Review of "Magic: The Gathering"

published 12/05/2005 | Heidavey
Member since : 07/09/2002
Reviews : 70
Members who trust : 17
About me :
Pro A great multi faceted game
Cons Life consuming, expensive and a little confusing for new players
very helpful

" The Granddaddy of all TCG/CCG's"

If you thought Duelmasters, Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon were the be-all and end-all of trading card games (TCG) or collectable card games (CCG), then think again.

Magic the Gathering was released in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. It was designed by Richard Garfield PhD and was a totally unique game. The game consists of using your cards, as spells, to reduce your opponent's life total to zero.

The game won the Origins awards for 'Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1993' and 'Best Graphic Presentation of a Boardgame of 1993' the year it was released and now has a huge following worldwide and is printed in English, Simplified Chinese , French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and most recently Russian.

The core set of cards has many cards that have been in the game for a long time. The core set changes very slowly with new cards added and some taken away but always consisting of 350 different cards. A new version of the core set is released every 18 months or so. The current release is the Eighth Edition with the Ninth edition being released in July 2005.

In addition to the core set of cards, there are expansion blocks consisting of three sets released in autumn, winter and spring. For example, the current 'Block' is the Kamigawa Block consisting of Champions of Kamigawa (Oct '04), Betrayers of Kamigawa (Feb' 05) and Saviours of Kamigawa (June '05). Expansion sets have 150ish to 300ish cards in them and often have recurring themes due to storylines that form a backdrop to the game. There are also 'block mechanics' which are abilities of cards that are introduced in these blocks and sometimes are re-introduced into a later set.

There are currently 34 expansion sets and 8 editions of the core set.

The Game
The game is divided into five colours, each with its own theme. White is the colour of protection and life gain, Blue is the colour of Control magic (in which you can control your opponents game), Red is the colour of direct damage (in which you use spells that directly affect your opponent and make them take damage), Black is the colour of reanimation and negative effects (where you can bring back creatures which have died, or play reasonably big scary creatures, which make you lose life) and Green is the colour of big creatures.

This separation of themes into the different colours is known as the Colour-pie and is fundamental to why the game works so well. There are, obviously, cards that bend the colour pie a little, often at a reduced effect or with an additional negative effect.

Types of Card
There are six different types of card that can be played.

Land cards
These are the most important cards because they provide the 'Mana' to cast the other spells. There are five basic lands - one for each colour. Mountains provide red mana to cast red spells, Plains provide white mana, Islands provide blue mana, Swamps provide black mana and Forests provide green mana.

Added to these basic lands are non-basic lands which can provide two different colours of mana or can do other things, such as become creatures.

These are the way that most people deal damage to their opponents. A creature has a power and toughness i.e. how strong they can attack and how strong they can defend. For example the creature 'Wandering Ones' is a 1/1 creature. That is to say that it can deal one point of damage and only takes one point of damage before it is killed. Whereas 'Whiptail Wurm' is an 8/5 creature and can deal a whopping eight points of damage and takes five before it is killed.

The two examples above are bog-standard creatures in that they don't have any other abilities. Most other creatures have an ability or some form of evasion.

Evasion abilities allow attacking creatures to avoid blocking creatures, for example, a creature with 'flying' can only be blocked by a creature with flying.

Creatures can also have a creature type, such as Angel, Demon, Goblin, Elf, Cat, Fox, Cleric and many others. Certain spells can boost a particular creature type, making them stronger.

Sorceries are spells you can play on your turn that have an effect on many aspects of the game. For example, 'Wrench Mind' makes your opponent discard two cards from his hand and 'Warrior's Charge' gives your creatures +1/+1, which means that your creatures power and toughness both increase by one, so 'Wandering Ones' mentioned above would become a 2/2 creature until the end of your turn.

These are quite similar to sorceries except these can be played at any time during your turn or your opponent's turn. An example of which is 'Couterspell' which you can play in response to your opponent playing a spell because it counters that spell (making it do nothing).

There are many types of enchantment which are cards that go into play and have a continuous effect. An enchant creature can be played on a creature in play and has an effect on that creature, for example 'Pacifism' says that enchanted creature can't attack or block, so you would want to play this on your opponents creatures so they can't attack you. Another enchant creature is 'Unholy Strength' which gives a creature +2/+1, which unlike 'Warrior's Charge' mentioned above, doesn't wear off at the end of the turn.

Artifacts are powerful things that can be used to improve your game, or ruin your opponent's. For example 'Rod of Ruin' can be used to deal one point of damage to your opponent.

Playing the game

To play the game, you build a deck of at least sixty cards, with around a third of them, lands. You may have up to four copies of any one card in the deck.

I will be the first to admit that Magic: The Gathering is a complicated game to beginners and even to more advanced players at times, but here is a briefish overview of how the game works.

