Entry 16A: It’s a Kind of Magic

Alright, first off I want to apologize. I was going to do a segment about the alignment of canon characters. I’m not going to lie, the reason I didn’t is because it became tedious and also became just an example of how fluid the alignment system is Every time I thought about it more the more I could see legitimate arguments for a person being anywhere from Neutral Evil to Chaotic Neutral to Chaotic Good. After a week of writer’s block I just decided to nix that article.

With that said, this is also a change of pace for me because I’m not writing about anything d20 related at all. While I will probably have a post about magic in RPGs at some point, this is about a different kind of magic. This is about the card game, Magic: the Gathering, of which I was once a dedicated and competitive player. I’m not so much going to talk about strategy or anything else, but rather mainly the progression of the game since I first looked at it and became aware of its existence up to now. Please understand that I was not a consistently dedicated player during this entire time, so that may affect my perspective.

When I was a teenager back in the early 2000’s I was involved in a D&D group that, like so many others, fell apart due to some internal issues. With a small sized group, one of our players suggested that he bring over his Magic cards and that we start playing, and that was how I got started. A lot of his stuff was older, but that was how I learned the basic rules of the game and some basic strategy but I had very little idea what I was actually doing until a local traditional gaming and comic store opened up. This led to me gaining a lot more exposure to the Magic: the Gathering community and that exposure led me to a much greater understanding of the game. So that’s what I’m going to use as the starting point for this journey.
The year was something like 2003. The latest Magic: the Gathering block was called Kamigawa and it was the first (and so far only) time that Magic had gone into a world that was similar to feudal japan. Now, as an anime fan I was supremely interested in this new set but even though Kamigawa was new, the popular block at the time was Mirrodin and if a person was willing to shell out for some of the older stuff the Onslaught block was still available even though it wasn’t “Standard” which meant that you couldn’t play it in most tournament settings. The more I talk (or type) about it, the more I realize it’s difficult to organize my thoughts. Let me define a few terms real quick for those who may not be as dedicated to the game as I once was.

Set: Magic cards are released in sets. There are two types of sets, core sets and… well… non-core sets. Core sets tend to be a bit generic just by their nature, as they are not neccessarily tied to a theme whereas the non-core sets usually have unique mechanics and a unifying theme. Core sets also tend to stand alone, whereas non-core sets are usually released in blocks.

Block: A block is a group (usually of three) of sets. Sets in a block are usually tied to a similar theme, though later sets in a block usually progress a plot within the lore of the game. This leads to some changes in theme, usually based on events that are explained in the fiction that is released alongside the cards.

Card Types: If you don’t know the card types then you may have lost interest by now, but just in case… The card types are Creature, Instant, Sorcery, Enchantment, Artifact, and (Now!) Planeswalker. Creatures are just that, summoned creatures used to fight. Instants and Sorceries represent spells that do things and then go away. Enchantments represent spells with lingering effects and artifacts represent machines, weapons, and a whole bunch else.

Standard: Standard is a tournament format that is usually limited to the latest core set and the latest two blocks, though there have historically been exceptions.

Vintage: Vintage is a tournament format that has a banned list but allows cards from any set. Vintage is the most expensive format to be competitive in.

Draft: Draft is a tournament format that involves buying packs and picking cards out of the packs that have been purchased in order to build a deck on the spot. In a draft you open a pack, pick a card, and pass the pack to the person next to you to pick a card and so on until all the cards are gone. Then you do the same with a second pack going in the opposite direction, then again with a third in the original direction and you build a deck from that pool.
Sealed: Sealed is a tournament format similar to draft, but instead of passing the packs you just build from a set of 4-6 packs that you purchase.

Alright, now I think that should be enough to not have to stop and explain terms during the rest of the article. So where was I? Oh yeah, so the three blocks that were readily available were Onslaught, Kamigawa, and Mirrodin. This was probably a golden time to be getting a start in the game because these sets were all very different and empasized very different play styles. Also, each of these blocks taught me some very important lesson in gaming. And this is about the point where I realize that I’m digging my way into another really long entry that should probably be broken up into smaller parts, so let me give you a breakdown of where we’re going from here.

The Importance of Cohesion: The Onslaught block was probably my favorite block of Magic at the time. At least part of the reason for this is that all of the parts seemed to fit together into one cohesive whole. There were cards that complimented each other, there were cards that opposed each other, and everything fit together wonderfully (at least from my perspective).

The Importance of Balance: Here we talk about the first Mirrodin block. Mirrodin was a strong blocl, but less because of overall strength and more because a lot of seemingly awesome ideas just turned out to be ridiculously strong. The upside of this is that Mirrodin was a beginner’s paradise, the downside is that it meant that if you were playing in Mirrodin block you were either playing one type of deck or you were losing.

The Importance of Inclusion: Kamigawa… oh god Kamigawa. Kamigawa was a set that had a lot of potential and some really cool ideas, the issue is Kamigawa was a set that forced itself into isolation. Barring a few specific cards, all of Kamigawa’s mechanics only functioned with other cards within the block. This meant that if you were building a deck based around Kamigawa’s primary mechanics, you were ignoring a significant amount of your library.

Anyway, I’m going to end before I officially run into being too long winded.

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