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Do You Believe in Magic...The Gathering?
September 20, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

For three days, the world's best 'Magic' players battle it out in Seattle Three weeks ago, Seattle hosted the Magic: The Gathering Players Championship. Noah Davis writes about one of the most prestigious M:TG tournaments from an outsider's perspective. It turns out, Magic is still around, and it's a big deal.
posted by explosion (104 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I stopped playing Magic a couple years ago - too cash-intensive for me to continue playing regularly, and if I was going to keep playing then I wanted to draft (the absolute best way to play the game), and drafts cost money. Unless you construct a cube, which also costs money.

But it's the best pure gaming experience I've ever had. Nothing else even comes close.
posted by mightygodking at 11:38 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah it's kept going underground but seems to be bigger than ever these days. I just started playing online after years and years a month or so ago, and if you can keep the spending in check it's a great way to spend some time. Very few things offer the strategic mental workout that a tense game of Magic does.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:39 AM on September 20, 2012


"The biggest impediment to Magic is that people don't know how to play."

vs.

[The online version] features nearly everything the cardboard-based one does, including cards that need to be bought, often for high prices.

hmm.

I always disdained MTG cuz it seemed like it was all about acquiring (by buying?) good cards.

Is there a good link that explains the strategy and tactics of the game itself?

I stopped playing Magic a couple years ago - too cash-intensive for me to continue playing regularly, and if I was going to keep playing then I wanted to draft (the absolute best way to play the game), and drafts cost money. Unless you construct a cube, which also costs money.

I mean this. Is it all just a big pyramid scheme?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:44 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I started playing in 1996 (back around when 3rd edition came out). Back in high school, we used to call Magic Cards "flat crack" because kids at Stuy would spend tons of money on it, and of course there were the 'dealers" in the school cafeteria who would finagle newbies with bad trades and then sell the better cards for profit. Me and my friends though, we had bigger plans in mind. See, these small-time Magic pushers were onto something, but they lacked vision - they didn't realize that the real profit was to made in bulk distribution. That's when Ilan "Numbers" Baumstein and Wing "the Madman" Chang brought a proposal to me that would start what came to be the biggest underground M:tG operation in history."

-Excerpt from "Geekfellas" - script still under production
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


There are various formats, some that require hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be competitive, some that you can play for almost nothing. One of my current favourite online formats is Mojhosto. Everything you need will run you about $12, one time.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:50 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Was Alyssa Bereznak trolling for dates, by any chance?
posted by Tanizaki at 11:50 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


My friends and I play pretty regularly. We'll generally split a box of boosters four or five ways, trade cards, and make decks. Tournament play isn't even a consideration for anyone except possibly one person. No buys "good" cards just to put them in the deck (well, I did once, but it was like $3.) Everyone's interest is having fun, not winning. So, in my case, no, its not at all a pyramid scheme, it's just a hobby that, like many other hobbies, costs money. The artificial scarcity is part of the game and doesn't screw you.

Tournament play, however, is completely different. I dated a young woman on the tournament circuit for some time, and, seriously, tournament play sounds incredibly stressful and boring. For me. For people on the circuit, its the thrill of a lifetime and god bless 'em.
posted by griphus at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


yah, for an article about the game, there's little actual talk about the game. I don't exactly read sports articles, so I wonder if that's generally how reporting on such things goes ?
posted by k5.user at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2012


Also, yeah, we draft once maybe ever three-four months and the rest of the time trade and play with the cards from that draft. I have two main decks that I play, and after a draft, they always change. But then I'm good for a while.
posted by griphus at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2012


Was Alyssa Bereznak trolling for dates, by any chance?

You know that sidebar that pops up on the right-hand side of google when you search the name of a celebrity or person of note? Google Alyssa Bereznak and see who pops up. It's kind of funny.
posted by gauche at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've just started playing again, and you can build a very decent deck for under $50. Not good enough to play at the very highest levels of the game, but that's true of many hobbies that include competition. On a friend's advice, I built a green/black "dredge deck" that has seen reasonable levels of success given that I'm a rookie player. Certainly you can build something that is workable at the weekly Friday Night Magic event at your FLGS on the cheap.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2012


Fucking Friday Night Magic.

My friends and I used to live walking distance from a game shop (Kings Games in Brooklyn) where we bought our magic cards before we realized it was a lot cheaper to buy booster boxes online and also we didn't have to tolerate the other clientele of the game shop. Anyway, we decide to go to Friday Night Magic one night because why not. So, everyone gets home from work, change, shower, eat dinner, relax, and we're ready to go. We should up there at about 8 PM (the shop is open until midnight, AFAIK) ready to play some magic.

It turns out Friday Night Magic wrapped up at 7.

Fucking Friday Night Magic.
posted by griphus at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was in high school (roughly, from Fallen Empires through to Ice Age, I think), there were a bunch of neighborhood kids that wanted to get into Magic but they didn't have much money. There was also a local gaming store with literal buckets of commons and binders of uncommons, so I'd give them $5 deck ideas and we'd pick through the buckets looking for Frozen Shades and Streams of Life.

I think that high-priced cards can be really overrated. There's no need to have a lot of them in your deck, though a few can certainly help. The meat and potatoes of your deck can be really cheap.

I've probably mentioned this in some other Magic thread, but I have to note my most ridiculous win in a big multiplayer game. I used Juxtapose to give someone a nice big 6/6 Homarid and stuck Ashnod's Transmogrant and Divine Transformation on it, so the fucker was massive. Dude was pleased as punch, and we became allies. After he'd picked off everyone else, I put a couple Creature Bonds on it and hit it with Divine Offering.
posted by Jpfed at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been playing magic on and off recreationally for the last couple of years or so. I've found that there are lots of people who used to play that willingly give away their old cards. Alternatively, just find other people with large collections and trade them. That way, it keeps it new and interesting for everyone, without requiring the financial buy-in to the racket that Wizards of the Coast has created by continually re-issuing cards/editions and changing the rules all around each time.

