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Gathering Magic: A Beginners Guide
John Brownlie talks about when and how he broke into Magic the Gathering and passes on his sage advice on how you want to approach joining the game.
Walk the Planes
A Whole New World
The infinite planes of the Magic Multiverse can be a rather frightening prospect to new players. It is one of the oldest and most played Collectable Card Game (CCG). It has over 16,000 cards to choose from and more than 20 play formats to learn. Beginning a collection can be a traumatic experience. Luckily in the Magic universe trauma can ignite a spark. Once this spark is lit, even the most ordinary of mere mortals can become a mighty Planeswalker. Becoming imbued with the power to gather magic from all planes of existence. Power they can utilise to prove they are the better player than their opponent.
This is where you fit into the Magic universe. Each player becomes that mighty Planeswalker. The deck of cards they carry representing sorcery, creatures, artefacts and a whole host of other fantastical bits and bobs that can be summoned to bring down your foes.
Fortunately, learning which bits and bobs should be in that deck, and how to utilise them is not as difficult as it may seem.
I started playing magic just under 4 months ago. In that time have been introduced to the most interesting, diverse and fun games I have ever played. I also discovered a fantastic community of players. The majority of them are more than happy to help new players by offering advice and discussing deck building.
Ignite your Spark
A Spark within the Fire
Introducing yourself to the community is the first and most important step in learning Magic. So go to your friendly local game shop and ask them to ignite your spark. I know for some this step may seem a little intimidating. My personal experience with competitive gaming came entirely from online MOBA games. Games such as DOTA, SMITE and LoL (all games with a reputation for toxicity and elitism within the community).
The idea of admitting to being a “noob” in a whole new type of game made me a little anxious. It turns out my anxiety was entirely misplaced. I can assure you the staff and players in the Magic community are extremely friendly, helpful and will go above and beyond to share their passion with you. They want you to love the games like they do. This is how the community grows and new opponents are born.
On your first Magic related visit to a friendly local game shop like Athena Games, you will be offered a free (yes 100% free, because they know you will be back for more) trial deck with enough cards to play a 30 card deck against a second 30 card deck. The staff will talk you through the basics. If they have time may even offer you a game or pair you up with an experienced magic player. Either way, they will talk you through your first game. Introducing you to the more complicated nuances and interactions of Magic’s mechanics.
Or if you are free you can attend Athena on Saturday the 1st of July and participate in our specially organised event, the upcoming Hour of Devastation Open House.
On the House!
This event will be a perfect opportunity for new players to jump in and learn the game. It is a relaxed non-competitive environment, which is perfect for new players. We will have staff on hand to help new players learn to use their free welcome decks in the morning. In the afternoon there will be a casual standard event. With special shiny promos cards being given away to players just for playing 3 games (not even winning).
For me learning the basics with the support of staff and players at Athena made me realise I was not quite as much of a “noob” as I thought. Mechanically speaking Magic will be very familiar to anyone that has played Blizzard’s computerised CCG Hearthstone, which essentially plays like Magic-lite with a tonne of added RNG. You will also see while playing your first few games just how much influence Magic has had over card games, board games and even video games since its inception in 1993. This lends a familiarity to the game you may not have realised previously. While the game does have near infinite combos and some opportunities for complex interactions playing a few games will quickly turn that insurmountable mountain into an easily hoppable mole-hill.
Deck Building Basics
Hopefully, my enthusiastic writing so far on Magic The Gathering and it’s community has put you in the right mindset for learning the game. However, it is time for something a bit less existential. We move on to the practical side of diving head first into deck building without drowning in all those cards.
Decisions and Accessories
The first decision you will face is which “format” you want to build a deck for. In-depth descriptions of the official Magic formats can be found on Wizards of the Coast’s accessible yet in-depth website.
It is also important to take good care of your cards as you collection grows. Even common cards can become extremely valuable over time. I personally sleeve all my cards in cheap “penny single” sleeves and store them in deck boxes of various sizes. Cards I am actively playing in my decks are treated to becoming sleeved in Dragon Shields. These are the best and hardiest card sleeves money can buy. While these sleeves are almost twice the price of most others on the market players using any other brand will quickly see why they are worth the extra investment.
Most players will also utilize a “play-mat”. This is a soft mousepad like surface which will protect your cards further and prevent them from getting dirty.
Deck boxes, sleeves, “spin down” d20s, counter dice and mats are not a necessity for playing Magic but with so many styles and colours available, new players will find it difficult not to be tempted into buying these accessories to add some personal flare to their play experience.
Now back to the actual task at hand, deck building. My first deck attempt was a “Commander” deck. This format requires a deck of 100 unique cards, including at least one legendary creature (a classification of card) which will determine the colour of your deck. In magic, all cards require mana to cast and this mana can be coloured in white, red, black, green, blue or colourless. This mana is represented by “planes” of the corresponding colour in your deck. These planes are “tapped” (or used) in order to cast cards that require one or more mana or that corresponding colour. Some cards require more than one colour of mana and a number of mana of any colour (colourless mana).
This is as technical as I will get for the purposes of this article. A full overview of the rules can be found on Wizards’ website. You can also learn a lot of more advanced mechanics from the official PC game “Magic Duels.” This game is not without its flaws but the tutorial missions are very useful to a new player. Of course, as with everything in Magic, the best way to learn is from other players.
The Rat King Cometh
Choosing a theme is the best way to have fun building your deck. Pick something you like, find a card that looks cool or ask around for theme ideas and once you have decided on a theme you can begin searching for cards that fit around it. There is no point worrying about the competitive “meta game” at this early stage because, in reality, you are probably not experienced enough to play at that level right now anyway.
Having decided on rats as my theme (I have had several pet rats over the years and just loved the idea of collecting all those cute rat cards) I was ready to head on over to the Gatherer (Wizard’s official magic card search engine). Searching for “rat” and “rats” I was able to come up with a list of cards that I could include in my deck. As the commander in a commander deck determines the colours that are allowed in that deck and pretty much all rat related cards turned out to be black this deck was to be a “mono-black” deck.
The Art of the Pull
For competitive purposes, I needed to build a deck in one of the most regularly played formats, “Standard” or “Modern.” I decided on standard as I already had some cards from the most recent sets after buying a few booster packs. “Ripping” boosters is one of the most fun parts of Magic. From these boosters, you “pull” a variety of cards. These can be cards you need or cards that have good trade value. Unfortunately building decks this way requires a high luck factor and can quickly become expensive. Those on a budget can buy “Planeswalker Decks” which immediately grant you a playable and balanced 60 card deck. Deck builder’s toolkits allow you to quickly get started in more advanced deck building for recent sets. These products are a great way to start collecting and will allow you to build semi-competitive decks with minimum effort.
Once you have played a few games you will have a good idea of what you like to play. In my case, I loved aggro decks that spawn lots of little creatures to fight for me.
Testing your Metal
Let me at ’em!
Once you have a few games under your belt you can venture into the world of competitive play and compete for prizes in events like the weekly Friday Night Magic games hosted at Athena. Wizards of the Coast encourage all their stores to host regular games on a Friday night so this is the best time to come on in and try your luck. There are a variety of event types. Standard has you bring your own deck to play. Conversely, there are Draft events where players open packs to build a brand new deck from the ground up. Events like these are a fantastic way to test your new Standard or Modern decks or build your collection and learn about deck building by playing in “Drafts.”
So far I have played in several events. I got roundly thrashed in my first event, which was a draft. However, I learned a tonne about the game from the other players. They were also more than happy to help me with my drafting. I even managed a second place win at a Standard Showdown.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Amonkhet “nooby” prerelease hosted at Athena. In this pre-release event, I had the most fun I have ever had playing Magic. This prerelease event was some of the most fun I have had playing Magic so far. Like a draft, all players were building a deck with new cards pulled from booster packs.
This particular event was designed to be much more casual with prizes awarded in a flat structure. This meant that all players would come away with the same number of boosters, regardless of performance. Leading to an extremely relaxed atmosphere where all players new and old came together to help one another learn.
Athena will be hosting another prerelease weekend for the new set, Hour of Devastation, which will include a number of events to play in over the weekend as well as a new type of casual event geared towards new and casual players as well as those with less free time (see the event page for more info.)
The cycle of old players helping the new makes Magic, and hobby games in general, so much more pleasurable to learn than any competitive video game I have ever played. So what are you waiting for? Get down to Athena Games today and ignite that spark.
See you in the multiverse, Planeswalker.