Can a competitive card game also be a form of personal expression? Magic: The Gathering, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018, has pioneered a successful gaming concept on the idea.
Magic, for the uninitiated, challenges rivals to defeat each other in a round of eldritch fantasy combat represented by competing decks of cards. What made Magic unusual so many years ago was that players did not all have the same decks and the same cards. They purchased or otherwise obtained packs of randomized cards and built personalized decks.
Do you prefer to beat your opponents with an army of goblins and dragons? Strike them down with fire and lightning magic? Manipulate them with powerful enchanted artifacts? Your carefully curated deck determined the path to victory.
Magic was an instant hit, and new sets of cards have been released every year. There's a robust secondary market for individual cards for collectors, just like with baseball trading cards. Some early ones are worth thousands of dollars.
Magic's success launched an entire card game genre, and it persists as the godfather of that game style. To celebrate its anniversary, the latest collection, titled "Dominaria," returns to the fantasy locations of the game's roots, bringing back several popular characters that haven't been seen in years.
Virtual versions of collectible card games, such as Hearthstone (based on the popular video game World of Warcraft), have taken off in recent years. Magic has one well-used workmanlike version of an online system and has frequently made other attempts to penetrate this market, usually unsuccessfully. But the publisher is now pushing further into the free-to-play market by beta testing a new digital platform called Magic: The Gathering Arena. Gamers can earn new cards through daily play. But the magic of the original physical cards persists even in the virtual age.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Magic: The Gathering".