Yes, I do play the game. I first saw it being played at MileHiCon in Denver in 1992, and I kick myself for not buying cards then (that would have been alpha edition cards...). I kept hearing about the game, and finally picked up my first deck at a small gaming convention here in the Tri-Cities. While it's not been an obsession, as it can be with some people, I do waste more time on it than I should. When I first started to play, I got Jill to play with me, but then I rooked in some co-workers, and now it is the daily game at lunch that keeps us constantly creating and tweaking our decks.
If you have never heard of Magic: The Gathering, then you are probably quite confused by now. In a nutshell, Magic was created by a mathematics professor from Walla Walla to be a simple little game that could be played by two people in 30 minutes. Instead, he created a marketing monster. You buy cards to make up your playing set like baseball cards--random cards are sealed in foiled packs so you have no idea what you are getting when you buy them. From all these random cards, you and your opponent make up decks of around 60 cards each. The game is a contest of warring wizards, casting spells that summon creatures and enchantments to attack or otherwise reduce the opponent wizard's life to 0 from a starting amount of 20. For a simple game, it becomes quite complicated after that, because there are now over 1000 different cards to select for your decks, thus ensuring that almost every game you play will be different.
The book at hand, Mastering Magic Cards: An Introduction to the Art of Masterful Deck Construction
, by George H. Baxter and Larry W. Smith, PhD, tries to make sense of some of the chaos surrounding the game by discussing the mathematics of deck building (why you shouldn't play with more than 60 cards, what percentage of "mana"-- the magic that fuels spells--you need, etc.), and strategies of play. When this book was published, it was more relevant; today, I would not recommend this book except for those Internet Magic players because many of the deck ideas discussed herein involve out-of-print cards that would cost a fortune to actually possess. Magic is something like the Internet--it changes rapidly, and what might have been a workable strategy four months ago is likely a quick defeat today (or outlawed in tournament play).