A turn is divided into phases:
Second Main

In the 'beginning' phase you 'untap' (see below) your cards, draw a card and do anything that cards tell you to do "in your upkeep" (Upkeep is part of the beginning phase and some cards make you discard a card or destroy one of your creatures etc, during your upkeep)

During your main phase, you can play a Land by putting it on the table (only one land can be played a turn), then you can get mana from your lands. You do this by 'tapping' your lands - tapping means turning your lands 90 degrees clockwise (hence why you need to 'untap' your lands at the beginning of your turn).

You can use the mana you have got, by tapping your lands, to cast creature spells, sorceries, instants, artifacts or enchantments.

At the beginning of the combat phase you 'declare your attackers', you do this by tapping the creatures you want to attack your opponent. Your opponent can then 'assign blockers'. This means that your opponent can put one of his creatures 'in the way' of one of your creatures, so their 'blocker' takes the damage and not your opponent.

You have another main phase, which is the same as the first main phase then the end phase where you have to discard cards if you have more than seven in your hand and this is also where some effect where off, like the example of 'Warrior's Charge' giving a creature you control +1/+1 until end of turn. Also any damage dealt to creatures is 'healed' so if your 8/5 creature, 'Whiptail Wurm' was dealt three points of damage, at the end of turn it would be healed.

There are many more nuances to a game than that, but that is a general overview of a game turn.

The object of the game is to reduce your opponent's life from 20 to 0 by attacking with creatures or by doing direct damage such as the instant 'Shock' which deals 2 points of damage to your opponent.

Magic: The Gathering can be very expensive, but then, so can most hobbies.

Magic cards come in three differing degrees of rarity - Rare, Uncommon and Common.

You can buy a Booster pack for £1.99-£2.49, which contains one Rare, three Uncommons and eleven Commons.

You can also buy a tournament pack which contains three Rares, ten Uncommons and thirty-two Commons for between £6 and £8.

You can also buy Pre-constructed decks which, unlike the boosters and tournament packs, are not random. They have a theme and are ready to play straight out of the box. These cost between £6 and £8 and only contain two Rares.

Building a decent constructed deck can take many years and a fair bit of money (£200 - £1000 easily, if you are not careful).

There is a massive secondary market for Magic: The Gathering cards. This is spearheaded by the so-called 'Power-nine'. These are nine cards that come from the first three core sets (Alpha, Beta and Revised), which are now banned or restricted (to one in a deck) in many tournaments due to the fact that they are too powerful. The 'Power-nine' includes 'Black Lotus' an artifact card that has a list price of around £1000 (a little ridiculous, I know, but it shows the power of the secondary market). When you buy a booster pack, the Rare that you get could be worth up to £15. The value could be double that if it is a premium (shiny) card.


It can be difficult to find somewhere to play and someone to play against. The best bet is to find a friend/sibling/partner willing to play and buy a starter set from your local Travelling Man or Forbidden Planet and learn to play. I started playing regularly with friends at university.

Two alternative and slightly cheaper ways to play

Firstly - Magic: The Gathering Online - Go to and download MTGO. This is a server on which you can play Magic: The Gathering against people across the world. There is a free trial and you can play preconstructed decks in the beginner's room - most people are quite friendly and will help you to play.

Secondly - Draft Magic. This is a way of playing for a group of people. You open a booster (mentioned above) and take a card and pass the rest to the player to your left who takes a card and passes it. Everyone does this simultaneously until all cards are picked. Then you do the same to a second booster and a third booster. Out of the cards you picked - you construct a deck (this bit does require a bit of experience, but not much). You will need land cards which you won't get in the booster packs but you might be able to get from your local vendor (possibly for free if you are nice to them).

Apologies if I have gone into too much detail - but I had to show the complexity of it, I think to show that Collectable Card Games are not just kid's games. That said, this could easily be enjoyed by kids and probably has some educational value (abstracting and reasoning - if I do this, then this, this and this).

I think Magic: The Gathering is a great game. The fun comes from thinking a deck strategy, building the deck, testing it against friends then whupping their posterior with it.

It can be a little addictive and expensive - so be wary, play some draft once in a while (£6-£7.50 for a whole days worth of fun plus you keep the cards and even sell/trade them!)


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Comments on this review

  • TheChosen1 published 06/11/2008
    Well done!
  • Gildor_Inglorion published 09/09/2005
    Brillioant Opinion detialing the all the required knowledge to play Magic! Still play this game, have to say its great fun but i stopped buying cards a long time ago, way too expensive, last big set i dabbled in was Oddysey ... Gil
  • n13roy published 20/05/2005
    Really well written and informative review indeed. I know very little about this, until now.....Roy
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