Magic's Military League: The short-lived league exclusively for U.S. servicemen


Did you know there was a Magic: The Gathering play league specifically for those in the U.S. Armed Forces?

Over the years, Wizards of the Coast has added and dropped various Magic: The Gathering adds or drops leagues and tournaments. It seems like for every long standing tournament or league, there is one that quickly fades out (much like the recent sunsetting of the Pro League and Rivals leagues).

While, back in the day, it started with the DCI and small local tournaments in the early 1990s, within a few years Magic: The Gathering World Championships were being held. And it seemed like every country with a significant playing population had at least one major tournament along the way.

In the days before digital games and widespread adoption of the internet, however, one playing population was more-or-less of cut off from the rest and needed a league of their own: The United States Armed Forces.

So, after receiving petitioning from some service members, Wizards of the Coast started the Military League for Magic: The Gathering in March of 1997. Covering all servicemembers, dependents, and civilians in and around the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, the league quickly enticed many to join on.

Known to most as the "MANA League" (Get it? Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force), the Military League had it's own special rules and rankings. Once joined, players could check their standings within their branch or the entire military as a whole. Players could duel each other to move up, with volunteers helping record results and earning rewards themselves. The top ten players in each branch each season would then get Military League exclusive prizes.

Membership to the league cost $50 (roughly $83 in today's money) and it included a year's subscription to The Duelist Sideboard, a copy of The Duelist magazine, a Military League t-shirt, a Military League playmat, two Ice Age starter decksIce Age rare cards, and four booster packs from previous expansions and core sets.

While all rankings were officially recorded by WotC and put into The Duelist Sideboard, points did not go towards DCI or Arena rankings.

For many players, the league was great. A lot of people in the military played Magic, but needed an outlet for it. More than that, Magic provided mental stimulation, cognitive thinking, and other exercises to stave off the boredom or stress that came with many military assignments. And, as many military people have a hard time adjusting after returning to civilian life, Magic games and events helped transition them back by giving themselves something  that was in both part of their lives.

While numbers remained decent, coordinating duels and results from all over the world -- especially during a time when peacekeeping missions were going off in the Balkans -- proved to be a bit of a challenge. And, with the internet surging forward, some of the first virtual games began being played, which reduced the need for such a specialized league.

By the late 1990s, the Military League's flame blew out. 

But hey, you can still remember it by buying vintage MANA league playmats going for $200.

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.