fbpx

Table Talk (But Not the Kind You Think) – Magic Memories

One of my very first Magic memories was at a kitchen table was back in the fall of 1994. It was such an eventful memory in my life that I still remember it vividly despite it having happened a quarter century ago. When I phrase it that way, a quarter century ago, it’s sort of hard to believe I’ve played and enjoyed a singular game for such a long time. 

Back then, I had just started sixth grade and my cousin Jerry was one of my closest friends. In a time before cellular phones and texting, whenever we were not hanging out it seemed like we were talking on the phone and tying up our parent’s lines. The afternoon where I encountered Magic for the first time started like a lot of other afternoons after school. Jerry called me up and said, “You’ve got to get your mom to bring you over, I’ve got something really amazing to show you.”

After some whining and a promise to mow the lawn when I got home, I was over at my cousin’s house. We were sitting at the kitchen table and he showed me his brand new Magic: the Gathering cards. We had always enjoyed playing video games and fantasy games like Hero Quest together and these cards were a game changer. When my mom picked me up to go home, we made a stop at Comic City in Canton and I bought my first Revised Starter and two boosters. My younger brother also bought the same packs and the three of us played a lot of Magic around the kitchen table, or on the bedroom floor from our sleeping bags when we’d stay the night at each other’s houses on the weekends. 

Over the years, I played Magic at a lot of different tables. I played at the middle school cafeteria table with my best friends, Martin and Matt. Not a “kitchen table,” but close. I played on the bus on the ride home from school with my neighbors. 

The next step and table I played at was the Rider’s Hobby RC Racing Track. In 1996, there were not “game stores” in my area. I used to buy my Magic cards from a comic book store, a hobby shop and a video game rental store called “Game Masters.” Those were the only places that sold Magic. 

 

Black LotusMana Drain

Rider’s Hobby was decidedly not a game store. They sold mostly models and RC vehicles. They had a large “race track” and Magic players started meeting there weekly to play games, trade cards and meet new people who played. I remember there was a guy named Zach who used to play at the track and he had all of the out of print cards from Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities and Legends. So, playing games against him was the first time I ever saw cards like Black Lotus, Mana Drain or Triskelion

I played my first tournament at the Rider’s track. My first play of the event was to cast Sol Ring and tap it to cast White Knight! Everybody I knew thought colorless mana could be any color. 

 

Sol RingWhite Knight

It was such a different game back then. There weren’t infinite articles, rule clarification, YouTube videos or an online platform like Arena to teach us the rules. When you bought a starter deck, there was a tiny rulebook and that was it. It was up to you and your friends to figure out how to play the game from there. Even back then, card availability was an issue and I distinctly remember these events allowed 10 proxies. I remember this because I learned what a “proxy card” was a half hour before the event and started frantically trying to proxy the most powerful cards to add to my deck without putting much thought into whether they were actually good in my deck. I definitely had a Mishra’s Workshop and Triskelions in my White Weenie deck because I thought those were two of the best cards. 

 

Triskelion

In high school, I played Magic at the “Magic Club” after school a few times. Magic was still enjoyable, but my interests were kind of elsewhere. I had a car, a girlfriend and a high school rock and roll band I was fronting. I sold my entire collection to a guy from the club to buy an American Standard Telecaster that I played on the first CD of songs I ever wrote. 

 

Library of Alexandria

My first day of college, I had a history class. In the class, the professor talked about the actual Library of Alexandria and it sparked my memory of playing with the card. I thought it was really cool that it was an actual location and such an interesting one at that. After class, I went to the computer lab and looked for places that might sell Magic singles in hopes of finding a Library of Alexandria. I had to go to the computer lab because smartphones weren’t a thing yet! 

For the first time, I discovered that there were now “game stores” that specialized in niche games like Magic. I picked up a Library of Alexandria and some starter decks and again returned to the kitchen table playing against my brother. 

 

Fact or Fiction

My brother had a Fact or Fiction in his deck. I lost to that card a lot

The next table was FNM. I met some people at college who played Magic and they encouraged me to come to FNM. It was the first time that I experienced Magic in the age of “net decks.” Magazines like Scrye and InQuest featured Pro Tour deck lists and content and the internet was a place where people could read about how to build more competitive decks. Odyssey had just been released and I played a Squirrel Opposition deck, then quickly switched to Psychatog

I was really most interested in playing Vintage and reacquiring the old cards I loved playing in middle school, or acquiring cards that I was never able to find (or couldn’t afford when I was 13). 

