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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Wizards of the Coast

I’m sure you’ve seen them.  Hunkered down in dorm rooms, in their parents basement, in comic book shops, in the break room at work, twitching while they shuffle their cards, eyes searching for the next great combo.  Their hands periodically flash a card and they exchange libraries of strange sounding terminology and definitions.  Maybe you though it was a cult.  Maybe you were right.

In the years since its launch, Magic the Gathering has grown into the epitome of cultural phenomenon.  With an estimated fan base of around seven million active players from fifty-two countries, Magic is everywhere.  Lest you thing Magic the Gathering is confined to junior-high-school playgrounds, think again.  With a worldwide tournament schedule that includes a 1.5 million-dollar pro tour and a yearly world championship tournament with a $250, 000 purse, the stakes are high and the competition is intense.

I’ve always loves games. All of them, but strategy games most of all. I think I’ve played almost all of them, and only a couple stick out in my mind as truly worthy of pursuit. When I was a kid I played a lot of chess, and as an adult I play a lot less chess but it’s still an amazing game.  Their comes a time in chess where you hit the wall of your natural aptitude and in order to improve you’re going to have to study the game.  No matter how much you love the game, spending three hours a day memorizing different lines from Bobby Fishers poisoned pawn or the Kasparov system of the King’s Indian defense is going to get old sooner or later.  Probably sooner. 

The other truly great strategy game I’ve come across is Magic: The Gathering. It’s a lot like chess, except you get to decide which pieces you want to bring to the match.  And there are thousands of different pieces to choose from.  Add in a hefty dose of strategy, some random chance, and all the skills that make poker worth playing, and you have a game that almost defies explanation and becomes the unlikely hero of gaming fans across the world.  Like chess, Magic requires its masters to understand a host of strategic principles in order to win.  Unlike chess, memorization and evaluation of a position will take you nowhere.  The emphasis is on analytic thinking.  Before the tournament even starts you must consider how to combine various effects and cards to produce a greater effect than the sum total of all cards taken individually.  During the game you have to take ‘em as they come.  Even the best-laid plans will find unforeseen obstacles. Sometimes you won’t have an answer, sometimes you can stall and hope you find one.  Sometimes you have the perfect answer but you hold it, drawing your opponent out further and further till—thwak game over.  They never saw it coming.  You have to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

In an effort to keep the game fresh and exciting, Wizards of the Coast releases periodic expansion to the Magic universe.  Some are excellent, some are only pretty good.  Their newest expansion, Invasion, happens to be awesome—It’s one of the best ever released.

Invasion sports a lot of new features never seen before.  Some new cards now have a kicker, an optional casting cost that can boost the effect of a card later in the game, at the cost of a slightly less effective cost early in the game.  In addition, the new set also introduces the split card, a card with two mini cards printed on each card.   Each half is less effective then a comparable spell would be, but the added flexibility of having two choices of which card to take can more than make up for the deficiency.

Dual lands also make their triumphant return to Magic the gathering.   This time only in allied colors, and they have the drawback of coming into play tapped, but still an amazing boon to multicolored decks.  And multicolored is what it’s all about in invasion, with dual lands, and hordes of new artifact mana and creature mana, it’s easier to play multiple colors now then at any time since Unlimited.  So easy, in fact, that the single color decks will most likely become obsolete, as they should be, and give way to three, four, and even five colored decks.  It’s pretty wild.  A five colored deck in tournament play would have been laughable a month ago, but with Invasion I guarantee you it will happen.

Legends have returned, including those extraordinarily powerful dragon legends, only unlike the ones that were printed in the Legends expansion set, these dragons are actually playable.  Gold cards have also returned in Invasion, and they’ve returned in massive numbers.  Only unlike most of the gold cards that have been printed throughout Magic history, these gold cards don’t suck.  These gold cards are not only some of the best in the set, they’re also some of the best in print, and maybe some of the coolest cards ever made-- which is yet another reason why three and four color decks will see a surge in popularity.

Trust me on this one.  Invasion is an awesome set, and a welcome sight after the adequate, but rather prosaic Mercadian Masques block cycle and the disappointingly shallow Prophecy expansion set.  Invasion delivers with ingenuity and style, and the Standard tournament cycle is about to take a decidedly cool turn.  If you’re a Magic fan or have been thinking about giving it a whirl, this is a can’t miss set.  The Invasion block cycle will be completed with the release of Odyssey in October of 2001, Vendetta in February of 2002, and Judgment in June 2002.

--Jeff Luther