Hot Tub Time Machine

What was Magic like seventeen years ago? Find out as Patrick Chapin explores the September 1996 issue of Inquest magazine that he found while cleaning out his closet.


Magic was a major part of my childhood, filled with countless memories of a more innocent era. It wasn’t just that I was a kid; it was also the very early days of Magic. People had no idea what they were doing, and the Internet wasn’t even a big thing.

Inquest was one of the premier Magic magazines of the nineties. The Duelist was WotC’s official mag, and while awesome it didn’t feature price guides. That left Inquest and Scrye as the competing sources of “book values” that StarCityGames.com has gone on to inherit. While Scrye took itself a bit more seriously, Inquest was this beautiful madness produced by a bunch of gamers that were clearly having a really good time and clearly out of their freaking minds.

This weekend I was packing up my house a bit, getting ready to move a couple miles away. In the process of cleaning out a closet, I made a few discoveries that really made my day. Probably the sweetest had to be a stack of thousands of dollars’ worth of Jaces and Onslaught fetch lands that I hadn’t seen in years. Second to that though had to be my collection of old Inquests, Scryes, and Duelists.

Picking them up and reading through them brought back so many memories. Those really were such different times. While reading them, it occurred to me that there are basically two types of players.

  • Those that played back then and might appreciate the nostalgia.
  • Those that didn’t play back then and might appreciate the history.

So I decided to pick up a magazine at random and explore it again to share with you guys today. Major thanks to Inquest magazine. While it phased out with the popularization of the Internet, it made its mark on the game and the culture. You guys really added a lot to the Magic community.

The issue I picked up? Inquest, September 1996.

Inquisition: Letters To The Editors

“I got a crazy little Magic spinner in Inquest #13. What in the world is it for? I searched through the mag and didn’t find one mention of it anywhere.” -Kyle Goodwin

Use it to keep track of your life points. You can also use it to keep track of how many centuries you’ll be burning in hell for playing CCGs. -Inquest’s Editors

“I was appalled by Jason Von Glass’s letter in issue #12’s ‘Inquisition.’ Granted, he has a point about permission decks being cheesy. However, Counterspell is not cheesy! I repeat: NOT cheesy. It’s one of the only things blue has going for it other than that moronic Clone and the vile Doppelganger. I hate those two.

Anyway, if Counterspells were to be restricted, Shivans, Clones, Doppelgangers, Vampires, Serra Angels, Autumn Willows, Baron Sengirs, Jester’s Caps, and Lightning Bolts should be too. If we restricted all of them, then what would there be? Weenie decks winning tournaments! Ugh, the thought of that makes my skin crawl. -Ben Sperling

At my house there’s no such thing as a banned or restricted card. Anything goes. My way may not be legal, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. -Inquest’s Editors

PC: It’s funny to look back and realize there was a time before people knew what life counters were. Hell, just a year earlier there were less than 1000 people in the world that had ever drafted Magic!

Counterspells have always been hated by many, but it brings a little smile to my face to remember just how common the term “cheesy” was.

IQ News

Magic Artists

Anson Maddocks, Ed Beard Jr, Rob Alexander, Amy Weber, and many others discontinue doing art for Magic due to WotC’s new art contracts that will start with Fifth Edition (which does not come out until the following year).

WotC founder and president at the time Peter Adkison said the new rates will keep Magic artists in the top 10% of their field and that new contracts without royalties are needed given Magic’s growth. For reference, the old contracts had some artists receiving over $200,000 a year in royalties for art created in 1993.

Adkinson said that Magic will remain fresh by changing and evolving, which is what creator Richard Garfield meant it to do. But Maddocks feels creativity will suffer. “There’ll be a drop in truly original ideas,” he predicted. “The art will lack soul and character.”

PC: Fortunately, Magic art has gone on to be bigger and better than anyone ever could have guessed. Magic’s creative has gone so far beyond just pictures on cards, creating entire worlds. I definitely enjoyed the variety of the old cards as well as artists like Maddocks and Melissa Benson, but there are a lot of great artists in the world. Magic artwork is pretty amazing these days.

Pro Tour News

The 1996-1997 Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour schedule has been announced. The second year of the Pro Tour will include stops in Atlanta, Dallas (ahhhhh, Dallas), Los Angeles, and New York followed by the World Championships in Seattle.

(PC: Interestingly, this is five Pro Tours in a year; however, the total prizes awarded are less than two Pro Tours in 2014, including appearance fees and travel awards not linked to GPs or PTQs. Also of note, Magic Grand Prix did not yet exist.)

