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Attention to Detail #22
Light Reading
by Jordan Kronick
May 23, 2006

Welcome to another week of Attention to Detail. I have to admit that in the past week I haven't been thinking all that much about Magic. Of course, for some people, not thinking all that much about Magic means devoting only a couple hours of every day to the game rather than all of your waking hours. I've been working on a lot of other projects besides Magic itself. One of which is a D&D setting for Ravnica. While I was thinking about that it occurred to me just how big a part of my life Magic is. The things I've learned from Magic influence most of the creative work I do and just about everything else as well. I don't consider this to be a bad thing. Far from it, in fact. Magic's influence on my life has been very good to me. That I have a weekly column in which to say these things should be a very good example of that. So, if Magic can influence the rest of my life then certainly the reverse is true, right? I'm a very well-read person. I think anyone who reads this column regularly probably could have guessed that. I've been literate since I was 4 years old and I've been consuming books ever since. Surely the things I've learned have had an influence on my life as a Magic player. Today I wanted to present something of a reading list to you all. Some of these books are very practical. They will help you refine the skills involved in being a good Magic player. Some of them are a bit more esoteric and can help you appreciate the larger world of the game. Thinking about Magic is the one sure way to become a better player. But I find that it's not the kind of thing that you can simply set aside time for. It's not like studying for a midterm. Instead, I find that it's best to think about how every aspect of your life can relate to the game. Whether you're playing soccer and thinking about strategies of attack or studying chemistry and thinking about just what it means for something to be a combo, Magic is everywhere. Here's some of the books that I love and some of the things they've taught me about Magic.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu – I thought I'd start with a book which has become very popular in the past decade. It's become something of a corporate bible for people trying to get ahead in the world of business. For those who haven't heard of it, this is a philosophical look at war, written more than 2000 years ago. It introduces concepts which are very broad. Rather than giving specific advice for dealing with situations that may come up in the role of commanding an army (though there is a bit of that as well), The Art of War talks about things like how to motivate your troops through humiliating the enemy and why cutting off the enemy's resources is so important in any plan of attack. The Art of War is not going to teach you how to draft better. It's not going to prevent you from casting your spells at the wrong time. What it will do is work its way into your mindset. Once you've read the philosophy of Sun Tzu, you can't unread it. You begin to see situations differently. In a way, The Art of War teaches you to look more critically at all forms competition in your life. To a certain degree, the philosophies of this book can be seen to remove some of the innocence of “just playing a game”. If you treat every game as a battle and your opponent as your enemy, you may be more likely to win games. But it won't be the same game you learned to play around the kitchen table anymore. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is afraid that they don't have the right mindset for competitive play. If you've ever thought you wanted to be a Spike but just couldn't figure out where to start, this is the Spikiest philosophy you're likely to find.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli – In the same vein as The Art of War, The Prince has become popular philosophy among those who wish to succeed in business. I first read this book when I was 14 and quickly saw that the information contained within applied to far more than just business and politics. The Prince is essentially a training manual for politicians and rulers. Machiavelli wrote the book as a gift to the Medici family in 1513. He had fallen out of favor with those who ruled Italy, and wanted to find his way back into their graces. So he gave them the gift of this book. In many ways, the writing of the book itself is the most Machiavellian act of all. Much of the book is conniving and full of flattery, designed to make the Medicis raise their opinion of the author. In recent times, Machiavellian has come to mean underhanded and cutthroat. There's some truth to that. Machiavelli discusses many strategies for rulership which modern politicians would find very distasteful. What he had was a very strong understanding of desire and motivation. He knew what people wanted deep in their hearts and knew how to give it to them in exchange for their loyalty. He believed strongly that manipulation of the populace was not only a positive thing but an essential one. While Sun Tzu's philosophy can be very abstractly applied to Magic, there is a much more concrete way to use Machiavelli. The Prince can teach anyone a little something about how to get what you want. Whether you're trying to tell someone what they want to hear to sweeten a trade or understand peopls's motivations during a draft, a clearer understanding of desire is important. This book can teach you that. It's very high on my list of favorite books ever, and I recommend it to everyone. The reading can be a bit heavy at time, but I promise it will be worth it in the end.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – I'm switching gears in a big way, now. While Sun Tzu and Machiavelli have a lot to say about strategy, Neil Gaiman speaks about an entirely different facet of the game. Stardust is a novel and it is a fairy tale. I know a lot of people will cringe at the thought of reading about faeries and magic (ironic, isn't it?) but this book can teach something very important. Though the story itself is magnificent, the lesson is in the book as a whole. If you're one of those people who's read entirely too much Sun Tzu and Machiavelli and can't seem to think about Magic as anything other than a game of numbers and psychological warfare, then I recommend a vacation from that mindset. Perhaps more than any other book I own, Stardust taught me how to appreciate beauty. Magic cards are full of beauty. There is art on every one, and that's just the standard concept of the term. Appreciating the cards themselves is important, but appreciating something as simple as a well put together combo or even a stroke of good luck resulting in a great top deck requires the ability to appreciate the sublime. Everyone can get bogged down in Magic from time to time. Eventually your brain gets fried and you can't think straight. That's what you need books like this for. If Stardust isn't your cup of tea, I can recommend many other novels from all genres that can take your mind off the numbers and remind you that there's more to the game than power, toughness and casting cost.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan – If there is a book that most successfully bridges the gap between art and science, this may be it. Cosmos is a book which explains the universe. Or at least quite a bit of the universe. It is written with humor and insight by one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. I mentioned in my introduction that a chemistry lesson can cause you to think about combos. That's a true story which happened to me. I took a chemistry course for the first time a couple years back. It turns out that I have a real knack for the science. I can't claim that my talent for chemistry is a result of years of playing Magic, but by the same token I think they are more related than most people would guess. Science is fundamentally rigid. The entire purpose of science is to develop a way to explain the universe logically and with reason. The game of Magic operates on similar principles. The are rules, and the better you understand the rules of the game, the better off you'll be. Cosmos can give you a better understanding of the rules which hold the universe together. Once you can begin to understand those rules, it should be a short leap to understanding the rules of a silly little card game. Any similar book about science (like Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time') can give the same effect. A greater understanding of the world. The one common thread in all the books that I've presented here today is understanding. Each title will help you understand a concept or a system a little bit better. They will, in short, allow you greater attention to detail.

