Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Magic: The Gathering
Magic: The Gathering (colloq. "Magic" or "MTG"), is a collectible card game created by Richard Garfield, Ph.D. and introduced by Wizards of the Coast in 1993. Magic inspired an entirely new game genre, and continues to endure with an estimated six million players in over seventy countries worldwide and on the Internet. The game plays as a strategy contest not unlike chess, but like most standard card games, there is an element of luck due to the random distribution of cards during shuffling.
Magic: The Gathering cards are produced in much the same way as normal playing cards. Each Magic card, 89*66 mm in size, has a face, which displays the card's name and rules text, as well as an illustration and "flavor text" appropriate to the card's concept, but with no game value. Over 7000 unique cards have been produced for the game, with 500–600 new ones added on a yearly basis. Each player designs a deck of cards (chosen from the cards they have managed to purchase) to be used in competition.
During play, each individual contest is called a "duel" to represent the primary fictional setting of the game. In this setting, each player is said to be a very powerful wizard (called a "planeswalker", a powerful mage, who, with a thought, can travel across the very planes of existence) doing battle against another. In order to win this contest and drive the other wizard away, each wizard draws upon the power of magical spells, items, and fantastic creatures to do battle. Though the original concept of the game drew heavily from the motifs of traditional fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Magic bears little resemblance to those pencil-and-paper campaigns.
Magic boasts a thriving official tournament system, in which the game is played for cash and scholarship prizes, but is also known to be very well supported by casual gamers who only play with friends at schools, clubs, or home. The cards themselves also have value, much like other trading cards, but in this case based on both scarcity and game play potential.
Role-players were enthusiastic early fans of Magic, but the game achieved much wider popularity among strategy gamers. The commercial success of the game prompted a wave of other collectible card games to flood the market in the mid-1990s, although many of them were poorly designed and failed both commercially and in popularity. Although Magic's gross card sales have been surpassed in recent years, particularly by Japanese import games based on the Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! franchises, Magic's popularity continues to grow steadily.
In 1994, Magic: The Gathering won the Origins Awards for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1993 and Best Graphic Presentation of a Boardgame of 1993, and in 1999 it was inducted alongside Richard Garfield into the Origins Hall of Fame. In 2003, after Magic: The Gathering had fulfilled the ten-year existence required for induction, GAMES Magazine selected it for its Games Hall of Fame, making it the 23rd game so honored.
In a game of Magic, two players play the roles of powerful wizards (planeswalkers) engaging in a magical duel to the death. A player starts the game with twenty life points and seven cards in their hand. If a player is reduced to zero life points, that player loses the game. The object of Magic is to be the last surviving player.
Players fight each other by casting spell cards by drawing upon mana, or magical energy, from Land cards. There are two basic types of spells: those which create a "permanent", which stay on the table once they have been played, and those which affect the game immediately and are then discarded. The types of cards are:
- Lands: Are the most basic resource of the game. A player may only play one land per turn, a feature which regulates the speed of the game by limiting the amount of mana available early.
- Creatures: Summon a magical creature or warrior that can attack the other player or be used for defense.
- Artifacts: Represent machines, devices, automatons, magical items, and weapons.
- Enchantments: Modify the game environment or a specific permanent by generating an effect as long as they are in play.
- Sorceries: Are spells which have a one-time effect on the game. Sorceries can only be played on the player's own turn, and are typically more powerful than Instants.
- Instants: Can be used by the player at almost any time. Instants usually have a small effect on the game, but are valued for the versatility.
Each player has a library where cards from the deck that have not yet been drawn are kept; a hand containing cards drawn but not yet played; an area on the table for his or her lands, creatures, etc. that are in play (cards in play are referred to as permanents); and a graveyard where spent spells or destroyed permanent cards are discarded. Players may never look into the libraries (unless a card's ability allows you to do so) and may see their own hands only, but may normally view all the other cards on the table without restriction.
