The First Magic World Championship: An Open Free-For-All In Milwaukee


Whenever the inaugural of something happens, it means all the kinks need to be worked out.

Whenever the inaugural of something happens, it means all the kinks need to be worked out.

The first Super Bowl halftime show in 1967? All Marching bands.

The first Academy Awards in the 1920s? It was just a dinner with a few awards given like any company may do.

And in 1994 with the first Magic: The Gathering World Championship, things were just a little bit, well, off.  At least by today's standards.

First of all, the championship wasn't even it's own thing. Magic was red hot popular, but it was still small enough to need something big to carry it; similar to how the Olympics used to be attached to the World's Fair. So, rather than a big tournament being held in a destination city like Seattle or Amsterdam, the first tournament piggybacked on Gen Con in Milwaukee. And they didn't have any format choice - for the first and only time, the 1994 World Championship used Vintage (then Type-I) rules.

Even more, it wasn't an invitational. They allowed anyone in on the World Championship as long as they were one of the first 512 people to register, which meant that casual players and those who didn't even know anything about the game could enter and compete.

The tournament was held over three days, from Aug. 19 to the 21st, 1994, at Milwaukee's MECCA Center. And, while it was a free-for-all that most people would associate with first time events, a few days of single elimination play weeded out the weaker players, leaving a core group of American and European players who were serious about the game.

When the dust finally settled, American Zak Dolan finally beat out Frenchman Bertrand Lestree in a final game where Dolan managed to finish with 37 life (thanks to the card Ivory Tower) and win by playing a control deck centered largely around the synergy between the cards Stasis and Kismet.

And what did Dolan win for winning the first World Championship? Unlike the large amounts of money now, Dolan won a trophy, a poker set, and a bunch of booster packs.

Both Dolan and Lestree would remain pro players for a few years but would both be out of the scene once Magic really hit it's stride in the late 90s.

Capping it all off is that it is the only Championship without any video footage, as the only video tape holding the recording was lost. Like baseball games before the advent of radio, all we have to go in is a detailed play-by-play. There are some pictures though, so if you ever wondered what 1994 looked like in one or two images, it's right there.

Today, Magic World Championships are huge affairs. And while they have been interrupted by things like COVID-19 in the recent past, they always end up roaring back in some way. Still though, the oddness of the first World Championship makes it seem quaint today, and also marks just how far things have come along since then.

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.