Of course, that wouldn't work if you wanted to play very competitively and/or in tournaments, but I think there's something to be said for having lots of iterations of mediocre cards/decks rather than just having The Best Deck possible, fun-wise.
posted by likeatoaster at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2012


What I remember from back in the day ('95 or so) was that the abilities of individually not-very-interesting cards could be combined to create interesting cascading effects, such that it wasn't necessary to spend a ton of money to build a deck that could challenge other people. Lately I've been playing the iPad app because I got a new iPad and the same appears to be true.
posted by gauche at 12:02 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was just talking with an old friend about playing. I still have quite a few cards (and some really nice ones too) but I stopped collecting around Homelands, which as Magic players know was rather a long time ago. Most of my cards are Revised and that's when I feel the game was in its purest form: a newly-balanced set of base cards, very versatile, with a few expansions in the past that were themed and specialized. Honestly I think it went downhill after that, like it was Chess that turned into MEGA 4D REALTIME CHESS or something, but hey, I'm glad folks are still playing.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:05 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


...me, I just miss Dreamblade.
posted by Shepherd at 12:07 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


You are a wizard and I am a wizard. And we come to do battle.

The professional Magic community is so fascinating to me. Staying with players that are preparing for a Pro Tour? Every horizontal surface will be covered in cards. Playtesting well into the night. There's something beautiful about people who are so passionate. Working together as a community. It's truly something to behold.

I'd like to point out that explosion wrote a fairly comprehensive explanation of Magic for people who don't play Magic. Major disclaimer: I am married to the writer/author of this FPP. Disclaimer to the disclaimer: he doesn't get paid for pageviews.
posted by giraffe at 12:08 PM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The first obstacle to M:TG is not the expense of buying the cards, but rather having friends who are ALSO open to the expense of buying the cards.

The second obstacle is renewing that expense once a new set comes out and expecting everyone else in your group to follow suit.

Those who wish to play without significant expense and/or without similarly gullible friends are directed to either the Steam versions (pretty cheap, set decks with minor tweaking) or to the Microprose Magic: The Gathering 2010 ISO floating around. Some mad genius updated the mid-90's 4th Edition engine to include later cards and to work on modern OSes. You owe it to yourself to experience the hilariously broken Shandalar mode at least once.
posted by delfin at 12:09 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I always disdained MTG cuz it seemed like it was all about acquiring (by buying?) good cards.

Is there a good link that explains the strategy and tactics of the game itself?


Probably, but this is simpler.

1.) You have a deck of Magic cards. Your opponent has a deck of Magic cards. Each of these decks are 60 cards minimum and most cards (other than land) have a 4-copies-of maximum in your deck. As a general rule, you want to construct your deck to hit that minimum so that your chances of hitting the individual cards in your deck for the effects you want are maximized.

2.) Each of you can play one "land" card per turn. Lands generate magic energy, which you use for spells. However, lands take up space in your deck, so you need to figure out what the optimum balance of lands to spells is. The general rule of thumb for a 60 card deck is 20-24, depending on how cheap the spells are (in terms of casting cost, not dollar amount to buy the single cards) but this is not absolute, because there are numerous cards that will allow you to search your deck for lands to put in your hand, and those cards effectively "shrink your deck," meaning you can play fewer lands.

3.) You each have 20 life points. The primary object of the game is to reduce your opponent to 0 life, although there are other ways to win (for example, you lose if you have to draw a card and your deck is out of cards, so decks designed to "mill" your opponent's deck away have always been a popular subtype with players).

4.) The key strategic concept of the game is generally called "tempo" by experienced players, and it becomes important when evaluating cards as to their play-strength - not all cards are created equal, after all, and because there are so many effects the idea of tempo is the best way to compare them. (It is a misconception that all of the strongest cards in Magic are expensive rares, and this is not true - but when a strong card in Magic IS rare, it becomes expensive because people chase after it. However, there are many, many crap rares.)

The idea behind tempo is that if a spell neutralizes another spell, directly or indirectly, it is an average card, because players will, all other things being equal, draw cards at the same rate (one per turn). For example, if I summon a Grizzly Bear, that's a spell, and regardless of the fact that the Grizzly Bear can hit you multiple times for damage, it often only takes one card to neutralize the Grizzly Bear (killing it with a Lightning Bolt, blocking it with another Grizzly Bear or similar monster, et cetera).

This means that players, and especially competitive players, are always on the lookout for cards that have better than average tempo. A Lightning Bolt, for example, does 3 damage to a player OR a monster and it's very cheap, which is why it has always been a popular card in direct-damage decks. However, say there is a card that does 3 damage to TWO separate targets - a player and a monster, or two separate monsters, etc. That card (and many variants of it have existed over time) has better tempo because it can effectively neutralize two cards rather than one!

Similarly, say I have a Lightning Bolt that, in addition to doing the damage, also draws me a card when I cast it. This card also has better tempo because it is replacing itself in my hand - I get a second resource of some kind (a spell or a land), which is a common effect, and that second resource is something you will eventually have to neutralize or deal with.

It's hard to describe the basic strategies of MtG, because you have to account for both the strategy of building your deck and the strategy of playing it, but that just covered most of the real basics.

I mean this. Is it all just a big pyramid scheme?

Well, no, because when you pay for cards you're getting the actual cards. The more cards you own, the more options you have to play - people have been inventing variants for years to take advantage of this very thing. When I stopped playing, I sold all my cards, and I think in the end I probably ended up about seven hundred dollars down. Now, you might say "you're out seven hundred bucks! You sucker!" but on the other hand, that seven hundred dollars down represented literally thousands of hours of entertainment, so it was quite cost-effective from that standpoint.
posted by mightygodking at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I thought there was something wrong with me for not really appreciating Magic. Turns out I was waiting for Dominion to be invented instead.
posted by blue t-shirt at 12:13 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I used Juxtapose to give someone a nice big 6/6 Homarid and stuck Ashnod's Transmogrant and Divine Transformation on it, so the fucker was massive. Dude was pleased as punch, and we became allies. After he'd picked off everyone else, I put a couple Creature Bonds on it and hit it with Divine Offering.

As an outsider...what does this even mean?*

(I followed aong until the allies part, but I don't understand what Creature Bonds/Divine Offering do...anybody willing to help translate? It seemed cool.)
posted by kurosawa's pal at 12:14 PM on September 20, 2012


Magic 2013 for iPad is a great introduction to the game - it helps teach a lot of the mechanics and strategy even for people who are new. If you wanted to dip your toe in the water it is really easy to try out. Also, it is inexpensive and there are tons of different variants to play. I've played since '94 and still have fun with the iPad version.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, guys, if you just want to play casually with a friend, they sell a box that contains two decks that are balanced against each other. They're called "Duel Decks." And there are pre-made single decks for sale as well.

