Some might think it impossible to have been playing board and card games for 10+ years and never played Magic: The Gathering. I had heard about it and knew the appeal, draw and even knew of the subculture. I was aware of its impact on the industry and recognised its place in tabletop history as one of the greats. But I had never held the cards in my hand, torn the foil apart to reveal the untouched bounty of 15 of those identically backed, card iconographs and leafed through the art, bemused (at first) by numbers, symbols, keywords and jargon steeped in over 25 years of playtime and refinement. That was, until recently, when that all changed.
To give you some context; at d20 board game cafe, where I work, Magic gets played a lot. At least three times a week. Magic is not my game. My game is the other Wizards of the Coast property Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve been playing off and on for three years and I love it. It speaks to the storytelling-Dragonslaying-barfighthaving-adventurer in me and I found it very natural. Ever the evangelist I sought to bring more people to D&D and so I set about the process of d20 becoming an official Wizards Play Store, the upshot of which is that you can host and advertise official Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League sessions.
The flipside to that wonderful coin is MtG Core Store status (which in a lot of people’s eyes is a much bigger deal apparently) which brings with it a plethora of perks for Magic players and Magic stores alike. Becoming a core store is no easy thing, stores have a certain amount of time to reach certain prerequisites to do with number and frequency of both events and players. Once enough is done to meet those standards we were in (Hurrah!) and we could host official Magic tournaments, award prizes and points and generally take our Magic game (pardon the pun) to another level.
It was at this point I began to think that perhaps after jumping through all these hoops that it was about time that I actually played the game. Crazy I know. I contacted one of our MtG veterans, let’s call him George, for that is his name and asked if he would take me under his proverbial wing. George is, and as far as I am aware has always been, brilliant. He had not one, not two but five starter decks for me to choose from AND hint cards to help with not only turn-order but keywords such as [Reach] and [Deathtouch]. He taught in the best way, by playing, and explained as we went along, giving me interesting titbits of information about the game’s various quirks and idiosyncrasies. We played a couple of games in the time we had I could quickly see why the game had stood the test of time.
But it was time for all that to be put to the test. I had already agreed to play Magic later that day, with George and others, so learning the game was somewhat of a necessity. We planned to play Commander a multiplayer (more than two in this case) format where players use larger decks, have more health and the rules for attacking are changed to accommodate for more players. I borrowed a preconstructed 2017 Commander deck (I think it was DRACONIC DOMINATION from 2017) and was taught the mechanics of the Commander format. I was warned that due to the large deck size and health that games could last longer than typical Magic games, and they were right.
The game started, and it seemed to be going well for me. I began to amass an army of Dragons, and set about poking and provoking the other players, mainly just to see what would happen. I wasn’t sure what everyone else was doing but to their credit the other players were extraordinarily nice. There was lots of talk of artefacts and occasionally I was told to do something, and I wasn’t always quite sure why but I obediently obeyed. This carried on for some time and for a moment I thought I might even win. It was of course at that moment that another player announced he had managed to obtain infinite turns and so for all intents and purposes, he had won. This was a startling revelation to me, but the other players seemed to take it in their stride, congratulating the winner and reassembling their decks.
I did have it explained to me what had just happened, but I am sure I still don’t fully understand. To cut a long story short we played another game (even longer than the first) and I was awarded some Magic packs for my efforts. Cracking open the packs I was greeted with the usual array of common and rare cards, amongst them ‘Resplendent Angel’ which I was told was a good find. I donated the card to the regular Magic players and it was the next prize up for grabs after a Friday night tournament.
The game is excellent, I’ll skip over any technical explanation of how the game works, but I found it reasonably intuitive. Many games clearly owe Magic a great deal, Pokémon, Yo-Gi-Oh and digital card games like Hearthstone to name a few. So, if you are reasonably au fait with card games of this nature then you’ll have no problem playing MtG. The game has an obvious depth that can been seen after just the first few plays. The game being steeped in history, nostalgia and almost cult-like levels of devotion there is no end to tactics, formats and strategies making up an ever-changing meta-game. The cards are in the most part beautifully produced and every manner of creature is depicted in delightful detail. Play with long-time players of the game you’ll see the juxtaposition of old (and I mean OLD) and new cards.
The hardest thing about playing Magic The Gathering for the first time, is that the game has been around for such along time that you are bound to end up almost immediately playing against someone who knows not only their deck inside and out but yours better than you do. The game is huge. Intimidatingly huge. Without talking about the financial investment, the time required to research, build and learn a deck is daunting. Granted if you aren’t into honing the perfect standard or modern deck you can play formats like draft or sealed and only play with the cards you are given that day. The drawback I see of that is that quickly you’ll own more cards than you reasonably know what to do with.
To conclude, I like the game. Since this experience I have played and taught the game to lots of people, some who didn’t know the game at all and some who knocked me for six with no remorse. I can’t see myself getting into the meta-game and going on a mad collectathon any time soon, but I’ll keep relying on the kindness of others and borrowing decks for the odd game.
If you are at all interested in tabletop game history, nostalgia or just what makes a game works you need to play MtG, it can be intimidating, it’s definitely mad but at its core it’s a game that works and it when people are willing to have fun, it is very fun.