Tag: magic

Magic Without The Gathering

A large part of the point of tabletop gaming is to get together to play. That hasn’t been possible recently.

I have three primary venues where I play Magic: with my day job friends, with my kids and their friends, and at our local game shop (LGS). I have been working at home since March, physical interactions with any friends have been absent, and our LGS can’t operate any events on the premises. It’s all very sad.

Fortunately, my kids still want to play.

Also, I made that webcam bracket and so I’ve been able to play a little bit of Magic over the Internet.

this is where I play Magic on the Internet

this is where I play Magic on the Internet

The tripod is wedged in place with its legs slightly opened for stability. The playmat isn’t square on the table because the camera isn’t: it’s easier to adjust the playmat angle than the camera. The light on the right is my daylight lamp and is the only illumination for the play surface. I turn off the room lights when playing because otherwise the cards are just white rectangles of glare as the overhead bulb reflects into the camera!

the webcam mounted to the tripod with my custom bracket

the webcam mounted to the tripod with my custom bracket

This is the bracket in operation on the tripod. The camera’s clamp looks more rickety there than it actually is – that’s quite firmly wedged in place.

The tools we’re using are:

  • Discord – great for voice chat, and the desktop client supports video. Point your webcam at your playmat and go. This is what our LGS uses, based on a template from Wizards of the Coast.
  • Spelltable – similar video option to Discord, but with Magic-specific features on top like life total and commander. When we’ve used this for video we’ve still been using Discord for voice. It has a limit of four players in a game, which Discord does not, but does have some basic video manipulation features.
  • OBS – this is not strictly necessary, but it can be used to supply a virtual camera to your video platform and that allows you to apply transforms to the video. Specifically, my webcam has its video mirrored. OBS will allow me to flip that, amongst other things I don’t understand yet.

I would also highly recommend against playing any deck that permanently steals other players’ permanents or lets you search someone else’s library. Both of those operations are very difficult to navigate. Pacifism is bad enough.

I’m very much looking forward to getting back to in-person play, but at least this is a way to play the game.

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A Commander Toolkit

Most of the Magic I play is Commander, originally known as EDH: Elder Dragon Highlander. The concept is simple — you build a 100 card deck made up single copies of cards, one of which is a legendary creature called the commander. The first commanders were the original Elder Dragons, and there can only be one of each card*. The cards must be in the same colour identity as the commander, that is any mana symbols on the cards must also appear on the commander. The commander is an always-available creature to cast, and often hints at the theme for the deck.

Maybe it’s not that simple.

What I like about Commander is that anything can happen, and you only need one copy of each card. This comes back to my need to clear out cards: if I only need to keep one of each card, then there is no need to hang on to twenty copies of that draft chaff common from five sets ago.

But if I only need one copy of any one card, how come I still don’t have enough Sol Rings?

Build It Now

The answer to that question is that I have kept too many decks built at once.

In my years of playing Commander I have collected a large pile of decks with different themes. Then there are the preconstructed decks (which truly are one of the best products that Wizards of the Coast sells, even after the disappointing 2018 set) which I have tended to hang onto in their original form.

My current choice of which deck to play in my group is in the form of a farewell tour: I have been giving decks I no longer want to keep intact one last outing before I dismantle them. I am retaining the deck lists, but my intention henceforth is to keep decks together for a lot less time and to keep things more fluid.

The decks I am releasing cards from are either boring (too good, like my life gain deck, or not good enough, like the modified cat deck) or no longer funny (because sometimes I build decks for a thematic joke; the Hammer of Purphoros deck falls into that unfortunate group, but Djinn Palace is another one that wasn’t half as funny as I hoped it would be). There are several decks I plan to maintain in good order, because they are strong but not boring, or continue to be funny.

Build It Later

As I pull apart decks, the cards will either go back into my sorted collection or be put into a toolkit that I can use as the basis of commander decks of the future.

Commander is a singleton format, but the trick with it is to build redundancy into the deck by including multiple cards with similar effects. There are many spells that search your deck for land, or counter an opponent’s spell, or destroy a single target creature. I want to build a toolkit which gathers cards for a particular function and sorts them by colour. The categories I am going to start with are:

  • ramp: mana rocks and land ramp. Also, discount effects
  • card draw
  • removal: destroy a single thing
  • board wipe: destroy everything
  • recursion: bringing things back from the graveyard
  • counter spell
  • tutor: general or specific card search
  • lands: utility lands, multicolour lands, land tutors
  • tribal: things that support decks built around a common creature type

Other categories exist, of course, and if I am building a particular kind of deck then I will collect cards that fill those: life gain payoffs, for example, or stealing other people’s things, or chaotic effects. Those are much more specific and ephemeral classifications though, so they will just live in the collection. These toolkit categories will be used in many different decks so collecting them centrally makes a lot more sense.