Me? I prefer to make decks but not actually play them (I love you, EDH).

Here's a link to the official database of every Magic card ever.
posted by giraffe at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does anyone here play with OCTGN? I'd love to get a game going.
posted by griphus at 12:24 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used Juxtapose to give someone a nice big 6/6 Homarid and stuck Ashnod's Transmogrant and Divine Transformation on it, so the fucker was massive. Dude was pleased as punch, and we became allies. After he'd picked off everyone else, I put a couple Creature Bonds on it and hit it with Divine Offering.

As an outsider...what does this even mean?*


Let's go to the play-by-play!

"Multiplayer" is a variation in which more than two players play at once; last man standing wins.

Juxtapose swaps control of a creature card and artifact with a selected opponent. A Homarid is a creature card, though not one anywhere near 6/6 so I assume it had some further enchantments working on it. Anyway, Ashnod's Transmogrant and Divine Transformation buffed it up further to somewhere around 10/10 (which is Really Big), as well as classifying it as an Artifact, which comes into play later. As one would imagine, the other player was happy to have it and should've known better.

So: the remaining players are dispatched, and now the new owner of the Homarid is going head-to-head with the former owner. The former owner gleefully casts Creature Bond on it twice, so the death of the Homarid will cause twice as much damage as its toughness to its owner.

Then he cast Divine Offering, which destroys an artifact, which the massive Homarid now happens to be. Whammo, 20 points of damage to the opponent, cleanup in aisle 4.

~fin~
posted by delfin at 12:31 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


You can play Magic: The Gathering online, for free, with full card art and texts, with a program called Cockatrice.

www.cockatrice.de

Magic is my favorite game ever, and to echo an earlier poster, nothing else comes close. I feel like I've spent years inside that game, and when you count all the time I spent designing decks or testing strategies in my head, I probably have.

I don't own any cards nor pay for WotC's propriety online game, but I am one of several thousand users on Cockatrice on an almost-nightly basis. I look forward to playing with any MeFites who decide to join. Look me up under the username "Landtax".
posted by meadowlark lime at 12:36 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


giraffe, that might explain the game, but doesn't really add to the knowledge of "ok, what's the game ?"
posted by k5.user at 12:38 PM on September 20, 2012


delfin's explanation was rad, but the judges would also accept "I used the power of god to murder a killer lobster and its owner got so sad he died"
posted by Greg Nog at 12:43 PM on September 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


(I followed aong until the allies part, but I don't understand what Creature Bonds/Divine Offering do...anybody willing to help translate? It seemed cool.)

I just looked those up a few minutes ago, and to save you some time: Creature Bonds do damage to a creature's controller when that creature dies. Divine Offering destroys an "artifact". Artifacts are normally magic items that sit on the table and change the rules somehow, or perhaps are items of equipment that creatures pick up and use, but some creatures are actually artifacts themselves, typically things like big golems or mechanical contraptions.

So, he created a creature, using up mana from lands he had in play, bringing it out of his hand onto the playing field. Then he cast(played) the Juxtapose spell, to trade that strong creature with another player. Normally, you would do this to steal an opponent's strong creature and give him a weak one of your own, but Jpfed reversed that.

His new ally was very pleased with his strong new creature, and used it to kill off everyone else at the table. And then, normally, he would turn on Jpfed and kill him too, but Jpfed got clever. He cast two copies of the Creature Bond spell, which, again, does damage to a creature's controller when it dies. Note that the wording is very important; it damages the person controlling the creature, not the owner of the card. So if that creature died, its current controller, Jpfed's former ally, would take as much damage as its attack value. Twice, because he cast the spell twice.

And then he cast a spell that destroys an artifact, Divine Transformation, and uses it to nuke the Homarid, which in turn did at least 12 points of damage to the enemy mage (they start with 20), winning the game.

Now, this is where something isn't quite right with that story, because I don't see any Homarid cards that are artifact creatures, so Jpfed is probably misremembering either the name of the creature he used, or the card he used to kill it. That's not really the important thing anyway, because there are zillions of creatures and zillions of ways to kill them. The important bit is that he A) gave a powerful magic creature to someone else, which is very atypical behavior, and that person then proceeded to wreak havoc on the rest of the players, and B) precisely when that gift would have been turned against him, it turned out to be a booby trap, and blew up in the guy's face, metaphorically speaking, winning Jpfed the game.
posted by Malor at 12:44 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, I didn't look up the Transmogrant card, that's why the Homarid was an artifact. There's a very good lesson there: when playing Magic, you need to read all the cards.
posted by Malor at 12:48 PM on September 20, 2012


Re the big Homarid: I used a Deep Spawn, which is a flavor of Homarid. Lucky my mark wasn't playing blue.
posted by Jpfed at 12:49 PM on September 20, 2012


Man, I love playing Magic. I got back into playing with the XBox version of Duels of the Planeswalkers a couple of years ago.

I highly recommend that game - it's on Steam, it will teach you how to play, and for not too much cash. It's a one-time cost of $10.

And yes, it's entirely possible to play without spending crazy amounts of money - I host a draft at my house once a week, and charge $8 per person. For three hours of entertainment (and you get to keep 3 packs worth of cards) it's not a bad value.
posted by festivus at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where do you live?
posted by griphus at 12:54 PM on September 20, 2012


giraffe, that might explain the game, but doesn't really add to the knowledge of "ok, what's the game ?"

It's a strategy game in which each player has their own deck of cards which are custom to the game itself. The players assume the role of a Planeswalker (a powerful wizard), and using spells and creatures, attempt to win a duel.

It's sort of tough to explain in text, you're better off either learning from a person, or playing a tutorial. By analogy, I could tell you how the chess pieces move, but you wouldn't really have much of a feel for Chess.
posted by explosion at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2012


I go to a game night near where my OH lives on occasion, and having only seen Magic as a game that nerdy kids played when I was in sixth-form, I was surprised to see people turn up to play Magic and only Magic - young lads with binders playing hard against men my age (it always seems to be men who play Magic, at least at the store I go to). For shame, I'm surprised that the pro players here are very far from the nerd game stereotype (which is very much a real thing - I've been to places where people have been there to demo games - as in, they are working for a company - who smell so bad that I couldn't actually sit across from the table from them).

