In the 90s, there was a company called Wizards of the Coast who put out the playable fantasy trading card game Magic the Gathering. The designer of the game was a mathematician by the name of Richard Garfield.

The basic premise was that you were a wizard and your deck of cards was a book of spells and artifacts. An enemy player would challenge you to a duel and you would both shuffle your respective decks and draw cards off the top for your hand. You could cast spells from your hand to damage your opponent, or summon creatures to attack opponent or enhance your creatures or do a myriad of things. You could take 20 points of damage and whoever reached zero first would be the loser.

The remarkable thing about the game, other than its incredible popularity, was its flexibility. All kinds of odd strategies evolved as players used cards in combination to achieve results the original designers of the cards probably did not forsee. Deck construction became a fine art of selecting cards. Because the cards are shuffled, you have to take into account the probability of the certain cards turning up. If you try and cover too many contingencies, you would have a very thick deck of cards, and the wait time for a particular card could be long. If you have a very focused and thin deck, your expected wait time would be short, but so would your list of options.

For example, if you have a deck geared towards summoning trolls, giants and other creatures to pummel your opponent to death, but your opponent has a deck full of spells to paralyze or disable creatures in addition to a few bolts of lightning to directly zap you, you are going to be slowly zapped to death. Your hand will likely be filled with creatures to summon and his hand will likely be filled with paralysis spells. As you summon creatures he paralyzes them and waits for a lightning bolt spell to be drawn to zap you. If you slipped in 2 healing cards in a 80 card deck otherwise devoted to monsters, and your opponent had 8 lightning bolts and fireballs in a 60 card deck otherwise devoted to paralyzing monsters, you would likely be the eventual loser in this war of attrition.

An entire tournament structure blossomed regionally and nationally around MTG.

The cards were sold in sealed random packs like other collectible cards and had different print frequencies (ie rarity) for each card. The rare and particularly useful cards become extremely valuable, both for winning at tournaments.

It has been 15 or more years since I've played MTG, but I see on ebay that the most valuable cards have held their value of a few hundreds of dollars. The fantasy playing card market is far less lucrative than the collectible sports card market.  


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