. . .

Long-distance phone company MCI has become a sponsor for the 1996 Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour.

Lisa Stevens, VP of events marketing at WotC, said that the deal will provide more funds for events and help legitimize the Tour. “All sports have sponsors,” Stevens said. “Magic has now reached the level of a competitive sport.

. . .

A pre-beta test of the MicroProse Magic CD-ROM was released to the media in mid-July (1996). Despite the grainy Magic illustrations and dubious AI, the community at large was excited at the prospect of playing Magic on a computer.

The decks are preprogrammed, all from the death by creatures school. The computer AI is best described by a few samples:

After attacking with a Brass Man, the computer enchants it with Immolation. And then enchants it with a second Immolation, lowering its toughness to -1.

The computer casts Hurricane with an X of four. I lose four life; it loses nothing. Good thing too—it was down to two life.

After casting Wrath of God, the computer just lets two Mishra’s Factorys sit there. In fact, it never uses them, eventually allowing my Scathe Zombies to win the game.

Rules Changes

Pestilence activations must be resolved one at a time!

Rules Manager Tom Wylie said that this change would have taken place in the upcoming Mirage expansion but is being made earlier to avoid having to errata six Alliances cards.

Killer Decks: The Best In Tournament-Level Magic Decks!

PC: Suffice it to say, Inquest was not some fountain of tech that redefined the game. However, without much of an Internet, this really was one of the best sources of strategy available in the world!

Up Your Sleeve: Surprise Strategies For Unappreciated Magic Cards!

Top 5 combos with Magus of the Unseen:

5) Mishra’s Groundbreaker. Turn his land into an artifact creature, which you then take and use to pound him. Use Zuran Orb for bonus nachos! Heck, this isn’t just the best Groundbreaker combo; it’s the only one!

4) Sacrificeable artifacts. Make him use it and lose it or make him not use it and lose it. What a deal!

3) Soldevi Adnate. Take his artifact creature and sacrifice it for black mana. B/U artifact destruction folks. Though don’t expect any congratulatory hugs from your opponent.

2) Dwarven Weaponsmith. Hey, take his stuff, use it, abuse it, and turn it into +1/+1 counters. You’ll be the life of the party with your 11/11 Magus!

1) Xenic Poltergeist. Animate his artifact and use the Magus to give you a creature when you need it most (like when a Juggernaut approaches). Ooh, this is ugly incarnate.

PC: People used to have a very different idea of what card combos were. For years, the popular wisdom was that combos are “bad” and something to be avoided. Remember, this was before Squandered Resources and Cadaverous Bloom forever changed the word “combo” in Magic.

Infinite combos? One of the first Infinite combos I read about as a kid was:

Deep Spawn + Dance of Many + Puppet Master + Ashnod’s Alter + Sunglasses of Urza + Sleight of Mind + Farrelite Priest + Homarid Spawning Bed = infinite mana and 0/1 tokens!!!

If you think I didn’t build a deck with four of each of those + restricted power, you better believe you are mistaken . . .

Power Play: The 10 Most Powerful Magic Cards Of All Time!

So, whaddya think’s the best Magic card of all time?

Black Lotus?

Bzzzt! Guess again.

To celebrate Magic’s third birthday, Inquest decided to take a look at the ten most powerful Magic cards of all time. And you know? The Lotus—the king of all Magic cards, the most expensive in the entire lot ($200 according to this issue of Inquest)—didn’t even make the list.

(PC: They go on to explain that in order to crack their Top 10 list the card has to be versatile, useful against just about any deck, and useful at just about any time in the game. This criteria seems to be an argument in favor of Black Lotus if you ask me, but let’s see what they come up with.)

Top 10 Magic Cards Of All Time

(Or at least the first three years of Magic.)

10. Nether Void
9. Demonic Tutor
8. Swords to Plowshares
7. Regrowth
6. Disenchant
5. Balance
4. Mana Drain
3. Mind Twist
2. Library of Alexandria
1. Ancestral Recall

PC: Hrmm, a lot of good cards to be sure, but I am not so sure I agree with their list. Sure, obviously it is quite silly that they don’t have Black Lotus and the Moxes, but even if we set aside the artifact mana, which includes:

Let’s also set aside cards that are now among the best in the game’s history but have benefited tremendously from cards printed later, such as Time Vault and Bazaar of Baghdad.

My Top 10 Cards That Did Not Appear On Inquest’s Top 10 Cards

(But were legal at the time and not even counting artifact mana.)

