The Expanding Universe

25 years ago today, the Magic universe expanded beyond Dominia's shores of imagination. Few noticed back then, and even fewer would fathom the impact it would have. It was a set that grew old faster than any other. In Sweden it was the stuff of legends even among the first of us to walk the paths of heresy and legerdemain. These were the budding days of wizardry. 

A gentleman mostly known as Paddan, now a pillar of the Stockholm community, was one of those first mages to gather in the outskirts of Gothenburg almost a quarter of a century ago. Today it is my great pleasure to hand over the proverbial soap box to him. This is Paddan's tribute to the 25th anniversary of an expanding universe. Enjoy! /Mg out

If you were into fantasy, cyberpunk or horror in the early '90s in Sweden, you were pretty much guaranteed to also have an interest in role-playing. Growing up in Mölndal (Gothenburg) the games were readily available in both toy stores and specialized outlets such as Tradition, but me and my best friend didn't know anyone our age that was really interested in playing. My only guess is that it must have been via the gaming store were I was buying Mithril Miniatures, but we somehow managed to get an address to a role-playing club located at Ringön: Storyteller's Inn. Hopefully we would find someone there that was willing to take on two young and eager adventurers.

Setting things into perspective, the industrial area Ringön is not the first place a parent would pick to send their teenager for engaging in some obscure activity they don't quite understand in the first place, but being 15 at the time we were also old enough to enjoy some freedom. Having secured the ride, we would finally be able to freely roam i strange realms, fighting hideous beasts, and perhaps even get a glimpse of something beyond.

Much to our surprise, not many people at Storyteller's Inn appeared to be that interested in role-playing upon our arrival. Instead, everyone was fiddling around with some kind of card game, and it seemed to us that other activities had taken a back seat for the time being. Our kind hosts were nevertheless more than happy to show us the game, and it didn't take many minutes for us to realise that we definitely needed some of those spell cards as well! It wasn't just the person collecting Plague Rats that was crazy about the game, although I later learned that he was a Malkavian.

Memory is a fickle thing, and even though the Plague Rats guy is a common old school trope nowadays, it's one of the things that I am sure of. I also know that my first Magic purchase was two Unlimited starter decks together with a few packs of Antiquities, provided by the friendly people at Spel & Sånt. Some members of the staff were also frequenting Storyteller's Inn and Spel & Sånt quickly became our favorite store, later providing me with both Legends and The Dark booster packs which I pre-ordered in very modest quantities. The CCG craze* wasn't quite omnipresent yet, and buying a few packs for flavour was enough for a casual player like me.
Dawn of the black hearts in Mölndal.

As time progressed, I nevertheless got more and more immersed and ended up with a more or less complete set of Revised in addition to the older cards, Lich being a favourite. Being a black wizard at heart, I had a somewhat competitive deck by kitchen table standards, with Hypnotic Specters, Sengir Vampires, Hymns to Tourach and Terrors, together with some duals for Counterspells and Lightning Bolts. There was also room for a few Mishra's Factories and I eventually managed to get my hands on a single copy of Juzám Djinn, so the pile was not completely unlike my deck of choice in old school nowadays.
4C Mono Black. Greed sans Greed.
But the post 93/94 cards never gave the same kind of tingle. Many cards felt subpar and there was a subtle shift in artwork–or not so subtle in the case of Ice Age's Counterspell. By the time Mirage hit the shelves, my interest in Magic had vaned and I soon got rid of most of my collection. But I was still knee-deep in CCG:s; Deckmaster's Jyhad/VTES (which I still feel is underrated outside it's core community), Atlas Games' On the Edge, ICE's Middle Earth, Decipher's Star Wars and Chaosium's Mythos. A day in Gothenburg in the mid '90s was booster packs en masse, browsing occult books at Dolores Comics, a single cup of coffee for hours at Java, and perhaps finding some new music at Satisfaction or CD-specialisten. Then likely back for another booster pack or two.
Top 3 artists in old school.
Although the original set is of course outstanding, the first two printings were never really that special to me, and still aren't. Not that my collection was in any way notable, but the cards had in principle been available during Unlimited. Besides, Alpha was a flawed set anyway, both missing a few cards and having way too messed up corners for them to be playable together with later printings. The mystery of Legends was on a different level. The sheer size of the expansion made it hard to get a firm grip on all of the cards and some of the enigma remains even today. It is also a black wizard's dream and the whole set is oozing with flavour. The Jovial Evil staring at me from behind the counter at TV-spelsbörsen still haunts me today.

There is however one grin that beats them all, and it's owner is eyeing you from the most fabled expansion. Juzám Djinn is arguably not only the most iconic summoning in Magic, the awe any card from Arabian Nights ignited during the very early days was unparalleled. There was rumor that two boxes of Arabian Nights had arrived at a small store somewhere in the northern part of Sweden, but I will continue to regard that as an urban legend until I meet someone that actually bought a booster. Basically, the only widely available information in the beginning was a list of card titles and a few images from Duelist and Scrye magazines.
Duelist #1 was not available in Sweden as far as I know, but #3 was invaluable for checking the rarity of Jyhad. Good times with Drew Tucker.
My first actual encounter with Arabian Nights cards was via a shark circling the tables at the gaming club Sverok. Seeing the small dark mana symbols for colourless in person made it even more clear that these cards belonged to a different era. They felt old school already in 1994. The shark promptly picked up on my feverish eyes and racing heart, and it didn't take long until I was the proud owner of a Bird Maiden and a Hassan Ogress. All I had to give up was a Carrion Ants from Legends along with an uncommon or two.

