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The Magic of Gatherings: A beginner’s journey into MTG in 2022

Out of the Arena.

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For better or worse, advertising seems to work wonders on me. One of my favourite parts of going to the cinema is always the trailers. Maybe that means I’m an easily impressionable person, or just a sucker to The Man forever bound to the capitalist world we find ourselves in. Whatever the reason, my venture into Magic: The Gathering started with an event for the card game’s 1920s-themed Streets of New Capenna set.

At said event, there were actors all from one of five families trying to convince us to join them. Naturally, I gravitated towards a fabulously-dressed, Betty Boop-like character - even down to the voice - who told me how we all may not be bound by blood, but that this diverse group of fun-loving party monsters were a family. As a gay south-Asian person, this especially touched my heart.

Since then, I’ve played a whole bunch of MTG Arena and currently boast a top 84% in Mythic ranking - all whilst staying loyal to New Capenna’s Cabaretti family and developing a deck around my party monsters. My Magic: The Gathering experience wasn’t limited to the online game, however, as I wanted to get fully enthralled into this new world.

New to MTG? Learn how to play with our video tutorialWatch on YouTube

People who play MTG Arena tend to have the same kinds of decks with no originality in them. With the safety that comes with being behind a keyboard comes a lack of judgement for following the crowd and using decks you see hundreds of times - sometimes the only way Arena players can reach the higher ranks.

My initial plan to get into Magic: The Gathering was to perfect a deck in Arena then recreate it in real life and take on the competitive scene. However, the real-life scene mostly plays a MTG format called Commander, whereas on Arena the main way to play is called Standard. The two formats differ slightly; even though I was upset that I spent so much money on some cards I might not ever even use, the rules of Commander seemed more beginner-friendly and interesting in a TCG format. I bought a Cabaretti-themed Commander deck, made some edits of my own and I was ready to hit the big time.

Where I’m currently living, in Bath, there exists a board game store called Thirsty Meeples. (Not to be confused with Thirsty Meatballs, which I swiftly deleted from my search history.) Here, like many other places that are into Magic: The Gathering, they have a night on Sundays where players come together to play matches. A Magic: The Gathering gathering, if you will. During my first visit, I awkwardly stumbled in and mustered the courage to walk up to a group of tables who already seemed to be in the middle of multiple matches.

Cards such as Elegant Entourage, Boss's Chauffer and Devilish Valet benefit from the Cabarettis' use of Citizen tokens. Image: Wizards of the Coast

A friendly group of three waved me down as I went past. I awkwardly introduced myself and got into a match. It was that easy. I really wasn’t expecting much hospitality from a game with a reputation like Magic: The Gathering. We’ve all seen plenty an exposed buttcrack at tournaments and with a game like this often comes the stereotype of white sweaty nerds with Cheeto dust covering their fingers. However, these were not the people I envisioned in my mind - and there were POCs here, too! Wild!

For my first match, I soon realised I hadn’t taken the time to read many of my cards and had shot myself in the foot by having a specialised deck I was figuring out in real time. As the Cabarettis are high-class fancy party people, the deck focuses on summoning plenty weaker Citizen token creatures to the battlefield in order to really get the party started. With creatures who really benefit from this - such as Devilish Valet, Boss’s Chauffeur and Elegant Entourage - and my commander Jetmir, who I could cast onto the field whenever I was able to, this deck is one that’s easy to look past at first.

The people around me were really patient and helped me with what I could do, as well as using their “not-so-good” decks. I came joint second/third place in a group of four. For my first match, it felt like a victory. They were going easy on me and testing out some of their underused decks, but I’ll take it where I can.

Wheels and Liv jump into Magic: The Gathering's most popular format, CommanderWatch on YouTube

Pretty soon after the match I started talking to other people and was told something which answered a huge question I had about Magic: The Gathering: why does a card game like this have such an in-depth story?

As far as I knew at the time, there wasn’t a cartoon, show, video game, comic book or any kind of media that expands on the story of Streets of New Capenna. (It turns out there is some narrative content, but at the time I hadn't heard of any.) So I thought to myself: why bother with a story that includes characters from previous sets making a return, certain characters from cards canonically dying - and why did Wizards of the Coast push all this secret backstory onto the cards?

As I got talking to people at Thirsty Meeples, I started hearing everyone's favourite tales from the series, as well as recurring characters and what kind of arc they’d been on from one set to another. I was told by one of the friendly faces from my first Commander match that the reason why there’s not a cartoon, TV show, video game or many other types of expansion on the card game itself was that it was much more fun to come together as a group with a drink in-hand and share the stories of beloved cards to one another around a table. Something clicked in my mind and I had a eureka moment that made me understand this game so much more than sitting at home and playing MTG Arena. I realised why the game is called Magic: The Gathering.

MTG Streets of New Capenna artwork
MTG's New Capenna set features five different families, each with their own play style. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

I can’t put into words how much better it is to play MTG in real life rather than online. People have a lot more dignity when you’re sitting face-to-face and don’t use the same old cards just to get a high rank. Everyone’s deck also tells you a little about their personality - it almost feels like I'm in an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh!

Since then, I’ve come back to Meeples every Sunday, where I can continue to test my deck and make changes throughout the week until next time. I love hearing about what decks people are thinking about making and testing out next, as well as trading for some cards I might need without breaking the bank. It shows it’s not too late to get into Magic: The Gathering, whether it’s online or in real life.

If you’ve been into online card games during the pandemic, this is your wake-up call to venture out into the world and turn those skills into actual fun. It’s such a great community - I can’t wait until every Sunday where I can play more.

Don't forget to check-out our list of MTG Arena codes, and nab yourself a bunch of free boosters and cosmetics.

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