A Documentary on Magic: The Gathering

In 1996 Wizards of the Coast established the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour, a series of tournaments that paid out more than a million dollars a year in cash prizes. People began playing Magic: The Gathering in the hopes of living the dream. Some got there but found that the dream was fleeting. So they moved on. But they always come back.

A Brief History

Magic: The Gathering, first published in 1993, is a collectible-card game that boasts more than six million players worldwide and annual sales of more than $200 million. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest games ever designed; in its first year of eligibility, it was voted into the Games Magazine Hall of Fame, where it sits alongside such esteemed games as chess, Monopoly, and Risk.

Wizards of the Coast, the company that publishes Magic: The Gathering, hosts a series of high-stakes tournaments each year with a purse totaling more than $3 million. Established in 1996, the Pro Tours take place in exotic locations around the world; for example, the four Pro Tours in 2009 were held in Kyoto, Honolulu, Austin, and Rome. Wizards of the Coast advertises the Pro Tour with the slogan “Play the game, see the world.”

Games themselves have entered the public consciousness in a manner that could not have been foreseen even as recent as ten years ago. But Magic: The Gathering is not simply a game; it is a culture in and of itself. Magic tends to attract like-minded people: very intelligent, charismatic males who demand that life accept them on their own terms. The people who play Magic at the highest levels form deep and meaningful friendships that transcend geography and even the game itself.

Friends who played Magic at the highest levels together continued to pursue things together long after their professional Magic careers ended: some became high-stakes poker players, including multiple winners of World Series of Poker bracelets; some became traders in the market; some became sports bettors; some became game designers; some started businesses. Many became successful beyond the wildest dreams they harbored as adolescents playing Magic at their friend’s house long into the early hours of morning. And even though many of these players stopped playing tournament-level Magic, they never stopped playing Magic.

What is Magic: The Gathering?

Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game produced by Wizards of the Coast. A core set of rules governs the game, but each card alters the play of the game in some way. On top of this, the cards themselves interact with one another in often surprising ways, and the sheer quantity of cards allows for a near-infinite number of such combinations.

Players build their decks using whatever cards they want. In a game, both players will be using their cards to try to alter the game state for personal advantage. And because of the myriad possibilities offered and the regular printing of new cards, each game of Magic: The Gathering is different from every other.