A Magic: The Gathering Review

Okay . . . So it’s been a while since I’ve blogged here about my gaming life. Sadly that’s largely because life has limited a lot of my tabletop gaming for some time. Recently however I went to my first Magic: The Gathering pre-release event in several years and next week I’m actually going to do a booster draft for the first time in what is probably almost ten years. So I figured I’d dig up an old review I wrote for Magic a few years back and dust it off here. And hopefully next week after my draft I can follow up with an after-action report. Until then, I hope you enjoy.

Magic: The Gathering

It Created and Continues to Define an Entire Genre

When Richard Garfield created Magic: The Gathering back in 1993 he unleashed a leviathan upon the gaming world. In its wake, every man and his dog sought to jump into the new Collectible Card Game ocean but very few managed to survive and flourish like the original beast did. Most other games were lucky to last longer than a year. Now, more than 20 years later, Magic continues to thrive and remains the yardstick all other games of its ilk are measured against.

This incredible longevity has come almost in spite of perhaps the most loathed sales approach in the gaming world: the blind purchase of randomized cards in booster packs. Throw in rarity and cards of widely varying power and it’s almost enough to send a gamer crazy. But it’s this sales format that also gives the game a lot of its thrill. Any Magic player to have ever opened a handful of boosters can tell you of the rush of excitement as they paw through their cards and spot that chase rare! The innocuous booster has also helped to define some of the favourite Magic play formats including a host of drafting variants.

So what has allowed Magic to survive for the last 20-plus years despite the fact that thousands upon thousands of gamers all around the world have individually handed over hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the years all the while grumbling and cursing Wizards of the Coast and their greedy ways?

There are a few reasons and the first was there at the games inception. The immense variety of cards that makes up the game and the ability to customize your play experience with this variety has been integral. The ability to build decks, almost as an extension of your own personality, and to continually fine tune and tinker has continued to stimulate gamers for years. This essential element would later go on many years later to inspire the creation of Dominion which has become its own juggernaut.

The other important ingredient for Magic’s success over the years has been its ability to continually reinvent itself over the years. Whether it’s the release of new themed sets of cards every year or new play formats, Wizards (with the assistance of the playing community) has worked hard to keep magic fresh. While you’re still essentially playing the same game, the play experience you’ll have in 2016 feels notably different to the feel you had playing in 2006 and rest assured it’ll be quite different again in 2026. Each year of Magic brings a slight variation on Magic’s fantasy theme and a host more variety for players to fiddle and tinker with as they look for the next killer combo or just something wild and crazy to try.

But at the end of the day all of this is possible because it rests on a solid game as its foundation. Basic game play is essentially very simple and offers good strategic and tactical decisions. Variety adds some complexity to the game but taking this on piecemeal through the gradual addition of individual cards makes the complexity more manageable. And these days it is quite possible to play Magic on your own terms whether they be defined by play style or budget.

All of this contributes to Magic’s ability to maintain its dominance over the collectible-gaming world and, even after more than 20 years, leaves everyone else playing catch up.