When I was a freshman in college back in the ancient year of Nineteen Ninety-Four, my dorm floor became temporarily obsessed with a new card game called Magic. I was dragged along with my friends to a comic book store about 30 minutes away and peer pressured into buying a few packs. I had no idea what this was, but I had previously collected baseball cards and liked the idea of being able to play with your collection.
The fad passed pretty quickly for our floor; we had too much going on and the cards were too expensive to keep buying all of the time. Still, it’s one of my big regrets that I totally ignored our college geek gaming group that was often seen digging these cards out for impromptu sessions.
The Magic bug really didn’t bite me until nearly a decade later when I stumbled upon Magic Online. I gave the free trial version a whirl, liked what I saw, and decided to invest into it. For a good year or so I was logged in nightly, building up my collection, trying out new decks, and haggling with the game’s horrible trading system.
I loved it because it offered me a convenient, tidy way to play Magic without dealing with the hassle of physical cards all over the place or having to find people to play it with. I never was that great, but I usually had quite a bit of fun doing it.
Magic Online was a quirky program, particularly in its early years. It went through a couple different studios and was notoriously undersupported by Wizards of the Coast. The first couple versions of the game looked positively ancient — like mid-90s ancient. The developers bemoaned how complex it was to program because it had to deal with thousands and thousands of different cards and all the various rules, with new cards coming in all the time. The guild system was a joke, but I did try out a few tournaments and even won some stuff in them.
A while back I listed a few of the hiccups that the game went through, and I think I gave up hope that the new version (which was long, long promised) would ever see the light of day. Eventually I stopped playing and moved on to MMOs, which was certainly better for my wallet. I wince to think about the amount of money I dropped on Magic Online, and I hated the pressure of feeling like I had to keep buying all the new sets when they came out (like two to three times a year).
When I did return in 2009 to check it out, I simply stuck with what’s called “pauper decks” — games that only used the cheap common cards. It was just as much fun and a lot less stressful on my finances.
The whole Magic subculture is one that demands your all, and that includes the game. I remember reading the daily articles on the site and being overwhelmed by all the mechanics and theorycrafting involved. Even so, it’s one of those games that calls to me every now and then. If I had the time, I whisper back… if I had the time.