Magic The Gathering

A TradingCardGame. -- OleAndersen

A SelfModifyingGame. -- LisaDusseault

2007 MAgic The Gathering Schedule on ESPN2 (You are welcome!) -- Kerry Hinkle, Jr

The crack cocaine of fantasy gaming. -- PeteHardie

Is it a glorified version of "Pokemon cards" game? Still a fad in 2005?

It is an addictive game, especially for kids in the range of 12-16 years, but there are also adults that play it. It might be useful to give some basic information for parents, because this game might become a BlackHole for the money they give to their children.

Pros: Cons: Introduction:

The key idea is that many of the rules of the game are written on cards, and they are only in effect when their cards are in play. Each player prepares a deck before the game starts, selecting from their personal collection of cards. You don't know what cards/rules are in the other player's deck. The possible interactions of rules are legion.


MagicTheGathering is not quite self-modifying. There is a finite set of rules, and some of the rules only apply in some situations. That is not unusual. A truly SelfModifyingGame like NomicGame or DvorakGame has no limit on the number or scope of the rules. -- OleAndersen

The set of rules may be finite but it is also unbounded and open. Generally you don't know what rules are held in the other fellow's deck.

That criticism applies more closely to CosmicEncounter?, at least if you don't use add-on sets, since all the possible rules are already there in the box. Still, the set of rules is large enough, and the players have sufficient control over which rules are in play, to give the feeling of self-modification. -- DaveHarris

Nothing stops the player from checking through all the published cards to find out which rules can be activated. There are books and websites for such purposes. -- OleAndersen

Official tournaments often only allow cards from the newer sets, which does put a bound on the rules allowed in a game. -- SimonHeath

My understanding is that one can usually be surprised by what is in the other player's deck, and that part of the fun of the game is to invent surprising combinations oneself. I've not played much myself, though. -- DaveHarris

That comment is usually true.As a relatively new but very avid player, I find myself constantly surprised by cards, and combos, my opponents pull on me, and they can be surprised by cards and combos I play on them.I also agree with the following comment(it's very true). -- JasonCarr?

From having played MagicTheGathering once upon a time myself, I'd say that part of the addictiveness comes from the fact that you don't have to be playing to be engaged in it. A lot of game strategy comes with how you build a deck, so you can - and MTG addicts will - spend hours at home by yourself, figuring out great ways to build decks. I can't figure out if this is a pro (kids will learn the importance of advance planning) or a con (kids will grow up to be ChiefArchitects).

There's interesting analogies between Magic and programming. Building your deck is like programming, and playing the game is like running your program. Magic has a virtual machine, i.e. the basic core rule set that the players execute by hand is in *software*, not hardware. The cards are code, and they can do almost anything, including modifying the virtual machine rules. Other games usually put the basic machine in hardware, i.e. it is hard-coded and unchangeable. Nothing you can do in most games - including role-playing games - can change the hardware rules.

Magic is fascinating game. Its rules are are divided into a "base set" of rules, which are more or less completely specified in a rule book you can download for free. The rest of the rules come on cards, which you have to buy. Rules on cards always override base set rules, so the game is extremely varied. Brand new mechanisms and rules can be introduced with new sets of cards.

People often point out the addictive quality of Magic, and it's a shame that the cards are so expensive. The reality is that it's a great game, one of my favourites. I am not terribly interested in playing to win (although getting stomped-on by your opponent is never fun), and so I don't waste loads of money buying good cards; in fact, compared to going to the movies or theater, say, I've gotten much more value out of Magic. We often experiment with our own rules for deck-building, and it's tremendously rewarding when your deck wins big, or holds out against a heavy attack, or causes multi-card combinations.

It is possible to play with a very limited investment. One must specialize and be willing to trade away cards in some colors or themes to gain depth in your specialization. My personal observation is that the players who do this are generally better players than those who go out and buy thousands of dollars in cards.

I like playing with sealed decks. In this type of game, you get a bunch of guys together and everyone buys a couple of new decks and plays only with those cards. (generally $20-$25 worth). This works because the most common cards are generally the most useful. In this style of game, those with few cards can play with those who have massive collections.

Sealed decks and small specialized libraries do limit some of the fun of constructing new and novel theme decks. It can also be problematic when someone you play with regularly creates a deck with a specific, gaping weakness and you do not have the cards that would let you exploit it. Usually, that's when people go out and buy more cards.

ESPN 2 televises Magic tournaments every once and a while, but I do not know how it is scheduled.

The game is affectionately called "Paper Crack" by those who play it.

Agreed on the possibility of playing cheaply. I used to use fairly expensive decks when I first got into the game, because I got my dad into collecting and could always mooch off of his cards. But the only deck I use now (and the only one I brought to college) is a $6.00 all-common control deck. It's made entirely out of cards from the $0.10 bin at local card shops, and tends to win more than it should (probably 70-80% against inexperienced players with mid-priced decks, 30-40% against experienced players with decent decks, and...well...much less than that against top-notched players with top-notched decks).

I think its biggest strength is that lots of players with expensive cards think their opponents will have equally expensive decks. Thus, they go to great lengths to control the game environment, and then are completely unprepared for "Fireball. Fireball. I counterspell your counterspell. Oh look, you're dead." It can be very frustrating to play against, because I'll plink you to death with a 3/1 Clay Statue while counterspelling or burning anything that might get in the way.

Kinda reminds me of XP and DoTheSimplestThingThatCouldPossiblyWork, the way it relies on a bunch of very simple fundamentals that everyone knows are good (Lightning Bolt, Counterspell), and then combines them to make something more than the sum of its parts.

-- JonathanTang

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