One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is Limited Resources, featuring Marshall Sutcliff and Luis Scott-Vargas. I was listening to their latest episode the other day and my jaw dropped when I heard they were on episode number 665! I knew the show had been on for a long time, but that’s a lot of episodes for a Magic podcast.
Then a new realization set in—even though I don’t include in my articles any counter, I save all my article files locally on my computer with a number denoting their place in history. I’m sure a couple have fallen into the abyss over the years, but according to my count, this is article 561. I’m about 100 behind Limited Resources, but this number is still fairly impressive. This fall I will celebrate my 11th anniversary of writing articles, mostly for Quiet Speculation.
Perhaps the only thing I’ve done longer than writing for Quiet Speculation is playing Magic! A random player I bumped into at Target the other day had casually asked me how long I’ve been playing. Nothing makes me feel older than answering truthfully: since 1997. Magic was a different game back then…
A Stroll Down Memory Lane
I began my Magic journey when my father remarried in the mid-1990s. My new stepbrother was a Magic player, and I remember paging through his binders amazed by the art and different abilities (of which I knew nothing about) on the cards. After this brief exploration, my mind was made up. I wanted to learn how to play Magic!
To get me started, my father purchased me a Fifth Edition starter deck and a booster pack of Visions. I don’t remember what my first deck looked like, but I do remember my first two powerful rares because my stepbrother tried ardently to trade for them. They were Desertion and City of Brass.
Unfortunately, since my stepbrother lived hundreds of miles away in western Pennsylvania while I was still living in New Jersey, I had to find another way to learn. No one would teach me, and I didn’t have many friends back then. Thus, my best option was to read the little instruction manual that came with the starter deck. I read that thing cover to cover.
After completing the booklet, I was ready to battle! The next time I visited my father, one of the first things I did was challenge my stepbrother to a duel. I remember it clearly because I won! Not because of my savvy play or competitive deck, mind you, but simply because my stepbrother was mana screwed. Still, I’ll take it!
From that point on, I was hooked. Even though Fifth Edition and Visions were the first products I opened, I quickly fell in love with Mirage for its flavor, artwork, powerful cards, and discounted prices. That’s right. At my local hobby shop in New Jersey, Mirage starter decks were cheaper than the others, marked down to $7.50 from $8.95. That was cheaper than purchasing three booster packs, and you opened three rares in the decks (plus the basic lands and deck box were a huge help as a new player). This is often where I put my money, and Mirage quickly became my favorite set.
Experiencing My Childhood Anew
Fast forward to 2022. I recently received a (very generous) gift from another Magic player and long-time friend. After reminiscing with me about the days when I first learned to play Magic, he sent me a sealed Fifth Edition and Mirage starter deck.
Nowadays, these are far from the $7.50 or $8.95 price marked on the back of these boxes. At retail, the Fifth Edition starter sells for $199.99, and the Mirage starter for $299.99. The agreement with my friend was that I would open these decks and build something with them, writing articles describing my emotions and the process.
Let me tell you, this was quite the stroll down memory lane, in many ways more than one! First and foremost, examining the artwork on these starter deck boxes really brings me back to my youth. As I unwrapped the plastic, I could feel my anticipation build—what would I open? Would I see anything valuable? Powerful? Nostalgic?
I opened the decks one after the other and laid out their contents. Below are photos of the two opened decks.
This is a lot to take in all at once. Perhaps a couple of cards leap out at you right off the bat. It’s amazing how, just looking at the pictures of the Mirage cards, I remember what a good 80% of them do just by seeing the artwork.
Being a finance website, I would be remiss if I didn’t zoom in on the rares so you all can see the value of my spoils. Sadly, no Lion's Eye Diamond for me.
For the Mirage deck, I pulled a Catacomb Dragon, Forbidden Crypt, and Ethereal Champion. These are all worth very little. The dragon will be powerful in my deck, at least, and I have fond memories of Ethereal Champion as a kid—it was a rare card in my best friend’s trade binder for years, so seeing it here reminds me of this friend.
