Thursday, February 5, 2009



Few games can hold the claim that they were the foundation for an entire genre of games, but that is one claim Magic:The Gathering can proudly make.
For those unfamiliar with MtG, it is a collectible card game. A CCG is a game in which packages of randomly inserted cards are present, so that when you buy a pack you are never sure which cards you may be getting. From the cards you then proceed to build a customized deck using whichever cards you choose.
The idea of CCG was really in it infancy when MtG first hit the shelves back in 1993. Now there may have been a CCG, or two published before Richard Garfield's classic arrived on the scene, but this was the gem which created the buzz about CCGs. In the wake of MtG's arrival, literally dozens, actually nearly 300 CCGs were born. Most were little more than cash grabbing flash in the pans, a few found some level of following to last a year, or two, one has remained a constant for more than 15 years, and that in the granddaddy MtG.
So what gives MtG its staying power? It's charisma?
Well the premise is so simple, so compelling, few have matched it. The idea has each player taking on the role of a wizard. The deck of cards he builds is essentially the spells at his disposal, and the resources from which he can cast his spells. The idea works on the premise of the idea of two spell casters weaving their magic in battle.
The spell casters can summon creatures to do battle on his behalf, throw sorceries like fireballs, or offer up instant spells that counter an opponent's card playing.
To cast the spells though the caster must have access to mana, energy drawn from land cards which are also part of the custom deck one builds.
There are five colours of land and magic, black which focuses on creatures such as skeletons and vampires, the forest oriented green, white is the magic of the plains and healing, blue of water and air, and red of fire and stone.
Through the colours players can really develop decks which fit their own strategic leanings, white to maintain life, red to cast tons of direct damage, green to hurl huge forest creatures into the fray.
When the game arrived on the scene, it offered up a couple hundred cards from which players generally construct a deck of 40 to 60 cards. No single card can appear more than four times in a standard deck. Right from the outset a player had huge options.
Those options have grown to monstrous proportions as MtG has released expansions year, after year, usually at least three sets a year, adding hundreds of new cards, with new abilities and power. Today thousands of cards have been released.
The earliest cards are now rare, and pricey. A single card such as a first edition Black Lotus can sell into the four figures. The cards have traditionally been released as commons, uncommons and rares, so certain cards are automatically harder to pull from a card pack, and thus generally pricier.
However new players need not be deterred since Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the game sanction numerous tournament styles, including one focusing on only recent card series releases, allowing players to jump in without having to buy the older cards.
The game also allows for variant play, including partners, three-against-three, and massive free-for-alls with many players.
Of all the CCGs, this is by far the best overall game on a number of levels -- the gold standard of the genre.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan. 28, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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