Adding to My Nerd Resume with Magic the Gathering

Attempting to bolster my nerd cred past 20 mere years of TV, movies and video games, I sometimes go to some strange places. Like sitting down to learn how to play Magic the Gathering at 24 years old.

How did I miss it growing up, despite legions of friends who were hooked on the game? In my media-restricted household, Magic cards were deemed far too demonic for me, and so I was forever resigned to Pokemon cards instead, which probably cost me a grand in allowance money, and I never actually learned how to really play that game either.

But recently my friends and I were having a nostalgic chat about Magic, and they both said that they had their old cards around and we should play some time. My roommate specifically went a step above and beyond and went out and bought starter decks so he might better teach  me. Adorable.

So I’m happy to report that I’ve survived my first few games of Magic, and I really did enjoy the results. Demonic pictures aside, I think this could have been a really useful exercise for young kids, teaching them strategy and vocabulary words like “pacifism” and “dismemberment.”

What? Just your average hot bloodthirsty demonic witch doctor.

The game largely seemed like luck to me, especially when I was used a pre-made starter deck where I didn’t even have any input. It seemed one game would have one player getting all mana, and no cards to spend the mana on, or conversely a bunch of awesome creatures with no way of getting them out on the battlefield.

But then are there are close the games that I found quite exciting. I found myself staring at my cards for a long while, mapping out my moves to see if I could possible survive the next attack. I had one life, and I could block all of the incoming attacks but one, even if I had a card that allowed me to search through my entire deck to find something to play.

I played with blue, red and black cards, pardon if I don’t know the official names. I liked hunting through my deck with the many different blue cards that allowed that, though I like the destructive powers of black cards. However, I got screwed over by white many a time as they would silence my most powerful creatures with BS peace-loving spells.

It’s a fun game, and definitely something I could see playing more of in the future as a lazy past time with friends. There are only so many bars you can really go to after all, right?

Anyway, any advice you veteran players could give me would be appreciated. Which types of decks are usually the best or most fun color-wise? How do you go about building your own deck and knowing what to put into it? What are general strategy tips you might have?


  • Nilsilly

    Weird, I just decided to learn how to play this past week also. Definitely interested in the comments.

  • Ness

    You really have to find what you like. Some people play control where the mission is to lock down and limit your opponents action and allow you to get out a win condition (run them out of cards or a creature they can stop)usually the colors of black white and blue. Some will play burn and just use spells to deal damage to the opposition (usualy red). Some like to play aggressive with lots of tiny creatures that have synergy, or try to ramp up your mana to play large creatures quickly.

    If you would like to play with the color ideas in mind here is what they usually stand for.

    Black – Death, Corruption
    Blue – Knowledge, Ingenuity
    White – Purity, Honor
    Green – Life, Nature
    Red – Chaos, Power

    on the back of the cards you can see the 5 colored beads, classically they point out the allignments of the colors, the adjacent colors are friendly while those on the opposite side are enemy colors.

    If you play multicolor you don’t have to stay in friendly colors but they are usually less work to be effective together.

    Lastly making your own deck with your own strategy is the most enjoyable way to play, best advice is find a theme and find cards that won’t be upset to draw at any point during the came. and try to stay as close to the 60 card limit as you can.

  • Steve

    I haven’t play in 15 years and earlier this summer I bought 2 starter decks for my 11 year old son and I to play. I have to say it’s been a great time. Teaching him the rules and watching him come up with strategies has been fun.
    I usually like to play a 2 color deck. It usually limits mana problems. My favorites were black and blue or white and blue. I’d build my deck around 4/4 flying creatures and the load the blue side with control magic and counter spells.

  • Ryan

    I used to play Magic all the time. One deck that is really effective is a red direct damage deck. Cards like lightening bolt or ball lightnings are very powerful. I had one and could usually beat my friend in 6-7 turns. Also, a fun deck is a green elf deck with Llanowar elves and Elvish Pipers. That deck(if built right) can get all of your powerful creatures out in a few turns. Also, if you really want a winning deck, money will have to be spent. Done being a nerd now.

  • Grimlock_Smash

    I like it.

  • Epichubris

    I’ve been playing MTG for little over a year now an perhaps some of the things I’ve gleaned will help you. If you’re looking for the “best” decks you should head over to the MTG official website, specifically the daily MTG area as it shows the details on all the latest pro tournaments, including deck lists, as well as daily columns explaining some of the hidden nuances.

    Color-wise you can go into a great deal of depth so it may be better to just skim these pages:

    As far as fun play styles, beat down decks (creature heavy deck builds, often green and/or white) tend to be the easiest for starters to comprehend and utilize.

    Deckbuilding insight comes with experience, which is best gained by playing in local events like Friday Night Magic with more (often much, much more) experienced players. It also depends on the format you are playing (Standard, Extended, EDH, …etc). For standard you want a 60 card deck with ~20 cards being mana to avoid being mana screwed. Everything else in the deck depends on how you want your deck to work aka your strategy and how you build up to your win condition. Once again you could write massive essays about the topic and, truly, understanding only comes with experience.