Fortunately, the third rare was sweet, and the highlight of my sealed pool:
Oh yeah! A Lord of the Pit! This was a powerhouse among my friends back in the day. I used to combine this card with Breeding Pit so I could feed the lord indefinitely, giving me a powerful 7/7 flying, trample attacker. Since it’s black, it also dodged the only removal my friends and I really had access to back then, Deathleaper, Terror Weapon and Dark Banishing.
Nowadays of course, Lord of the Pit is an unplayable card in most competitive formats. Seven mana for a 7/7 flying, trample with a steep upkeep cost just isn’t enough to keep up with power creep fueled creatures of modern-day Magic. As I moved to the deckbuilding phase of my assignment, I began to see why bigger creatures were so important back in the day.
As I sifted through my cards, I tried to imagine myself back in 1997, building a deck for the first time with these as the only cards I owned. The first thing I realized was, that I would basically have to play nearly every single card I opened if I wanted to make two decks from these. Even if I wanted to build just one deck, it would likely have to be three colors in order to make playables.
I started off with a 60-card red, black, and green deck. I figured black was going to be my most powerful color since I opened Lord of the Pit and Catacomb Dragon, plus some regenerating creatures. I added red next, but quickly realized I’d need a third color to round out the deck. Enter green.
This is where I netted out:
The cards are sorted left to right by converted mana cost, the creatures are at the top and spells are below. The next thing I realized was that creatures are such a premium when your collection is tiny! I basically had to play every single creature I opened just to make sure I’d consistently have bodies on the battlefield in any game. I even had to play the overcosted creatures and the wall I opened. This was especially critical if I intended to keep Lord of the Pit fed long enough for him to win me a game.
As I was assembling this deck, two memories about the game came back to me in a flash. First, I now see why we valued Deathleaper, Terror Weapon and Dark Banishing so highly. These removal spells were traded at a premium among my playgroup because they could handle 80% of the threats we faced. Delayed Blast Fireball and Lightning Bolt were also valued highly for their utility in killing creatures. I remember valuing each of these cards at about $1 in trade (even though of course these were commons and worth far less).
The second thing I remembered is just how important powerful creatures were back then. Another card we valued highly was Craw Wurm simply because a 6/4 creature was a major house! If you didn’t have removal, it was very difficult to deal with such a large creature, especially when most of the other creatures we were forced to play out of necessity were measly 2/2’s and 3/3’s.
Reading Lord of the Pit, it’s no wonder we worshipped this creature, along with powerhouses like Shivan Dragon and Force of Nature back then. There was simply no easy way to deal with such large creatures! I once owned a Polar Kraken and won multiple games attacking with the 11/11 trampler. If my friends didn’t draw their Deathleaper, Terror Weapon or Dark Banishing immediately, they were toast.
So many other cards back then were just… filler. Cards we had to play because we needed a 60-card deck.
For kicks (and because I wanted to maximize nostalgia), I also built a 40-card white and blue deck with the remnants of my pool. Here’s the end result for that one—once again, I basically had to play every creature I opened. I am excited about the double Ray of Command, though, and I may be able to make this a viable control deck.
Brainwash is a pitiful, but necessary removal spell in this list, along with Teferi's Curse. Something tells me Ethereal Champion won’t be much of a win condition unless I can stick a Ward of Lights on it and ride that to victory.
My intent is to play these two decks against a friend of mine with a comparable sealed pool in the coming week. Stay tuned, as I intend to share more nostalgia via game state pictures and stories next time!
Wrapping It Up
I almost wrote this entire article without mentioning the basic lands! Have you seen the Mirage basics? They are absolutely beautiful! I had forgotten how much I like them, but now that I’ve opened some, these are likely to become my basics of choice for any new decks I build (admittedly, this is infrequent).
All in all, this was a tremendous experience so far, and I’m very grateful to my friend for this gift. Was I disappointed that I didn’t open anything worth more than two bucks? A little bit, yes. That’s the MTG finance person in me—I can’t mute that person completely. However I am able to turn down the volume of that voice, temporarily, so I can get super excited about slamming down the Lord of the Pit against my unsuspecting friend. This creature is likely to steal a win or two for me, just like it did back in 1997. What more can I ask for?