The tap symbol, the arrow that does a 180 degree turn, is one of the most recognizable symbols in Magic: The Gathering. It's almost like a secondary logo for the game, appearing on everything from coffee mugs to T-shirts.
But it wasn’t always the symbol we've come to know.
In fact, back in the early 1990s, it was revolutionary. No card game before had mechanics where a power from a card wasn’t automatically done with, so an entirely new move and symbol had to be created for it. So while the definition of tapping has remained constant, the symbol went through a period of trial and error. At first, the word "tap" was just a part of a card's rules text. Soon, the word was turned into a symbol.
In fact, the earliest symbol was this:
For older players, this is a bit of nostalgia. For younger players, it just goes to show just how long a ways the game has come. The symbol and move itself was created in the early days of the game by board game designer and early Magic designer David Howell.
As mentioned previously, all tapping in Alpha/Beta was noted in the description. It just looked….awkward. That’s when Howell thought up the “T” symbol on the side. It shows tapping as moving the card sideways all in one symbol.
And things were great. That is, until 1995. Magic was going overseas, and that meant cards needed to be translated into their native languages. And that’s when a major problem arose: the fact that ‘tap’ and ‘tapping’ did not begin with the letter ‘t’ in those countries.
Going to the drawing board to the Fourth Edition, Magic decided to make an arrow curving around 180 degrees, along with a rectangle to show the turned card.
It looked a little bit like this:
This proved to be a little cluttered. Plus, with the game now firmly established going into the new millennium, veteran players knew what the symbol was automatically, with new players knowing what it was after only a few rounds of familiarity. So, with the Eighth Edition in 2003, the rectangle was out, and the weird curved Arrow has remained since. It's especially noticeable when the same card uses it across generations.
The change of the symbol only goes to show what a global and popular game Magic has become. Without a barrier to languages and giving credit to the intelligence of players, the tap symbol has proven to be a small yet integral part of the game that also shows just how far the game has come from (quite literally) inventing the move.