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Bittersweet Magic Nostalgia

Todd Wohling / February 14, 2015 at 12:00 PM / Opinion, Tabletop Games

I sold my entire Magic: The Gathering collection last week.

It had to be done.  I haven’t played a game of Magic in over a decade.  I’m packing up my belongings for my move to Scandanavia in April, and the cost of moving cards I don’t ever use made keeping them intractable.

I went to the local card store with my collection, all 11 thousand plus cards of it, and proceeded to unload the whole thing on the store.  Most of the stuff the card shop bought in bulk at $5 per 1000 cards.  The “good stuff”, defined as cards that have values of at least $2.50 on StarCityGames.com was priced individually.

I needed to get rid of those cards; at the same time, going through them brought up so many memories it was hard at the moment of truth to let them go.

I started playing Magic in 1995, right around the release of Ice Age expansion.  I was working in an arcade at the time, and one of the guys I worked with told me about Magic, and suggested I pick some cards up and come with him to a brand new “place to play”.  He also mentioned if I could find “Revised” edition cards, I should totally get those instead of “4th Edition” or “Ice Age”.

I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, but I went up to an antique store in the town the arcade was in and bought some revised, 4th, and Ice Age cards to be able to build a deck with.

Not long after, my mom brought home a Flux magazine which had a feature on Magic in it.  For the rest of the summer of 1995, I worked until 10pm, played Magic until 4am, went home, and went to sleep.  Then I went to college.

College by far was the best period for playing Magic for me.  My college Magic gaming group started at 2. When I was organizing my meager card collection—it could fit in a single Superbowl tin at the time—someone came by, sat down, and asked if I wanted to play.  We played Magic pretty much all night, talking about cards and expansion sets, decks and card combinations, and so on.

We continued playing each other a couple times per week for the next couple of months; we were both Math majors, so we saw each other regularly around campus as well as in the dorms.  The following fall, our group grew to 4 when a couple of incoming freshman started a shared collection.  The 4 grew to 6 the following semester. Then it grew to 8.

Our gaming group was organizing play sessions 5 nights per week, and we played everything: Grand Melee (by far the best casual variant), 2 Headed Giant, Emperor, Color War, Attack Left-Defend Right, and Tribal Wars.  We invaded the TV lounge at our dorm and sat around the big tables playing and talking Magic.

To characterize the level of knowledge and competition among our group as unhealthy might be an understatement, but we didn’t care.  We knew release dates, purchased display boxes on pre-order, had pack opening parties, debated combinations on the way to dinner, relentlessly taunted each other during play, and indoctrinated people who’d never played a CCG or videogame into our group.

Alliances, Mirage, Visions, Weatherlight, Tempest, Stronghold, Exodus, Urza’s Saga/Legacy/Destiny, and Mercadian Masques were subjected to our passion for playing Magic with each other.  I went to 2 GenCons during those years (1997 and 1998) with friends in the gaming group.  For just shy of 4 years, we played Magic, and it was glorious.

Like all good things, the good times came to a slow end.  One of my friends dropped out to start his family.  Others stopped playing to focus on senior year projects and course loads.  Eventually, a handful of us moved out of the dorms, and hauling a collection in the thousands 2 miles by foot 4 times per week isn’t maintainable long term.  The group fell apart in 1999.

At that point, I suppose I could have either gotten into tournament play or casual play at local gaming stores.  I tried a couple of tournaments in the Alliances timeframe, but WotC took all the creativity out of competitive play by inventing Type 2 tournaments, essentially handing all competitive success over to netdeck kiddies and gaming store owners.  I also discovered cool people that hang out in gaming stores are the vast minority, and their hygiene tends to be suspect at best.

And that was it.  I played some Magic with friends I made in Colorado after college, and I was a big proponent (and god awful player) of The Spoils when it came out a few years ago.  The people I started playing both with were obsessed with 1 v 1 games, which aren’t interesting to me.  I’d held out hope of growing a community of Hearthstone players when Hearthstone went to open beta, but it seems Blizzard is hellbent on ignoring casual CCG players in favor of trying to dupe stupid people into believing they can be World Champion so they’ll overspend on card packs.  Maybe someday, when Hearthstone is finally finished, I can make that community.

I’m never going to play a Pillar Tombs of Aku, Shivan Dragon, Wrath of God, Glacial Chasm, Eron the Relentless, or Larry Nevin’s Disk again.  I’ll never shout “Fun FACTORY!!” when attacking someone with a Mishra’s Factory again.  I won’t be making up offensive names of cards that bring the game to a screeching halt while the table collects their sides.  I’m saddened by that.

The best part of selling my Magic collection, besides the check, was being able to give away some of the “worthless” cards.  Someone was buying a deck to play Elder Dragon Highlander at the card shop, and I gave him an original Arena, which, thanks to white border reprints, isn’t worth what it used to be.  Still, the look on his face as his cousin was explaining to him where the card came from reminded me of the look on mine the first time I traded for dual lands.

I still hold out hope Blizzard wakes up and finishes Hearthstone for people like me who find netdecking repugnant.  Until then, I have no CCGs in my life, and my life is lessened because of it.


Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.