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In February 2014, the Bitcoin exchange site MtGox began collapsing due to an unclear mix of mismanagement, theft, and hacking. The collapse was widely discussed since MtGox was one of the first & oldest operating Bitcoin exchanges (founded by Jed McCaleb in July 2010), and had once been the leading exchange. Many comments on the matter were gibes at the Bitcoin community for using a “site for trading playing cards”, a reference to the site’s supposed origins as a Magic: The Gathering trading card game site: these comments irritated me as they were an irrelevant genetic fallacy (its origins said nothing about whether it was a secure exchange or not, especially after its sale) and were probably wrong to begin with as I had been unable to find any evidence that MtGox ever sold any Magic cards.

I went back to my notes, did further research into the mtgox.com domain, still failed to find any convincing evidence of an operating Magic exchange, and wrote up my findings for Wikipedia (reasoning that if I could correct the record on Wikipedia, the correction would eventually percolate out to the rest of the world). Then, because I had found a number of emails for McCaleb, I thought I might as well dot my i-s and cross my t-s and run my findings by McCaleb himself - he would know, after all. To my surprise, he instead confirmed that the origin story was partially true.

Below are the full emails for the record.

February

16

Initial request (subject: “Mtgox.com: did it ever actually sell Magic cards? comment requested”):

On Wikipedia, we are discussing the accuracy of the universally-made
claim that your Mtgox.com sold Magic cards before it was a Bitcoin
exchange:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Mt.Gox#Possible_citogenesis_concerning_whether_MtGox_ever_hosted_an_MtG_trading_site

As the ultimate authority on what Mtgox was or was not doing in the
years before its sale, any public statement on the issue would be
greatly appreciated.

McCaleb:

yes I used the domain name for a magic card trading site years before.
but the code for the bitcoin exchange was completely different. I just
had the domain laying around.

Reply:

Thanks for replying, but the question was a little different: we know
the mtgox.com domain had a landing page discussing a forthcoming Magic
card trading site (because a 2007 page is in the Internet Archive),
but we can't find any evidence that there was any
actual trading going on. Did anyone ever actually trade card for card
or money for card on Mtgox.com?

17

yeah they did

Request for clarification:

Huh - I'm surprised since the anti-card case seemed strong; but if you
say it, it must be true.

Could you give some details on this, for posterity?

When did the card part open up, and when did you close it? What
exactly did it do? (Some people suggested it was for not physical
cards but something to do with the _Magic: The Gathering Online_
software; ie, Mtgox is not short for "'Magic The Gathering' online
exchange" but "'Magic The Gathering Online' exchange".) How many
people used it and how much business was there? Why did you decide to
close it?

McCaleb:

> When did the card part open up, and when did you close it?

Probably around 2006? It was only up for 3 months maybe.

> What
> exactly did it do? (Some people suggested it was for not physical
> cards but something to do with the _Magic: The Gathering Online_
> software; ie, Mtgox is not short for "'Magic The Gathering' online
> exchange" but "'Magic The Gathering Online' exchange".)

Yes it was for the online version of magic. It allowed cards to be
bought and sold like stocks.

> How many
> people used it and how much business was there? Why did you decide to
> close it?

idk not that many. It could have gotten bigger if I had put more time
into it. but ultimately it wasn't worth my time.

24

On Sun, Feb 16, 2014 at 9:53 PM, Jed McCaleb wrote:
> but the code for the bitcoin exchange was completely different.

I believe you. A Magic exchange doesn't seem like it would have much
in common with a cryptocurrency codebase. And in any case, early Mtgox
didn't seem like it'd been worked on for over 4 years - for example,
using MD5 for passwords was not the sign of a mature high-quality
implementation. (It also amuses me to see people claim that you must
secretly be Satoshi Nakamoto - as if Satoshi would ever endanger his
users by using MD5 for anything...)

On Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 10:25 PM, Jed McCaleb wrote:
> On Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 9:13 AM, Gwern Branwen <[email protected]> wrote:
>> When did the card part open up, and when did you close it?
> Probably around 2006? It was only up for 3 months maybe.

Only 3 months would explain why the IA didn't get a snapshot of the
homepage when it was operating, yeah. (Incidentally, I think your year
is off: the snapshot in September 2007
https://web.archive.org/web/20070918015632/http://mtgox.com/ describe
it as forthcoming, so maybe Oct-Dec 2007?)

> Yes it was for the online version of magic. It allowed cards to be
> bought and sold like stocks.

Ah. No wonder I couldn't find anyone discussing the physical cards
they'd bought off Mtgox.com! It really wasn't physical cards at all.

> idk not that many. It could have gotten bigger if I had put more time
> into it. but ultimately it wasn't worth my time.

Fair enough. Can't argue with the results.

I think that answers most of my questions, so I'll forward these
emails to the relevant Wikimedia Foundation mailing list or put them
up somewhere maybe, and update the Wikipedia article. Maybe something
like this:

> In late 2006, programmer Jed McCaleb (eDonkey2000, Overnet, Ripple),
> thought of building a website for users of the _Magic The Gathering Online_
> service to let them trade cards like stocks. In January 2007, he purchased
> the domain name 'mtgox.com', short for "'Magic The Gathering Online' eXchange";
> sometime around late 2007, the service went live for around 3 months before
> McCaleb moved on to other projects. He reused the domain name in 2009 to
> advertise his card game _The Far Wilds_. In July 2010, he read about
> Bitcoin on Slashdot, and decided that the nascent Bitcoin community needed
> an exchange for trading Bitcoin & regular currencies; a week later, after
> writing an exchange website, he launched it while reusing the mtgox.com
> domain name. [etc etc]

I think that covers everything important while not being misleading or
discussing trivia.

At this point, I decided I had taken up enough of his time and could write a short version of the true events for the Wikipedia article.