First published in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast, and created by Richard Garfield, Magic the Gathering is a collectible trading card game, and one of my biggest hobbies. With an array of thousands of fantasy-style creatures, spells, enchantments, and artifacts, Magic is the oldest and most successful CCG around.
I was first introduced to the game in my sophomore year of high school. A few of my friends played it at lunch, and the moment I touched a deck I was hooked. I scrounged up whatever money I had and bought a starter deck. For the next three years, Magic became a lunch ritual among my friends, and we slowly drew ourselves a circle of fellow players and played every chance we could.
Many people will ask, “Of all the things to spend your money on, why throw it at pieces of pretty cardboard?” Because the game is fun. And it’s helped me find friends, a hobby, and learn to be an overall better player when it comes to video games and other board games. “But how?” Well, it all boils down to the heart of Magic the Gathering cards. Strategy.
You see, there’s a powerful, pervasive element of strategy to every deck of Magic cards. There are thousands of cards to choose from, and you have to figure out how to distill 60 (about 40, actually, without the mana sources to spend on actually playing cards) into a winning plan. Between the monsters, spells, enchantments, and artifacts, your mission as the player is to defeat your opponent, who’s also planning to win.
For instance, your plan could be to simply beat the tar out of your opponent through sheer force. You can choose to only use monsters with the strongest attack power. Or, you can use spells to surprise your opponent. “Oh, you’re not going to block my weakest monster? Well, now it’s the biggest monster on the field.” However, your opponent’s plan might be to weaken your monsters, or to kill them outright. The options in Magic are practically endless. I’ve seen deck ideas based solely off of Merfolk (mermaids), spiders, elves, beasts, dogs… Heck, there’s even a deck based on creating an army of squirrels. With a little imagination, and the right cards, you can make a deck based on any specific theme, strategy, or even a singular card. There’s even five different colors, basically factions, of cards. Each has their own theme, depending on the combination of colors. While some elements of each color are shared with each other, the choices you make on what colors to include in your deck drastically affect how you plan to play it.
Customizing a deck is one of my favorite parts of Magic. When I started, I focused on having the biggest creatures on the field, and trying to play them as quickly and cheaply as possible. The next deck I made was completely different. Instead of creatures, I used mostly spell cards that ‘milled’ my opponent’s deck, forcing them to throw away cards from their deck until they couldn’t draw another card. Since then, I’ve built a variety of decks, all with specific goals.
The Magic community is something to behold, too. I’ve met very few players who weren’t willing to help out with deck strategies, teach a new player, or who were just generally unpleasant people. There’s so much support for players that it’s one of the easiest card games to get into. Sure, the rules can be complex, but the basic mechanics of the game are easy to get a grasp of, and a player can start from scratch and learn to play within a few games.
Which brings me to my next point, the game is truly simple to get into, but a challenge to be great at. One aspect of the game that I have a love-hate relationship with is the variance of each game. Your mana, what you use to cast your cards, is a part of your deck. There are games when you will draw next to no mana, and other games when you’ll only draw mana. This can ruin your chances of winning, but also forces you to adapt and learn. It shows you what you need to change, and teaches you how to become a better player and deck builder. It’s an amazing feeling when your deck works perfectly, and it’s just as amazing to watch someone else’s deck click together and beat your own.
This challenge attracts a ton of professional players who’re looking for a challenge. Deck builds, or ‘brews’, are constantly being shared and invented. Strategies that didn’t quite work one set are suddenly powerful in the next. Competitions are held every year, and they attract challenge-seekers to state, national, and even international stages. Local shops hold events, and clubs are formed for the sole purpose of playing the game.
As if an abundance of cards, deep strategy, and a wonderful community weren’t enough, Magic also has one of the deepest, most immersive and expansive lore of any game I’ve every played. There are entire books based on the lore, and each set is driven by an overarching storyline. The characters each player is embodying when they play the game are called ‘Planeswalkers’, who are essentially incredibly powerful wizards who travel (or ‘walk’) between different planes, or worlds. Each set is the player experiencing a specific battle or story that these Planeswalkers exist in. The artwork is incredible as well, and each card’s art is actually a painting created by an artist. Combine the artwork, stories, and background lore (often presented in flavor text at the bottom of some cards), and you have a vivid, immersive game that has inspired video games, books, and even other trading card games. A newer TCG, Force of Will, was even based on a Magic card of the same name.
All these reasons are why all the money I’ve put into the game is worthwhile. It’s become a big part of my life, and a staple for many people’s lives. It’s a fun, challenging, and engaging hobby to have. While I’ve tried other card games, like Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon TCG, and Force of Will, Magic has been, and always will be, my favorite. It’s expansive, challenging, and has a wonderful community. It’s a game built to get people to play together, and I’m so glad I was introduced to it.