Magic: The Gathering


Before you ask: No, I am not going to try to encompass everything that is Magic: The Gathering... just no... no one has that much time.
What I will do however is give an overview of the game, which I recently got back into, and insert some of my own personal experiences with the game here and there.

What you see above is a box of boosters. A booster is a pack of 15 cards with several common cards, some uncommon cards, a basic land, and a rare. Every so often you get a foil card (shiny) which are worth more (are more collectable) than the non-foil version. Let me be the first to tell you.. I don't give a shit about foils. They came out right as I was quitting MTG and I thought they were gimmicky BS then, and still do now. You also have a chance, 4%, I believe of getting a mythic rarity card.. and that my friends is the shit that helped bring me back. In theory "Mythic" cards existed before... they were those cards that were so unbelievably good you couldn't believe they existed. There is quite a bit of hate on the internet about them, probably because they are so powerful and favor those who are able to purchase cards in bulk or able to buy them directly from the store or a website (secondary markets). Personally when I decided to jump back in (just this past November) I just got 2 intro decks and 4 boosters and I pulled 3 mythics. Maybe I am lucky, but I think a lot of angst around mythics is for nothing.

A box of boosters contains 36 booster packs which most stores sell at a discounted rate at that volume. A normal booster costs around 4$ if you get them in bulk (a box or more) the discount rate is usually around $2.50 a booster which is pretty significant savings over time. In my prime magic playing years, from 1995 till about 2001, the box of boosters was a thing of glory. Most of us just had part time jobs or earlier than that, paper routes. So most of the time we were buying small amounts of boosters and starter decks. In those days starter decks were like a fat booster, contained more commons and uncommons and lands, and I think maybe 1 more rare... but they weren't really playable. Today they have intro decks which is way.. way better. Similar price but its a fully functioning deck, with a couple of rares and a nice booster thrown in. Anyway the booster box was coveted. Those that could afford them usually toted the empty shell around to carry their counters, or cut them up and glued them to their standard white card boxes (we will get to that later). Usually for those of us that couldn't drop the $80+ or so it would take to buy a box by ourselves would pool our money and do a draft. We would buy a box and then pass it around each picking a booster out of the box till they were all gone. Usually there was quite a bit of ritual around this. One person would believe that a certain packaging was lucky for him. Another might get a certain feel from a booster and select that way. I had the best luck with Ice Age packs with Scaled Wurms on them, and later in Mirage my preference was for Maro packaging.. then I realized it was a crap-shoot. Once all the boosters were passed out we would usually trade and then make a quick deck out of the cards we got and play for the box.

Now you may have noticed that my box wasn't a "sealed" box (shrink wrapped). This is true. I went to the store unable to decide if I wanted Rize of Eldrazi boosters or 2011 core set boosters. Turns out they were out of both, but they would be happy to fill a box with whatever mix of boosters I wanted at the discounted prize. Lucky me! So I went with 1/2 and 1/2. I got some glares from some 12 years olds for free. Can't begrudge them though, I used to be that 12 year old after all.

Probably the best thing about getting 36 boosters is getting 36 rares! WOOOOOOOoo.. Cough.... ok.. also you tend to get some mythics. I happened to get 8 mythics and 1 foil rare. Pretty decent pull considering one of the mythics would recoup 1/2 my cost if I sold it back to the store... but I didn't because it was one I wanted. Foils are up top, Rares in the middle, Mythics on the bottom, and on the right were a couple of pulls I was just excited about. I love me the nameless, colorless behemoths that are the eldrazi.

The art on the cards is just incredible. Not that the old art was bad... it was just very.. um... typical of fantasy art at a time when it wasn't necessarily a respectable position to be a fantasy artist.

This is the $40 card I didn't sell back. Works great in my green beat down deck.. always like green.

Just look at this art! I would put that above my mantle, if I had a mantle. Then I could sit in my time worn leather chair and address my last living relatives with the conditions of my inheritance, and they would ask if my mansion was haunted. To which I would reply, after taking a thoughtful drought from my pipe, "Quite." (Krakow! A Lighting Bolt streaks past the window and its thunder shakes its panes, a bell tolls suddenly, for dinner.)

So here are all my magic cards. The white box on top is the oldest, the big box on the bottom was purchased after I bought back my cards from my brother (sold most of them to him when I quit). The Rise of the Eldrazi box is all of my rares until I get new plastic card sheets and a binder, the 2011 core set box is my deck box, and of course my box of (at the time) unopened boosters. 

