Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment – 4. Magic: The Gathering Part II. The Third World

My first Magic experience was in middle school. It was much like my first kiss: bumbling, awkward, painful, and yet somehow altogether pleasing. My friends all had decks they’d been working on since the game had come out 6 months prior.

I begged my mom to take me to this game store 3 burbs down the El Camino (yet another in a long line of redundant the’s in street names). They had Magic starter decks, booster packs, life stones, dice, pouches to keep the stones and dice. It reminded me of Dungeons & Dragons, something I’d discovered a few months earlier. But it was just cards and I thought that would be easier.

All I could afford was the starter deck. So I took it home and I poured over the cards. I read the rules five, maybe six times so that I thought I understood vaguely how to play this game of tapping and attacking and interrupting. Then I took it all to school.

I sat down to play in the library during lunch. 10 minutes later I had lost my first card and it just went down hill from there. My friends all had cards from booster packs or singles they’d purchased or traded with other people who played at the game store. They also had knowledge that I didn’t. I just didn’t understand why I’d spend all my money on this game, soon became distracted by other games, then music, then girls, and so on.

Fast forward 25 years and our oldest son, age 11, is into Magic. We tolerate it. He spends his own allowance, and we pretty much let him do his thing. It’s only a phase, I think.

When he enters his first Friday Night Magic (FNM), I buy his way in. He doesn’t win a single game, but there’s no look of disappointment, only the bright gritty look of determination. Every time we go to the game store to play board games, he watches games and asks questions about Magic.cgtep-nukaeqeji

The next FNM he wins a single game and is really proud of himself. Next week a round. A month later he makes it to the final four and agrees to a pot split as it is nearly 11:00 at night and well past his bedtime.

It wasn’t until then that it really dawned on me. Magic is taboo to board gamers. We prefer not to mention such things. We try desperately to convert those that play it. Step away from the darkness. Follow the light.

Now, our whole family plays at FNM. Two of our children and my wife have finished top four. Our youngest son and I are still waiting for our chance. It’s just another in a long line of games we’ve spent way too much money on.

But there’s one really interesting mechanic that keeps me coming back. I could list a hundred more specific example of mechanics in the game which are truly amazing. It’s this one in particular that really get’s me excited.

The stack.

A first in, last out (FILO) system in a card game which eliminates all doubt(usually) as to how a situation plays out. What a great idea for a game where the rules are frought with peril. A logical system that holds up to the test of time because it is logical. I’ve seen so many games ruined by the whims of the designer. In case you’ve not played Magic before—or just never played enough to learn about the stack—I’ll elucidate.

The stack is a beast to learn, but once you understand it, it makes you a better Magic player. When you play a card, before it actually takes effect, it goes onto the stack. When a spell—any nonland card—is cast it goes onto the stack. Then, opponents may play cards onto the stack in response. There are counter spells which force a card to the graveyard so that it never even hits the battlefield but it always hits the stack. And if the original spell has a when cast ability it still takes effect. How does that work?

Well, for the stack, utilizing the FILO mechanic, we have the spell as one item, the ability on the spell as a seperate item, and the counter spell as a third and top item on the stack. So let’s start with the last card. It counters the spell. So, the spell will not enter the battlefield, it will go straight to the graveyard. The counter spell resolves.tute3-stack

But, we still have the ability of the spell, which is not the spell and triggers when the spell is cast. Had it said when the spell enters the battlefield, then the card would already be gone and the ability would not trigger. But since it occcurs when cast we still use it. Suddenly the Emerakul that is in my graveyard affords me an extra turn playing as you and I can trash your board state, your hand, and everything you’ve got. Then I just hand it back to you nonchalantly, like a favorite toy I’ve just broken. The stack, baby. YEAH!
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There’s a response to that too. There’s a response for just about anything in Magic.

Until the next time my brain gets shocked, or I become inspired, keep playing. And don’t let others tell you what you can or can’t play. Except for me, of course, you should always listen to me… and the Ramones. You should always listen to me and the Ramones.

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