Community Review: Magic: The Gathering

Okay, so everyone in this office plays Magic: The Gathering except me.

I can do one of two things. I can point at them and scream "NERDS" during lunch, as they play contentedly together (this is what I've been doing to date). Or I can grudgingly join them.

What say you?

There are a few things holding me back: first is the stigma of card games. I can't be bothered learning the rules, I've never played a card game like this before. I'm too old, I don't have the time, I don't want to spend money on building a deck, blah blah blah.

Should I even bother? It seems like a lot of work.

Conversely, everyone seems to be having a lot of fun.

What are your opinions of Magic: The Gathering in general?


    Hi, my name is Bob and it's been 38 months since my last game of Magic. It's my third time sober, and each time gets a little bit easier. Let us repeat our mantra: "I will not tap that."

    I'm a recovering Magic player. Aside from a draft at PAX the other year and the Battle for Zendikar pre-release, I haven't played in more than 10 years.

    That being said, it's definitely what sparked my interest in table top gaming and it's the gold standard for rules templating (I know nobody else cares but that's a big deal for me). Games that can invoke a tiny fraction of what Magic does are brilliant.

    However I don't play and don't have any intention of getting back into it. Well, maybe the odd draft, the new set looks like a lot of fun for drafts. Instead, I'm playing Android: Netrunner. For the cost of a decent Modern deck, I have a full playset of every Netrunner card in existence. Instead of devoting myself to slowly building and mastering one deck, I can build and play any deck any time. It's a wonderful feeling.

    Plus the game itself is great.

    I spent a fortune on cards back in the last 90s and early 2000s. Ive since stopped but i have decks upon decks still in my shed locked away. They call to me... Mark.. Run... Run as far as you can. Don't let it consume you too....

    I started playing casually after PAX last year.
    I'm 30 and I think it's a really fun, simple and quick card game.

    A few things to note if you want to dip your toes in the water and have fun from my experience (which is little)

    1. Pick up a dual deck (2 starter sets) and play against someone with those decks to get a feel for it. It's cheap and you can play with them over and over without having to commit to the crack addiction that magic could be.

    2. If you do want to build a deck, just but the cards you wants from ebay - it's cheap and it's easy. You don't even need to do the reasearch! How?! Well you have a group of nerds already playing it. Magic players are always keen to infect others - just tell them you want to be a bit more serious and they will blurt all the shit at you that you need. Just have a pen ready and be ready to spend tenns of dollars, rather than hundreds.

    3. Keep the playing casual if you want to continue enjoying what is a simple and fun game.

    4. Everyone tells me how awesome commander is - it's basically slap the shit outta each other with stupidly OP cards. Again, all you should need for casual is a starter.

    Edit: I've bought at most maybe 10 boosters ,just because i like booster surprises - but thats since PAX - so it's really not many in the grand scheme. It's totally possible to play without becoming a carboard crack addict.

    Last edited 04/04/16 11:27 am

      I'd suggest Commander for anyone trying to get into the game cheaply. It's a casual friendly format that allows for spikiness. It has a good range of pre-constructed decks that can be cheaply supplemented with a few singles.

        It's cheap, but it's one of the most complex formats.

        That said, the pre-constructed decks are pretty solid.

          It's as complicated as the group wants to make it. Commander makes the most sense as a casual workplace format.

          Me? I'd proxy up a powered cube every day of the week.

            The interactions in a multiplayer commander game are complex by default- you have to track 3 or four other people doing crazy stuff.

            Not saying you can't, but I am saying it's not where I'd start.

              I'd suggest Duels of the Planeswalker for anyone trying to start. Commander is where I'd point them after that.

                I'd go the actual intro decks, the ~$20 ones. Commander is a niche to work into.

          Pre Cons are definitely one of the best ideas WotC did to actually widen the entry point for MtG. I used to muck around during the Mirage/Tempest days and making decks from scratch was hard w/o the basic understanding of card synergy... most of these were passively taught to new folks once they started making pre-cons :D

          Of course most were practically hit and miss on the set up... was nice of WotC to also start refining these precons so they could actually play a bit competitively on low lvl plays :D

      Edit: Wrong place, wrong time.

      Last edited 04/04/16 12:12 pm


      I agree, now let me get back to organising my Mega Drive collection by release date.

        Now that's an organisation system. None of this alphabetical rubbish.

        Though I personally prefer the similar-but-slightly-different order of purchase.

          i like to purchase the games in release date order. by getting them from a third party, then going to a department store that used to sell them, on the exact month and day, dress up in retro 90s clothes and have my friend who works at Big W hand them to me over the counter while someone else takes a photo.

    Or I can grudgingly join them.

    How's your disposable income these days?