10. Fastbond
9. Wheel of Fortune
8. Timetwister
7. Dark Ritual
6. Force of Will
5. Brainstorm
4. Strip Mine
3. Mishra’s Workshop
2. Necropotence
1. Time Walk

1996 Magic US Championships

PC: The 9/96 issue of Inquest featured the decklists of the four players to make the US National Team that year, Magic’s second National Championships.

PC: Necropotence decks were all the rage, as this was right in the heart of “Necro-Summer.” Bentley’s deck was special in that he incorporated red direct damage to kill protection from black creatures, which were quite popular, and artifact destruction to combat mana denial strategies, such as those that filled out the rest of the Top 4.

“My deck did one thing—it killed the other person. I had nothing special in the deck at all. There were no funky two- or three-card combinations except Necropotence and Ivory Tower, and I only got that out two or three times during the whole tournament.” – Dennis Bentley, 1996 Magic National Champion

Why don’t you play any Drain Life or Nevinyrral’s Disk?

“My deck may do the two-step, but it doesn’t do the disco.” -DB

Why do you think you won the championship?

“God likes me best.” -DB

PC: Prison. While it brings back a lot of memories, it generally isn’t that much fun for most people. You don’t really get to do much, and it’s pretty boring.

“All the cards are integrated. With Titania’s Song, all of my artifacts, all of my control, can be offensive. I can have multiple roads to victory with a minimal number of cards, so it’s very efficient.” George Baxter, finalist and author of the first Magic books

PC: It’s funny because at the time people were overjoyed to see new decks like this emerge. People were pretty bored of the Mono-Black Control and G/W Midrange decks that were dominating the tournament scene, so despite how miserable of an experience this deck was for everyone involved (except Andrew Cuneo) it really did excite people.

“It’s a bunch of bad cards that happen to work well together.” -Mike Long, semifinalist

“One of the key things to Magic is drawing cards. You don’t play cards that Mind Twist yourself, like Balduvian Horde. However, many of the cards in this deck are like Mind Twisting yourself, so the Howling Mines are key.” -Matt Place, semifinalist

Pro Tour Columbus 1996 (The Third Pro Tour)

PC: The same weekend as the US National Championships, Pro Tour Columbus took place. The third Pro Tour ever held, it featured Ice Age/Alliances Constructed and did not overlap directly with Nationals, so US players could play in both.

For context, during this time the US was the biggest Magic country by far, but second place was definitely Canada. Putting two in the Top 4 of both the adult and junior Pro Tours, this was the first time another country outperformed the US at a PT. It was also the first time a non-US player won. That winner? Future Hall of Famer Olle Rade.

PC: I don’t recommend this one, as its mana base defies reality. You are only 77% to have a green mana in your opener, 68% to have at least two lands, and less than 60% to have both colors.

It gained its advantage from its abundance of three-toughness creatures in a format built around Pyroclasm, Blinking Spirit, and Ivory Gargoyle. Olle’s winning play in the finals? Stormbind locking an Ivory Gargoyle, preventing Sean Fleishman from ever drawing another card.

. . .

PC: Many players don’t realize that in the early days of the Pro Tour it was often the case that the junior division was stronger than the adult division. For instance, the Top 3 Columbus juniors were:

1. Terry Borer (who went on to win the adult division of PT NY, the following year)

2. Paul McCabe (who went on to win the adult division of PT Dallas, the very next Pro Tour, and was Player of the Year)

3. Jon Finkel (who went on to win three adult Pro Tours as well as Top 8 eleven others)

The junior division also included Kai Budde, Brian Kibler, Zvi Mowshowitz, Bob Maher, and many more of the game’s all-time greats. It was not until the following year when it was revealed that international Pro Tours would not feature a junior division that the Pro Tour evolved to feature all the best kids and adults competing against each other.

. . .

Top 5 Hottest Selling CCGs

5. Netrunner
4. Middle-Earth: The Wizards
3. Star Wars
2. Mythos: Call of Cthulhu
1. Magic: The Gathering

PC: What I found particularly interesting from looking at all of the CCGs covered in this issue was that by Magic’s third year of existence there were literally dozens and dozens of CCGs that had popped up. Also of note, WotC did not actually receive their patent for CCGs until 1997.

. . .

Card Stock: Tracking Trends In The Card Game Market

PC: Trading Magic cards has always been thing to do, and there have always been “experts” that are quick to tell you what they believe the future holds. Here are some snapshots into the Magic card market of September 1996.

