Game Analysis: Magic The Gathering


Magic The Gathering is a trading card game loved by both casual players and competitive players for it’s unique and original gameplay.

Game Play Analysis

Formal Elements

The Basics

Name of the game Magic the Gathering (specifically the EDH format, also called Commander)
The platform Played in person with real cards or an online platform that is designed to mimic real gameplay (MTG Arena,, Tabletop Simulator…)
Time played (should be at least 30 minutes) learned about it for the first time in 9th grade, attempted to play it in 10th, really got into it only recently (after the pandemic)
If you could work on this game (change it), what would you change and why? Balancing and the cost to play

A lot of cards are banned because it’s too OP in some formats. I don’t enjoy the idea that some cards were printed with the thought of it being banned, or that something exists and I can’t play it.

Regarding prices, Magic cards can be VERY expensive. When a player makes a deck they want certain things in it, to have it perform the best it can. Prices are determined by how rare it is (supply), and how good it performs, and thus how many people want it (demand). card power and price somewhat go hand-in-hand, which is very disappointing, considering that my EDH deck is about $235 right now.


How many players are supported? 2+ (but usually no more than 4 because individual turns take time)
Does it need to be an exact number? 2 players or more is the exact number requirement since it’s a game that revolves around player combat.
How does this affect play? with 2 players it would be head-to-head. anything more than 2 would have the concept of ‘group play’, as EDH is a social format. Things like bargains, trades, and collaboration and begging that one player to not kill you will take place.

In the end, however, the goal is to eliminate everyone and land the first place.

Some types of player frameworks:

  • Single Player – like Solitare.
  • Head-to-head – 1 vs. 1, Chess.
  • PvE – Player vs. Environment, or multiple players vs. the game. Common in MMOs like World of Warcraft.
  • One against Many – Single-player vs. multiple (obvy).
  • Free-for-all – Every man for himself (1 vs. 1 vs. 1 vs. 1..). Most common for multiplayer games, from Monopoly to Modern Warfare.
  • Individuals Against the System – Like Blackjack, where the Dealer is playing against multiple players, but those players have no effect on each other.
  • Team Competition – Multiple vs. multiple, i.e. sports.
  • Predator-prey – Players form a circle and everyone’s goal is to attack the player on their left and defend themselves from the player on their right.
  • Five-pointed Star – Eliminate both players who are not on either side of you.


What are the players trying to do? grow their ‘army’ to damage the opponent players to win the game
Some common objectives include:

  • Capture/Destroy – Eliminate all your opponents pieces (Chess).
  • Territorial Acquisition – Control as much territory as you can, not necessarily harming other players (RISK).
  • Collection – Collect a certain number of objects throughout the game (Pokemon).
  • Solve – Solve a puzzle or crime (Clue).
  • Chase/race/escape – Anything where you are running towards or away from something (playground game Tag).
  • Spatial Alignment – Anything involving the positioning of elements (Tetris or Tic-Tac-Toe or that game at Cracker Barrel).
  • Build – Advance your characters or build your resources to a certain point (The Sims).
  • Negation of another goal – The game ends if you perform an act that is forbidden by the rules (Jenga or Twister).


There are three categories of (what the book Rules of Play calls) operational rules:

  • Setup – the things you do at the beginning of a game.
  • Progression of Play – what happens during the game.
  • Resolution – How an outcome is determined based on the game state.


What controls are used? real-life hands (?)
Was there a clear introductory tutorial? somewhat, as something called ‘starter decks’ exists to teach the basic rules, such as upkeep, abilities, combats, etc.

Tutorials almost always rely on friends teaching one another, as it’s a TCG rather than a downloadable game.

Were they easy to understand or did you find yourself spamming the controller? inapplicable.

Resources & Resource Management

What kinds of resources do players control? Life (HP), Mana, cards in your hand/field (some are also RNG based as well)
How are they maintained during play? on the board (and in your hand) in your view
What is their role? to make the game fair for everyone and provide decently fast-paced gameplay.
A resource is everything under the control of a single player. Could be the money in Monopoly or health in WoW. Other examples are:

  • Territory in RISK The number of questions remaining in 20 Questions Objects picked up during videogames (guns, health packs, etc.)
  • Time (game time, real-time, or both)
  • Known information (like suspects in Clue)

Game State

How much information in the game state is visible to the player? every card on the field, for both the opponent and the player

cards in the player’s hand (the opponent can’t see this- same for their hand as well, but you can count the number of cards they have in their hand)

life total for both players

amount of cards in your/the opponent’s library (you can legally count them, nobody will stop you)

cards already used (graveyard and exile)

A snapshot of the game at a single point is the game state. The resources you have, the un-owned properties in Monopoly, your opponent’s Archery skill all count towards the game state. Some example information structures are:

  • Total Information – Nothing is hidden, like Chess.
  • Info per player – Your hand of cards is only visible to you.
  • One player has privileged info – Like a Dungeon Master.
  • The game hides info from all players – Like Clue, where no one knows the victory condition.
  • Fog of War – In video games, where certain sections of the map are concealed if you do not have a unit in sight range of that area. You also cannot see other players’ screens, so each player is unaware of the other’s information.


