Confessions of a Magic Noob: Old Dog and New Tricks

Image via Wikimedia.org

Confession #1: I am not actually a Magic: the Gathering noob. I started playing MtG when I was about eleven years old, so technically I’ve been playing the game since the mid-nineties. Yikes. That’s rapidly approaching twenty years.

But the truth is, I’ve only really been playing the game regularly for a few months. I go through fits every couple of years where I decide I WILL FINALLY LEARN TO PLAY MAGIC (usually when I see blog posts about Brandon Sanderson playing Magic with fans at cons), so I run out, buy some new cards, and force my husband to sit down and play with me.

Typically he plays black and I play white, the color I chose mostly because of the prettiness factor. (Yup, I’m one of those.) In these brief affairs with the game,  he thoroughly stomps me over about four sessions, and I  decide it isn’t fun after all and I don’t actually want to play. Back into the closet the cards go, rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

This year, though, I finally snapped. I was going to learn to play Magic well, or die trying.

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If you’re not familiar with it, Magic: the Gathering is a trading card game produced by Wizards of the Coast. Typically, the game is played between two individuals (“planeswalkers”) who throw creatures, artifacts, and spells at each other until eventually one person loses all of their 20 life points. Creatures battle each other or attack the other player directly; similarly, spells affect one or both players, one or many creatures, or even items or other spells. It sounds fairly simple in theory, but in fact the game has been through so many iterations, expansions, editions, and re-imaginings that there are hundreds of variations of play. There’s also a flourishing secondary market: there’s a single player computer game, an online computer game, a series of novels, an international tournament circuit, and probably a thousand other things this dabbler doesn’t know about.

Depending on how you look at it, the ever-changing and expanding MtG universe is either its own reward or the biggest pain in the ass a gamer will ever encounter.  There are infinite gorgeous cards to buy, admire, and play, and each new edition adds new rules and creatures that keep the game fresh and new…. but your gorgeous cards are constantly getting replaced, and you’re perpetually having to learn new mechanics. Every individual game is different… and that makes it really damn difficult for players to keep from becoming obsolete.

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MtG bonus: gorgeous artwork by excellent fantasy artists. Image via Wizards of the Coast

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When I first started playing the game with a starter kit, approximately three years after the game’s initial release, it was fairly easy to catch on to the rules. Send your creatures to attack the other player; they block with other creatures or spells, or they take the damage. Defend with instant spells, boost your creatures with enchantments or other sorceries, hope you draw enough land to power your hand.

But when I started looking at cards this year, I started feeling like an old fogey, wondering what the hell the damn kids are playing these days. You’re telling me, sonny, that I have to keep track of regular, poison, and infect damage? And what’s all this about multi-player? YOU MEAN TO SAY THIS CARD IS ACTUALLY TWO DIFFERENT CARDS IN ONE!?

I was in over my head.

Happily, Wizards of the Coast is a clever, money-making machine that releases a new computer game with each new edition of the game, and Steam came to the rescue with a sale on Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers. While deep down I’m a shiny-things-hoarding-magpie, and I like my pretty cards, the electronic version is a fantastic way to learn the advanced mechanics of the game. This version of the game includes a single player “campaign” that’s really just a really long, progressive tutorial, and is also a platform for connecting with other players of the 2014 edition. In short, it’s a great way to hone and test your skills before you jump into the more open-ended world of real-life play. For example, I can never remember to block a single, enormous creature with multiple smaller creatures, and the game’s series of tutorials kindly reminds me that cannon fodder exists to help keep me alive. And though I’m still fuzzy on the timing of some instants, Duels of the Planeswalkers has started to teach me that I don’t just need to roll over and die when someone casts an instant.

With the game’s help, I’m finally starting to get the hang of the rules well enough to not just run the same damn plays over and over again with my physical deck. At long last, I’m able to win at least one game out of every three that I play.

And for this old fogey, that is some sweet, sweet success. I may never be able to keep up with you MtG whippersnappers, but, by golly, at least I don’t have to just pat my vintage cards and think longingly that in my day, I used to win a few.

If you’re interested in Magic: the Gathering, join SfSW-contributor and Magetech player Brian O’Connor and me for a talk about playing MtG: Commander tonight at 8 p.m. EDT on the Searching for Superwomen YouTube channel! We’ll discuss creating a Commander-style deck, game mechanics, and (hopefully) how to not get your ass kicked when playing more experienced players.

Image via Wizards of the Coast

Image via Wizards of the Coast