End Game

As I said above, I am aiming for a single copy** of most cards in my collection. The commander staples in the toolkit categories will be duplicated more freely, and there are some things I want to keep playsets of for specific purposes, but I am expecting to be getting rid of some thousands of cards.

There will be more room in the storage boxes, at least.

[*] apart from basic lands, and cards which explicitly say you can have as many as you want in the deck.

[**] or at least a single copy of each art for a card.

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Making a Magic Card Library

Magic the Gathering can be an expensive game, which is why I have written before about Magic on the cheap.

I mostly play Commander, and while individual cards might cost real money you only ever need one of them for a deck.

But what if you have multiple decks?

The decks I’ve built over the years generally have pretty distinct themes. The -1/-1 counter deck is in black and green so it doesn’t share a lot of cards with the blue/white fliers deck or the mono red goblin trick deck. But there are cards that fit into all of these decks, and there are other decks which compete for cards they need (I have three big creature decks that all need green ramp spells, for example).

So what I have started to do is to build a card library. I have taken cards that could be reasonably shared between decks and put those in a special kind of sleeve that I don’t use for anything else, and replaced the original card with a proxy.

In play, you have a proxy in the deck and that is what you draw into your hand, then when you play it you place the original card on top. This is exactly the system I use for double-faced cards – it means I don’t have to continuously hoik the card out of its sleeve to flip it, preventing damage to the card. And this is an officially approved approach: Wizards prints checklist cards which act as substitutes for double-faced cards in draft games.

The proxies I use are black and white printouts of the original art for a card (ideally using the same art as the card I have). I make my proxies this way for two reasons: first, they are very obviously not real cards so there’s no question of trying to pass them off; and second the rules are readable on the card so if the original card is not available (eg you are playing two decks that contain the same card) then the deck can still be played. I back these with the ad cards you get in booster packs.

I like this system because it allows me to play the best cards I have for a purpose in all the decks that need them (although not necessarily simultaneously). I like building tribal decks which use lots of creatures of the same creature type* and most of them would benefit from cards like Urza’s Incubator or Cavern of Souls, so this way I end up with these broadly applicable cards being in all the places they are needed rather than having to pick one deck to get the good card.

There are downsides to this system:

  • it only really works for singleton formats. If I needed a playset of (say) the latest Chandra for a Modern deck this wouldn’t help because I would still need four copies of an expensive card.
  • there’s a very good chance this is not tournament-legal. But then Commander is generally a casual format, so this shouldn’t be an issue. If you happen to be playing in a tournament you might just have to put the original card into the deck, or at least substitute out basic lands for the ad cards.
  • you have to use sleeves, and they should be opaque. I noted above that I used ad cards to back the proxy which do not have the standard Magic card back. This means that if your sleeves are not substantially opaque then you can see the ad image, which amounts to a marked card.
  • some play groups may not be cool with this. There are players who are sticklers for using real cards at all times. Those players might insist that you substitute in the original card.

    Those players are gits.

    If you encounter this kind of inflexibile attitude, point out that you are saving time. Substituting actual cards for the proxies is a lot slower than getting them as you need to, and as long as you can show that you do, in fact, have the card then there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable objection.

I recommend this approach if you find that the quality of your decks is suffering because the cards you need are somewhere else in your collection.

[*] the logical conclusion of this may be the deck I have planned based around djinns, which I intend to call Djinn Palace.

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Magic on the Cheap: Part 3 – Cube

Previously I have written about why Magic the Gathering is expensive and how to control the cost of play in constructed formats.

Constructed play is great, but one of the things Magic is best for is the social aspect of drafting.

The last strategy I have for controlling costs is to build a cube.

Part 3: Cubes

A cube is a curated collection of cards, usually a multiple of 45, from which players draw random packs of fifteen and then draft using those packs. A basic cube for an eight person draft pod would have 8 x 3 x 15 = 360 cards. The draftable cards may include non-basic lands. Alongside the cube will be basic land cards in the same sleeves to build decks with. Once the draft is done, players put all the cards back in the box at the end of play. It is, in effect, turning Magic into a board game.

