Understanding Gaming Strategy Through Magic: The Gathering (Part 1)

Since 1993, Magic: The Gathering has captivated countless gamers with its evocative art, simple yet challenging gameplay, and its near limitless combinations. Today, Magic: The Gathering will help teach you basic Gaming strategy.

How can a nearly 30 year old card game help you get better at gaming overall?

It may not make you a miracle shot in an FPS or have insane reflexes in an RTS, but when it comes to understanding the big picture of strategy, sometimes the simple groundwork can work best.

Let’s check it out.

The Universal Rules of Gaming

Every game that is played to any amount of competition will almost always have some basic universal rules. These are the things all games share, in broad terms, that allow game designers to incorporate strategy and balance.

These universal rules usually boil down to health (hit points, life, base structures, etc.) resources to use (ammo, cards in hand, mana, etc.) and dynamic mechanics (ways to attack your opponent, objectives to capture, etc.).

All games will likely have these items in balanced terms. Each player will start with the same amount of health or the same amount of starting resources.

Some games may shift these numbers in exchange for other bonuses. This often comes from choosing additional items like characters, classes, and upgrades. You may get higher health, but loose out on another resource.

In Magic, these alternatives often mean a Draft or Sealed format, where you can give a random assortment of cards to build your deck. Because it is random, you may not have the same kind of synergy or power as your opponent. It is a gamble.

For most competitive games, the random approach is not taken.

For Magic, the standard format requires a 60 card deck, 20 life per player, and a You-Go-I-Go turn structure. Each of these resources will need to be thought of, tuned and managed if you want to win.

More Than Just The Board

It is over a dozen turns into a particularly grueling game of Magic. You have your opponent down to a pitiful 1 life left. When they hit 0, you win. You have ripped apart all of their creatures and defenses and have a horde of minions ready to finish them off next turn. You have already attacked and have no cards in hand or mana to cast anything. You pass.

Your opponent starts their turn and casts a powerful spell that wipes all your creatures away. The board is cleared and you suddenly have no way on the field to guarantee victory.

Worst of all, you have nothing in hand to play and your opponent still has a full grip due to their conservative plays all game. This game of Magic is now in their control.

You might get lucky and the next card you draw could be a way to kill your opponent. Your opponent, though, could have a way to stop that as well in their hand. Their resources are full while yours are spent.

In Magic, as is in most games, conservative play can be beaten by speed and luck, but going all in and shoving all your resources forward in the hopes that it will work can be a gamble.

This same dilemma applies to blowing all your cooldowns and mana in League of Legends, or going ballistic with your ammo in Apex Legends.  Knowing when your opponent is weak enough to guarantee this push is key and holding yourself back on other times is even more important.

When the chips are down, and your resources are blown long before your opponent’s, your chances of winning drops dramatically, in Magic or any game you play.

Pregaming Your Options

When you show up to a game of Magic, you will have your own deck. This deck will have all the card choices you made to bring to the game. This will have your ways to win, your ways to survive, and if you plan ahead, your ways to pull out of bad situations.

In the previous example, you are spent on resources. If your Magic deck had more ways to recoup resources (drawing cards being the biggest one) than you might have a better chance at coming ahead. When your one draw can become multiple, the odds of finding a way out increase.

As well, putting in more card draw and using it throughout the game can help keep you afloat. It may lessen the damage or pressure you do, but if you find yourself with a few more cards to keep going, then a few extra life on your opponent won’t be as big of a problem.

Management of a resource is another trick up your sleeve. Refilling your mana/cards in hand/ammo is a potent trick to get that second wind and push victory through. Be mindful of where you can get it and use it wisely.

Better Gaming with Better Games

One of the biggest reasons why Magic has such a strong following is how dynamic and shifting the strategy can be. Even with its turn-based format, it can show off a lot of basic strategies. This is only the beginning!

Tune in to Part 2 when we use Magic to talk about Metagames, playtesting, and how to better read a situation to fully time your options.


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