t's Vintage Masters Preview Week here on DailyMTG.com, so everyone is going to be writing about cards of days gone by. (As will I. I have a preview before today's article is done.) It got me thinking to the early days of Magic and it dawned on me that most players weren't playing twenty years ago and might not be aware of many of the things Magic used to do. Today's column is going to be a little history lesson to shine a light on forgotten aspects of Magic's past. For the old timers, you get to nod your head. For the youngins, and not-so-youngins, you might get a chance to say "Really? Magic used to do that?"
Card Types and Subtypes of Days Gone By
When Magic first began, there were three type of nonpermanent spells—instants, sorceries, and interrupts. Now, you have to remember that this is pre-Sixth Edition rules, so the stack did not yet exist. Which meant "last in, first out" was not yet a thing. The way spells worked was that they happened in the order you played them. There were a few odd rules about how things like damage worked to allow Giant Growth to save a creature that had been Lightning Bolted, but pretty much spells went in casting order. The one big exception was interrupts. If an interrupt was played, it happened first before the spell it was interrupting. When an interrupt was played, the only think allowed to respond to it was another interrupt.
Interrupts were mostly used on counterspells, but because there were modal spells on which one mode was a counterspell, weird things could happen, like this.
Your opponent is at 1 life. You play a Prodigal Sorcerer. On your next turn you tap it to deal 1 damage to your opponent. Your opponent says to wait. She then plays a Red Elemental Blast targeting your Prodigal Sorcerer. What happens? Your Prodigal Sorcerer dies and its effect never happened because it died before the effect went off.
Interrupts were a source of constant confusion for many players and when Sixth Edition rules came along, with the stack, interrupts all turned into instants.
If you ever want to win a Magic bar bet, try this one. Ask someone to name every card type Magic has ever had. Odds are they are going to forget mana source. It wasn't there when the game began and it didn't last very long, so it doesn't even appear on that many printed cards. Mana source was a card type used on any nonpermanent card that produced mana.
It existed because there were problems at the time dealing with getting mana from spells in time to be able to cast the spells. Mana source was created in the Fifth Edition rules as a card type so the game could treat cards that were providing mana differently from the rest. The mana source card type lasted until Sixth Edition rules change when it was clear that the game could handle the mana issues without creating an entirely new card type that was causing lots of confusion.
Noncreature Artifacts Originally Came in Three Varieties
If you look at the type line, you'll see the three types of noncreature artifacts: mono, poly, and continuous.
Mono artifacts were one that essentially had a tap symbol (although that wouldn't exist yet—I'll get to that in a moment). They could be used once per turn, as using them tapped them.
Poly artifacts were artifacts that had an ability that could be used multiple times. Essentially, they are artifacts with activated abilities that don't require tapping.
Continuous artifacts were ones with an ongoing global effect.
The interesting thing about the use of these three types is that they forced players to learn additional vocabulary to understand how the cards worked. With time, we would get better at having the cards have a consistent application (such as all the cards requiring tapping as a cost looking the same way). These definitions started in early Magic but were gone by the time Revised (aka Third Edition) was published.
Two Different Card Types Weren't Fully Identified on the Card Type Line
How do you know what card type a card is? Because it's always right there on the type line. Well, when the game began, that wasn't always true.
First, nowhere on a creature card did the word "creature" actually appear. Instead, creature cards said "Summon [creature type]." This was done for flavor reasons, to help explain that the Shivan Dragon card in your hand wasn't a Shivan Dragon but actually a summon spell that called forth a Shivan Dragon. The problem with this approach was it made it very hard for players to understand what a creature was.
For example, let's say your opponent had arror in his or her hand and wished to destroy your Shivan Dragon. Well, the Terror says "destroys target nonartifact, nonblack creature." The Shivan Dragon, flavorwise, seems like a creature, but where on the card was that confirmed? It wasn't. Sixth Edition changed this such that creature cards now read "Creature – [creature type]" on their card type line.
The other card type to not clearly state itself on the card type line was Auras.
When the game first came out, the card type line was "Enchant [legal target for enchantment]." Unlike creature, the Auras had the word "enchant," which at least strongly hinted at the cards being enchantments. In Ninth Edition, the term "Aura" was introduced and the card type line changed to "Enchantment – Aura" with the previous text now appearing in the rules text.