The benefits of a cube should be clear: you play with the same cards repeatedly so you only have to buy them once, and you only have to buy one set of sleeves (assuming you sleeve, which for cards you are playing with multiple times you really should).

My first cube is a Shadows Over Innistrad set cube. It contains one of each rare or mythic, two of each uncommon, and three of each common – a total of 582 cards. I found that I had about about three quarters of those already in my collection, and I decided to make proxies for the rares I did not already have. The remaining commons and uncommons I just bought, since they amounted to a total of about $10. I’ll buy the rest of the cards when the prices drop after rotation, if I decide to maintain this cube.

The biggest expense was actually the sleeves. With nearly 600 cards and needing to sleeve up about 30 of each land colour (I have used the matching lands too, since I had those) I needed nearly 800 matching sleeves.

So, a cube is good value once it’s made and for each game thereafter, but there is a significant initial cost. The good news is that that investment doesn’t degrade, and I have a lot of matching sleeves for the next cube I build .

Next Time

The next Magic post I write will probably be on deck building, specifically focussed on the way I built my decks for the Standard Pauper league a couple of seasons ago.

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Magic On The Cheap: Part 2 – Playing Cheaply

Magic is a great game, but it can be an expensive game. In this context, I work hard to keep the cost down.

Part 2: Cheating Into Play

Drafting at game shops is great, but I organise drafts at the day job1 (which is where I know the most Magic players) at cost and buy cards in the most efficient way to bring down the price. So, a booster draft costs $10 a head including land for an evening’s entertainment, and we do that once a quarter (basically when a new Standard set comes out). This satisfies the pack cracking urge quite well.

I also like constructed play, where you build a 60 card deck and play against someone else who has built a deck under the same constraints. These decks are built either by using your collection, or by buying the cards individually. Standard and Modern are both expensive for their own reasons, but I like Pauper.

A Poor Substitute?

Pauper is a format where you restrict the rarity of the cards played to just commons. The eternal form of Pauper (ie where any card printed is legal) has decks which cost more just because of the age of some of the staple cards, but as of this writing they still cost less than $100 (competitive decks can still be much cheaper). Standard Pauper, where you are only playing commons printed recently, is cheaper yet: a complete deck will likely cost less than $5.

But, I hear the cry: doesn’t restricting play to commons make the decks boring.

No. Definitely not.

The biggest loss to the Pauper player is access to planeswalkers. Those are all at Mythic rarity, but there are those who would consider that no loss at all. What you get from a good Pauper deck, as with the best Magic decks in unrestricted formats, is synergy: individual cards may not be doing as many things, but they work together very well. Some of the most fun games of Magic that I’ve played have been in Pauper formats.

And when it comes to proper Pauper, where the age of the cards is not restricted, you have cards like Lightning Bolt which was printed as a common until only five years ago. Many people consider that one of the best cards ever printed, and those who don’t might well put it second only to Force of Will.

So, there are cards you might miss, but the games will be interesting and worthwhile. They’ll also likely be more balanced.

Try Pauper. It’s really good.

Next time I will write about a permanent solution to the drafting blues.

[1] I also run a league at the day job, so there is a structure to encourage play.

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Magic On The Cheap: Part 1 – Why Is Magic The Gathering Expensive?

I play Magic the Gathering. It is not an inherently cheap game. This is a short series about  how to manage that cost, but the first step in is to understand why Magic is expensive to play.

Part 1: High Casting Cost

There is a great deal about Magic that is very interesting and worthwhile as a gaming experience. Drafting is fun, sealed is fun. Building constructed decks in various formats is enormous fun, and actually playing the decks you build can be incredibly rewarding. Sometimes frustrating, sure, but usually just good fun.

But, all of these different ways of playing come with a cost. With most board games you buy a box and play the game. You might then buy expansions for that base game. Those expansions may cost as much as the base game if they are big, or just be a fraction of the price if it’s a small enhancement. Some games are predictable, while others allow many different combinations of components for a very widely varied gameplay experience. However it plays, you spend $30-$60 on a game and you play it.

Magic isn’t really like that.

The basic unit in which you buy Magic cards is the booster pack. These packs are each 15 cards with specific proportions of cards sorted by rarity: ten commons, three uncommons, a rare (or mythic rare), and a basic land1. There’s also a token of some kind. A pack is not a playable thing on its own2.

