Isn’t it Magical? A look at the Community of Magic: The Gathering

A guest blog entry by Chris Menconi (student, world citizen)

An explosion! Fire! Lightning! A horde of elves!

Just a typical day in the Multiverse, the setting of the world’s premiere Trading Card Game, Magic: The Gathering. Players use all manner of spells and creatures to essentially bash the face of their opponents in (it’s all pretend, don’t worry!). I won’t get into the details of how it’s played, for that is both irrelevant and far too long.

Today I’m going to draw upon my experience in both casual and competitive play to recount the average community of this game and perhaps analyze it to make some sense out of it. I promise to not get into the game’s details too hard and bring it to you in layman’s terms as best I can.

Let us start with casual play, as there is not much to tell but is required to contrast tournament play. Casual is the best way to start the game with a bunch of friends, mainly because you’re not restricted by lists of banned cards (unless you want to do that, casual is really up to you) and house rules, fudging the rules of the game a tad based on personal interpretation of the card texts. Now this can result in a dilemma, a.k.a. your rich friend that buys expensive, rare, and really good cards thinking it makes him or her good at the game. This problem is usually solved really by defeating them in the game.

You know, take ’em down a notch.

Now we come to competitive and public play. The data I have collected comes from my experience going to Friday Night Magic (a weekly event) and other Magic related events at the store Gamer’s World off at Yorktown Mall. I shall not give names as they are rather irrelevant, should individuals be presented.

For a start, let’s take a look at the type of people that attend such events. Since the game is more in the lines of “nerdy”, predictably most of the people present are white males, from their 20s to maybe 30s or 40s. There’s guys that have been playing for 15+ years, and the game is complex enough to keep people interested. While it may seem homogenous and potentially smelly, I have run into many women and people of races other than Caucasian, but they aren’t exactly always easy to come by.

For the most part, I haven’t seen any mistreatment of women or things along the lines of segregation. Consequently, I go under the deduction that the people themselves aren’t important, and they would rather let the cards do the talking. In a sense, it’s almost egalitarian. Of course, don’t quote me on that, after all I don’t go to EVERY event so I can’t see what happens then.

But there’s really no indication that foul treatment of people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation takes place, so that’s a plus.

Now, not all of these people are the same, even if it may seem that way. There are many formats of competitive play, the most prominent are Standard, Draft, Modern, Legacy, and Commander.  People have preferences on what format they prefer, for example the people that have been playing since the game’s release tend to do Legacy so that they can use their precious cards. Legacy allows you to use almost every card printed, which gets expensive since some cards have been out of print for 15+ years. Younger people tend to stick with Standard and Draft, though older people have done those formats as well.

The formats they play is a good way to categorize them, but an interesting look at individuals is their play style and what they generally have as the focus of their decks. It’s pretty funny when the personality of the individual doesn’t match the deck. For example, I’m a gentle soul totally opposed to killing especially of people, yet in Magic I’m obsessed with killing things then bringing them back to life to fight for me.

Weird contrast, huh?

I think the type of deck can be impacted by how the person started playing. If you started with an aggressive play style, there’s a big chance you’ll usually play those types of decks (of course, this is not always the case).

An interesting phenomena is the concept commonly referred to as “Net Decking”, the act of creating a deck based on a deck someone else on the internet created and posted. Now, what makes it worthy of note is that while the concept of “Net Decking” is generally shunned by many people, most people do it.

That, or they use the general idea created by it, all of these with names like “Living End” or “Red Deck Wins”, which fall under a pattern even if not copied verbatim by the individual. It’s interesting that while it holds a negative connotation, most people still do it.

It’s interesting to look at what a mere game has created in terms of a community. While most of the interaction is fictitious battles, it draws in people with similar tastes and even makes some friends, as you never can plan where you find those with common interests.

