I’ve been gaming in one form or another since I was about twelve years old, but there is one gaming gaming phenomenon that completely passed me by—the huge collectible card game that is Magic: The Gathering. This is probably because the whole thing took off about the same time I decided to ‘have a break’ from games in my late twenties and concentrate on other things, but when I returned to the world of gaming some years later (and began frequenting Ebay to buy back all the old stuff I’d foolishly sold, but that’s another story), everyone was going on and on about this strange card game called Magic!
Actually, I’m a bit relieved that I missed out on the initial phenomenon, because I often hear tales from old gamers about the crazy amounts of money they spent on Magic: The Gathering, or how they regret selling a single card years ago for $300 when it would now fetch about $1500. Magic went on to inspire countless similar games, and continues to be an all-consuming passion for gamers worldwide, and that can only be because it was, and continues to be, a fantastic game.
Magic: The Gathering (hereafter MTG) was invented by a mathematics professor, Richard Garfield, and first published by Wizards of the Coast in 1993 after several years of development. It was an immediate success, so much so that Wizards was initially reluctant to advertise the game because they couldn’t keep up with the demand! Garfield had cleverly invented an entirely new genre of portable, collectible, trading card game, especially suited to being played in the downtime at gaming conventions.
It wasn’t long before expansions and revisions of the base game (‘core sets’) began to be regularly released. Since 1993 there have been three major rules revisions—in 1994 (Revised Edition) ,1999 (Classic Edition), and 2010 (Magic 2010).
Another defining aspect of the MTG experience is tournament play. The Pro Tour, a circuit of tournaments where players can compete for tens of thousands of dollars in cash prizes, was established by Wizards of the Coast in 1996. In fact, as of 2009 and according to Wikipedia, Wizards has given out $30,000,000 in prizes at various professional tournaments, and tournaments with hundreds of competitors from around the world are arranged many times every year by the DCI (Duelists’ Convocation International), their official sanctioning body for competitive play.
Of course, competitive play, cash prizes, and the general obsessiveness that is commonly a charactistic of gamers have all combined to create a thriving secondary market for MTG cards. A few of the oldest cards, now long out of print, can fetch exorbitant prices. The record is a ‘pristine 10 grade’ Beta Black Lotus card, which was sold in 2005 for $20,000!
So, for the newbie, what is MTG all about? Players are powerful wizards called ‘planeswalkers’, battling for supremacy. You begin the game with twenty life points, and lose life points when damaged by summoned creatures or spells and the like. If reduced to zero points, or forced to draw from an empty deck, you lose the game.
Land cards provide mana, the magical energy that fuels your spellcasting; you can play only one land card per turn. There are various types of spells that may have instant or lasting effects, or summon creatures. You can even involve allies with their own magical abilities to aid you in your struggle.
Spells come in five colours—to play a spell of a given colour, at least one mana of that colour—normally generated by corresponding land cards—is required. White (plains) is the colour of order, equality, healing and righteousness; blue (island) the colour of intellect, illusion, logic and trickery; black (swamp) represents power, greed, death and corruption; red (mountain) is freedom, chaos, passion and warfare; and green (forest) is the colour of life, nature, instinct and interdependence. You can also find multi-coloured and colourless cards.
Now that I’ve brought you up to speed with the MTG universe, where to you go to learn more? A great place to visit is the Wizards of the Coast site, especially the Learn to Play section, which features an interactive demo, rules PDF download, and instructive videos.
Then it’s time to buy yourself some decks! Games Paradise has a good range of decks, packs and boosters. For example, you could start with the Magic 2011 Introductory Pack Set, which contains one intro pack (60 cards and one random non-foil rare card) of each of the following: Blades of Victory, Breath of Fire, Power of Prophecy, Reign of Vampirism, and Stampede of Beats.
Meanwhile, experienced players and collectors will want to check out the brand new Mirrodin Besieged set, the second set in the Scars of Mirrodin block.
It’s time to join the legions of MTG players worldwide—or to expand the powers at your bidding! Happy Gathering!