I shouldn’t have done this. I knew it was a bad idea. Those symbols used to mean a great deal to me. About 19 years ago I wandered into a newly opened comic shop round the corner from my sister’s house. I remember it stank of incense and that there really weren’t that many comics on sale. There was, however, a great number of people playing a card game. The game was the third edition of Magic the Gathering.
I visited the shop for a few days running to watch people play. I asked about joining in but was told that they didn’t have any starter decks left in stock because the new edition was due out very soon, but I was lent a deck and tutored in the rules. By the time the fourth edition hit the shelves I’d been playing every day for about two weeks. The money I made from my Saturday job had a new purpose and the beautiful goth girl behind the counter was more than happy to take it. I spent the next three years collecting cards and visiting the shop two or three times a week but when I left for university I decided to sell anything of value from my collection and gave the rest away. I wouldn’t have the money to continue buying new cards so it seemed the best thing to do.
I regret that decision.
The release of the Planeswalkers video games reignited my interest in Magic but also kept it in check. To start collecting real cards again would cost money and time that I didn’t see myself having spare. But with the release of the Magic 2014 cards, and under the guise of journalism, I made the decision to give it another shot. After all, they now sell convenient Intro decks that are ready to play straight out the box. I told myself I’d get myself a couple of them and that would be it. I’d write up my adventure. I’d find out how easy it is to get back into an evolving game that I’ve not played for over 16 years.
That was about a week ago.
When my intro decks arrived I managed to keep my cool. Unwrapping new cards had always given me a huge buzz but I’m a big boy now; a husband and father. I avoided squealing as I opened up the green and white themed deck. White was always my favorite colour in Magic and I recall green being a good complement to it. Having checked out the pre-built deck for long enough to get the jist of the strategy behind it I turned my attention to the included booster packs. It was all about booster packs in my day. Players would gather round while you opened them to see what you got, and it was opening these that brought it all flooding back.
I remembered convincing myself time and time again that I should get just one more pack. That this next one would be my lucky one. By the time I’d sorted though my two intro decks and handful of boosters I was aching to play again. I had a feeling that the recently opened Geek Retreat cafe in Glasgow sold Magic cards but I wasn’t sure. A quick check of their website confirmed that they did, and also that Wednesday nights were Magic night till 9pm. It was Tuesday. I packed my cards into a bag and left it in the hall ready for the next day.
I’d forgotten about the talking. People that play Magic love talking about it.
When I arrived at the cafe I found several groups of players already set up. I picked a friendly-looking bunch and told them my story. I want to play Magic again. I not sure I remember how. I have these cards but they are full of new words I don’t recognise. Flying, First Strike, and Trample I remember but what does Flash mean? What’s an Aura? How do I use Vigilance? As it happens most of these words were just new ways of describing things that had been more complicated in the past. After a few games I was back on track and even won a few games. I had a great time playing with the guys I met that night and we ended up talking in the street outside the cafe well past closing time. I’d forgotten about the talking. People that play Magic love talking about it.
The game of Magic has changed while somehow remaining very much the same. It is a far more balanced and open setup, rules have been revised and removed to make the game less daunting, and the tiny instruction booklet has been replaced by an easy to understand and friendly double-sided poster, but the biggest change is how much easier it is to collect cards and build decks. When I started playing you could buy a starter deck for core releases and booster packs for more limited run-themed releases but neither of those would give you a working playable deck. I’d estimate you’d have needed to buy at least three starter decks and a fair few boosters before you had enough cards to trade into something worth playing with. Even ignoring the cost this was a daunting barrier to entry.
Modern releases of Magic are much more accessible. As I’ve mentioned there are pre-built Intro Decks that are playable right out of the box. These even include a couple of booster packs to help start your collection. For £12 you’ll be able to start playing and even have some cards you can trade to make your deck a bit stronger. Booster packs are available separately or in a Fat Pack of nine that include a life counter and some storage boxes.
But the best addition to the modern game are the Deck Builders Toolkits. Retailing at between £15 and £18 these include 125 spell cards chosen from a semi-randomised curated list, 100 standard land cards that are used in deck as your source of power, and four 15 card booster packs from various recent game expansions. A huge amount of cards for a reasonable price that will not only give your collection a great start but also, due to the curated lists, allow you to build several workable decks to play with.
Even the layout of the cards has been improved to make everything much clearer to the player. For example, every card carries a symbol to let you know what set it came from but this is now coloured to indicate the rarity of that card. In Magic, rarity impacts play as well as value so this information is handy when planning out your decks. There is little point designing a theoretical deck around having four copies of a card that turns out to be a ‘Mythic Rare’ unless you are willing to spend the money, or time trading, to get three more. On top of that the internet is now rammed with information for players and there are several iOS apps that will give you access to detailed information on every card ever printed. I found iMtG to be a very useful tool.
I took these steps back into the world of Magic to find out if the game I used to love was still as fun as I remember and it certainly is. On top of that it is also far more accessible to new and returning players. Magic: The Gathering has always been the king of collectable card games and Magic 2014 is the perfect way to get in on the action. I’ve certainly fallen off the wagon. In fact, I sold the wagon and spent the money on more booster packs.
Be sure to give me a shout if you’re in Glasgow and fancy a few games.