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Appearing in 1993 from game publisher Wizards of the Coast, Magic The Gathering was the first of what would come to be known as "collectible card games." Although now commonly imitated, at the time Magic represented a novel synthesis of role playing game, strategy game, and traditional card game. Magic follows a modestly elaborate set of rules to enable two or more players to take on the roles of wizards engaged in battle. Magic is played entirely with the cards; no additional equipment is required.
Although primarily intended as a game (and marketed as such), the format of Magic creates a rich environment for the trading card collector. Not only are some cards more scarce than others, some cards are inherently more desirable for game play than others. The elaborately illustrated cards have different characteristics in the game. Spell cards are used to create the game's actions, causing short term and long term effects and summoning creatures to battle on behalf of the player. Mana cards provide the energy needed to cast the spells. A proper balance of cards is necessary for winning play. In addition, the cards come in five different colors, each of which correspond to a different category of mana or land type: plains, island, swamp, mountain, and forest. Usually a spell card requires a mana card of the correct color.
Players of Magic seek to build a deck of cards which enables them to pursue a particular strategy. Additionally players seek cards to experiment with new strategies and to assemble ad hoc decks to counter other players with known (or suspected) strategies. In typical rules, a deck has a minimum of 60 cards.
More than 8,400 card have been created since production began. There is intentional variation in the number of cards printed. The scarcity of Magic cards is normally classified using the terms common, uncommon or rare. In addition to the normal production cards, there are promotional and beta cards that have made their way into collectors' hands. Wizards of the Coast does have a reprint policy which governs the circumstances under which older cards will be reprinted and names certain cards that are unavailable to be printed again. First available only in English, Magic cards are now printed in Simplified Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Cards are available in fifteen-card Booster Packs or forty five-card Tournament Packs, as well as the significantly larger Core Sets and Expansion Sets which contain hundreds of cards. Used cards are available from dealers and are also quite plentiful in online auctions. Except in rare cases of special promotional items, these aftermarket cards are not particularly expensive running from a few cents to about $20.
It is certainly too early to determine where Magic cards will ultimately fit into the collectibles marketplace. If the game were to lose popularity, the cards' valuations would lose some of the underlying demand support of active gamers looking to improve their decks. The opposite scenario is of course equally likely - a surge in popularity of the game could create a corresponding short or long-term increase in the demand on the market and push prices up.
Regardless, Magic The Gathering cards are great collectibles. Existing storage and display systems for other trading cards can be used for Magic. They are well made and attractive, widely available both new and used, and make an excellent addition to an existing card collection.