Game play is turn-based. During a turn, the active player untaps his tapped cards (returns them to their upright state), draws one card, plays at most one land from his or her hand, casts as many spells as he or she wants to and can afford (with mana), and may attack another player with one or more creatures. In order for a creature to be used as an attacker, it must have been in play before the current turn starts. The attacking player taps the creature card by turning it sideways to indicate he or she is attacking with that creature. The defending player may declare some of his or her creatures as blockers. Attacking creatures deal damage to their assigned blockers (equal to their power) and are likewise damaged by them. A creature that amasses in one turn more than a specific amount of damage (its toughness) dies and goes to its owner's graveyard. Unblocked attackers deal damage to the player they attacked, reducing that player's life points. All damage dealt to creatures that did not die is healed at the end of the turn.
The protocol for resolving spell cards and other abilities is known as the stack, or the LIFO (Last In, First Out) rule. The stack works like this: A player may play any number of successive spells or abilities when he or she has priority. However, none of these actions will resolve (that is, take effect) until the player with priority passes it to the other player, and that player passes in return. If the second player adds anything more to the stack, they go "on top" of the actions already there. When both players pass in succession, the top action on the stack resolves. If both players pass when there are no actions on the stack, the game moves on to the next phase. This protocol may sound complicated in writing, but in practice it is usually instantaneous.
Some spells have effects that override normal game rules (e.g., allow you to play more than one land per turn). Spell effects may contradict each other, and it is one of the more difficult aspects of gameplay to resolve these conflicts. A detailed and thorough rulebook exists to clarify conflicts. The so-called "Golden Rule of Magic" is that if a card's text overrides a game rule, follow the card. Because of this very few rules in the game have not been broken. There are numerous cards that change the way combat works, allow players to play spells for free, or even force people to skip parts of their turn.
A player needs a deck ready before he can play a game of Magic. Beginners typically start with only a starter deck; but, over time, more cards are added to the player's stock through purchases or trading with other players. Due to the many possibilities, two players seldom play with the same decks.
Normally, decks are required to be at least sixty cards. Players may use no more than four of any named card, with the exception of the "basic land" (staples of Magic). When deciding which cards to include, it is often most beneficial to use the minimum deck size, combined with the maximum number of card copies, so that the most useful cards are drawn more often.
The balance of land to spells is the most fundamental aspect of deck building. A deck must have a large enough number of lands so that they are drawn in a timely manner. The ratio of spells to lands is typically in the range of 2:1–3:2.
Spells come in five colors: white, blue, black, red, and green. Mana comes in the same five colors. To play a spell of one color, mana of the corresponding color is always required. Most Lands only produce one color of mana. It helps to play two or fewer colors in a deck, so that the color of spells drawn will always match the color of mana available.
The five colors each have different strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, it helps to play two or more colors in a deck, so that the strengths of one color can compensate for the vulnerabilities of another.
The colors of Magic
The equilibrium between the five colors is one of the defining aspects of the game. The various strengths and weaknesses of each color are attributed to the fact that each color represents a different "style" of magic. Because the trade-offs between the abilities of each color are integral to keeping the game balanced, it is helpful to discuss the various color philosophies.
- White is the color of equality, order, law, righteousness, and light (although not necessarily "good.") Typical white creatures include knights, soldiers, clerics, and angels. Within the game, white's strengths lie in healing damage, launching tactical creature attacks, and imposing additional rules that all players must abide by. White's weaknesses include its difficulty in removing permanents though direct removal, and the fact that many of its most powerful spells affect all players equally.
- Blue is the color of knowledge, illusion, reason, ingenuity, and trickery. Typical blue creatures include wizards, merfolk, and air and water spirits. Blue's cards are best at letting you draw additional cards, giving you control of opposing creatures, sending permanents back to their owner's hands (informally called "bounce"), and canceling your opponent's spells as they are being played. Blue's weaknesses lie in that it has by far the weakest creatures of any color and it has only limited ways of dealing with opposing threats once they have entered play.