My very first long white box was a matter of great pride. I drew a Scaled Wurm on it. I kind of wish I still had it...

Before D20's became the norm lots of people had life counters like this one. I am glad D20's won out, these were not very practical to carry around and since pop (soda for you coastal folks) was a constant staple at MTG games they often got sticky... I believe this one has some age baked on Dr. Thunder (because when you are 12 and play a CCG you can't afford name brand).

It's kind of crazy for me to think about this thing being 15 years old... makes me feel really old. Reaper Miniatures is still around, thankfully. They are still my favorite company to get D&D figures from.

Today's savvy MTG player has the Gathering app for their iPhone, which also tends to get you angry looks from the 18 and under crowd. I don't mind it from the younguns but the late teens can just fuck off. Really.. you are quite an obnoxious bunch.

Gathering is a great app for someone getting back into the game, as well as a seasoned player. The glossary and card look up tools are amazing and it even has a price guide which is invaluable during trades. Because those fucking late teens are some of the most underhanded sons of bitches you could ever meet (I know, I used to be one).

For those of you completely lost about what I am talking about: Magic: The Gathering (MTG) is the collectable card game (CCG). It is the one that started them all, way back in the dark ages of 1993. It has endured a lot of controversy.. which is all bullshit.. just like the controversy around D&D.. all fear mongering. It is a game where two (or more) players use decks of cards that contain various spells and do battle. The object of the game is to reduce your opponents 20 life to 0 (or less) or in some cases cause them to loose by another mean (being unable to draw a card is a loss condition). It is a fast paced game of logic, mathematics, and strategy. It is also really freaking funny sometimes, and my favorite games are those that reach absurd levels. Like attaching a kite to 10 story boar so it can fly across the battlefield, or surviving an onslaught of powerful beasts and dragons only to be defeated by a clockwork gnome... etc. I have played a few other CCGs and in my opinion the original is still the greatest.

I already talked a bit about my return to Magic in my Thanksgiving Article so I won't repeat my return, but rather take a minute to elaborate on my experience with an additional tale.

*This was before Xmas, and I was feeling pretty good about playing again. I had a decent poison deck and I had heard that Friday Night Magic (FNM) had become a really cool casual affair where you could go play in a casual Standard tournament where you could win a prize or just get one for showing up. I thought I would check it out early so I went and chatted with the judge and observed some of the early starters. I immediately started to have flash backs. Not good nostalgic ones... the kind that made me quit in the first place. There were a couple of teenagers, smug as fuck, that were their just being smug teenagers.. and that was almost enough for me to leave already. One of the things that you get used to in Magic is a shit first draw, or even worse, a bad continued draw. One of the things I hated about Magic is the people, and especially the types of people that are so confident in their prowess and their decks that when they loose they feel they need to explain that it was a shit draw and if they had gotten such and such card you would have been destroyed (i.e. the convince themselves they won somehow in their head because they think they have a better deck). So there I was sitting, flipping through my app just looking at some cards, listening to these three go on and on about their unbeatable strategies.. that had just been beaten. Most often these types are the kind that talk about all of their "win conditions" which I admit all decks must have some "win conditions" but these guys make such convoluted plans to win that it's almost a farce to see them play. It took me a while, but I decided to get in a game or two with these guys. I got land screwed (i.e. I didn't draw the most essential cards in the game) both times I played one of them... which I had no qualms with, until the kid (10 years my junior) decided he should critique my deck. I humored him. I defended my deck, and by this time a rather academic looking teen had sat down next to me and backed me up on my responses. I instantly liked him. Not just because he backed me up on my responses, but because of his demeanor. He was polite, took the game for what it was a fun game of luck, logic, mathematics, and humor. Unfortunately as the room filled in, I found him and myself to be in the minority. It seems that while many parts of Magic has changed... much has stayed the same. It was really weird being suddenly sucked back into 1999 but that is almost exactly what happened. There was a table of the competition kids, they had a laptop and every one of them was running a version of Valkut's Ramp (a popular type of deck right now) they were there to win, and had no intention of socializing and meeting other players, except to defeat them of course. There was the group of "cool kids" or so they like to fashion themselves. They are the most peculiar group... they all had giant ear hole piercings, dressed in the latest hot topic had to offer, and wore excessive silver jewelry and either had long or spiked hair. They almost exclusively play red burn, or black decks because.. you know.. they are so wicked and shit. These are the types that do nerdy things but spend much of their time pretending to be cool non geeks. Perhaps you remember the types (they played video games, but only the top titles and on Playstation, Nintendo was for "feyyggets" after all) they played Magic and liked to buy swords, they also probably pretended to be vampires and shit at one point to. Who fucking knows. Then their were the mixes of those two groups that made up the bulk.. as horrifying as that would seem. Then there were the true outliers. 30-40+ year old guys that have a shit ton of cards, never stopped playing, and have a I am to old for this attitude and kind of a creepy vibe. They trade all the younger players for foils because they want to have complete foil sets and keep boxes full of commons and uncommons in their cars because they could only carry the rares and mythics inside. These guys aren't so bad... just... it's a bit creepy because there are not many of them. Finally there are the rich kids that are terrible at the game... they are universally preyed on by the other groups. They have tons of good cards, don't know how to put a decent deck together or the true value of the cards they are trading and as such constantly get swindled out of their cards. After surveying the room and seeing all this that I decided to fake a phone call from work. Now I know that more people like the academic teen would probably show up and I probably could have had a good time eventually... but this was about an hour and a half in.. and I have serious people anxieties and I was at my limit. So I scooted with the hope that I could some day return to FNM and try it out again.. maybe at one of the releases for the latest set.

