A Game of Conversation

If I really want to come from an area that I am a specialist I am going to have to come out of the nerd closet, and talk about a subject that I do not really share with the exception of my closest friends because it is hard to explain to people who do not already know what it is. For this blog I am planning on talking about a card game, Magic: the Gathering. I played the game in middle and high school, took a ten year break, and was able to come back. Unfortunately this break, among other things, means that I am still very much an amateur player. While this was supposed to be a summary of an interview, I am out of touch with all of the professional community and was not able to set up an interview with another amateur writer, so I will be summarizing other interviews along with my first hand experience to help fill out this blog.

There are a wide variety of articles and blogs regarding Magic, ranging from explaining the basics of the game to beginners, strategic articles that breakdown the strength and weaknesses of a deck and teach you how to play, to simple deck lists and tournament reviews. But there are also articles that can be comical, making inside jokes that only other people who play the game would understand to articles that promote upcoming events and specific stores to try to increase attendance. It was at a prerelease event three months ago that I heard the following comment, “Wow, it’s really strange how different we [the players] are outside of playing matches, but when the games begin we attempt to destroy each other”. This made me realize that there is a unique rhetoric that goes on in the Magic community. For this blog I will attempt to analyze this dialog in this blog.

First I should probably step back and explain what Magic: the Gathering is, Reid Duke a professional player explains:
“You can think of Magic as a cross between chess and playing-card games…Both are one-on-one strategy games; at the simplest level your creatures are your chess pieces and your spells are simply one extra layer of support for them. Both games require strategic thinking, long-term planning, and an eye for advantageous openings. However, in chess, the whole game is laid out on the table where in Magic there is uncertainty.”

Magic has also been jokingly called a game with “more rules than game.” Rich Hagon, the Magic Pro Tour Statician in an interview with Marshall, described Magic as the “most complex game ever, ever.” while that may seem daunting to beginners once everything clicks it is such a great feeling that is hard to compare.

So who plays Magic the Gathering? If you find your local card store and walk in on the weekly tournament chances are you will see a group of mostly young men ranging from their early teens to somewhere in their mid-thirties. While this may seem like narrow demographic, most of the stores that I go to do not care about age, gender, or race. All we care about is if you know how to play the game or want to get better at playing the game. That is the main purpose of the communities of Magic players, some people want to improve their skills on a competitive level to win money at larger competitive tournaments, but majority of the people are a part of this community because they love the game itself.

If this is the main purpose of the community, then all of the writing is important because this is how we express the joy we get from the game. It comes in many different forms depending on what you are looking for. A relatively niche community like this one has embraced social media; you can watch competitive tournaments stream almost every weekend on Twitch TV, and interact with the commentators though Twitter. You can even follow professional players on Twitter and watch as they make new discoveries, what tournaments they are going to, and even if they need cards to complete a specific deck.
One of the main myths and constraints I encountered in this community is that much of the content is created by professionals, who play at a higher level that many players can only aspire to reach. Amateurs tracing their progress like Megan and Maria, hosts of the podcast “Magic: the Amateuring” fill a unique niche in the community inviting listeners to improve along with them. They have found this exigence and applied their improve skills along with their love of the game despite this perceived constraint.

Logos and ethos are the main rhetorical strategies that work best in this community. You do not have to be a professional player to contribute to the community, but it certainly helps provide additional weight to the argument. The main thing that players within the community care about is if your logic/strategy is sound, logos is certainly the strongest strategy. But you have to keep in mind that Magic is such a customizable game that even solid appeals to logos and ethos will not be enough to sway all the readers to your side. Pathos also has a place within this discourse community; humor is often common in many articles ranging from inside jokes about the community to terrible puns regarding card names.

Because there is so much customizability in magic that finding unique voice can be hard in the community. One can also be well respected, but due to the nature of the internet people will still find things to hate about the writing. Rich Hagon mentions that people are at different levels, some people would rather get into the nitty-gritty aspects of the game, but people providing content also have to approach the material on a way that would reach a wider demographic. We have to remember that “Magic is a game of conversation” (Limited Resources).

Works Cited:
Bitzer, Lloyd, “The Rhetorical Situation.”
Duke, Reid. “Level One: What is Magic?” 11 Aug 2014. 1 Sept 2014
< http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/lo/what-magic-2014-08-11&gt;
“Limited Resources 235 – Pain and Suffering with Rich Hagon.” Limited Resources. Marshall Sutcliffe and Rich Hagon. iTunes. 23 May 2014.
“Magic the Amatuering: About.” < http://www.magictheamateuring.com/sample-page/&gt;
Smith, Craig. “Rhetorical Dimensions of Myth and Narrative.”
Smith, Craig. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric.”

6 thoughts on “A Game of Conversation”

  1. Allen,

    Great hook in the first line, and concise description in the first paragraph outlining what your blog is about. Creative!