Symbols of Days Gone By
The Game Didn't Start with the Tap Symbol and It Evolved Over Time
I assume most players probably think of the tap symbol as being something from the very beginning, but that isn't the case. Yes, the concept of tapping began with the game, but in Alpha, cards told you in text to tap them. Then in Revised, this symbol appeared:
It was a tilted T in a circle. The T was tilted to hint that the card needed to be rotated. This symbol proved to be problematic as soon as Magic started printing cards in other languages as the word for "tap" didn't always start with a T (and some languages didn't even have a T). In Fourth Edition, the symbol changed to this:
If you look closely, you see that the symbol is a tilted Magic card with a curved arrow on the back of it. With time, it became clear that this tap symbol was hard to read from a distance, so in Eighth Edition it was changed to this version:
This new version inverts the coloring so the curved arrow is now dark and it appears in a gray mana circle, to sync it up with the colorless mana circles. This tap symbol is what we use today.
Shadowmoor had some fun inverting it to make the untap symbol:
While in comparison, the untap symbol seems very different from the tap symbol (inverted colors and reverse arrow direction), in isolation, we found that people read it as the tap symbol.
The Rarity Color Indicator & Collector Numbers Didn't Exist For Many Years
Magic debuted in July of 1993. It was not until June of 1998, in the set Exodus, that either the rarity color indicator or the collector numbers first appeared. Before that time, how was someone to know the rarity or the set size? Well, in the early days, the set size was announced when the set went on sale, but the cards' rarity was purposefully kept a mystery. In fact, in the early days, Wizards purposefully didn't tell anyone which cards were in the set.
Why was this? Because Magic was made just as the Internet was in its infancy. Richard Garfield liked the idea that part of the game was the discovery of what cards existed. You would learn of new cards as you played new people. To help make this true, Wizards went out of the way to never reveal the contents of the early sets other than the set size.
Eventually, Wizards realized that withholding information in a new age of information was fruitless, so we began listing sets. The Duelist, the company magazine dedicated to Magic, started putting in full card lists. Then, Joel Mick took over as the Magic brand manager. He felt it was important for the information of the cards to be available on the cards themselves. He said every card should tell you its rarity as well as where it belonged in the set.
Joel took over during the middle of the Tempest block and was told by others that he should wait until the next block to make his change, but Joel thought it was important enough that he made the change during the first set he could affect—which ended up being Exodus.
The Look of the Basic Land Text Box has Changed Over the Years
In the beginning, the basic lands told you in text what they did. Then in Portal, we tried a radically different look for the lands. Rather than have text, the lands just had a giant mana symbol of the relevant color. This was done in Portal because there were no tapped activated abilities but the set needed land. We really liked how the lands looked and, with Sixth Edition, we made the change for regular Magic.
Even though this change was made many years ago, it's still a topic of argument. There are some who believe that the game is better for beginners if the lands tell you more exactly what they do. Others feel that the strong tie between the basic lands and the relevant mana type make it easier for players to make the connection to how they are used. Regardless, we really like the aesthetic of how they look and feel it's important for something that sees so much play to be as visually pleasing as possible.
Rules of Days Gone By
As anyone who has played even for a short time knows, Magic rules are ever in flux. Things that might be true today are not guaranteed to be true tomorrow. What follows are some Magic rules that existed back in the day. Note, I'm not talking about mana burn or damage on the stack. Those are gone now, but they were here not that long ago. No, I'm talking about things that have been away from Magic for a long, long time.
Artifacts Turned Off When Tapped
Up above, I showed that when the game started there were three types of noncreature artifacts—mono, poly, and continuous. Continuous artifacts had a special rule that said they turned off when tapped.
For example, let's take Howling Mine. The card forced players each turn to draw an additional card during their draw step. If you managed to tap it, though, usually using something like Icy Manipulator, you could set it up such that you would draw the extra card while your opponent didn't. The other popular Alpha card to use this shut-off technology on was the card Winter Orb. With strategic tapping, most of your opponent's permanents wouldn't untap, while yours would.
The problem with this rule is that it applied not just to the handful of cards where R&D wanted the interaction, but on every continuous artifact. This caused us all sorts of problems, because we kept forgetting that this rule existed and broken decks kept exploiting it.
A classic example of this problem in action was the card Sands of Time, from Visions. The first premier event to use Visions cards was the first Magic Invitational (at the time called The DuelistInvitational) held in Hong Kong. Sands of Time did this neat thing where instead of having an untap step, tapped things untapped and untapped things tapped. It was designed as a weird card that you had to work around. Unfortunately, the "shut it off" rule allowed players to abuse the card by only having it work on the opponent's turn. After some abuse at The Duelist Invitational, R&D was forced to issue errata (that isn't how we fix problem cards anymore).
