10 October, 2002

Magic: The Gathering

The first time I saw a Magic card was on June 22, 1996 in the early afternoon. I was at a summer school type program at a boarding school. There were two people there playing, and while it did catch my attention for a second or so, I only spent a short moment watching them, something on the order of around twenty seconds. The only thing I remember clearly while I watched them is that one guy moved a big stack of cards (the top of which said Swamp on top) and played a Fireball. I don't remember anything else about the incident at all. On this, my first encounter with Magic, I do not recall noticing creatures, life totals, or even a mountain for that Fireball that he cast. I just remember Swamps and a Fireball. 

(I remember the date and time precisely because later on that same day I was expelled for being caught with a girl in my dorm room. This also explains why Magic only caught my attention for a second or so rather than a longer period of time. I was a bit ... preoccupied at the moment.)

Months later, as I was visiting with my best friend, Phoenix, he told me that during his summer he had learned a game from his cousin called Magic. He had three decks worth of cards, and between him, Kevin, and myself, we played quite a bit. About a month later, Phoenix took us to get our first decks. Unlike my first encounter, I remember this quite clearly. We were in a department store at the mall, and we had the option of either buying a starter deck of Mirage or Fourth Edition. Kevin and I both decided upon Mirage, mostly because the box looked cooler, I think. 

(Greg's cousin ripped him off [immediately after teaching him Magic]. Greg opened an Icy Manipulator out of a starter deck of Ice Age and his cousin convinced him to trade it to him for a Carrier Pigeons. Yes, a Carrier Pigeons. "They both cost four mana," Greg later explained to me.)

After purchasing our new cards, we went to Chick Filet (a local fast food restauarant) in the mall to play with our cards. It was great fun, though phasing was a bit weird at first. I lost almost every game, though... Kevin had an 4/3 Islandhome Kukemsa Serpent that he got out every game and I was always the only other person with Islands in my deck. So naturally, I was always attacked by the huge monster. 

I liked the game from the very beginning, but what I didn't realize then was that as time went on, Magic would become more and more important to me. My friends and I bought more and more cards, amassing a collection that is usually unheard of for players at that skill level. We rarely played in tournaments, and when we did, we almost never won a game. My skill level didn't really improve at first; after getting adequate cards, my first decks were always blue and artifact heavy. But remember, this was before Urza's Saga made blue artifact decks playable. I played with Islands, Urza's Lands, Aladdin's Rings, Collossus' Of Sardia, and good old Power Sinks. 
Of course, our rules knowledge was decidedly sub-par. We followed that old dictate that whenever a card's text broke the rules, we followed the card text rather than the rules. And boy did those Fourth Edition Power Sinks have a lot of rules breaking card text. First, you have to understand that pre-Sixth Edition rules, Power Sinks couldn't be responded to with Instants, and the intended meaning was that if you didn't pay the X, then you had to tap all your lands. But the Fourth Edition Power Sink didn't word it quite correctly. Rather it said, "Counter a target spell if its caster does not pay X. Target spell’s caster must draw and pay all available mana from lands and mana pool until X is paid; he or she may also pay mana from other sources if desired." 

The most interesting omission on the card's rules text was that it did not state the words "until end of turn". It said only that if you didn't pay X, you had to pay "until X is paid." We rules geniuses interperted that as if X were 5 and you only had three lands, then they all got tapped. Then, when your next turn came around, you had to tap two more. 

And that's why I loved those Power Sinks. I thought the best combo in the world was Power Sink plus the Urzatron. And when Weatherlight came out and I had access to Sisay's Rings and the like, sometimes I could dominate the board position completely. On the fourth turn, when my opponent would play their first spell, I'd already have out an Island, the Urzatron, and perhaps a Sol Ring or two. The following Power Sink would effectively shut them out for the next three turns. And then, on turn eight, when they tap out for their Shivan Dragon or other similarly scary creature, I'd Power Sink for twenty plus. Seeing as how they have only six lands out and they're already tapped out, it would take them five turns to recover. 

But I was hungry for more. I needed more mana, and I looked everywhere for it. I even played two Teferi's Isles. I don't know how I was able to manage it, but at one point I recall I had just cast an Aladdin's Ring, and my opponent, Phoenix, asked me how much I could Power Sink for. He had something like eight lands out at the time. I replied as I physically counted the cards. "Well, I already paid to untap my Collosus earlier this turn, and if I use my two Aladdin's Rings on your two blockers to kill them, I will have just enough left to Power Sink for about fifty." Needless to say, I won that game.

(I think I was able to accumulate this much mana because [back then] I didn't think the four of a kind rule applied to lands -- as opposed to not applying just to basic lands. Therefore, I played a hell of a lot of Urza's Towers in my 90+ card deck.)

Often one of our decks would completely dominate all the others in our little play group, but every time we went to a tournament, we horribly lost. Well, that's not entirely true. Clay once had an awesome Tim deck sporting not only the conventional Tim / Grandpa Tim / Pirate Tim / Minotaur Tim / Tim-On-A-Stick tricks, but also Shadow Guildmage, Reveka, and Norrit. It always won in our play group because of the efficient mana cost of the creatures (three is a good mana cost when everybody else plays only five and six mana monsters) and because every one of his creatures doubled as creature destruction. 

We were so excited when he brought it to the tournament. We were absolutely positive that it would beat everything else there. But despite our optimism, imagine our surprise and enthusiasm when it actually won the first round! I don't even remember what Clay had played against, but whatever it was, he demolished it! 

Going into the second round, we all gathered around Clay's table. He was the first of our playgroup to ever make it this far in the local tournaments. His opponent was playing a mono black build. We watched as they shuffled. Clay's face was filled with pride as he shuffled, fully intending upon winning the whole tournament with his awesome deck. 

Clay won the die roll and went first, dropping an Island. He was off to a great start, I remember thinking, since most of his Tims were blue. Then it was his opponent's turn. 

Out came a Swamp, followed by a Dark Ritual. He played a Black Knight. "Oh, man..." Clay knew that this probably meant he was going to lose this battle. But when I looked at his opponent's face, I knew that was only the beginning. Clay wasn't just going to lose. Clay was going to get his ass handed to him on a platter. 

A second Dark Ritual was played, which allowed an Unholy Strength and a Bad Moon to hit the table. A 5/3 pro-white first striker with a Bad Moon on the board on the first turn. It was horrible. I couldn't bear to look at Clay's face, and instead my imagination came up with all kinds of twisted contortions it must have been going through. Clay's opponent gave a little chuckle and said, "Go." 

I sure do miss the good old days... 


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