Go Outside And Play – An Argument for Magic: The Gathering

“Go Outside and Play”

Those dreaded words we’ve all heard growing up (or at least, those of us who were more keen on video games or, before the 1970s, books). You were told that looking at a screen that long would hurt your eyesight, that locking yourself away would make you into some sort of social pariah. No self-respecting parent would see their child playing Mario Kart 64 or Sonic 3 & Knuckles without eventually uttering that hellish phrase, or else their precious bundle of joy would become a depressed, overweight slob!


Basically, our mothers didn’t want to raise Bill Dauterive.

My mother was not the sort who was too concerned that I was playing video games, but more of the amount. She allowed me some time after homework, and didn’t mind that I set an alarm to wake up early to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In her mind, I was doing the right thing, and she didn’t need to wake me up to go to school. No, her concern was that I would seclude myself and stop talking to people. Some games helped break me out of that: social games. Not social games like Facebook games, but games in which you need a physical other person to play the game. I grew up before the widespread use of online co-op; two player games were how I interacted with most of my friends.

A few weeks ago, I took a look at my life now, living hours away from any friends and family in the middle of a forsaken wasteland. Connected to most intelligent people only by the Internet. I came to realize that what I needed to do, for my own mental health and self-esteem, was to stop playing video games, go outside and play.

Those who know me a bit may find this somewhat odd. “But Alch,” some might say, “you have hundreds of games in your Steam library alone! There are hundreds of videos of you playing games on YouTube! How can you say you need to stop playing video games?”


An artist’s representation of Gabe Newell using the money I’ve spent on Steam games.

Well, I never said stop playing them forever. And I didn’t say you couldn’t play other games.

Many of us, I feel, need some chance to interact with people in meatspace. My suggestion is to try to play Magic: the Gathering. I am not the sort to suggest anything I wouldn’t do myself – I didn’t do that when I worked retail selling video games, and I won’t do it now.

So far, I have brought myself to three Magic: the Gathering events. I found a local game store to try out, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I learned how to play by reading the rulebook, and doing a few Twitch streams of small drafts. I watched multiple videos to make sure I was doing it right. I bought probably too many cards. And I made deck after deck after deck.

If you’ve never played Magic, allow me to explain. Magic: the Gathering was and is the first trading card game – Pokémon, Hearthstone and Yu-Gi-Oh! would all try to emulate and imitate the grand-daddy of them all. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it has over 75 different expansions and a deep lore filled with amazing fiction to read, art to admire, and an avid fanbase.


And most importantly, cosplayers, like Christine Sprankle.

The rules of Magic: the Gathering are simple. You build a deck of cards – 60 in a Constructed game, 100 in a Highlander game, 40 in a limited game. In the game, you are a powerful wizard, channeling mana, or energy, through the land itself to shape your spells. Your opponent is another wizard. You each have 20 life (most of the time), and you want them to hit 0, because then they are dead. You do not want to hit 0, or else you will be dead. There are six types of mana, and six basic types of land, that will determine play styles – Red for Mountains, White for Plains, Blue for Islands, Green for Forests, Black for Swamps, and Colorless for Wastes. Colorless has no color, naturally. Spells will say they need so much mana of a color, and so much of any color. So if you have a spell that says “3” and a fireball, you need 3 mana, plus one Red mana. Everything you do is either find land to tap for mana (like getting oil from a well) or using that mana to cast a spell.

In short – find land, cast spells, kill the other guy.

Now, if you just want to kill people in a game, stay home and play PUBG or Overwatch. If you just want to kill people outside, please don’t. That’s illegal and morally dubious. If you wish to meet a group of people who you can have real life interaction with, then please, learn to play a tabletop game. The reason I thought of Magic is because of something called “Friday Night Magic.” Every week, at nearly any friendly local game store (the D&D kind, not the GameStop kind) they have a tournament you can enter and win even more cards in.



My first experience? I went to an event called a Pre-Release. For $15, you get a chance to play with cards no one has seen before. Due to scheduling, I went to the Midnight Pre-Release of the new Ixalan expansion. I played two rounds of competitive Magic: the Gathering in a tiny store with 32 other people at 12:01 am, making a deck of Red, White and Green dinosaurs, and fought Black and White vampires, Red, Blue and Black pirates and Blue and Green merfolk.  I won one extra pack, and drove home groggily at 3am, having left before round three of a five round tournament as I was too tired to read my cards anymore. My beautiful Raging Swordtooth and new friend Huatli, Warrior Poet led me forward.

The one on the left is the nice one.

I also got to meet a bunch of interesting people, share stories, and relax as we waited between rounds. In olden days, we would have broken bread and had wine – in these times, we shared Cheez-its and had Mountain Dew.

Before the next tournament, I made my own Tokens for Huatli’s “Create a Dinosaur token” power. Tokens are a place where you are allowed to make your own cards, somewhat like player made skins in Minecraft. They’re a fun way to add a bit more of your personality to your game.

And I stand by my choice in making these tokens.

However, the next tournament was a Draft, another limited format. With Sealed (the format of Pre-Releases), you are given 6 packs to use. With a Draft, you are given 3, but you pick one card from it, and pass the rest to the person to your left, who takes one and passes it, until the cards run out. By the end, you have a set of 45 cards, and about 27 of which will end up in your 40 card deck. You then fill out the rest with your Basic Lands (Plains, Islands, Swamps, Mountains, Forests and sometimes Wastes. Wastes only count if your friends are cool or the set includes them).


Wastes – the letter Y of the Magic world.

This time I played at a reasonable time, 6pm. I also played Black and White vampires. Instead of raptors, I had conquistadors. Instead of swordtooths, I had bloodsuckers. Instead of Huatli, my main ally was Mavren Fein.

Image (1).jpg

The same rhythm as Chocolate Rain, Mavren Fein!

Lonely vampires now have friends again, Mavren Fein!

Joke stolen from LoadingReadyRun, Mavren Fein!

My Power Rangers Dinosaur tokens were to waste, but they got to be Vampire Token stand-ins. I came in seventh in that tournament – in a game where top 6 is what matters. But beyond all that, I got out of the house. I interacted with people I never would have met and had that experience with if it was just another match in FortNite or Splatoon. No, I didn’t place high enough to win a prize. But I did what I intended to do. I went outside of the house, unplugged, and played a game. Too often do gamers reduce the term to just “video games.” We can play other things too.

So I implore you, reader. Find your friendly local game store. Here’s the link Wizards of the Coast has on their site to do that. Then go to Friday Night Magic. If you don’t have cards already, see if they have a Draft night or buy a Deck Builder toolkit (they’re like $20). Some game stores will even give you a 30 card “welcome deck” – buy a few boosters, and you got yourself a nice collection to start!

And who knows? Maybe you’ll run into me and one of my weird homebrew decks. Maybe you’ll find folks who play a weird format, like Tiny Leaders or Canadian Highlander. Maybe you’ll go pro and become World Champion in Standard Constructed.

But most likely, you’ll have fun.


Alchemyprime plays a lot of games on YouTube and Twitch. You can also find him on Twitter

Check out my other article –> Cyborgs and Wrong Words- On Overwatch and Tokusatsu

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