These phrases are commonly spoken during games of Magic. Is there really any value gained out of playing this game though? When searching Google and typing in “Why Magic the Gathering”, the first result that comes up finishes the sentence with “Is bad”. Many of its players have been subjugated to bullying, shame and exclusion; parents and professionals typically demonize the game as taking away from valuable time that could be spent doing school, sports or other activities. The issue with these views is that they lack knowledge of what Magic provides to its fans. Without knowing, Magic players expand their math and social skills, learn about the reality of making tough choices, and practice values that can-and often are-utilized away from the kitchen table. While there is certainly a fine line between too much, as with all good things, the focus is on the positive affect Magic: the Gathering has on its community.
The typical game of Magic has two players who each have a sixty card deck, and a “life total” of twenty. Through playing and battling with cards, players “lose life” until one of the players ends up at zero, upon which the other player is declared the winner. It may sound simple, however that’s an extremely simplified description of what goes on. The cards that players draw from their deck determines how the game goes for them-the better cards they draw, the more likely the game will turn in their favor. It all depends on if they draw the card they need, and as the game goes on, the deck size lessens. If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, the word probability might turn on a light bulb.
Let’s say, for example, that a player starts a game with a sixty card deck. The first thing to do is draw cards-you draw seven for your opening hand. The likelihood that you will draw a specific card in your deck, on the first card you draw, is 1/60. Simple so far, until you learn that you can have 4 copies of any non-land card (if that doesn’t make sense now, it will later on), turning up the probability to 4/60, or 1/15. As you continue drawing your opening hand, the chances of you drawing a specific card increases. Now, let’s go ahead and say that you draw your entire opening hand of seven cards, and you don’t get that one card you were looking for. There are now only 53 cards in your deck-so the chances of drawing that card are now 4/53. On your next turn, you draw a card-and sadly, it is also not the card you’re hoping for. That means you’re now down to a 4/52 chance, or 1/13. A quick ask on the mighty Lord Google reveals that probability is taught around the middle-school ages; Magic: the Gathering is recommended for ages 13+. That’s probably not a coincidence-it’s allowing teenagers the ability to apply what they learned, practice it, and most importantly, enjoy it. This is all just on probability! There’s basic math skills applied (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), algebra (solving to X comes to mind) and other pulls from mathematics. It’s also not limited to smaller numbers either-some games involves doing math into hundreds or even thousands!
Typing in “geeks are social” in Google yields one highlighted result: “Why geeks are socially awkward”. It yields over 95,000 results (stigma perhaps?). Much like the discussion over cell phone usage, Magic can be branded as an anti-social medium. From personal experience, I have seen this to be completely false. I’ve taught friends to play this game, as well as children that I counsel during my months at summer camp. The effect it has is astounding. Magic becomes almost its own language, speaking about games and strategies that only other Magic players will fully comprehend. If someone doesn’t know how to play, the first words out of someone’s mouth usually are, “Do you want to learn how? I can teach you!” (source: 5 summers at camp supervising Magic: the Gathering players during free time). Point being, Magic players want their friends to learn and share in this experience with them. It becomes a medium for those to gather (hence the name including “the Gathering”!) similar to poker night or game day-though that’s not to say those activities can all be going on! Playing is also highly inclusive-though typical games include only two people, it can more than welcome plenty more than that.
One of the more enchanting aspects of magic is how it can teach handling tough choices. Since each card is different and you don’t get to see your opponent’s hand (unless a card allows you to do so), there is a major element of strategy involved in guessing what your opponent(s) have. There’s also countering-when someone plays a card, another player can play a “counterspell” to negate that card and put it in the “graveyard”, where it is discarded and is rendered useless. Each time they play a card, they take a small risk of something unexpected happening. There is also the issue of land. Land produces mana, which players need to “cast” spells. They are one of the types of cards that you can find in a player’s deck, and can take up over 1/3 of the deck in some cases. A player often constructs the deck(s) they play, so they must choose which cards they can include and which they cannot. As of February 2015, there were 14,728 different cards, which gives each player a massive variety on what they want to put in their custom-built deck. After they’ve built it, they naturally want to test it out-to play a certain card, witness an interaction between two or more cards, and see if they have both luck and skill!
Magic is a medium-meaning that it in itself is not inherently amazing nor terrible, and that those that utilize this medium set the standard. Many a magic player has had moments where they reveled in joy and sank away in shock due to interaction with other players. There are different ways to win in Magic- the more accessible ones being that you can reduce your opponent’s life to zero, or you can make your opponent run out of cards to draw from their deck (known as decking out or “milling”). Those are the official means to win a game, yet there are different kinds of players, and “winning” can take on different forms. For some, playing the one card in their deck is all it take for them to “win”. Others wish to truly win, but in a strange method rarely seen. Still others build their decks like MMA fighters-a consistent means to take control of the game and achieve total victory over their opponent. These are all broad examples of the kinds of players you can meet, but not of the interactions you could have. In reality, some people are sore losers and sore winners, who don’t handle things going precisely the way they wish them to or don’t fully comprehend the responsibility of good sportsmanship.
The spectrum of players is much like that of the world itself, both in diversity and attitudes. Chances are, each Magic player will encounter someone who fits into the description of a “sore loser” or “sore winner”, and having to handle whichever situation you’re in will be difficult. This has often been the reason people “quit” magic-extremely negative interactions with players that set a poor example on the entire community. When people enjoy something and feel like they’ve been attacked, assaulted or otherwise affronted while trying to have a good experience, they’ll want to stray from that to ensure they don’t have another negative experience. This is part of growing in our social skills abilities-learning how to handle if you run into a person like this, understanding how to have the best experience and maybe even teaching others that their interactions are not the standard they wish to set-upon themselves or others.
This may seem like a lot-and you’d be right in thinking so. Magic: the Gathering has grown to a social experience that includes players, regardless of whatever diversity they happen to represent, in an inclusive manner. It teaches skills typically learned by making terrible mistakes in the form of a game that strengthens bonds between strangers and friends alike. Critical thinking, problem solving, advanced planning, teamwork-all inherently incorporated into a single game. Magic: the Gathering-don’t you or your children learn or play it if you think these skills or values are important.
* This post was originally published at CommanDollar on Tumblr.