Magic: The Gathering (colloquially "Magic", "MTG", or "Magic Cards") is a collectible card game created by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. Magic is the first example of the modern collectible card game genre and still thrives today, with an estimated six million players in over seventy countries. Magic can be played by two or more players each using a deck of printed cards or a deck of virtual cards through the Internet-based Magic: The Gathering Online or third-party programs.
Each game represents a battle between powerful wizards who use the magical spells, items, and fantastic creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents. Although the original concept of the game drew heavily from the motifs of traditional fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, the gameplay of Magic bears little resemblance to pencil-and-paper adventure games, while having substantially more cards and more complex rules than many other card games.
An organized tournament system and a community of professional Magic players has developed, as has a secondary market for Magic cards. Magic cards can be valuable due to not only their scarcity, but also their utility in game play and the aesthetic qualities of their artwork.
Peter Adkison (then CEO of Wizards of the Coast games company) first met with Richard Garfield to discuss Garfield's new game RoboRally. Adkison was not enthusiastic about the game, as board games are expensive to produce and difficult to market. He did enjoy Garfield's ideas and mentioned that he was looking for a portable game that could be played in the downtime that frequently occurs at gaming conventions. Garfield returned later with a prototype he had been working with on and off over the last few years under the development name of Mana Clash. Adkison immediately saw the potential of the game and agreed to produce it. The game was renamed Magic: The Gathering and underwent a general release on August 5, 1993.
Role-players were enthusiastic early fans of Magic, but the game achieved much wider popularity among strategy gamers. The commercial success of the game prompted a wave of other collectible card games to flood the market in the mid-1990s.
In 1996, Wizards of the Coast established the "Pro Tour", a circuit of tournaments where players can compete for a top prize of US$40,000 in a single weekend-long tournament, as of 2006. The total prize purse is US$240,245 for individual tournaments. Sanctioned through The DCI, the tournaments added an element of prestige to the game by virtue of the cash payouts and media coverage from within the community.
In 2002, an official online version of the game was released. While unofficial methods of online play existed previously, Magic Online quickly became a success for the company thanks to its rules enforcement, feature-rich environment, and accessible nature. A new, updated version of Magic Online was released in early 2008.
As of 2003, Wizards has been giving out more than US$3,000,000 in awards and prizes to players on the Magic Pro Tour circuit each tournament season.
In a game of Magic, two or more players are engaged in a battle as powerful wizards, (occasionally called "planeswalkers"). A player starts the game with twenty life points and—with a few exceptions—loses when he or she is reduced to zero or less. The most common method of reducing an opponent's life is to attack with summoned creatures, although numerous other methods exist. Although reducing an opponent to zero life is the most common way of winning (or losing) the game, running out of cards and attempting to draw from an empty deck will also cause a player to lose. However, it is usually more difficult to inflict this on an opponent. In addition, some cards specify other ways to win or lose the game.
Players begin the game with seven cards in hand. The two basic card types in Magic are "spells" and "lands". Lands provide mana, or magical energy, which is used as magical fuel when the player attempts to cast spells. More powerful spells cost more mana, and are usually more difficult to play. Some spells also require the payment of additional resources, such as cards in play or life points. Spells come in several varieties: "sorceries" and "instants" have a single, one-time effect before they go to the "graveyard" (discard pile); "enchantments" and "artifacts" provide a lasting magical effect; creature spells summon monsters that can attack and damage your opponent. Spells can be of more than one type. As of Lorwyn block a new card type, "planeswalkers", have been introduced to the game. Planeswalkers represent powerful beings with their own magic abilities, one of which can be used each turn.
Some spells have effects that override normal game rules. The "Golden Rule of Magic" states that "Whenever a card's text directly contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence. This allows Wizards of the Coast great flexibility in creating cards, but can cause problems when attempting to reconcile a card with the rules. A detailed rulebook exists to clarify these conflicts.
In most tournament formats, decks are required to be a minimum of sixty cards. Players may use no more than four copies of any named card, known as the "four of" rule, with the exception of "basic lands", which act as a standard resource in Magic. Both these rules are loosened in "limited" tournament formats, where a small number of cards are opened for play from booster packs or preconstructed decks, with a minimum deck size of 40 cards and no "four of" rule. Depending on the type of play some more powerful cards are "restricted" or "banned", meaning that these cards may only be used once or not at all in a deck, respectively.
The decision on what colors of mana to use is a key part of creating a deck. In general, reducing the number of colors used increases the statistical likelihood of drawing the lands needed to cast one's most-important spells. One- and two-color decks are the most common, though three-, four- and even five-color decks can be successful if well-designed.
