Magic: the Gathering as a Form of Expression

Let me start by saying you don’t need to know anything about Magic: the Gathering (M:tG) to understand this article. In fact, it may be preferred so that I’m not just telling you things you already know. This is also not an advertisement for the game in any sense unless you really want to view it as such. My goal is to talk to you about what I consider to be some of the most interesting aspects of the game in a way that anyone can understand and appreciate.

M:tG is the first and longest running trading card game (TCG). It started in 1993 (over a quarter century ago) and is still going strong today. It was created by a guy named Richard Garfield. He wanted to see what a game would look like if players weren’t required to use the same game pieces. This, so far, has resulted in a game with over 10,000 unique pieces to choose from and you aren’t required to use the same pieces as anyone else. M:tG is not just a game; it’s a form of expression.

There are five different colors that can be found on an M:tG card; white, blue, black, red, and green. Each color represents different values and philosophies. The game mechanics that are commonly used with each color are intended to represent these values.

-White represents harmony and peace over all else. It values order, law, chivalry, the needs of the many over the needs of the few, etc.

-Blue wants people to attain and use knowledge to live up to their full potential. It cares about intellect, academics, trickery, making things, and so on.

-Black is the color of ambition. It cares about getting what you want by any means necessary which can mean murder, theft, and putting yourself before others but can also be represented through things like, pragmatism, compromise, and other things like that.

-Red is the color of passion. It is a color that values things such as love, impulse, chaos, freedom, and expression. Red players tend to act first and think later.

-Green cares about things such as life, growth, nature, spiritualism, and acceptance. Green just wants to sit back and let nature do its thing.

No color is an island (except blue, hardy har har). There is also a tendency to mix and match these colors. A hippie would likely be interested in a green/white (commonly referred to as Selesnya within the community) deck while an anarcho-capitalist aka bad person might be interested in a red/black (Rakdos) deck as those are the decks that mechanically represent what those people care about. Since I know someone is going to ask, I play all kinds of decks and color combinations. I’ve been playing for a long time and I prefer to cycle through decks every so often to keep from getting bored. My values are best reflected by a red/blue (Izzet), or a red/blue/white (Jeskai) combination, though. If I had to pick a single color that best represents me, I’d pick red.

Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is the company that makes M:tG and Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). They have gone on record multiple times stating that they believe there are three major types of TCG players that they try to market to. These player types are referred to as “Timmy”, “Johnny”, and “Spike”.

A Timmy is a player who loves to play big dudes and cast big spells. They don’t care about winning often so long as they win big when they do. A Timmy wants to smash their opponents with a humongous dinosaur or deal the finishing blow with an impractically large fireball. Timmys also loves the social aspect of the game.

Johnnys are players that are more interested in the creative side of the game. A Johnny sees the game as a form of expression over all else. They look for the most unique and intricate card synergies possible. They hate to use the same decks as everyone else. They want to win with cards that no one else is using. A typical Johnny enjoys deckbuilding as much if not more than actually playing the game. If you have ever looked at a card and thought, “Woah, that sucks and/or is weird. How do I make it playable?”, you might be a Johnny. I am a Johnny in case you couldn’t tell from the premise of this article.

The last type of player is called Spike. Spike is a tournament grinder. They only want to play with the best and most efficient cards and card interactions. Spike enjoys winning over everything else and is prone to copying deck lists off the internet. Mark Rosewater, the lead designer of M:tG, describes Spike as someone who, “plays ten games and wins nine of them. If Spike feels he should have won the tenth, he walks away unhappy.”

The last way in which M:tG players express themselves that I would like to discuss, today, is through art appreciation. Art is far from being an afterthought for WotC. A lot of cards have very pretty pictures made by very talented people on them. A lot of people like to go out of their way to purchase and show off the cards with their favorite artwork. Some players will go to events get their cards signed by the artist or purchase prints of their favorite artwork to hang on their wall. Most regular players have a favorite artist. Mine is Seb McKinnon but some other popular artists include Terese Nielsen, Noah Bradley, Rebecca Guay, Steve Argyle, Christopher Rush, R.K. Post, and so on. There is a super interesting YouTube channel called Rhystic Studies. Most videos on that channel are video essays that talk about M:tG art and artists from a strictly academic perspective. There are other videos on the channel, also academic in nature, as well but that’s the main thing on there. Above this paragraph, is a mini gallery of my favorite Seb McKinnon art and below, is a Rhystic Studies video about Terese Nielsen.

I don’t know how to properly conclude this article. I know I just threw a bunch of information about a niche interest of mine at y’all but I really do hope that at least someone found this to be interesting and informative. I just love that the game manages to be so much more and I want other people to appreciate it, as well. Anyways, don’t forget to like, comment, subscribe, and share with your friends if you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.

Love, Lara

Works Cited

  1. Rosewater, Mark. 03 Feb 2003. “The Great White Way”,, Wizards of the Coast. Accessed 02 Apr 2019.
  2. Rosewater, Mark. 11 Aug 2003. “True Blue”,, Wizards of the Coast. Accessed 02 Apr 2019.
  3. Rosewater, Mark. 02 Feb 2004. “In the Black”,, Wizards of the Coast. Accessed 02 Apr 2019.
  4. Rosewater, Mark. 19 Jul 2004. “Seeing Red”,, Wizards of the Coast. Accessed 02 Apr 2019.
  5. Rosewater, Mark.  21 Oct 2002. “It’s Not Easy Being Green”,, Wizards of the Coast. Accessed 02 Apr 2019.
  6. Rosewater, Mark. 03 Dec 2013. “Timmy, Johnny, and Spike”,, Wizards of the Coast. Accessed 02 Apr 2019.
  7. “The Magic Art of Terese Nielsen.” YouTube, Uploaded by Rhystic Studies, 21 Jan 2017,
  8. Beard Jr, Edward P. Timmy, Power Gamer. 1998. Magic: The Gathering.
  9. Okabayashi, Kensuke. Johnny, Combo Player. 2004. Magic: The Gathering.
  10. Boros, Zoltan. Spike, Tournament Grinder. 2017. Magic: The Gathering.
  11. McKinnon, Seb. Chronostutter. 2014. Magic: The Gathering.
  12. McKinnon, Seb. Conclave Tribunal. 2018. Magic: The Gathering.
  13. McKinnon, Seb. Cuombajj Witches. 2018. Magic: The Gathering.
  14. McKinnon, Seb. Dirge of Dread. 2018. Magic: The Gathering.
  15. McKinnon, Seb. Eidelon of Blossoms. 2014. Magic: The Gathering.
  16. McKinnon, Seb. Essence Flux. 2016. Magic: The Gathering.
  17. McKinnon, Seb. Growth Spiral. 2019. Magic: The Gathering.
  18. McKinnon, Seb. Pale Rider of Trostad. 2016. Magic: The Gathering.
  19. McKinnon, Seb. Stasis. 2018. Magic: The Gathering.
  20. McKinnon, Seb. Vengeful rebirth. 2018. Magic: The Gathering.

Link to the Rhystic Studies YouTube channel

Link to Seb McKinnon’s website (Please support artists that aren’t Anish Kapoor or Hitler)

One thought on “Magic: the Gathering as a Form of Expression

  1. What an interesting article. I always play blue or green when I play Magic, but I do have a green black Meren deck that I’m loving. I don’t normally play Black so it’s good for me to expand my horizons.

    Liked by 1 person

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