The very first examples of printed Magic strategy was geared towards more novice players. If we would read e.g. the strategy article on how to use circles of protection from The Duelst #1 today, we would regard it as very basic advice which anyone would understand after playing the game a few times. The first more advanced strategy books were released in 1995, and one of the real pioneers was George Baxter.
Baxter is sometimes referred to as the father of the prison archetype, the innovator of Magic mass media, and is one of the true icons of early magic strategy. His resume includes reaching the top8 of two Pro Tours in 1996 alone (including the inaugural PT in New York), placing 2nd in the 1996 US Nationals, winning the 1996 World Team Championships, playing in the 1997 Invitational, and writing no less than nine books on Magic strategy. While our collective efforts and 20 years of experience have given us access to more tools than Baxter had in 1995, his contributions to the theory of Magic cannot be understated. Today we read his first book; Mastering Magic Cards from early 1995.
|Before there was a Dojo|
At it's most basic, the book is divided into sections on playing techniques, deck building, and analysis of individual cards. The playing techniques section teaches a lot of advice that rings true today. Know your deck, play 60 cards, don't waste your Lightning Bolts too early, and learn how to play reactive. Baxter discuss statistics, how you need to anticipate your opponent's game plan, and that your opponent's skill needs to be respected. With the power of hindsight, we can probably say that the book lacks in information on how to play the beatdown role, but on the other hand, pretty much no one knew how to do this in early 1995. Beatdown was explored much later, by players like Paul Sligh, David Price and Mike Flores. Blue is correctly identified as the most powerful color, but the statement that it is also the hardest to play well and win with should probably be taken with a grain of salt.
|It's obviously not easy playing blue, but when you can get hands like this, it's pretty hard to lose.|
|Example of pockets in a land destruction deck.|
The last 85 pages of the book are a complete guide of all the cards in Magic at that point, up to and including Fallen Empires. Each card is described, and rated by combo value, versatility and standalone value. E.g Goblin Wizard gets a C+ grade in standalone value, a B+ in combo value, and a 4/10 in versatility. Black Lotus is a solid A+/A+/7, and Great Wall is a C/C/3. Before there were easily obtainable card lists, this was a great resource, even though all the scores don't really hold the test of time.
|Come on, worse than Great Wall?!|
|OK, it was not the thousands of dollars it is today, but still, trading away five power cards for a Kudzu is pretty harsh.|
If you can find the Mastering Magic Cards book in a dusty corner of your home, I recommenced that you give it a re-read. It might not make you a master, but it will definitely provide some sweet nostalgia.