tisdag 26 april 2016

Garfield alters

In the spring of 1995, I spent a lot of time in my grandparents place out on the countryside. It was a remote scattering of houses by the woods, with only two mail boxes registered in the hamlet. My sister and I filled our days picking berries, playing with the animals and rummaging through wooden chests of old trinkets. In the picture painted by most, it was idyllic.

At that point Magic was an endless sea of rare and odd cards. There was no web with easy access to spoilers and the Encyclopedia books were yet to be printed. We had played for a couple of months and it felt like any card could exist. Take an extra turn for a mana or two? That could well be a thing. A 10/10 creature? Seems like a schoolyard urban legend, but sure, it could be possible.

We approached the game with odd house rules and a sense of discovery. At first, Dark Ritual was a interpreted as a permanent that tapped for three mana. No effects were "until end of turn". An 'X' in a mana cost was thought to represent the constant 10 (the Roman numeral) rather than a variable. Touch and go. As we had done in board games before, we created our own game pieces in our grandparents' house.
My early 1995 arts and craft.
Many players had a similar approach. Scribbled card ideas or errata in their notebooks at school. Cut and paste cards to create something novel as an outlet for creativity. Around that same time, Japji Khalsa and Jeff Brain of Khalsa-Brain Games got as far as producing a complete 3rd party Magic expansion designed by Donald X Vaccarino; the guy who later created Dominion. For the common man in search for some lime light, Scrye Magazine had their own pages where readers would show off their spawns of scissors, sharpies and neglected cardboard. But this was all dadaistic antics, and home made alters were not something people would even consider playing outside the most casual of casual games. That is, except for the alters made by The Man Himself.
Fear of Life, by Richard Garfield.
There was a common house rule in the 90s that said that if you got Richard Garfield to alter the text of one of your cards, and then sign it, it was to be played as written. The mid-90s Garfield alters were few and far between though, and it took me until a few years ago before I first found a few myself. I guess that it could be related to the fact that I've spent most of my life in Sweden and Norway. Also might be because they haven't really had a market nor as big a reputation in the last 15-20 years. But way back when, there were lots of rumors. There was a 3/3 Llanowar Elves somewhere. A copy of Living Wall had flying. A Birds of Paradise could tap to ping one damage. An Ancestral Recall drew 10 cards. There's an Ornithopter Lord floating around.
Ornithopter Lord.
Last December, I hoped to get down to Italy and visit Nebraska's War. One of my plans for the trip was to try and meet Garfield and ask him to change my Shahrazade from Sorcery to Instant. It's an hilarious card, and it would be neat to be able to play it in response to an attack or someone casting a spell. But in the end I got a change of heart. The old days of exploration are over, and a newly minted Garfield alter wouldn't hold a candle to the mystique of one from the 90s. And as (thankfully) most people seem to agree on that, there aren't that many old school alters made these days. The ones that exists are commonly stuffed away in old collections, or gathering dust in some desk, rarely to be parted with. Maybe because they typically don't command the monetary value enough to make it interesting to sell them, at least not compared to the nostalgic value of owning a piece of mid-90s Magic history.
Benalish Hero with "Maze of Ith"-ability
Finding pictures on Garfield alters was kinda hard. I didn't find any site or forum topic on the web that had pics of more than one or two, usually as curiosities. So I'd like to give an extra thanks to Andreas Cermak, owner of the Benalish Hero with the Maze ability above. Andreas contacted me a few weeks back when I had just started writing this post. He had received the Hero as a part of a huge deal when he recently bought the collection of Alex Parrish, the guy who won the Magic tournament at GenCon '93 (the first ever officially organized Magic tournament). Andreas helped me with getting pictures of many of the cards below, some of which I'd only heard about before but never actually seen.
Like the 7/7 Serra Angel for 1WW
Garfield has a reputation for playing with his home-crafted cards. Perhaps most famously, he proposed to his first wife by playing a card named Proposal designed for the occasion. Apart from his alters, he has been known to make brand new oddities and sleeve them up in his decks. When he played in the old school matches at Nebraska's War, his deck was mostly made up of his own creations.
Once more, with feeling.
These custom made cards weren't really a thing people talked about back when, but on the other hand, if Richard Garfield himself brings a deck with home-made cards to an old school tournament, who would ever decline playing against it? I probably wouldn't want to face any random player using these cards, but as the man who both invented the game and designed the entire Arabian Nights set by himself, he clearly gets a pass to make the cards he wants for his old school deck. He made most of the cards in all of our decks after all.