- Black is the color of death, darkness, plague, selfishness, and greed (although not necessarily "evil.") Typical black creatures include undead, demons, and necromancers. Within the game, black cards are best at killing opposing creatures, making your opponent discard cards in his or her hand, and raising your own creatures from the dead. Black's weaknesses include the fact that it cannot remove some kinds of permanents, and many of black's best cards can harm you if you are not careful.
- Red is the color of destruction, war, passion, chaos, and anger. Typical red creatures include goblins, orcs, barbarians, dragons, and earth and fire spirits. Red is one of the best colors at destroying opposing permanents, trading long-term resources for short-term power, and for playing spells that reduce the opponent's life points. Red's weaknesses include its inability to deal with certain permanents, and the fact that it has limited options if you are trying to interfere with your opponents' ability to play spells. Red also has the vast majority of cards that involve random chance.
- Green is the color of life, nature, growth, instinct, and interdependence. Typical green creatures include beasts, elves, insects and druids. Green has powerful large creatures, it is excellent at being able to bring more lands in play, and it excels at gaining life points. However, green has difficulty removing opposing creatures from play, and has almost no strategies that are not creature-based.
The colors can be seen on the back of the cards, in a circle-like design, figuratively called the "color wheel". Starting from the top, going clockwise, they are: white, blue, black, red, and green. The colors adjacent to each other on the wheel are "allied" and can have similar/complementary abilities or strategic approaches. For example, blue has few efficient, playable creatures in general, but does have a relatively large number of flying creatures. White and black, being next to it, also have many flying creatures. Red and green are opposite blue and have very few flyers. The two non-adjacent colors to a particular color are "enemy" colors, and are often thematically opposed. For instance, red is the color of chaos, while white is the color of order.
A series of five articles written by Mark Rosewater describing each color in depth can be found at the game's official site at MagicTheGathering.com: The Great White Way, True Blue, In The Black, Seeing Red, and Its Not Easy Being Green
Almost since its creation, players of the game have created alternate styles of play – from simple house rules to completely original game mechanics. These are often created to balance out one or more problems with the basic rules, as seen by the play groups (see section below on controversial aspects). Some casual play rules have been released by Wizards of the Coast, and more are still under development, such as an updated set of multiplayer rules.
- Multiplayer — The core game rules support one-on-one play, but the most popular play variants involve more. The simplest form is the "melee", where players sit in a circle and combat those around them to be the final surviving player. Some melees involve attacking in one direction or the other (sometimes called "Assassin"), or can be played as a free-for-all. One popular variant called "Rainbow" involves exactly five players, each one playing one of the colors of Magic and trying to defeat the diametrically opposed ones. Team-based play is also extremely popular. Teams of two (often called "Two-Headed Giant (or Ogre)" share many resources and have the common goal of defeating the other team. In "Emperor", two teams of three or more players each play to ensure their central player (the emperor) outlasts the other.
- Alternate deck contruction — Players often like to challenge themselves by using different card selections. In one system, players are allowed to use only one of each card instead of the usual limit of four – this is called "Singleton" or "Highlander" ("There can be only one"). In the "Pauper's Deck" or "Peasant Magic" variants, the more powerful rare cards are not allowed, and players must construct decks using only the more commonly available cards as a way of balancing the games away from players who have access to more resources. In "5-Color" or "Prismatic Magic", players must build very large decks (at least 250 cards) and accommodate a minimum number (about 20) cards of each color. In order to alleviate problems with the mana resource system, some play variants include rules for building decks without lands. These often include other compensating controls, such as restricting players to one spell per turn or in using spell cards themselves to be played as lands and produce matching colored mana.
- Mental Magic — These variants are a popular one among long-time players. Often, a common stack of random cards is used as decks for each player. Play is as normal except that the cards in their hand can be played as any card in the game with the same mana cost, but each such card can only be named once per game.
