The incredible true story behind the global gaming phenomenon.
Generation Decks tells the story of the mould-breaking fantasy card game, Magic: The Gathering. The brainchild of misfit maths genius Richard Garfield, Magic combines complex gameplay with collectability. When it came out in 1993 it transformed the lives of quiet braniacs who had longed for a way to connect and compete. It made millionaires of its creators, and it kick-started the era of professional gaming.
Titus Chalk tells the game's story – from its humble origins to its continued success in today's digital age. Prepare to meet Generation Decks, a community like no other.
If you've ever tapped a swamp or bought 20-sided dice for any purpose other than rolling stats in Dungeons & Dragons, you need to read Generation Decks. This unofficial history of Magic: The Gathering chronicles the story of the collectible card game that spawned a thousand imitators. Many have come and gone. Magic is still standing, and Generation Decks leaves nothing to the imagination as it explains the "why" and "how" of the global sensation. – David L. Craddock
"It was a pleasure to read this well researched book and get back in touch with the game design world from the '90s."– Richard Garfield, game designer and creator of Magic: The Gathering
"Who doesn't love a story about small town dreamers who make it big? A gripping tale with a journalistic eye for how fast fortunes, and the world, changes."– Samira Ahmed, culture journalist and presenter of BBC Radio 4's Front Row
"After reading Generation Decks, I fell even more in love with the game."– Jonathan Little, professional poker player and author
It's a Kind of Magic
"So do you wear, you know, a cape or something?" Poppy asks me. "Because I could definitely imagine you doing actual magic. Like tricks and stuff."
Poppy is trying. A great friend, she always forgives me my eccentricities, but this particular pearl is passing her by. Talking to her, I can't help but feel stranded in some humiliating time warp; inside its whirl, I live out the same faintly ridiculous conversation again and again. Yes, I admit, I play a mysterious card game. No, I say, it is not like snap. Yes, I suppose you could call it a cross between stamp collecting and Dungeons & Dragons. No. You're right. Not many girls play it.
The cape question is at least wonderfully leftfield. On a drab winter morning in yet another new and unfamiliar hometown, I'll settle for that. This time it is Berlin. It has been numerous cities and countries before. Various social settings. Different friends. But somehow, always the same unease grips me as the conversation plays out – a sense of never quite knowing if I am happy enough with whom I am to reveal every component of my identity. Never quite knowing how much I want to be defined by belonging to a community. Never wanting to be defined by the judgements others cast on tribes which are not their own.
If you have tried as best as you can to walk your own path, however much of an illusion that may be, it is not trivial to hand the power of sweeping generalisation to someone who may wield it indiscriminately.
Nonetheless, like a recalcitrant alcoholic at an AA meeting, let me begin that conversation all over again. Hello. I'm Titus. And the card game I play is called Magic: The Gathering. Thankfully, I am not alone in this world. Since the game exploded into being in 1993, 20 million fans in 70 different countries have fallen under its spell. We meet in sweaty, poorly lit backrooms to play a fantasy game with special, sometimes valuable, collectible cards. Some of us even make a living out of it, raking in prize money at professional tournaments, writing about the game for its legion of fans, or speculating and trading on the fluctuating value of the cards used to play. Most of us though, just have cupboards full of expensive cardboard to which we feel a puzzling emotional connection. To which we compulsively add via mouse clicks and credit cards when no one is looking. To which our thoughts drift during mundane conversations. And whose infinite possibilities keep us awake at night, making our minds spin and driving us online to play against distant opponents, in far-flung time zones, in an Esperanto of gaming jargon.
Whether I am always comfortable with the notion or not, I belong to a vast and motley crew of Magic players. I have, since picking up the game as a teenager, become part of an 'us' and not simply an observer of 'them'. This has troubled me at times, challenging my perception of myself and picking at my insecurities. I have been forced to wonder what room for friendship and fun my own heaving ego ever leaves me. And yet at the same time, the murk of my own identity has inspired me to write about a hobby that has remained a part of me, even when I have occasionally cast it aside. When I began work on telling this story in late 2012, I did so with the kind of hand-wringing the well-adjusted might scoff at. Was I deranged for caring so much about something I felt an unease at caring about? Could I overcome my own aloofness to tell the story of a game which, I would learn, has affected more than just me down its decades hiding in tatty backpacks on the shoulders of an entire generation? How much did I have in common with that generation? Could I throw my arms around their shoulders with affection, without patronising them? Learn whether I belonged in their ranks? These were the questions I realised I needed to answer for myself as I began to tell the story of a card game, whose resonance goes beyond one conflicted writer and far wider into the outside world than most muggles could ever believe. Not just a game. Not just a business. Not just a community – Magic: The Gathering is an epic story worth sharing. And, like the best of stories, Magic's started a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.