Syphilis and CCGs: Magic: The Gathering's Shadowmoor Expansion

Joe Blancato | 15 May 2008 17:30
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To really explain my history with Magic: The Gathering, I need to take you back to sixth grade and Hyde Park Middle School's magnet program for little nerds good at math and science. The program's 90-minute blocks of advanced math, algebraic drills and fantasy stock markets turned us into 12-year-old statisticians too young to spend money on girls or clothes, but old enough to have a limited chunk of change and a willingness to spend it. We were all young enough to remember baseball card collections, but old enough to know those tiny pictures of athletes were worth less than the paper on which they were printed. We were primed for a collectible card game fad, and Magic spread through our school faster than the Great Syphilis Outbreak of 2000 that would plague my high school a few years later.

These were the halcyon days of Fourth Edition, and the game was in full bloom. Wizards of the Coast had improved the paper stock it used from previous editions, which meant the cards lasted longer and looked better. The Shivan Dragon ruled our skies and looked stunning in our hands. The cards from previous editions were skyrocketing in value as they were discontinued; one in particular, the Black Lotus, was worth $400 and took on mythic status in our class circle.

Not everyone in the school played, but those who didn't were in the minority. After-school clubs became inundated with Magic players more interested in talking Mill Stones than chess, glee club or any other hobby that had previously piqued their interest. I can't remember a school day that I didn't play at least one game with someone, and some of those games are woven together with the myriad of other fragments from early puberty. For some reason, whenever I think of the first time I lost a girl's affection to a friend, I remember the time I beat him with a Channel/Fireball combo on turn three.

As we matured together, so did the game we played. In seventh grade came Ice Age, universally known as the game's death knell, and when Fifth Edition came at the tail end of eighth grade, you could buy a kid's card collection for $10 or a week of school lunch. I grew out of Magic, but didn't say goodbye very gracefully, and the bad taste it left in my mouth soured me on CCGs for years.

I've bounced back into the hobby from time to time. There was Jyhad (later renamed Vampire, for obvious reasons) and the Star Wars CCG, but no game ever reached critical mass in my social circle like Magic did. By the time Pokemon revived the genre, I was driving.

The funny thing is, I never got rid of my last deck. It was a red, direct damage "burn" deck, just over 40 cards and chock full o' piss and vinegar. Every time I unearth it I marvel at its construction and wonder what happened to the game that dominated a couple of years of my life. As it turns out, quite a lot.

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