So what about the real 93/94 legal cards, altered by Garfield? Personally, I think that they could be played as altered in old school games as long as both players agree to it beforehand. I wouldn't actively encourage them in tournaments, but I sure wont hinder players to walk down that lane of nostalgia if they both want to. They were a big part of school yard legends in the 90s, and the few players who had their hands on them usually played them as written. If one or more of players in the match don't want to play the cards as altered, they should be played according to Oracle errata (i.e. as normal versions). In particular, some cards are much more fair than others to play. The Serra Angel is pretty broken, but e.g. this Rabid Wombat looks sweet. By no means broken, but probably playable in Enchantress:
The Yavimaya Enchantress of 1994.
On the other hand, this Mishra's Workshop could cause some disgruntled frowning:
A Workshop that taps for 3 without restriction on how to use the mana
As would probably this Time Walk that returns to your hand from the graveyard unless your opponent only speaks only in rhymes:
I'm Rubber, You're Glue?
But looking at the grand scheme of The Doctor's alters, even the power level of those two cards could be considered meek. I think that this card is one of the most charming Garfield alters I've seen yet:
Chaos Confetti
"Soo... I'm gonna flip my Orb on your Beta dual. If I hit, you'll have to rip it up. Then I'll rip up my Chaos Orb, unless I want to scoop before that part of the ability resolves. Do I feel douchy enough to give up a game for seeing you rip up your card? Who knows. Anyways, will you scoop in response, or do you want to rip up your card?" Barring playing against someone like Honka or Shaman Ben (I presume), activating this Chaos Orb would almost always prompt a concession from the opponent.

Hm, more I think about it, the more sure I get that I'll eventually rip the card apart in an inebriated game of 93/94. It's the only Garfield alter I own, but I guess it would be something of a tribute to 1995 Mg to use it properly at some point. And ripping up Chaos Orbs is after all a big part of the lore of mid 90s Magic. Benalish Dead would be proud.

In other news around the world, a bunch of rag-tag Britons gathered to swing old cardboard in a pub in London earlier this month. You can check out some sweet decks and pictures from the event here. The large Ovinospring tournament in Milan took place last weekend, this time gathering over 50 players. And in a little over a month, I'm planning to travel to Frankfurt to see what the Germans have to offer in terms tech and beer, and battle Marc Lanigra and friends on their own turf. Hope to see some of you there!

20 kommentarer:

  1. Fun to read about those alters from Richard Garfield. I'd love to meet him one day even if just to say "thanks for inventing Magic". And as one of the rag-tag Britons can I also say to you thanks for linking to our results and for inventing Old School Magic! :-) Really enjoying it so far, and my mono Black deck even won a prize in London. Scott

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. Thanks a lot man! It looked like a fun event :)

      Radera
  2. I too wish to meet The Doctor one day, just to thank him for creating this game we all cherish so much. And sign my Lotus now that Chris has passed. :(

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. I was so sad to learn Chris passed. I actually got to play against him in a small hometown card shop. Such a nice guy. He was patient with all of our questions and fan-boyishness. I didn't ever have a Lotus, but he signed my Lightning Bolts and such. $200-400 for a Lotus at the time!

      Radera
    2. I was so sad to learn Chris passed. I actually got to play against him in a small hometown card shop. Such a nice guy. He was patient with all of our questions and fan-boyishness. I didn't ever have a Lotus, but he signed my Lightning Bolts and such. $200-400 for a Lotus at the time!

      Radera
  3. The stories about Richard Garfield alters reached my first playgroup too. Unfortunately, we didn't know any of the specific stories, like about the 3/3 Llanowar Elves and such. I didn't learn any of those until much later, and my knowledge of the game wasn't enough at that time to know what I might ask him to alter!

    I'd probably scoop if that Chaos Orb was even in the same room as me. I know people who played Iron Man Ravnica sealed events, and they freaked out from having to rip up foil shocklands; that Orb is another level!

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. Yeah, I didn't really know about the card specifics until more recently either, it was more the fact that some weird Garfield alters existed and that you got to play them as written. I think that the first one I heard about was the 3/3 llanowar elves and the ancestral that drew 10 cards, but I can remember when that was.

      Radera
  4. If i had know this story this monster of a orb would still be im my possession! Now the story is a bonus to the price you payed for it:)
    Thanks for a great blog!

    SvaraRadera
  5. info: I got the orb when i ordered a damaged one from a store in the US. After searching for one in sweden for a fairly long time without any luck.

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. Was this back in 95? I stockholm back then it was close to impossible to get ul/betae cards.

      Radera
    2. Thanks Daniel! I'll make sure to give it a good home :)

      Radera
  6. That's my Serra! I also have some Alpha playtest cards he changed for me well after Alpha was released.

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. Haha, yeah I actually knew that :) I was thinking about mentioning the known owners of the cards in the post, but figured that some of you might want to keep it "confidential" ;) Very nice to see you here btw Keith, love your videos and I'd really like to pick your brain on playtest cards for a post sometime in the future!

      Radera
  7. Joyful reading! Thank you! :)

    SvaraRadera
  8. Ha ha no way I would scoop to that Chaos Orb! And I would not even be mad, this game is about many things, but above all, its about the risk and reward of gambling!

    I think I get why some people do not like to play cards with me.

    SvaraRadera
  9. Awesome article! Thanks!

    -Hans

    SvaraRadera
  10. Fantastic article. Thank you so much!

    SvaraRadera
  11. This is a very good read. Love the Llanowar Elves.

    SvaraRadera
  12. This is a very good read. Love the Llanowar Elves.

    SvaraRadera