Yes, it's true: the inventor of Magic: the Gathering proposed to his wife by playing a special card during a game of Magic. That card was, obviously, “Proposal”. Hard information about this card remains elusive even though most of the story's been published in various sources. I have so far been unable to run down the original posting I made about the card and the event, but here's a summary long after the fact.
When Magic: the Gathering first came out, Richard Garfield was teaching mathematics at Whitman College in Walla Walla. One day, sometime in October of 1993 I believe, I got a call from him.
“Can you make one Magic card?” he asked.
“I don't think Carta Mundi can easily fire up the room-sized Heidelberg presses for a single card. Even if we ran just one sheet, what would we do with the other 120? What do you want to do?” I replied.
Well, what he wanted to do was propose marriage to his girlfriend. He'd asked Lily (the girlfriend, now the wife) who her favorite Magic artist was, and she'd picked Quinton Hoover. Richard had already checked with Quinton; he was quite willing to create a special piece of artwork for the card. The question was, could I (the production manager at Wizards of the Coast) make the actual card for Richard to put in his deck? “No problem. I can create the card with the actual frame and symbols and stuff, have an Iris print made, and bond that to the face of a regular Magic card. It should look nearly identical to a production card.”
Richard was planning on heading back East for Thanksgiving. That's when he wanted to have the card. I got the artwork in the mail about a week before, scanned it, dropped it into place with the frame, symbols (casting cost is four white mana), and text, and had one sheet of images made. I made 9, not 1, since I could fit nine on one 8.5x11 sheet, and that was the smallest size I could have printed anyway, and I wanted some spare copies in case I screwed up.
There are actually two different variants, by the way. The picture (which Richard and Lily have asked not be published, which is why you don't see it here) shows Richard (looking very gallant) proposing to Lily on bended knee. I tinkered with the artwork a bit. I believe four of them have the artwork just inside the frame like all magic cards. With the other five, Richard's knee is actually resting on the bevelled frame itself.
I sprayed the sheet with glue, and carefully dropped some land cards into place. One of them was a bit too high, and one a bit too low, so two of the nine cards were off-center. The other seven came out much better. They're a bit shinier than regular Magic cards, but otherwise extremely authentic looking.
I finished this just a day or so before Richard was headed back for the holidays. He had to go through Sea-Tac Airport on his way, so at some dreadfully early hour of the morning, I met him there and handed over the cards.
According to what he told me later, he just put one in the deck he was playing. It was all white, because how else was he going to cast a WWWW spell before he won or lost the game? Unfortunately, the first three games he played, he didn't draw the card. The fourth game, he did get it in hand, but didn't have the mana yet to cast it, and was losing.
Lily had done plenty of playtesting of Magic, as well as had played it after it was released, and she asked Richard if he wanted to concede this game. “We both know there's no white card you could pull that will let you win.” But, no, he wanted to play the game out, oddly enough.
What happened afterward to Richard and Lily is obvious, and well known. But what happened to the cards? My understanding is that the shared deck created by the casting of Proposal is still intact. All the other copies of Proposal were given to family members, except for two. One of them was given to Quinton, and one was given to me. (Mine, by the way, is a Variation 1 artwork card. Quinton told me that his was a Variation 2, with Richard's knee kneeling on the frame.)
Regrettably, somebody stole Quinton's copy during a tour in Japan. Its whereabouts are currently unknown. This happened after I left Wizards, and I destroyed the original files after making Richard's cards, but I understand that Richard arranged for a replacement (I believe a replica) for Quinton. Mine is locked in a safe. I didn't used to keep it in a safe, but then somebody made me an offer to buy it. While I chose not to part with it, I also learned what it's worth to somebody else. While Proposal isn't the rarest Magic card, I can safely say it's the most valuable.
So if I have one of these oh-so-exotic cards, why didn't I bother to scan it and put an image here so you can see it? Because Richard and Lily asked those of us with Proposals if we'd mind not publishing the image. It is rather personal, after all. Should you meet me in person one day, and I happen to have the card on me at the time, I'll be happy to show it to you then.
I have also since learned, to my amusement, that some people have seen a purported Proposal card published in a magazine, or auctioned on eBay, or whatnot. If you think you've see the image, I'll tell you this: both the real artwork and the bogus artwork that I've seen feature a man kneeling in vaguely Renaissance-like clothing. However, the bogus artwork has a huge poofy collar around the man's neck, whereas the real one does not. There's lots of other differences, but that's one that's really easy to spot.
Since writing the above I have, with Richard's blessing, sold my Proposal card to a collector. To the best of my knowledge, it's currently somewhere in Europe. Richard's been divorced and remarried, and my sentimental attachment to the card had faded somewhat after two decades. I'm told Quinton's card has also resurfaced. Also, it's no longer necessarily the most valuable, if what I've heard about what some alpha Lotuses have sold for is true. Yikes.