Rereading Centurion: Introduction, and issue #3

So there I was, wide-eyed and stressed out, browsing through the shelves of non-plastic-wrapped role-playing games at the Tradition store, deep down in the Nordstan mall in Gothenburg, Sweden. Discovering games I’d never heared of, weird and strangely beautiful games, like Shadowrun with its glossy pages sporting full-color illustrations of street samurais and elvish cyberpunk wizards. It was late October or early November. The year was 1994.

Whenever possible, I tried to travel to Stockholm or Gothenburg from my small home town, usually together with my mom, to buy games, books and other things I was interested in. This time around, however, I had a mission: I was to bring home a couple of starter decks for this strange new game, called Magic, for me and my friend. There were no single cards on sale yet, as I recall, just some packs and decks at a stand by the counter. (I’m probably just mistaken.) A few days later we were trying to figure out the Revised rule book, having a hard time understanding how long the Frozen Shade bonus lasted, or what Circle of Protection: Black or Dark Ritual really did. It was a beginning, but we did not know that.

But why? Why was I out to get the Magic cards in that faraway fall? It was all because of an article in the Swedish gaming magazine Centurion. The brainchild of gaming profile Olle Sahlin, once heavily involved in the influential Sinkadus magazine from the rpg producer Äventyrsspel/Target Games (publishing games such as Mutant, Drakar och Demoner, Mutant Chronicles, and Kult), it wasn’t really a fanzine, more a small-scale commercial magazine, with black-and-white interior, professional-looking photographs on the cover, containing articles on subjects like Ars Magica, live role-playing, Space Hulk, Kult, and general storytelling. And, in issue #3, in August 1994, an one-page article on this new game called Magic: the Gathering.

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Cover of issue #3

Beginning with issue #4, and continuing until the last issue, #13, Centurion was solely about Magic. Starting today, I’m rereading those issues and writing about it. We will revisit the first ever Swedish Nationals, where Blood Moon defeats a The Deck list with zero basic lands; we will watch Olle Råde taking down Pro Tour Columbus with Giant Trap Door Spiders; we will ponder set reviews of Homelands and Ice Age; we will delve into the earliest history of Stockholm Magic; and we will marvel at the prices of Black Lotus and Jester’s Cap in 1995. I’m not committing to any particular posting schedule, but it will be a regular feature of the blog from now on.

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But the start was a single one-page article, written by someone called Fredrik Säterby. Titled just “Magic The Gathering”, it explains the game in terms of a “playable card collection”, used for several different things: trading and collecting the cards, looking at the pictures as art, playing with them and “experiencing interesting scenarios”, or just sitting quietly, building decks. There are several kinds of cards, you build decks with no more than 4 copies of each card and at least 40 cards, a game usually takes between 10 and 20 turns. You want to have not too few and not too many lands in your deck. And there are five colors of mana, representing “the battle between good and evil, life and death, and the four elements”. This game surfaced in Sweden only half a year ago, in late 1993, but now it’s spreading like wildfire in certain circles, the article concludes, especially at gaming conventions. It’s quick, portable, compact and financially interesting.

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The caption says “playing Magic”, but they’re obviously building a deck or sorting through cards. The editor probably wasn’t as versed in Magic then as he would later become.

Why did this somewhat bland description of the game capture me so, making me talk some of my rpg buddies into trying the game out, even buying their own cards unseen? I honestly have no idea. It had something to do with the examples given, how lightning bolts were cast on unicorns which suddenly grew to giant porportions and survived, or the possiblities of using weird magic spells (one of the examples given is dealing damage to every creature by the plague – as an example of a sorcery). But I cannot really recall the state of mind of that fourteen-year-old I once was. Needless to say, I got hooked. All because of Centurion (although, gamer as I was, I probably would have discovered the game sooner or later, anyway). There I was. And here I am.

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