Magic: The Gathering, the fantasy card game that spawned a million knock-offs, has been at the top of the genre’s heap since it first appeared in 1993. Magic: The Gathering is the most frustrating card game I’ve ever played for one reason: I never win. I didn’t just lose most of the time or almost all the time; I lost every single time I tried to play this game.
Magic: The Gathering has enough slobbering fanboys to tell you how awesome the game is. I’m going to concentrate on what frustrated me about Magic: The Gathering eighteen years ago when it was first published, nine years ago when I gave the game another shot, and just last week when I found myself playing with some younger friends.
If you aren’t into fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, or pictures of scantily-clad women warriors, you won’t like Magic: The Gathering. The cards themselves are the beginning of my frustrations with the game. There are simply too many Magic: The Gathering decks and themes for me to keep it all straight. Magic Antiquities, Magic Scourge, Magic Homelands—who the heck can keep all this stuff straight in their head?
Apparently, nine and ten year old boys. I see more young people playing Magic: The Gathering than any other age group. The world’s best players are barely old enough to vote, to say nothing of buying a round of ale at Ye Olde Castle Tavern or whatever. Young brains are great at memorizing, categorizing, and recalling vast amounts of information and details when they want, a great skill set for a card game with so many playing options as Magic: The Gathering.
The only other thing about Magic: The Gathering that frustrates me is that I can’t win. I tried to play when the game first appeared and promptly quit after losing no less than 20 rounds, one after the other. About a decade ago, I gave the game another chance, this time with some of the expanded edition cards. Still couldn’t win.
Just last week I got together with some younger guys for a night of gaming. Instead of playing Shadowrun like we’d all agreed, the guys pulled out their Magic: the Gathering decks and started wailing on each other’s mana or whatever. I jumped in for a game, and guess what? They all beat me, repeatedly, hand after hand.
Magic: the Gathering cards aren’t all that expensive when you get started. $20 should get you a nice deck to begin playing with. Once you start trying to buy the rare promotional cards, the game gets expensive. It is common to see individual rare Magic cards selling for $10, $20, $50, and even more. Top price for a single Magic card? $20,000 for one single out of print card. It sold a few years ago to a collectible card store in California, and the ironic thing is that the card (Black Lotus) isn’t all that valuable in the game itself. It just happens to be really rare.
I don’t think I’ll ever play Magic: The Gathering again. I just don’t like losing that much. Leave Magic to the math wizards and preteen phenoms who are best at it. There’s always good old traditional D&D for me to play. I’ll leave this intense fantasy card game to people who can take the abuse.