Most spells come in one of five colors. The colors can be seen on the back of the cards, in a pentagonal design, called the "Color Wheel". Clockwise from the top, they are: white, blue, black, red, and green (abbreviated as W, U, B, R, G, respectively). To play a spell of a given color, at least one mana of that color is required. This mana is normally generated by a basic land: plains for white, island for blue, swamp for black, mountain for red, and forest for green.
The balances and distinctions between the five colors form one of the defining aspects of the game. Each color has strengths and weaknesses based on the "style" of magic it represents.
The colors adjacent to each other on the pentagon are "allied" and often have similar, complementary abilities. For example, Blue has a relatively large number of flying creatures, which it shares with White and Black, which are next to it. The two non-adjacent colors to a particular color are "enemy" colors, and are thematically opposed. For instance, Red tends to be very aggressive, while White and Blue are often more defensive in nature. The Research and Development (R&D) team at Wizards of the Coast balances power and abilities among the five colors by using the "Color Pie" to define the colors' differences. This guideline lays out the capabilities, themes, and mechanics of each color and allows for every color to have its own distinct attributes and philosophy. The Color Pie is used to ensure new cards are thematically in the correct color and do not impede on the territory of other colors.
While the primary method of Magic play is one-on-one using standard deck construction rules, casual play groups as well as Wizards of the Coast have developed many alternative formats for playing the game. The most popular alternatives describe ways of playing with more than two players (with teams or free-for-all) or change the rules about how decks can be built.
Magic tournaments are arranged almost every weekend in gaming stores, schools, universities, and (in Europe) pubs and bars. Larger tournaments with hundreds of competitors from around the globe sponsored by Wizards of the Coast are arranged many times every year. Large sums of money are paid out to those players who place the best in the tournament. A number of websites report on tournament news, give complete lists for the most currently popular decks, and feature articles on current issues of debate about the game. The DCI (formerly known as the "Duelists' Convocation International") is the organizing body for sanctioned Magic events. The DCI is owned and operated by Wizards of the Coast.
There are two types of organized play, Constructed and Limited.
In Constructed tournaments, each player arrives with a pre-built deck, which must abide by the 60-card minimum deck size and "four of" rules. Various tournament formats exist which define which card sets are allowed to be used, and which specific cards are disallowed.
In addition to the main deck, players are allowed a 15-card sideboard. Following the first game of each match, each player is permitted to replace any number of cards in his or her deck with an equal number of cards from his or her sideboard, allowing each player to alter his or her deck to better combat the opponent's strategy. The original deck configuration is restored before the start of the next match. Normally the first player to win two games is the winner of the match.
There are various formats in which Constructed tournaments can be held. They include Vintage, Legacy, Extended, Standard, and Block Constructed. The DCI maintains a Banned and Restricted List for each format, which defines certain cards which are not allowed or restricted to only one copy in a deck. Banning has generally been rare in the more modern formats, but is considered necessary for some of the older formats to control their power level. Restricting was more common in Magic's past; currently the only format in which there is a Restricted List is Vintage, as the DCI now prefers to ban cards outright rather than restrict them.
Block formats are defined by the cycle of three sets of cards in a given block. For example, the Ravnica block format consists of Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, and Dissension. Only cards that were printed in one of the sets in the appropriate block can be used in these formats.
Standard is the format defined by the current block, the last completed block, and the most recent core set. The current Standard card pool consists of the Shards of Alara block, the Tenth Edition core set, and Lorwyn and Shadowmoor mini-blocks (which count as a single block).
Extended is the format where all Magic blocks and core sets issued during the last seven years are legal. Prior to March 1, 2008, Extended format rotation system was different and more complicated: three Magic blocks rotated out every three years. The current extended format consists of the Onslaught, Mirrodin, Kamigawa, Ravnica, and Time Spiral blocks; the Lorwyn and Shadowmoor mini-blocks; the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth edition core sets; and Coldsnap.
Vintage and Legacy are considered eternal formats because the card pool never rotates. This means that all the sets that are currently legal will continue to be legal and any new sets will automatically be included in the legal card pool. The only banned cards in Vintage are cards using the ante mechanic; and , two cards that must be flipped onto the table; and , a card that begins a subgame, making tournament games take too much space and time to complete. Because of the expense in acquiring the old cards to play competitive Vintage, most Vintage tournaments held are unsanctioned and where players are permitted to proxy a certain number of cards, which is not normally permitted in sanctioned tournaments. Legacy differs from Vintage in that it has a longer list of banned and restricted cards than Vintage. In 2004, Legacy was revitalized by separating the banned list from Vintage and banning many old, powerful, and expensive cards such as , , and . The result is that Legacy has a lower power level than Vintage and is considerably more affordable. The DCI has attempted to promote the format with the addition of a Legacy Grand Prix circuit.
