Join us as we conclude with part 2 in this series on Magic Culture. Part one can be found here.



Throughout nine sessions of participant observation at Goldfinger’s, roughly eight at the college campus, four sessions outside of strictly playing Magic, and four interviews, I got to know my subjects relatively well and accomplished a great deal of research. Though I feel that I could study this subculture for several years, I was able to collect enough data to satisfy my original research questions.

The homogeneity of Magicians was examined at each site and in between the sites. Demographically speaking, there was a smaller range than anticipated. At each site, there was one regular female attendee besides myself. At the university, the guys were clustered around the age of 20, as was expected for a college campus. Most of the subjects were white or European American. One Hispanic male, one Caucasian female, and one Native American male were semi-regular, and the other regulars were white males in their early twenties. However, their interests outside of Magic were widely varied. Certain shared traits seemed to be indicative of a homogeneous college-boy culture rather than homogeneous Magic culture, such as a shared appreciation of crude and politically incorrect humor. Among the majors represented were: Criminal Justice, Accounting, Anthropology, Information Services, and Education. Two were employed, one makes money selling and trading cards, at least one lives off of his parents, several were currently unemployed.

At Goldfinger’s, the ages were much more spread out, the youngest regular being 17, and the oldest two were 49 and 45, but the racial diversity was roughly the same. One Caucasian female, one Asian male and the rest were European American males. Some had very good jobs, in marketing and computer/information science. Some worked at Goldfinger’s while one worked at a gas station and part-time at the Renaissance Festival. Most were socially apt, easily able to fit into society. All engaged in at least mildly amiable conversation with opponents and friends.

Mike and Nick both pointed out that if a player isn’t conversant and clearly having fun, it’s more difficult for other people to approach them. Connor (04/7/11), when asked about the draw of the game, responded, “Oh, it’s the people! Definitely the people, I wouldn’t play at all if it weren’t for the interaction. I mean, I met all of these guys through Magic”. When I asked Nick (03/31/11) what kept him playing the game, he said, “for the most part it’s the people…and it’s free.” The most frequented shops for tournaments are those that are more informal and allow observers to stick around and chat during game-play, or start their own games on the sidelines.

Each of my informants actively pursues time with other Magic players outside of playing Magic. Indiana plays tennis and goes to bars with his Magic friends, Connor and Nick play video games and hang out with the guys on and off campus. Mike invites players out to movies and to get food. The level of financial investment also varies within and between the groups. To participate in the draft at Goldfinger’s, each player must pay an entry fee equal to the price of three 15-card booster packs, so they must buy cards every week if they continue to play the draft (a spontaneous deck-building tournament in which players receive new cards from unopened packs). Aside from that fixed cost, Mike buys no cards. On the other end, Indiana buys a lot of cards but because of his trading-card business, he is able to write off the cost as a business expense. Others buy boxes of 36 booster packs once a month or single booster packs once a week.

The amount of paraphernalia available for purchase is frankly astounding. There are several types of dice (to keep track of your life total and counters within the game – $18 a box), packs of card sleeves or deck protectors (to eliminate the possibility of marked cards and to protect them – $5 to $9 a set), deck boxes, trading folders and trading sheets, along with various types of tokens, markers, and counters. Some of the players I know have three or five boxes of dice, set aside for various uses in the game while Nick only has five individual dice. Acting as a trading facilitator for the college group, Nick keeps track of trade value and who owes who cards or money. The group trusts him absolutely, though I’ve never seen him check a price sheet or database.



            Overall, my results revealed a young, white male-dominated culture, but I feel that this is due to the location and small sampling frame of my study.  Had I been able to reach Magic players globally, I think the proportions would have changed significantly, with young, white males occupying a lesser percentage of participants. However, the ethnicity of participants is of little concern to the participants themselves and turned out to be irrelevant to my study. Age, aside from the expected majority of college aged students at the university, was much more varied, but again, has little impact. The outside lives of Magic players were varied, as mentioned. Many different interests and backgrounds and leisure activities were discovered. Differences in employment, in the amount of time spent with family, at work, with friends, fulfilling obligations, etc. were expected and were found. Most of this was discovered through interviews and informal conversations, but further study could verify this through more continuous direct observation.

The most tantalizing of my results were connected to the secondary market and the methods of trading and selling. The sheer knowledge of cards and value that players carry in their heads so that they are prepared to trade at any second is quite impressive, as is the enormity and intricacy of the market itself. This is definitely a subject that would benefit from further study, analyzing how player demand changes the value of a card and the different factors that go into it would be rewarding research indeed. The most significant of my results were the depth of the social aspect of the game. The fact that people play Magic not just for the game and not just for winning, but for the social interaction is unique. Players from many different countries, with many different languages can play the game without a language barrier, because players know the cards by the artwork, which allows interaction between cultures on a common ground. Magic creates and strengthens friendships. Again, this would benefit from further study, observing such friendships apart from Magic and studying the social structure created by the game, outside of the game. I would also like to study individual informants more closely in their outside lives, comparing and contrasting lifestyles and life-paths.



Magic: The Gathering, like any other hobby, attracts a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds and with all ability levels. Because the game is complex, it does require the ability to  keep up with game-changing rules and actions, the ability to memorize cards and their effects, and also to keep track of an opponent’s plays in order to respond properly. There are some fanatics, people who are obsessed with the game and have memorized the entire rulebook or who have spent thousands of dollars on cards and accessories. There are also people who will find an old deck in a closet somewhere and play casually once a week. As with most hobbies, when practitioners are together, conversation revolves around the common subject of the hobby with a sounding board of personal information. Magic players don’t get the chance to talk about Magic unless they’re with other Magic players because friends who do not play would not understand anyway. Players truly enjoy the game. They like knowing about it and they like talking about it to people who can understand. Like putting avid sports fans together, the people revert to whatever common interests they can find. If sports metaphors are common in mainstream and other subcultures, Magic metaphors have made their way into the conversation of Magic enthusiasts. Magicians enjoy debating the usefulness of individual cards and laughing over concepts for building humorous decks that only a Magician would appreciate. The intricacies of the game are boundless and can be hashed out for hours, days, and weeks. But separate a Magician from his deck and his partners, and you could not immediately assign him to a fantasy gamer stereotype, rarely even to a nerd category.

-Kara Thagan



I hope you enjoyed this insight and observation from an outsider on the subject. I’m not sure if Kara plays the game or has moved on to other things, but we thank her for sharing this information.