“I only received about 50% of my total order from the distributor. I didn’t get enough product to justify selling singles.” -Mark Welch, Comic Cubicle, Williamsburg, VA

“Alliances is filled with powerful cards that thanks to limited production are going to be in great demand. It’s realistic to think that a Balduvian Horde could be a $40-$50 card in the near future. I can think of two uncommons—Lim-Dul’s Vault and Force of Will are two examples—that will be selling way in excess of $5.” -Tom Moore, Tom’s Triple Play, Bossier City, LA

“We just might see the first $10 common card.” -Wil Chase, Inquest Contributor

. . .

Inquest’s Price Guide, September 1996

PC: The rest of today’s article is all my commentary (unless otherwise noted) to spare you pages and pages of italics.

The value of Magic singles is a strange and fascinating creature. Cards have skyrocketed and plummeted many times, and while reprinting cards used to hurt the value of very old cards, nowadays many cards gain value when they are reprinted due to being playable again in Standard tournaments.

Magazines like Inquest used to be the gold standard for card prices, but in today’s Internet-driven world, prices fluctuate too fast to rely on printed prices that are often at least a month old.

Let’s take a look at some of the median prices in September of 1996 and how they compare to the value of the cards today.

Beta, Revised, Fourth


The first thing that is crystal clear is that Beta cards accumulated value at an extraordinary rate (faster than Unlimited cards) while Revised and Fourth Edition cards tanked.

It’s no surprise that tournament staples have outperformed cards people do not play in tournaments; however, iconic nostalgic cards have greatly outperformed similar cards that are slightly less iconic. For instance, just look at Shivan Dragon compared to Gaea’s Liege. It’s not like Shivan Dragon has seen much tournament play, and it has been reprinted many more times than Gaea’s Liege. However, Shivan Dragon (and Royal Assassin) appear to resonate more people’s memories of their innocent youths than Gaea’s Liege.

Dual lands rather than Moxes and the like are actually the biggest winners, as Legacy has a much larger following than Vintage and you need four times as many Underground Seas as Black Lotus to have a playset, meaning only a fourth as many people can have enough to play all they want.

Microsoft’s adjusted stock value in September of 1996 (accounting for splits and dividends) was $6.05. Today it is worth 37.29, meaning if you would have invested in Microsoft seventeen years ago you would have seen a 516% return on your money!

That is great and all—after all, Microsoft has done well with the rise of computers and the Internet—but take a look at Beta Underground Seas. If you had invested in them at the same time, you would have seen a 7230% return on your money since then!

I could not help but smile while looking at the value of a Collector’s Edition set. Because the cards are not tournament legal, the popular consensus back in the day was that the cards were basically worthless and a trap. Why would a collector want them? They will never be wanted by anyone.

Now, seventeen years later, a full set of Collector’s Edition is worth 666% what it was going for back then. A Collector’s Edition Black Lotus is worth over $200!

Arabian Nights


Arabian Nights is a funny one, with card prices extremely different than they were seventeen years ago. For instance, look at the two most iconic creatures in the set from the perspective of a player of that era. Juzam Djinn has doubled in value, while Ali from Cairo has actually fallen. Juzam Djinn was never even on the restricted list!

On the whole, Arabian Nights has fared extremely well, and it doesn’t even have that many crazy tournament cards. There is basically just Library of Alexandria and Bazaar of Baghdad; beyond that the rest of the value is nostalgia and scarcity. Arabian Nights was both the first Magic expansion and extremely flavorful. On top of this, it has the smallest print.

Perhaps most curious is the price of Arabian Nights boosters. While full sets of Arabian Nights have nearly doubled in value, booster packs have absolutely skyrocketed from $60 per pack to $400 per pack. How could boosters have possible increased more than three times as fast as the full set?

Arabian Nights boosters aren’t about what you can open. In fact, with just eight cards per booster, it is extremely unlikely that you will open anywhere close to $400 of cards if you open one. However, people love cracking packs.

A lot.

There is something magical, something epic about cracking packs of Arabian Nights, perhaps while doing a Beta-Arabian Nights draft. It is this experience people value, and with how few unopened packs of Arabian Nights there are left in existence, there is a real low cap on how many people will ever experience it themselves.

Antiquities, Legends, The Dark


Here we see just how much of the value of the old cards is linked to print run and historical age. Legends is a far more iconic and beloved set than Antiquities, yet Legends has barely doubled while Antiquities has tripled in value.

Of course, that is largely driven by Mishra’s Workshop having a big impact on a small set. Still, Legends has cards like Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and Mana Drain, so it is not like this is a unique phenomenon.