When R&D was working on the Sixth Edition rule change, I brought up to Bill Rose (the current vice president of R&D, who was the head designer at the time, and was the one mainly responsible for overseeing the Sixth Edition rules) that the "tapped artifacts shut off" rule was confusing, non-intuitive, and constantly causing problems. My solution was to take the handful of cards that we wanted to turn off when tapped and just write it on those cards. Both Howling Mine and Winter Orb got errata to read "if this is untapped," allowing the same tricks to work on them without having to have the general rule.
Years later, we made the choice to undo functional errata (errata that changed functionally what the card did from its original printing) so some of the cards, like Winter Orb, went back to their original wording, no longer shutting off when tapped. We left alone cards like Howling Mine, though, that had been reprinted with the new errata, as there were more cards with the errata in print than without.
Tapped Blockers Didn't Deal Combat Damage
This was another odd rule that the Sixth Edition rules eliminated from the game. Let's say you attack with a War Mammoth (a 3/3 creature with trample from Alpha). Your opponent then blocks with a War Mammoth. Then, before damage is dealt, you use a spell—let's say Twiddle, to keep with our old card theme—to tap your opponent's War Mammoth. What happens? Your War Mammoth deals 3 damage to your opponent's War Mammoth, but your opponent's War Mammoth doesn't deal any damage because, at that time, tapped blockers didn't deal damage.
I believe this rule existed to allow a little more interaction during combat. The problem was that it didn't work very intuitively. Barring vigilance (which at the time was just spelled out, as the keyword didn't exist yet), attackers tap. Tapped attackers still dealt combat damage. Why did blockers function differently than attackers? Part of the Sixth Edition rules change was to strip out rules that weren't carrying their weight, and the tapped-blockers rule had always been a bit wonky.
If you seek out message boards from back in the day, you'll see there were some who were very opposed to this change. They felt that knowing about this trick and exploiting it was part of what gave experienced players an edge. We countered that there were plenty of other places for the better players to excel rather than an obscure rule that create a non-intuitive game-play interaction.
Players Didn't Die Immediately at 0 Life
Currently, as soon as you reach 0 life and gain priority, you lose the game. Back in the day, this wasn't the case. Before Sixth Edition rules, you only lost the game if you were at 0 life at the end of a phase. This meant, for example, that you could do shenanigans during your main phase, drop to 0 or below, and you would be okay as long as you got back above 0 before the phase ended. There were multiple combo decks, for existence, that took advantage of this rule.
Back in the day, I used to make a puzzle column, called Magic: The Puzzling, that often exploited this quirky weirdness in the rules. In fact, when Bill Rose wrote the article explaining the difference happening in the rules with Sixth Edition, he made only one apology—how this one rules change would make my puzzles a little harder to create.
You Had to Tap the Mana Before You Played the Spell
At the second Pro Tour Los Angeles, David Mills was disqualified from the finals of the Pro Tour (making his competitor Tommi Hovi the winner) because he kept playing his spells before he tapped his mana. Yes, once upon a time, you had to tap your mana before you played your spell. If you didn't, you were breaking the rules and you could be ejected from tournaments... including a Pro Tour finals!
The incident made us realize that the rule was a little silly, so we changed it—creating what no one but me refers to as the David Mills Rule. You are now free to play your spell and then tap your mana afterwards.
A Card Gone By
Before I wrap up for today I wanted to preview an upcoming card from Vintage Masters. To stay in the style of today's article, I thought I'd show you the card not as it was printed, but as it first appeared in the card file of the set it was made in. See if you can guess what famous Magic card this became.
Until end of turn, set your hand aside. You may play any card in your graveyard as if it were in your hand. Any card put in your graveyard is removed from the game instead.
Once you think you know what it is, or have no idea, click here to see the card as it will appear in Vintage Masters.
Back to the Present
That's all I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed the peek into Magic's past. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on some of the glimpses of days gone by that I shared today. You can email me, respond in the thread to this article, or talk to me through any of my social media outlets (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).
Join me next week when... I can't tell you. It's a secret.
Drive to Work #120 and #121—Zendikar Cards, Parts 3 & 4
This week's two podcasts are the third and fourth (of four) in my series on the design of Zendikar.
Working for Magic R&D since October, 1995, Mark Rosewater is currently the head designer. His hobbies include spending time with his family, talking about Magic on every known medium (including a daily blog and a weekly podcast), and writing about himself in the third person.