Reading this reminded me of a book about competitive Scrabble I read a couple of years ago in terms of not realising how SRS BZNZ games get when you play them for money, but the difference here is that the players still seem to be enjoying the game - unlike the Scrabble players for whom it became an obsession that led to breakdowns and living in rooms that were a mattress on the floor surrounded by word lists. I'm too impatient and instinctive a game player to get my head around playing something that's so purely strategy-based - I've played some LCGs but I find them tougher, almost mentally exhausting at times, compared with regular boardgames.

The CCG aspect of it would really put me off as well. I can't help but feel it's the case of who has the most money, wins. We;ve been playing Netrunner recently, which is another Wizards game and apparently a cyberpunk Magic, but we are playing with a very defined deck which limits options and levels the field. I would find it very frustrating to sit there thinking that if only I'd bought that booster pack, I'd be able to combat that play. $50 will buy you a game like Lords of Waterdeep which you can take home and play with whomever pops over - spending $50 on a deck, for me, would mean either that another friend has to go out and spend $50, or that there'll be someone else who's spent $100.
posted by mippy at 1:01 PM on September 20, 2012


what is with this Alyssa person that she doesn't think being a world champion is awesome? Is her ex Usain Bolt or something?

The assistant at my FLGS was once world champion of Yu-Gi-Oh. Not only did I not know it was a card game as well as a line of toys found in the Argos catalogue, but I was amazed that he won £70,000.
posted by mippy at 1:03 PM on September 20, 2012


When I was working at the Lusty Lady, one of the stories of legend was that one of the cum moppers before us had been an artist and that during the very early days of MTG he would spend time drawing cards in the break room. Apparently when the very first decks came out some of his drawings were included and he tried to get the peepshow management at the time to buy a few decks but everyone begged off. Fast forward to 1997 when I started working there and the first decks were worth god knows how much and the management was pretty bummed they'd missed out/laughed at the old employee.
posted by josher71 at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2012


The super-short explanation of Magic: you're playing dueling wizards, each of which start with 20 life. You draw cards randomly from a deck you've either constructed or bought. You play "land" cards, which serve as a mana source, and then use that mana to cast other spells to try to defeat your opponents. The two main ways to win are to reduce your enemy to 0 life or less, or to make him run out of cards to draw from his deck.

Cards that get played will frequently change the rules in specific ways, and there are just oooooooooodles of possible interactions between rules changes (aka powers, I suppose) that you have played, that your opponent has played, that you're holding in your hand, and that you believe your opponent probably has.

For instance, if you know the enemy is playing a deck with White mana, it will probably have lots of protection and neutralization cards, and lots of weak creatures that that can gang up in interesting ways. If he's playing Black, he'll probably have cards that injure you or your creatures, or make you less effective, or make you burn up cards faster than normal. Blue is metamagic, frequently turning your spells and creatures against you in weird ways, sometimes with strange side effects. Red is usually direct damage, where they're just flat out nuking you, and playing small creatures to keep your creatures busy. And Green is usually lots and lots of strong creatures, just individually able to whomp most creatures from most other colors.

However, the game is 19 years old, and with the right cards, probably every color has a 'creatures' strategy, and a 'direct damage' strategy, and a 'turtle' strategy, and a 'rush' strategy -- but each will usually be flavored qutie differently, and the root of the game is examining a huge number of potential interactions, perhaps with cards you've never seen before, and seeing the way to manipulate the game to pull out a win.
posted by Malor at 1:06 PM on September 20, 2012


Magic is cool. Jyhad* is cooler.
*aka V:tES

In related news, LackeyCCG is coming to iOS.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:07 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


(also, Jyhad was created by Magic's designer, and is designed for multiplayer.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2012


Having played at the highest levels of the game, I can tell you that there's a very finite threshold for "most money wins." Cards are worth money due to their collectible nature and their utility, but for most tournaments, $400-500 is the limit to what a deck could possibly cost. $300 is more likely.

$100 of cards will beat someone who spent $10 on an intro pack.
$400 will probably beat that $100 deck.
$800 will buy you that $400 deck, with $400 left in your pocket.

Skill is still a major factor. The pro players profiled in this article? They're good enough that they could play a very sub-optimal deck, and almost certainly beat an average player playing the most expensive deck.

Basically, at the casual level, you just play with your friends, and spend however much you want. At the pro level, you do need to spend a certain amount, but golf or tennis are probably more expensive hobbies.
posted by explosion at 1:09 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


And Green is usually lots and lots of strong creatures, just individually able to whomp most creatures from most other colors.

For me the most important aspect of Green is fast mana. Wild Growth, Fyndhorn Elves, Gaia's Touch, that sort of thing.
posted by Jpfed at 1:11 PM on September 20, 2012


I guess I'm going to have play Magic. Steam here I come.
posted by josher71 at 1:13 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get golf for the same reason. Not that it's ever interested me - I have no ability whatsoever to hit something with a stick of any kind - but the buy-in cost before you realise if you're any good is high. Even with tennis, the beginner just needs a racket and a ball and the courts at the local park.

Maybe it's that it's a game that I can't get my head around - both Scrabble players in a tournament will be playing with the same bag of letters, if I play Dominion against my boyfriend we are constructing decks from the same finite pool, but with Magic it does seem to me - as a non-player - that potentially the game could be very much stacked against another player.
posted by mippy at 1:18 PM on September 20, 2012


I have a friend who is so passionate about the philosophy behind each of the different schools of magic that he analyzes peoples personalities in terms of the color schools, in much the same way as some people like to interpret other people through the perspective of the Enneagram or the Myers-Brigg archetypes. For example, he might describe somebody as red/white if they are emotionally volatile but generally nurturing, or green/blue if they're intellectual but kind of a hippy.

Apparently I'm white/blue/black, which makes me "complicated." ;-)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:25 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


...potentially the game could be very much stacked against another player.