Playing Magic on the Internet
- Magic Online — The official Internet-based version of Magic, provides for play against other people connected to the Internet. It recreates Magic: The Gathering gameplay closely, enforcing an extensive and actively updated knowledge of the game rules, provisions for social and card trading interactions, visual presentation of the same card art as the physical cards, and near-parallel release of new card sets both as physical and online cards. Magic Online does not charge for time online or per game played. Instead, the online cards must be purchased. Prices for online cards are comparable to prices for physical cards, at least in the United States. Each player's purchased cards "reside" on game servers.
- Magic-League.com — Magic can be played online free of charge through Magic-League. The software used is a freeware programs called "Apprentice" and "NetDraft". Magic-League has its own ranking system and player base.
- Generic Collectible Card Game (in beta testing as of October 2004) — GCCG is a program intended to support online play of multiple collectible card card games. It is a free open source program running on Linux, Mac OS and Microsoft Windows. Every player starts with the same amount of money (not real money), that can be used to buy closed card sets or cards from other players. Players create decks with these cards and then play against other players for money, cards or fun.
- Magic Workstation — This shareware program (not affiliated with DCI or Wizards of the Coast) is a powerful tool that enables users to build decks and compete in online play.
- Main article: Duelists' Convocation International
Magic: The Gathering has grown a lot since it was first introduced in 1993, and a large culture has developed around the game. Magic tournaments are arranged almost every weekend in gaming stores. Larger tournaments with hundreds of competitors from around the globe sponsored by Wizards of the Coast are arranged many times every year. Large sums of money are paid out to those players who place the best in the tournament, and the winner receives sums upward of US$30,000. A number of websites report on tournament news, give complete lists for the most currently popular decks, and feature articles on current issues of debate about the game. The Duelists' Convocation International (or DCI) is the organizing body for professional Magic events. The DCI is owned and operated by Wizards of the Coast.
There are two basic types of organized play, Constructed and Limited.
In Constructed tournaments, each player comes with a pre-built deck. Decks must consist of no fewer than 60 cards, and no more than four of any one card (the basic land cards may be used in any quantity), just as in the standard game rules. Various tournament formats exist which define what card sets are allowed to be used, and which specific cards are disallowed.
Additionally, a 15-card sideboard is permitted, from which a player may tweak his or her deck during a match to better deal with their opponent's strategy. Following the first game of a best-of-three match, each player is permitted to replace any number of cards in his or her deck with an equal number of cards from his or her sideboard. The original deck configuration is restored at the conclusion of the match.
Limited tournaments are based on a pool of cards which the player receives at the time of the event. In sealed deck tournaments, each player has 75 cards from which to build their deck; in drafts, 45 cards. Any number of basic lands may also be added to the deck. The decks in limited tournaments need only be 40 cards minimum; all the unused cards function as the sideboard.
- Main article: Magic: The Gathering sets
The first Magic cards were printed exclusively in English, but current sets are printed in a number of other languages as well, including French, German, Italian and Japanese.
Magic cards are released in expansions and base sets. The base sets consist entirely of reprints of cards that were originally printed in expansion sets, the large majority of them fairly simple in function. The purpose of the base set is twofold: firstly, it is used as a "stepping stone", giving new players a chance to learn and understand the basics of the game without having to deal with the more complicated mechanics often used in the expansion sets. Secondly, it is used as way to keep certain staple cards legal within the various tournament formats without the need to reprint them in the expansion sets. This also makes the staple cards easier to acquire, lowering the barrier to entry for constructed play. The current edition of the base set (currently 8th Edition, though 9th Edition is due to be released this summer) is always called the "Core Set."
Expansion sets are released in "blocks", with a new block released each year. Each block consists of three sets: a large expansion of 306 cards, which is released in the fall, and two smaller follow-up expansions, each 165 cards, released in late winter and early summer, respectively. Each block shares a common flavor, the smaller sets expanding upon the theme and mechanics of the large set.
In 2003, the game went through the biggest visual change since its creation. A new card frame layout was developed to allow more rules text and larger art on the cards, while reducing the thick, colored border to a minimum. Contrast and readability were improved by using black type, a new font, and partitioned areas for the name, card type, and attack values.
