Magic: The Gathering

For over two decades, the makers of the popular card game Magic: The Gathering have kept the game kinetic, adding and restricting cards year by year. Some players yearn for the good old days, though, and last weekend one game developer held a Magic: The Gathering tournament that was straight out of 1996.

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Andy Wallace, an indie game developer and Magic: The Gathering fan, held a tournament last weekend in which players could only use cards and decks that were available in May of 1996. Sets available include Arabian Nights and Legends while his banned list encompasses all ante cards, Chaos Orb, Falling Star and more. It was entirely old-school, and would probably get him laughed out of a hobby shop.

Why 1996? Wallace told me in an e-mail: “1996 was an interesting year for Magic: The Gathering. The card base was getting large and the requirements of setting up a competitive deck were becoming difficult. The idea that the game would just be played casually by a local play group that had only a handful of any given rare was completely out the window by this point.” He added that in May, 1996 the MTG format that would eventually become Legacy was created.

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In a blog post, Wallace instructs fans on how to use “proxies” so they won’t have to shell out thousands for vintage decks if they want to hold their own 1996-era Magic tournaments. “I like the idea of seeing that side of the game, but I simply don’t have the budget for it,” Wallace told me. He released a free proxy generator that can let players make their own old-school cards.

“Proxies” are the colloquial term for M:TG cards that are unofficial—they can be counterfeit, marked-up playtest cards or simply printed at home. In hobby shops, they’re worthless, so casual Magic players must agree to accept and use the cards as if they were official.

Andy recommends that players build digital versions of proxy decks online, first. Wallace’s proxy generator lets users drag in images of cards and export them into PDFs that can be printed. To simulate the feel of official cards, he suggests sliding the cards into sleeves with other cards as backing.

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Wallace was also excited to use the fabled Power 9 cards, a powerful and rare set of Magic that went out of print in 1994.

“The game is so heavily based around game store culture, which is fantastic and accounts for the longevity of the game,” Wallace told me, “but that type of play needs to be based on using actual MTG cards. I’m not trying to undermine that, just to explore the types of gameplay experiences which are really not feasible with actual product.”