A Primer to Magic: The Gathering

There are many people in this world that are on the outside looking in when it comes to the extremely popular collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. What’s the big deal about a game that came out over 20 years ago? What is the game about and why is it still so popular today? This piece is meant to be a small dip into the vast ocean that is MTG, but at least you can get your feet wet.

A couple early prototypes.
A couple early prototypes.

In the early 90’s, Richard Garfield was a math professor and a doctoral candidate for University of Pennsylvania and started to design the game in his spare time. In a stroke of luck, Garfield was brought on as a adjunct professor at Whitman college where he met Peter Adkison, a CEO of Wizards of the Coast games company. Magic: The Gathering was going to be published as Mana Clash for trademark purposes because the word “Magic” was thought to be too generic to be trademarked. Playtesters had a hard time with the name change because it was confusing, and continued using the original title of Magic. The subtitle “The Gathering” was added later to distinguish the game as a trademark. Soon after their partnership, Magic: The Gathering was published and became a phenomenal success. From humble beginnings with local playtesters, Magic quickly became a global pastime with players around the globe totalling over 7 million players.

The game itself consists of a 60+ card deck played between two or more players called planeswalkers, or wizards. They employ spells, artifacts, and creatures to defeat their opponents. There are certain rules that have to be followed in order to make gameplay fair for both players. In Magic: The Gathering, the rules to play are more complex than traditional card games, with each card having a lot of text to read through and understand. But don’t worry, because if you are interested in learning the game, most veterans would be willing to teach a new new player how to play.

The goal of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) is to reduce your opponent’s life total from 20 to 0 before they do the same to you. But first, each player of MTG needs to have a deck in order to play a match. Decks need to have at least 60 cards, but more than 60 cards is also allowed.  With a few exceptions, players can’t have more than 4 copies of the same card unless otherwise noted on the card itself. The players have thousands of cards to choose from, so customization of decks is one of the most versatile parts of the game.  Choose your cards carefully; they may be the difference between winning and losing.

There are five different colors of magic, each with different strengths. Green, red, blue, white, and black each have different play styles and themes that help guide a deck’s overall feeling. You can choose however many colors you want to be in your deck, from monochromatic to all five colors. Sometimes just having a one color deck makes all the difference, but the colors you choose to play with depend on how you want to play the game.

Because of its popularity, you can find organized Magic: The Gathering tournaments across the globe with a huge spectrum of players showing up to compete, from the casual player to the professional gamer. On a local scale, you can usually find a community of magic players playing every week at a local game shop, honing their skills, hanging out with other players and making new friends. There’s even trading that goes on between players based on both the value of the cards and what the other player is willing to trade. These cards’ value could go anywhere from a few cents to hundreds of dollars, and in some cases thousands. These groups can also help you identify banned cards, since the game is still evolving and can shift from year to year. There’s a lot to take in, but you are not alone if you need help.

Each game of MTG may not go as you plan, but the game is really full of chances and opportunities to win. You can have the best deck ever made, but you can still be beaten by someone who has less experience than you if you make mistakes. Don’t take it personally if you lose because the other player is there for the same reason as you are; you both want to win. But winning isn’t always the case for most players, and there are many that just want to play to learn the game, have fun, and most of all, meet new people with different strategy of gameplay. There are many reasons why Magic: The Gathering is popular, but you may just need to check it out for yourself to see if it is for you. Have fun!


Richy Andrew
South Jersey born and raised Magic the gathering player, blogger. I've been playing since the 9th edition of the Magic the gathering set.

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