Magic The Gathering recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. As someone who got into the game way back in the day when the Revised Edition had only recently been released (that’s 1994) before moving onto other things a combination of nostalgia and curiosity lead me to see what the game is like now.
The idea that a card game based around casting spells as duelling wizards (or planeswalkers to use the proper term) you played as a teenager would not only still be around 20 years later but be still as, if not more, popular is a little mind boggling really. Then there’s realising that if you’d kept your card collection it would likely be worth a rather sizeable amount of money and would also have all the memories associated with it. Tolarian Community College did a rather excellent video on exactly this.
One of the impressive and curious things about Magic is it has a depth to its gameplay mechanics that can become really quite the rabbit hole. This is why it’s easy to see why players become engrossed with creating finely tuned decks. Another important factor about the enduring appeal of the game though is it’s fun and every game will be different in some way even if players are using the same decks due to how random chance plays into the game.
A thing that I always loved about Magic the Gathering was each card featured amazing art and for me at least I had several favourite artists, I would often have cards in my deck that weren’t that great in terms of gameplay mechanics but had great art. I picked up the first ever Magic The Gathering art book, The Art of Magic The Gathering: Rath Cycle, published in 1998. A fairly slim paperback book of 120 pages. Now Magic The Gathering art books are a regular thing and they’re weighty hardback tomes, a much more fitting home for the amazing art produced for the game.
There’s so many Magic products now it’s a little bewildering. Back in the day you had a choice of a 6o card deck of cards or a booster pack of 15 cards they would have a set number of common, uncommon and rare cards but other than that they were completely random. That was pretty much it. Now there’s Duel decks, Planeswalker decks, Commander decks, Challenger decks, Deck Building Kits, Bundles, Boosters and more besides. Then there’s the myriad different formats, Standard, Modern, Commander, Legacy, Vintage, Brawl and more besides . All of which seems pretty baffling and impenetrable to someone who isn’t new to the game but rather hasn’t played for a long time.
Other things are noticeable too like artifacts are apparently now a silver colour rather than a much more apt, to me anyways, rusty brown colour. As well as myriad new game terms there’s also been the introduction of planeswalkers as cards with their own completely different mechanics based around loyalty. My experience with these is it really seems like planeswalkers seem to destabilise the balance of the game and suck the fun out of it. Games tend to boil down to whoever gets their planeswalker in play first.
There are now cards to represent the myriad token creatures that are part of many cards functions which are welcome addition, although there doesn’t seem to be any official Magic counters. Which I find a little odd since counters are another key part of many card mechanics so Wizards of the Coast not actually producing any official ones seems a little bizarre really.
A big thing though is how much things have changed in the time, a lot can change in 20 or so years. Now there are myriad places to pick up the exact cards you want on the internet, the only requirement is having the money at your disposal. Everything that makes the internet, well, the internet, either didn’t exist or was barely recognisable back in the mid 90’s. Ebay didn’t exist before 1995 and internet titan Google didn’t arrive until 1998.
Whilst I’m not sure whether I’ll be playing at a game night any time soon I’m definitely enjoying playing Magic again, even if it’s just on a casual ‘I’m not sure if this deck is even legal to play at a games night’ type of way.