Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.


As 2013 rolls around we have a major milestone on our collective horizon. At the Origins convention in July of 1993, the world was introduced to Magic: the Gathering. This year’s Origins Game Fair will take place in June, but will essentially mark the 20th anniversary of Magic: the Gathering being unleashed on an unsuspecting community. The game was intended to be a quick pick-up game that could be played in-between other games or while waiting for all your friends to show up for game night. Over two decades it has grown into one of the most prolific games on the planet, and possibly the most influential.

Where Magic’s influence is most often seen is in the design of other card games. The other day I was spending my afternoon/evening at the Twenty Sided Store in Brooklyn and offered to teach Luis, the co-owner, how to play the new Star Wars LCG that had been released by Fantasy Flight Games. We were about halfway through the demonstration when Luis commented that it would be easier if I taught the game in terms of Magic. This was an observation I expected because it’s completely true. The new SW game has so many elements of Magic’s game design that you could very likely have put every single card on a Magic template and printed it up as an variant of Magic: the Gathering (like Planechase).

One of the core mechanics of the game is called Focusing. Do you want to produce resources from a permanent? You focus the permanent to do so. Do you want to attack with a unit? You focus it and then make it’s attacks. Many of the permanents have action abilities that also require focusing. When you focus a permanent it goes from a state called “ready” to a new state called “focused.” Does this sound familiar? It should be, because it is the Tapping mechanic from Magic with a different skin. In Star Wars, when I want to get resources (mana) from my objectives (permanents) I need to focus (tap) them. I can only focus (tap) a readied (untapped) objective (permanent).

This is only one example of how core mechanics that Richard Garfield designed into Magic: the Gathering have shown up as core mechanics of other card games. As I said, the Star Wars game could be almost entirely contained within the mechanics of Magic, save a few exceptions which is a good thing, because no one wants another Magic: the Gathering. However, we all need to live with the fact that, just like Dungeons and Dragons’ influence on every RPG ever since, Magic’s design will forever ripple through the design of other games.

Is this good for game design? Yes, it certainly is. Over twenty years of printing cardboard spells, Magic has made some pretty egregious mistakes in game design. The storm mechanic, the free mechanic, and putting damage on the stack were all rules that either made the game difficult to play or confusing to play. The banned and restricted list alone are a list of Magic’s design mistakes. On the positive side, these are mistakes that all other game designers are able to learn from.

Not to mention all of the great aspects of game design that Magic has put together that other games can leverage. Tapping is a mechanic that has been seen in one form or another in virtually every card game since. Although the process of turning a card ninety degrees is protected by the patent on the game, other designers have found ways to re-skin this mechanic, such as the Focus mechanic in Star Wars. The idea of permanents that are attached to other permanents, the concept of play areas including a library, graveyard, battlefield and exiled zone and the distinction between sorcery-speed and instant-speed abilities were all pioneered by Magic and have found their way into countless other games.

So the next time you’re playing a game that feels a bit like Magic, instead of complaining about how all games are just like Magic nowadays be thankful that all games are just like Magic nowadays.

The Quick Hits

On Variety: Heather Meek’s new column covers a wide variety of stuff. So if you’re really good at thinking about a million things at once like she is, go check it out. [Chatter]

On Game Design: One of the articles that Heather linked to was this gem from Gamasutra giving a more technical overview of Magic’s influence on other games. [Gamasutra]

On the Gift of Gaming: Travis Woo talks about the stocking stuffer that changed his life. He knows what’s important about gaming and you should give it a read to make sure you do too. [Twoo’s Brews]

On Magic Design: Carsten Kotter shared his thoughts on the year of Magic from a game design perspective and with a Johnny/Timmy/Spike view of things. [Eternal Europe]

On Writing: I should probably read this a few more times and take notes, or something. Brandon Isleib puts together a good overview of how to improve as a writer, drawing from his own experiences. [Gathering Magic]

The Week Ahead

With most websites running repeats this week we didn’t have much to go over. Next week we’ll be taking a look at New Year’s resolutions and how to make you a better Magic player in 2013. In the meantime good luck with the holiday cube, which is what I assume you’re all spending your holiday time doing, right? What do you mean family time…


I reached for the hat, and take all the cash

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.