There were really only two types of gaming back around 1990: RPG (role-playing (like D&D (get your minds out of the gutter))) and tabletopping (like Warhammer). That had been the status quo for a decade or so at that point. [Being a "gamer" meant something completely different back in 1990 than it does today (a good example of how terms change meaning), because video games had not yet had the explosion that MMOs such as Everquest and WoW would bring them.] To make this clear, prior to the release of Magic, my gamer buddies and I met several times a week to play many different games.
There was a night for D&D. There was another night for some other kind of role playing game which varied based on who was GMing and whatever game they wanted to be running. Other nights would be for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the tabletop game we played. At least two nights of that a week in various formats. Sometimes, there were even board games like Risk and, every once in a while, poker. So, yeah, I was a pretty serious "gamer."
Mostly, the guys I gamed with had actual, real social skills. Many of the guys on the fringe, the guys we didn't play with on a regular basis, did not have social skills. As an example, on of those guys was called "Boogie" and that name had nothing to do with dancing. This was not a name that he was called behind his back. It was what he was known as, how he referred to himself, and he was in full knowledge of where the nickname came from, and he was fine with that. I only tell you that to confirm that some of those stereotypical views of "gamers" had a strong basis in reality.
Like I said, though, the guys I gamed with were mostly not like that, although they had all gone to the same high school as me, which meant that there was some amount of nerd in each of them just for the sake of the fact that you had to be smart to get into the school.
Mostly, we met at a particular friend's house, because, of all of us, he was the only one that was married and had a house. And a kid. This was probably the reason that only the socially adept were in our group, because, below a certain aptitude at communication and social graces, my friend's wife would not allow the person over to the house. Boogie was one of those people. He was allowed over one time to participate in a tabletop event, and my friend's wife very firmly let it be known after he had left that Boogie was not to come over again. We had another guy in the group that was only barely able to be there. The wife was always on the verge of kicking him out, because he had no control over his mouth.
There were some nights when we'd meet at the comic shop when those that were more like Boogie were allowed to be involved in whatever it was we were doing.
All of that is kind of beside the point, though. Mostly, it's just to show you how things were. We gamed. We played a lot of different games. We tried out new games. There were all kinds of things going on that we did, and we had different nights for the different things, so you could kind of pick and choose what nights you wanted to be involved. It was a lot of fun. Yes, I do miss those days.
Then came the fall of '93. One of the guys in our group took a trip out here to CA and brought Magic back with him because it hadn't yet made it to Louisiana. It changed everything. We were all, and I do mean all of us, fascinated by the game, and we all undertook it to get cards and put in a big group order through the mail to a CA retailer to get some. Seriously, it was well into '94 before the cards became available enough for any of the local stores to be able to stock the cards. Magic had the same effect on out little gaming world as Harry Potter had on the book world.
After Magic, everything was Magic. That's all we did. Often, we got together four or five nights a week to play. Once the local retailers were finally able to start stocking the cards (summer of '94 with the release of the Legends expansion), tournaments started happening, and everything became focused on that. Often, our evenings of playing were really only to refine our decks for the weekly tournament. [I was the top ranked player in north LA through '94 while we were tracking player stats. After that, Wizards of the Coast came up with their own ranking system, and we quit tracking it. It was a lot of hassle, and we had a lot of players in and out of the store by that point. (We were the biggest tournament location in north LA, so people would come from hours away to play every week.)] It was more than two years before we started filtering back into doing things that weren't Magic.
Harry Potter had pretty much the same impact on books and, well, kind of, everything. Harry Potter changed the landscape of popular culture and reading and movies and... like I said, everything. It was a, ready for it?, game changer.
The interesting thing to me about both of these phenomena is that neither creator created with the intention of "taking over the world." They made an excellent product, and it, the taking over the world, just happened. In fact, Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic, wasn't even trying to make/sell Magic. He had this other game, RoboRally, that he was trying to sell to WotC, but the guy at WotC told him what they really wanted was something portable. Garfield decided on a card game.
So... the first way to win at Magic: have a good idea and make it into the best product you can.
Here are some of my favorite cards from the Beta edition of Magic:
It's a great card, but it also went well with my whole elf thing from Warhammer (in which I played wood elves). No, I'm not going to explain how those things go together.
Not incredibly powerful but nice art and, again, elf.
The first Mox I ever pulled from a pack. The pack of cards cost $2.49; the Mox Emerald is currently worth over $500.00. I own this.
The most expensive card in Magic at up to $2000.00. Yes, I own this, too.
One of the best pieces of art from the initial series of cards.