Imitation Impala Skin: A Look at Magic’s First Playmats

Magic Untapped takes a look at some of the first official playmats for Magic: The Gathering.

A unsung part of Magic: The Gathering is the little things.

The life counters. The card protectors.

The little things you don't need to play but that can add to it and make playing a bit easier or protect card damage.

Another unsung hero? Playmats.

And they haven't always been the more rubberized foam or cloth we know of them today.

When Magic: The Gathering first came about in summer of 1993, no one really thought about playmats all that much, and so they weren't really a thing. But as the game began to become more organized, more and more players began wanting something to put their cards on rather than a bare table that could be sticky with something, could be too cold, or other mitigating factors.

So, players began using pieces of cloth or paper to have something to put them down on. (Remember, this was largely before card protectors too, so it was also for the card's protection.)

The next year, with the game really taking off, Wizards of the Coast decided to not capitalize on that growing need. In fact, they didn't come out with official Magic playmats until 1996.

So, instead, a third party company, Khalsa Brain Games, ran with the opportunity.

Using imitation impala skin, Khalsa came out with two sizes, one for just a single player and one big enough for both players. Both sizes didn't really come in color, but had images of early fan-favorite creatures like the Shivian Dragon and the Northern Paladin. And they honestly don't look so bad, and fit the esthetic of early Magic to a “T.”

These sold amazingly well, essentially prompting Wizards to make their own.

In 1998, with ESPN now covering games, they even mad a new type of mat that was color coded to allow TV viewers to better see where cards went. Khalsa, meanwhile, expanded mats to just be card games in general, as the license had gone to another company, UltraPro.

Today, besides a few select inclusions for special reasons, UltraPro has continued being the main maker of mats. If you've ever bought one or won one as a prize, this is who typically makes them.

They aren't on imitation impala skins anymore though. If anything, they feel like mousepads. But the sizes and style are certainly there and have kept up for decades.
Oh, and as for those Khalsa originals, they go for hundreds now on the secondary market.

But the popularity of playmats would have been for naught if it weren't for Khalsa Brain Games deciding to venture out into that new upstart card game from the Pacific Northwest.

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.