    Do a draft with mates. Low cost, just 3 packs, everyone has the same chance of pulling great cards. Build your deck with some help, play some best of three games, and then you can decide if it's for you. Plus, if you like your 40 card draft deck, you can use the experience to tweak this collection to build a constructed deck around some of the combat tricks and flavour.

    Do you have time for another addiction in your life?

    Just get the game on steam to see if you like it and to learn the basics.

    It's a fun game, but I very rarely play against anyone else anymore.

    Cost of building decks is insane. I would much more lean towards Netrunner (and convincing the rest of the office over with it).

    Honestly, don't worry about the costs. If you're learning, pick up a starter deck or two and play them against each other, and see what you like from there.

    I draft occasionally, I play prereleases, and I play commander. That keeps the hobby manageable.

    And a lot of people are talking about costs and formats etc, but I'll mention something else

    The reason I like magic is that within its rules framework, there's a lot of stuff that pushes different buttons. If you're competitive, it's fun to play and win, and to tune decks to win efficiently. If you're like me, it's playing weird interactions and making decks that do unorthodox things. Sometimes you have decks that just want to make big monsters. Magic is a game that can cover all of these areas, and well.

    Plus, the art and flavour of the game is top notch, and it's very well designed.

      Unless you get a goddamned Okk... twice

      Yes I'm still uber salty after all these years :D

    Don't mind playing with pre-built decks, could never gather enough interest (or funds) to build them myself.

    Consequently, I've greatly enjoyed the XBLA versions in the past.

    I was playing Magic the year it first came out. As was a teenage Nathan's want, I became quickly addicted and stopped playing about a year later due to the necessity of purchasing boosters having too much of an impact on my teenage income.

    Ever since then I have stayed away from Magic and trading card games in general due to the cost... until recently when I went to the Innistrad pre-release and played my first game of Magic in 20 years.

    The franchise is going great guns. There's an awful lot to like in the new sets and I can see myself playing more regularly in the future.

    Now is as good as time as any to test the waters. If you're unsure Mark you can always just ask your numerous Magic addicted coworkers to walk you through the game using one of their decks. Alternatively you can buy what they call 'Duel packs' which contain two pre-built decks so you and a friend can throw down.

    Alternatively there are some cheaper/easier to manage card games you can play. A number of companies are eschewing the traditional trading card model in favour of what Fantasy Flight calls the 'living card game' model.

    In an LCG you don't buy booster packs filled with random cards. Instead each 'booster' pack contains the exact same cards. This makes managing your expenditure much easier because owning all the boosters means you own all the cards - no hunting down rares.

    The best two entries in this format are:

    Android: Netrunner - This game by Fantasy Flight is perhaps the most popular LCG going around at the moment. It's an asymmetrical game where one player is trying to hack in to the other players servers. Depending on whether you are playing Runner (the hacker) or Corp (the corporation defending against the hacker's attacks) the way you play the game changes. Last year it seemed every single person in games journalism was playing this game at one stage or another.

    Doomtown: Reloaded - Cowbows, shoot outs at noon, crime and magic. This entry by AEG is a super unusual game in which the cards in your deck double as cards from a traditional 52 card deck. This is important as all the shootouts in the game are largely determined by building poker hands. The game also contains a very cool tactical positioning element which is one of the hardest aspects of the game to grok but makes for fascinating play. As much as I love this, the Doomtown scene is nowhere near as big as Netrunner and I've given up on continuing to follow it due to lack of a local community.

    There are plenty of other games in this vein as well. One that's certainly worth having a look at is Plaid Hat Games' Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn - a game that is far and away THE prettiest dueling card game on the market.

    We may just have to give you a crash course in some of these at the next PAX Mark. That is if the bug hasn't already bitten you by then. :)

    Mark, I think the best option would be that you get in a few casual games with your work mates with their cards, just to get an understanding of the game itself. That way, you can at least spectate and understand what's going on in a match and participate that way.

    This saves you from actually having to invest in buying cards and spending the time building decks. Alternatively you can buy pre-build decks, which is fine too. But a safe start point would be to just try a couple games and learn the rules.

    Speaking of rules, Magic rules are sometimes obtuse and counter intuitive. But once you get over that hurdle and can see the logic that they're trying to impose on the game, the flow of the puzzle is a lot easier to comprehend.

    I say this as a lapsed player. I haven't touched my cards in a long time, and while I do have fond memories of spending hours putting decks together and playing with my friends, I'm also woefully aware of how I can't commit to doing that now with both money and time at a serious premium.

    Probably only suitable for young adults or single people, When you get into it it takes up ALOT of room, it's expensive.. it's expensive.. it's expensive... its expensive. disposable income is a must.