Limited tournaments are based on a pool of cards which the player receives at the time of the event. The decks in limited tournaments need only be a minimum of 40 cards, and all the unused cards function as the sideboard.
In sealed deck tournaments, each player receives a 75-card Tournament Pack (containing 45 cards and 30 basic lands) and two booster packs (each with 15 cards) from which to build their deck.
In a booster draft, several players (usually eight) are seated around a table and each player is given three booster packs. Each player opens a pack, selects a card from it, and passes the remaining cards to the next player. Each player then selects one of the remaining cards from the pack he or she just received, and passes the remaining cards again. This continues until all of the cards are depleted. The directions of passing is left for the first and third packs, and right for the second. Players then build decks out of any of the cards that they selected during the drafting and add as many basic lands as desired. Booster draft tournaments are somewhat prone to collusion, as players can hold the cards their neighbors need at the expense of their own deck building. Talking, signaling, and showing cards is forbidden during the drafting process.
The DCI maintains a set of rules for being able to sanction tournaments, as well as runs its own circuit. Many hobby shops offer "Friday Night Magic" tournaments as an entrance to casual competitive play usually organized by a local game store. A special tournament set called the Junior Super Series (now known in the US as the Magic Scholarship Series) was run for underage competitors. This allows for a very broad base of gameplay.
The DCI runs the "Pro Tour" as a series of major tournaments to attract interest. The right to compete in a Pro Tour has to be earned by either winning a Pro Tour Qualifier Tournament or being successful in a previous tournament on a similar level.
A Pro Tour is usually structured into two days of individual competition played in the Swiss format (players play rounds against opponents with similar success in previous rounds). On the final day, the top eight players compete with each other in an elimination format to select the winner.
At the end of the competition in a Pro Tour, a player is awarded 'Pro Points' depending on his finishing place. If the player finishes high enough, he will also be awarded prize money. Invitation to a Pro Tour, Pro Points and prize money can also be earned in lesser tournaments called 'Grand Prix' that are open to the general public and are held more frequently throughout the year.
Frequent winners of these events have made names for themselves in the Magic community, such as Kai Budde and Jon Finkel. As a promotional tool, the DCI launched the Hall of Fame in 2005 to honor these players after earning 100 lifetime Pro Points and spending nine-ten years on the scene.
At the end of the year the Magic World Championships are held. The World Championship functions like a Pro Tour but competitors have to present their skill in three different formats (usually Standard, booster draft and a second constructed format) rather than one. Another difference is that invitation to the World Championship can be gained not through Pro Tour Qualifiers, but via the national tournament of a country. Each country sends the top four players of the tournament as representatives. There are also other means to be invited to the tournament.
As such, the World Championship also has a team competition which is comprised of the results the members of the national teams put up during the individual competition and the team based competition on the second to last day of the event. During the final day, the top two teams play each other to determine the winner.
At the beginning of the World Championship, new members are inducted into the Hall of Fame. The tournament also concludes the current season of tournament play and at the end of the event, the player who earned the most Pro Points during the year is awarded the title 'Player of the Year'. Also the player who earned the most Pro Points and did not compete in any previous season is awarded the title 'Rookie of the Year'.
Magic: The Gathering cards are produced in much the same way as normal playing cards. Each Magic card, approximately 63 x 88 mm in size (2 by 3 inches), has a face which displays the card's name and rules text as well as an illustration appropriate to the card's concept. 9113 unique cards have been produced for the game, many of them with variant editions, artwork, or layouts, and 600–1000 new ones are added each year.
Magic cards are normally divided into four rarities, which can be differentiated by the color of the expansion symbol (in sets released after the Stronghold expansion. For sets released prior to Exodus, rarities must be checked against any number of databases). These are Common (Black), Uncommon (Silver) Rare (Gold), and Mythic Rare (Red). Basic lands are their own rarity, and are colored black as commons. Most new cards are purchased in the form of "Booster Packs" or "Tournament Packs". A fifteen-card Booster Pack will typically contain one Rare, three Uncommons, and eleven Commons. A Tournament Pack typically contains three Rares, ten Uncommons, thirty-two Commons, and thirty Basic Lands. This means that three Booster Packs are roughly equivalent to one Tournament Pack. In 2008, with the release of Shards of Alara, a fourth rarity was included, called Mythic Rare, featuring a copper-red expansion symbol.
