Why I Love Magic: The Gathering

imageOkay, I need to make a confession here. I play nerd games. A lot of them. So much so that I don’t even celebrate New Year’s Eve anymore. For my friends and I, we celebrate Nerd Year’s Eve. And I’m totally okay with it. Hours upon hours of nerd games is the best way to ring in a new year.

Of all the geeky past times I enjoy, however, my favorite is a fantasy-themed strategy card game called Magic: The Gathering. When I first played it, the depth and complexity of it overwhelmed me. But the more I played (largely hooked by the captivating artwork on each card), the more I got a feel for it. Now, I’ve spent far too much time/money on the hobby.

So why am I writing about it here? What’s it have to do with fiction? A few things. Firstly, since I write fantasy, it’s a great way to overcome writer’s block. All I need to do, when stuck for a lead, is flip through my binder (okay, binderS) of cards. Something there is bound to inspire me. But more so, by studying the balance of power in the game helps me better understand the balance my fiction needs to have (see “The Price for Magic” post from a few weeks ago).

But more than that, here’s what Magic has taught me about fiction—you’ve got to have a clear vision if you want to succeed. The best players, those who go on the pro-circuit and end up making WAY too much money on the “sport,” all build their own decks. While each player must abide by the same set of rules, how they maximize their power within those rules is fascinating. The best players, the best decks, all have a “theme,” be it an aggressive onslaught of creatures, a heavy dose of direct damage from elemental spells, or an intense manipulation of the rules, each deck does one thing really well. And while it may have a few defensive measures, the best defense is a good offense (generally speaking).

Our fiction should also have the same clarity of vision. All fiction has a set of “rules” to abide by, but how we test those rules, press up against them, bend them, twist them, and sometimes even break them, determines how successful our fiction can be. If we play it safe, we may not win. Our clear vision of which rules we’re going to focus on to manipulate and exploit can make for powerful prose. We can do it in short fiction, focusing on one rule, or we can dedicate a chapter in our novel to stretching the boundaries of what our fiction can do. Just make sure you’re doing it deliberately, for a specific purpose, and not just to show off your “gimmicky” writing. Don’t bend and break just to bend and break. It should serve a purpose, just as it does in Magic: The Gathering.

Until next week, nerd well.

15 Comments on Why I Love Magic: The Gathering

  1. alexandria heins | March 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply

    I like one of the last comments you “said” on here, that you don’t bend and break just to bend and break, but to create (you hope) a masterpiece. And I also like how you mentioned your inspiration. I think I lack an inspiration. Each story serves a purpose. I believe that a well planned out book or series or whatever it is needs to create specific feelings for a reader and by breaking the rules and having an inspiration a writer doesn’t need much else but to find time to get it down on paper to create a story..

  2. I’ve only tried playing Magic: The Gathering once, but it is an interesting experience. And I must admit, the artwork is fantastic. There’s no inspiration like a vicious, bizarre, foaming creature to challenge your protagonist. (If you don’t write that paricular kind of fiction, well, think of it figuratively!)
    Rules are an important part of any fiction, particularly fantasy. In fact, nothing irritates me more than a story that breaks its own canon, or its established set of rules. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Twilight. A thousand curses upon that terrible writing….)
    Speaking of nerd games, sir, I recommend Culdcept. True, the story line is sketchy at best, but it has an interesting set of rules to manipulate and no shortage of creatures and weapons to battle with. Imagine a strange combination between Magic: The Gathering and Monopoly. ‘Tis fun, though terribly frustrating at times.

  3. Brittany Walters | March 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply

    I do agree that Magic: The Gathering does give you inspiration when you are writing fantasy novels. I don’t play it, but my father definitely does. I think that anything with fantasy in it can give you insparation. Lord of the Rings and Final Fantasy give me a lot of inspiration when I write.

  4. Alyssa Varney | March 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply

    Even though I never tried Magic I think it will be a game that you have to think a lot about because you will need to see what you want to play against the other person your playing with. Every book that you write should be well planned out because you want your readers to understand what is going on in your book.

  5. Ashley Lopez Rivera | March 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply

    I don’t really play games like that at all really, not even games. I don’t think that I have ever even had a writer’s block. So I can’t really say anything about that. But i do, however, agree with the bending and twisting part of fiction. I mean, i’m not very good at the bending and twisting part, but it does serve a purpose when I try, even if I fail. But whatever.

  6. Cameron Rohskothen | March 31, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply

    After about eight of my friends have converted to the magic the gathering lifestyle, I feel incredibly compelled to start playing as well. It seems very reminiscent of yugioh, which I was an insane addict of when I was younger, therefore magic really appeals to me, but then again I fear the mass amount of money I will spend on it; using my last few bucks to scrounge that last booster pack at target. Aside from that, I think that I am going to buy a fat pack of cards this weekend and try it out. Now the next step is to hopefully learn the rules.

  7. Cameron, if you haven’t bought the fat pack yet, don’t. Get the deck builders toolkit instead (also at Target, but only 20 bucks instead of forty, also comes with more cards). It will have instructions on how to construct. A deck and how to play. Also, you can always ask me if you have questions. 🙂

  8. Whitney Dunn | April 5, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Reply

    Gansky you’re a NERD!!!!!!!!! I can say I have never played, nor will I ever! It’s not really my thing. I know it’s makes you happy and that’s a good thing. Todd and Cameron are hooked which scares me a little bit. Yes the game can relate to fiction since it is fiction. You have to play by the rules. That goes with many things.

  9. I honestly think it’s really amazing that you can go into another short of world too prevent writer’s block! This is like taking you back to reality which for you is your fanasty world that you write about. It’s pretty much like what ever makes your work better then goo for it, since we don’t need any more lame stories in this world.

  10. ive never played or tried to paly everytime i think of it i think of like some weird game were people dress up and have lisps and stuff thats just me though and im telling oyu gansky!! im going ot get you that wizards hat! writers block now needs to die in fire and then get eaten by a shark i HATE it so much i always get it then get stuck for like a month!

  11. Brittany Walters | May 2, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Reply

    I do agree that Magic: The Gathering does give you inspiration when you are writing fantasy novels. I don’t play it, but my father definitely does. I think that anything with fantasy in it can give you insparation. Lord of the Rings and Final Fantasy give me a lot of inspiration when I write. I think that A LOT of things can give you inspiration. Music, events, scenery can all give you some great inspiration.

  12. Darryl_Sanderson | May 2, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Reply

    I never thought a card game could be so similar to writing. It definatly is a good way to get over writers block or come up with fascinating ideas.

  13. Adrian hernandez | May 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply

    i think its a good thing that older peopole are getting into card games,it shows that no matter how old they get they”ll still be just a little bit smarter than us.

  14. Wow, @Adrian. Thanks for calling me old. Smart, but old.

  15. Shaquille Dudley | May 23, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Reply

    Personally what i like about cards to cards games like that, is simply just the look of the card is all I like, and the value of the card if you know what i mean $ I sucked when came to playing magical moster card games cause i couldnt tradigise.

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