I was certainly not alone in my desire for Arabian Nights, and examining early price lists is quite telling. Ali from Cairo, City in a Bottle, Diamond Valley, Guardian Beast, Jihad and Ring of Ma'rûf were just as valuable as a USD 10 unlimited Black Lotus in an April 1994 price list in the Usenet group. One month later, in a post aggregating the data from over 18000 price listings, the mean price of Jihad (USD 15) even surpasses that of a Black Lotus (USD 13), with Guardian Beast (USD 11) coming in at fourth place just behind Gauntlet of Might (USD 12). Another Arabian Nights chase card at the time, Ali from Cairo (USD 9), beats all of the moxen except Pearl (USD 10).†

I'm an average player at best (and an embarrassing player at worst as evident on the n00bcon 55 stream), but I pretty much always enjoy playing just for the sake of it, regardless of outcome. Magic is most of all a relaxing activity for me and there are enough nuts for me to crack elsewhere in life. Having had the luxury of building a more or less ultimate version of my old kitchen table deck, I have been longing to create something that I could only have dreamt of in 1994. My Project M of sorts.

Basing a new deck on pure nostalgia is a somewhat challenging task when the deck you're already playing is striking that very nerv. I wanted the deck to feel like it would have been unthinkable 25 years ago, as well as having it cater to my vanity by being different to most 93/94 decks out there. It turned out that I had to at least abandon the unthinkable. After all, playing an Arabian Nights only deck is sort of how things were originally meant to be.

"Try holding this instant for an attacking weenie horde and watch them go bye-bye. Sandstorm's even better than a quick Pestilence since it's a surprise move and won't hurt your own creatures. In a tournament deck, consider it for your sideboard."
    - InQuest #1, p 57
For being a set with 78 cards in total, deck construction with Arabian Nights is not as hopeless as one might imagine, largely due to the relative abundance of highly efficient creatures (and given that one allows non-Arabian lands). My original idea was to go with a green/blue or green/black build, utilizing the excellent one-drops Ghazban Ogre and Nafs Asp topped off with Erhnam Djinns. Green also has Sandstorm. However, the deck sketches never felt quite right and it wasn't until I switched to black and blue that things really came together. This was my deck and what I would have opted for in 1994.
Bottled Up!
The above deck is the Bottled Up version I played at Ivory Cup 3, still missing a few cards in the sideboard. In essence, it's a creature heavy deck that tries to hit as hard and fast as possible and works fairly well given the imposed restrictions. Flying Men, Serendib Efreet and Juzám Djinn certainly need no introduction, but an important feature of all the blue creatures in a deck short on removal is flying. The worst creature is Hasran Ogress and I could see it getting replaced by the more defensive Giant Tortoise, as Coumbajj Witches would unfortunately terrorize both men and devils. One could also imagine an alternative, more controlling build where a play set of Cuombajj Witches is introduced at the expense of one toughness creatures. The most fun creature is definitely Sorceress Queen, I had forgotten how annoyed my opponents used to be with her presence!

Diamond Valley is the deck's luxury item, included mainly due to it being one of the most sought after cards during the early days. It's nevertheless not without merit since the deck can be quite life taxing. I believe the presence of a king, a flying carpet and sandals need no motivation in One Thousand and One Nights, so the main sideboard cards of note are Stone-Throwing Devils against Savannah Lions and Sorceress Queen for increased fun. Finally, Dandân would have been a better choice than Fishliver Oil but I didn't have them at the time.

While I had been kicking around the idea of my all Arabian Nights deck for a while, I must credit Mg for unknowingly pushing me to acquire the final cards. As some of you might remember, I had the fortune of receiving an Easter egg with an Arabian Nights booster at n00bcon this year. Having opened all the other early expansions, cracking an Arabian Nights booster pack almost 25 years down the road is a pretty insane experience, and I must admit that I didn't quite realize the extent of the madness until i checked the price of a pack afterwards. I can only say that I am humbled by the remarkable generosity Magnus is showing the community. Here's for another 25 years!