Another trend we are starting to see is that creatures do not tend to have fared well. The creatures of 1997 were generally really bad. Despite this people loved them, driving the prices up. Now that every Tom, Dick, and Harry that gets printed is far better than all of the creatures of that era, they have lost most of their charm. Shivan Dragon, Royal Assassin, and Juzam Djinn are rare exceptions that represent the absolute pinnacle of nostalgia and badassitude.

The Dark? It didn’t even really have that big of a print run; the cards were just pretty bad and not particularly sweet seventeen years later.

Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, Alliances


I guess Balduvian Horde didn’t quite reach $50, did it?

What’s this? A set of Ice Age is worth less than a third of what it was worth seventeen years ago, while Fallen Empires has actually increased in value?

I guess we see who got the last laugh!

Here we see what happens to the “hot” cards of that era. They aren’t good enough to play in Legacy, nor are they legal in other non-casual formats. Often they have been outclassed by new cards. The result? They are mostly near worthless.

It is comical that a single uncommon from Alliances is now worth relatively close to the rest of the set put together.

In general, cards printed in the past seventeen years have their value most closely tied to their viability in Legacy, Modern, Standard, and Commander. The oldest cards however feature much more of an appetite for cards that harken back to an early more innocent era.

What about the prices of other CCGs? The super rare limited edition Jean Luc-Picard was $50 in 1997 and fetches about $25 today. Most cards in most CCGs however have dropped pretty close to zero as the games have died out. Only those featuring some iconic pop-culture element have survived in any meaningful way.

Inquest Player’s Guide

Inquest, like so many others that have come after them, uses a five-star rating system. This would not be that bad a system if anyone ever rated cards 1-5 stars based on mana efficiency, but the Magic community is full of people that would rather make stock mana jokes than actually understand the underlying system that defines mana efficiency.

The result? Most tournament players realize that context is the most important factor in determining how strong a card is these days. Unfortunately, this leads to people trying to rate cards based primarily on how good they would have been in a context they will never exist in (the previous format).

One of my favorite Inquest ratings was when Ice Age premiered and they awarded one star out of five to Necropotence. After all, you get to draw cards without losing life normally. Why would you want to wait until the end of the turn and have to discard out of the game?

By the time of the September 1996 issue of Inquest, they had since revised their rating of Necropotence to four stars. Since they constantly updated their ratings to reflect recent tournament performance, this issue’s ratings don’t make for great punch lines. They do however form an interesting snapshot of the perceptions of that era.


Black Lotus, Mirror Universe, Zuran Orb, Demonic Tutor, Juzam Djinn, Underworld Dreams, Counterspell, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Erhnam Djinn, Berserk, Ali from Cairo, Incinerate, Wheel of Fortune, Balance, Serra Angel


Fountain of Youth, Jayemdae Tome, Disrupting Scepter, Feldon’s Cane, Juggernaut, Soldevi Simulacrum, Sword Of The Ages, Necropotence, Dark Ritual, Demonic Hordes, Library of Lat-Nam, Prodigal Sorcerer, Channel, Essence Filter, Balduvian Horde, Eternal Warrior, Lava Burst, Scars Of The Veteran, Reverse Damage, Moat, Gwendlyn Di Corci


Basalt Monolith, Baton of Morale, Clockwork Steed, Colossus of Sardia, Breeding Pit, Baron Sengir, Feast Of The Unicorn, Sinkhole, Icequake, Brainstorm, Flight, Merchant Scroll, Zuran Spellcaster, Fastbond, Fungusaur, Enduring Renewal, Healing Salve, Lord Magnus, Nicol Bolas


Aladdin’s Lamp, Clockwork Gnomes, Su-Chi, The Wretched, Erosion, Force Spike, Ghazban Ogre, Moss Monster, Spitting Slug, Goblin Hero, Uthden Troll, Visions, Fasting, Jasmine Boreal


Coal Golem, Lapis Lazuli Talisman, Phyrexian Devourer, Scathe Zombies, Krovikan Horror, Homarid, Tidal Flats, High Tide, In the Eye of Chaos, Rust, Tornado, Gray Ogre, Goblin Digging Team, Great Wall, Squire, Tivadar’s Crusade, Kasimir the Lone Wolf

. . .

The 1996 world of Magic: The Gathering was a strange and different creature, but at the same time there is so much familiar. I hope you enjoyed this trip in the time machine as much as I have. It is fun and all, but there is a lot to learn from looking at what popular wisdom was seventeen years ago.

Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

I can’t help but wonder what Magic will look like seventeen years from now . . .

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Next Level Deckbuilding