First published on Magnus blog, August 23 2018
A couple of weeks ago a regular at the Danish Old School community’s Facebook-page posted the photos below, along with a description of a horrible washing machine malfunction and some less-than-advisable storage of Old School cards (ie. in the basement). This flooding came during one of the worst draughts in Danish history, so, naturally, the shock and horror in the community reached some heights.
The Old Schooler in question assured the rest of the community, that no really expensive cards were destroyed or harmed, but he also wrote “… none the less, there are a bit less alpha and beta cards in the world now.” The reactions to his post – I will come to these in a minute – made me think, and made me want to write a little something about an aspect of the Old School community and general environment, that I have encountered several times, and that I think is quite unique: the sheer and unconditional love – not only for the game itself, all magic players have that to some extent I think, but to the cards themselves, and their art – the true Magic the Gathering Art. The art of the game. Or, rather, the art that is the game of Old School Magic the Gathering.
Seeing photos of flooded alpha and beta cards lying on the floor like wounded soldiers in an infirmary, made several people tear up like said soldiers’ loving, hand-wrenching mothers would have. People felt the pain. No less than 13 “sad” smileys were clicked along with a couple of “wow”-smileys. I think this is one of the most reacted to posts in our forum. And even though some people immediately, quite naturally, started talking about whether the insurance would pay, most simply wrote something along the lines of: “This is like one of my nightmares come true,” or “Nooo! My stomach hurts!” or “I feel your pain, I am so sorry to see, what you have to go through.”
And this underlines some of the points I am trying to get at. See how a lot of these comments could as easily have been to someone who had just went through some major life-crisis? The burning down of a house, serious illness, death in the near family or the likes. This is – on the surface of things – a rather extreme reaction for the loss of something that, for outsiders, is only some very old cardboard. I am, nonetheless, very certain that none of these comments were in any way ironic or exaggerated. I was the one commenting, that it looked like something of my nightmares, and I can assure you, I meant it! And I really think the rest of the posters did so too. But what is it that makes us so sad and shocked to see Old School cards be destroyed by the elements (or a faulty washing machine and an extreme case of unluckiness)?
Is it the monetary aspect? Of course even a handful of water-damaged Alpha and Beta cards could mean a quite serious hit to your collection, and thus your collections’ worth. But a flooding of your house almost always means some hit to your wallet – whether it is the house itself that gets damaged, all the clothes and computers you have stored in your basement, your sex dungeons interior or simply the collection of vintage draft beers lying around. It all loses value, when soaked in water for an extended period of time. And I’m not certain that the same reactions would have been, if the post had been about some destroyed Penguin Paperbacks or the odd collection of actual cardboard. And in this case, money wasn’t even an issue. The poster eased the anxious community by stating that the insurance will pay for the destroyed cards (remember to buy that insurance peeps!). But he followed that up with the sentence: “But it still aches the heart – I have never tried anything like it!”
Now, one can argue that the Old Schooler in question has had a relatively privileged life, if his worst moment was realizing that his basement, and, along with it, some of his cardboard was flooded, but let’s face it, we’ve probably all had relatively privileged life, when we can afford these cards in the first place.
Also, it’s really not the point because even if he was the most privileged person to have ever walked the face of the earth, his tears would still be genuine. His grief would be hardly comforted. Because he has actually lost something of real value – not monetary value, real value with real feelings attached. Historic value. Artistic value. A collection of hard-to-get Old School staples can almost be like an old friend. You have groomed your relationship over the years, you have grown together and you know the ins and outs. You probably remember when and/or where you traded for your favorite cards. Maybe some of these acquisitions was the result of long and hard work, and the saving of money for an extended period of time. And this is something else than simply having an insurance-stacked wallet to just buy what you need from a big vendor.
You love the whole, not just parts, of said friend. The unlucky Old Schooler pictured this when writing that he jumped into the flooded basement – with little to no regards for his own safety (an electric installation had also been flooded) – to save his cards, and to “… dry, cuddle and calm them…” Even though you only loose a handful of near-unplayable commons, it can still be a significant loss, because this was something you put some thought and work into creating. This was not something that came to pass as a coincidence – these cards were an important part of a whole.
And also: this is art, we are talking about. And the world has now lost some of this art. I know that there are several thousand pieces of these specific pieces of art, but it doesn’t diminish the point. “… there are a bit less alpha and beta cards in the world now.” The sentence actually makes me goose bump a little. Try to read it aloud for yourself… “There are one less work of Picasso in the world now.” Are the two sentences comparable? I may be absolutely raging crazy, but I actually think so.
I am a historian. This is history being destroyed – think about it. It actually is history. These old cards will never be printed like this again. Some of them will not be printed again at all. It is history in the form of cardboard, and therefore the destruction of it is somewhat inevitable but that won’t make it any better. This is art and history vanishing from the world. As the unfortunate Old Schooler said “Everything else in the basement was just stuff.”
Just stuff… Old School cards are exactly so much more than just stuff.
As one of my Old School friends has stated several times in discussions about the crazy raging prices of our desired cardboard: “It is just money – Old School is love.” And, as we all know, you can’t put a price on real love.