Tuesday, 09 February 2021 15:50

MTG on VHS: WotC's first attempt at a Magic: The Gathering video series

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MTG on VHS: WotC's first attempt at a Magic: The Gathering video series WOTC

Back in the late 1990s, Magic: The Gathering was sailing off a burst of popularity since its 1993 debut and Wizards of the Coast was capitalizing off of that as much as possible. MTG flirted as a quasi-sport by getting national air-time on ESPN 2, but that fizzled out after just a few years. They also tried to hit the mainstream teen market in 1997 by getting involved with MTV, but that only lasted a summer before the network took a hard pivot into reality television. 

The did have another card up their sleeve though: the home video market -- and it's the card they played first. Oh, and by video, we mean video. As in VHS video. After all, this was 1996 and VHS was still the home video medium of choice. So in a half explanatory, half SportsCenter-like play-by-play way, WOTC created a recording of the 1996 New York City Pro Tour event. Seriously. This is a thing. Give it a watch if you have a moment:

Filled with early players like Bertrand Lestrée, the '96 Pro Tour tape also showcased a lot of things that aren't done anymore as in nobody using card sleeves, big tournaments still using old card tables, and just an incredible number of people writing down their life on paper (no, wait, that one is still commonplace today).

It's one thing to come up with a product, though. It's a wholly different thing for people to buy it. In short, these tapes sold well.

Available in games stores and other retailers, the tape helped many early players learn to deck build and see how the pros played for the first time, as tournaments were still a year away from being televised by ESPN's relatively unpopular sibling network. Some of the more recent champions have even cited the video as an early inspiration.

Same for the next installment video: the 1998 World Championship in Seattle, with a bit from the U.S. Nationals in Columbus. Despite this one dipping more into a more flashy documentary-like feel and players dressing more like extra from Boy Meets World than from Blossom, it still covered a lot.  It even came with a (non tournament legal) deck that was seen in the event. Okay, so maybe it was marketed as a free video bundled with the deck.  Either way, it's something worth mentioning.

Like with the 1996 video, it's also currently viewable on YouTube:

However, despite their popularity, those were the only two ever made. The internet made tournaments from all over the globe watchable by computer as soon as the dial-up era ground matured into broadband and the VHS tapes overall suffered a similar fate when the DVD killed the "be-kind-rewind" video star.

But those videos still held importance because the more or less became the de facto dress rehearsal for how tournaments were presented, helping find a good flow of tournament play, background, and very awkward interviews.

If you have a working VCR, though, or simply want them as decor in your game room, you can still find the tapes for sale on the Internet.  Just expect to pay a pretty penny for one.