Magic: The Gathering commentator Marshall Sutcliffe had Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall on his MTG Breakdown show recently to show off an amazing piece of game history: video of a Magic tournament from 1994.
As Sutcliffe and David-Marshall explain, the footage is mostly unedited, freewheeling capture of what an early Magic tournament was like. And, to be clear, this is very early in Magic’s history.
The video is from November of 1994, and the game had only launched in August of 1993. While the game sold well, it didn’t go everywhere all at once, and it slowly trickled east from its birthplace in Seattle, Washington.
Organized by David-Marshall and several others, the tournament was envisioned less as a pure competitive environment and more as a convention. As he explains in the video, the basic model here included free play areas, artists, and other things for enthusiasts to do. This tournament served as the model for the first Grand Prix events, which are the most common big competitive Magic events today. The organizers expected maybe 70-80 people, but ultimately 200 or so showed up to embrace early Magic.
The second half of the archival video is a sort-of-complete video of the final match of the event in which two players repeatedly repeatedly shoot each other with Fireballs for 1 or 2 damage in between attacking each other with Mishra’s Factory.
The entire video is full of Magic history treasures, but there are two things that I want to really highlight:
The first is that one of the players in the finals has an unsleeved Unlimited edition Black Lotus (which currently goes for about $8,000) that he is handling in a very cavalier way. I love it. These cards were meant to be played, dammit, and that’s just what people did!
The second thing I want to highlight is the absolutely mind-annihilating shuffle this dude does. Sutcliffe’s reaction is pretty serious, and I wouldn’t recommend shuffling any cards this way. To add to the horror, David-Marshall points out that those cards definitely include a bunch of dual lands, most of which are worth hundreds of dollars each at this point. There’s also a Mox Ruby ($2,250). Again, he didn’t know the future, but dang.
The final match is very instructive about how Magic has evolved over the years, but the prize is the best part. It’s a complete collection of Arabian Nights, the game’s first expansion. The winner loudly declares that he does not want to trade, and part of me hopes that he has the whole thing in his closet at this very moment.
[Update - 8/19, 10:00am]: Brian David-Marshall reached out to me on Twitter with more information about the winner of the tournament: “Not only does he still have the set, with the life total sheet tucked into the 9-pocket sheet but he still has the deck intact from the event.” Now that’s a feel-good story with a happy ending.
If you’re even a little bit interested in the history of Magic, I recommend watching the entire video. It’s amazing, and the contextualization that David-Marshall does is super valuable for even a casual fan.