    These may help prime your understanding with hearing about some pro level beatdown decks:

    These may also help:

    Learn the vocabulary [hardest part of the learning curve]
    Watch the pros

    Hope this helped!

  • Ricky

    My favorite deck was always the red burn deck. This deck type consisted of mostly using all sorceries and instant spells to deal damage directly to the opposing player, or to destroy their powerful creatures, with a few creature cards of your own to block attacks with.

    My friend also had tons of success using a blue deck filled to the brim with counter spells, and cards to take control of the opponents creatures.

    Green and white work well together, white cards to prevent damage, and healing, and green cards for extreme life gain and offensive creatures.

    Black decks I saw success with a strategy that involves forcing your opponent to discard cards either from their hand, or from their library, and utilizing animate dead type cards to bring creatures into play under your control.

  • XBox has an arcade download Magic the Gathering game, where you can play against the computer or other online players (or even with a couch friend against an arch villain). It’s a pretty good program and is a nice way to learn the cards, practice your skills, or play a quick game without having to reshuffle a dozen times (blue deck) or figure out what random household items to use as token creatures or counters.

    If you’re enjoying the paper version, you should check that out. My husband and I still play paper games against each other quite a bit, but we also enjoy the video game version.

  • JustDenied

    My friends taught me how to play magic a few months ago. At the moment my favorite deck is my goblin deck. 2 Goblin chieftains that give +1/+1 to all goblins, and spells to do direct damage. I also play a blue/white deck that’s for milling creatures and doing the gay pacifism crap so i can mill them out without taking damage. Keep at it, it’s worth all the trouble.

  • PentadPrism


    I’ve played magic for about 10 years now in an on and off competitive style, with the last few years being very casual, as I suspect you’d like to play.

    As per most TCG every few months new sets are released. Base sets (Magic 2012 for example) are designed to introduce new players to the game with definitions for keyworded abilities and rulebooks. I would recommend picking up a core set 2012 deck if you’d like to learn to play (color affiliation is similar to Ness’ comment above).

    As for colors its all up to preference, some mechanics by color are:

    Blue – drawing cards, countering spells, control
    Black – destroying creatures, forcing an opponent to discard, draining life
    Green – big creatures, mana acceleration, making swarms of creatures
    Red – haste (being able to attack as soon as the creature is played), direct damage spells (lightning bolt), dragons
    White – small armies of men, angels, life gain, preventing damage

    Each combines interestingly as well, for instance:

    Blue/White: good control combination with preventing damage, drawing cards, and countering threats
    Red/Green: very aggressive with big fat creatures and quick damage

    I’d recommend playing all the colors for a while until you feel like you have a desire to play one over the other.

    Deckbuilding is a tricky topic, so I’ll say scouring the internet for decklists along with commentary is a good place to start. Justification for card choices and playing 4 copies vs. 1 of a certain card are also explained.

    I’m a Michigan student as well (and believe you’re an Ann Arbor native) so if you ever want a quick lesson give me a holler…

  • Dave

    This game is fantastic. I havent played since senior year in high school (10 years ago… sh*t), but when I did I was really into it. Used to play in local tourneys, with my friends, pretty much whenever we werent playing video games or warhammer (also fun). Like I said, its been 10 years, so I dont know the any of the new rules/additions. At my peak, I used to play a swamp deck that I think was called a “pain” deck. It basically consisted of having enchantments that caused damage every time the opposing player discarded a card or had fewer than 4 cards in his/her hand. Follow that up with instants and creatures that make the opponent discard, and its devastating. The last I heard they had banned the deck from tourney play, but I dont remember.

    All in all, a great time. Highly recommended.

  • Casey

    I learned to play last year and it was an excellent experience. I run a red, green white deck. Big creatures from green, the protection spells from white and the occasional destructive power from red. I like to have large creatures then use enchantments on them to pump them up even more.

    Starter decks can be really fun to learn with, but building your own deck is always the most rewarding, you get to see your favourite cards in action. If you really decide to get into it I recommend deciding what kind of deck you want then searching and buying individual cards instead of buying whole packs. Troll and Toad is a great cheap website to buy cards from.

    The Magic the Gathering game for the X-box and PS3 is loads of fun although you can’t build your own deck, you and a friend can take on computers together, it’s pretty fab.

  • Awesome game, I’m a big fan.

  • Frothy_Ham


    I’ve been a huge MTG player/fan going on 15 years now. I’ve never played super competitively, but the online community is one of my favorites to be a part of. I’d say the passion level exceeds any other TCG and matches most big sports.

    My favorite way to teach new players how to learn is through Limited (draft and sealed). It’s like a crash course in finding out which kinds of cards can actually be good and just strategy in general.

