Whoa, oh, oh it's Magic (The Gathering)

 Playing collectible card games on the computer

I graduated high school in 1993, the same year Magic: The Gathering was released, and I’ve been intrigued by the collectible card game ever since. I bought some of the cards – though I didn’t really have anyone to play with back then – read some of the comics and novels, and really enjoyed the idea behind the concept even if I didn’t really play. 

Several years later I’d make a friend who was really into the game. He helped me build useful decks from the random cards I’d collected over the decade since the game launched, gave me some strategy pointers, and really helped me understand how nuanced the game could be. 

I’d also play several different video game versions of the game, starting with the PlayStation 3 version of Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers. I found that I actually preferred playing against a computer opponent rather than a flesh and blood opponent. The thing is, there aren’t too many casual Magic: The Gathering players. The folks who are into the card game are really into the game. They play it often. Theyohio build multiple decks of cards, based on different colors of mana (the natural substances that fuel different schools of magic, like red fire from the mountains, green growth from the forests, black corruption from swamps, etc.) to either fit their preferred play style or to counter the strategy of an opponent. They hold regular tournaments, where players can be ranked on regional, national, and international scales. 

In other words, it is the kind of thing that can be a little intimidating to the casual player – even the casual player who has been dipping his toes, and at times his whole foot and a good part of his ankle, into the waters (blue mana) of the game for nearly 30 years. 

Then there are the rules. The written rules can be a little hard to follow until after you’ve played a game or two, especially if you are the kind of person who learns by doing. The rules can also vary a little for tournaments and ranked competitive play too, with certain cards from certain releases being favored, for instance, or players starting the game with a sealed deck of random cards instead of a deck from their carefully curated library. Of course, like with any game, some folks have “house rules” they follow as well, even if they aren’t official rules. 

That’s where video game versions have an advantage for the casual player. The rules in a computer game are set. There is no altering them at the discretion of the house. Computer games also automatically take care of cool downs on cards or actions, hit points, damage, and all the things that players have to keep in mind and keep track of during a physical game. While the game is essentially turn based, there are some cards that can be played as “interrupts.” This action is usually intended to break the flow of your opponent’s attack, but on a computer you don’t have to worry about making a mistake with an interrupt, at least not in regard to violating the rules. If the action isn’t permitted, the computer won’t allow you to do it. 

The computer game version can keep you on the right track as you learn the ins and outs of the game. It can also help make you a better player when you do eventually play another person with real cards. 

While Duels of the Planeswalkers is no longer available for new users, Magic: The Gathering – Online is still active and can be downloaded from the Wizards of the Coast website. You can also download the most recent computer version of the game, Magic: The Gathering – Arena, from the company website, https://magic.wizards.com, or from the Epic Game Store at https://www.epicgames.com/store/en-US/product/mtg-arena/home. 


Use the code above, after playing through the tutorial, to add a free booster pack to your deck.

Unlike the earlier Duels of the Planeswalkers release, Online and Arena are both online multiplayer games, so you’ll eventually be playing against real people instead of having the option to play against the computer. There are advantages to this, especially if you ever plan to play real people with physical cards, but it also means you can’t just adjust the difficulty setting until you get better. You have to contend with whatever the skill level of your opponent is, and that can range from complete neophyte to seasoned veteran. But all the other benefits of computer play still apply. 


This code will grant you three free booster pack. Enter the code in the store section of the game.

If you’ve ever been intrigued by Magic: The Gathering, go ahead and give Arena (the newest release at two-years-old) a try. At the price of “free” to download and install, you really have nothing to lose. 

(Story originally published in the December 16, 2020 edition of the Carter County Times.)



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