The 90's Black Magic Scare

Will playing mono-black really lead you into eternal damnation? Pull up your hoodie, blast your ears with your favorite old school death metal album, and join Sancho on a stagger down memory lane to a time when angry grandmas were scary enough to guide the creative choices of Wizards of the Coast.

"Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"

"What've you got?"

Not to compare myself to a young Brando, since people would probably argue that I look more like an old Apocalypse Now-Brando with each passing year – as in heavy set, bald, sweaty, and rambling. But I was definitely a wild one in my teens. Spending a year attending high school in the American Midwest, I shocked my devout host family arriving with Wild Growth hair and wearing a denim-vest covered in patches and pins signaling my own Fanatical Devotions which were to a variety of heavy metal and thrash bands.

Bedevil Image
To quote Boros legend Tajic freely from the flavor text of the beautifully Seb McKinnon illustrated Rakdos card Bedevil: "It's easy to get taken in by the spectacle, to enjoy a bit of naughty amusement. But make no mistake: Heavy metal and Magic cards are a danger."

Rhythm of the Wild One

Not least shocking to the kind folk of the Bible Belt in 1989 were names such as Slayer, King Diamond, and Helloween. These were bands that they associated with Worship of devils and demons in a very real and scary way involving human sacrifice, and the mere exposure to their music was certain to end in (also very real) Damnation with a side order of Fire and Brimstone. In the liberal and irreverent Denmark where I grew up, nobody took the lyrics of Slayer serious – and just like the metal bands themselves, people considered their gory imagery as entertainment for a Captive Audience in the vein of Stephen King books or Freddy Krueger movies.

Being a 16-year-old Frontline Rebel, I found the superstitions of the Midwest mildly entertaining, and I just could not wrap my head around the fact that these people really believed in demons being summoned up from hell to our earthy plane and performing all sorts of Pernicious Deeds. This lack of sensitivity partly founded in my own disbelief in the sincerity of the beliefs of my hosts even led me to ironically purchase a book named Satanism – The Seduction of America's Youth. In this work, by one of the tv- and radio-evangelists of the time, a Preacher, Exorcist, and Witch Hunter, parents could get all their worst fears about their rebellious teens confirmed, or they could be instilled with newfound fears of what their off-mainstream kid was up to. Spoiler: The Pious Warrior had no doubt that they were being Brainwashed to summon demons by human sacrifice and ready to sign any Contract from Below without reading the fine print.

Bob Larsen circa 1980
If tv evangelist Bob Larsen had looked more like he does in this photo back in the 1980's I am sure he could have turned a lot of metalheads into his followers.

A Rebel's Devotion to Black

The book even included a list of ten major tells that parents should look out for, only a few of which would be a sure tell, that the kid was in league with Satan himself and would never make it through Heaven's Gates without Divine Intervention. I prided myself having a hit on eight or nine of the ten Warning signs. The one I didn't qualify for, I grudgingly admit, was playing Dungeons & Dragon. Naturally, I had heard of the game, and found it mildly tickling my Curiosity, but being a longhaired rebel, I just could not really identify with the nerd culture of the 80's that role playing games were a part of. I did however declare my intent to give RPGs a chance to score a clean ten out of ten, since this Righteous Authority on the subject had made it so clear that this was an important part of a rebel's identity.

Bolt Thrower
Few bands managed to bridge the chasm between the realms of Death Metal and tabletop and roleplaying games the way that Bolt Thrower did in close cooperation with Games Workshop.

Returning home to Denmark in 1990, I was too busy rebelling against school and playing in bands with names and song titles that could shock even some of my liberal minded countrymen, to follow up on my Diabolic Intent to look into RPGs. And not until 1992 did my circle of friends begin to include people with an interest in games. A new friend told me for hours about the worlds of Warhammer and WH40, and I found it rich and entertaining and even dipped my toe into a single Warhammer campaign and various Games Workshop tabletop games. Then came 1993 and the arrival of Magic, which was just the game for me. A rule-based game with the flavor of fantasy, but, a test of logical and analytical skills paired with the ability to keep cool when hit by random bad luck rather than the wishy-washy open-endedness of RPGs. This was the game for me.

Payday for Lord of the Pit

With my musical tastes having graduated to death metal and grind core, and with bands such as Morbid Angel, Darkthrone and Autopsy spinning on the turntable, I did not even take notice that some Magic cards were decorated with pentagrams and had gory illustrations and names referencing demonic worship etc.

