Getting into Magic: The Gathering as an adult has reshaped my brain


Turns out all I needed to love Magic: The Gathering was a smattering of freaks, and some coloured sleeves.

There have been a few moments in my life where I have felt the earth-shifting, life-altering realisation that something has been unlocked within me. You know the moment – the gears click into place, the cogs turn, and suddenly you think, “Oh God, I didn’t know I had this in me.”

Sometimes it’s a good feeling, like when you discover a new favourite hobby or band. Sometimes it’s a questionable feeling, like when you realise that actually, Ghostface from Scream can kind of… get it? And no, I won’t be unpacking that.

The first time I went to a live theatre production, I unlocked an annoying affinity for belting showtunes at random. The first time I went to an ice hockey game, I unlocked a primal rage that emerges only when a player bodychecks someone hard into the wall.

And the first time I properly understood Magic: The Gathering as an adult, I unlocked an unhinged, dragon-like need to devastate tables, and curate a heaping hoard of stunning little cards.

Learning the ropes

I’d known for a while that I would need to refine my knowledge of the game in order to cover it in the most comprehensive way. The last thing I wanted was to accidentally mix up a specific term, or use the wrong wording to describe an effect, so I decided: I would put myself through an intensive Magic: The Gathering bootcamp.

As a relative freshman to the game, I was very fortunate to get lessons in Magic from some bonafide experts. My friends are seasoned players. Not only did they take it (relatively) easy on me in the early days, in order to help foster a positive new player experience, but they were also extremely patient.

With a wealth of mechanics – that grows with each new set – it was a colossal help having people around me who were willing to calmly and concisely explain how they work, ad nauseam. They sat with me through long rounds of Commander while I got my bearings, talked me through new cards on Discord, and didn’t belittle me for peppering them with questions at 11:30pm on a random Thursday while knee-deep in hyperfocus.

I’m very aware that this isn’t, unfortunately, the way a lot of people get introduced to the game. Magic: The Gathering has a huge legacy that can feel incredibly daunting, and when newcomers come to play at game stores and event nights, it can feel hard to break through.

But with the right people and the right context, it makes all the difference. And now, they have created a monster.

Image: David Gaillet / Wizards of the Coast / ZeniMax Media

Building my first Magic: The Gathering deck

From the very beginning of my Magic: The Gathering initiation, I knew I wanted to have the experience of building my own deck. Don’t get me wrong – I love the pre-cons, and have had a wild amount of fun irradiating everyone with my Fallout Mothman deck.

But there’s something brain-itchingly satisfying about crafting your own.

I had two initial ideas for what I wanted to make:

  1. The Freak Zone
    An entire deck comprising the freakiest-looking creatures that Magic: The Gathering has to offer. We’re going well beyond adorable weirdos like Fblthp. We’re going for the whacked-out little dudes with too many teeth, bulging eyes and teeny tiny bodies that can barely hold up their messed-up skulls.
  2. Hot and Hissy
    When it comes to my favourite animals, snakes have always had a spot right up top. There are a cavalcade of cool snake cards out there, as well as a selection of cards that just have snake vibes. Sure, they may not be physically legless with fangs, but they’ve got that hiss hiss energy – and I respect that.

I’ve slowly started amassing cards for each of these decks, and have had a whale of a time trading with my friends for theirs. The snake deck is coming along slightly faster, but that’s mostly because I am curating only the freakiest of the freaks for The Freak Zone – and I’m open to recommendations.

It’s been a significant topic of conversation even here at work. GamesHub‘s own Leah J. Williams is working on the last elements of her Hunk deck, where every creature is hunky in its own special way. It’s a special delight to play against her, because as each creature is cast she will also do a grand unveiling, brandishing the hunk for all to admire before placing it down.

From hunks and hissers to the most fabulous of freaks, building these decks has also helped consolidate the learnings we’ve made in our casual games. Developing an affinity for specific cards (whether because they’re hot, useful or just make me laugh), has helped cement the mechanics in a way that feels like it’ll stick.

Image: Wizards of the Coast

Buying all the funky accessories

I am a woman of simple needs: if I am given the opportunity to colour-code, I will take it and RUN. The very millisecond that I was made aware of coloured sleeves, it felt like a matador waving a colour-coding flag at a shopping-addicted bull. Every Magic: The Gathering deck I own is now bedecked in an appropriate set of sleeves.

But it doesn’t stop there. Remember my irradiating spree with Mothman? Well, naturally, that necessitated purchasing something new to work as counters – something eye-catching and vibrant, in a nuclear green. Something that would make my fellow players roll their eyes as I gleefully reminded them to mill.

Was it cheaper to buy 100 mini dice than it was to buy ten neon green mini dice on their own? Yes, for some reason. Do I have any need for all 100 mini dice in the other colours? Not YET. Do I have every intention of assigning each deck their own coloured dice to match the sleeves? Extremely yes.

It’s also worth noting that I bought a cool play mat as well, but I’ll be honest with my failings and admit that I have forgotten to bring it with me every single time. One day! One day it will surface and I will be able to avoid borrowing anime-themed mats from my friends (nothing against them, but I’m curating a vibe).

Admitting that I’ve been hooked

My friends warned me when I started. “Your personality,” they said (as somewhat of a read). “It’s the type of personality that will get super obsessed with this once you get the hang of it.”

Loathe as I am to admit that I’m that transparent, my friends were right. There are few things in this world that bring me as much joy as delving deep into caverns of lore and dense forests of history. Add in the intricate, incredible card art and the feeling of high-grade anticipation when you crack open a pack, and I was done for.

I’ve grown a lot over the months as a Magic: The Gathering player. Though I’m still not particularly strong, I’m comfortable with how my decks play and I am able to pick up pre-cons and make them work at a decent enough level. I no longer need a supervisor glancing over my shoulder at every turn.

I made it over the biggest hurdle: learning the rhythm. Now, with a deck of freaks and a goblin bag of dice, I get to lean in hard to the melody of what makes Magic: The Gathering such an enduring and popular game.

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By Steph Panecasio 30 April 2024


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