The vast majority of Magic cards are marketed to the public in the form of sets. The biennial-released Core Set currently consists of three-hundred and eighty-three reprinted cards, with a mixture of old and new artwork. Tenth Edition is the most recent Core Set and was released on Saturday, July 14, 2007. Newly-designed cards are first sold in expansion sets with a "block" consisting of up to three theme-related expansion sets released over a period of a year. The first and largest part of a block is the set released in or around October and typically consists of three-hundred and six cards with eighty-eight Rares, eighty-eight Uncommons, one-hundred and ten Commons and twenty Basic Lands. At subsequent four-month intervals, the second and third expansion sets of the block are issued. These two smaller sets each typically consist of one-hundred and sixty-five cards divided into fifty-five Commons, fifty-five Uncommons, fifty-five Rares, and zero Basic Lands. The number of cards per set and the rarity distribution has varied over time.
In 2003, starting with the Eighth Edition Core Set, the game went through its biggest visual change since its creation—a new card frame layout was developed to allow more rules text and larger art on the cards, while reducing the thick, colored border to a minimum. The new frame design aimed to improve contrast and readability using black type instead of the previous white, a new font, and partitioned areas for the name, card type, and power and toughness.
There is an active secondary market in individual cards among players and game shops. For example, there are around 30,000 Magic: The Gathering card auctions running on eBay at any one time. Many other physical and online stores also sell single cards or "playsets" of four of a card. Common cards rarely sell for more than a few cents and are usually sold in bulk. Uncommon cards and weak rares typically cost under US$1. The most expensive cards in Standard tournament play usually cost approximately US$20-30. On rare occasions if the cards are particularly powerful, some might even sell for US$40-50.
The most expensive card which was in regular print (as opposed to being a promotional or special printing) is Black Lotus, with average prices as of 2007 above US$1,000 and high-quality "graded" copies rising above US$3,000—in 2005, a "Pristine 10 grade" Beckett Grading Services graded Beta Black Lotus was bought by Darren Adams, owner of West Coast Sports Cards & Gaming Distributors in Federal Way, Washington, for a record $20,000. A small number of cards of similar age, rarity, and playability—chiefly among them the other cards in the so-called "Power Nine"—routinely reach high prices as well. In 2003, after the rotation of the Extended tournament format and in combination with the first Type 1 Championships, the prices for such old, tournament-level cards underwent a large, unexpected increase.
As new sets come out, older cards are occasionally reprinted. If a card has high play value, reprinting will often increase the original version's price because of renewed demand among players. However, if the card is primarily attractive to collectors, reprinting will often decrease the original version's value. Wizards of the Coast formulated an official "Reprint Policy in 1995 in an attempt to guarantee to collectors the value of many old cards. The Policy details certain cards that are unavailable to be printed again.
Wholesale distributors are not allowed to ship product to foreign nationalities. Additionally, several countries still have import restrictions that could be construed to bar the import of Magic: The Gathering or other collectible card games (Italy, for example, places restrictions on the importation of "playing cards"). Shipping restrictions have been relaxed recently and it is now possible to ship sealed product to Europe.
Non-English cards often have different prices on the secondary market than their English equivalents, depending on the desirability of the language. Certain languages, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian, are less valuable than English cards, while Asian languages, along with Russian and German, are often worth more to the American or English-speaking collector. While this is a highly debated topic and often left to the opinion of the collector, a select number of people are willing to pay extremely high prices for foreign cards.
A few early sets experimented with alternate art for cards. However, Wizards came to believe that this impeded easy recognition of a card and that having multiple versions caused confusion when identifying a card at a glance. Consequently, alternate art is now only used sparingly and mostly for promotional cards. That said, when older cards are reprinted in new (non-Core Edition, and not "timeshifted" reprints in the Time Spiral set) sets, Wizards of the Coast has guaranteed that they will be printed with new art to make them more collectible.
Ever since 1995, the copyright on all artwork commissioned is transferred to Wizards of the Coast once a contract is signed. However, the artist is allowed to sell the original piece and printed reproductions of it, and for established and prolific Magic artists, this can be a lucrative source of revenue.
As Magic has expanded across the globe, its artwork has had to change for its international audience. Artwork has been edited or given alternate art to comply with the governmental standards. For example, the portrayal of skeletons and most undead in artwork is prohibited by the Chinese government.
An intricate storyline underlies the cards released in each expansion and is shown in the art and flavor text of the cards, as well as in novels and anthologies published by Wizards of the Coast (and formerly by HarperPrism). It takes place in the multiverse, originally named Dominia but changed to avoid confusion with Dominaria, which consists of an infinite number of planes. Important storyline characters or objects often appear as cards in Magic sets as "Legendary" creatures, unique cards of which there can only be one in play at a time.