    Draft is where sit with a group of players (usually 8), and you open a booster pack, choose one card in it, and pass it to the guy next to you. You then get a pack passed to you and you pick another card. You do this until there are no cards left in those pack, and then you open another pack and do the same thing, then one more time for a total of 3 packs. You then use those cards to make a 40 card deck (adding as many basic lands as you want).

    Sealed is where you are given X amount of unopened boosters (usually 6) and after opening them all up, you build a 40 card deck (adding basic lands after) in the same way as draft.

    Find a good local comic/game shop and ask if they ever have draft nights and mention you are newb. Be sure to go to at least one set pre-release where they do sealed. is a really well made online draft simulator that shows you how drafting works.

  • NY not NYC

    Consistancy is better. Get more 4 ofs and less 1 or 2 ‘if i draw this card i win’ cards. You want to be regular at whatever it is you are trying to do.

    Drink beer.

    Make up words. I love declaring my attackachu phase and exclaiming “haster, haster, poopy taster”.

  • Yautja

    I quit playing wayyyy back in 1998. The Urza’s Saga set pretty much proved to me that money=victory in that game. The only really useful cards were so rare that you either A) had parents that were loaded who could buy you pack after pack to get the good ones, B) you went to a specialty store and dropped X amount of dollars on a specific card behind glass, or C) worked at said store.

    Pretty much since the mid-90’s until I quit, WotC kept nerfing the viable pool of common/uncommon cards and geared it towards the rarer ones. I don’t care what it’s like now, but I can’t imagine it got much better.

    **** that game. And **** Tolarian Academy for ruining it for me.

  • joe

    @Ricky – Please stop playing those cheesy decks. How much imagination does it take to collect 20 mountains and all red direct damage spells. That and counterspell decks are the worst type of decks in MTG.

  • Ways to play POWER MTG without breaking the bank…

    Buy commons, and either cut out the picture or glue a blank piece of paper inside the protector (you ARE playing with card protectors, right?) with name of the card you want, and description.

    I’ve been playing since Legends, and used to have the entire Power 9, and realized that WHO the F cares if you’re just playing with friends, who might (and have) spilled beer on your shit (on purpose?).

    Also, we used to have special occasions where we’d all go buy a starter and 4 boosters (so around $25) and have a Magic ante night, where the loser had to sign the card (and usually include a witty put down or other comment) that was won.

    It was great when years later we’d see a whirling dervish smack down Chris after being won from Red.

    Magic is EVEN funner when multiplayer.

  • dsruix

    Because I never had the patience to sit down and really build a proper deck, I started playing Draft.

    It’s expensive, but it’s so fulfilling. basically, everyone brings their land cards and you buy 3 packs of cards and use the cards that you buy, along with your lands to build a (smaller, usually about 45 cards) deck there and then. Before playing against each other.

    So satisfying to build a workable deck with limited cards…

  • Silas

    Congratulations on your first match. I play a Blue control deck which allows me to essentially counter my opponents every move. It works pretty well I threw in some 7/7 creatures and I wreck 🙂

  • ian

    oh god i miss my red/green deck.

    my main strat was to get wild mongrel on the field, him attack then oump him him up with muscle burst and discards then use fling to kill off the opponent quickly. and in case my opponent gets more creatures before i do, i have avatar of might as a back up. i had a lot of direct damage spells like lightning bolt and that other red spell that turns into a lightning bolt if you discard it. cant really remember.

    my biggest regret with this game was that i never got to finish my sliver deck that combined some of the old ones and the ones from the ealier part of the decade.

    i miss magic.

  • nyxaria

    played it when i was young and recently picked up mtg:the gathering 2012 at xbox – quite alot of fun i must say

    and now i will go search for my old red/artifact sacrifice-deck to meld some faces

  • Wermine

    1. Play with decks which have similar power level
    2. ~40% of your deck should be lands
    3. Avoid playing against control decks at the beginning, those matches are frustrating
    4. Play with different decks/cards
    5. Buy cards from flea market or somewhere else, where you can buy 1 kg of cards for $5 or something and then make decks out of that box. Cheap way to introduce yourself to different cards.
    6. Ask if a friend can donate couple of kg’s of cards to you. I would if you lived near me.

  • Mortecouille

    You made me nostalgia Paul,
    I’m 20 and haven’t taken a look at my cards in like…6 years.
    That game was awesome, but I stopped playing when Mirrodin came out, too much artifacts, I thought they really destroyed the gameplay.
    Didn’t took the time to look at the new packs, I guess it’s still pretty good since the game is still played.
    I really hope you had and will have fun with this game as much as I did.
    And I agree with you when you said kids should look into this game, which is far from being pure luck.

  • bfcknrzl

    I love this game and still have 2 decks I created 13 years ago.

  • One way I learned deck building and improved my stash of cards is I draft Friday nights at a local hobby shop. Its nice because some of the players know I am still somewhat learning so as we play they help explain what they are doing. But drafting makes you look at the cards and build off of what you get. and you play against many other players who are using hte same pool of cards you are. I found one guy whom it is now my goal to beat because he is one of the best players.