These packs are designed to be played in a draft. This is where a group of players (eight, optimally) each have three packs. They each open one pack and select a card to keep, then pass to the left, continuing to select and pass until the first pack is exhausted. Then they do the same thing with the second and third packs, but alternating the pass direction: to the right for the second pack, to the left again for the third. Once all packs are exhausted you build a 40 card deck from the cards selected, although that 40 card count includes basic land which you can add freely. The upshot is that you will pick 45 cards and play 22-25 of them.

A draft like this costs three packs plus basic land, usually $12-14 at a game shop (depending on prize support). Now, playing the games themselves is several hours of entertainment, and there is a lot of deep skill involved both in the drafting process and building the decks, so if you compare it to (say) going to the cinema it’s pretty reasonable. But that’s still $12-14 every time you play.

Other formats are more expensive, not less: sealed is six packs per person, constructed decks in the main formats (Standard, Modern) can easily be hundreds of dollars to buy if you don’t have the cards, and so on.

Selling Out

One mitigating factor for the cost of Magic is that you can often sell cards to pay for some or all of it. This is not an MTG finance piece and I will not be discussing this in detail, but sometimes you will pull a card during a draft that is worth $20, $30, or more, although the chances of that are low. The Masterpieces added to packs in recent sets are a case in point – they have high value, but they are also very unlikely. It truly is a lottery whether the cards you open match the price you paid: the Professor plays the Booster Box Game to demonstrate how you always lose in the end.

Still, I’m very bad at selling cards. I’ve sold approximately three. I like collecting them too much, so although you can sell cards, I am not going to claim that that’s a great way to control costs.

That’s some of the reasons why Magic is expensive. Next time I’ll write about some ways to manage that cost.

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(Un)Competitive Magic

I had my first competitive game of Magic on Monday. I lost, 0-2.

Most of the Magic I’ve been playing has been at the day job – I posted something there about starting a Magic league (no prizes, just for fun) and had an enthusiastic response. We now have ten players split into two divisions. The thing that still amazes me is that this is not all the Magic players I work with.

Matches started this week, and my first match in the Stonehenge division (the other is called Machu Picchu) was against a player with a lot more experience of Magic than I. He’d built a deck that was pretty heavy on control and I was expecting my aggressive deck to do well. Unfortunately, this did not happen – my deck just fizzled.

I think the main thing that went wrong* was that my deck is trying to do too many things. I’ve got three distinct strategies in the deck, two of which reinforce each other but the third is a bit of a fifth wheel. There’s also a backup plan of big creatures to finish. Having too many unrelated strategies competing for space in the deck reduces the probability of any of them connecting.

Another issue is that I didn’t do enough play testing, and I didn’t have a clear idea of how to play the deck. Now, it’s my deck and I have a good idea of its win conditions, but I didn’t have a strong sense of how to get from the opening hand to one of those win conditions. Basically, I didn’t have any idea of what an ideal hand would look like, nor did I know what I should mulligan** for (apart from land).

There was some good news: I was worried about the land base being too slow but that was not an issue, and the sideboard worked. There were certain spells my opponent played which I could do nothing about in the first game of the match, and I sideboarded in answers to those spells which helped me survive longer in the second game. And the match as a whole was not a blow-out – the 0-2 result masks the fact that I did a lot of damage to my opponent, he just did more damage to me and I lost.

So the plan with this deck now is to refocus on the strategies that reinforce each other, and to do more play-tests so I have a clearer idea of what cards I need in my opening hand.

On to the next game.

[*] apart from bad draws. Magic is, as one vlogger puts it, a high variance game: depending on the luck of the draw, anyone can win and anyone can lose.

[**] the mulligan is a term borrowed from golf, where a golfer gets to replay a bad shot. In Magic, if a hand is unplayable then you can shuffle it back into the deck and redraw – although whenever you do this your opening hand size drops one card.

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The Other Drafting

Monday night was Magic night at the day job: we had a booster draft after work using a box of Dragons of Tarkir.

Booster drafting is a social format for Magic, where each player starts with three booster packs. The players break up into groups of 5-8 sitting around a table and then everyone opens a pack, selecting the card you like best and then passing the pack to the left until that first pack is exhausted. The second and third packs are opened in the same way, but the passing direction alternates so that the second pack is passed to the right. Once all the cards are picked, you can build a deck and then play.

It’s a fascinating format, featuring difficult decisions in the choice of cards, opportunities for signalling, and then even harder choices when trying to make a deck from your ill-chosen assortment of cards. Dragons is a good set to draft with – anything with dragons in it is intrinsically interesting, and there are some strong synergies between cards (some faint echoes of which emerged in my deck).

