This week we have our very first guest post on the Wizard’s Tower! Dave Firth Bard fills in with an awesome post that will bring you back to the strange and funny beginnings of Magic. Enjoy!
I am a flipper of Chaos Orb, a summoner of Sedge Troll, an advocate of Ankh of Mishra. I am an Old School player. Old School is a Magic format grounded in aesthetics — we love our original art, our pre-modern card frames, and our black borders. We seek “upgrades” for cards we already have, in an attempt to push the look of our decks closer and closer to what they may have been like at the very beginning of the game’s history. But this story isn’t about that. This is a story about where it really began for many of us who play 93/94 today. This is a story about Revised Edition.
A few months ago, my wife’s godparents were visiting us here in New England. They’re from Austin, Texas, and they’ve been very close friends of my wife’s family for decades.
One night, we were sitting around the dining room table, just relaxing and catching up over drinks, when my wife’s godmother they told us they had brought a few little gifts. With a smile, she placed a brown box in front of me.
“We’ve had this for twenty years, and we know you like Magic, so we thought you might enjoy it.”
I was speechless.
They used to own a hobby shop in Austin. They sold model train sets, replicas of airplanes and tanks, and tabletop miniatures, and in 1993 they began to sell Wizards of the Coast’s very first Magic: The Gathering products — including Limited Edition and Arabian Nights — to their very eager and very nerdy customers.
And here in front of me, all those years later, was a box of cards that they had squirreled away at some point in time, and mostly forgotten about since then.
It was a Revised Edition Gift Box — a two-player “starter” set. The box itself was not shrink-wrapped on the outside, but the two packages of cards inside were still sealed in clear plastic. Still sealed, after 22 years.
My wife’s godparents were grinning from ear to ear when they saw how stunned I was. The truth is, I was sitting there wondering what to do next. Now, the wisest course of action when it comes to ancient sealed product is to keep it sealed and sell it, but I knew right then and there that I could never do that. This was a gift from family. There could be duals in there. Cracking it would be a total free-roll. I just… wow. I had to crack it.
So, I did. I opened it right there at the table, feeling every bit like a kid at Christmas.
Revised Edition still occupies a very special place in my heart. For me, it is easily the most nostalgic printing in Magic’s history, as it’s the set that was current and widely available when I was a twelve year old kid just discovering the game in March 1995. It was a time when we didn’t understand how Frozen Shade’s pump ability worked (we thought each +1/+1 remained permanently, using counters). We had no concept of card advantage, and jammed Enchant Creature cards into our decks with alacrity. I still remember begging my dad to drive me across town so that I could buy my first ever Magic single: a Revised Edition Ornithopter. It was perhaps the happiest fifty cents I had ever spent, on this card I had heard about but never seen — a mythical 0/2 flying artifact creature that had a casting cost of zero! Even today, as a somewhat hardened 93/94 player with a bad case of “black border vanity,” I still find those Revised cards very evocative. They loom large in the imagination.
There were two individually wrapped decks inside the box. I reached in, grabbed one, peeled off the wrapper. I flipped through the cards one by one, balancing a giddy feeling of nostalgia and getting away with something with a downright greedy, strictly EV-minded attitude. Half of me was trying to show my genuine curiosity and excitement — “Force of Nature! I love this card!” — while the other half was frantically scanning for that unmistakable alternating-color patterned frame that screams “DUAL LAND.”
Alas, there were no duals in the first deck… in fact, the only card I recognized immediately as a rare was that Force of Nature. The second deck held… a Black Vise? Lightning Bolt… some playables there at least. I was quickly reaching the end, flipping past basic lands and commons like Fear and Guardian Angel… and then… brick. Nothing.
I promptly swallowed my petty disappointment like a grown-up, recognizing that all sealed Magic products, going all the way back to the very beginning, are essentially scratch-off lottery tickets by design. Those early sets especially have extremely high variance in terms of expected value. Of the 121 rares in Revised Edition, there are many, many more cards like Purelace than there are like Underground Sea. As if that weren’t disincentive enough, back in those days, you could actually get a basic Island in the rare slot when opening a Limited or Unlimited Edition booster pack.
As I looked through the additional contents of the box, my mood quickly shifted back toward curiosity and delight. Everything about the package just seemed so innocent and quaint. So here, submitted for your own enjoyment, is a little product review of sorts, 22 years later:
The set includes a packet of glass counters, intended for tracking the life totals of both players. A little note is included to explain that one color (the darker blue) should be used to represent five life points, while the second color (the lighter) can represent one life point per counter.
There’s also a mailing list sign-up / customer survey card. “How did you hear about us? Perhaps through the computer nets?” I just have to giggle at the references to other WotC products of the era — Jyhad is one I had heard of at the time, but their other RPG products I certainly don’t recall. I wonder if Wizards still maintains that same post office box in Renton? Is it too late to respond to the survey?
There’s a 64-page rulebook, which lays out the parts of a card, the phases of a turn, and explains the flow of play with the help of a lengthy sample game between fictional players. It also has some strange typos / production errors, like the part in the text where it says “the cost to bring Hurloon Minotaur into play is ooo1oror.” Very helpful to the beginning Magic player!
Perhaps you’d like a paper checklist to aid in your collection of the 306-card Revised Edition?
Of course, nothing is more interesting than the cards themselves. I was especially curious about the composition of the 60-card “decks.” As this is a gift box, the decks are intended (I assume) to serve as a “ready right out of the box” experience for two players.
One thing I noticed was that both decks are topped with a layer of cards that were clearly printed or collated in a different manner. You can easily see the difference when you look from the side:
After scanning through the piles, I realized that the top fifteen cards of each deck contain ten uncommons, three basic lands, and two rares. The rest are all commons and basic lands. So, the entire box contains four rares, meaning that I had about a 33.1% chance of pulling a dual land during my frenzied opening.
As for the decks themselves — are they playable? That depends on whether or not you like five-color decks, stalled board states, and games that may end in losing via running out of cards to draw! Let’s take a look:
The Deck On The Left
Force of Nature with only four Forests and a Llanowar Elves in the entire deck. Ditto Air Elemental with just three Islands. This deck also features an Atog with zero artifacts. At least it has both Channel and Fireball, along with another Channel outlet in Howl From Beyond.
The Deck On The Right
The mana situation in this deck is maybe a little better (?) as it at least has several black cards supported by six Swamps and a Dark Ritual. It is still a five-color trainwreck, of course, including five blue cards but only two Islands, among other issues. Black Vise is actually really nice in a face-off between these two decks, as the wielders will certainly be stuck for several turns with many cards stranded in their hands! All things considered, this deck may have the edge over the other, just as a function of basic castability of various threats and two unremovable clocks in the form of Cursed Land and Wanderlust.
(If you ever needed a reminder to not open Old School sealed product, please let this be it!)
All in all, I was deeply grateful to have had the nostalgic, delightful, and in my particular case, guilt-free experience of cracking this box and having a window into the age of my own discovery of this game and hobby. I cannot recommend purchasing one these on the secondary market, as they apparently go for upwards of $600, but you can easily approximate the experience of playing with the product by grabbing a bunch of Revised commons and basic lands and mashing them together without regard for color, curve, or game plan. Enjoy — and don’t forget the glass life counters!