It should come as no surprise that the card dealings and chance-related mechanics of Magic: The Gathering can sometimes resemble classic card games often played in casinos and online. The game avoids a more direct relationship with real monetary stakes that poker players and individuals learning how to play baccarat are looking for in their gameplay experiences. MTG players are given a way to enjoy a strategy and luck-driven card game with mechanics that ask them to flip coins and roll dice. New players may be surprised to learn that it wasn’t always this way.
The Controversial Mechanics of the Ante Rule
The original rules of MTG weren’t always so strict about including gambling elements. MTG used to offer a gameplay environment with conditions that allowed players to place bets and risk losing their beloved cards. In fact, some of the game’s earliest cards made use of optional ante rules to raise the stakes of individual games. These rules allowed some of the first MTG players to draw random cards from their deck and place them into a special ante zone when a match started. When the game concluded and a winner was found, that player could permanently keep all the cards placed in the zone.
Nowadays, the game’s creators aren’t shy about using themes related to prohibition-era crime and gambling in sets like the Streets of New Capenna, but they are careful to avoid specific mechanics that could raise eyebrows and real legal considerations. These considerations are especially important in areas where gambling is heavily regulated.
Cards that mention ante mechanics are banned from new sets, and tournaments forbid any rules that may cross the lines of what is considered to be gambling. A few of the banned cards include Demonic Attorney, Darkpact and Contract From Below, as they each include mechanics that allow players to risk cards from their deck or the deck of their opponent. One of the final cards which mention ante before the mechanic was abandoned was Timmerian Fiends in 1995.
While some players looking to add an extra layer of thrill and excitement to unofficial games can still play using ante rules from the alpha version of the game, the choice to remove this option in tournaments avoids the need for MTG to classify itself as a form of gambling. Disallowing players from effectively risking their expensive cards in order to win individual matchups additionally keeps the gameplay experience from becoming toxic or devastating for the players who end up losing.