Magic holds the title of "Most Played Trading Card Game," and is currently published in English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Digitally, the game can be played in Magic Online and MTG Arena.
The game is commonly played with two players, but can be played with more. Each player uses their own deck, which may be constructed from cards they previously owned, or from a limited pool of cards at an event. There are several ways of winning the game, the most common being reducing your opponent to 0 life, from a starting total of 20.
There are currently more than 20,000 unique Magic cards, to which hundreds are added each year. Cards are sold in a variety of languages and products, including booster packs and preconstructed theme decks.
Magic is a game of hidden information, meaning that each player knows secrets that the other players do not. By contrast, some other games, such as chess, expose the entire game state to all players. Being forced to guess from imperfect information, combined with the inherent randomness in the game (such as from shuffling), makes finding perfect or ideal strategies impractical, if not impossible, and tests a variety of cognitive skills. This is compounded by the continual addition of new cards, which forces regular reevaluation of deckbuilding and gameplay strategies, and leads to an ever-shifting metagame as players adapt.
Trading card game
Magic is a trading card game, or TCG. While trading cards predate Magic by more than a century, and solitaire games using them date to the 1950s, Magic was the first product to combine randomized, collectible cards with deck-construction and interactive gameplay.
The colors of Magic
Magic recognizes five colors for mechanical purposes: white, blue, black, red, and green. Each card may be any of these colors, or colorless. A card may also be multicolored, and a hybrid subset of multicolored cards offer additional flexibility.
Each color has characteristic strategies, mechanics, and philosophies. These properties derive from commonplace associations with the colors themselves, and from the practical considerations of creating good gameplay. The "color pie", or color wheel, is a mnemonic device and creative tool based on the ring of colored dots on the back of Magic cards. For any particular color, the color pie uses adjacency on that ring to split the other colors into a pair of neighboring allied colors and a more distant pair of enemy colors.
Mana is the primary resource for playing spells. Mana is typically drawn from lands (like the basic lands Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest) but it can also be generated by non-land permanents and spells. Players choose whatever cards they want. In order for that to work, the game needs some way to make as many cards as possible matter. By making spells have a cost, the designers are able to make different cards important at different parts of the game. Because of this, each card now has a different reason to be considered for a deck. This diversity of card usage is a key factor in making the entire trading card game work.
A card type is a characteristic that each Magic: The Gathering card has. Each card type has its own rules for how they are played. The main card types are: artifact, creature, enchantment, instant, land, planeswalker and sorcery. Some objects may have more than one card type (e.g., artifact creature). Additionally, cards may have supertypes or subtypes.
The first Magic core set, retroactively labelled Alpha, was created by Dr. Richard Garfield, bought by Wizards of the Coast, and released in August 1993. High demand led to a second Beta print run two months later, followed by a rebranded Unlimited Edition. When Richard first made the game, he called it Magic. The name was too basic to trademark so the name was changed to Mana Clash. Everyone kept calling it Magic so they looked into what they needed to do to call it Magic. The answer was to add something to it to make it more unique. Richard chose “The Gathering” as a sub name signifying the beginning, as the plan was to keep changing the sub names. The next version would be called Magic: Ice Age. This idea was however quickly abandoned.
Arabian Nights, released December 1993, was the first expansion set, consisting of new cards, rather than reprints. The first "cycle" of thematically linked new releases, now known as a block, began with Ice Age. There are now over seventy expansions, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms being the latest.
The full, official rules for Magic change regularly with the release of new products. Most of these changes simply define and enable new mechanics, though major revisions have occurred infrequently, such as the 6th Edition update in 1999 and the Grand Creature Type Update in 2007. Proclamations that a new update will finally "kill" the game are common. Despite this, the game has flourished, with repeated statements that the most recent large set has become the best-selling set of all time.
Mark Rosewater attributes the game's success, in part, to three core concepts introduced by Richard Garfield at the game's inception: the trading card game, the color wheel, and the mana system. Additionally, since 2008, Wizards of the Coast has devoted efforts to acquiring new players. Such efforts include a shift in game design to mitigate complexity creep, structured play opportunities to introduce women players to Magic, and more in-game representation of women and minorities. In spite of these efforts, the percentage of the player base that identifies as female is currently in the mid-twenties, down from 38% in the recent past.
Competitive and professional play
The winner, Zak Dolan, received a trophy, a number of booster packs from expansions ranging from Arabian Nights to Ice Age, a deck of Magic poker deck, and a T-shirt. In 1995, Brand Manager Skaff Elias suggested that Organized Play needed to take the step to the next level. The idea was to run several tournaments each year that would gather the best players in the world and reward them with cash for their dedication to the game. Players should have something to aspire to. Elias and Mark Rosewater along with others started to work on the concept. On February 16–18, 1996 the first Pro Tour, very briefly called The Black Lotus Pro Tour, was held in New York. The first Pro Tour season included three more Pro Tour events, culminating in the final Pro Tour, the 1995 World Championships, held in Seattle. In the following years, a Pro Tour season (one year) always consisted of five and later six Pro Tours.
The Pro Players Club was a reward system associated with the Pro Tour. Points accumulated during the season determined the players' level in the club, each with different benefits. The highest levels made it possible to make a living as a professional player.
Esports and tabletop
Jumping the Shark?
By 2020, the future of Magic: the Gathering was questioned by the common players. This was in response to many recently-printed cards being banned because of their high percentage of use warping the meta of nearly all formats, and the dizzying amount of products which were targeted towards the "whales" of the game and priced beyond what the average player could and was willing to spend.
Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 outbreak in January 2020 resulted in preventative measures taken in March. A large swath of the Grand Prix event schedule was canceled, and the Players Tour Finals Houston and the May Invitational also were canceled. By April, it was clear that further events were not safely feasible to hold, and Wizards wrote off the entire season as not salvageable.
