Not the original, but one of her fourth edition sisters.
Sometime in the next month, it’ll be the twentieth anniversary of when I started Magic.
I can’t pinpoint the exact date. It was sometime in early September during my freshman year in high school. The cool kids in drama club all played magic, and if I just got some cards, I could play too. It was 1994, I had no idea what I was doing, and I opened a Serra Angel. I quickly realized how powerful she was, and it made me happy that my best card was a girl. It took me a little while to realize that a several hundred card rainbow deck with four of every circle of protection wasn’t the best idea, but by the end of October I had a respectable white deck. I won a few multiplayer games by not looking like a threat while everyone picked each other off, and then whoosh – Serra and a few other fliers show up to finish people off.
By the end of the year I had a thallid deck that could actually win a fair one-on-one match every once in a while. Soon I was working at a comic book shop with a bunch of other teenage girls. Magic was my area of expertise, which at that time mostly involved knowing what was common and what was worth looking up in Scrye. I still didn’t have enough money to do serious collecting, so I set myself a more reasonable goal. I wanted to collect one of every dual land, mostly because of how clever I thought the flavor was. “Don’t you see? The plateau is a plain and a mountain at the same time! Genius!”
Tragedy struck when I went to my first draft at a different store – someone looted my binder, and most of my duals were gone. They were only worth like $15 each at the time, but my collection had been almost complete, and losing about $100 worth of cards in one fell swoop was a huge setback. I stopped playing at stores, instead I taught my little brother how to play. When I went to college I left l my cards in his care; he could use them as long as he promised not to sell or trade them. Whenever I’d come home, he’d tell me about his decks, and I’d teach him a few tricks. We’d keep each other up to date on our favorite storylines.
"How’s the crew of the ol’ Weatherlight doing?"
In 2004 got my first job in the game industry. I didn’t have a lot of spare time to play Magic, but we’d grab some packs whenever I went home. In 2006, he went to the magic club at his college for the first time. He took my cards into battle against an unprepared foe, and reported back.
“I think Balance and Hymn to Tourach are pretty good,” he said, in the understatement of the century “But It was weird that there weren’t any girls there. You taught me magic, and it’s full of mermaids and unicorns. I assumed lots of girls played.”
Growing up, my brother frequently assumed that most nerd hobbies were either primarily for girls or at least gender balanced, to the point that it’s become a running gag. I started playing EverQuest in 2000 when my friend Becky recommended it to me, and my first real job after college was working on Dark Age of Camelot. When my brother started playing World of Warcraft with me in 2005, he was surprised how many guys played. “MMOs always seemed girly… they’re all about being elves and riding horses and cooperation. Also, everything’s so sparkly and pretty.”
The obvious takeaway from this is that a strong geek girl role model can cause those around her to discard their assumptions about who certain games are ‘for,’ but there’s another interesting wrinkle if you delve deeper into my backstory. It’s a phenomenon I call “geek girl critical mass.” When I started playing Magic in drama club, the ratio of players was something like 7:4 guys to girls, which isn’t bad at all. The girls who played magic read Sandman, which helped introduce me to the comic/games/anime Nerdhaven where I’d eventually work. The owner was either smart or lucky in his hiring, and the staff there created a great environment for everybody. The guy who ran the counter was from the SCA, and he made sure that nobody was disrespectful. Anyone who stopped to check out the sailor moon display in the window would likely see a girl inside, sorting cards or stocking toys. When my friends came to the store to rent anime, I got them into magic. We stayed involved in nerdy things because we were there to support each other, and because of that I assumed the 7:4 ratio I started out was the average, until I moved to a place that had never reached the geek girl critical mass required to bring more people into the hobby. This one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the Lady Planeswalkers Society and other friendly, casual environments. A generation of nerd girls is out there, waiting…
Anyway, back to my Magic chronology. For a while, MMOs and tabletop roleplaying dominated my free time, so I mostly lived vicariously through my brother when it came to Magic. “Let me know when another ‘un’ set comes out,” I told him. “1998, 2004, we should get one soon, right?”
I predicted comedy was going to get me back into Magic around 2010, and it did - just not in the form I expected. I was a big fan of the comedy group Loading Ready Run, and they made a video about getting re-addicted to magic via one of the greatest tricks WotC ever pulled: the PAX swag bag deck giveaway.
My brother was still keeping the magic fires burning, and he’d recently started seriously playing standard. I was living nearby for the first time in years, and I showed him the video. When we got to the sequence with Kathleen’s deck at the end, he stopped laughing looked thoughtful.
“Some of those cards aren’t in standard but I think there’s a chance we could make a standard playable deck with similar mechanics.”
So we built my first competitive standard deck together – using unlimited and revised lands from my original stock, of course, as well as one of my classic fireballs. I drove us both to FNM almost every Friday for a year, and I learned how to really play – though my love of flavor sometimes overcame good sense. I kept a Felidar Sovereign in my Ajani and Kemba deck for way too long, but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut a giant cat.
Eventually I moved away to start work at Carbine, where they had a magic league. I was playing drafts at work and standard when I visited home, but I was still wary of drafting with strangers at stores. Then along came Ravnica, with its beautiful theming and utterly brilliant pre-release structure. While I’d always been a little intimidated by the idea of evaluating a bunch of random cards while under a time crunch and surrounded by strangers, green and white were where I started back in ‘94. Green and white I could do.
When the local family-friendly game shop handed me my Selesnya box, I fell in love. I opened it, read my letter, and I was ready to do battle. Next to me, my Azorius friend coldly critiqued the font choice of his missive, and I read that one too. On the opposite side of the country, my brother would be doing the same thing with an Izzet box. I would play two more pre-releases that weekend, and I would play four Gatecrash ones. I collected all the letters and stickers, and I could feel myself improving. During Dragon’s Maze I won two out of the four pre-releases I played – one as Boros, one as Orzhov, both at that same little shop in the mall.
On my next visit home, my brother and I played standard at FNM again. We got paired in an early round, and as we faced each other across the table I could feel a chorus of dryads leaning over my shoulder, while a dracogenius skulked behind him.
He won, of course. I love magic, but I’ve never had the time to invest in going pro. I forget my triggers sometimes, I make careless mistakes, and I’ve barely even looked at serious tournament rules. My life has given me a lot of friends to play casual magic with, but I’ve spend most of my adulthood occupied with MMO raiding and game-industry crunch. Maybe someday I’ll get the chance to make it my focus, but for now, limited with friends has become my bread and butter. Twenty years later, I still get that new pack feeling when I open something perfect - like when I cracked a holographic Courser of Kruphix at LRRCon. I wasn’t in green so I lost that draft - Michael Robles knocked me out in a hard-fought match - but I had my Courser and I went home happy.
Then there was that one sealed tournament at work, when out of my first pack came a Serra Angel, still in the mix after all these years.
“Follow the light. In its absence, follow her.”
Yeah. I think I will.