter deck, instead of taking up the cashier’s offer on half a remaining box of Arabian Nights. But as Sargent opines in his piece, who really knew how long the granddaddy of the CCG phenomenon was going to stick around? Surely there’s some unopened product of Jyhad still lying in somebody’s basement somewhere that could be cashed in on eBay. Sealed starter decks can be had for only $12 at the time of this writing. Of all the imitators that flooded the market in the early to mid 90s, Magic had the most staying power. But it wasn’t so obvious back then even back in the “halcyon” days of Magic. (I do think it’s somewhat laughable that Abe would consider The Dark to be the halcyon days, since that’s when he started playing according to his bio. The consensus in my neck of the woods was that it was far inferior set to the vastly better Fallen Empires…)
Anyway, I enjoyed reading his modern constructed take on some of the classics. As I mentioned when I found my old U/B deck list, we didn’t have a notion of archetypes back in the early days of Magic. At least nobody in my playgroup did. Our decks were just cobbled together from whatever we could trade for and got out of random packs. In fact it was only with the greatest hesitation that we reluctantly agreed to follow the draconian guidelines we learned about from reading Duelist: 60 card decks, only 4 copies of non land cards, singletons of others, and even following the banned list. The entire card pool of the game was slightly less than 1,000 back in the fall of ’94, so it was relatively easy to figure out the group meta when we all were following the same rules for constructed and ran with mostly the same cards. And when at most your paper route money could net you a $20 Vesuvan Doppleganger or maybe a $15 Sol Ring at the nearest lgs, you weren’t exactly going out to fill up a deck with singles. The exception being the guy who taught me, who was a few years older and had a real job.
My teacher and mentor was the most advanced player in the group for a while, and he was always happy to teach anybody who to play. That was because he was eager to get more novices into the card pool since that was often how he grew his collection by winning ante. You definitely didn’t want to be the guy who never played for ante, that’s for sure. Magic is definitely a more fun game when you’re winning with superior cards, most of the time. As I recall, he ended up quitting (retiring as he put it) about 2.5 years into his run, shortly after Ice Age was released. By then a lot of my friends had stopped playing too and most of us traded in those worn decks toward PlayStations and Nintendo 64s. Coincidentally this was also around the time I had constructed a tribal Goblins deck and was winning 9 out of 10 games. Go figure.
From the looks of the lists that Abe put together, I would have to say the decks that I ran into the most were #4, #5, and #7 – or what he calls W/B Soul Control, W/U Sleight Knight, and Enchantress Combo respectively. W/U was particularly brutal in my group, at one point I think six or seven guys were running some variant of it. I chuckled at the combo of Magical Hack and Karma. That was good for a few rage quits back in the day. The only missing in these deck lists are Veteran Bodyguard and Personal Incarnation, which were staples. In fact I wouldn’t mind seeing Veteran Bodyguard get reprinted. If he had expanded the list beyond ABU, there would have the odd Legends card like Moat tossed in for good measure. That was only about $40 back in ’94, in case you were wondering.
We were much more willing to tinker with brews too. There’s so much data available on the game today that it’s often hard to resist the temptation to paint by numbers. Experimentation is a necessary component of coming up with that meta breaking deck, but you have to be brave enough on a certain level to do it. At one point it was fairly common to include hoser cards just to defeat one person’s deck, especially if they were managing to win 10 or 15 games in a row. Not an uncommon occurrence. So this kid got smart and decided to run an all artifact deck. His rationale he explained to me afterward was that he could use any kind of mana to cast his spells, and besides Circle of Protection: Artifacts, there weren’t any hoser cards that he could think of. He brought this deck – filled with things like Juggernaut, Mishra’s War Machine, and Obsianus Golem. He managed to win the first couple of rounds, but that day I remember we had agreed to play with a “new” rule: side boarding. The way we played it was you could swap out 15 cards of your deck for any other in your collection. In response to this new threat, the host put in a number of Shatterstorms, as did anybody else who had the card on hand. You can probably guess what the artificer’s deck W/L record ended up looking like at the end of the day, and how red our friend’s face got.
Yes, I sure do miss the good old halcyon days of Magic.