“You would be surprised by how many ENC students play Magic,” mentioned an Editing and Publishing student during an in-class brainstorming session.
“The card game?” replied Professor Jonathan Fitzgerald, who remembers playing the game for a brief period in the mid 1990s. “People still play that?”
Magic: The Gathering was invented in 1993, and published in ’94, by Dr. Richard Garfield while he was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, studying combinatorial mathematics. It was the trading card game that popularized the Trading Card Game genre. In fact, the company that initially published the Pokémon Trading Card Game (before it was taken over by Nintendo) is the same that published Magic.
“Magic is a fun game and it doesn’t really matter how you get your deck. Playtesting showed that a deck that is too powerful defeats itself,” Dr. Garfield has said. The game revolves heavily around strategy; strong cards are not always enough to win.
In Magic, players battle their opponents (wizards) by using spells, items, and creatures to try to defeat their opponents.
When asked why the card game was fun to pay, freshman JT McNeil said, “It’s sort of like extreme chess.” After a short pause, he finished his thought, “…extreme chess—with superpowers.”
While comparing Magic to “chess with superpowers” sounds as exciting as wizard’s chess from “Harry Potter,” the game does seem to have a reputation for being, well, less than cool. McNeil continued, “I never thought it was lame … but I also never thought Dungeons and Dragons was lame.”
Seniors Payne Ford and Austin Steelman initially thought otherwise.
“I learned how to play my sophomore year in Hilton Head with the tennis team over spring break. It started because I was making fun of all my friends [for playing Magic] with many slanderous words,” said Steelman.
“I put them down and told them that they were like children, and that it looked really stupid. I probably made fun of it more than anyone did at this school,” confessed Steelman.
“And then I jokingly told them to teach me. And then—I kind of got hooked. It’s kind of embarrassing, but that’s how it went,” he said.
Ford continued the story saying, “[Austin] brought the game back to our room, and I reacted the same way he did … I made fun [of] him and my other roommate who started playing. Eventually, they said, ‘Alright, you can’t knock it until you try it, and they said that enough [times that] one time I learned how to play and was hooked.”
Both Ford and Steelman attribute their exposure to the game to junior Tim Luz, who has about a decade’s worth of on and off Magic playing.
“I still play because it seems as if I always find people to play with,” said Luz. “Everybody plays whether they admit it or not. I have been told many times that Magic is lame, and some worse insults … but I don’t let it bother me. Everybody has a hobby that in the end is meaningless. Magic is one of mine. I personally think it’s a nerd game, but I don’t care. ”
Laughing, he finished by saying, “It’s funny how many of the people that initially bash it end up converting and getting really into it,” a friendly jab at tennis teammate Steelman.
Luz is not the only person credited for starting the Magic community on campus. If it was not Luz who taught them, then many current players give credit to Senior Bill Stiffler and graduate Rob Outlaw (’10). While Luz has played for 10 years, Stiffler was introduced to the card game during the winter of 2009 at ENC.
Stiffler’s roommate Outlaw had a demo of a Xbox version of Magic. They quickly grew to like the game, but it was not long before the Xbox died, and Stiffler and Outlaw were unable to get their Magic fix. They soon realized that they could just purchase physical cards and continue playing.
Stiffler describes Magic as “one of the most in-depthly strategic and intellectual games available.” He continued to explain that the gameplay works for a number of people; the game can be played casually, but there is also plenty of room for people to spend a lot of time researching their cards and creating decks—and to spend hundreds of dollars.
Senior Monica Gonzalez said, “I only started to play because all my friends were playing. I went ahead and started learning, even though I thought it was lame at first and would say, ‘I can’t believe you guys are playing card games.’ It reminded me of middle school when everyone would play Yu-Gi-Oh!”
Stiffler debunked the relation to Yu-Gi-Oh!, saying, “Many people relate Magic to Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon, but those are children’s spin offs of Magic.”
Though at first Gonzalez scoffed at the game, after playing she believes that the high level of thinking required to play has drawn in and kept most players.
“It helps you think in a different way,” she explained. “There are strategies that you have to come up with to win a game, and it helps you develop better thinking skills.”
Junior Christopher Jones agrees, “I like the strategy, variability, and the challenge.”
Magic: The Gathering is not just for students; Provost Dr. Timothy Wooster, though not an avid player, recently attended a sealed tournament, leaving undefeated after playing one match against sophomore Tyler Perron. Both Luz and the Provost’s own son, Luke Wooster, introduced him to the game.
“My son thought I would relate to the structure of the game and the thought and intellect behind the game,” Dr. Wooster explained.
Addressing the social dynamic, Dr. Wooster said, “Back in the day, when I was here, Rook was a popular card game on campus. It was a way for people to come around a table together, and there is a lot to learn from each other in being at a table.”
He continued, “When you’re gathered around a table, whether you’re playing cards or eating food, it’s a time to socialize and get to know each other in ways that you can’t now a days with social media and video games. In that sense, I’m encouraged that there is that aspect on campus.”
Dr. Fries, professor in mathematics, and Dr. Waterman, head of the Department of Biology and Chemistry, have hosted and participated in a few draft tournaments with students. Dr. Waterman, who had not played since he himself was in college, saw students involved and thought it would be fun to play again.
“Some people put a lot of time into constructing a particular deck,” he explained. “I don’t go that far, but with the draft, you don’t ever know what you’re going to get … that adds another dynamic to the play,”
He added that tournaments are “fun and [last] just a couple of hours.”
“It involves a lot of critical thinking and good competition,” said Ford. “It seems like a lot of math and science people like it.”
Steelman added, “We’ve made a lot of friends from it.”
Ford explained that after junior Jerome Graham gave a chapel speech in which he mentioned that he played Magic, freshman David Seaboldt approached him because of their shared interest, and the two are now friends..
So, whether you play because your friends do, or because you enjoy the strategies, Magic: The Gathering brings together a large group of people. If you are ever looking for something to do on campus, or you want to extend your friends group outside of Facebook, why not purchase a deck and learn how to play? You might be surprised by who you become friends with.
As Luz said, “It’s a magical game.”