There’s nothing more I love than a good book…
Give me libraries, nostalgic smells, and vast literature collections any day. That’s how I feel about playing paper Magic — there’s just something so special about playing MTG face-to-face, offering a world of intricacies its online counterpart, Magic Arena, is unable to match.
by Cassie Rees
Let’s Start with Ritual…
What does your Magic: The Gathering ritual look like? Maybe you play at night after dinner accompanied by something sweet? Perhaps you’re all about those morning or afternoon sessions in the sunlight? Or maybe you go all-out by setting your smoke machine on low, turning on the red LEDs, and flexing your Eldrazi to intimidate your opponent.
For me, I like to pop on the kettle, brew a pot of purple tea, and ask Google to play something ominous to set the mood. Our trusty dining table turns into a fantastical battleground as my partner and I delicately lay out our mats, ready our life tallies, organise our tokens, and shuffle our cards - all of course while staring each other down.
These rituals are a vital part of any paper Magic session, even when playing at a friendly tournament at your local Good Games. We all like to have our library in a certain position, and some people even bring along wee companions of courage through the form of Yowie toys! (And by “some people” I mean me).
Playing paper Magic provides me with a well-earned screen break, with most of my day spent marinating in the harsh blue light of my very outdated computer setup. Being online all day means I’m constantly dealing with distractions and things to add to my to-do list, so I soon start to crave an off-screen paradise sans the latest beauty blogger drama.
Paper Magic is that offline haven - I even become so focussed on the game and deckbuilding that my phone ends up ignored in another room. During these Magic sessions, I get to leave the world of obligations my computer creates, and instead spend some time figuring out how to cut back my overflowing deck, and sacrifice a few pretty cards in favor of deck synergy.
Even if you don’t have to spend over 7 hours a day staring into a screen or two, you may still find yourself yearning for that all-important off-screen break provided by paper Magic. Screen fatigue affects most of us after all, with blue light filtering glasses on the rise as more people work from home. Paper Magic doesn’t require any fancy-shmancy glasses, and after a day of work and zombie-like scrolling on social media, it’s nice to slow down and connect with a good, old-fashioned card game.
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Another major plus of playing paper Magic is its total lack of reliance on servers, software, or any kind of tech in general - unless you count a light source as tech, in which case paper Magic by candlelight does sound appealing.
This analogue method of playing Magic means players don’t have to worry about their game suddenly crashing, random power outages, or a bug causing chaos. Plus, the game becomes more accessible to people of all ages - no tech skills needed!
Because paper Magic doesn’t have the process of signing up, coming up with a player name, or agreeing to miscellaneous terms and conditions, the game is a whole lot easier to show to newcomers. So while I can easily imagine a wholesome family game of paper Magic with grandparents involved, I somehow can’t see those same grandparents trying to navigate anything online, let alone a multi-faceted, fast-paced game.
Reading Your Opponent
Am I beginning to sound like “Old Man Yells At Cloud”? Probably - however, I’d argue that the convenience and speed provided in Magic Arena doesn’t make up for one of the things I love most about playing Magic - bluffing, and reading your opponent.
Much like a good game of Poker, a good game of Magic in any format is more fun when you’re face to face, as you can interact with your opponent, and start to learn a few of their ticks & tells. If you’re playing with friends and family, those all-telling signals may already be well-known to the table, so you’ll know exactly when someone’s drawn a dud.
When I’m playing with my partner or friends, sometimes I like to make it out like I have something brilliant going on in my hand when I actually have zilch. This requires looking impressed or excited when all you’ve drawn is yet another land, but the key here is to pretend you’re reading a large amount of janky text. Take your time - it’s paper Magic! I may even take a moment to reorder my poor hand to really reinforce how careful my opponent should be. Watch out - she’s playing another Plains!
Taking Your Deck to the Big Leagues
You also experience that same kind of in-person magic when playing in a more competitive setting - not just competing over who will do the dishes, but really testing your deck by taking it out into the real world. That is, your local Good Games, of course. All you need to do is search for your local store’s upcoming MTG nights and find something you’ll feel confident playing.
Once you’ve been to a few of your local Good Game’s MTG nights, you’ll soon be eager to enter the annual Good Games Championships, which allows you to compete with your local Magic players, and maybe even go home with some awesome prizes - or at least a handle of fresh boosters. Once again, these real-life tangible prizes are a lot more satisfying than online booster packs or gold on Arena.
And who doesn’t love shiny things? From mats to sleeves to unique dice sets - by playing paper Magic at events like the Good Games Championships, you’ll soon accrue an epic Magic setup at home, along with a sharper sense for reading opponents from all walks of life.