The expansion sets from Antiquities through Scourge (with the exception of Homelands) are set on the plane of Dominaria and are a roughly chronological timeline of that plane's history (with the exception of the Urza's Saga Block). Major recurring characters include Urza and his brother Mishra. The sets from Weatherlight through Apocalypse follow in particular the story of the crew of the Weatherlight, allies of Urza against Yawgmoth. Magic began to venture out of Dominaria and into several new planes such as Mirrodin, Kamigawa, and Ravnica. The Magic storyline returned to Dominaria with the Time Spiral block, and visited Lorwyn with the Lorwyn block. The current storyline, the Shadowmoor block, is set on the plane of Shadowmoor, Lorwyn's Stygian inverse.
Magic, like many other games, combines chance and skill. A common complaint, however, is that there is too much luck involved with the basic resource of the game: land. Too much land (mana flood) or too little (mana drought or mana screw), especially early in the game, can ruin a player's chance at victory without the player having made a mistake. A common response is to say that the luck in the game can be minimized by proper deck construction, as a higher land count can reduce mana problems. The standard land count in most decks ranges from 18 to 26, although the use of special spells or lands (such as , , and ) and the relative costs of the main spells within the deck can substantially increase or decrease the number of lands required. Other cards can minimize the player's dependence on mana.
A "mulligan" rule was later introduced into the game, first informally in casual play and then in the official game rules. The modern "Paris mulligan" allows players to shuffle an unsatisfactory opening hand back into the deck at the start of the game, draw a new hand with one less card, and repeat until satisfied. The "standard mulligan" allows a player a single redraw of seven new cards if that player's initial hand contained seven or zero lands. A variation of this rule is still used in some casual play circles and in multiplayer formats on Magic Online, and allows a single "free" redraw of seven new cards if a player's initial hand contains seven, six, one or zero lands.
The Internet has played an important role in competitive Magic. Strategy discussions and tournament reports frequently include a listing of the exact contents of a deck and descriptions of its performance against others. Some players will take this information and construct a similar (or even the same) deck, relying on the expertise and experience of other players. This strategy, referred to as "net decking," is often a good one, but it is not a guarantee that the player will be able to repeat the deck's earlier success. The player may be inexperienced, unfamiliar with the operation of the deck, or enter an event where a large number of other players have also "net decked". In such a tournament, a metagamed-deck (a deck designed to defeat common builds in an environment) may be a superior choice. Some players advocate Limited formats of competitive Magic over Constructed formats because of this phenomenon.
For the first few years of its production, Magic: The Gathering featured a small number of cards with names or artwork that implied demonic or occultist themes (such as Demonic Tutor and Unholy Strength, which both featured pentagrams in their artwork). Although such cards were in a minority, their presence led to some criticism from religious groups, and in 1995 the company elected to remove such references from the game.
In 2002, believing that the depiction of demons was becoming less controversial and that the game had established itself sufficiently, Wizards of the Coast reversed this policy and began to reprint cards with "demon" in their names.
The original set of rules prescribed that all games were to be played for ante. Each player would remove a card at random from the deck they wished to play with and the two cards would be set aside. At the end of the match, the winner would take and keep both cards.
Early sets included a few cards with rules designed to interact with this gambling aspect, allowing replacements of cards up for ante, adding more cards to the ante, or even permanently trading cards in play. The cards came with the instruction that they should be removed from the deck in a game that wasn't being played for ante.
The ante concept became controversial because many regions had restrictions on games of chance. The rule was later made optional because of these restrictions and because of most players' reluctance to possibly lose a card that they owned. The gambling rule is forbidden at sanctioned events and is now mostly a relic of the past, though it still sees occasional usage in friendly games as well as the "five color" format. The last card to mention ante, Timmerian Fiends, was printed in the 1995 expansion set Homelands.
A patent was granted to Wizards of the Coast in 1997 for "a novel method of game play and game components that in one embodiment are in the form of trading cards" that includes claims covering games whose rules include many of Magic's elements in combination, including concepts such as changing orientation of a game component to indicate use (referred to in the Magic and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle rules as "tapping") and constructing a deck by selecting cards from a larger pool. The patent has aroused criticism from some observers, who believe some of its claims to be invalid.
In 2003, the patent was an element of a larger legal dispute between Wizards of the Coast and Nintendo, regarding trade secrets related to Nintendo's Pokémon Trading Card Game. The legal action was settled out of court, and its terms were not disclosed.