Morbid Angel Album Cover
Did you say Magic cards are bad for me? Sorry, couldn't quite hear you with Morbid Angel blasting out "Bleed for the Devil" and "Evil Spells" on the stereo.

Especially when it came to the spells of black magic, I found it completely natural that there would be a demon named Lord of the Pit and that he would of course demand sacrifices and that there would indeed be a card just named Sacrifice with an illustration depicting a human being sacrificed. The only thing that bothered me about cards like those two were how little they did in the way of winning me games. Other cards such as Demonic Tutor and Unholy Strength made more of an impression, but again this was due to their effect on the game, and not because they sported satanic pentagrams as part of their illustrations.

An Angry Mob Gathers

Back across the Atlantic, in the homeland of Magic the Gathering, the game and the names and illustrations of the cards played right into the continuous satanic scare and its profiteers ever on the lookout for new targets and content for their ether-borne sermons and the lucrative book market. And, in some communities, parents eager to demonstrate their Piety and Righteousness (and at the same time wash their own hands off any misdeeds of their kids being due to their own negligence or harsh parenting styles) stood ready to join the Crusade of the tv and radio preachers to get those horrible satanic cards "out of our schools".

Living in the safety of old forgiving Europe, I knew nothing of this grand assault with the Wrath of God coming down on my new hobby, happily slinging my spells across the kitchen table as I were while trying to come up with ways to make that Lord of the Pit viable. But something was odd, when 4th Edition arrived at the local store in fancy colorful foil packs.

Unholy Strength Unholy Strength Unholy Strength
Ok, Douglas Shuler's piece for Unholy Strength was perhaps not great art, and the pale Revised Edition printing did nothing to lift it up, but even with its richer colors, 4th Edition just looks plain odd after being retouched by the censor's brush.

Something was missing. For example, the good old Demonic Tutor was no longer at our service. But even stranger things had happened. The guy feeling very strong on the typical Douglas Shuler illustration (someone should investigate what is up with those shoulder pads of his characters – see Power Surge and Benalish Hero) of Unholy Strength still looked sorta strong, but he also had become a lot less unholy with a very plain and boring background replacing the former flaming pentagram that had been Purged in an act of Censorship.

Circle of Protection: Art

Having no idea of the fears of a young and yet to be firmly established company when faced with the Blackmail and Anger of American parents and grandparents, the whole thing just looked too damned silly to me, and I was about to quit playing Magic because of WotC being complete sellouts more concerned with the opinions of people who would never become their customers no matter how many concessions they were to make than with their actual existing customer base. And while I was fine with Sacrifice getting booted out of the core set after Revised Edition, I still had to risk opening a booster with a Lord of the Pit unusable bulk rare all the way through 5th Edition.

The controversy which was focused around an elementary school in a small community – read the articles here and here to judge for yourself – put a scare into WotC for years to come, and the company walked on egg shells for a while. Eventually, the influence of anti-MtG parents' groups waned, or they found new targets to Purge with their Holy Light.

At the time of writing zero Magic cards have been printed referencing Satan, and even with 23 devils and more than 100 demons none have been known to cause Lost Souls to Succumb to Temptation. It just Never Happened. And, as the cards mentioned is article clearly shows, white is a much more dangerous color than black, and also the most rebellious since a whopping 43 of the 50 printed or errata'ed cards with the creature type Rebel are white.

Lord of the Pit Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
One is a monstrous demon demanding sacrifices, and the other is a scholar who eschews violence and a member of the Gatewatch, but the jury is still out on, which of the two you should be damned eternally for playing.

What do you think? Will playing black set you up for a date with Hell's Caretaker or is Eternal Thirst reserved for those who play Teferi, Hero of Dominaria? Feel free to leave your thoughts on the subject or any good combo's involving Lord of the Pit in the comment section below.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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deackk(2019-02-28 10:21)

Best magic article in years! I didn't realize about this until you talked about it. I didn't know I loved old magic black cards because of this.. In fact new cards needs more about the old style, Wizards tend to take magic in some extrange direction more similar to pokemon, and I hate that.

Hiobs(2019-02-27 11:58)

Lol they Selfcensor Unholy Strength , didnt know that. Country of the Free ...

Spark(2019-02-27 11:58)

A pleasure to read, invoking a mild portion of hilarity over the 'kind people of the Bible Belt'. Those fears sound so incredibly unreal for someone who grew up during the 90s in the middle of Europe.