* Ten years after the release of Magic, the CCG craze had given rise to more than 130 different collectible card games, as listed in the second edition of the Scrye Collectible Card Game Checklist & Price Guide (688 pages in total). One can not help but feel sorry for Garfield:
"If the market becomes flooded with trading card games of various and sundry quality as a result of Magic, I'll be disappointed"
- Richard Garfield, Duelist #1, p 13

† Top 20 mean prices for Magic cards in the May 1994 Comprehensive Magic Card Price List at

Jihad, USD 14.93
Black Lotus, USD 13.24
Gauntlet of Might, USD 11.63
Guardian Beast, USD 11.47
Time Twister, USD 10.00
Forcefield, USD 9.98
Word of Command, USD 9.98
Mox Pearl, USD 9.68
Ancestral Recall, USD 9.22
Force of Nature, USD 9.17
Ali From Cairo, USD 8.97
Mox Ruby, USD 8.57
Two-Headed Giant of Foriys, USD 8.53
Mox Sapphire, USD 8.40
Shivan Dragon, USD 8.26
Vesuvan Doppelganger, USD 8.02
Mox Jet, USD 8.00
Time Walk, USD 7.66
Cyclopean Tomb, USD 7.58
Library of Alexandria, USD 7.19
Bonus: Mox Emerald, USD 6.61 (31st place)


I went through a bunch of old magazines when writing the above, trying to gather some statistics concerning early Arabian Nights prices. In the end, data was too sparse and/or scattershot to really yield anything interesting, but I'm leaving a bit of it here in case someone finds it amusing.

Scrye was the first magazine to feature a price guide and issue #1 released in June 1994 gives a USD 250 median price for a complete Arabian Nights set, the most valuable spell being the USD 15 Eye for an Eye with no other card reaching double digits. The rise of the median value of Library of Alexandria from USD 5 to USD 7 in Scrye issue #3 is however not completely representative for prices about four months later:

"Card Price Hyper-Inflation …
The Arabian box price is disturbing … It has been my experience that you can make a full set of Arabian Nights by opening one box, however, at USD 1500 a box, this would be a very expensive set. The price of a full set of Arabian Nights is lagging significantly behind the box cost. A month ago a full set of Arabian Nights could be purchased for USD 200. Today it would sell for around USD 475."
- Scrye issue #3, p 17

The magazine itself now lists a USD 390 median price for a complete set. When the InQuest Premier Issue (#0, the second magazine to feature a price guide) hit the streets about six months later in April 1995, the mean value of a set was listed as USD 740.

The first magazine in Sweden to feature a price guide was Centurion with its inaugural issue in July 1995. Gentleman Svante Landgraf kindly provided me with some scans from his magazine collection. Below is a plot of prices for a few notable Arabian Nights cards as listed in early issues of Scrye, InQuest, and Centurion. The main notable feature is that cards appear to be considerably more expensive in Sweden in July 1995. With the exception of Juzám Djinn and Library of Alexandria, prices have nevertheless dropped a few months later. In December 1995, Ali From Cairo and Guardian Beast are no longer running the show.
Prices for a few notable Arabian Nights cards in early issues of Scrye (median prices), InQuest (mean prices), and Centurion (mean prices). The Centurion prices have been converted to US dollars using the monthly mean historical conversion rates for USD in SEK.


  1. Thank you so much for putting this together!

  2. This is great. Far and away my favorite set.

  3. Glad you liked it! Scrye #2 describes a pretty sweet multiplayer variant of Magic called The Djinn-Efreet War for those of you longing for more Arabian Nights. If you haven't got the magazine, scans and an in depth review can be found at Eternal Central. Furthermore, there was actually a follow up article posted just the other day!

  4. Hi

    First of all - great article!! Reminds me well of those days...
    I think you may be able to help with two questions I've got regarding Oldschool (93/94) Magic:

    I've returned to Magic this year after a 16-year hiatus and while I'm really enjoying the Limited experience, I also yearn for the days when we started learning to play Magic, specifically the time we ripped open one Revised booster after another (as well as Fallen Empires).

    Now, I never had any A/B/U cards to start with, and I'm not in the business of buying any now. Still, I'd love to play some 93/94, and I was wondering if there is any half-competitive deck on the cheap I could maybe build and then play at one of the events like Fishliver Cup.

    Just wondering if you (or any of the readers) had any suggestions there?

    Further, I was thinking of building an Oldschool cube. Due to the above restrictions, this would have to be a very low-powered one (Revised/Fallen Empires only?). Has anyone done something like this to your knowledge?

    Thanks very much in advance for any pointers you might give me, and happy Holidays!


    1. Hi Simon!
      The main tournament at Fishliver uses "Ravenna rules" which is basically the same as the original rule set with a few more reprint sets. That means that Fallen Empires is not legal for that tournament (Fallen is uncommon to use in Europe), but it is very possible to build a competitive deck on a reasonable budget. The deck that won the last tournament did in fact play a total of zero power cards, you can check out the list here: They also hold a tournament with Fallen Empires legal during the Fishliver weekend, for that one is suspect that WW or MonoBlack Rack are the best "cheap" decks. But as always, build something that you enjoy playing :)

      The cube idea sounds really interesting! I've played a good handful different old school cubes, and one of the ones I found most interesting was a "combo cube" that had multiple copies of many cards in order to support different strategies a little better. For example, you could have multiple copies of cards like Magical Hack to make things like Karma or River Merfolk more potent and also encourage weird builds in the cube. Or things like a bunch of enchantresses and fungal blooms to help make Thallids a cooler deck. That should be eons cheaper than trying to build a full 93/94 cube, and also offset the possible lack of variety that could come if we limit the cube to two sets (i.e. Rev and FE).


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