I'm not great with car analogies, but most of the time with casual play, you're racing a Chevy against a Ford, not an F1 against a Pinto. One car may be better, but not so much that skill and chance can't make all the difference. Outside of tournament play (where it evens out,) the quality of the decks in a game is almost always somehow asymmetric, but that doesn't necessarily mean one will always trump the other. Sticking wholly with casual decks that are put together by casual Magic players, you may have one really good deck that takes, say, ten turns to really come out swinging (although most would rightly argue that I just described a shitty deck,) and a middling deck that can get in some decent damage right off the bat but doesn't do well at the long game, and they can match wits pretty well.

The person with whom I play MTG most often is objectively better at the game than I am: he understands the relationships between cards better, he builds better decks, he has access to a bigger library of good cards etc. etc. And, yet, I can still beat him with my decks, which, guaranteed, had considerably less (although plenty enough) thought put into it. I lose most of the time (say, seven out of every ten games if we're using our main decks, less if he's experimenting) but that doesn't really take away from the fun.
posted by griphus at 1:31 PM on September 20, 2012


What about dating? Is a winning deck from the mid 90s still capable of winning against an otherwise comparable (in terms of rarity, etc) deck incorporating later expansions?

This has been an issue in Jyhad/V:tES.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:36 PM on September 20, 2012


f I play Dominion against my boyfriend we are constructing decks from the same finite pool, but with Magic it does seem to me - as a non-player - that potentially the game could be very much stacked against another player.

This is exactly why I personally think dominion is so much of a better game. Magic is all about the metagame, and the metagame is itself substantially economic and therefore inherently unbalanced -- which is just really uninteresting to me (though I realize I'm not universal in this respect). But dominion moves the deck construction component into the game itself. That leaves the metagame in dominion as just being about possible gameplay strategies.
posted by advil at 1:38 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


advil, perhaps take a look at Limited magic formats. There are two main ones - Sealed and Draft. In Sealed, each person opens six packs and constructs a deck from the contents. Since six packs contain 84 cards, and a typical limited deck uses only about 23 cards (excluding basic lands, which are provided), there is significant skill involved in building a deck.

Draft, which is about the most fun thing ever in Magic, has a set of eight people around a table all open a pack each, pick the card they want, and pass the rest to the person sitting next to them. You do this for three packs total, and then play 40-card decks against each other. It's amazing fun. I do like and own Dominion, but I'd pick a Magic draft every time against a game of Dominion. Personal preference applies, of course.

Both of these formats remove the economic metagame.
posted by festivus at 1:45 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I encountered MtG in its early days and quickly came to two conclusions:

1) it was a mad genius business model and they were going to get crazy rich
2) it would eat me alive if I let it

so I missed the whole CCG thing. (But I did buy several boxes of On the Edge cards for cheap on Ebay -- now I just need to overcome the perennial problem of middle-aged gamer geeks: scheduling.)
posted by Zed at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2012


but most of the time with casual play, you're racing a Chevy against a Ford

*affixes sticker of Calvin pissing on Akroma, Angel Of Fury*
posted by Greg Nog at 1:52 PM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


When you say Chevy, I automatically think of a Vauxhall Chevette. Yeah, I don't drive.
posted by mippy at 1:55 PM on September 20, 2012


*affixes sticker of Calvin pissing on Akroma, Angel Of Fury*

It's funny because Akroma is such a Timmy card. Calvin would pee on Kitchen Finks, Mulldrifter or Tarmagoyf.
posted by mightygodking at 1:58 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


obligatory magic the gathering video link.
posted by crunchland at 2:01 PM on September 20, 2012


My wife expressed an interest in this over the summer, so we've bought some starter stuff and are playing. It's as much fun as I remember from when Magic first came out...

But I miss my Black Lotus.
posted by never used baby shoes at 2:02 PM on September 20, 2012


There's a "Summon Rock Sled" joke here somewhere...
posted by griphus at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2012


The first obstacle to M:TG is not the expense of buying the cards, but rather having friends who are ALSO open to the expense of buying the cards.

The second obstacle is renewing that expense once a new set comes out and expecting everyone else in your group to follow suit.


So it's like warhammer?
posted by winna at 2:06 PM on September 20, 2012


An order of magnitude less expensive than Warhammer, for the casual player.
posted by griphus at 2:07 PM on September 20, 2012


Ah, then I might go on steam! I had the vague idea that they were equivalently expensive, and at least with warhammer I have all the rat dollies to console me for my massive cash outlay.
posted by winna at 2:12 PM on September 20, 2012


The most fun I ever had in Magic was playing a sealed deck tournament. I was in high school and there was a guy who got about 10 people gathered at his house. Everybody got a starter deck and 2 boosters. You were allowed to trade and then started playing matches. For ante. That was the best part. With that few cards evening getting the right number and kind of lands was pretty difficult. I remember I won a Juggernaut in a game and it was huge. That was a major coup. Good times.

Do they do anything equivalent in the online games?
posted by ericales at 2:17 PM on September 20, 2012


Ah, Magic. I hate the fact that the best investment I likely will ever will make was a few hundred dollars of cards bought in high school, sold on eBay a decade later for more than 1000% profit.

In my old age I've come to really appreciate simple games with complex strategy.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:22 PM on September 20, 2012


The best form of Magic is Commander/EDH. I've stopped playing for the moment (Return to Ravnica is tempting, though...) but my Black/White Teysa deck is still complete and near at hand.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:26 PM on September 20, 2012


Can magic be played w/a center deck? Or will that not work given the strong polarization of mana/spells?
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:33 PM on September 20, 2012


But dominion moves the deck construction component into the game itself. That leaves the metagame in dominion as just being about possible gameplay strategies.

Those who like this mechanic should check out Ascension on iOS.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:35 PM on September 20, 2012


The best form of Magic is Commander/EDH.

EDH + Cockatrice becomes amazing and crazy, because the economic aspect is completely removed. ((Cockatrice is really the only way I play much, because while the game is fun, I don't do CCGs. I dislike the whole scarcity/cost thing.))

Summary: EDH:
* You have one commander card which is set aside and which you can summon at any time (for increasing cost if it keeps getting killed).
* You have 40 life.
* 100 card decks (minimum and maximum)
* Only one copy of non-basic land cards allowed. (So no duplicates)

Cockatrice: Access to all cards, without having to worry about costs, tracking them down, or anything like that.

