Posted on March 29, 2011 by Monica Valentinelli
One of the things I did at C2E2 was sit down and play a demo of Magic: the Gathering. I had the chance to talk to a very knowledge and experienced judge. We have some decks here at home and even though I’ve played a few rounds, with a game like Magic: the Gathering I feel there’s always something new to learn.
For my demo, I chose the Chandra Nalaar or red deck from the Planeswalker set. Immediately, the game designer in me wondered how gameplay might vary between the different colors. The red deck was totally appropriate to my personality and had lots of fiery cards and mountains in it.
The judge was patient and thorough. You see, there are a lot of different styles of play based on the number of cards you have. A typical pre-built deck has thirty cards, which allows for faster gameplay. Then you have a limited set of cards with forty, and a constructed deck with sixty. We chatted a bit about the difference in playing styles; the smaller the deck the faster the gameplay. The constructed decks require more expertise because you have to understand what cards complement one another. He also mentioned how the themed decks were better, especially for new players, because the design was more cohesive. Even then, every three months Wizards of the Coast publishes what is known as a “restricted list” of cards to reduce a player’s unfair advantage or min/maxing. My style of play is more min/max, especially if my end goal would be for tournament style play. So to listen to strategy was pretty awesome because I pick up on techniques pretty quickly.
There’s also a big difference between the cards themselves. Standard refers to any cards produced within the past two years. Extended is over two years and Legacy and Vintage refer to the oldest cards. Tournament-style play may include any number of these cards with restrictions, which is often why judges require a deck list to ensure legal use.
My deck was a standard deck and we played our first hand open to get used to the cards. The judge used the black deck which has a swamp theme and is based on death. (If you want to understand the difference in colors in the Planeswalker deck, just visit this link.)
The point of the game is to reduce your opponent’s life from twenty to zero or, depending upon the deck you’re using, ten poison counters. We played using a foam mat (I want one!) and I was taught the proper way to shuffle and set out the cards. Here’s where things got interesting. So, the first hand I picked up didn’t have enough mana in it. (I only had two). For strategy, he mentioned you might want to consider having a minimum of three mana for your opening hand to ensure you have enough to draw upon the monsters, spells, etc. So, I wound up reshuffling and sure enough, found out how important mana was over the course of gameplay. The strategy for the game can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be; I know right now I’d obsess over it. Many of the cards aggregate and work better with one another as opposed to standing on their own. Two cards I really liked to use in combination were the “Fire Servant” and the “Fireball.” The description for the Fire Servant is: If a red instant or sorcery spell you control would deal damage, it deals double that damage instead. For the Fireball, we have: Fireball deals X damage divided evenly, rounded down, among any number of target creatures and/or players.
One of the biggest tips I learned is that you don’t always want to throw out monsters and attack whenever you can. Since that would have been my first inclination, if the judge hadn’t advised me on what might work better? I would have lost. Instead, I won both times in part because the cards he was pulling took more time to engage than my fiery guys. He also mentioned that some of the benefits of getting new cards was that you had more balanced powers and enhanced mechanics.
I had a lot of fun playing Magic: the Gathering, and this type of a card game is right up my alley because it’s never the same game twice and there’s always something new to learn. Could I see myself practicing and eventually getting into a tournament? Yes, yes I could. The judge impressed upon me how much of a community the players and judges were, and while that is always important to me, the variety of ages and people involved is also a big “win” for me. After all, the larger the variety of players you have, the more interesting combinations you get at the table.
More to come on Magic: the Gathering here at FlamesRising.com, but from this gamer’s point-of-view? I can see why people like it and appreciate there’s such a vibrant community and interest in this popular game. It was great to see the tournament at C2E2. Here’s hoping gaming will make an even bigger splash at the show next year.