The Quest to Understand Magic the Gathering: First Impressions
When I was 10 years old I bought my first Magic the Gathering set. I was in Portugal at the time and, whilst on a day trip to Lisbon, I had come across a shop that sold collectable card games. Magic has not been my first goal, but rather I was looking for Pokémon cards. Growing up I had managed to stay ahead of all of the major releases and so was the envy of my friends due to different countries having different release dates on cards. When searching Portugal for something I could bring back to “wow” them, I was drawn in by a couple of different coloured boxes. The shop I had found sold different types of Magic the Gathering box sets, and I was hooked.
Or, to be more accurate, I was hooked for around two weeks. After that, I couldn’t find a store in the UK that sold them (I was only 10 after all) so I gave up, and returned to Pokémon cards. I don’t think I actually played Magic the Gathering once, which put me at a massive detriment for trying to continue the hobby forward.
Recently, having been reminded of Magic the Gathering again at the UK Games Expo, I decided to have a closer look. The rationale I said to myself was that I couldn’t write a board game blog if I didn’t at least understand Magic the Gathering. It is such a huge thing, after all, being a sensation across the globe. With that in mind, I took to Amazon to see how much a Starter Set cost.
The first thing that struck me was how many sets there physically were. There are 37 decks of cards listed under “Starter Set” for Magic the Gathering on Amazon UK. Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven different packs which, for a newbie to the Magic world, was kind of daunting. I had no idea where to start. That was until I saw the Duel Sets.
The Concept of Duel Sets
The Duel Sets are, I have to admit, a fairly nice idea and I seem to remember them back in’t’day with Pokémon. The idea was that two people could pick up and play, right out of the box – thus, inadvertently more people get hooked on a collectable card game – but that is beside the point.
Magic, it turns out, has a set of duel decks ranging in different styles and abilities and this seemed perfect. Rather than just seeking to understand the game I could play it with my partner (shh, she doesn’t know yet!) and really get to the heart of what it is about. Thus begins my quest to understand Magic. Being completely virginal (more or less) to the entire mythos, and certainly I have been out of the loop for 16 years, everything was like a foreign language to me. So, naturally, I did what all great bloggers did. I bought the cheapest in the hope nobody would notice.
That is how I have now become the proud owner of the Nissa vs Ob Nixilis duel deck.
Now, there are probably two types of people reading this article. There is the Magic the Gathering crowd, who are saying:
“Yes, I know Nissa and Ob Nixilis well. Nissa is a proud nature-mage who believed that elves are the pinnacle race of the multiverse. Ob Nixilis was a human Warlord who discovered he was the only sole survivor of a war torn world, manipulated by personal and real demons who tore him apart. ” (sources here and here)
Then there are those of us who can’t get past the word Ob Nixilis, simply because it is a fun phrase to say if not impossible for the uninitiated to understand. I fall into the latter of these categories, although I did have fun doing the research for quote above.
Ob Nixilis…Obbbb Nixilis…Ob Nixillisis…
The Babushka Doll of Boxes
So, picture this, I open the Amazon parcel and inside is a box. Immediately, it was an awesome design. It was not simply square, but instead slightly angled to display Nissa and Ob Nilixis in their full glory. Both cards are foil cards (or shinies) and are presented front and centre of the pack.
Nissa, from the looks of it, appears to be an elf in the same vein as those from World of Warcraft. She, or he, appears to be a planeswalker, a mage maybe, and is described as the Voice of Zendikar. Ob Nilixis, on the other hand, is essentially the Balrog from the Lord of the Rings. He is dark, foreboding, and striking a pose that makes him look like he is about to tackle someone to the ground. This may be Nissa, and would explain the “no, don’t do what I think you are going to do” look on her face.
The second thing that struck me, after the cool box, was the fact the box cannot be resealed. It is a “tear-open-and-forget” box which, as a board gamer, did not sit well. Games are meant to be resealable, and instantly I wondered how I should open the box to be able to store the cards. I don’t have any spare deck boxes, and didn’t want to purchase one.
Luckily, and to the credit of Wizards of the Coast, this was answered by two flat pack deck boxes. They fell out the back of the box once I opened it and withdrew the plastic insert inside. These displayed the art of the character on one side and Duel Deck logo on the other.
Inside the box there was also two custom D20s, with Magic the Gathering symbols over the 20 on each. The purpose for these is currently unknown as I haven’t read the rules yet, but as regular readers of this blog know, I am a fan of nice custom die. They are well made and feel satisfying to hold.
It was a box-ception – a box within a box. These second level boxes are a nice touch if not a little short sighted. How will the dice, the smallest components of the game, now be stored?
The Cards and the Artwork
There is no doubt about it – the cards and artwork of Magic the Gathering are absolutely beautiful. Both sides of Nissa and Ob Nixilis have very different feels, with Nissa being very woodland based and with Ob Nixilis being based around the concept of demons. These themed decks are a really nice touch and make it quite easy to pick a side.
The cards themselves vary an incredible degree. On Nissa’s earth side there are characters reminiscent of elves, ents, and wild beasts that roam the woodland. On Ob Nilixis’s side, there are demons, devils, and the foul creatures of hell. Each side is distinct and varied. When looking at the cards themselves it is easy to see why Magic has become the sensation it is and why so many people have been playing it for the last twenty-four years.
Even those who are new to Magic, or those who dislike the game, have to respect the artists and artwork. So far as that is concerned, Magic the Gathering is a marvel in its own right.
Excitement and Doubts
There seems to be an assumption that has been made by Wizards of the Coast and that appears to be that everyone will just love the game. This is something we often find with big brands, that they no longer feel the need to sell themselves because, well, everyone will love them anyway, right?
Well no, and there is surprisingly little within the box to get me excited about playing. Yes, the art is nice, but then again so is a lot of game art.
At the moment there seems to be a fairly high barrier to entry, and this is the thing that worries me. As a typical INTJ (for those who are familiar with the Myres-Briggs test), I struggle with abstract concepts like fantasy based names and that can be something that really gets in the way of quickly picking something like Magic the Gathering up. Ob Nilixis, if it wasn’t so fun to say, would disappear from my head almost instantly.
The box does nothing to quell those fears, that this will be a difficult game to get my head around – at least until the concepts are less abstract.
Luckily, there is a huge online community and a massive mythos to get involved in. What this means is that Nissa and Ob Nixilis have backstories that are available on the Magic the Gathering Wiki. The wiki (found here) is something I am sure I will be referring to a lot over the next few months whilst I try to understand this insane, wonderful, marvellous, terrifying, incredible game.
“I’m Going On An Adventure”
So here we go, the first pack opened, the adventure underway. Let’s learn how to play Magic the Gathering.
Okay, so what are your thoughts? Are you into Magic? If so then do you have any advice for those stepping into the world for the first time? What do you love or hate about the game?
If you have never played Magic then why not? Let me know your thoughts and comments below.