Result: Absolutely crazy combinations, and a deck you could play 20 times and get 20 completely different play styles out of (Since there aren't any copies beyond land, what you draw changes dramatically from round to round)
posted by CrystalDave at 2:42 PM on September 20, 2012


Seconding Duels of the Planeswalkers is a lot of fun. It has pre-made sets of 100 cards or so that you can massage into a deck of 60. It plays according to the same rules as magic but all the house keeping is automated. In a way it is like street fighter. Decks are reasonably well balanced generally though some decks have particularly good or bad match ups. If you've played magic before it's also fun to get to play with some awesome cards that you could never actually afford. For 10 bucks it's hard to go wrong.
posted by I Foody at 2:43 PM on September 20, 2012


Is it worth it to get the newer versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers? I picked up the first version on Steam (A friend had the Xbox version, and it was surprisingly fun), but I know that since then there's been all sorts of newer versions, but I don't know if it's "More decks, more modes, more things to enjoy" or "Welcome to the digital treadmill. Also, enjoy player base fragmentation in case you want to play with friends".
posted by CrystalDave at 2:48 PM on September 20, 2012


Duels is welcome to the digital treadmill. But it's a dollar a deck and the decks are significantly different year to year. I think this version is very similar to the 2012 (which was a big leap over the first duels) but I like playing on ipad much better than on console so it's worth it to me for the interface alone.
posted by I Foody at 2:52 PM on September 20, 2012


I'm curious about the yearly updates--and DLC--too. Is Planewalkers going to lock me into yearly upgrade plus seasonal addons in order to stay competitive--or find matches? (Will it matchmake you against an opponent with additional/fewer expansions?)

Is it wiser to go for the older, clunkier Magic OnLine?
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:53 PM on September 20, 2012


Skill is still a major factor. The pro players profiled in this article? They're good enough that they could play a very sub-optimal deck, and almost certainly beat an average player playing the most expensive deck.

What a strange way to put it... I mean deck design is at least half the skill, and then knowing how to play the deck you have is the other half. Presumably if you took a top player and gave them a blind deck, it would really mess with them. They'd have no idea how to play without knowing what might come on the next draw. OF COURSE they can guess what the deck is going to have based on the first 7 cards (is it 7, I can't remember), but it isn't the same as building the deck yourself.

Bringing up Formula 1 is really interesting for this, because there are some real similarities. A team might design a car that is fantastic, but the organizers go and ban the advanced technology and they have to start from scratch. Magic is the same. You might build your entire strategy around a card, but then they go and ban it, or strongly restrict it, and suddenly your entire strategy is lost.
posted by Chuckles at 3:01 PM on September 20, 2012


$800 will buy you that $400 deck, with $400 left in your pocket.

One point I would mention about the prohibitive costs mentioned above is that if you want to play competitively, there are typically a few "top decks" in whatever format you may be playing, and the number of cards required to build those is still limited. But for many, the fun of the game is the interactions of the thousands of different cards. What this means, for a casual gamer, is that the temptation lies in obtaining as wide a variety of cards as possible. Sure, some may be "better" than others, which elevate their value on the 2nd hand market. But it doesn't take that much self-restraint to not spend several dollars on a single card if you're just playing for fun. But what's much harder to do is stop from gathering a collection that creates such a varied and entertaining experience every time you play.

The trick to this is to ensure your friends are as invested in the game as much as you are. Invariably, someone will become addicted, spend more than everybody else, and amass a larger pool to choose from, thereby making the $400 premier deck to play alongside everyone elses $20 cobbled together decks. Skewing things this way leads either every to ramp up, or the game to become unbalanced and less fun. But if you can find partners who can commit to the same value, it can be quite a good hobby. My brother and I have come to this arrangement, and have been playing online for 10 years, and agree that it is one of the best gaming experiences around.
posted by Metro Gnome at 3:31 PM on September 20, 2012


I have come to loathe this game, almost entirely for reasons outside of its worth as a game: the legions of fanboys whose minds it has colonized who would probably be better served by Eurogames for far less cash outlay, the fact that it haws exalted a certain kind of business model where you figure out how to sell nearly worthless things (like scraps of cardboard) for $$$ that at its maximum extent has given us BS DLC for consoles to unlock features present in complete code form on the disk, and, in some circles, its ubiquity. The fact that the Cease-and-Desisted XQUZYPHYR's fan homage, M:tG/MLP deck Shards of Equestria is just an extra turd atop the sundae. It is a large component for my dislike for Hasbro.

The people above who talk about playing in some formats not costing a lot of money are, to large extent, clueless, because you're not going to become a good player, practically, unless you have play experience against and using a wide variety of cards, and that means MONEY. The person saying you can put together a very good deck for $50 makes me laugh aloud -- you aren't going to be use it well unless you've had that play experience, meanwhile I could buy an entire set of Power Grid off of Amazon for just over $30.
posted by JHarris at 3:36 PM on September 20, 2012


Ooh, did someone say Power Grid? I'm in.
posted by xedrik at 3:48 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never been a very good player. Although I did play one-two drafts weekly for a couple years, and played in a couple of PTQs (once with weeks of prep, which was great).

The draft format is a beautiful game. There is the drafting rounds, in which you select one card from a booster pack, then pass the rest of the booster pack to the next player. Eight people play as a group for this, so you eventually choose/receive a full booster pack of cards. You do this through three booster packs, then construct a deck with the cards you've chosen(received). Then the eight people play an elimination tournament. It's fun to try to cooperate with your neighbors in card selection and passing, and good work to build an operational deck with the cards you got, then challenging to make it work in play. I miss it.

Probably the best afternoon I had playing MtG was a format called Continuous Draft. In each match, the two players shuffled together their three booster packs worth of cards, then one would draw four cards, reveal them and select one, passing the three cards to the other player, who selects two, and gives the last back to the first player. This repeats until the cards are divided. Now each player constructs a deck. They play, and the result gets recorded. And then they turn away and find another player to draft and play against. The repetition of choice, that evaluation of which card is worth it, and then the repetition of deck building as an exercise -- an excellent mental workout.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 3:50 PM on September 20, 2012


Without going into a million details, here's a quick post on formats:

Standard is the primary format of Magic. It consists of the last 1-2 years worth of cards. Cards rotate out of standard, around this time every year. Standard is the widest played format by a large margin. In a few days, the "Scars of Mirrodin" block will rotate out of Standard, and the newest block "Return to Ravnica" will take it's place.

