When Magic the Gathering (MtG) was first released I picked up a pair of starter sets and my girlfriend and I gave them a try. I remember thinking the game was a bit slow and didn't see the appeal and that was the end of that. Some time later my gaming group had a terrific time playing Dominion and I was left wondering if it was time to give MtG another try.
Readers are possibly already aware that MtG is a collectible card game. The game is played with a deck of MtG cards. Players buy cards to put in their decks. Some cards are more rare and also more effective than others. The cards are purchased, in theory, through "booster packs" which have a random assortment sealed inside. The game has developed so that some cards are highly sought after and since the booster packs are a shot in the dark a busy world of trading and card sales has emerged. I've witnessed high school students spending hundreds of dollars for sets of valued cards. That was chilling and creepy in several ways I can assure you.
I didn't want to enter into that world of collecting and trading. My last memory of being a collector and trader was selling Giant Size X-Men #1 for $30 in high school. Suffice it to say that it's worth a trifle more today. I turned to Boardgamegeek and got some good advice about a lower key way to play. Then I went over to Arlington's Comicazi and talked to the salesman there. He was very friendly and helpful and in the end I had a plan.
MtG can be purchased in starter sets and tournament decks. Either gives you enough cards to play a game. The people at Comicazi recommended giving each player a starter set. Then each time your friends play they buy a few booster packs as well. The players empty the boosters onto a table. They then take turns picking up a card until all the new cards are gone. In theory each person has a decent chance of getting some useful material. Apparently a similar system is used in some tournaments which highlight play ability over devastatingly tuned decks. Specifically this is called "drafting."
The Comicazi people pointed out that as long as the group played each other the decks would stay roughly equal in quality. Further, your expense would be roughly ten dollars for a starter deck and then five dollars for each booster. A single person could play many games and maybe spend less than thirty dollars. Finally, since the players have some choice over the cards that they draft they could over time seek out certain cards they prefer. The end result would be a deck which was somewhat personalized but at about a tenth of the cost and bother.
In the spirit of seeking knowledge and acquiring more games for the shelves and empty spaces of the house I purchased four tournament decks of Magic the Gathering: Shards of Alara. That evening I subjected my gaming group to Magic the Gathering.