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Gaming The System

Magic: The Gathering. It’s a card game. It’s a collecting game. For a time it was quite the thing for some people. Here’s how it works: you buy an enormous amount of cards and cherry pick the ones that will build a good card deck to fight your human opponents. There’s an additional twist in that when the game creators realize they made a card too powerful, they stop printing it, but if you have one it’s still legal to play in the game.

So, if you’re me in the Technical Support Department of Network Computing Devices here in Oregon and you’re confronted with a set of realities. As a temp you’re getting $8.50/hr and your opponents are on salary, and half of them were moved up from SF and thus are getting paid twice what the local hires get. And they want to play this Magic fantasy card game. Ok, that’s fun, but it doesn’t take many mentons to figure out that it’s a money game. Do you have the money to have the cards?

So what’s so special about these cards anyway? Well, nothing really. It’s a piece of paper with a nice image, a name and some stats on how that card can be used to affect the gameplay. And that’s it.

Having the right cards is a money game. If you have the money, you buy the cards. At least that’s what my co-workers were doing. What if you don’t have the money? Well, take out the middle-man. Recognizing it was a fool’s errand to compete with players who used cards that weren’t even printed any more we simply … made our own cards. Starting with a generic blank card, we filled in an amusing image and game-correct stats and off I went.

When I introduced this, the shock from the other players was … predictable. With the undercurrents of “How can you have six of this card I paid $50 for on ebay to get one?!?!” How indeed? After the initial shock (including discovering that they thought I was consultant getting paid more than them instead of the exact opposite) they verified that my cards were 100% game-rules correct and we played.

Did I win many games? I did OK, but the enduring fun is the artwork we created for these cards and the pleasure of knowing we came up with a Kobayashi Maru solution to an impossible problem.