I enjoy drafting but I am certainly no expert – this was only my second booster draft. I did better than last time though I was not disciplined enough in my choice of cards: I picked some cards because they were cool*, and some because they would fit into a standard deck I’m building, and others because I just didn’t want to face them. What I completely failed at was keeping in mind what I already had in my pack – I had only the very vaguest notion of a plan, and that evaporated in the avalanche of choices I had to make.

When it came to deck-building, I didn’t have enough cards that went together. My early picks had pointed towards a blue/black control strategy, but with my random picking of white, green and especially red cards I ended up with a three colour aggro deck. Khans of Tarkir was all about three colour decks, but Dragons is a set which doesn’t support three colours at all. I think the best that could be said is that it had a short mana curve: most of the creatures and spells cost two or three mana to cast, which meant at least I usually had something to do.

Despite those reservations, I won a couple of games: my first two match-ups both went my way quite quickly, and I was feeling confident about how the deck worked, but the problem with a three-colour collection of disjointed singles is that it’s inconsistent: the other games were less successful, and I got flattened a couple of times.

Here’s the deck list for what I played –

  • creatures:
    • 1 x Atarka Efreet – strong but fragile. Most useful for the damage-causing ability when it turns face up.
    • 1 x Blood-Chin Rager – he’s a warrior, and he makes all warriors harder to stop.
    • 2 x Elusive Spellfist – not a powerful creature, but unblockable if you play a non-creature spell.
    • 2 x Hand of Silumgar – small, but has deathtouch which is always useful. Also, a warrior.
    • 1 x Kolaghan Skirmisher – undistinguished**, but has dash and is a warrior.
    • 1 x Necromaster Dragon – big, flying, makes zombies. A bomb if it can stay in play for a couple of turns.
    • 1 x Qarsi Sadist – solid blocker, and can be used to drain your opponent.
    • 2 x Screamreach Brawler – dashes in cheaply.
    • 1 x Sidisi’s Faithful – good blocker with a bonus exploit ability. I like mostly because it’s cheap to cast.
    • 1 x Ukud Cobra – big blocker with deathtouch.
  • non-creatures:
    • 1 x Impact Tremors – causes damage whenever a creature drops onto the battlefield. A tent-pole card: when this came out early, it made it hard for my opponent to stabilise.
    • 1 x Dragon Fodder – makes two goblins. See Impact Tremors above.
    • 1 x Silumgar’s Command – multi-mode utility spell, useful for clearing away troublesome creatures; it can also counter a spell, but too expensive to do that consistently.
    • 3 x Foul-Tongue Shriek – causes X damage where X is the number of attacking creatures.
    • 1 x Glint – surprisingly useful card to save a creature you like. Saw one of these in foil and it’s practically psychedelic.
    • 1 x Silumgar’s Scorn – counter spells are useful, but this is too conditional.
    • 1 x Twin Bolt – two points of damage isn’t much, but it’s enough to remove a morph creature.
    • 1 x Encase in Ice – disables a creature permanently, but this was a useless card in all my games because it only works on red and green.
  • land:
    • 6 x Swamp
    • 6 x Island
    • 5 x Mountain – only five red cards, but I bumped up the proportion of mountains to increase the chances my red splash would fire.

The way this deck was supposed to work was to cast Impact Tremors early, then play out lots of creatures (chipping away one point of life for each). Once the army is assembled, attack en masse and cast foul-Tongue Shriek to do more damage. This happened, more or less, twice.

It failed to go off the other times, though – I didn’t get Impact Tremors early enough for whatever reason, or the army of creatures didn’t materialise, or my big creature would be killed early. However, this theme of lots of creatures ganging up is one I like a lot. The deck I am making for Standard has a lot of these kinds of interactions.

And that’s Magic.

[*] why yes they were dragon cards. How did you guess?

[**] just a 2/2, commonly called a bear whether the creature depicted is actually a bear or not.

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Magical Strategy

I passed a milestone this last week – I built a Magic deck based around a strategy inspired by particular cards rather than just filling slots in the mana curve.

When I’ve talked about deck building* before I’ve mentioned only how to maximise your chances of viable cards to play at each point: setting good proportions for cards of each cost, and then ensuring that your land base is well composed. When you’re working in a limited environment (whether sealed or booster draft) these are the most presing concerns – do you have a deck which is playable?