    I appreciate your drawing attention to how this Magic brings together a range of talent where the lines between amateurs and professionals may be blurred. Ironic though, how the members fall into such a narrow gender/age category yet they are lackadaisical in their care about such categorization. Can it be so? Perhaps such is the nature of gaming.

    Good external links to provide visuals to the reader. Perhaps you could embed a video demonstration on further edits? Magic is after all visual trickery first and foremost, is it not?

    Lovely writing. Thanks for sharing.



  2. Hi Allen,
    I tryed to submit this before, so if this is a repeat, I apologize. As I thought I said before. When I was younger, I came upon a couple of friends playing, “Magic: The Gathering.” When I asked them what they were playing, they were miore than happy to tell me the name of the game, but they didn’t want to explain the game to me. They told me that it wasn’t the kind of game that can be explained quickly. At first, I was a little offended. Did they think I was not smart enough to understand. However, as I watched, I realized that I had no idea what was happening. I was completely lost, it was complicated and precise, both players were completely focused. I was curious on your thoughts about why men play the game more than women. What is the big appeal for men?


  3. Hi Allen,

    Before I start I want to clarify that I know absolutely nothing about this game. I have very good friends who play it, but it was something that I never got into growing up. I don’t like board or cards game for that matter. However, your insight on the game was very interesting and I can read the enthusiasm you have for it through your words. It is always interesting to see how something like this can bring together a community of people. I get the same feeling through my interest in music.

    It was interesting to read the interviews you described about people who are closely involved with the game. The links that you provided gave good context to those who aren’t too familiar with it. With that said, I do believe that finding someone to interview could have been manageable. Please, don’t think that is a slight at you. I do understand the predicament you are in. As you said, you are out of touch with the professional community. Yet, I know there are stores that have regular Magic games that go on. Specifically, I’m talking about stores that sell stuff like that. Here in Phoenix there is store called Game Daze where this kind of stuff happens a lot. They’re kind of like events were people come and play the game. Again, not discrediting what you wrote. I just think it would have been intriguing to hear what someone at a store like that has to say in regards to the interview questions Dr. Gruber provided.

    I think the term “professional community” can be a multiple set of things. The term professional, in my opinion, does not have to be something fancy. If your job is working at Circle K well then that’s a professional community. This is why interviewing a manager a store like Game Daze would have been beneficial to your blog. For example, I would like to know what the main struggles are with written communication in that community. Is it getting the word out about a Magic playing tournament of sorts? People who play that game are after all a community and it would have been compelling to hear one’s viewpoint from your perspective.

    Thanks for giving insight into this community. I always like seeing people bond together over something that really isn’t too popular among regular folks. There’s nothing wrong with being a nerd!


  4. The game sounds intriguing! I’ve never heard of it! Thanks for pulling me into as an outside for a inside look at the complex game. You totally anticipated that I (or any reader) might get overwhelmed and want to pull out by admitting it and then giving the alternative that it feels great to play once you get it. That intrigued me again.

    I’m curious why you left for ten years and came back. Was it a conscious decision to leave or was it life that happened and took you away for a bit?

    Why is the game called Magic; the Gathering?

    I see that you referenced our outside reading sources at the end, but I don’t see them cited within the body text.

    I like the visual of this discourse community gathering to play the game —oh, wait! Is that why it’s called the Gathering?—and how their language outside of the game would be very different from joining int the game. We’ve all been in situations like that, but this painted a picture where I know it would be obvious I’m outside the discourse community were I to show up!

    Nice post! I’ll be looking to learn more about Magic: the Gathering!


  5. Allen, you’re in nerd hands — I can remember my days on the floor of my best friends room, drooling over yu-gi-oh cards. I never played Magic, but I can understand the draw to the game.

    I currently have been sucked into Dota 2, a computer game that is facing a similar situation. You can watch matches on Twitch as well and even find professional players stream some of their personal playtime. However, this past year, Dota has become a sort of sensational sport. In some respects, people have begun to consider Dota as a way to make a professional living.

    Do you think that Magic is experiencing a similar thing? Since Dota has become so popular, ESPN has even dedicated a whole time block to watch “The International,” the highest paying esports tournament ever created. Since then, Dota seems to have taken off and even some websites have been created solely to provide esports news. Is the same thing happening for Magic? As a similar game, i find it intriguing that so many demographics have found entertainment in just a simple, though overly complex game. Thanks for a great blog; I look forward to reading more.

    Also, great insight as to why the game is called “The Gathering” in the first place. I never considered the community aspect before.


  6. Thank you so much for this post. To be honest, magic a game I have always wanted to learn, but never had the chance. I also like how you say, “If this is the main purpose of the community, then all of the writing is important because this is how we express the joy we get from the game.”

    There are games that I love and I do so for the love of the game and not for any educational purpose at all. I think it is important to remember that this is okay.


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