On August 5th, 1993, a small company known as Wizards of the Coast released a game created by Richard Garfield called Magic: the Gathering. It was an instant hit, quickly selling out everywhere, with stores struggling to get more product in stock and in the hands of the players. As the years went on, Magic has grown and evolved into the game that we all know and love dearly. Now on this upcoming Sunday the game will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. In this time of celebration, I wanted to share some memories I cherish of my time playing the game, and to show how Magic is no longer just a game, but a lifestyle.

In 1997 on a small getaway at a lake just outside of town with my family, I saw my two cousins playing a game with brown card backs. It was Magic: the Gathering. Being only a few years old, I didn’t make much of it; but a few years later when the Pokemon craze hit the world over, my sister and I got very into its card game. When one of the two cousins saw us playing, he realized how similar it was to Magic and decided to introduce us to it, taking us through our first match. Today, I’d see many of those cards as pure bulk; but to nine year old Kendra, cards like Skyshroud Troll and Scathe Zombies were an absolute wonder.

Soon I was buying product and slinging spells. My local bowling alley had a small sports card shop where I bought my first packs, including Urza’s Legacy and Starter 99. I can even remember those first rares: Shivan Phoenix, Quicksilver Amulet, Dakmor Sorceress, and Armageddon. Soon after, my friend Zack Bush was introducing me to all kinds of crazy cards from his older brother’s collection, including none other than the original Elder Dragon Legends, which blew my young Timmy mind. It wasn’t long before I found myself at a proper local game store—Dave and Adams Card World—where I found myself going through bulk like it was gold and adding to my collection. I’d even use magazines like Scrye, Inquest, and TopDeck to keep an eye out on value and cool cards I could add to the deck.

As my sister and I grew our collections, we grew our decks and would play wild games with five color 150+ card decks that were amalgams of all the best cards we’d obtained thus far. We’d see games ending due to someone casting Incoming!, a crazy card from Unglued, with board states reaching maximum capacity. Magic even became a regular tradition where we would pass time on Christmas Eve playing against one another when we couldn’t sleep. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see some cards under the tree either, and the first year of playing the game we got Starter 99 gift boxes. I still have my VHS from the set, and if you haven’t seen it before, you should check it out on YouTube because it’s a riot.

From there I started expanding my gameplay. Our middle school formed a card game club as the craze hit critical mass with the rise of CCGs. While a bad experience largely deterred my sister from continuing, I kept on, building friendships along the way. Those friendships continued into high school where I played at lunch, on friday night get togethers at the local Media Play (an old F.Y.E.-like store), and even going with them to a small comic shop called Collector’s Inn where I’d take janky brews to my first ever FNMs and prereleases. At home, I found myself picking up and getting into Magic Online. People today may know it for its modern look, but I’ll be damned if I don’t miss the look of the old tables with avatars that were used way back in the day.

My joy was soon dashed, however, when in mid 2005, my family decided to make the move from Buffalo, NY all the way down to Tampa, FL. Sadly virtually no one I got to know after that played, and the nearest store was a good 30-45 minutes away. Within a few short years I gave up and found myself selling my collection online. With depression mounting from the loss of the social circle I had developed over years, I had given up hope I would play the game again. Despite that, I still followed news of what was happening in the game, and it was one little thing that ended up bringing be back: Urza’s Legacy drafts on Magic Online.

To me, drafting the set was a healthy dose of nostalgia I’d been looking for, to play the set in a more competitive way than I had when I was younger. At the same time, Rise of the Eldrazi drafts were happening. After trying a couple of those, the game had its hooks in me once again. Around the same time, a small group of Magic players popped up in my college’s lounge and I got involved with them, playing EDH, cube, and all kinds of other formats. This led me to find my way to a new shop I could call home: Anthem Games.

At this new shop and others I started getting active in ways I never had before, drafting and playing constructed events. Barely a year and a half after getting back into the game I found myself at SCG’s Open Series event in Tampa in early 2012. I had picked up Affinity to get into the budding Modern format and into Legacy. I decided to try out Tempered Steel in Standard since I already had the majority of the contents and took it to the main event. To my surprise, I ended up in 21st place, going 7-2. It was my first taste at a major event that surely wouldn’t be my last. I soon became a judge. Passing my L1 test is something I’m still tremendously proud of, and I’m thankful to all the people who helped me along the way.

I was really nervous about my future as a judge, however. After a lot of hesitation and concerns that needed to be hashed out with some people, I came out to all of my friends as transgender on December 5, 2013. I was scared and terrified at what might happen as a result. Instead of being shunned, however, I was embraced. While I talk about it less nowadays, I’ve never seen such a welcoming community who accepted me, and do so with many others, without hesitation. Magic would also help me get through my surgery that I underwent a few years later. I sold many cards from my collection to help with the cost and played extensively during my recovery period, busting out games of EDH and being gifted draft packs online by my old judge mentor to help me get through the stresses of recovery.

Soon after, though, I found myself without an active way to play. My job hours had shifted dramatically, and the stores I would often play at that were close to me went out of business. I took my game online and with virtually no collection I tried out a different format in the form of Pauper. I did okay but missed a lot of the social interaction I had at stores, so I started streaming to be able to interact with any viewers who might pop in. What I didn’t expect was to build the foundations of a following and forge new friendships between Twitch, Twitter, Reddit, and Discord.

Without those, I wouldn’t have had the recent magical experiences I’ve had at places like GP Seattle and SCG Con. At those events, a lot of those new online friendships I’d made solidified into reality. They were some of the best times I’d ever had and I’m finding my own way to immortalize them in my mind. But a lot of Magic is yet to come, with events like GP Orlando and another SCG Con later this year right around the corner. There’s still lots of new memories to be carved out along the way. And now that I work at a game store—something that would’ve been a dream job for nine year old Kendra—there’s so much more in store.

Magic has given so much to me, from friends to a career. For many, it’s not simply a hobby but a way of life. Richard Garfield, Wizards of the Coast, and the entire community have made it something special. They’ve made memories that a small child can turn into a social circle, a way of life, a way to be accepted by others, or just a way to have some good old fashioned fun. Here’s to 25 years to Magic, and here’s to many more still to come!

Kendra has been playing Magic since Urza block and never looked back. Playing a variety of formats and being known for championing Pauper in particular, the Elf Queen can be found hanging out on Twitter as well as streaming on Twitch, always seeking to better the community at large.

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