Extended is like Standard, but the last 3-4 years of cards instead. It has widely been replaced as a primary format in tournaments by the newest format, Modern. Extended also rotates, same as Standard.

Modern was recently created as a non-rotating format. Each year the list of cards will grow. I believe that Modern is the last 8 years of cards or so. Modern was created to deal with issues like card availability and non-reprintability of old cards.

The Classic formats are Legacy and Vintage. These formats allow play of all sets back to the beginning of Magic. Their primary difference is a Banned and Restricted list which is much greater for Legacy than Vintage. In fact, Vintage is the only official format where you can play the most powerful cards in the game's history, like the Power Nine.

There are a number of multiplayer formats, for team and individual play. One of the most popular but also most recent formats is EDH or Commander. As many mentioned above, the format requires the player to pick a central "commander" for their deck as well as 99 other cards, with the restriction that the cards must match the color of the commander, and you cannot play more than one copy of any card (except land).

The last major format to discuss is Limited. Also known widely as drafting, the format eliminates some concerns of buying wins with expensive cards by giving everyone a limited pool of cards and requiring them to build and play with only those cards. Drafting is usually either Sealed Draft, in which you open six fresh packs of cards and have a time limit to build a 40 card deck, or Booster Draft, in which you open only three packs of product but pick one card at a time, passing the remainder to another player to choose until all cards have been distributed. (Cube drafting also falls here, but I've talked enough already.)

There are tons of other formats. I know some of the online-only formats like Momir/MoJhoSto were mentioned, and there are tons of ways to play outside the "sanctioned" formats, but that's the majority.

One last thing - the "money" thing is about competitive Magic. Competitive Magic is expensive. Playing with friends does not have to be. I often play a format called Pauper - you can only use cards that have been printed at the most common rarity, stuff that is worth pennies at best. As long as your opponent is restricted in the same way, the play is fun even if you're not flinging expensive cards around.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 3:58 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hate the fact that the best investment I likely will ever will make was a few hundred dollars of cards bought in high school, sold on eBay a decade later for more than 1000% profit.

Heh. I last played M:TG, as far as I can work out, in 1998. It intrigues me that it's still going, but I'm scared to investigate what it involves now, and what new features it might have. When I last played, "Enchant World" cards were the latest, greatest invention. I don't think I ever actually had the chance to use one.

And I wonder about selling my decks - I have no idea if the cards in them would nowdays be regarded as strange, rare antiquities (Heh. I've got a pile of "Antiquities" cards in there), or as just boring old shit.
posted by Jimbob at 4:02 PM on September 20, 2012


Ah, worlds colliding.

I spend my weekends working as a tournament judge; I've done everything from local Friday Night Magic events to working the Pro Tour, and sometimes regret that I go to so many different places and don't really see much other than the inside of an airport, a hotel and a convention center. But it's a lot of fun, and I get to meet and work with a bunch of very cool people.

Regarding the money thing: yes, competitive Magic requires a not-insignificant up-front investment, because you're not going to be able to walk into a tournament with whatever you opened from your first couple booster packs and win. But at the competitive level, everybody's already over that hump, and it's pretty much a level playing field, card-wise. Which means it does ultimately come down to skill, and I've seen enough professional-level play to have an understanding of the gulf that separates me (not that great, but I play larger tournaments on occasion and can hold my own) from the pros.

Something I'd recommend to folks who play somewhat casually but are interested in seeing how the big show works: keep an eye on the Grand Prix schedule, because those run almost every weekend (40-ish this year). A GP is a professional-level tournament, but open to anyone who wants to enter, and they're typically A) huge, and B) have lots and lots of other stuff running alongside; there'll be casual side events in basically every format, artists on-site signing/altering cards, employees of Wizards of the Coast doing "gunslinging" matches where you can meet and play against them for packs, etc.; so they're a ton of fun even if you never even glance in the direction of the main event.
posted by ubernostrum at 4:29 PM on September 20, 2012


JHarris: "The person saying you can put together a very good deck for $50 makes me laugh aloud -- you aren't going to be use it well unless you've had that play experience, meanwhile I could buy an entire set of Power Grid off of Amazon for just over $30."

One could put together a tournament-caliber deck in the Modern format for $100 - $200.

And thirty dollars for Power Grid -- so what? I could buy a hand-carved wooden chess set for $30. That doesn't mean that the experience of chess is anything like Power Grid, or that Power Grid is anything remotely like Magic: The Gathering. Have you considered that people who invest in Magic do so because they like it, not because they are ignorant of euro games?
posted by meadowlark lime at 4:36 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


this makes me wish I had the time off. I've noticed the scene in Seattle much more active to my delight.

the cost thing is pesky, especially since I'm intruiged by legacy, where in lay cards that cost $100+, a bit daunting to my budget.

I think the success is how widely you have options to play. I primarily play modern, and although I spent too much on my three decks. they're basically done. I can keep using as long as I want (there is a bit of power creep, and I'm not even getting into the metagame aspects). while other friends only play EDH or the many casual options that exist.

it still amuses me that its kept up and even grown in popularity over time.
posted by AngelWuff at 5:09 PM on September 20, 2012


The guys running this Magic: The Gathering game are really good at what they do - I believe there is no one on this planet who knows more about designing games than them. There are very few games invented in the modern era that have sustained a competitive scene for over 10 years - you need to make the game simple and appealing enough for beginners to learn (entry age to the game would be young teenagers) yet deep and complex enough for the pros to play competitively for years in the circuit.

One of the brilliant design decisions they took was to the design one game - the entirety of MTG - to be played in multiple formats, which appeals in different ways to different people, yet brings them together in a single community.

If you're the type of player who is concerned with wanting a fair game and an even playing field - then you'd play the game in Limited or Draft. If you're the type of player who enjoys collecting cards for their art and cool mechanics, then you'd play Standard.

They have a developer blog with some really insightful articles about the design decisions that go into making a successful game. One of the most memorable and eye opening ones dealt with the question of why, in a collectable card game, bad cards have to exist...
posted by xdvesper at 5:27 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


A new group of friends I got involved with a few months back (RENNIES WOOO) has regular Magic nights on Sundays, and a couple months ago the main guy gave me an intro pack + boosters as a thank you for some computer parts. He sat down and taught me the basics - and damn, is it a heck of a lot more complicated than I ever thought.