By May, the future of in-person gatherings was uncertain and likely to remain that way for some time. Wizards of the Coast therefore shifted the 2020 Partial Season competitions from in-person destinations to online events, played remotely through MTG Arena.
Ending professional play
In May 2021, Magic Esports announced a return to in-person play post-COVID-19 for the 2022–23 Players Tour Season. Although the digital play was considered to be a lasting part of of the tournament scene, it is deemed to be only part of the equation going forward. As a result, the 2021–22 Players Tour Season was announced to be the last season featuring the MPL and the Rivals League. Pro Players were told that they should no longer consider success in tournament Magic to be a valid career option. Some form of managing invites for large, Pro-Tour equivalent tournaments will be implemented, and the salaries towards the Leagues would be directed into the prize pool, but no system appears to have been developed at this time.
On WeeklyMTG, Blake Rasmussen explained the announcement as an attempt to re-balance where Wizards spends its organized play resources. “For the longest time, [esports] sucked up all of the resources,” he revealed, leading to a top-heavy organized play system that didn’t serve competitive Magic well. He explained that Wizards of the Coast had identified five pillars of play that they wanted to balance, both organized and casual: friendly play, like kitchen table Magic and FNM; aspirational play, liked PTQs and Grand Prix; elite play, like the MPL and Rivals; festivals, like CommandFest; and digital play on MTG Arena and Magic Online.
The DCI (formerly, Duelists' Convocation International) is the official sanctioning body for competitive play in Magic: The Gathering. The DCI provides game rules, tournament operating procedures, and other materials to private tournament organizers and players. It also operates a judge certification program to provide consistent rules enforcement and promote fair play. Wizards of the Coast and the DCI control the list of banned and restricted cards, which are considered too strong in particular tournaments.
In order to play in sanctioned events, players must register for a free membership and receive a DCI number. The DCI maintains a global player rating database using the Elo rating system (Planeswalker Points) and members have access to their entire tournament history online. If a member commits frequent or flagrant rules infractions, their membership can be suspended for variable amounts of time depending on the severity, from one month to a lifetime.
Decks and Tournaments
Tournament decks in general must have at least 60 cards. A deck may have no more than four copies of an individual card, besides basic lands which it may have any number. If a sideboard is used, it may contain no more than 15 cards.
Most games of Magic, especially casual ones, are Constructed formats, where the decks are prepared by the players before they arrive at the game. There are also multiple formats that are played with constructed decks in DCI-sanctioned tournaments:
- In Block Constructed, players may play any unbanned cards from a single block.
- In the Standard format, players play with a deck of at least 60 cards from the most recent core set, the most recent fully released block, and the block that is currently being released.
- Vintage is the oldest format in the game, simply because it allows players the ability to use almost any card from any black or white bordered set.
- In the Legacy format, cards from all sets are playable, though many of the cards which are restricted in vintage are banned in legacy.
- Modern is currently the newest eternal format in the game and bridges the gap between standard and legacy. The card pool in this format is much smaller compared to Legacy and Vintage. The card pool in this format encompasses all sets from Eighth Edition on.
In the Limited format, players do not play with decks they built ahead of time, but play with decks of cards from sealed booster packs, which are built at the beginning of a limited tournament before play begins. In limited formats, the minimum deck size is 40 cards. Generally, 17-19 lands and 21-23 spells are played, but there is some variance in this aspect. This format is favored by some, as it allows all players, no matter the size of their collection, to have an equal chance at doing well in a tournament.
- In the Draft format, each participating player is seated around a table, usually of eight players, and is given three sealed booster packs. Each player opens the first of their packs, chooses a card from it, and places the chosen card face down on the table in front of them. The remaining cards in the pack are passed to the left, and players repeat this process with the pack just passed to them until all the cards are chosen. The same is done with the second pack, this time passing to the right, and with the third pack, passing left again. Each player then builds a deck using the 45 cards they chose from the booster packs. Sanctioned drafts can be run with any number of boosters from any set, as long as each drafter receives the same product. The most common drafts are from the most recent block.
- Sealed Deck is a common format used at prerelease tournaments. In this format, everyone is given the same amount of product (e.g., six booster packs). From that pool of cards, and adding in as many basic land as desired, each player must build a deck of at least 40 cards. Any opened cards not put in the main deck count as part of the sideboard. In a sealed deck, the skill is making the best out of what you're given.
- January: Winter expansion (small; starting in 2019 this became a large set)
- March: Masters series (discontinued)
- March: Duel Decks (discontinued, replaced by the Challenger Deck series)
- April: Spring expansion (large)
- June: Summer supplemental set / innovative slot / annex set
- July: Summer set (this used to be a small expansion; starting in 2018 this became a large core set)
- August: Commander series (moved to April since 2020)
- September: Fall expansion (large)
- November: Duel Decks and From the Vault (now both discontinued)
- All seasons according to the Northern Hemisphere
Magic is yearly featured at several conventions:
- Origins Game Fair (June)
- Gen Con (July)
- Comic-Con (July/August)
- PAX (September, March)
- Dragon Con (September)
- HASCON (September)
Wizards' online convention, Uncon, featured several tournaments and contests.
- In 1994, awards from the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) for Magic: The Gathering and Legends.
- Magic is listed on the Games Magazine Hall of Fame.
- Academy of Adventure Gaming & Design: Best Collectible Card Game of the Year 2015 for Khans of Tarkir.
- 2019 Toy Hall of Fame inductee.
Logo used 2018–present, with variants for different related products
2019 Esports variant
2020 Esports variant
2019 tabletop variant
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