"You play Magic? Oh, you poor thing. Here, have a beer."

- Some bloke whose name I can't remember but who had snaggly teeth, at the King's College London gaming society when I went there to have a look around, 2004.

When I was a teenager, I was a hopeless addict of the cardboard crack. I was a tournament player. Nothing major, mainly local stuff in and around my hometown, but I did okay at it. I still have my DCI membership card in my wallet somewhere, where it's been entrenched for over 10 years now. I had mountains of the wee buggers. There were the infamous ringbinders with those nine-pocket double-sided plastic sheets in, for cataloguing one's cards in a given set. I had 4 of those. Got them when I started doing well enough in tournaments to win prizes (usually booster packs, WOTC frowning upon cash prizes other than in the very top level of tournament play, given that in the game's early days they'd run afoul of gambling laws in the US with the ante mechanic) and I was in a bit of a nerd cockfight with a lad called Richard to gather entire sets. I had most of Mirrodin, Darksteel, Fifth Dawn, and Champions of Kamigawa in those binders (those being the sets that were current when I was a tournament player). Then I had a "long box" - that's one of those corrugated cardboard constructions which is exactly one card high and one card wide, but about eighteen inches long. That I used to store all my lands (given that all basic lands from every set, ever, are legal in all tournaments, I used to try to have every land I played have different art.) Then there was the shoebox, a literal shoebox, with all my other stuff in it. Then there was the paraphernalia. Card condoms (sleeves) - highly necessary for tournament play unless all your cards are mint, or some chancer would claim that you'd deliberately scuffed your most played cards and try to get you disqualified for playing with a marked deck. Tins to put the sleeved decks in. A twenty sided die for tracking your life total. Rulebooks, rulesheets, and the other promotional cruft that accumulated. Yeah.

And it is cardboard crack. And like with ordinary crack, you never get into it yourself, you always have someone who introduces you. I first got into it aged 13, in around 1999, when I was in detention or something and the teacher was kind of wandering off for whatever reason. Anyhow, he got out his deck and showed me how it all worked. Had a few goes. Seemed like a fun game. So I got myself a Fifth Edition starter deck and off I went.

And got slaughtered, repeatedly, with my attempts at collecting, constructing, and similar. Quite a few other people played. Actually, loads of people played, let's be honest, who you wouldn't otherwise expect. However, I gradually learnt how to build a deck properly. Consistency. The mana curve. Land distribution. The concept of card advantage. How to shuffle in such a way that you don't end up with all your lands clumped at the arse end of the deck. It took a while - several years, even, because between the ages of 14 and 16 most of us lads were more preoccupied with lying about how much fanny they were getting - but then it clicked. I finally got together a tournament-worthy deck. Oddly enough, for someone who gravitated towards blue and black and tricksy little spells, it was a green-red creature deck. It relied on basically keeping the board free of artifacts and both being able to outnumber the opponent while at the same time not allowing the board to get too full. This was around 2003 or so. I had a short run of tournament play with my beastie deck and did respectably with it but not spectacularly (I recall some annoying spoilt brat who downloaded a Ravager Affinity deck off the internets used to be my nemesis and beat me too much for comfort.)

Then I went to university and nobody there really played. I joined the gaming society and had about two, possibly three games in between Dungeons & Dragons sessions, which I lost interest in due to having absolutely no interest in the then shiny and new Eberron campaign setting which I never really got captivated by.

I had a few games with the boyfriend of my next door neighbour, who refused to play me once I unveiled an experimental deck I'd put together shortly before going up to college which revolved around abusing a card called Shared Fate. This card basically forced the players to swap decks mid-game. I'd rush to dig it up and cast it, then reveal to the opponent that in the deck there was absolutely no cards capable of triggering any of the game's win conditions and then bank on their resignation.

Many years later I had a few drunken rounds with a Canadian housemate called Scott, and I resolved to dig out my old cardboard crack again, but that never came to be. For reasons I know not.

I did contemplate getting back into the game regularly, but decided against it. The game looks so radically different now than when I was playing. There's an ongoing fetish for keyword abilities to cover just about every situation. That, and the fact that my preferred style of play (strategic, board-controlling) doesn't look very in vogue from what I've seen of current sets. They keep changing settings far too often as well. I also don't have time to spend ages bolting together a deck and then reworking it and testing it and reading endless articles on the metagame and all that.

That being said, I would be tempted to have a go at sealed deck or the other "pick up and play" type formats.

(IRON NODER 8, 2 of 30)