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My Companion of Cards
With a shocking roster of 19,989 cards, through 16 different worlds, and a unique lore that connects the whole of its universes, Magic the Gathering is the world's premier trading card game. It has over one million tournament registered players, and over 44 different countries have competed in its events all across the globe. But I didn't know any of that walking in to D and J Hobby on that fateful day, the day I was introduced to the game that, eventually, would become my companion for the rest of my life.
I remember perusing the aisles with my father, looking for anything interesting, when we came across an employee holding a large box. It was filled with smaller boxes ornamented with flashy colors and a variety of different characters. “Would you like a free sample deck of Magic the Gathering?” he asks. I didn't know anything about this mysterious game, but as a child, I loved free stuff (and I still do). “Sure!” I said. Each of the boxes was of a distinct color. I decided to take my favorite one, blue. It had a mysterious mysterious man wearing a long robe, and he seemed cool. My dad opted for a white deck, with a picture of a fearsome humanoid lion. In many years, I would know these people as the two of my favorite planeswalkers, Jace Beleren and Ajani Goldmane, capable of teleporting through the infinite worlds of the multiverse.
Upon arriving at home, I cracked open my box immediately. Inside was a deck of 30 magic cards, each one a new, mystical thing that encapsulated my attention. I pored over the rules insert, learning all I could on this so called “Trading Card Game.” I was fascinated by my cards, the names, the art, the text, all of it. My favorite monsters or “creatures”, as they were called, were Skyline Predator, a fierce and agile looking dragon, and Air Servant, a giant monster made of clouds. Even to this day, they still hold a special place in my heart.
My memory of me and my dad’s first few games are pretty hazy, but I remember I had fun. A Lot of fun. We would play in our living room for what seemed like hours, just us and our cards. My deck was all about stopping you opponents from casting there spells, while simultaneously overwhelming them with big flying creatures, a strategy I am still fond of now. My dad’s deck had an army of knights and soldiers to try and overwhelm me, along with effects to make them stronger. I beat him most of the time, but sometimes I went easy, knowing the rules were really complicated, especially for him. I remember feeling so guilty when I countered his spell, that instead of telling him to put it in the discard, where it should go, I told him “No, it just goes back to your hand.” “Really?” he asked. “Yeeess… that's how it works!” I responded. The first time my dad beat me for real, I felt, almost, proud, as if I had been blessed with this game, and It was my responsibility to pass it on to others.
Naturally, I soon wanted to grow my collection. This happened in the form of booster packs, little 15 card bundles of surprise and joy. The more cards I got, the more refined our decks became, each now incorporating two colors, mine blue and green, his green and white. I bought more decks, eah with there own playstyle and story. I now played and built decks regularly with my dad, at least twice a week. Magic had become a big part of my life, and I strived to learn all I could about it. But I was never introduced to the wider scale of Magic, and the wonderful community that surrounds it. And without that, my interest eventually waned, and then slowly faded away.
Me and Magic spent three years apart. I had reached the point where it was no longer interesting unless my view of it changed, until I understood it on a deeper level. Until I understood everything that Magic is. I thought I would never play magic again, until one day, I saw kids playing it at school. I remembered all the fond memories I had had with my dad playing with our cards. I dusted off my deck, and decided to give the game one more try.
At first it felt weird playing someone besides my dad, but I soon got used to the feeling. I began progressing my understanding of the the cards. I became better, more strategic, thinking not just about this turn, but the many after it. The game became not just a game, but something I was passionate about. I spent time with it, and trained to hone my skills. I became one of the best players in the school. I didn’t want to stop there though. I wanted to get really good, and to play against the pros. The adults. It was then the transformation occurred, and I was introduced into the world of competitive Magic.
Competitive Magic is a completely different world than its kitchen table counterpart. Cards I thought powerful were considered useless, of almost no use. “Playable” cards were defined by criteria I did not yet understand. Instead of people playing whatever deck they wanted to, most people followed the metagame, or the decks which were currently doing well in official tournaments, and played with those. This means that, instead of making decks out of their own collection, competitive players buy the specific cards they need for the deck they are making. Cards that are considered powerful can be worth between $1 and $100, depending on its availability. Although this seemed weird to me at first, I started to learn the criteria that makes a card “playable,” and my view of Magic cards has never been the same. I have learned to look at a card, and think, what is it really giving me? Is it’s cost worth that effect? Are there better versions? My decks have become more refined, but it has taken away some of the excitement of opening new cards when I see that it isn't played competitively at all.
Magic the Gathering has things called “formats,” which are different ways to play the game. Certain formats allow you to play specific cards, and each has slightly different rules. Cards can be very powerful in one format, yet useless in another, it depends on if there are better versions or cards that go well with it in that specific format. My favorite format is modern, where you can play any cards except the oldest, and normally most broken ones. This means more cards meet the criteria of “playable.” Also, if you have a deck, the cards will be able to be played in modern forever, cards never leave the format, like they do in standard.
I have many fond memories playing my modern deck “green white little kid”, where I try to overwhelm my opponents with giant creatures. I got the decklist off MTGGoldfish, a website which specializes in magic the gathering decks, and ordered the cards off the online retailer TCGPlayer, a community driven trading card sale site. Once I get better, I want to craft my own deck, and play with it competitively in modern. I also enjoy commander, a format where you start at 40 life and a deck of 100 cards, each one needing to be different. It is often played with four people as a casual format. Because of this, games tend to last much longer, so people play cards with extremely high mana cost, or try to assemble ridiculous combos not playable in any other format. A Lot of cards considered useless everywhere else can find a home in commander.
Magic the Gathering started as a game called “Five Magics” being created by Richard Garfield, at the time a young game creator pursuing a PhD. in combinatorial mathematics. The game was always evolving, but it used the same five colors of magic that MTG uses now. He never thought it would amount to anything, but obviously one of his friends was more impressed with it that he was. He put Richard into contact with Peter Adickson, CEO of the board and card game company Wizards of the Coast. Peter told Richard if he could make make Five Magics a portable card game, something nerds could pull out anywhere and play, Wizards of the Coast would publish it. Richard decided to think about it over a hike to the top Multnomah Falls. Once he reached the top, he had the radical idea (One and a Blue for an Instant: Draw a card. Jump-start) that would shape Magic and every single trading card game to come. He could to make Five Magic’s a card game where you collected a variety of cards and built unique decks out of them, and each deck would have a different strategy. Everytime you face someone new, you are probably facing a new deck, and you have no idea what to expect. Adickson immediately loved the idea. Instead of people only buying it once, like the average board game, they would want to keep collecting new cards, making them more money. The new game, titled “Magic the Gathering”, debut in 1993. It started off slow, but as stores started carrying cards, more people started to play. Since then, the game has continued to grow with over 190 sets and supplemental products. Constant rule changes and new ways to play has keep game fun and interesting for its 26 year history. Another reason for its success has been Wizards of the Coast’s love for the community. They keep close watch over all formats, and ban cards to make sure no deck becomes too powerful. They constantly reward and promote it’s many content creators, and when the community says they made a mistake, Wizards is brave enough to listen. It rewards the many stores across the country that hold it’s weekly events, and provide them with exclusive products to sell. Magic the Gathering has become a cultural phenomenon, and Wizards of the Coast has no intention to stop.
Magic the Gathering is the most popular card game at our school right now. It has lasted so long to the point where it can no longer be called a fad, or a phase, but an important part of the school's culture. It has even become its own elective, where the veteran players teach others how to play. I don’t think I have a single day where I don’t play or think about Magic. I has become an important part of my identity, and to leave it forever would be like the loss of a loved one.