Ode to Magic: the Gathering

Magic: the Gathering is my game. I am decent enough at it to win frequently, so there is a feeling of victory. I am relaxed enough about it that I can have fun and accept losses easily. It is much easier to swallow my pride for this game than most that I play if things go poorly. It is so complex that I can sink all of the multi-tasking facets of my brain into it; therefore, it relaxes me because it is one of the few times that my brain is wholly engaged on just one thing. It is the closest I come to meditation. It captures my imagination and plays into my love of wizards and dragons particularly, but also of strategy, variation, elves, storms, life, control, prowess, collection, etc. There are so many things that are captivating about the cards for me that I can happily spend time looking at a single card. The artwork is generally amazing, and the world-building continues to share the common elements that make the game work while giving something that often feels entirely new. The story line of Magic has kept itself going and fairly interesting as mages travel the blind eternities and visit or revisit worlds, fighting the most epic of foes.

The motive of the game remains fairly simple: get your opponent from 20 life to 0 faster; however, the over 15,000 unique cards give you a limitless array of ways to do this. It gives rise to deck types such as control, agro, midrange, and mana-ramp, yet it also gives rise to player types that even have their own names: Timmy likes big effects, Johnny likes tricks, Spike likes to win, Vorthos likes the flavor. While I have parts and decks for each of these types in me and my collection, I tend to find I am mostly a Timmy/Jonny player. I love dragons after all, and it feels amazing to have the biggest, coolest creature on the board. However, the more clever I can be with cards and their interactions, the more it appeals to my inherent need to feel smart. This plays out in spades for magic has somewhat of a reputation for intelligent players, and the looks of surprise on players’ faces when you pull off something like an infinite combo is so gratifying. Decks can then be built or re-built to fit the type and play style. My decks are getting slowly more settled as I grow older and find the best combinations for certain themes, but there are always new cards coming out to add to or modify those decks and new themes to explore. I will build some decks around mechanics like the ally ability and others around flavor like the elf and dragon decks, of which I have fourteen or so. Sometimes, there is a certain set of functional cards that I will wait years to find the best set of creatures or spells to function with. Most of my decks have punny names: Trisk for a deck that has everything in ones and threes, Murder for the crow deck, All Your Base Are Belong To Us for a deck that steals and copies what the opponents have, and the naming of decks gives me a private pleasure that is much greater than most suspect.

I learned to play from my brother and his friends shortly after the game came out. Decks were on the order of 500 cards each, and no one had any idea of how regeneration actually worked. At first, the flavor was more interesting to me. I was discovering my love of fantasy, and this was a game with the familiar tropes of dragons and wurms, but it also had mysterious menaces such as the shambling strider. Bigger was better, and a primary goal of many of my first games was to get as many banded creatures and enchantments combined into one as possible, waiting hours until you had the ultimate, unconquerable threat, and eventually attacking for a few hundred damage when only twenty was actually necessary.

I can’t say I took the game extremely seriously until high school. I didn’t find a play group, and have rarely had people that I play with regularly (intermittent in high school when my friends felt like letting me pummel them a little bit as they all ganged up on me, learning actual strategy in the face of much more serious players a little bit in the last two years of college, and mostly playing with students in the various magic clubs I run now). In high school, the combination of a cycle of epic dragon legends from invasion and my inheritance of all of my brother’s cards really got me to think about and play the game a lot more. I also spent all of my meagre savings on cards and learned the hard way not to try to collect specific cards through randomized booster packs. I started looking at the internet sites in envy of not having a credit card, and finally convinced my brother to purchase some for me.

A friend that I made through a common interest in magic in college is one of my considered best friends, and magic has been the reason of three of the five total all-nighters that I have ever actually pulled. I continued collecting, and magic cards in other languages became my souvenirs of choice when I was living and traveling abroad. I continued to collect and even found a shop to play pre-release tournaments in Taiwan, at which point I also officially became a collector of the magic dragons. It came when I invested a large amount of money in getting a box of Portal, Three Kingdoms cards in the hopes of scoring the rarest, most expensive dragon: the Zodiac Dragon. It paid off, and I now own every dragon printed in a magic set and most of the promotional versions of these as well, even the expensive ones. They are an investment, and will likely be a rather large part of my eventual estate.

A few students in a project week were playing magic at the school I teach at, and dropped the comment that there should be a club when I revealed that I knew a lot about it. I let three students know that I was starting one the following year, and it shot up to become the third largest club in the school. It has now been running strong for four years and we have three versions of the clubs and host tournaments. It gives me a chance to play will all of my crazy decks and see that the cards are being used to their purpose: not a collection in a carefully preserved binder, but elements of a fantastic game.

My favorite format is Commander since it favors my tendency to only collect one copy of each card, and in this, the legendary dragon deck is my best period. Multi-player games tend to be more fun for me, though I will build decks to have duels since this is how most people prefer to play. From silly decks that destroy everything over and over to serious decks full of burn spells I dip into most ways to play the game. I am not a huge fan of the formats that restrict which cards can be used since they tend to be overly expensive, but there is always something interesting to do and enough variation in games even with the same deck, that this will likely be an eternal hobby for me and source of relaxation, even when playing solitaire.