It’s winter 2004, and I’m in my unfinished basement awaiting my best friend Robbie to come over. He said that he has a new game that he wants to start playing and thought I would be the best option to start it up alongside him. I want to say that when we sat down on the basement floor, he had something behind his back and asked if I was ready to play a new card game? Now up until this point, I had my Pokémon and Yu-gi-oh! phases, was in love with the Lord of the Rings films, and was already enamored by fantastical worlds. Robbie then revealed two boxes with the words “Magic the Gathering” on the front, and I knew something incredible was about to unfold.
I knew I had seen these cards before, I just never studied them. I recall my uncle, of all people, having a collection of his own cards. Apparently he had been playing since 1993, when the game started! But, let’s get back to that basement in 2004… We took out the cards from the latest expansion set of the game called Champions of Kamigawa. It was a Japanese themed set complete with samurai, spirits known as kami, ninjas, and beautiful artwork that blended mythology, historical fiction, and fantasy.
I had been fascinated with Japanese culture in those early years, having had a Japanese student teacher from Tokyo in elementary school. She showcased the world of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) of Hokusai and Hiroshigi, calligraphy on silk paper, and the many culture customs that inhabited her world. All happily shared, and I ate it all up! Now back to Magic the Gathering…
With those first theme decks brought over by my best friend, I was open to this new and exciting world. The game was complicated enough and we never truly grasped the rules of the game in those first few years. We only really collected a few of our favorite cards and stuck to our favorite colors, which were green and white. There’s also blue, black, and red completing the color pie, with each having complimentary colors and colors that were considered “enemies.” It was truly a time that I recall fondly, even if we weren’t playing the game correctly. But it only took a year before I moved on from the game, and found my interests elsewhere.
It’s winter 2008, and my best friend from high school wanted to go to Meta-Games Unlimited, a local game shop in town. Where have I heard that name before, it sounds so familiar? I recalled going to the store a few times back around 2005, when I casually played Magic, but it had been a long time since I had even thought about the place or that game.
We picked up a few starter decks from the most recent set Shards of Alara, and I quickly remembered the mechanics of the game, even though I had still not fully grasped the rules. I showed my friend and his cousin the basic way to play and somehow over those next few years, we all got hooked. It was like a drug.
Thinking about that time in my life, I became fully immersed into fantasy and the game of Magic. I became a competitive player at the local game stores in town and played 3 times a week in tournaments. I was one of the younger players playing the game, freshly 16, and just being able to drive. Most of the other players were in their 20s and 30s, and had been playing most of their young-adult life. But those players quickly became some of the best friends I ever had, and was a nice escape from my life in high school.
Life in high school was a big blur. I barely remember ANYTHING! I went to class and did my work (albeit lazily), I somehow got a 4.1 by the time I graduated. Thinking back, most of my memories during this time involve going to the game store and meeting my older friends, who happily kicked my ass (in the game😛) and taught many lessons for going forward. I learned about probability, statistics, and ways to outsmart your opponent. I came out of my shell and quickly adopted the community that seemed to enjoy my youthful energy.
Those were years where I would stay up until 4 PM for a new set to be released (you wouldn’t believe the body odor from some of the people I met at this time). Those were the years where I learned to not take myself too seriously and to try and have fun with the game, even when I was too competitive. Those were the years of late night snacking, tom foolery, and shenanigans. Those were the years…
It took 4 years of constant playing, learning, and evolving until I was sick of the game. I had collected thousands of cards and played fairly well for a local player (hell some of the newer players feared going up against me!). I had been exhausted by the play patterns, the repetition, and seeing my friends slowly walk away from the game. I sold my cards and was happy to move on to greener pastures, but the game never quit me.
I still would play casually with a group of friends, in a multi-player format that was both friendly and hostile. I recall many instances of alliances formed and broken in those hour long games. Filled with drinks, cursing at one another, and late night fast food. But this slowly faded too, and over time I was done with the game. Enter my best friend Ben.
It’s summer 2017, and I wasn’t playing Magic anymore. I was fully invested into collecting comics, blu-rays, and vinyl records. Over the years, I had been collecting various mediums and was not at all interested in going back to a card game. But Ben changed my mind. He wanted to learn how to play, so I gave him all of the cards that I had left and taught him the basic mechanics of the game. He played very casually, whereas I still had a competitive side to my playstyle. Eventually I found a good balance. I just wanted to win each time, was all 😉.
We played every so often, but I was never truly “back in the game.” Soon enough a new online version of the game arrived called Magic Arena, and Ben decided to test it out. It took a solid year of him pushing it my way until I decided to give it a go. It was summer 2019 and I was about to go to China to teach, so I caved. I wanted to somehow interact with my best friend, other than the occasional call. And then it happened again, I was hooked.
Over in China, I played the game as often as I could. It was one of the only solaces that I had from the life I had left behind in America, and it was an escape. It was incredibly rough though, as the servers constantly crashed from where I was located and made for a frustrating experience. It was still something to look forward to after a long day of teaching.
Once I arrived back from China in early 2020, I knew that my interest in the game had been restored. I played daily online and would constantly think about it during the days when I worked. And in those early days of quarantining, I couldn’t put the game down. I did have moments in the summer and fall, where I put the game on pause for other interests. Those breaks were much needed, but somehow I kept returning.
It’s early February 2021, and I am still playing Magic the Gathering. It’s been nearly 16 years, with a lot of time in between my phases with the game. Magic was the game that first brought me out of my shell. Magic was the game that showed me community. Magic was the game that never quit me, despite how much I hid it from others. Welcome to my hidden world of Magic the Gathering.
What are some of your hidden worlds? Do you have any hobby or interest that you don’t talk about much or often? Let me know (or not), I’d be happy to learn more about you!
Thanks for reading, I’m not Jonesing around 😉