    You could raise the argument that you'll only play pauper or budget commander etc, but I've yet to meet a player who doesn't have some story about wasting a ton of money.

    Edit: I'm probably being too harsh, if you have the self-control to keep it casual, you can play it in moderation.

    Last edited 04/04/16 12:28 pm

    I have only ever played 1 game of Magic, which was a Conspiracy booster draft at the local gaming bar. My girlfriend, who has never played a card game more complicated than Uno, also played. We both enjoyed the hell out of it, and I think it only cost us ~$15 and we got to keep our decks. I got a massive wombo combo and almost OTK'd the store owner, which he said was the play of the night. Highly recommended, particularly if you find some patient souls to walk you through the basics as you go.

    If you do have addictive or obsessive behavior: no
    If you do not have addictive or obsessive behavior: yes

    my bro in law has spent monies upon monies on decks, and is now a waiting to be a first time father. ill be interested to see how long it takes his wife to rip his head off once bubs is around.
    for the sake of your family and non-work friends and your mental health and your brain's limbic system- Say NO! to drugs and Magic.

    Give Magic Origins a shot. You can play it on the PS4, XBOX One or Steam. It's free to play but they hand out the in-game currency like candy so it's easy enough to not spend anything. The cards in the booster packs are even distributed in a way that even though they're randomly chosen you can't get more copies of a card than you can use (so if my collection is missing 12 cards and a booster I'll get 6 of those 12). I get the impression it's generous about that stuff because it exists to suck people into buying real world cards rather than as a game that directly makes a profit.
    They added some mechanics with the expansion that I felt over complicated things a little, but overall it's pretty easy to learn (the plus side it seems to have injected some extra diversity into the decks).

    At the very least it's a nice place to practice against the AI while you learn the rules.

      It ends up becoming too grindy however, you end up playing the same old mono-red deck(Because if faster) against hard AI so you can get over the whole daily limit so you can get some cards you'll never use, it just incorporates 99% of your game time, sure you could play on the internet but those games last like a half hour which is way to slow for 30 coins.

      It's exhausting just thinking about it.

        As a place to play full time it's not perfect, but if Mark wants to learn the rules it's as good a place as any to start out. I actually think it'd work out nicely for him with the way they let you stack daily quests. As long as you're not just there to unlock/foil every card it's fun.

      Is this out for the PS4? I can't find anything but stories about it being delayed...

        Oh sorry, I just assumed it would be out on the PS4 (could have sworn I saw it on the marketplace). That's really strange considering it's not a super complicated game. PC and XBOX are about to get the second free expansion so they've had plenty of time to get it working.

          No worries, I was just looking forward to giving it a crack that's all. I would prefer Hearthstone on the PS4 but I can't see that happening.

    I did the first option, and then did the latter, and then regretted doing the first.

    My friends got me into MTG about 7 years ago, when Mirrodin Besieged had just been released. I found the game fun until they introduced me to the world of custom decks (as up until that point we'd been playing pre-built decks). After that the game became a lot less fun as I'd go against decks that could defeat me in 3 turns. I tried to have fun, but the imbalance of me - a new player with limited card combinations and understanding of rules - against players that had years-worth of cards and knowledge of combos, was just ridiculous.

    I stopped playing with them almost entirely.

    Then 2 years ago my sister & her boyfriend went to PAX with me and tried the MTG event there. They had fun & I enjoyed teaching them. But I was adamant with them to never look into customising decks and to only play with stock ones. We now have over 10 stock decks including the Duel Deck Anthology. All the decks are well balanced versus one another and it's fun to play games that last longer than 5 rounds.

    Genuinely the most interesting comments section I've read on Kotaku.

    When it first came out in the late 90s my DM (ie Science Teacher) warned us to steer clear and never get into it. He even offered to have a burning ritual of the free cards you got in some mags.
    I've heeded his words since then.

    Recommending Magic is like Recommending World of Warcraft.
    I am too jaded to be anything but biased. The time and money you sink into MTG/WoW will more than a small blip on the radar after all is said and done. I can't say anything bad about MTG/WoW as a game, it's formula is perfectly sound, the updates are great and add tons of flavour to an already established world. Players are constantly harping on about how this is imbalanced or how this class/colour needs a buff to be more competitive but if they took a step back and viewed it objectively, the issues are all pretty minor. People rarely complain about MTG/WoW, they do however complain about the affect it has on their lives/time/wallet. If the best you have against it is that you spend too much time doing it, then that barely constitutes a complaint.

    It is like if you got the power to fly but you spent all your time bitching that when you fly you have to wear goggles to keep the wind out of your eyes. It just doesn't register as a big enough negative to even bother.

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