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21 thoughts on “Isn’t it Magical? A look at the Community of Magic: The Gathering

  1. Although I don’t play Magic the Gathering myself, I hang out with a lot of guys who do. The connotation that correlates these kinds of card games with “nerds” is unfortunate but I would much rather support real human interaction of physically coming together and playing a game over the impersonal video game fad. At least when my friends want to play Magic The Gathering they are actually hanging out and when the game is done they continue to hang out together and see the rest of us who don’t play the game. This was until they started playing League of Legends- now they all stay locked away in their rooms excluding the rest of the world. Magic always seemed to complicated for me to learn but I’m glad this kind of real- interaction continues to live on!

    1. I agree for the most part with what you said, technology is taking over around this time and everybody is communicating through social media causing less public interactions with each other. People are becoming less interactive with one another to the point that most meet each other online before they meet publicly. The old fashion way better than what society has succumbed to this present day. there’s a lot of diversities today with how people interact with each other.

  2. It’s weird how much the view on a community can be skewed by those who aren’t in it. In my experience the communities that are branded as “nerds” tend to be the most welcoming and accepting of any other group. Maybe it’s because these groups are seen as the social outcasts and have banded together to fight that stereotype or maybe it’s because they have felt exclusion in the past and don’t want to put that on anyone else. Either way, when I wanted to get into Magic I found a group of people who not only brought me into the game but were very generous with their collection and very patient with the time it took me to learn all the small facets of the mechanics.

    1. I used to play magic when it was a new thing (yes I have been around long enough) and I always felt welcome no matter the group. It was always something fun to do, but to do well expensive, so I couldn’t stay in it.

    2. I play a lot of competitive card and miniatures games and I hate the strangeness that people associate with them. Because the nature of all gaming in analog form are meant to bring people together. Most of the games I play I have to go to game stores to play and its been nothing but welcoming. I’ve seen all types of people play together and just enjoy the experience of gaming together. I wish more people would be curious to play because competitive games are fun and challenging.

      1. Exactly, games really bring people together for the most part excluding the ones who take it a little too serious but for the most part having a friendly competition with people is a lot of fun, especially when you have close games. I’m very competitive so I’m always up for new challenges and at the end of the day after I win and they want a rematch I’ll be glad to serve another whooping.

  3. I have had the exact same feelings as Wally when it comes to games. It is also the feeling I like to bring out of the people I play with. When you have a bunch of people all sitting down, talking and trying to compete with each other you get something tribal going. There is a sort of air in the room that you might all be enemies in one way but your all growing closer together. It’s almost like being in a hunting party, your all trying to gain prestige within the group but by being there your someone special. We often cant illicit these feelings in a healthy way in our society,

    1. You couldn’t of said it any better then that, and its good to see people with a great mindset on how to perceive very important details from any view point.

    2. I agree that competition bring people together. Although competition can bring the worst out of people and they can get really heated at times. But competition helps people get to know each other and create great friendships from them.

  4. I think this article can speak for more than just card games. Playing video games, especially RPG or MMO types often have a stigma of being “nerdy” as well. The two are actually quite similar in effect and goal. As you mentioned, most people are there just to play the game and have a good time with others. The people they meet along the way is just an extra bonus and now there’s a common link between them. I’ve met people playing various video games that I talk to on a daily basis even if we don’t play those games anymore. The social aspect of any gaming event is such a fascinating topic. The ways it can change lives is amazing and definitely unexpected.

    1. I just think that everybody should at least try some sort of gaming just to see how it is to leave reality for a moment. Playing video games relaxes me after maybe a long day, I find it funny when people call others ”nerds” because rich people like bill gates are ”nerds” and they are making millions/billions, so I really don’t see a problem with being called one, but in short don’t knock it till you try it am I right?

      1. The thing that I find the most frustrating about people who bash video games and the like, is what they choose to do with their free time. People have said to me, “why do you waste so much time playing those video games”. To which I reply, “you spend time doing the things that you enjoy, your hobbies, and I just do the same.” Time wasted doing something you enjoy, isn’t time wasted at all. Video games relax me as well, and it is something that I enjoy doing. Magic seems like an interesting thing to check out as well, but I think its probably out of my price range.

