On Magic and Trauma

I used to play Magic the Gathering. Stick with me here, we’ll be back to my disjointed ramblings shortly.

If you’re unfamiliar with the card game, you probably didn’t play it in school. If you are, it’s not lame like everybody says it is. Firstly, you play as two powerful wizards engaged in a duel with the elemental forces of nature. Reduce your opponent’s life points from twenty to zero and you win. Compared with groups of sweaty men ramming into each other under racist banners, it’s a hell of a lot more civilized. Secondly, my high school forbade playing cards of any kind, which made us rebels. Not to mention the game promotes reading, mathematics (try counting all the 1/1 squirrel tokens your opponent magically conjured to attack you and making sure it’s all legal and legit) and critical strategy, all components of a functioning adult. So they say.


We also collected them for the articles.

I had built a few decks to play with people. It was a good way for introverts and recluses to actually interact, though too many of them built decks solely to win, and win quickly. The cards all had beautiful art and sometimes a little flavor text that created a wonderful fantasy world. I mostly got into the game to immerse myself in that world, but If a game ends in three turns, it’s not a great distraction. I was going through some personal trauma at the time, which was probably what made me build the most evil deck in all of my collection: My Traumatize Deck.

Look at that guy. Look how much pain he’s in.


What a Traumatize deck does is based on the Traumatize card. The card places half the opponent’s library (or deck) into their graveyard, so they can’t draw from it into their hand. Your library is symbolic of the spells available to you, so losing half of it is a bit like losing your damn mind.

Let me run that by you with my deck. There are sixty cards to a deck, with four copies of the same card allowed besides lands. That gives you some strategy options in how a deck is made. I stocked my deck with four copies of Traumatize, a couple of counterspells, and a smattering of cheap creatures to block for me. The rest of the deck were cards to give me control over the other person’s hand: draw and discards. It’s a well known combo that makes the opponent lose not by life loss, but by putting so much of their deck into the graveyard that they run out of options. Basically, the deck is designed not to kill someone but to drive them fucking insane.

Magic: showing us the miracles of science.

Magic only lets you keep seven cards in hand, so when you make a strategy its with whatever you draw. If your opponent is making you get rid of cards by overflowing your hand or getting rid of the few cards you have, your strategy falls apart pretty quickly. The first cards to go are usually land cards, which give you a power deficit. No lands? No spells. By the time the fifth round rolls around and I can cast Traumatize, they’re too busy rebuilding strategy to care about half their library gone. But keep in mind: there are four copies of Traumatize in my deck. Sixty cards cut in half is thirty, cut in half again is fifteen. Even if you only fire off two Traumatizes, that’s only two hands left in the deck to draw from. Combined with draws and discards, you can control the flow of a game by messing with the opponent’s frame of mind. Not to mention there are a lot of anal-retentive players who will count their library by hand to get rid of exactly half, not realizing the attack is as much in the real world as it is in the game.

Now the deck didn’t always work as well as I hoped. Like I said, lots of players had fast-kill decks. Others had creatures with trample or unblockable, which carries over damage despite blocking. Also, I was a poor kid who couldn’t stock my deck with the cards I needed all the time. I knew a guy who printed copies of his cards and put them into sleeves, technically cheating. Way to stick it to… Wizards of the Coast?  More on that later. But when the deck worked, it was a beautiful thing. A lovely little shank to the ego, so I would try not to do it to my friends. Didn’t try too hard, hehehe.

That’s kind of where I’m headed in today’s rant, because I feel like I am living in a world where one group of people are Traumatizing another. We go to work every day, and we draw a salary. The money is basically our hand of cards. Theoretically we can use it however we want, strategize and improve our lives. But the reality isn’t so kind. Most of it goes to rent, some for necessities, with maybe a little to soothe our sudden and mysterious malaise. Where did all our money go? It’s almost as if somebody is making us Draw and Discard on their whims. Here’s some money in your pocket. Wait, you have to give up something, pick one. Oh, by the way half your savings are gone to medical bills, and you’re not getting it back. No savings? Tough.

The illusion of choice is what I’m getting at here. The people who pay us tell us we have a choice about what we want to do, and how to advance in the world. But let’s be honest, when was the last time your boss needed to choose between food and clothing?

Let’s bring it back to Magic and change the rules a little bit. This is totally unofficial but I encourage you to try this with your friend:

  • Each player draws from the same 60-card Deck.
  • Creatures can be tapped to draw a card in addition to their regular attack, block and abilities.
  • Mana from lands can be shared with the other player, even for the same spell.
  • The deck contains one copy of a token enchantment card that gives one player one life when tapped. No other card may be used to increase life. The casting cost for this card is ten colorless mana. This card will be called Hope.
  • At the end of ten turns, each player loses twenty life. Call it a Meteor.
  • Even if the other player has lost, the other must continue playing and will lose if at any time they lose all their lives.

The way I see it, you have two options: try to kill the other person before the meteor hits and dominate the deck. Or, you can cooperate and have two turns instead of one and double your chance of drawing the Hope card. The fewer attacks you make the better a chance you have of drawing it. The only way you can cast it at all is if you have ten lands and all ten turns to gather mana. If the other person decides to injure you before then, you won’t have enough mana to get to twenty-one life. Or if you don’t work fast enough to have two turns to cast the spell twice. Survival is not guaranteed. You have to cooperate with the other wizard to make sure both of you survive, even if it means trusting the other one not to screw you.

Have you played Magic this way? Good. This is essentially Real Life. That Meteor card is real in the things that are killing us: natural disaster, climate change, Zika, terrorism, simple social degeneration because there’s too much inequality. And the math isn’t just doubling your turns. There are something like 90% of us using the same resources as the 1% of wealthy. Giving some back to us is getting ninety times the chance of success. That’s math you would have known to do if you played Magic in high school.

Remember my friend who printed out his own cards? He was cheating to make up for the fact that he came from a broken household and couldn’t buy Magic cards all the time. The thing I am leaving out is those cards cost a lot of money to collect. A pack today goes for four dollars, which gives you a handful of cards to trade or use. There was an incredible schism between people who played: if you could afford to get packs all the time, you had a better deck. That doesn’t mean you’re a worse player, it means you started off worse than the other person and this real-life hardship leaked into the game. The rules just enforced this inequality.

But what the privileged don’t know is they rely on poor schlubs like me and my friend. We wanted to play. We wanted to play on an equal playing field. We wanted to play for different reasons, not just to win. And they’re missing out on so much enjoyment that comes from playing with us that I wonder if the game was actually worth anything to them. Yet, they were shutting out the people who had something more important to gain.

It’s the same thing in the real world. Give half the poor working schlubs and their kids the option to do what they wanted and I guarantee we would have a cure for cancer pretty quickly. Art nobody has ever seen before. Common-sense solutions for everything from climate change to efficient, safe car parking. Instead, working is often the equivalent of playing Magic with someone who starts with five lands and five creatures ahead of you on turn one. Why are the wealthy screwing over people as if its a duel? Hell, upkeep is a part of Magic’s game rules: you’re supposed to care for the creatures working for you, or they screw you over.

Sometimes this shit was fucking poignant.
Sometimes this shit was fucking poignant.

I look at the people who decide what someone should be paid and what they need to pay in life. And I wonder why they need to Traumatize people. Is it from some sick sadism? Simple greed? Or do they not know what they’re missing? What if the cure for cancer was stuck in the head of a kid stuck in a homeless shelter? What if people stopped seeing people as profit and as human beings?

Really, people. You can fix this. It’s as simple as changing the rules.



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