20 years of Magic

It was the spring of 1994, and as I walked out of the library at Pierce Community College, I saw my brother playing some card game with the weirdos that sat outside the library.  It was like some combination of garbage pail kids and dungeons and dragons.  I had no choice but to scoff at him and walk on to class.  The next year I was living in the dorms at the University of Washington, and a handful of guys on my floor were playing that very same game in the common area.  I had no choice but to scoff at them and go study my engineering homework.  A year or so later I was home on break, and my brother and some of our friends were playing that very same game at the kitchen table.  I had no choice but to sit down, take the handful of cards I was given and learn how to play.  That handful of cards was filled with Craw Wurms and Llanowar Elves, and I wasn’t scoffing anymore.  At least not that night.


That was my introduction to Magic: The Gathering.  Over the next year or so, I played many games of Magic with these friends.  Someone gave me a deck, other people gave me random cards, I tried to make something with it, and even ventured to a card shop on occasion to pick through piles of cheap cards to add to my collection.  I just never wanted to spend lots of money on pieces of cardboard.  So when I inevitably lost to my friends who didn’t have such boundaries, my interest began to wane a bit.  Some of these guys seemed way too competitive, and I was playing to have fun.  If I wanted to be competitive, I’d focus that energy on something like basketball or soccer, you know things that might actually impress a girl or something. At some point, I remembered thinking to myself “if only there were some way to play this game where you had to make your deck by picking cards out of a box or something instead of always losing to the person who spends the most money on cards.”  Eventually I moved on to other interests and got rid of what cards I did have.

I don’t know exactly what happened to those cards, but I’d like to think that I gave them to my brother, and when he quit the game he gave them to his younger sister-in-law, and when she quit the game she gave them to my brother’s kids.  And when I’d go visit my brother, I’d play the game with his boys.  Sometimes I’d have friends that wanted to play, and they’d let me borrow a deck so that I’d play with them.  But I always thought making the deck was the best part and every time I’d think about getting back into the game I’d look at how much it cost for good cards and decide I had better things to do with my money, if not my time.

Eventually (eventually being somewhere around 3 years ago) I found out about draft.  It was basically a format built around the idea of picking cards out of a box, the very thing I had wanted to play all those years ago.  I had many friends at the time who had played Magic when they were younger, gave it up, and were now trying it again.  And they were drafting.  And I became very interested in this game all of a sudden.  It was partly the limited nature of it, and it was partly because this came after I’d spent a few years as a pretty serious poker player.  By pretty serious, I mean that I believed if things ever got bad I could live in the back of my truck and make enough money at the casino to pay for everything else.  So I had a much better concept of how games worked than I did when I was in college.  I became a pretty avid player, and still enjoy the game, there are just fewer opportunities for me to play it now that I’m a dad than there were before my son was born.

It’s somewhat remarkable that a collectable card game has been around for twenty years, that they’ve been able to continually make this an interesting product.  And it seems there should be some sort of generational story here, but I haven’t been paying enough attention throughout the history of the game to know what that story is.  I heard somewhere that professional players were much meaner ten years ago than they are now, but I’ve never been to a professional event, so I don’t have any basis for an opinion about that.  Maybe, when it comes down to it, the generational story is this:

Magic:Dungeons and Dragons::Twitter:Livejournal

You can play a game of Magic in about 15 minutes (if you really wanted to), whereas Dungeons and Dragons has always seemed to me like a long term commitment (possibly because there weren’t other long term commitments getting in its way).  It’s something that is easier to fit into a busy schedule when you feel like being nerdy.  It’s probably also more accessible to a generation that has a shorter attention span.

Despite my recent interest in the game, the demographic of high level Magic players is probably something more like 18-30.  That’s fine, I was almost 40 when I had my first kid, I’m used to being about a decade behind where I’m supposed to be in the growing up department.  But in many senses, Magic is more of a Millenial game: they grew up with.  And eventually it got so big that it swallowed AD&D whole.  I suppose I could find a way to be snarky about that, but I’ve enjoyed both games in my life, so what’s the point?

Magic: the Gathering is celebrating its 20th birthday this week.  It’s pretty remarkable, if you think about it, even if I can’t find a way to fit it into the typical narrative of my blog.


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