This year marks the 25th anniversary of the world-renowned card game Magic: The Gathering. Designed and manufactured by Wizards of the Coast, Magic has been printed in 11 languages, features more than 15,000 unique cards and acts as a staple for gaming stores across the world. In 2016, there were more than 1 million registered Magic players in the Planeswalker Points system, a free service that keeps track of player performance at sanctioned tournaments.
Still, the million-plus registered players on Planeswalker Points does not include casual players like myself who play with friends and have no desire to enter big-name competitions. Magic can be as much or as little of your life as you like because it has options for players of every skill level and dedication. It’s a great example of a wholesome, interaction-based hobby that thrives off a massive community of players.
After 25 years, the Magic community remains active in and around Oklahoma City, and there are numerous Magic events every week.
What is Magic?
If you’re a stranger to Magic, I hope you’ll read on and learn a bit about the qualities that make it the premiere trading card game in the world. The game blends a high-fantasy aesthetic with a set of rules that keeps every game fresh and exciting.
At its core, Magic is a deck-building strategy game. Players construct decks of 40 or 60 cards from their own card collections or from new card packages opened at tournaments. The game’s goal is simple: Reduce your opponent’s life total from 20 to zero before he or she can do the same to you.
While its core rules are straightforward, Magic thrives because many cards allow the player to bend or break the rules to their advantage. The huge variety of cards makes games wild affairs filled with strategy and surprise, and decks can be built around different themes with intentional combination mechanisms.
A beautiful game
You don’t have to be a Magic player to appreciate the artwork on every card. Fantasy landscapes, monsters and heroes make every card something to behold, and I highly recommend looking through card art. You will not be disappointed.
Magic is primarily about competition between players, but Wizards of the Coast puts lots of time and effort into the lore behind every card. New cards come in “sets,” which are akin to seasons of a show. Some sets have their own theme and story to tell, with new cards representing characters and events in that story. While the lore is not the focal point of the game, it does create a delightful continuity between cards and makes the hobby that much more enjoyable.
Magic’s newest set, Core Set 2019, was released July 13.
Magic breeds community
A few weeks back, I sat down with two employees of Wizard’s Asylum Comics and Games, Scott Delsigne and Jacob Wilson. We chatted about how Magic brings people together, and they had the following to say about the game:
Scott: Most people up here, if you’re new, you’ll just find people who are happy to have someone play with them. As long as you’re not a jerk, they’ll accept you way into the crowd really quick.
Jacob: Really close friends, we’ll mess with each other, you know, stuff like that. But a new person coming in here, no one’s going to be mean to them. We really try to keep it low-key and chill.
Scott: And it’s safe to say we have all walks of life here.
Jacob: That’s always been really important.
Scott: Not only through race and gender, sexuality and everything. There’s all sorts of people that play, and I’ve never seen anybody give ‘em a hard time or even blink an eye. They accept you for who you are.
Jacob: We’re serious about it being a no-bullying, complete-tolerance kinda thing.
Three weekends ago, I went to a Magic pre-release event. These events occur before new card sets are released and allow players early access to new cards. Game shops distribute packs of cards, and players have an hour to build a deck before playing in a casual tournament.
Players entered the event in pairs for a version of Magic called two-headed giant, where players face each other in teams of two.
At the tournament, opponents to whom I lost helped me improve my deck. Opponents I beat wanted to discuss our game. The event lacked the fervor of a competitive tournament, yet in its absence was a tangible sense of fellowship typically reserved for national party conventions.
How is Magid played?
There’s no point in writing a lengthy exposition about the rules of Magic. Many people have lent their expertise on the matter, and I encourage you to watch this video and conduct your own research to get a grasp of the rules.
Without knowing rule specifics, however, anyone can appreciate how Magic uses a consistent set of rules to generate unpredictability.
The creators of Magic did not set out to make rules for every possible interaction. They designed the game to have bounded unpredictability. The mechanics are a mile wide and a foot deep, meaning there are tons of different processes, but they are straightforward enough that they can interact with every other mechanic.
Magic showcases an excellent bit of design savvy because a player can use any card against another card, regardless of its production date. Wizards of the Coast bans certain cards they deem too powerful, but every legal card can exist in the same game.
How do I play?
Getting into Magic requires getting Magic cards. Any game shop you visit will have a great selection of starter decks and resources to get you started. More than that, if you say the magic (get it?) words, “I’m new to Magic,” then employees and shoppers will be more than happy to help you. Magic can be an intimidating hobby to pick up, but toxic players are rare. Most people want to help you have a good time.
Because the game requires at least two people to play, it might be best to drag a friend or significant other with you on this journey. If that’s not the case, however, you can always find willing opponents at events like Friday Night Magic.
How much does it cost?
For dedicated players, Magic can get expensive quickly. Competitive Magic decks that win big-name tournaments cost hundreds of dollars, while individual booster packs of Magic cards cost about $5 each and can add up very quickly.
For the casual or new player, however, Magic can be an affordable hobby.
Duel decks are a great way for you and a friend enter the field. They cost around $20 and contain two pre-made decks that are well-structured to showcase Magic’s mechanics. It’s the easiest way to jump in and play.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, then splitting the cost of a complete booster box between three to six people is a great way to get a sizable card collection quickly. Booster boxes contain 36 15-card booster packs and cost between $100 and $110 — and it’s a lot of fun to open 36 packs with your friends.
As with any endeavor, however, shelling out money for something you may or may not take to can be disappointing. That’s why many gaming shops and online retailers feature large sets of used cards for cheap. These cards are always a bit of gamble because you don’t know what you’ll get, but it can be a great way to get a feel for the game without buying newer, pricier cards.