Last week, we had an all-time high in tournament participation. It got me thinking about how Magic has changed since I started playing late last century. We know what Magic is like now — let’s compare that to Magic from a decade ago. In some ways, it was radically different. In other ways — not so much.
Magic on the Web
In March of 2000, Internet coverage of Magic was just beginning its boom. We had moved beyond the archaic Usenet and email based reporting systems, and web pages with daily updates were appearing. Wizards had launched the mothership, and Sideboard online carried coverage of Pro Tours and the occasional GP.
The premier Magic website, in March of 2000, was The Dojo. It was the best by far. The stable of columnists back then included some still familiar names, and some that have moved on. Chad Ellis (Weak Among the Strong), Lauren Passmore (Shivan Hellkitten), Eric Taylor (Free Tech), Jamie Wakefield (King of the Fatties) and Chris Senhouse (The Sensei) have gone, but Adrian Sullivan is still writing Sullivan Library, Mike Flores is still podcasting, and Aaron Forsythe is now making the game. By March, 2000, I had written a couple of articles for The Dojo, and would be a paid columnist by late summer. By the end of the year, though, The Dojo would have folded. (No, my being paid did not cause The Dojo to fold. At least, I don’t think so.)
In 2000, StarCityGames.com was a small site, with a mainly casual readership. It would be a few years before Pete Hoefling and the Ferrett would turn it into a powerhouse. Back then, a very few other store-driven sites were testing the waters. NewWave Games was publishing, and I think Mindpring.com was just beginning.
The articles themselves were very simple: just text and a very few images. Audio, streaming video, high quality graphics and digital photos were all in the future. (Technically, they existed, but… I had get a digital camera back then. It cost over $400 and was black and white, about the size, shape, and weight of a brick, and had terrible resolution.)
In March, 2000, the great debate that began with the release of the Sixth Edition rules was finally dying down. People began to understand the stack, and combat steps were pretty much instinctual. Magic had clearly survived the change from interrupts, batches, and rulings from on high to a rational, comprehensive system of rules.
Previously, one of the skills a judge had to have was the ability to remember Bethmo rulings. Bethmo — and colleagues – were the Wizards netreps. A lot of rulings were the way they were simply because the NetReps said so. It was their job. How did Humility and Parapet interact? Bethmo told us. Before Sixth Edition, the rules simply didn’t address some interactions, so Wizards had someone to make those calls.
Post Sixth Edition, the rules sucked. Some portions of the rules needed more tuning and revisions — for example, layers were a work in progress for years — but the core of the modern game had been created with the 6E rules in 1999, and by 2000, we had accepted them.
What We Were Playing
In March, 2000, the Extended PTQ season had just wrapped up. Bob Maher, Jr., had played Ped Bun designed Oath of Druids deck to the top of Pro Tour: Chicago in December, but that PT had also introduced Trix to the world. The PTQ season featured Trix, Oath, Trix, Counterslivers, Trix, Burn, Trix, Survival and Turboland. And Trix.
The new PTQ season, starting in March, was Masques / Nemesis Sealed. We were drafting Rebels or decks featuring 3/3s for five mana. The most recent Pro Tour — Masques Sealed – had been held on the Queen Mary, which was permanently docked in California. To give you an idea of what a good Masques block deck was like, the final point of damage was dealt by a Kris Mage. (R, discard a card, ping something), and 1/1 fliers were significant. Non-Rebel creatures were bad, back in Masques block. The most discussed creature, however, was not a rebel. It was a 2/2 for 3G — but more on that later.
In 2000, Wizards had renamed the Masters, and was now calling it the Magic Invitational. The invitation-only events featuring the 16 best players in a variety of formats, including Standard, Block Party, Classic, Solomon Draft, and Duplicate Limited.
In the finals, Chris Pikula defeated Jon Finkel. The prize for winning was a chance to design a card, and Pikula’s card became Meddling Mage. The rest of the invitees, in order of their round 15 finishes: Zvi Mowshowitz, Dave Humpherys, Patrick Chapin, Kai Budde, Mike Long, Dirk Baberowski, Darwin Kastle, Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz, Nicolai Herzog, Dave Price, Jakub Slemr, Koichiro Maki, Brian Hacker, and Gary Wise.
Here are some of their Standard decks.
Chris Pikula — Rebels
Chris’ deck illustrates what creature decks were, back in the day. The deck is filled with 1/1s, 2/1s, and 2/2s. Nothing like today’s monstrous creatures were available. The single large creature — Masticore — was a 4/4 for 4 with a huge downside. Dinkiness was the norm for most creature decks form back in the day — the creatures were small. I believe that there were two reasons for this. First, Wizards was uncomfortable printing really good / fat creatures. Secondly, the presence of a lot of good counters, and mana denial, meant that you could not afford to play expensive creatures. Creature decks could not tap out for a fattie, if the control decks could negate the spell with a cheap counter, then use the rest of the mana to cast an instant speed card drawing spell at end of turn.
For comparison, here’s another creature deck from the Invitational:
Patrick Chapin — Stompy
Note the incredibly low mana curve.
The next offering is a Bargain combo deck. The deck “went off” by getting Yawgmoth’s Bargain into play, casting acceleration, then casting a mix of Soul Feast and Renounce to gain life to use to draw cards. Bargain was merely the latest is a series of combo decks spawned by Urza’s Block. The format, and the game, had not recovered from the Combo Winter of the previous season, where Academy decks were followed by High Tide, and then JarGrim brokenness. Bargain was merely the next in a series that didn’t really end until Replenish left to format. Once the broken combo decks left, the players started coming back.
