Cover Image: Dawn of Hope by Sung Choi

As we near the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, it brings a variety of thoughts to mind. As a content creator, it has often felt trivial to talk about a card game in relation to the current world events. Nevertheless, I think the past year has helped put a lot into perspective for Magic players, as we shift our focus to more pressing needs in our lives. If anything, this period has reminded a lot of folks what they love about this game, or what they can live without.

Although  we have a vaccine out in the world, we’re still a long way away from having large Magic events. But that doesn’t mean we should pack it in. On the contrary, there are plenty of ways in which we can look after ourselves and others, as we near the end of the pandemic. Today, we’ll get into how we can capture a glimmer of that special something, the thing that keeps us going with this game.

Webcam Magic

Back in March, I was skeptical of webcam Magic. I had signed up for my first Premodern monthly tournament, and had a webcam in the mail. I was nervous about it all. To me, Magic has always been about sitting across from another person. It had been months since the pandemic started, and months since I looked an opponent in the eye. After giving it some thought, though, I realized that people were still playing and enjoying webcam Magic, regardless of how I felt about it. The choice was to either accept the changes I wasn’t ready to make, or find something else to do. In the end, the value of social connection far outweighed my inhibitions for this new way of doing it.

I got a few Premodern matches under my belt, but it really hit me when I had my first webcam Commander game. As people were getting set up, I was blindsided by a swell of emotions. The idle chatter carried over a rushing stream of thoughts, where I felt everything from relief to loneliness. I spent the first few turns grappling with the realization that it was months since I felt my favorite part of Magic: the act of gathering. Like many other people, I had lost track of just how far we had gotten into this period of our lives.

Upon finishing, I thought about how important it would be to keep this up throughout quarantine. While my wife and dog have been my rock throughout the past year, I was yearning for some other form of contact with the outside world. Webcam Magic filled that gap for me, and I have no doubt that it has helped others too. If you haven’t tried it yet, I can’t recommend it enough. It doesn’t take much to get set up, but the experience will pay off as we move into our second year of distant gameplay.

MTGO and Arena have action at any time of day, but in my opinion, nothing will ever replace the sound of human voices on the other side of the table. It’s not just from conversation, but laughter at a big play, appreciation for spicy tech, or the chance to see someone’s cat walk over their playmat. It’s not so much about a card game as it is about four people coming together, helping each other feel a little less isolated.

Magic in Different Places

The past year has led many  to re-evaluate how or why they play Magic. For instance, if someone only played Modern or Cube in a physical setting, then they were left scrambling for options. Some folks fell into Arena or MTGO, but for those looking to have that human element, it has to be found elsewhere. Thankfully, there are plenty of Magic variants and Magic-adjacent activities for people to explore.

For those that are quarantining with people who don’t play Magic, this might be the perfect time to get them on board. The Queen’s Gambit has reignited mainstream interest in chess—could it also help funnel people into a strategy game like Magic? By this point of quarantine, plenty of folks have realized that we can’t make it through this on Netflix and Twitter alone; interactive games can help keep the mind sharp.

We get better at something by teaching it, so both parties have something to gain if you teach someone how to play Magic. While Wizards of the Coast ended the practice of Welcome Decks, Card Kingdom still makes beginner options for all five colors. They’re simple by design, and help players try out each color for size. For players looking to build upon that foundation, Ravnica Guild Kits or Card Kingdom Battle Decks offer more intricate cards and complex gameplay. If you already have a collection of unused cards at home, then chances are you have what it takes to build some beginner decks from scratch. By stripping the game down to some of its most core fundamentals, it can help even the most experienced players with their understanding of the foundation. And let’s face it, playing without sleeves can make anyone feel more relaxed at the card table.

For those that aren’t playing Magic at all, there are always other avenues to take to keep up our participation in the community. For instance, you could spend this time getting caught up on the Magic story, or by reading some of the old paperback novels that Wizards used to put out. Personally, I’ve taken a love to creating proxies with World Championship deck blank cards. While we don’t have MTG Legends out just yet, there’s an ever-expanding list of things to do in this space.

The Importance of Other Things

Back in June of 2020, I wrote an article on taking a break from Magic altogether. For some people, in a world without large gatherings, this has been the best choice for them. While the decision is ultimately up to you, there’s nothing wrong with taking some time off. This period has been a time for people to re-evaluate their priorities, and sometimes Magic comes into question.

If Magic has been a big part of your life so far, but you’re going to take a break, then it can help to cultivate another hobby in the interim to keep things fresh. We’re still a ways away from things returning to any semblance of “normal.” We have to be prepared for more of the same in 2021. The year on the calendar may be different, but that doesn’t mean we should let up on our approach to health and social distancing.

What’s more important than Magic, though, is the people we know and love that play it. They’re a large part of what makes this experience so great.  Check in on each other.  We have to take care of ourselves too, and how we approach our relationship with this card game. Personally, I’ve caught myself spending more time talking about Magic on Twitter and Discord, than I do actually playing the game.  Those social media outlets are great for keeping in touch with Magic-playing friends,  but can also drag us into toxic or tiring corners of the hobby. The Commander Legends spoiler season wore me out mentally, so  I decided to sit back and take only a passing glance at Kaldheim spoilers as they came through.  The distance helped detach my head from the ebbs and flows of other peoples’ card evaluations, and it helped my mental health too. It seems a little antithetical to say that, as a content creator, but we all need our breaks sometimes.

There are a lot of different ways to keep the excitement alive for Magic, as long as we do something. That something might be different than what we’re used to, but it might be just what we need.

Travis is a Virginia-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Legacy, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t making people pay the Thalia tax, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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