As you may have noticed from the different life counters I use that can be seen in the pictures, I've always been interested in life counters in magic and this interest was renewed after I played more and more OS. The spark was really lit after Marten gave me one of these as a thanks for all of the tournaments I had organized and this blog, and I acquired some more counters after that. I will be updating this page with any new info you might have, so send me any information or pictures you might have of lifecounters not yet documented here :)
Looking into the life counters on the internet, I found there was no real guide to life counters or anything, just a couple of YouTube video's that say something about life counters, but don't even come close to a complete history of life counters in the early days of Magic. So I thought it would be nice to do my own personal history of life counters and also give an overview of Oldschool magic life counters as a whole as far as I could discover.
I started playing Magic somewhere in the summer of 1994 with cards from a friend of mine. I was very quickly hooked on the game and went to buy some cards myself in the gamestore called 'The Joker' in Utrecht, which exists to this day. I was advised to buy a giftbox set, as it would also give me a box to carry around a couple decks in. I bought the gift box and a couple of boosters. Guys in the gamestore at the time were telling me that I was just late, otherwise I could have bought Legends boosters. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what Legends boosters were. In this box there was also nice bag with the Magic logo embroidered on it, with some blue beads in 2 colors, which you could use to keep track of your life total. We used the dark ones for 5 life, the light ones for 1.
Later on, I bought a kingsize D20 because it looked better and it had the color scheme that came with the special Vampire the Masquerade roleplaying dice that Chessex had brought out. I also bought 2 similar red ones, even though I have no idea why. By then, I had also figured out that playing for ante was somewhat interesting, but I thought the idea of losing cards out of your deck was stupid because it would take too much time to get them back. There was no internet back then, so you could not just get a new Sengir Vampire if you needed one. But I did entice some opponents to play for their lifecounter die, and I won some over the time. I also got into the habit of asking for a D20 extra in trades, so I could play for these instead of losing my first personal dies.
|the spoils of playing for ante with the ones I bought.|
The use of the dies continued for a while, when I encountered someone who had a different lifecounter. It was a metal disk that you could move around life points from 1-20 and 21-40 on the back. He had no idea where it came from because he had gotten it from buying some one's collection. I liked it very much and after some talking a traded it for some cards worth in the range of about 7-8 guilders. This was quite a lot because for 10 you could get a dual land. This was my first contact with a Reaper lifecounter. I also have it to this day and I used it on many occasions and tournaments.
|The wizard with the orb in Red. Not mine, unfortunately :)|
These were either unpainted, like my disk, or coated with one of magic's colors, like the red one above. I have seen the unpainted, red, black, blue and green ones in real life or for sale on eBay. Supposedly white ones also exist, but I have not seen them so far. There are also versions with a black disk. Here are some examples I found over time:
|First version of the claw, unpainted (image from the internet)|
Although these may exist in different colors, I've never seem them coated in the same way as the wizard with the orb.
I also have a Domur lifecounter, but that is on the 1995 version of the lifecounters. 1994 was not over yet though, because in that year there were also other versions of the lifecounters brought out that were painted differently, with the numbers unpainted:
|Actual gold? Yes, actual gold.|
These must have been a one time thing, and probably way too expensive for most gamers to spend their money on. There have been some in circulation though.
|This took al long time to find an example of a white one, but I finally saw one for sale on a site somewhere.|
|The 1995 2 disk version with the cleric|
I could have bought one of these a couple of years back, but told myself I already had enough lifecounters :(
What is interesting about the figurine called a cleric, is that there is also a version of this figure which is called Vlad the Impaler, the only difference being that their flail is straight:
|Vlad the Impaler (reaper website)|
|This is one with the figure Erin of the Flame on it, I've only seen this once|
|Erin as shown on the reaper website|
There is also a version with a monk on top, of which I've seen only one in real life so far. Roy Neijland is it's owner:
|Roy's 1995 reaper single disk with Monk statue|
My personal favorite of the 1995 figures is Sidrith Sword Sister, which is on top of my near mint purple version of the 1995 dual disk:
|My personal Domur on the left, Sidrith on the right|
I suppose the purple version gets on board with the long term joke that a 6th color, purple, would be added to the MTG color wheel. It has been resurfaced several times in the last 25 years or so.
|My personal demon claws with orbs, one with black base, pained, one with the red base, unpainted|
I've seen some rumours on a forum that there are more versions of the lifecounter with the characters Galladon or Elena on top, but since I've never seen a picture or one in real life, I suspect these were never made in reality. If you have one of these, I would love to have a picture.
