Almost everyone who considers themselves a nerd has played, or at the very least heard of Magic: The Gathering, arguably one of the most ubiquitous trading card games available to date. The game was first introduced in 1993 and since then has released several different card sets (now typically a core set and 2 to 3 expansion sets each year) and thousands of unique cards. As those just learning how to play the game can tell you, it’s far more complicated than most other card games, but it isn’t quite as complicated as a paper and pencil role playing game tends to be. Over time Magic: The Gathering has mutated to be more than just a game for mere entertainment’s sake, but a competitive arena were players the world over can test their skill and deck building strategies against others and win prizes for placing high in the tournaments. I personally have spent hours, carefully constructing decks and building in appropriate strategies to throw at my opponents and I’m sure those that are actually good at the game have invested even more time than that.
|The Back of a Typical Magic Card|
The idea of the game is actually quite simple. Each player has 20 life to start off with and you’re objective is to use your deck and the creatures and spells contained within to reduce your opponent to 0 life whilst preventing them from successfully doing likewise to you. Mana or Land is used to pay the activation costs of all the other cards in your deck thus limiting how much you can do each turn. You also typically will have a limit on the number of cards in your hand which is usually the only place from which you can play your cards. You draw at least one new card at the start of each turn and when creatures are killed or other types of “non-permanent” cards are used they are placed in your discard pile which is called your graveyard.
Now that doesn’t seem too difficult on the surface of it. However many cards will modify these basic rules forcing you or your opponent to adapt to the changing circumstances in order to achieve victory.
Types of Cards
There are 6 different colors of cards that you’ll encounter in the game each with its own particular focus. Most people will choose a color that’s most appropriate to how they play as the one they’ll use the most. It’s important to remember however that the focus of each color of card is not a hard and fast rule. Many colors will have overlapping focuses allowing the construction of powerful multi-colored decks. The different colors are listed below:
1) Forests (Green) – This color will tend toward the use of large ground based creatures to overpower opponents.
2) Islands (Blue) – The blue color focuses on abilities to control your deck, your opponents, and the circumstances of the battlefield.
3) Mountains (Red) – This color is all about quick powerful attacks against your opponent and has many spells that do direct damage to their life.
4) Plains (White) – The white color favors creatures like knights and angels and focuses heavily on self-healing abilities
5) Swamps (Black) – This color has a decidedly morbid theme and uses abilities that sap life from your opponents or forces them to pay heavy penalties for standard actions like attacking and defending.
6) Colorless – While not technically a color, colorless cards are found throughout the sets in the game and add interesting new options to each of the 5 standard colors. Colorless cards can be played using any type of mana.
There are literally as many strategies as you can imagine employed by those playing Magic: The Gathering, but for simplicity's sake players have been kind enough to boil these down into three main categories; Aggro, Mill, and Control
1) Aggro – an aggro deck is your standard type of Magic: The Gathering deck that seeks to use creatures and other cards to attack the opponent’s life directly. Many sub strategies fall under this umbrella.
|A Fat Pack from the Gatecrash Set|
2) Mill – Some would argue one of the more irritating strategies, but only because of its effectiveness is the mill. This type of deck tries to knock a player out of the game by forcing them to discard all the cards in their deck. Some Mill decks are also built to use cards that benefit from an opponent having a certain number of cards in their graveyard allowing them to attack more directly or just defend themselves while their opponent slowly wastes away.
3) Control – A control deck seeks to achieve victory by controlling what happens on the battlefield. A good control deck will leave an opponent with little option each turn but to sit there and watch helplessly as you destroy them. These decks typically employ many “counters” which are used to prevent your opponents from successfully casting creatures and other cards.
The typical Magic: The Gathering deck is made up of 60 or more cards (with the only limit being that you must be able to shuffle it unassisted) containing no more than 4 copies of any card with the exception of mana. However Magic: The Gathering players are creative people and many different formats have come about as a result of their desire to explore new options for one of their favorite games.
1) Constructed Formats: These are the formats used when players wish to build their own decks to use to face their opponents.
a. Standard – One of the newer formats available for tournament play is Standard. This format permits cards from the current block (core set plus the 2 or 3 expansions released that year) and cards from the previous block not including its core set.
b. Block – Slightly more restrictive than Standard, the Block format only permits cards from the chosen block to be played.
c. Extended – This format is like standard except that it permits cards from the past four years of blocks including expansions and their core sets.
d. Modern – With the exception of specific cards banned because of the abusive nature of their combined effects Modern will allow you to play any cards from the modern card collection (typically any card printed with the modern card design)
e. Vintage – This format is like standard, but opens up the restrictions on sets and allows players to use any card ever printed for Magic: The Gathering.
f. Legacy – Like Vintage except that certain cards are banned, forcing players to create new and unique strategies to achieve victory.
g. EDH/Commander – A very unique format for the game intended to make matches longer and more diverse, this type of deck requires a 100 card deck made up of no more than 1 of each type of unique card save for mana and 1 Legendary Creature to act as your commander. Your deck can only use the colors that your commander uses and you start with 40 life points instead of the typical 20. Your chosen commander card also works a little differently than your others. Before starting the game you place your commander in the “command zone” from which you can summon it on any turn for its usual cost plus 2 for each previous summoning. If your commander should ever be destroyed or exiled it will instead go to the command zone. Additionally if any player receives a cumulative total of 21 points of damage from a commander over the course of the game, that player loses.
2) Limited Formats – the limited deck formats are intended to allow new players with few cards to play magic without having to build a deck. These formats will use the magic cards your already buying to make a randomized or semi-randomized deck to play with casually or as part of a limited format tournament.
a. Sealed – The sealed format has a player make a deck of at least 40 cards from the contents of 6 freshly opened booster packs. Players can exceed 40 cards if they so choose and can add as many basic land cards to their deck as they see fit. Assuming you’re playing with a more experienced friend or at a comic book store, you’re almost sure to be able to get extra mana cards for free if you don’t have enough.
|A 15 Card Booster Pack|
b. Booster Draft – in this format you’ll need to gather 3 to 7 other friends and each of you will need to bring 3 unopened boosters from a predetermined set (typically the newest set that’s out). You’ll all sit in a circle and open your first pack and select one card from it. Once you’ve selected a card, pass the rest of the pack to your left and pick up the pack that was passed to you and select a card from it. Once you’re done with the first pack, open the second, but pass the packs to your right. For the third pack, pass the packs to the left once more. Once all the packs are depleted build a deck using your selected cards and as many basic land cards as you’d like to add. The deck must consist of at least 40 cards. You then pair off and battle with the player across from you. Players who win two out of three matches are the winners and advance to the next stage. The winners face off against one another to determine semi-finalists and then the finalist will face one another to find the ultimate victor.
Whether you’re new to the game or a veteran there are many options available to you for joining in on the fun that is Magic: The Gathering. The game has much to offer in the way of entertainment and strategy and is a great deal of fun once you know how to play. As such you’ll occasionally find me coming up with new decks and strategies whilst tucked away in my N3rd C0rn3r.