How 60 cards can change your life

Zach Barton ’23 is playing card games not only for fun but as a lifestyle.


You walk into a store. It is filled with trading cards and gaming memorabilia, so much that it is intimidating. You go down the stairs to the basement, to find that the rounds have already started. You see people sitting at tables facing each other, contemplating their next move. Among these people sits Zach Barton ’23, gazing intensely at his opponent.

Barton has been playing Magic: The Gathering, a collectible card game, on and off since 2014. He’s part of the trading card games club at West and competes in informal tournaments at Critical Hit, a local gaming store. 

Magic: The Gathering is a game created by Richard Garfield and was first released in 1993. It initially attracted fans of the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons, but now has spread to a much wider audience. 

“[Zach] is like that one weird kid, like weird in a good way,” said Audrey Lowman ’23, a close friend of Zach’s. Barton attends a weekly event at Critical Hit called Friday Night Magic in order to gain experience and learn the ins and outs of the game.

“In a sixty-card deck, you usually want to have around twenty-four ‘lands,’ which is what you use to cast spells,” explains Barton. To an average joe, this all sounds like nonsense, but to Barton, this is just the beginning. The goal of the game is to play combos by using both land and spell cards. Different combos you create give you different advantages during the game. 

“The terminology that a lot of people use at Friday Night Magic … they call them bigger cards, because they’re more powerful.” The specific cards that are in a deck are crucial when aiming to win. In most standard tournaments, the cards in your deck have to be ‘standard legal,’ meaning they are legal for tournament play. 

“Every time I go to Friday Night Magic, I ask for tips on how to improve my deck, or what cards I should put in or take out because they’re not being very effective, “ Barton said. 

Not only has competing at Critical Hit given Barton knowledge and experience, but it’s given him a group of people he can connect with. Barton became friends with Anthony Allou ’23 in sixth grade, and they have been friends since. 

“We had the same teacher and we sat next to each other in art,” Allou said. “He was one of the first people to really get me into the card game Magic: The Gathering.” The atmosphere at Critical Hit is very friendly and supportive, a good environment to learn how to play games and make friends. 

“It’s a community… every time you go, you play someone new,” he said. Barton moved to Iowa from Montana in elementary school. It’s always hard to move to a new school, but moving across the country is a whole nother struggle. One of his first friends in Iowa introduced him to Magic. Since then, his circle of friends has grown, partially over their mutual love of trading card games. 

“There’s all sorts of possibilities, that’s what makes the game so great,” Barton said. 

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