Every Magic novel ever published by various authors – I think I would be making a mistake if I didn't mention these. I can't claim to have read every Magic novel. I'm still getting around to many of them. I always have a fairly large reading list, so fitting in another paperback is surprisingly difficult at times. I don't think the authors of the Magic novels would ever claim that they had written Great Literature when they penned these books. The stories contained within are original, but hardly groundbreaking. However, these books have what no other book has – a direct connection to the cards. I wouldn't say this if I hadn't personally found it to be true: reading the Magic novels makes the game more fun. It's really true. I'll give an example. I read the book Ravnica: City of Guilds by Cory J. Herndon. It was a fairly decent book and I wasn't upset that I paid $6.99 for it. But when I did another draft after that I discovered something curious. I liked the cards more. When I saw an Argus Kos show up in a pack, instead of just thinking that I'd like to swing in for 5 with him I also thought about the things I remember the character doing in the books. It wasn't a huge part of my thought process, but it was certainly there. Just as the cards have an visually quality that can be appreciated, each card has a significance in the overwhelming story that is Magic. Remember that at its core, Magic is a game where players take on the role of dueling wizards. When you use a Shock on your opponent, you're not just playing a card and marking off two life, you're casting a spell. Many Magic players play or used to play role-playing games. I myself am one of those people. Whether it's the good old D&D or even an MMORPG on a computer, that's a chance for you to take on another role. Most games are about taking on another role, in fact. If you're playing Clue, you're taking on the role of someone trying solve a murder. If you're playing Monopoly, you're taking on the role of investor in Atlantic City. The more you can understand the role you're supposed to be playing, the more fun the game will be – whether you win or lose.

Well, that's a brief trip to my bookshelf. This is by no means a complete list of the books that have had a significant impact on my Magic life. In a way, every book contributes to my understanding of Magic. And Magic contributes to my ability to appreciate every book I read. There may be some social stigma with truly making Magic a part of your life, but I highly recommend it. Don't treat this just as a game you play sometimes. Take the opportunity to absorb the lessons it can teach you about everything else you encounter in your life. One day you could be the next Machiavelli and your book could be called The Planeswalker.
 




 

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