Zvi Mowshowitz — Accelerated Blue
In the event, Zvi played a Blue control deck. It was not the 20+ counter builds that appeared beforehand — decks like Forbiddian. Accelerated Blue was more of a hybrid deck, with a smaller set of counters and some mana accelerate to power out a fattie. In that respect, Zvi’s deck looks more like Kamigawa era “tap-out” Blue control decks than a classic counter everything deck like Forbiddian.
Finally, let’s look at a Ponza deck.
David Humpherys — Ponza
Ponza is an archetype that has totally vanished. Ponza decks have enough land destruction and mana denial effects to slow the opponent, mixed with a few fast creatures and burn to finish the job. Avalanche Riders were the keystone of Ponza decks of the period, but the plethora of cheap LD spells was what made it work. Today, Ruin Blaster can partly fill the role of Avalanche Riders, but nothing replaces Stone Rain and Pillage.
I don’t know a lot about the Pro Tour in 2000 — I would not make it onto the floor of a premier event for another four and a half years. However, I can remember playing in PTQs and local store events back then. The events were primitive, compared to modern events.
The biggest thing I remember about PTQs back in the day were the waits. Even back then, Legion Events ran reasonably well, but other TOs’ events often had endless delays between rounds. Events were slow, facilities often very marginal, and many organizers and scorekeepers were not very skilled at their jobs.
Today, Wizards has spent a lot of resources on local TOs, and the quality of events is just plain better. I have now played in a lot of stores in a number of states, and while the experience is not always perfect, it is much improved over the bad old days.
Wizards is also supporting play at local stores much more than it has in the past. In 2000, FNM was in its infancy. Wizards had also tried “Arena” programs around this time, but support and organization was marginal. Today, Wizards supports FNM with playable, desirable foils. It also offers posters, event kits, test decks, and foils for casual play and small store events. It has customer service people available to answer TOs’ and store owners’ questions, and even smaller stores can get prereleases. As a result, smaller stores are far more likely to create play space in their stores, and more Magic is being played as a result.
The judging crew is also better and more professional than it was. Back in 2000, the judge core was cliquish, somewhat inbred, and not terribly effective. At the Pro Tour I mentioned above, Mike Long played Darwin Kastle in the final round of the Swiss pairings. Mike Long had drafted 4 or 5 copies of Howling Wolf — a 2/2 that fetches another copy of itself from the library when cast. Mr. Long was seen to spread these out evenly in his 40 card deck, meaning that he would almost always draw one early. Long also appeared to use a “shuffling” technique, taught by various Magicians, which appears to shuffle the deck but actually changes nothing. The judges investigated for over 45 minutes, but apparently did not understand what was happening and only warned Mr. Long about his poor shuffling technique.
I wasn’t there, and I haven’t talked to the judges, so I can’t state whether Mike Long did indeed cheat in this case. I can, however, state that there was a lot more cheating in Magic in 2000, and that today’s Magic judges are both a lot better trained and a lot more skilled than in 2000. Wizards is also far more willing to act against cheaters, and cheaters are more likely to be banned once caught.
It will never be perfect, but it is better than it was a decade ago.
In 2000, Magic had just recovered from Combo Winter, when broken Urza’s Saga cards nearly destroyed Constructed Magic. Saga block had been replaced by Mercadian Masques, which had a few unbalanced mechanics of its own — starting with Rebels. More pros were upset with the format at Pro Tour: Rebels later that year than at any other Pro Tour, except maybe PT: Tinker. In 2000, cards were banned in Standard, Urza’s Block Constructed, and – if not already in mid-March, shortly thereafter — in Masques Block Constructed as well.
Limited was not in all that much better shape. Urza’s block drafts had been bent by some amazing Black commons, like Pestilence. In Masques block, you could either fight over Rebels or draft bad GB creatures. Rebels and Mercenaries were, in theory, supposed to be equal but opposite mechanics. In practice, however, Rebels was infinitely more powerful.
The product suite was also far more limited in 2000 than it is now. While neither the sets nor the boosters were all that well designed for Limited, the rest of the product line was even less exciting. Basically, you had theme decks, novels, and nothing else. Over time, Wizards would develop fat packs, duel decks, From the Vaults sets, premium decks, foil packs, Magic brand sleeves and deck boxes, and everything else you can now buy. Those products don’t necessarily appeal to all of us, but they are not intended to. All of those are designed to hit specific niche markets, and all of those were in the future in 2000.
The other big difference between 2000 and 2010 — in 2000, we never would have had 5,000+ players playing Magic in sanctioned store events in one weekend, plus countless more playing FNM and playing casually. Magic is simply better in 2010.
“one million words” on MTGO (which did not even exist in 2000)
I have been listening to a lot of Magic Podcasts. Commute + Magic Podcast >>> Commute + news radio. Some podcasts are great, some good, and some I can’t even finish. However, there are seven that I invariably listen to. I’ll list some typical “quotes” below. Some were actually said, and some are just capturing the flavor. See how many you can identify:
“My seven year old son can draft you into the ground.”
“I have Worms. It’s Awesome!”
“The best Magic Player in North Dakota is a giant fiberglass cow. And it lives in South Dakota.”
“Basketball Basketball Basketball Napster Basketball Basketball TINGS! Basketball Basketball Finkel’s apartment Basketball …”
“I’m an L2.” “And I’m a — let me tell you about me.”
“So, AJ, what have you been playing?”
And, of course…
“Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Good Night…”
Answers: Limited Resources, The Mana Pool, Monday Night Magic, Top 8 Magic, JudgeCast, Freed from the Real (These guys so need a quirk. All they have is good podcast.), and Rich Hagon on the mothership. All of these are highly recommended.