A Gathering of Friends
- Sancho Napora
Whether janked-up Johnny, armed-to-the-teeth Tammy, or cynically calculating Spike — the best thing you can win with a deck of Magic cards is a new friend. Join the Cardmarket Insight team as we celebrate the International Day of Friendship.
Friendship is good for you. Scientists studying human relations generally agree that having friends is a major factor for a long and healthy life. Some people have a harder time finding friends, and if you are aware of someone with that particular problem in your vicinity, you should consider befriending them. A great way to make new friends is through a common interest, and it makes sense that our favorite game is not just called Magic but rather Magic: The Gathering.
A Friendly Game of Magic
When I began playing Magic in the first half of the 1990s, it was a close friend who introduced me to the game. At first it was just the two of us, but within weeks we had gotten most of our closest circle of friends into the game as well. But then something else happened. At the place where I studied at the time, I saw that others, complete strangers to me, were also gathering around lunch tables hunched over cards and having a great time.
So I decided to bring a deck, and suddenly I had made friends with a whole new group — people I had never talked to and that I had nothing in common with except for a shared interest in turning cards sideways. Playing Magic gave us something to laugh and talk about for hours, and we ended up doing other things together as our friendship expanded beyond the game.
Magic is an excellent way to discover that friendship does not have to spring from sameness. We can indeed make friends with those whose views and cultural backgrounds differ from our own. When we discover that friendship can cross seemingly impassable chasms — for example uniting punks, preppies, and jocks — we learn that the prejudices and superficialities that divide us weigh so much less on the grand scale than the humanity that binds us together.
A Farewell to Arms
Games have a great power in helping us cut pathways through the internal barbed-wire fortifications that indoctrination may have instilled in us. Sitting down at a table with those different from ourselves can be a transformative experience: get out of the trenches that our beliefs sometimes justify digging ourselves so blindly into.
It is no wonder that the stories of spontaneous ceasefires on Boxing Day during World War One involve football matches played in no-man's land between German and English soldiers on the Western Front. Games promote friendship and friendship promotes peace — much to the chagrin of those leaders and officers who did not want peace.
The hope to promote peace was exactly what led the General Assembly of the United Nations to designate July 30 as The International Day of Friendship. Let's put aside that the first attempt at establishing such a day came from a greeting card manufacturer looking to increase sales. And let's not dwell too long on the fact that the organization first lobbying to have the UN adopt the day bore the unfortunate name World Friendship Crusade — not exactly the word you want to use if you want to foster cross-cultural understanding.
The Redeeming Power of Friendship
Sometimes the best way to help others move on from using archaic language, unaware that it may be hurtful to others, is to befriend them first rather than scream at them how wrong they are. Friendship is about forgiving the imperfections and sometimes even the most annoying character flaws in others. For those caught in the quagmire of hatred, a redemption story often begins when someone belonging to a group a person has been taught to hate reaches out to them in kindness.
But enough background and beating around the bush. Let's focus on how Magic can create friendships and how the game itself is full of references to different forms of friendship. While Magic Online and Arena can be great for those who need to practice for a tournament or those who for reasons of reduced mobility or more recently because of quarantine lockdowns are forced to play at a distance, nothing beats sitting across from another person playing Magic.
Two Heads Are Friendlier Than One
If we can believe those who say that kitchen table Magic is the most played format of all, then most Magic games are indeed played between friends. If you are a kitchen table player, you will know what it means to play friendly Magic because who would invite anyone but a friend or at least a prospective friend into their home. Kitchen table players may not follow official ban lists and they may indeed not follow any official rules at all. Rather they have their own rules decided by what they as friends can agree upon.
Some more organized casual formats are also great for groups of friends. It is no wonder that Commander is one of the most popular ways to play that is officially recognized and described in the rules of Magic. Having a night of Commander is the perfect excuse to get together with some friends on a regular basis. Two-Headed Giant is less widespread, but if you really want to play some form of Magic that tests your ability to cooperate in a friendly manner, this is probably it.
Bands, Superfriends, and Partners
Within the many worlds of the game itself we see beautiful examples of friendship in both mechanics and lore. Banding — have a friend explain it, if you don't know what that is — may be focused more on cooperation than actual friendship. Superfriends decks may include characters that are not on friendly footing. But "partner" and even more so "partner with" as introduced in Battlebond is all about friendships.
Of these friendships I am probably not alone in having Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend among my favorites … even if we're talking about a friendship between a made-up character and a character made up by a made-up character. Also, my liking is purely based on the names and illustrations of the cards, since I have no idea about any story or lore behind the two.
Beast Friends Forever
By my count Magic also has ten pairs of creatures or planeswalkers that share a single card such as Firesong and Sunspeaker, The Royal Scions, and Rin and Seri, Inseparable. I suppose this is the ultimate intimacy that Magic characters can have. Sometimes those cards represent friendship, sometimes the friendship is combined with family or love relations, and sometimes it is less of a friendship than just exploitation.
In the recent set Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths, we get the whole concept of friendships building bridges between warring species, represented by cards such as Fight as One and Of One Mind. Like the bonders we could all benefit from keeping an open mind and not let conventions — of society or even our own habits — tell us who can and cannot become our friend.
This article is dedicated to my friend Martin who introduced me to Magic and to all my other friends, whether they play Magic or not. Feel free to use the comment section below to share your own stories of Magic and friendship or to send a Friendship Day greeting.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.