Nerds Have Their Own Sports, Too


By Jonah Wolmark

Magic: the Gathering logo
Magic: the Gathering logo

When you hear “sports”, you probably think of people running around, throwing or hitting things and such. But, that’s not the entirety of sports. Magic: the Gathering, an extremely popular Collectible Card Game (CCG), has an entire culture revolving around competitive play. There are huge tournaments consisting of some of the best Magic players from all around the globe, many times a year. But before I get into that, what exactly is Magic?

Magic: the Gathering (also known as MTG, or just Magic) is a Collectible Card Game created by Richard Garfield, and first published in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. In the game, players are powerful spellcasters, their decks representing their arsenal of spells. Magic decks can be any size greater than, or equal to, 60 cards. This minimum does change between different formats of play, but I’ll get into that later. Any given deck can only have a maximum of 4 of any given card in it, again, with a few exceptions. At the beginning of the game, each player draws an opening hand of 7 cards. If a player doesn’t like the cards they drew, they can “mulligan”, or shuffle their hand into their deck and draw another hand with one less card. As the game progresses, the players’ goals are to reduce their opponents’ life points to 0 from 20. Players normally achieve this by summoning creatures to attack their opponents. But that’s not the only way to win. For example, if a player has no more cards in his deck, usually caused by the game going too long or spells that remove cards from their deck, that player loses.

There are many different formats of playing MTG. All formats are divided up into 2 major categories: Constructed and Limited. In Constructed, players have decks with 60 card minimums that they build before playing. In Limited, decks with 40 card minimums are built from a specific card pool, usually a number of booster packs. Examples of widely played and notable Constructed formats are Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Standard, and Block. Each Constructed format has a different selection of cards that are legal to use in play. Limited play is rather different, however. In Limited, decks are built from a certain card pool as part of the event. Each Limited format has a different way to build your deck from your card pool, and many have different card pools, so summarizing the format is difficult beyond this.

On March 7-9 2014, the largest Constructed tournament to ever be held in the history of Magic: the Gathering occurred. This tournament was a “Grand Prix”, which means that anyone from around the world can enter, and the winners get immense prizes. Held in Richmond, Virginia, there was a total of 4303 participants. Only one, Brian Liu, emerged victorious. The top 8 highest placing players got invitations to the next Pro Tour, which is another important tournament that, as the name suggests, only the best Magic players participate in.