|Galladon and Elena. I suppose they would fit, but I don't think they were ever made as a lifecounter.|
Over time, people seem to have lost or traded some of the parts of their reaper counters. You see parts of them online, or combined in combinations that were never really sold:
|the 14 carat gold version with a black disk instead of the gold disk|
|A 1995 figure and dial with both the single and dual disks. Be aware that the dial only fits either the dual disk or single disk version, but not both, so there is something missing here.|
|Red 1996 version 1 abacus|
These were made in all 5 colors, and unlike the Reaper counters, I have seen these in real life in all 5 colors of magic. The first version was made with the deckmaster subtext under The Duelist, like in the picture above. The second version left out that line, like with my personal white one:
|My personal Duelist Abacus lifecounter, a version 2 in white|
|A 1996 version 2 in black|
I acquired my white one in 2017 from someone who was cleaning out their collection and have used it in several OS tournaments. I thought about getting all 5 colors, until I found out these go for as much 90 up to a 125 euro's. Even though I've never actually seen anyone pay that much for one (mine was bought for 18 euros), I do see them for sale for those prices. Some of these have been on Ebay for 2 years or longer, so I'm not sure how serious I should take these prices, but they do seem quite expensive.
|My personal counter, which came with the InQuest I bought.|
I put my personal one in a thick sleeve and taped it shut, it has been like this since 1996. I have seen several other OS players using this lifecounter and it is by far the cheapest lifecounter you can buy that one could consider oldschool. I've seen it online for as cheap as $3. It also fits nicely into a deckbox just like the Duelist Abacus, but it is a quite a bit flatter, so it fits more easily for most people. I have used this lifecounter for daily usage until I came to a Dutch Gaming convention named Ducosim, which also exists until this day. On this convention, I met an older man who had made it his craft to create lifecounters like the Inquest one, from cards that you provided to him. He had a special metal toolkit especially made for this purpose. I could not resist and had some of my own made:
As far as I can tell, it comes in 2 colors, black and gold. I have one of these on the way with the help of fellow OS player Fulco, and I should have mine pretty soon so I can try it out.
The Reaper InQuest lifecounter with my Reaper Scrye lifecounter. The counter is from the Pro Counter product line, as were other Reaper lifecounters from 1996.
|This has been for sale forever, so I would not take this price too seriously..|
I have one of these still in its package, but since it had been in a basement for over 10 years when I bought it a couple of years back, it does have quite some wear from the moist:
|My 2 pro counters. I should have bought the eye as well, but like said before, I told myself the idea was stupid. Now I think it was stupid I did not buy it..|
The Skull was available in black and blue as it's main colors, but you could get different versions of colors of the eyes:
Since there are black versions with white eyes, I would not be surprised if there are versions with blue or green eyes, but I've never seen pictures of them, or seen them in real life.
It may be possible though, that the iris was available in all 5 colors of Magic, since this one seems to have a green iris. It could also be the lighting though.
|My Own wizard of Energy|
It could also be that they were just sold in different years because there was some stock leftover. The disks referred to on the internet clearly say they are called talismans and are from 1998:
Wizards seems to have been on this, because their trademark is recognized on the front of the counter. Although I've never seen one of these in real life, they seem well made, although I think the numbers are a bit too close to each other.
After adding them to the Beatdown and Deckmaster box sets, they were also sold as a packages and became more common as spindowns were released with most of the new sets these days.
|I got this one mainly because of the Rebecca artwork, but noticed this might be the first dual life counter|
I have one of these, and it is actually quite nice. It's quite heavy and says it's made out of steel. From the weight, I think that might be true.
|for only the base? You've got to be kidding me..|
|It seems to happen more often though. This was also the first blue single disk I found on the internet.|
|Just one thought here: Hahahahahahahaha (hysterical tone)|
Just because we spend a lot of money on rare cards does not mean you can get us to pay that kind of money for an incomplete lifecounter. Or a complete one. I wouldn't pay that much for it, and neither should you. It's nice, but not that nice. And, if you are not that critical of it and you're a bit lucky, you can find a damaged one for a lot less. This is the cheapest one I ever saw:
Right now, if you are looking for one, I think one of the later versions of the single or dual disk can be had for somewhere between 50 and 125 euros. Which is still a lot of money, but they are really nice.
|The modern version of the Duelist Abacus. I have one of these, and it works fine|
If you want more of the original feel like the Scrye Disk counters, you can get one of these:
|I got one of these to see, and it looks and feels nice enough|
I spotted these on Etsy in 2022, and the also mimic the metal disks: