Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nearly Two Decades Gaming... My Experience With Magic: the Gathering.

Been a while, huh? I promised myself that I wouldn't write any articles here that I couldn't be sure would provide a unique or valuable perspective. There are lots of places to read about games, comics and geeky films/novels/TV online, that I pledged that I'd write when my opinion was relevant to folks who don't already know me well. That also came with "no promising blog updates if none are forthcoming." I've got a few ideas now, so in the coming weeks and months I'll be doing some writing, with no guarantees as to update frequency. What I've been up to since I last wrote is a return to a few geeky hobbies that I used to be into years ago, but not since until recently. I'll be writing a few articles on these subjects, but both topics (Collectible Card Games, especially Magic: the Gathering, and Miniatures wargaming, especially Warhammer) are too large for a single article. Gotta start somewhere, so Magic's up first.

I prefer not to think about how much I've spent on this game, but I can't say
I didn't get a good value for my money.

The year was 1993, and I was at my third Gen Con (which would be my last one with my father and younger brother, as I started college that fall,) mostly there to play D&D. I registered for various events and seminars, but everywhere I went in the Milwaukee Convention Center, the scene was the same. Everywhere there were people sitting at tables where there was no event scheduled, or even on the floors playing a game I'd never seen before. It was some sort of card game, but each player had their own deck. Magic didn't need word of mouth in those first few days, people were too busy playing it on any flat surface they could find with anyone who had a deck to bother evangelizing. I headed to the hall and picked up a starter deck and a booster pack of Magic cards, what we'd now call "Alpha Edition." I didn't actually play Magic at Gen Con, there wasn't time to figure out the game and attend my scheduled events, but I looked over the curious cards and read the rules.

College was a great time to be a gamer, at least for me. I quickly found a gaming group and was playing D&D and Shadowrun as often as I could (which was a little too often to keep up my studies, especially once I moved into a dorm room.) When one of the guys in the group got a job at a game store in early 1994, he brought Magic to campus with him. Some of us had a few cards, had maybe tried it, but with Revised Edition and The Dark, it blew up big that spring. Through the rest of that first year and the summer that followed, we played a LOT of Magic. Some of us quit in frustration at the release of Fallen Empires (a set so bad that nearly 20 years later you can still buy unopened display boxes of packs for well under retail,) but we all got back in for Fourth Edition in the Spring of 1995.

If only I'd kept this, I could now buy a used car.

I attended a few tournaments, as I was playing one of the early dominant competitive decks, a red/green deck based around a card combination that could end the game on Turn One with a lucky draw. My "Channel Fireball" deck won its share of games, but when key cards in it were banned, I found myself unable to stay current with purchasing the cards to build a new competitive deck. I tried a few other tournament concepts that didn't do very well, but it was pretty much back to "kitchen table" magic for the next few years. Once the college friends started to get married, move on to jobs and such, playing magic at all seemed expensive and not really worth it except on the rare occasions that we all got together and felt like bringing out the old cards again. Money got tight, I sold off the expensive cards from my old tournament deck, and that was it.

Except it wasn't. When I got into games retail, I stayed away from Magic Cards at first. I remembered how expensive they could be. A friend I met at the store got me into buying pre-constructed decks as they released for a "buy this once and then put it away" kind of playing, and I did that for a year or two, maybe buying a booster pack when curious. A customer helped me trade for enough cards to make a semi-competitive tournament deck which I played and did okay with for a bit, until the mighty banhammer hit a key card in that deck, too. Back to the kitchen table. I kept the tournament deck together to dust off and smack people around with on occasion, but I bought fewer and fewer cards, with no real desire to have more.

My favorite setting in the M:tG Universe, it returning when it did seems like fate.

In the year immediately before the Hobby Shop I managed closed its doors for good, I briefly got back into Magic when I discovered booster drafting. We'd get together, draft a few packs and build decks and play a few rounds of swiss for a prize pool of about a pack per player split between the top 2. These small drafts were in the original Ravnica Block, and I loved the characters, the setting and the two-color guilds, I even read the novels. The 3rd set in the block came out, and we just never managed to get together for that last booster draft. I kept the packs, unopened, and put them away for years. I was pretty sure I was done, and for over six years, I was right.

Four months ago, two things happened. A friend (from that original group at college) posted to Facebook about playing Magic with his wife and daughters. Around the same time, my wife met a group of Magic players at the college where she's returned to finish her degree. We started talking about the game, dug out my old collection from the 4-5 different boxes and closets it had been scattered to... and just like that, I was back. I learned about the current tournament formats, got my friends into EDH (also known as commander) and started working on a tournament deck, learning what parts of my collection still held value. Magic is regarded as a rich man's (or woman's) game, but I've done okay on relatively little money, and I'm a tournament player again. The specifics of that journey are best left to a second article.

After 20 years, Magic proves to be one of those games for me... I never really quit, I just go into periods of remission.
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