How I got into Magic: The Gathering… by Ru Macdonald

M14 Sealed Pre-release Event & Deck Tech and Set Observations by Ruairidh Macdonald

How I got into Magic: The Gathering…

My flatmate Andy and I were introduced to the game by my friend Larry. He sleeved up a 40 card casual deck for each colour and gifted them upon us. Each one had no duplicates, were relatively simple and designed to illustrate the flavour and mechanics of that colour.

Magic the Gathering starter decks casual

We had a few games with Larry to learn the ropes and took to it immediately. I had enjoyed playing Pokemon when I was a child, and was keen to get stuck into what seemed to be a strict upgrade in card game quality.

Before long we were clumsily dueling each other within the safety of our own humble abode. The decks were relatively balanced, or so Larry told us. However, I recall how unfair it felt when the Green deck played Tornado Elemental onto my board of White weenie-esque flyers.

Cephalid RetainerOur poor knowledge of the rules led to us hitting the internet for answers often. During our ‘training’ sessions I had seen Larry use Cephalid Retainer to great effect. Later when I was trying to replicate this kind of controlling element my flatmate could not believe the card could do such a thing ‘at instant speed’. That’s blue baby!

Similarly, Anaba Shaman proved to be pretty nifty in our clogged up scared-to-attack board states.

After a week or so of this Larry paid us a visit – with three carrier bags* full of magic cards. A new chapter of the Magic world opened up to us!

Card sorting.

I could pretend that this is a mundane, monotonous chore fit only to rival paint drying, but it simply is not true. It’s awesome! Every card turned over revealed a new mechanic or creature type. All begging to be tried and tested (and found not wanting hopefully).

*Not really the most effective card transporting receptacle, but I doubt I pointed this out at the time, plus its what we all do!

Next stop for the Magic express – deck building. My favourite element of Magic the Gathering. It is like a mini game that is required to play a match, that takes around 10 times as long as the match it’s designed for. It is riddle solving, puzzle crunching, odds and percentages, gut feelings and card research.

In the beginning it was taking the best looking Black cards and sleeving them up with some Swamps.

Okay, it was not that rudimentary. I had instilled a sort of curve, aura theme and had no more than 60 cards. A damn good start I feel!

All my early ‘decks’ came into being at a silly whim. There was the Haste deck (all the creatures I had with haste) that proved to be pretty aggressive unsurprisingly. A domain deck that existed purely to allow me to cast the 3+ multi-coloured creatures and spells I owned that would have remained forlornly on the bench otherwise. Another was simply an ‘artifact’ deck, with an affinity base theme and all the semi-good artifacts I could find lying around.

Selesnya United DeckTo put things into perspective, Ravnica had just came out. I know this because Andy bought the Selesnya United tokens deck and 4x Glare of Subdual from Static Games, Glasgow.

Without any access to sweepers in our card pool, flooding the board with creatures was a pretty effective strategy, much like pauper. Coupled with Glare of Subdual (the balanced-ish Opposition) I found myself repeatedly playing against this tough-to-beat deck and learned that my only chance was to destroy Glare of Subdual immediately.

Thus, I learnt about sideboarding, in a manner of speaking. I recognised that the inclusion of a niche card like Disenchant made the match up a lot easier.

Generally though, Casual decks do not run sideboards. Instead, they meta-evolve. Seeing as he only had the one deck, it then meant that all my decks gained the necessity and ability to destroy artifacts and enchantments.

I continued to gain interest in the game and started scouring Gatherer for missing pieces to go in my decks. The decks I created started to have some more involved synergies.

The first deck I remember as being consistent was an Izzet counter-burn deck built around Wee Dragonauts, Gelectrode and a ton of instants. Next up was a Dimir Madness Ninja deck revolving around Looter-il Kor. Then a Golgari rock-ish deck led by Savra, Queen of the Golagri. Ravnica was a really good sandpit with built in deck ideas available in all the guilds.


After a few years I found myself with waaay too many cards, and most of them rubbish. I did a bulk sale of cards on eBay and felt fine about the whole thing, for a while. I’m not 100% sure, but I think I got rid of a Dark Confidant.

I remember seeing the card early on in my Magic life and thinking “That can’t be worth it. He does me damage!” I really hope that it was just someone else’s card that I saw, or possibly online, but I have an ominous feeling that I bulk sold one of the best creatures of all time.

Other highlights that have been undervalued and chucked in with a bulk sale are Aether Vial and a shiny Treachery. What is embarrassing is that I was a bit more clued up when I got rid of these. I noted that Aether Vial seemed like a really cool and possibly powerful card, but it was just uncommon and I could surely just buy four if I ever needed them. The same logic was cast upon Treachery.

What a fool.

foil mtg Treachery

During the early days my friend Iain was a regular and welcome player. He was an experienced magic player, like Larry, but leaned towards slightly fairer decks. Amongst these I remember him playing infinite combos, millions of squirrels, Shahrazad loops and Tolarian Academy. This is possibly a telling statement of how unfair Larry’s decks are be comparison.

This was all in Glasgow, but after a year or so of this Magic honeymoon phase I moved to Aberdeen. What would become of this fatal attraction addiction? I brought the gospel to my fellow Aberdonian man. I started with my best mate from School, Paul.

Pokemon Wallpaper

We used to play Pokemon together when we were young and so he made the jump pretty easily. Curiously, his brother and he technically used to play Magic when they were kids. They had a small pile of cards and an even smaller pile of rules. When they had tried to show me they game, I concluded that it was rubbish and we should stick to Pokemon!

Years later I return to them bearing the same game they had once tried to show me. In my defence, they did not know you can only play one land per turn (shh Summer Bloom) and had no idea what to do during combat.

I recruited, and I recruited hard. It was not long before I had managed to get eight friends on board the Magic ship, but after a couple of awkward games and an explanation of ‘the stack’ that number dwindled down to two.

Paul and my friend Fyvie being the only ones with enough steel to continue through the Searing Wind that is ‘learning Magic’. It may or may not also have something to do with the fact that they were the only ones to have previously played a similar kind of game.

Later on our playgroup was blessed with a 4th player – Chris, who picked up the game faster than a cheetah with a jet pack.

cheetah on rocket

Casual‘ is such a strange format. It encompasses all cards, though we played with a restricted list similar to that of Vintage. The decks are less competitive and are able to take on more off-the-wall combos or themes. Without sideboards and a vast meta of different decks to face, our decks would often be swiss army knife designed.

Ready to take on any terrible situation our opponents have in store for us. The power level can still be pretty high though due to having access to such a vast selection of cards. Additionally, you never know what could be in your opponents deck. Unlike in a Legacy tournament where one can identify what deck they are playing against within the first two land drops (or so I am told).

Just recently I moved back to Glasgow with the intention of becoming a full-time hobo. I wish that had been my intention, because at least that means things would have been going right. On the contrary, I was seeking work as a Mechanical Engineer which took longer than I had hoped/anticipated. Thankfully that has come true now, but enough of that. The real agenda for moving to Glasgow – to get involved in the competitive Magic scene! There is not one in Aberdeen, and there is in Glasgow. Easy decision.

Spellbound Games Glasgow


You can join the Spellbound Game (based in Glasgow) Facebook group here.

That brings us up to date! I haven’t played that much recently due to an issue with money (I do not have any), but will be getting stuck into some tournaments come New Year. I had started writing this article as a show case for four of my more interesting Casual decks, but got carried away with the foreplay. Expect a separate article on those soon.

How did you get into Magic: The Gathering?

Till next time nerds!



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