Magic: The Gathering
Synopsis of Toy
If you and your soon-to-be game opponent wanted to be swept up into a fantasy world, but you wanted it low-tech…no instruction manual tome, no board to spread out or different pieces to take care of, then Magic: The Gathering was the quickest, most convenient way to sweep you away.
Game designer Richard Garfield went to work for fantasy-inclined hobby company Wizards of the Coast, Inc., in the early 1990’s, and one of his mandates there was to come up with a game that was portable, easily learned, and playable in under an hour. Garfield, who was a regular at gaming, fantasy and sci-fi conventions, thought something that could be played during a convention’s down time would be nifty, too, and in a couple of months, he conjured Magic: The Gathering.
At its core, Magic was just a luck-of-the-draw card game—but one steeped in the mythology of the imaginary world Dominia, thanks to the artwork and information on each card. The rules were simple: each player was a Plainswalker, a sort of wizard working for control of one magical plane of existence. Each began with twenty-five points and worked to drive his opponent down to zero, effectively expelling him from Dominia.
The Plainswalker’s first step was to assemble a deck of at least forty cards, which acted as his spell book. After each player’s deck was shuffled, his opponent cut it, and the top cards from both decks were flipped over. These flipped cards served as the game’s ante, and the winner of the game—assuming the Plainswalkers weren’t just playing for fun—got to keep them both.
The most common cards showed the five types of different colored lands—swamp, islands, forest, mountains and plains. For every turn, each land provided one point of its color “mana,” the energy needed to cast a spell. Each color also shared a common theme—white cards for healing and protection; red cards for combat; blue for water/air magic, and for counteractions to opponents’ spells. The magic spells themselves included everything from summonings and sorceries to instants, interrupts and enchantments.
Most new players purchased one of the 60-card Starter Games, which, fortunately for the game company, gave them a hankering for more and more cards. The more varied his deck, the more powerful his game potential, which made building one’s deck just as important as actually playing the game.
After the Starter Games, each with a random assortment of cards, players could move on to additional Starter Games or Booster Packs. Once the game caught on, and it did so very quickly, players clamored for the latest Boosters, and traded amongst themselves to fine tune their decks. With over a thousand cards out there, theories abounded over what the most effective deck should contain. After all that card purchasing, a player’s deck could become hefty—not so portable anymore and harder to arrive at the colors you wanted while playing. One option was to “cull” the deck, eliminating entire colors to help cast spells more quickly.
Some players liked their decks packed with small creatures, and some fancy direct-damage spells. Others stacked their decks according to themes (flying creatures galore, or all green, all the time). Some liked to concentrate on one spell color, while others preferred not to put all their eggs in one mystical basket. Since the artwork on the cards came from top fantasy and sci-fi artists, some based their decks on their favorite illustrations.
After several editions of the Magic cards, expansion sets like Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Legends were released, so that players would continue to buy cards and refine their decks. And that’s just what they’ve been doing, sometimes fanatically, for years.