Magic: The Gathering holds the title of the original trading card game and has remained a consistent background staple of pop-culture since the early 90s. I’ve always enjoyed board and card games, and the Pokémon trading card game was my jam when I was growing up. 95 percent of Zoomers probably did not know the rules as kids, but Magic was always there. It allured players with its zany fantasy art, but always seemed overly complicated to me as a child and lacked the cuddliness of the Pokémon (your average Magic card depicts a giant, biomechanical zombie worm rather than, say, a large, yellow rodent). It wasn’t until middle school that I really got into the game, establishing a miniature, impromptu game in my local CCD class of all places. Then I just fell out of the game for several years, and it wasn’t until this year’s winter break that I was pulled back in. I’m so glad I started playing the game, however, as this is a great time for Magic, especially for new players.
Deck-building has always been a little bit of a hassle in Magic compared to something like Pokémon. In Pokémon you take some creatures with a vaguely similar aesthetic and you’re pretty much good after that. Magic uses a similar system of color-based card types, but there are endless strategies within strategies. Every color operates differently, there are multiple, deeply involved strategies in each color (milling, token spam, and artifact heavy to name just a few), and experienced players are going to crush you with the deck they’ve been carefully building for the last two to thirty years. It’s a lot, so when I found the recent Jumpstart ecosystem, a format where you combine two packs of cards into one larger semi-randomly generated deck, I was hooked back in. It combined a lot of the random fun of opening card packs with the knowledge that whatever you inadvertently create will be at least somewhat competitive. This was a great time, and I quickly drew my friends from my hometown into the bottomless abyss of card games alongside me. We played games with these packs for hours upon hours. Ultimately I found a combination of a pack titled “wolves” and a pack titled “gross” to be my personal winner after I won at least five times in a row with it and had it deemed “busted” by my comrades.
With this newfound excitement for Magic, I had a desire to play in a public setting. Typically, comic book shops or hobby stores will have a set of tables or a spare room for this purpose, likely with a guy who is shouting about three times louder than necessary. I went twice over the break to my local shop, but the second time was nuts. Dozens of people crammed into a room smaller than a Feinstein classroom. This was the launch of the first new set of cards for 2023, and people were excited. This brings me to Draft. By far the favorite format I tried on this foray back into Magic was Draft, in which players draft their decks from a rotating pool of cards and then play in a tournament format. Generally, you open a pack, take a card, and then pass it along and take a card from the pack of the person next to you. There’s a lot I like about Draft. It maintains a lot of strategy and choice while also feeling relatively straightforward and balanced as everyone’s picking cards from the same pool. In the extremely popular Dominaria: Remastered draft, I was able to finish fourth overall with a black and white deck I hastily assembled around a card depicting a giant, floating eyeball with a silly name. I take that as a win. 2023 is the 30th anniversary of Magic: The Gathering, and there’s no better time to get back into it if you’re like myself or try it for the first time. This upcoming February sees the release of the much-anticipated Phyrexia: All Will be One, which seems to have a very cool and creepy biomechanical visual aesthetic. If you’re a student or faculty member who happens to have an interest in playing some Magic or starting a tabletop-gaming club, feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.