The next stage with building decks is to design the interactions between the cards so that they damage your opponent as effectively as possible. This is the wide open space of constructed play, and it’s what we’ve started doing in the Magic group I play with at the day job**.

There are several things to think about:

  • win conditions – how to beat your opponent, whether that’s how you grind down their life total, or how you force them to empty their library
  • keeping the win condition cards in play – removing threats on the board, or countering spells which are going to do damage.
  • staying alive long enough to win – stopping your opponent from doing for you before you do for them.

I will probably write about each of these categories in more depth in the future, but the deck I made last week has the following elements:

  1. creatures that attack early – a couple of cheap creatures with haste, and some bigger creatures with dash that can appear, do huge damage, and then disappear. I also have a couple of cards that enhance those attacks.
  2. a couple of big critters that will cause trouble – as well as the big dashers, there is a strong phoenix and a large zombie that will hurt a lot when they attack.
  3. token generators – cards that make lots of tokens to add to the battlefield.
  4. kill spells that use the size of the board – there are a couple of cards that use the number of creatures under your control as the count of how much damage is applied.

Those board-state driven kill spells are the ones that I built the deck around: make lots of tokens, then swarm in to deal huge damage to the opponent – a form of Zerg rush***. It’s actually at the point now where I want to go and buy a couple more of the the kill spells to make their appearance more reliable.

Have you built a deck around specific cards yet? Would anyone be interested in seeing a deck list for this one I’ve built?

[*] and YouTube’s adverts when you watch videos about Magic decks is overloaded with messages promoting deck boards.

[**] basically we’re doing Modern, but there are some much older decks floating around and it’s all kitchen table Magic really.

[***] apparently that’s what it’s called, although the term comes from Starcraft and I’ve never played that.

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Magical Storytelling Revisited

Last time I wrote about storytelling in Magic the Gathering I had only just started playing and I had only played with the core set. I said at the time that the rules didn’t really tell a story.

I still stand by that, but I’ve modified my stance a bit since I’ve been playing with expansion set cards (the first two Tarkir sets) and some of the other products (such as duel decks). There is a lot of story in Magic, but it’s setting for the game rather than being told by the game itself. The story then influences the mechanics within a set and the flavour of the cards.

Let’s take the Khans of Tarkir set as an example.

Tarkir is a world of harsh environments and conflicting peoples. The story is about two planeswalkers who visit Tarkir. One of these was born there and is appalled to find that the dragons he remembers are extinct with the world ruled by five warring clans*. These clans each have their own colour identities and their own styles layered on top of long-standing styles of cards associated with individual colours.

And this is how the world of Magic the Gathering goes: each year is a new season with an overarching story arc and theme. Last year it was Theros with a Greek myth theme, and in a previous year we’ve had Innistrad and its invading undead. Within these themes, different mechanics are available which are consonant with the theme – Theros had mechanics like heroic and the bestowing of enchantments, while Innistrad had cards that would transform from human to some monstrous form.

For Khans of Tarkir, the mechanics are related to each clan’s style: the necromantic Sultai get Delve, which makes casting expensive spells easier by the disposal of expended spells; the skillful Jeskai get Prowess, which strengthens creatures when spells are cast; and the ferocious Temur have the Ferocious mechanic, which strengthens creatures when you have a powerful creature in play. The Abzan and Mardu clans have Outlast and Raid mechanics which similarly fit the clan personalities.

The creatures allied with each clan reflect its personality also. The Abzan have durable creatures, the Mardu have aggressive creatures, and the Sultai have snakes and zombies.

So it seems I was looking in the wrong place for the story – I was looking at the cards, when the narrative is on the web sites and the trailers, the spoilers and the novels. While there are fragments of story on the cards, it is at the level of flavour text rather than narrative. Where I’m usually looking for the story to be formed by the mechanics, in Magic the mechanics are shaped by the story.

Interestingly enough, Planet Money did a podcast this week on how the designers of Magic managed to deflate a bubble before it popped, and it relates directly to the way that new sets of cards are released at regular intervals. When Magic was first published, it started to form a collecting bubble almost immediately. But the designers introduced their own economic mechanic to change that narrative, to make a game people would play for decades to come rather than a bubble that burst explosively and suffered complete collapse.

And maybe that’s the most interesting thing about Magic the Gathering, ultimately: building a game hich is still played more than twenty years after its release. That’s a story worth knowing.

[*] there are a lot of fives in Magic because there are five colours of mana.

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