There is an active secondary market in individual cards among players and game shops. On eBay, for example, there are an estimated 30,000 Magic: The Gathering card auctions running at any one time.
The game cards are published by Wizards of the Coast in varying quantities – a standard booster pack contains eleven common cards, three uncommon cards, and one rare. The prices of individual cards vary accordingly. Common cards rarely sell for more than a few cents. Uncommon cards and weak rares typically cost under US$1. The most expensive cards in Standard tournament play usually cost approximately US$10-20.
The most expensive card is generally considered to be the Black Lotus, with certain rare printings as of 2004 rising above US$1000. It, and the other cards in the so-called "Power Nine", routinely reach high sale prices. In 2003, after the rotation of the Extended tournament format and in combination with the first Type 1 Championships, the prices for such old, tournament-level cards underwent a large, unexpected increase.
As new sets come out, older cards are occasionally reprinted. If a card has high play value, reprinting will often increase the original version's price, because of the higher demand among players. However, if the card is primarily attractive to collectors, reprinting will often decrease the original version's value. To help protect the collectible value of many old cards, Wizards of the Coast has formulated an official "Reprint Policy", which details certain cards that are unavailable to be printed again.
Since its inception, Magic has used exceptionally high-quality art on its cards. Each card has a fantasy-themed picture related to what the card represents. Each picture usually includes elements of the colour of the spell, contains the background of the set it is published in, and relates to the flavor of the spell as given in the flavor text or title. The art proved so popular that Wizards of the Coast released a book titled The Art of Magic: The Gathering (ISBN 0786911786) in 1998. Notable artists who have contributed art for Magic cards include John Avon, Melissa Benson , Brom, Terese Nielsen , Mark Poole , Dan Frazier , John Coulthart, Mike Dringenberg, Kaja Foglio, Phil Foglio, Frank Kelly Freas, Rebecca Guay, John Howe, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ron Spencer, Bryan Talbot, Christopher Rush , Pete Venters and Michael Whelan.
Three to four new sets for the game are published each year, adding 600-700 new cards annually. Competitive players of the game, especially those that participate in tournaments which use DCI-sanctioned format known as Standard or Type II, must frequently adapt their constructed decks because the competitive environment changes each time the list of allowed sets is changed. To collect the cards needed, players either purchase un-opened packs or specific cards from stores, or trade with other players. In Standard, new sets are added shortly after the official release date, and removed after approximately two years. Other formats, such as Extended and Vintage (formerly Type I), allow sets to be played for much longer durations, but many older, hard-to-find, or widely-used cards increase in price dramatically over time because they hold higher competitive value.
In Limited formats, such as sealed-deck and draft, players are provided un-opened packs at the start of the event and must construct decks using only the cards received. Costs for individual events are relatively steady because deck preparation is negated, but frequent play or practice does require investment in un-opened packs.
Luck vs. skill
Magic is based on a system of basic resources called lands from which mana is drawn so that spell cards can be played. Drawing too few or too many of these resources can have a detrimental affect on the player's game — a situation known colloquially as mana screw. Although each player is able to choose which cards to include in their deck, because each deck is shuffled prior to the duel they cannot choose the order in which the cards are drawn. A player must determine the optimal number of lands to include in their deck, usually by fine-tuning after a number of practice games.
A "mulligan" rule was later introduced into the game, first informally in casual play and then in the official game rules. The "mulligan" allows players to shuffle their hand back into the deck at the start of the game, and draw a new hand. Initially, a player was only allowed to do this if they had either no lands or all lands in their opening hand, and only once per game. Later, the rule was changed so that a player could mulligan regardless of their hand and as often as they wanted, but drawing one less card than the previous (the "Paris" mulligan). This action introduces a skill component into this random element of the game, as the player can choose to mulligan a hand if it contains too few or too many lands. An excellent source for information on the "mulligan" can be found in the article "Starting Over" by Mark Rosewater.