In what order do players take their actions? the initial method of deciding for turns is dice rolling. whoever gets the highest roll gets to choose who goes first (in 1v1, the player that goes first doesn’t get to draw a card for their first turn)

individual turns are organized in phases:

beginning (untap lands and creatures, draw a card)

main phase (play a land, cast creatures/sorceries)

combat phase (declare attackers, opponent declares blockers, the damage is dealt. This is skipped if you don’t declare attackers.)

2nd main phase (play a land if you haven’t already, cast creatures/sorceries)

end (creatures all regain full health, passes your turn to the opponent)

How does play flow from one action to another? one player holds the ‘authority’ every turn, and the other player is set to be playing reactive (declaring blockers and casting instants, which can be done any time).

however, in the grand view of the whole game, one player will outpower the other in a snapshot, due to factors such as more game knowledge/better strategic gameplay, better deck, or plain better luck.

Some structures include:

  • Turn-based – Standard board game technique.
  • Turn-based with simultaneous play – where everyone takes their turn at the same time (like writing something down or putting a card down in War).
  • Real-time – Actions happen as fast as players can make them. Action-based video games.
  • Turn-based and time limits – You have this long to take your turn.

Player Interaction

Some examples:

  • Direct Conflict – I attack you.
  • Negotiation – If you support me here, I’ll help you there.
  • Trading – I’ll give you this for that.
  • Information Sharing – If you go there, I’m warning you, a trap will go off.

Theme & Narrative

Does it have an actual story structure? Yes, but that isn’t exactly important to enjoying the game. Stories show up as snippets on the flavor text, or card title/ability fitting a certain story theme.
Is it based on a historical event (or similar)? not that I know of.
Does the theme or narrative help you know how to play? A good example of this is the Ravnica block, where there were ‘guilds’ in a single realm that were representatives of magic’s different duo-colors (Magic is comprised of 5 colors total, often called the color wheel).

for example, the Dimir guild from Ravnica is blue-black, which is a set of colors to be knowledge(blue) and amorality(black) in the history of MtG. this is represented by the ability ‘Mill‘, which puts cards directly into the player’s library(knowledge base) to the graveyard(death and ruthlessness).

Does it have emotional impacts? It feels good to win, or when the deck you’ve built is proving itself to be viable.

A social game with a 2+ player group is fun of itself, as it’s also enjoying the company of others while playing a fun card game.

Also, look for en media res (does it start in the middle of the game)? If the player dies, they’re dead.

The Elements in Motion

How do the different elements interact? mana can be used to cast all the other spells.

you and the opponent’s creature can deal damage to each other.

some cards erase target specific card types from the field.

sorceries/instants can grand temporary advantages, card draws, or other effects that alter the game’s state.


What is the gameplay like? taking your turn, pass it to the opponent, hope he doesn’t wreck your board, and also wait for him to either attack or pass his turn to you
Is it effective? it’s quite fun, especially since you can also take conversations while playing as well.
Are there any points where the design choices break down? the turn system is solid.

card effects on each other, though, can get very messy and uncoordinated.

Design Critique

Why did the designer make these particular choices? It’s a basic TCG game that allows you to fight your friends.
Why this set of resources? all the resources begin at the same amount for all players. it limits the actions while being fair.
What if they made different decisions? the landscape of the TCG genre wouldn’t be the same, as MtG is the precursor to all the TCGs out there.
Does the design break down at any point? A deck can be made that gains infinite of something, which definitely can break the game.

Graphics & Sound

Does the game art pair well with the mechanics? The game is full of, well, magic. The story itself is set in a high fantasy world, and the game art resembles the serious arts from fantasy RPGs (or D&D).
Did you find any bugs or glitches? inapplicable
What about sound? inapplicable
Can you spot any technical shortcuts? balancing issue is definitely a shortcoming by the developers/card designers, although it’s understandable since MtG has over 20,000 unique cards (that’s including fillers that have no ability).

Various Stages of the Game

To wrap up, some things to keep in mind (as if there aren’t enough already) as you play: there are a LOT of deck types, so don’t judge the opponent’s deck  by the first 5 cards they pull out (honestly, ask, it’s considered to be rude to lie to someone about how your deck works)

it’s expensive to play in person with physical cards, but it’s much cheaper to play online (it’s free for!)

What challenges do you face, and how do you overcome them? the opponent/by tactically playing the game (what cards you put on the field, what instants/sorceries you use)
Is the game fair? it starts off fair but definitely leans towards one player based on their luck and/or their play.
Is it replayable? Are there multiple paths to victory or optional rules that can change the experience? replayability depends on the deck you’ve built and the opponent you’re fighting against. a magic player isn’t limited to a single deck, so it is replayable.

There aren’t multiple paths to victory unless you employ cards that has the text ‘__ you win the game’ (like this card).

What is the intended audience? TCG players
What is the core, the one thing you do over and over, and is it fun? taking your turn(listed out above) is the core of the game.

the turn entirely depends on your deck’s functionality and who the opponent is, so it’s not repetitive.

This analysis form was adapted from



Mr. Le Duc’s Game Analysis Resources

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