The Philosophers of Magic: The Gathering


Many of the GasMTG writers identify with their psychographic and aesthetic profiles, as envisioned by Mark Rosewater, but some of them are not aware that many of history’s greatest philosophers were avid players too. Find out which philosopher shares a profile with you!

If you are Tammy/Timmy, congratulations! You share a psychographic profile with Epicurus, lover of happiness in true eudaimonic fashion. Many of the ancient Greeks were truly Timmies, concerned with holistic theories, the nature of the universe, and casting expensive spells. But Epicurus, like most of this player type, also valued the social interaction that comes with playing Magic. You might also be like Diogenes, the Cynic. He loved to attend social gatherings and was notorious for undermining the aspirations to seriousness in Magic that other philosophers had.

You might be a Johnny or a Jenny, and if so, good news! You, like Georg Hegel, enjoy the combination of things, although Hegel preferred to combine just two different cards to create an entirely new, and better, effect. Credited with the Illusions/Donate combo, Hegel was a fearsome force in the early years of competitive Magic but in recent times has stopped playing altogether. Another notable Johnny is Jacques Derrida, who prefers iterative combo decks like Eggs. Whilst he doesn’t tend to design his own decks, his ability to reimagine old cards in new ways, and to abuse otherwise unremarkable cards, is shared by some of his contemporary poststructuralists, especially Giles Deleuze.

The Spikes of Magic are often misunderstood these days, but not so long ago were one of the most respected and influential of player types. Just like Rudolph Carnap, and really most of the Vienna Circle Spikes like logical positivists, are concerned with truth and falsity, right and wrong. There is, if we look hard enough, an objectively correct play or card choice in every situation. There are many ways to try to identify this truth and, though they will often disagree, Spikes all think this truth is out there and it is their job to find it. In more recent years, players such as Jennifer Hornsby, Rae Langton, and Mari Matsuda have made important steps forward in uniting various ways of identifying the correct decisions.

The aesthetic profiles are a more recent addition to Magic vernacular, and so whilst many philosophers did not really identify as these player types, a close reading of their work suggests that they do belong to these groups.

Most of the Ordinary Language philosophers were, in fact, Melvins. Their concern was with the mechanics of language, as well as of card design. From Wittgenstein’s early work on the colour pie and linked abilities, to G E Anscombe’s analysis of how cards work differently at Competitive and Regular REL, Mels have laid much of the important groundwork for how Magic cards and tournaments look today. And thanks to H. P. Grice’s more recent exploration of implied meaning in DCI collusion investigations, their work continues to be relevant to Magicians everywhere.

Vorthos’s tend to be underrepresented in philosopher circles, especially in the Anglosphere under the tyranny of the analytic/continental distinction. However, from the likes of Goethe and Nietzsche, we see a flair for the creative. Cora Diamond has made significant contributions to understanding the importance of narrative in MTG card design, which now goes beyond flavour text and underpins the story represented by the game. The most recent Pro Tour top 8, which featured Liliana defeating Emrakul, was understood to be a personal triumph for Diamond, as the flavour behind the card game played out on its biggest stage.

This merely scratches the surface. Most philosophers identify with more than one player type, including those listed here – but the point of these psychographics is not to tell people how they should play the game. Rather, we should use this as a way to remind us that there are a myriad of different ways to approach and enjoy the game of Magic: The Gathering, that we all love (Sorry, Carnap!). Don’t see your favourite philosopher here? Let us know in the comment section which player type they are and why!