When I was pretty young I remember being at Toy-R-Us and my brothers were excited to get a new toy. It was a strange toy though because it didn’t come with opposable arms or tiny swords, it would bounce on the kitchen floor, and you couldn’t put it into a Gameboy. Also it was completely enthralling.
They both got these little boxes filled with colorful cards. I was young enough that I couldn’t read what they said but each one had a monster and numbers on it. Both my brothers were transfixed on the cards they had. After reading in the van for half the trip they tried to play a game from their seats.
When that failed, they packed them up and ran inside the house to try again on the den floor. After hours of playing they just kept trying it out again in new ways. I begged to have them teach me how to play and after some back and forth they agreed.
The next time I went to Toys-R-Us with the family I wasn’t going to need action figures or foam swords–all I need was a foil package of Magic the Gathering cards. This event signaled not only my budding addiction to tiny pieces of cardboard but also my eventual maturation in life.
So about this Magic thing…
Alright so I know, I know, I know what you are thinking–what a loser nerd. Right? Just checking but that is what this site is all about. Well except the loser part. I digress–Magic the Gathering or MtG is more than just a silly game. It is a deep, thoughtful, and entertaining social phenomena that only makes you a loser so much as you already are.
The game is highly competitive, intelligent, and takes concentration. Problem being that people who excel at being intelligent and can concentrate who are competitive sometimes lack maturity to be in a social setting. This isn’t to say that MtG players are all table flipping jerks but I would caution anyone just starting out to know that all card games attract individuals like that so it comes with the territory.
Also important to note that MtG is often viewed as a kids game. The only problem is that the kids who started playing it still do. So your average players is usually between their late twenties and early forties with everything in between and on either side.
The Game Itself
The game’s setting is that you are a powerful magical being who is in contest with other powerful beings. There is actually a novel series about the story for each card. For the game though just know that you build up mana, cast spells, and summon creatures.
There are five mana colors or themes (black, white, blue, green, and red) as well as colorless. Cards have affiliations with one or more of those colors. Each card type does different things and they add or remove card types between blocks or editions of the game. The basic game has Creatures, Sorceries, Instants, and Lands. Each one helps you fulfill a win condition. Commonly this is remove your opponent’s life to zero or less but it can be other criteria as well.
There are multiple play formats but typically you play against one opponent, you both have twenty life, you both select sixty cards, and you both use cards that are considered Standard or from a recent card release. Cards that are Standard tend to be in sets of four that is considered a block. This includes three themed sets and then the year’s cards.
Other play formats include Commander where you use old cards in sets of one-hundred or Two-Headed Giant where you play with a partner against two other people. Then there are many other formats. All of them use about the same rules but give the game extra spice.
When I first gave up Magic, about the time my friends thought it was dumb and my brothers went to college, I put my cards in storage and didn’t look at them. I was busy with being a tiny adult and getting ready to graduate high school. Fast forward six years and a friend of mine says he is getting into this really cool game–MtG, ever played? He asked. I said yeah and he asked if I wanted to go a few rounds. I say I did but didn’t have any cards.
Easy, he said–let’s go to Wal-Mart.
So I don’t like monolithic mega international corporations who squeeze the life out of their employees and the countries they operate in. That said, when they are the only game in town for card gaming it is hard to argue. It’s an hour to the nearest Game HQ (which highly superior everyway) but boosters are boosters.
Going to the skinny isle wedged between the self checkout and speedy checkouts we found everything you could ever need for getting started. The only problem is that I am cheap. I mean wearing shoes till they rot off my feet and then duct tape them back on cheap.
Needless to say I was hesitant to throw down cash on enough individual boosters (fifteenth card packs that have randomized cards) to make a deck (sixty cards usually). My friend convinces me that I won’t need to. Instead he shows me a pre-built deck. When I was a kid, this is what my brothers bought.
There are all sorts of pre-made decks to get you started. Each one has a theme or color set and may or may not come with a few boosters as well. I was hesitant because big time Magic players looked down on pre-constructed decks like that when I was starting out but I decided it would give me a start. Also my wife was getting one too, so I didn’t.
Where it went from there…
After that first night of playing against my friend and my wife it sort of started something. We began getting together more regularly. We brought in a few more people. We started a small league. The more we played the more we wanted to get better, more complex, more creative games.
Now we are nosing into ranked matches, going to tournaments (getting butts handed to us), and I’m finally starting to figure out how to make a mana curve work. More importantly I have made some really good friends, gotten to have a lot of us time with my wife, and best of all getting to crush my enemies, to see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentations of their deckmasters… errr… I mean play such an intelligent puzzle driven game with so many diverse people. Sorry, I got competitive there for a sec.
The Break Down
Time Commitment: about an hour a game, typically four games a month
Cost: as little as $20 a month to hundreds if you don’t have self control
What you need: a deck of sixty cards and some friends
If you don’t know anyone who plays go to your local game store, tell them that you are interested, and more than likely they will know someone who can help you out. The game is universal enough that likely any game store in the country will have a group of regular players. There are nearly always FNM or Friday Night Magic events at many stores that could be a good place to find other players and new friends.
Best Starting Places
It is fairly normal to meet people who have tiny libraries of cards stashed in their house. Maybe in books or long cardboard boxes. For someone starting out, get a pre-made deck. If you end up liking the game the best next purchase is a Deck Builder’s Box Set, this has everything that you need to make decks of any color with lands.
After that there are a myriad of choices, but nothing really beats tearing open the little foil packages of cards from a booster. Like tiny Christmas.
Magic the Gathering isn’t for little kids any more. It isn’t the international lonely losers club that it gets a rap for being. Much like D&D, it is a social game that gets a bad reputation from people who never played or had a bad experience once. If nothing else, even if you still don’t want to run out and buy your first deck, I encourage you to at least find a game and try it out.
It can’t hurt, and who knows, you might like it.