Sunday, July 7, 2013

Week 6 - Project Beginnings, and MTG (History)

Richard Garfield, the start of MTG, and more about the game

One of my favorite hobbies is playing Magic: The Gathering; a card game that is one the  of the first trading card games ever made. Created in 1993 by Richard Garfield, MTG has grown into a popular game that has formats involving real cards, and now has spread to the internet scene in the form of an online version of the game. There are competitive tournaments all over the country on a weekly basis; from small-scale events such as FNM’s (Friday Night Magic) to the Pro Tour and World Championships that happen for each set that is released or every year respectively. There are over twelve million players worldwide, and the game has a major first and secondary markets, sending the game to a high level of popularity. The game involves skills in mathematics, logic, and is even like poker in the sense that gameplay can be determined by bluffing plays or setting traps. There are many different card types, and many different mechanics to the game, with new cards (that have new, and old, abilities) being released every year. There are over 12,000 unique cards, and that number grows every few months with 4 sets being released every year. Three sets are released as a “block” every year, with one core set being released in between blocks each year.

Richard Garfield

Garfield graduated with a degree in computer mathematics in 1985, and continued on to study combinatorial mathematics. Garfield tried to find a publisher for another game he had designed, but met Peter Adkison of Wizards of the Coast, and they developed the beginning of MTG by wanting to build a game that required a minimal amount of material for a game. MTG went into development while Garfield studied at University of Pennsylvania, and many of the play-testers went to that same school. He got his Ph.D in combinatorial mathematics in 1993, the same year MTG began.Play-testers developed some packs and cards, and Garfield would edit the game appropriately. He joined WotC a year later to develop the game further as a game designer. He still continues to contribute to the game, and has developed many other games since MTG was launched.

Mathematical Magic

Like so many games that have come since MTG was created, math has become a crucial part to the strategy of play. A positive aspect to learning a game that is complex is that those who handle situations properly, will learn how to solve problems outside of the game. It takes a rational player to understand how the game works. You have to manage your life-total, your mana (land) base, drawing, casting, and attempt to know what your opponent will play before they make a play, or react accordingly to anything. 

In a nutshell, you create a deck that is based on colors of MTG; those are white, blue, black, green, and red. Depending on the format, you choose spells to play as long as you think you can cast them in a game. It’s normal to see two- and three-color decks. You cast a spell by having mana to “tap” for a color, adding that color to a mana pool. You then use the colors in the mana pool to cast a spell for its casting cost. The trick is balancing casting costs with the potential mana-base. If you have access to mana that can tap for different colors (know as “dual lands”), then it becomes easier to play more colors. 

This card costs one red mana to play. (Notice the casting cost in the upper right-hand corner). 

This land can add a red mana or white mana to your pool. The corner-bend symbol you see means the land must be tapped to add a mana, and once it is tapped, it cannot be used again until the next turn. 

Each player takes alternating turns, in which they go through each phase in order:

  1. Untap step
  2. Upkeep effects
  3. Draw step
  4. Main phase 1
  5. Combat phase
    1. Declare attackers
    2. Declare blockers
    3. Assign damage
  6. Main phase 2
  7. End step

Whenever a creature attacks, or land is tapped for mana, or other tapping effects occur for a player, their cards become untapped at the beginning of their turn. Upkeep effects are residual effects that some cards have, and those take place after untapping. The draw phase is simply drawing one card for the turn. The main phase is when creatures, sorceries, enchantments, planeswalkers, lands, and artifacts can be cast. (The other major card type, instants, can be cast anytime that a player has priority). The combat phase is when a player attempts to deal damage to their opponents’ life total. They tap their creatures to show they are attacking. 

They assign combat damage that is equal to the first number, in the fraction, in the bottom right-hand corner of the card. This creature, Thragtusk, has a power of 5, and a toughness of 3. This means that it assigns 5 points of damage whenever it would deal damage, and requires 3 points of damage to kill. A player declares which creatures they are attacking with, and then the defending player declares which (if any) creature they are blocking with. Attacking creatures that are blocked will deal damage to the blocking creatures, while the blocking creature deals damage to the attacking creature that it has blocked. Unblocked creature deal damage to the defending players’ life-total. The second main phase is another chance to cast the same cards that could be casted in the first phase. After the second phase, the turn ends, and the other player takes their turn in the same fashion. 

Instants can be casted at any time they have priority, but that’s for another paper. Another major concept to the game is the “stack”, which follows a “first-in, last-out” idea.  As the same with instants, the stack is better left for later, as it is the most complicating part of the game (in my own opinion). 

The math behind this game lies with casting cards at the right time, so you can imagine that it does not take just a mathematician to play, it requires a thought process that can comprehend proper decision-making in short periods of time. It is definitely a game worth playing, and I would encourage anyone to try it who wants a hobby that is more intellectually stimulating than video games, more addictive than drugs, and better than doing something stupid on a Saturday, like making salsa. 

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