Welcome to the world of Magic: The Gathering. A world filled with nuanced heroes in troubled circumstances, interesting monsters that are often more than they appear to be, captivating worlds begging to be explored and fantastic spells that bend the reality of those worlds. Somewhere in that mix, there just happens to be a pretty fun card game to collect as well. Exciting, isn’t it?
Whatever the reasons may be that brought you to this game, there are always a number of questions that plague new, returning, or even experienced players. Whether it be about card evaluation, deck piloting strategy, or simply how to introduce the game to a new player, there’s no end to the number of queries this game can create.
Although there’s an endless amount of content by pro players much better at the game than I am to answer questions about critical meta-game strategies, there’s far less content out there for the more casual players. The ones trying to figure out if now is the best time to come back to the game after a long hiatus. The ones who have no idea what to do with all the draft cards they’ve amassed. The ones who want to introduce the game to their friends but aren’t sure how best to present it to them. The ones who like to bring their silly combo deck to Friday Night Magic. If this sounds like you or one of your friends, I have a feeling we’ll get along swimmingly.
Getting started (or re-started) with Magic can be a daunting and/or overwhelming experience. There are a lot of rules. There are a lot of experienced players. But most of all, there are a lot of cards. The sheer number of cards alone can often astound newer players. Some of the most frequently asked questions I get when explaining the game to prospective players are: “How do you remember what all the cards do? Did you have to study them all? Does every player know what all these cards do?”
Here’s a little secret: Most players don’t know what every card does. Certainly, there are players who do know a large percentage of the cards, but most don’t know every single card printed in the history of the game. A large majority of the time, you’ll only need to know a handful of cards at a time (depending on which format(s) you’re currently playing) to follow along. The longer you play, the more time you’ll spend talking about cards. After a while, you’ll notice that you’ll hear about particular cards more than others. Eventually, you start to learn based on this repetition. There’s no need to study the entire catalog of Magic cards before you start playing and there’s no need to memorize all the strategies, archetypes or lingo before you get going. All you need is a pack of cards and a buddy who’s willing to guide you through your first few games and you’re good to go.
Now that we’ve covered what you don’t need to do, the next question becomes: Which cards do I need to collect or need to know about in order to play? Technically, the answer to that could be any and all cards in the history of Magic as long as your deck meets the format’s minimum card requirement.
I can see you panicking again. Don’t worry, we can fix this too.
Magic‘s most popular format is something called “Casual Magic,” also known as “Kitchen Table Magic” because of the mental image that most casual players play around the kitchen table. When playing Casual Magic, all you need is a deck of cards and some buddies to play. The reason this is the most popular version is that it has the least rules and regulations. At this level of Magic, people are just reading the cards and playing the game as they see fit. There’s no banlists nor format requirements that allow certain cards and prevent others cards from being in your deck.
Inevitably, there will come a time when you might want to optimize your deck. Or challenge yourself by playing against more difficult or focused decks rather than the random cards you’ve thrown together for kitchen table games. Most players will recommend Friday Night Magic (FNM) events at their local game stores as the next logical step. While this may be a solid step for returning players who already have experience with the game, I’ve seen a number of new players get very nervous about Drafting or playing against expensive, finely tuned Constructed format decks.
Frequently overlooked by enfranchised players of the game, there are other options available to newer players which will allow them to step up a their game before venturing in the realm of FNM. A format I love recommending to newer players is what I call “Intro Pack Magic.”
Whenever a new Magic set is released, Wizards of the Coast (the folks who make the Magic cards) release “Intro Packs.” These are 60 card pre-constructed decks that (currently) come packaged with two booster packs. These decks and boosters predominantly contain cards from the current and/or immediately preceding set of cards. As an example, at the time of writing, the newest set released is Oath of the Gatewatch. Oath of the Gatewatch Intro Packs contain cards found in OGW (the abbreviation for Oath) and Battle for Zendikar (BFZ); the set that preceded OGW.
These decks are exactly what you would expect from something called an “Intro Pack;” they are a means to introduce a new player to the newest set and to Magic itself. These are not meant to be tournament competitive decks: They will be crushed by top tier decks if played against one. That being said, they’re usually solidly balanced to play against each other. If you can find a friend who’s interested in playing “Intro Pack Magic” with you, here’s how it’s done:
Why are we waiting to open them, you may ask? By playing with your deck straight out of the box, you’ll hopefully have developed an understanding of your Intro deck and what it’s trying to do. These booster packs will have a lot more meaning to you now. Not only do you get to see sweet new cards and hopefully open an expensive rare, you’ll be looking at all the cards through the filter of your Intro deck. You’ll start to evaluate which cards would work well with your deck, which cards might actively work against it and which cards might not have any importance either way. Perhaps you’ll find a card or two that you’ll want to add to your deck. Great! Try to take one card out of your deck for each card you add in. Replay your decks with your new cards and see how that goes. You can continue making modifications to your deck as you see fit.
By focusing on this smaller initial pool of cards, you’re already starting to develop and learn basic skills you’ll be needing as a burgeoning Magic player: You’re learning such concepts as card evaluation, deck construction, the management of limited resources and the ability to quickly learn new cards found in a particular Standard set.
Intro Pack Magic can be taken a step further within your playgroup if, at the end of every week, you each agree to buy a booster from the set your Intro Pack is from. Add the cards you like from your new booster to your deck. Over time, you’ll acquire more cards for your collection, have a uniquely tuned deck that you’ve played with friends in a non-competitive environment, and will develop skills needed if you do decide to make that leap to FNM Draft or Constructed.
I hope you enjoyed today’s column! The topic of how to start (or jump back into) Magic is one I often see pop up on Magic forums and websites, so I was excited to address it here. In future, we’ll be looking at various other ways to play Magic which will hopefully appeal to the Casual and Competitive alike. If you liked what you see here or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in the Comments section below!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank