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October 1st, 2001

Magic the Gathering

Game Type: Collectible Card Game
Platform: Cards
Developer's Website: Wizards of the Coast
Publishers Website: Wizards of the Coast



Magic: The Gathering is a collectable card game (also known as a CCG) produced by Wizards of the Coast. In this game, you and another player attempt to win in two ways (there is a third, but it only uses obscure, old cards, and is not worth mentioning in this review: reduce your opponent’s life total from 20 to 0, or run their deck out of cards. Most decks choose the former path to victory, and others choose the latter.

Magic has gotten a bad reputation as being “satanic” or “evil”, similar in the way that Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) has. However, I will attempt to discuss each of these concerns in this review. Some are completely off base, while others are a little more on target.

The first issue is the fact that you are a sorcerer in the game. Technically, you do play the game as such, but that is mostly flavor to explain the context of the game. The very basis of the game is fantasy, in a “plane” (world) called Dominaria. In this world, there are goblins and dragons, humans and orcs, dwarves and zombies, and just about any fantasy creature you can name and then some. Each of these “species”, if you will, has their own sort of country in this world. There are magical places such as Tolaria, a school for wizards. Kobold, a country with a feudalistic government, whose people are very war like.

These variety of places make for a very rich and changing environment. Magic has a series of novels that tell the story of this world, and even if you do not play the game, the books are a great read if you like fantasy stories. You do not need to know any of this (only a few of my friends keep up with the story) to actually play the game, however, in my experience, it is more fun to know where in this fantasy world the cards that you play with represent. It is all part of the setting, and half of my friends don’t even know or care that you are a sorcerer. They just play the game because it is fun.

Secondly, there are different types of cards, such as “sorceries”, “summoning spells” and “enchantments” that may cause confusion. However, these types of cards are keeping with the flavor of the game. The only real impact that these names have is the fact that you may only play certain card types at certain times. “Instants” may be played at any time, where as “sorceries” may only be played at certain times during your turn. So, “sorceries” are generally more powerful than “instants” because you lose an element of surprise. And so on. The types of cards are: “Instants” (printed on some older cards as “interrupts”), “sorceries”, “enchantments”, “artifacts”, “creatures” (printed on some older cards as “summon creatures”), and “land”. Further, “enchantments” are classified under two types: “global” and “local”. “Global” enchantments are put into play like any other card. “Local” enchantments are played on another card, weather it is a creature, land, or other enchantment. “Artifacts” are similar to machines. “Creatures” represent various beasts that battle with your opponent’s creatures. There are also some creatures that are mechanical, and therefore are “artifact creatures”. Creatures have two numbers in the bottom right side of the card, “power” and “toughness”. These numbers show how much damage a particular creature can dish out, and how much damage that creature can take before dying.

The third is also a wording issue. “Summon”, “Sacrifice”, and “Mana” are all terms used. Summon is an outdated turn for a creature. They used to be called Summon spells, and are now just called creatures. This is part of an effort by Wizards of the Coast to make the game more family friendly. They also have taken out all the cards (and there were not that many) that used the word “Demon” in them. Sacrifice means, to put it simply, “discard from play”. It is just simply easier to put sacrifice than discard from play, so Wizards still uses it to this day. It does NOT have anything to do with
Satanic rituals. The word “Mana” brings back memories of the bread from Heaven.

However, that is spelled “Manna”, with two “N”s. In fact, while writing this review, the spellchecker says that “mana” is not spelled correctly, while “Manna” is. Mana is a term long used in fantasy games to mean “magic energy”. The word even looks like those two words smashed together. “Mana” is produced by using the “land” cards. This mana is spent on casting spells (the term is used to collectively mean any card that is NOT a land), which help to defeat your opponent. Now, mana being produced by lands brings images of druids and such. However, unlike druids, you do not worship the land in any way. You use it, like a resource. You are limited to playing one land card per turn, so you must learn to use it wisely.

The final complaint is when you get down to it, the main way of winning is to “kill” your opponent. There is simply no way to get around this. However, you can choose to go the alternate route, and run your opponent out of cards instead. This is also a very viable alternative.

One more negative thing about the game. Being a “collectable” card game, there is the very real possibility of spending large amounts of money on it. Buying new cards is part of the fun, but it still costs money that could have been spent on other things. If you wanted to, you could spend $10 and buy a preconstructed deck, and never buy another card again.

Now, after all of that, on to the positive things:

The game has a very large amount of strategy to it, comparable to chess. There are thousands of cards, and so every game is different than the last. Learning when to play and when not to play certain cards is part of the fun, and as you do, you get better and win more. Generally, a good player with a bad deck will beat a bad player with a good deck.

Since there is so much strategy to this game, it really makes you think. I know kids who are C and D students, and they still have fun playing a game that makes you think, which I believe is a great accomplishment. Increasing the thinking skills of kids while they enjoy it is a good thing.

The game is very social. Sportsmanship is important. If you treat others kindly, they will want to play against you. If you do not, you will never find someone to play against, which teaches sportsmanship. You also meet new people that you normally would not, and become friends with them. I play at the local mall every Monday, and sometimes that is the only time that I see certain friends of mine.

Finally, there is no “real” or graphic violence to the game. Creatures may battle, but there is no more violence than a card being put from play to the discard pile. In today’s world of everything being violent, this game is an exception.

In conclusion, Magic: the Gathering is a good game with a fantasy theme. There are some shaky elements, but I believe that the good outweigh the bad. I have never seen someone turn “evil” because of this game. In fact, most of the best people I know play Magic, and the people who are immoral and rude make fun of those who do.

Steve Klabnik

Final Score

Highlights: It's the card game that started it all. It's incredibly fun and inovative. It's very social and encourages some serious analytical thinking.

Lowlights: Handles Christian themes and images badly. It's Fantasy Magic and the way it handles magic is a big thumbs down for many Christians. It's an expensive game that can suck your wallet dry.

Hints:  Learn the difference between an instant and an interupt and when you can play them. It's sometimes best to wait to play a card just before you untap or upkeep.

Recommendation: It will appeal to those that want an innovative and complex card game that has a huge range of game play. Redemption is a better choice for Christians especially who don't want to deal with the darker images and the magical world of Magic the Gathering..

Age Appropriateness: For anyone who can understand the rules, and knows that REAL magic is NOT to be fooled around with, nor is any other occult. This is something of a personal issue, but no one under 12 could probably understand the rules, so the bottom of the spectrum starts around there.

Christian Sense (CS): 2 - It's fantasy and not reality. Has some pretty gruesome dark cards and it's use of Christian themes and images are poorly handled and missused.

Game Mechanics (GM): 4 - This is the one that started it all. It's the measure by which the rest are judged.

Game Play (GP): 4 - Hard to learn but once you do it is lots of fun.

Overall: 3.3

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