Other random factors can affect play. In "Constructed" tournaments, where pairings are assigned randomly, players will often cite the "luck" of certain match-ups between deck archetypes. In those cases, some decks are said to perform better against certain types than others. In "Limited" tournaments, the cards a player receives are a random selection, and so can limit or enhance a player's performance.
While it is generally agreed that the game has elements of both skill and luck, it is the ratio of these two factors that is often debated amongst players.
The Internet has played an important role in competitive Magic. Strategy discussions and tournament reports frequently include a listing of the exact contents of a deck and descriptions of its performance against others. Known as "net decking", some players will take this information and construct a deck containing the same, or very similar, contents – relying on the expertise and experience of other players. While this strategy is often a good one, it is not a guarantee that the deck will repeat its earlier success. The player may be inexperienced, unfamiliar with the operation of the deck, or they may enter an event where a large number of other players have also "net decked". Many players advocate "Limited" formats of competitive Magic over "Constructed" formats because of this phenomenon.
The Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, and Revised editions, plus some of the early expansion sets, had cards with demonic themes (such as Demonic Tutor and Unholy Strength, which both featured a reversed pentagram in the artwork). For reasons discussed in the article Where Have All The Demons Gone? by Mark Rosewater, these cards were removed from later sets and there was a long period when all references to demons were carefully avoided. However, the game still received criticism over its occult themes. Believing that the concept of "demons" was becoming less controversial, Wizards of the Coast restarted printing cards with "Demonic" in the name in 2002. Although many cards have had a theme of demons, Magic: The Gathering boasts over 7,000 different cards, most of which have no relation to a demonic theme. Themes most often used in Magic are folklore and classic fantasy.
Magic was the basis for a controversial patent obtained by Wizards of the Coast, which covers many of the game's mechanics and concepts. See "Collectible card game" for a full discussion of the patent issue.
- Kai Budde – 1999 World Champion, three time Pro Tour Player of the Year, lifetime winnings leader, and lifetime Pro Points leader.
- Jon Finkel – 2000 World Champion, 1998 Player of the Year, second in lifetime winnings, and second in lifetime Pro Points. Finkel began his Magic career as part of the Junior Pro Tour.
- Dave Williams – successful Pro player, later became a 2004 World Series of Poker finalist. He was also banned for a year from playing in sanctioned Magic tournaments after he was caught cheating at the World Championships.
- Wizards of the Coast (July 8, 2004). Made-In-Seattle Game Is At Center Of High Stakes, International Tournament. Press Release.
- Beth Moursund, The Complete Encyclopedia of Magic: The Gathering, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, ISBN 1560254432
- Wizards of the Coast - Publishers of Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and many other games
- Magic: The Gathering sets - also called 'expansions'
- Magic: The Gathering storylines
- Magic: The Gathering video games
- Duelists' Convocation International - Official tournament sanctioning organization
- Magic: The Gathering World Championship
- Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour
- Collectible card game
- MagicTheGathering.com Official site for Magic: The Gathering
- MTGOnline.com Official site for Magic: The Gathering Online
- TheDCI.com Official site for Wizards of the Coast organized play
- MagicCards.Info Searchable card database in 8+ languages
- MTGSalvation.com News and rumors about the game.
- The Magic Library Background information on ultra-rare promotional cards and other collectible items
- Magic Online Trading League (MOTL) Discussion board for card trading and sales
- Magic-League.com Unofficial online magic play using Apprentice and Magic Workstation
- Misetings.com A humor site focusing on parodies and spoofs of Magic: The Gathering
- Phyrexia.com Storyline site
- The Math of Magic Essay on the mathematics of Magic: The Gathering
- BrainBurst.com Strategy site (pay service)
- StarCityGames.com Strategy site (merchant site)
- Essential Magic Site to create and view decks, combos, and strategy.
- The Mana Drain Strategy site that specializes in Vintage (T1).
- The Source Strategy site that specializes in Legacy (T1.5).
- PlanetMtg The premier German MTG Site.
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