Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reading Log - Deep Magic

As usual, I have a stack of completed books backed up to write about. This one's overdue from the library, though, so it moves to the top of the pile.

Deep Magic is an "advanced" strategy guide for Magic: The Gathering players, published in 1996. This criticism (if it is one) is probably completely unfair, but the book is hopelessly outdated by this point.

At the time that Charles Wolfe and George Baxter wrote this book, there weren't many sources of good information for Magic players who wanted to dig more deeply into the game. There was the official Pocket Player's Guide, published by Wizards of the Coast (pretty much all the players in my area carried a copy), and that was about it. The Internet hadn't become the ubiquitous source of all information that it is today.

Like most serious players, I devoured every bit of Magic theory and analysis that I could find. Duelist, Inquest and Scrye always got pored over, cover to cover (although the last was far more useful as a card price guide than a source of play information). There were a few books published to cash in on the game's growing popularity, and Deep Magic was one of the best-known and most respected.

I actually preferred a larger volume that I seem to remember being called Targan's Tome or somesuch. It had several interesting play variant outlines, including a map-based epic format called Campaign Magic that I never quite got around to trying. It required a lot of commitment from a fairly large play group, which proved impossible to organize. I didn't keep that book, and now I can't seem to find any mentions of it online. Remembering the exact title or author would probably help, but they're lost to me now, the neurons repurposed to the storage of Jerry Reed trivia.

As for the book at hand, which I was surprised to find stocked by my local library system: it was a fine guide at the time, but now reads like a computer magazine from the 1980s (many of which I also re-read occasionally). It seems primitive and shallow by modern standards. For many players at the time, though, this book was their first introduction to "card advantage", here called "card economy" (strategic terminology hadn't stabilized yet).

Far too much of the book is taken up with deck lists, but deck lists were far more highly valued in the days when most players weren't online yet. As Magic made the transition from fad to mature ongoing and evolving hobby, books like this died out. The game is simply too dynamic for a traditional book to address in depth. Magazines took over for a time, only to be supplanted by the Internet.

I took this book from the library because since my wife and I are playing Magic sometimes (although not much lately), I figured I might as well refresh my knowledge. As it turned out, the book was entertaining on a nostalgia level, but for information relevant to the game as played today, I'll stick with my daily visits to the official Wizards website. Their site was recently redesigned, and as far as I can tell pretty much all the readability and utility were deliberately removed. However, if you skip the flash intro page and go straight to the daily article index (which is where I linked above), you can still find some actual content. You just need to work a little harder at it than before the redesign.

As a historical artifact from the long-lost days of twelve years ago, Deep Magic is well worth reading. If you're a relatively new Magic player it's still worth a look, but advanced players are better off sticking to the web these days. It would be interesting to see Wolfe and Baxter publish an updated edition, but since any updated edition would again be obsolete within a few months, it's probably never going to be economically viable.

Some other recently-finished books currently on the Reading Log stack, already read with writeups hopefully coming soon: Cannery Row (John Steinbeck), Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2004, The Lottery (short story collection by Shirley Jackson), Essential Spider-Man Volume 4, The War Against Boys (Christina Hoff Sommers), and a few books by C.S. Lewis. I like to mix things up.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture of my living room floor. And some wrapping paper and a foot (perhaps just-unwrapped).

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