    2. I agree that other gaming communities are like card gaming communities. All kinds of gaming communities share the same characteristics in a way that they are both excepting. Also that they are a community that don’t discriminate against those that are different.

  5. I think the idea of coming together as a misunderstood group takes place in many different areas. With Magic, many people mistake the game for something only “nerds” play. The same thing can go for video games, comic books, or just reading in general. I am a big fan of Harry Potter and have been called one of “those people” before. I never understood how having a passionate and creative mind could ever be taken as a bad thing. There are many different groups of people who have different hobbies and I say more power to them. If you find something in live that you are passionate about and enjoy doing, why let other peoples misconceptions on it stop you? If anything you will open the eyes of people who would have never thought to look twice.

  6. As a former member of a Trading Card Club, I know how intense a match could turn out. In the same breath, I could agree to the since of community that a person can feel attending a tournament or just playing a couple of matches in a small shop. There isn’t any discrimination that occurs when the decks come out. People of all ages, races and backgrounds come together to play a game. This type of subculture can happen with many forms of entertainment; whether its video games, any sport, or roleplaying. It is all about people coming together to enjoy an event that is bigger than yourself, while making friends along the way.

  7. Joining a new and exciting community is one of the best feelings. You feel generally welcomed, and it’s a whole new world of ideas you have never seen. So many sub-cultures are very welcoming. One of the main contenders of this would be the skate subculture. While the media demonizes them to be some hoodlums tagging walls with graffiti and bumming around a rail, you may find that they are very nice people. I used to skate in my early years of high school, and it was an incredible feeling when I could go to the skatepark and just make a few friend just by being there. People were always there, new ones and old ones. There are very negative stereotypes surrounding some subcultures that you may find yourself a part of one day!

  8. I have been casually playing magic since around 2010. It is a great example of a functioning community, and it can be quite engaging with the right people involved. I dislike competitive play, and do not go to Friday Night Magic at my local game store, nor do I play in any tournaments. For me, it really is more about the people and the community itself that winning or losing a game. I don’t spend copious amounts of money on single cards, but I have a good time either way. That is what matters to me. I hope this gives people a positive outlook on communities, especially gaming communities.

  9. I’m no stranger to the card shop, and I have to agree with the author of this article. People come from all walks of life to enjoy Magic, D&D, and other board and hobby type games. When you visit your local game store, people prefer to evaluate you by your character (No, not the one on your stat sheet), rather than your race, religion, orientation, sex or gender.

    Honestly, places like this have been some of the most friendly people I have met, displaying the kind of camaraderie you only hear about in old war stories at the VFW.

  10. The thing that I really like about Magic is the fact that any properly built deck can win. I have friends who have been playing the game since it came out, and I have only recently started playing in recent years. While their well-built decks and their experience gives them an advantage, I never feel like I have no chance of winning. I think this reflects itself in the community too because most of the older players I’ve met have never looked down on me for being new. This has always been strange to me coming from a background of video games, where the online communities are not exactly welcoming to new players, especially if that “noob” is on their team. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Magic is in-person and face-to-face, while online gaming you can treat people however you want and they will not pose much threat to you.

  11. I personally have never played magic, but I have a few friends that play and when they talk about the community of it, they never really say anything negative about it. Which is kinda hard to believe because you would think with such a old, competitive game their would be some hostility between players but from what they say and your option it seems like their isn’t. I am glad that their is a card game community out their that allows their players to be nice to one another and let the card game talk for themselves, unlike HearthStone, which I personally feel that their is hostility between players who net deck Shaman decks to climb latter.

  12. I think that games like Magic: The Gathering brings people together. Being someone that actually plays these kind of games I see that these games don’t generally discriminate against gender, race, and religion. I agree that people that play only judge others on their knowledge of the game and how well they can play it. I agree that this game in particular does keep people interested because it is always improving and has many different variations of the game. It is always good to have something in the world to bring people together without discrimination on someone gender or their race.

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