Much like flipping through a brand-new book, there’s nothing quite like cracking open a fresh Magic booster pack. What is that fresh-card smell, though? And why is it so tantilising? It’s a smell that would be impossible to bottle or capture in a candle, and makes the experience of opening fresh boosters that more exciting.
Let’s not forget ritual here too - how do you prefer to open your boosters? Do you crack one open, search for the rares and leave the rest? Or do you prefer to read each card, then order them precisely for you to admire at the end? If you’re like me and you’re a big fan of the art, you’ll love nothing more than carefully ordering your cards and taking in each unique detail.
Opening up a bomb card in a booster also has a lot more weight than winning one online - when I discovered a cheeky-looking Brazen Borrower while opening boosters one evening, I was excited to have a janky addition to my all-so-cute, blue Faeries deck. So I was surprised to see my green-monster-loving partner jump out of his seat, and emit a celebratory yell that woke most of the dogs on our street...
At the time, Brazen Borrower was worth a cool 80 bucks, which more than paid for the few booster packs we picked up as a treat. We double-sleeved the Faerie Rogue and popped him on a high shelf, unsure of how to handle his power in any of our decks. After poorly using the card in my low-powered Faeries deck, we traded him into our local Good Games to buy more cards. Easy!
Playing paper Magic also creates a whole soundtrack of sound effects only cardboard could produce: from the satisfying smoosh of shuffling your cards; to the powerful snap of slamming down a game-changer. These sounds accompany the tactile aspect of holding your cards, and actually playing them out yourself, making you feel like an almighty Anime character, welding spells and preparing their army.
It’s akin to reading a paperback book - holding that small world in your hand makes you feel like you’re somehow more connected to the story. The same goes for playing paper Magic - holding the cards in your hands makes you feel like the main character of the battlefield you're creating, making those stakes raise just a little bit higher.
Most paper Magic players will soon learn it’s important to sleeve your cards to protect them - especially during those animated matches. Sleeving your cards is a whole other relaxing hobby in itself, and it’s a nice way of finalising your spell choices before you test out your deck.
Create Moments Offline
A major aspect of playing Magic in person is making connections and creating memories with friends or family, or even making new friendships at your local Good Games. Because you can see your opponent right there in front of you, you may be more lenient with your plays, especially if you’re playing with a newer Magic player. You have to admit - it becomes a tad harder to destroy an opponent when you can see they’re not having fun.
Paper Magic also offers a raft of opportunities to organise awesome game nights with your friends. Take a draft box for example - these are a great way for you and your fellow wizards to try out a new set or style of play. You all split the cost of the box, organise snacks, and see what weird and wonderful decks you can create!
And if you’re after a real wacky Magic night, Wizards have you covered, with their “What were they thinking?” Un-Sets, creating a whole new way to play the game. Feel like playing a mini game of Magic under the table while the main game continues? No worries! Want to flex your character voice skills to pay 1 less mana for every spell? Easy as. These Un-Sets are really something else, and impossible to recreate in an online Arena landscape.
So, Is Paper Magic OP?
For me it certainly is. What got me hooked onto Magic was how beautiful the cards are, and how much fun it was to actually play a card game again. I didn’t realise it was something I was missing so much - that tactile quality of playing a card game, and having a good ol’ time while creating deeper connections with my loved ones.
On a not-so-deep note, I’m also a lot more excited to deck build and hunt for the right singles when I can actually see and play with the cards in front of me, and create spell threads in a relaxed, non-timed atmosphere. What’s more, those dreary grocery trips have become far more motivating knowing we’ll stop off at our local Good Games to have a browse through the $1 Rare Boxes to find doozies, or stock up on any tokens we’re missing.
If you’ve been secretly wishing more of your friends and family would get into Magic, I believe paper Magic is the way to go. You can start with Core Set Planeswalker decks, offering an easy pathway into becoming a Magic pro at the dinner table or your local Good Games. Or why not simply sit down and show your loved ones your cards one day? You never know - they might just get hooked, and your trusty decks may soon need some revisions to compete with a new threat… If only they didn’t pick Blue!
Cassie Rees is a casual MTG player who loves nothing more than playing a friendly game of Magic with a big cuppa tea while streaming “Miscellaneous Battle Music”. You’ll catch Cassie pouring over the $1 Rare Box at her local Good Games, hunting for unique beauties to slot in her heavily theme-based decks. When she’s not playing Magic, you’ll find her hunting monsters and planting watermelons over at twitch.tv/cassiusaway