Back from the Brink

I am returning to Magic: The Gathering, after I’ve been away for twenty years.

Almost exactly twenty years ago, around the end of 1998 or the beginning 1999, I stopped playing Magic: The Gathering. As a kid, I had been fascinated by the game for years. But as often happens when you grow up, priorities change and you lose sight of things that previously used to define a large part of your existence. A few years ago, I gave away all my cards, which were mostly white bordered cards from Fourth and Fifth Edition. But I also distinctly remember some cards from Ice Age, Homelands and Mirage, which I still remember was my favourite release back then. I think I also had a tiny amount of Alliances cards.

At the end of September, when the open beta period of Magic: The Gathering Arena ( MTGA) started, I was immediately interested. I’d played Hearthstone for about a year when it came out, but then fell off the wagon. And the prospect of being able to play Magic on my PC and it looking similarly slick (and not hideous like MTGO) interested me greatly. Then friends in the Sixgun Productions Discord told me MTGA was actually fun and that was that. I downloaded it, played a few games and was hooked again.

Not a week later, I started buying paper cards. I now own quite a few of them from the current core set and the Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan and Guilds of Ravnica expansions. I think I now own more cards than I did back in the ‘90s. Luckily I don’t miss the ones I gave away, as they were all German and I much prefer the original language cards these days.

You might wonder why I started buying paper cards, but the reason is pretty simple: Roughly at the same time as discovering Arena, I also found out that some friends of mine here in Hamburg were also playing Magic quite regularly. We actually figured that out when they visited me, saw my Warhammer stuff and we got into talking about geeky things and collectible games. Now I play with them and other friends – who I later discovered to also play Magic – semi-regularly, which is really nice. I also like collecting things, of course. And collecting paper cards is just that much more satisfying than collecting digital ones.

The smell of opening a booster pack takes me right back to when I was ten or eleven, as well. It is so nice! Of course, I’m totally lost when it comes to the game itself. I’m just beginning to understand things like the fact that paying to “put target nonland permanent on top of its owner’s library” at instant speed is actually quite bad. I had no idea. Being away from a game for twenty years does that to you. The art is still stunning though, I know that much. What am I saying, it’s so much better since I last saw it! And I really liked it back then, too!

But, yeah… I’m just getting used to the fact that while Magic’s base game machanics are quite easy to learn – maybe comparable with chess – all the extra rules that are written on the cards complicate the whole thing immensly. When I was a kid, I probably didn’t even have an inkling of how amazingly deep this game is. Add to that the almost unbelievable idea of Wizards having released several expansions a year for all of the time that I’ve been away, and this whole getting back into Magic thing is threatening to blow my mind.

But it’s also quite a nice, stimulating challenge. I’m already listening to two different Magic-related podcasts regularly and I’m reading a lot of articles on strategy in my spare time. Back in the day, I never came across drafting, so the only game mode I knew going into this was constructed – now I’m learning about limited and other game modes as well. I will keep you updated on my experience with getting back into this game: There are a lot of fascinating stories to tell. Currently, I’m losing a lot of matches. If you want to picture me rediscovering Magic, the above image of Fblthp is probably most accurate.


Card images credit: Wizards of the Coast

Fabian A. Scherschel Written by: Fabian A. Scherschel

Fab is a freelance tech journalist and podcaster from Hamburg, Germany. You can hire him.