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The History of Magical Cards March 5, 2013

Posted by James in : all, random , trackback

The idea of having monsters and spells on cards is not entirely new. Magic: the Gathering didn’t give us the first cards featuring monster and spell cards. Games involving monsters and spells pretty much started with Dungeons and Dragons (1974), and cards were made for that game quite early on.

However, the first thing that comes to mind when many people hear of “Magic cards” are tarot cards.

Tarot cards

Tarot was originally made in the 15th century, which was basically just a deck of playing cards that included some random cards with impressive artwork. Then in the 18th century people started to use them to tell fortunes. The trump cards (featuring artwork) didn’t say what they meant on them, but people could ascribe any meaning to them that they wanted. One of the most famous tarot cards is probably “the Devil,” which was not even included in the original Tarot deck — it was added in the 20th century. Perhaps we can think of some other more interesting cards that could be included rather than the traditional cards.


Dungeons & Dragons is a roleplaying game where people tell stories and use rules to limit the impact each player can have on the world. Dice are used to determine the outcome of various actions and some characters have certain skills and abilities to give them a special advantage. Remember how you used to play “pretend” with friends as a kid? Roleplaying games are a lot like that except you can’t just do whatever you want and disputes are resolved via dice rolls. You can’t just say you defeated an enemy willy nilly. You could actually die because each character is vulnerable and has limited power.

Dungeon! was a board game spin-off based on Dungeons and Dragons that was released in 1975. Spell and monster cards were included as game pieces. The cards were in color, but they were nothing like trading cards. They were more like “tokens.”
dungeon spell cards

dungeon monster cards

ADnD Monster Cards

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons monster cards were originally released in 1983 to be used for quick reference to the actual stats of the monsters. Each monster has different hit points, damage, armor class, and so on. The monster cards had a colorful illustrated image of the monster on the front and the stats on the back.
monster cards

monster cards back


HeroQuest was a board game released in 1989 by Games Workshop. It was a lot like Dungeons and Dragons, but the rules were a lot easier. There were also a ton of cards included — for monsters, spells, treasure, artifacts, and heroes. Most of the cards had a generic colored image on the back side with the actual unique card on the front side. The front side was usually black and white (or brown and white). However, the monster cards were in color.
hero quest spells

hero quest

ADnD Trading Cards

Trading cards were made for “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” starting in 1991. These cards were very similar to the 1983 monster cards, but various treasure cards were included along with the monsters. I also know these are laminated, but I don’t know if the earlier monster cards were laminated. (Any cards made by TSR after this point were also laminated.) There were 750 cards included in the first sets (1991), another 750 cards in the second set (1992), and 495 cards in the third set (1993).

Decks of spell cards containing around 400 cards were made for Wizards and Clerics in 1992.



In 1992 TSR released a new version of DragonQuest, a somewhat simple RPG inspired by Dungeons and Dragons that came with a game board and several game cards for spells, monsters, heroes, and treasure. The cards were almost exactly the same as the ADND trading cards.

dragon quest

dragon quest

A board game similar to DragonQuest was made in 1993 along with nearly identical cards called “DragonStrike.” Noah Andwiler (Spoony) made a video review for DragonStrike here.

Magic: the Gathering was also released in 1993. This game was also probably inspired at least partly by Dungeons and Dragons, but the cards are not optional. Instead, the entire game is played using nothing but cards… and tokens, counters, etc. The cards featured great original artwork and looked much more professional than anything we had seen before.



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