Now if you are an old Magic player considering coming back or someone considering playing for the first time, I don't want to scare you away. I am having a blast playing it again. I just want you to know that you could be in for if you hit the tournament and FNM scene. If you are considering starting or coming back I suggest you get some friends to do it with you, because that is where all mine, and where all your, good memories will come from and be formed. Magic is a great game for teaching logical thinking, mathematics, and good sportsmanship. I almost think it is essential for people with jobs the require critical thinking. One of the reasons I am enjoying it so much now is that when I am stuck on a project at work, or on a project at home, when my mind gets fuzzy and burned out, is that I can just sit down to a quick game of magic (either against myself or a friend depending on the circumstances) and it seems to degauss my brain and get all my little synapses back in alignment. It's great, and I hope you consider giving it a try, either again, or for the first time, and stay tuned because I am planning more MTG articles in the future!

* I hope you have made it down here to the little asterisk from the italicized section. I have put this here because after enjoying the pre-release event for Mirrodin Besieged my opinion of Magic players has changed.. or rather, I should say, has been corrected. I am leaving this section in because it is an accurate depiction of how I felt, and how others might feel when confronting their first event but I want to let my readers know that you shouldn't let your first impression get you down, no matter how negative. People are surprising, and often initial impressions can be wrong. I was nervous. I was overly defensive. I was the problem. What made me change my opinion was that I had (with a little nudging) set myself to go and play in the release event for the next set, no matter what. The "what" turned out to be walking pneumonia and a sinus infection, but after a day of hydrating, vitamining, and drugging myself up I sucked it up and chickened out. Then I got a gentle nudge and went. I nearly chickened out at the door... but somehow, shaking ever so slightly from a mix of nerves and Tylenol Cold and Flu I managed to get inside. I grabbed a new deck box and signed up as a Phyrexian. The first 20 minutes were hell.. Don't get me wrong, all of the paranoia, the nervousness, the smells of unkempt gamers on my dry and yet sticky nasal cavaties was no fun at all. Then I met two guys who were talking about getting back into Magic after years away from the game. They were about my age and one had a respectable beard. He was talking about how he didn't feel like trading because a day after he started playing again he traded a Koth ($40 card) for the equivalent of ($2.50) in cards. I had an in. "Man that sucks, I just started again too." I said. Soon I was telling them how I was swindled out of a Jesters Cap and a Enduring Renewal for a Caribou Range (a similar inequal trade) when I was still new way back in 1995. The rest of the night was great. New players were curious about what it was like in the old days and old players reminisced about the earliest and most complex infinite combos. When I finally succumbed to illness around 2am and after narrowly loosing in the first round (Won 1, Lost 1 barely, Mana screwed 3rd) I knew that I would be back for the next FNM that I could make. Apologies to all the ass fucks I called ass fucks in the above article. You are the best kind of ass holes and I had a great time. I look forward to playing with you jerks again.

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