Urban Legends and Trading Card Games


Trading card games are often too associated with child’s play to be taken seriously; by many it is considered to be entirely driven by luck and inherently unfair. Despite this widespread opinion, trading card games – such as Magic: The Gathering have found a competitive audience where skillful players attempt to best others through a combination of strategy and deck building.

In Magic, the most important game mechanic and key consideration in building decks is the resource: Mana. It comes in five different colors that explore different themes: Green for example focuses on playing stronger creatures and generating extra mana to play them earlier, while blue focuses on negating the opponent’s plays and drawing extra cards. The vast majority of mana is accessed through land cards of usually one or two colors that can be played to generate 1 mana of a color per turn (although exceptions exist). This causes situations where one only draws creatures (mana-screwed: unable to cast anything due to lack of mana) or only draws lands (land-screwed: unable to play creatures as the hand is full of lands), causing losses often attributed to statistical variance.

Informant Information

The informant is an avid player of Magic. I first met him in a card shop in Yatap, South Korea, and we kept in touch ever since. One time while he was playing a draft game – a game mode where decks are built from cards chosen from packs opened on the day of the event – he told me an urban legend supposedly pertaining to the very location we were playing in:

Collector: “What did you end up drafting?”

Informant: “I drafted a 4 color control deck.”

Collector: “That sounds like too many colors and card requirements to consistently play anything, that sounds so bad…”

Informant: “Yeah but if you draft your cards at this shop you get all the cards you need for the deck to run well.”

While he did end up losing most of the games, they were close losses, largely because my friend was able to get the right balance of cards to make reasonable plays each turn. Intrigued, I asked around the shop if the urban legend was true, and soon realized that most players in the shop not only knew about it but also agreed – somewhat sarcastically or otherwise.


As the context of the location changes, not only including the exchange of goods, but also social gathering, a folk group forms and produces folklore. This urban legend is particularly significant because in a competitive setting, non-skillful (i.e. luck-driven) elements are undesirable; this makes the discussion of luck in an outcome of a game very contentious: A taboo topic. By giving members of the folk group ways to joke about the taboo (such as sarcastically agreeing to the urban legend, as seen above), the taboo topic becomes less serious, and therefore less frustrating to the losers. Another factor to consider is the urban legend becoming a subject of superstition; by believing and hoping that he/she will receive good luck, the passion for the game and the folk group of card game players can remain intact. This in particular shows that a work of folklore can be contextualized to fit into multiple genres.