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Brad Nicholson avatar 6:37 PM on 08.27.2008  (server time)
Magic: The first night

The last time I talked Magic: The Gathering, I told you guys about my eventful PR experience at Gen Con. I also mentioned the minor fact that I had zero idea what the hell the game was or what it was supposed to do. I only knew that it was a game that people played when I thought that they were horribly bored.

Now, I believe I have a better handle on what the game is and how it’s played. It only took an afternoon of extreme concentration and convincing. First, I suppose I should talk about my Magic partner, who is taking this experience like a champ. My girlfriend (the partner) doesn’t play very many games. She’ll dabble in action and platforming, but anything more involving she typically stays away from. The pacing of role-playing games especially drives her nuts, so I think you can understand her trepidations about Magic. In fact, I believe she was even more in the dark than I was.

The other night we sat down with the new two-player starter set. I opened the oddly shaped box and was immediately greeted with the largest rule sheet I’ve ever seen in my life. This thing takes up an entire table by itself. I don’t know if we’re suppose to play on it and inquire about the game while in the middle of the action, or if we’re supposed to bolt it to the wall and use it as decoration.

I quickly learned how many different faucets of gameplay Magic has. There’s an initial “upkeep” round where a player draws a card to put in his or her hand, then there’s an attack/blocking phase. These special cards called “Instants” (which can be pulled out for some nasty tricks) can interrupt each phase of the game. The starter pack has enough cards (47 total) to provide the learner like myself with the experience of the flow of the game. Despite the massive booklet, we both hit the Magic wall and had no clue what the hell to do.

Rules and instructions are great, but the only real way to learn to play Magic is to see the game in action, and thankfully Wizards of the Coast understands this. Their website provides some pretty cool YouTube videos to help out with the process of understanding Land, “tapping,” attacking, blocking, and eventually some of the more complicated scenarios such as building your own deck. After watching the videos my girlfriend and I were ready to play again.

And we failed multiple times. We kept forgetting that you could only assign attackers to a player, not a creature. We forgot how to use card abilities, and even when to draw cards. After many hours of research and downloading Magic’s mightily large, but free rule book we got our tiny 14 card decks to a science – and I lost every time.

In a way, this is a great thing. I normally don’t lose in games against my girlfriend and its only because my life has revolved around videogames. My thumbs navigate analog sticks and buttons out of habit, as opposed to a newly learned behavior. Her ability to use Magic’s strategy is a good sign that the game is not inherently flawed.

I suppose the big question is, “Did you have fun” and to that, I can easily say, “Yes.” My girlfriend even caught herself up in the excitement (especially the beating me every time part). It’s a nice reprieve for a guy like me to step away from the machine and concentrate on a different kind of game altogether. Tomorrow night we have decided to break out two of the Eventide theme decks given to me by Wizards. I have already decided that black is the only way to go, while my girlfriend is more than happy to explore blue and white.

I’ll definitely let you know how the first night with a 60-card deck goes. Here’s to hoping that I don’t have a reference book stuck in my face all night!

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