Magic was one of the first games of its kind, the first of what was called collectible games. And it was literally touch and go for a while. Even in The Duelist, it was suggested that you could tape your cards to a wall to battle Chaos Orb. If you didn't use sleeves for your "Draw 4s" in Uno, why would you use it for your "Draw 3" in Magic? The early cards got sticky and beat up by being roughly played on dirty tables in bars, schools, and kitchens. Today, almost everyone plays with some protective measures to avoid marking the cards and to expand their lifespan. What we all see as a natural part of the game today, started on a dirty table in a coffee shop in San Francisco.
Between the 2-16 August 1993, WotC founder Peter Adkinson and his wife travelled through the western US to run demos of Magic in a few local game stores. This tour started before the general release of Alpha, and two weeks after the game was first showed at Origins in July. An avid gamer named Japji Khalsa was introduced to the game the day after a local tour stop, and after a great first impression, he used the 'tour t-shirt' to see where the next stop was. He called the store on the shirt the day of the demo, and ordered his first starter box of Alpha over the phone.
Japji and his friends started playing in a coffee shop in Haight Ashbury called the Coffee Zone. This was in the wild west of Magic, before anyone could fathom that a BGS 10 Alpha Wooden Sphere would sell for over $3k 20 years later, or that trading Moxen for Craw Wurms could be a bad idea. What Japji did know however, was that his cards got really sticky, and he didn't like sticky cards. He went to a nearby fabric store and bought a nice looking piece of cloth which he placed on the tables before playing with his cards. One of his friends in the local playgroup, Jeff Brain, suggested he could do some art for the mat, which Japji thought was a great idea. So began the partnership of Khalsa and Brain, and the dawn of Khalsa-Brain Games.
Khalsa-Brain is a name that probably rings familiar to the veterans of the Vintage community and the more hardcore of collectors. Many players are still unfamiliar with their products and history though, and naturally thinks of a playmat as something akin to a very large mouse pad. I'm personally not much of fan of play mats, but I still went on a quest looking for a reasonably priced Khalsa-Brain Spellground Elite mat on ebay for well over a year. The Khalsa-Brain mats aren't just mats anymore, they are close to the pinnacle of what some players refer to as "subtle pimp". The mats are usually made in the hundreds or less, not the thousands, and will literally last you for decades (and I'm the kind of guy who uses "literally" correctly). They are made to be used, and it is a special feeling to cast your cards on one. To make a beer analogy, these are not your Sierra Nevadas or Sam Adams, these are your Westvleterens or Närkes. These are craft mats with a history.
|The 1994 Spellground Elite|
"I'd say I'm especially proud of some of the World's Qualifier mats we did for Wizards of the Coast. Those mats were multi-colored and required a LOT of extra work to pull them off. Fortunately, WOTC was happy to pay the extra dollars to make those happen. I'd say the 2001 Toronto, Canada mat was my favorite. As a side... I was also very proud of the official Magic: The Gathering Single Player play mat. That required a LOT of art direction to incorporate many of the iconic images from Magic at the Time... And to put them into a nice layout that worked."
|The Worlds 2001 mat|
"One of my early personal mats was altered by Jeff Brain. Mostly, he colorized the various elements by hand... Not really altering the images per-se. This particular mat had an interesting future. Because we often played at very crowded coffee shops, it was sometimes difficult to get a table. My neighborhood in San Francisco often has various sidewalk sales, and on one occasion I spotted an 'old' folding table that was almost exactly the size of the mat. (A SMALL folding table!) I ended up covering the table with the mat, an almost exact fit, and trimming the edges with gold fabric trim. This became the table that I would bring to coffee shops for Magic... And I was never short of finding a table to play on!"
This "table mat" is currently in a storage room, and Japji states that he has considered selling it as he doesn't play that much CCGs anymore. If he puts it up on ebay, I'll be sure to post some info about it here. If anyone comes to an old school tournament with this folding table as their play area, that person would pretty much win by default :) I truly hope that the player who gets this table next will use it, and not let it gather dust or simply try and make a profit out of it.
|Freespace's 1999 Magic mat, with alterations by Matt Cavotta (left) and rk Post (right).|
|A 2011 mat with the Spellground 2-player artwork.|