I had dated my high school sweetheart for a couple of years at this point and she bought me my first Black Lotus as a Christmas gift. She paid $175 for a near mint Unlimited Lotus. 

Vintage was my first exposure to being part of the LGS community. There was a group of players who showed up every single Monday to play Vintage for about three years straight. Many of these people even decades later remain some of my closest friends. 

Everybody was good at Magic. No free wins. It was my first exposure to metagames and tuning decks and sideboards. Monday Night Vintage is sort of where I got good at Magic. 

My first big event was the Vintage World Championship at Gencon. I had never experienced anything like it! It was a massive gathering of gamers and I played in a tournament with hundreds of other vintage fans. Although all of us Michigan Monday Night Vintage players were unknowns to anybody beyond our group, we all did extremely well in the event. My best friend in Magic, Mark Biller, went from obscurity to becoming the World Champion, piloting a new deck called “Control Slaver.” He was one of maybe five people piloting the deck in the event. CS would go on to be the dominant “best deck” in the format for the next three years. 

My first experience with big tournaments was such a positive one. My group of Monday Night Vintage players started traveling to play in the Star City Games Power 9 events across the Midwest and we were a dominant force. We also developed a friendly rivalry with the Vintage players to the south in Ohio: Team Meandeck. We’d put up a piece of Power we won at a P9 as a prize and they’d come up and play in our barn, RIW hobbies. They’d put up a piece of power as prize at The Soldiery in Columbus, and we’d drive down. 

The rivalry soon grew into great friendships. The Michigan crew would test at Monday Night Vintage and work on tuning our decks and talking about the metagame during the week. We’d play our event, and not matter who won or didn’t, all of the players from both sides would go out to dinner together afterwards. It’s a tradition that expanded and lasted over the years for big Vintage events. After the last SCG P9, the Vintage players had a party of 40 for dinner – and, many of those players were at the dinners 15 years previous. Really special. 

The next tables I played at were on the professional Magic circuit. I was primarily focused on Vintage at the time, but there were some pretty solid pros playing at my LGS. Michael Jacob, Patrick Chapin, Mark Herberholtz, Kyle Boggemes and Ari Lax. You may have heard of them… 

Although I always liked the Vintage format more than any other format, I couldn’t deny that what they were doing was really cool and I wanted to be a part of it. So, I started playing PTQs and won a blue envelope to Honolulu. Mark Herberholtz won the event! 

It was around this time that I started writing Magic content for SCG. I was primarily writing Vintage articles, but as I expanded my horizons into playing every format, so did my content. 

Eventually, I advanced in the game from the point where I was merely there, to playing at the feature match tables in coverage and on camera. I even played multiple feature matches at Pro Tours and won a Grand Prix and Open. 

So, from a kitchen table to playing and winning on camera on the most exclusive tables in the game. Not too shabby for a boy from Michigan!

Throughout all of this, I never played online Magic. Why would I ever play a computer game when I could play cards with my friends?

COVID-19 changed that. With real tables and playing with real people off the “table,” I was resigned to playing from my desktop table. It was a useful way to pass the idle time but playing from a desk by myself made me feel lonely and sad. 

Magic is such a fun game that I can understand why people enjoy online Magic and I’m not judging anybody for what they like. However, when I look back at all of the different tables I’ve played at over the years and all of the experiences I’ve had with so many great individuals, a computer doesn’t measure up. Online Magic was a fine time-killer during a pandemic but not my cup of tea. 

Yesterday, I played at a new table. My LGS installed a brand new studio for recording IRL paper matches and I was part of their first ever video recording. A game of Commander with precons. 

Taking part in this game were three other players I had not seen in two years since the pandemic began. My friend Kevin Cron (the only Vintage player to top 8 the World Championships in three different decades) who I met at my very first Gencon. Then there were my friends Jon Johnson, who I traveled to dozens of Grand Prix with and was at my wedding, and my friend Zach Allen, who is the new “club pro” of my home base LGS, RIW Hobbies, and was one of the highest ranked players on the SCG circuit before the pandemic cut the season short. 

So, the latest table was in a super studio playing friendly “kitchen table style games” with three old friends that I met at different periods of my Magic experience. 

I think back to that first kitchen table at my cousin Jerry’s house and looking at the cards for the first time. Seeing a Craw Wurm for the first time. How unfathomable is it that a quarter of a century later I’ve played all these different ways at all these different tables? It makes me wonder… what will the next table be in my Magical journey? 

 

Discussion

Scroll to Top