All I Need to Know about Vocabulary I Learned from Magic the Gathering

I saw something in the paper recently which did and did not surprise me at all. I just kind of saw it and went “oh yeah, of course.” I imagine the headline writer thought they were showing off.

But Magic: The Gathering had gotten there first, for me at least.

Yes, the paper was talking about Jökulhlaup, a word I knew from Magic. And, thanks to what the card did, and combined with the image on the card, I already had a pretty good idea what the word meant.

Part of what was great about Magic was that they did this a lot: used really specific terms for card titles, and matched up the meaning with what the card did. Sometimes, it made you think. Sometimes, it made you learn. And sometimes, what they did with the cards was just fun. So join me in a bit of nostalgia with Magic: The Gathering!

Great Vocabulary

Some of the best vocabulary was for the destruction cards, the Reset Buttons as they were known – they had to get creative as they kept making these. Besides Jokulhaups, I remember cards like Armageddon, Wrath of God, Cataclysm, Obliterate…

However, there were good concepts included, too. One I remember really distinctly, because my friends and I had the card and then learned about it in class. Paradigm Shift.

This card was odd – it could be a game changer. Literally. It changed expectations of which cards someone might play, or what their deck might do. The sort of thing you build your strategy around.

It did a pretty good job of exhibiting the concept: a paradigm shift. A radical change in thinking, changing underlying beliefs and assumptions. So when we got to the idea in class, we just nodded knowingly. Yes, of course it is.

The Flavor Text

They had fun crafting the story, too. Most cards that weren’t too complicated had flavor text, fun descriptive text below the card rules. The cards had quotes internal to the game, quotes from characters (who tended to later show up as cards), or else from the invented lore of the game world. However, a couple stick with me, and I thought I would share.

The first is Sneak Attack. Great card, a lot of fun, and the sort of thing I would use: it’s the sort of card you build a strategy around. But really, the best part was the flavor text.

"Nothin' beat surprise - 'cept rock." Found on

“Nothin’ beat surprise – ‘cept rock.”
Found on

Part of what made it great, though, was realizing that it was a reference, to a prior card. It beckoned back to Rock Slide.

"Good ol' rock. Nothing beats rock." Found on!rock+slide

“Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats rock.”
Found on!rock+slide

I’m still pretty sure it’s true. Good old rock. Nothing beats rock.


6 responses to “All I Need to Know about Vocabulary I Learned from Magic the Gathering

  1. Geraint Isitt

    Except for paper.
    I never played. But this post is excellent. Many years ago now, I used to play D&D. I’m talking 30 years ago. People laughed as they do now, but the social skills you develop, thinking skills, imagination development are all positives. Just my opinion anyway.


    • Right. Except paper.

      I agree with the benefits of playing D&D. And the social skills work out a lot like teamwork skills that are so valued and prized in business today. I would like to hope there is research to back you up, but honestly, I’ll bet there’s not much. But I would have to agree with your opinion!


      • Geraint Isitt

        I actually played a few times in my 30s with a friend from college and his friends. And his father-in-law. All of them educated, travelled, capable and confident in a variety of social situations. So anti-stigma of the whole thing.


  2. Flavor text was probably one of the best aspects of the game, and, in the early days, at least, redeemed some of the most mediocre cards and even the lousiest sets (Homelands & Fallen Empires). The flavor text for Mons’s Goblin Raiders is probably one of my favorite pieces of fantasy flash-fiction:
    “The intricate dynamics of Rundvelt Goblin affairs are often confused with anarchy. The chaos, however, is the chaos of a thundercloud, and direction will sporadically and violently appear. Pashalik Mons and his raiders are the thunderhead that leads in the storm.”


    • Yeah, flavor text was great. I am pretty sure I know people who memorized more flavor text than academic stuff in school… A lot of it is a lot more memorable, too! Thanks for sharing Mon’s Goblin Raiders… I remember those guys!


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