I've since bought about 3500 cards in bulk lots off Amazon ($16/1K); the most expensive part has been the "card saver" sleeves and storage boxes, both of which I could have avoided if I'd wanted. They've cost way more than the cards themselves.

Last week, I took my Craftsman tool box full of cards over and chitchatted and sorted bulk lots by color while the other guys played. It's amazing watching folks play who have been playing each other for years and years - they seem almost telepathic at times.
posted by mrbill at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2012


xdvesper, one of the other things that I think is neat is just the amount of theory and thought -- both from the players and the R&D team -- that goes into the game.

Even things like basic resources: you start with 20 life, seven cards and no lands (which are the resources that let you actually play other stuff) you get to draw (normally) one card per turn and play (normally) one land per turn. So what's it worth, in terms of other resources, to draw an extra card or play an extra land?

Back in the early days, it became clear pretty quickly that, for example, the ability to pay one life to draw one card is too good and breaks things. But two life for a card? Borderline playable, as some recent cards demonstrate. There's a massive balancing act going on, and even though we knock on the folks behind the game when they get it wrong every once in a while, the fact that they get it right as often as they do is impressive.
posted by ubernostrum at 6:07 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I played like crazy from 1994-1998 then left the game behind for what I thought was forever. Then in 2010 I was walking through the mall with my wife and saw some old theme decks for sale. I bought 4 and then taught my wife to play. We continued to buy more and more of those decks at Magic stores, DragonCon and the internet. We now have 190 decks and still have a lot more to go, but our intent is to own every pre-constructed deck Magic has ever made. It is a fun way to casually play the game.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:12 PM on September 20, 2012


Back when I was playing Magic, we'd do sealed deck tournaments this way -- each person buys one full sealed deck and 3 (or was it 4) booster packs. You get a limited amount of time to examine the cards you personally bought to build a deck, plus to make trades with other players to help flesh out your (and their) deck. Then you sit down and play by the official rules, with ante and everything.

We could easily entertain a group of 6-10 for a long Saturday of play doing this, basically playing until people's decks became unplayable due to ante losses or people finally got bored and quit. That would take from, say, a 10am start until at least 10pm, if not late into the night or continuing into Sunday.

Great fun. My favorite way to play Magic. It lets everyone start on more or less equal footing as far as deck construction goes, and definitely is more about how skilled you are at making things work for you than how skilled you are at spending money on cards you require for your special deck.
posted by hippybear at 6:17 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


And thirty dollars for Power Grid -- so what? I could buy a hand-carved wooden chess set for $30.

Chess sets are everywhere; Power Grid is recent and hasn't been mined to exhaustion. But my point also stands with a variety of other board games -- you could get Puerto Rico for that, or with some luck you might be able to score Agricola. There is a wide variety of fairly new, awesome games you could play, that don't require constant outlays of money to remain competitive, that can be played many times without having to feed the dragon. It seems to me that a group would be better served putting that money into a greater variety of play experiences than larding up Hasbro's coffers. So, that.
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on September 20, 2012


But my point also stands with a variety of other board games -- you could get Puerto Rico for that, or with some luck you might be able to score Agricola. There is a wide variety of fairly new, awesome games you could play, that don't require constant outlays of money to remain competitive, that can be played many times without having to feed the dragon. It seems to me that a group would be better served putting that money into a greater variety of play experiences than larding up Hasbro's coffers. So, that.

you should probably go tell all those Magic players how they're having fun inefficiently, then, I bet that will go over like hotcakes
posted by mightygodking at 9:35 PM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


JHarris: If you're asking what makes Magic more interesting to Magic players than the board games you mention, I think it has a lot to do with the continual evolution of both the game itself (the mechanics and available cards) and the metagame (what decks and strategies are prevalent in a given format at a given time and how to beat them). Magic is constantly evolving precisely because Wizards prints a new set every three months. The cycle of new cards rotating in (and in most formats, old cards rotating out) is what drives that process, but that process is in turn driven by the development team at Wizards watching the player metagame and reacting to that.

Chuckles:

You might build your entire strategy around a card, but then they go and ban it, or strongly restrict it, and suddenly your entire strategy is lost.

To be fair, Wizards rarely bans cards: the internal Future Future League playtesters usually catch most incredibly broken cards before they hit print. And when they do, it's usually a long time coming (with a few notable exceptions in the past like the Hulk Flash deck that could win on turn zero (i.e. on your opponent's first turn, him going first). So it doesn't affect people putting together their own strategies so much as netdeckers playing the format's dominant deck.
posted by nerdinexile at 10:30 PM on September 20, 2012


I'm not trying to convince people not to have fun with what they enjoy. I'm just saying, ya know, there are alternatives, and Hasbro has a non-zero evil quotient. And I think Magic is more popular with some players than the board games I mention mostly because they don't know of those games. That is all.
posted by JHarris at 10:41 PM on September 20, 2012


Right, I hear you. My point is just that what a lot of non-Magic players see as a greedy business practice (regularly printing new cards and rotating out old ones) is actually pretty fundamental to the game and generates a lot of its appeal.
posted by nerdinexile at 10:58 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Used to play MtG, but bowed out after Tempest. Just too expensive a Hobby. Played online back before there were official online via Apprentice. Far cheaper, and the official apps are incredibly annoying. If you buy a deck via FLGS (or elsewhere), you can at least sell it back some day. The same can't be said of these online game pack purchases. Yet, online play is a great way to get a lot of experience in at once. There's less setup time, finding opponents at all hours of the day is simpler, and if you're particularly focused, you could perhaps play two games at once.

I'm really glad someone decided to relaunch one of WotC's other properties, Netrunner. The game design is much better than MtG. The game is now a "living card game" model, under which new, full card play sets are released every month for like 10 bucks. They did goose things a bit with the Core Set having a non-uniform distribution, such that you need to buy multiple sets for a fully playable set, which is unfortunate but understandable. On the gameplay side, I like it better as well. There's no such thing as "mana screwed by the shuffle" (or late game dead land draws), there's built in mechanics to ward off metagame-breaking combos, and more bluffing required. Top flight deckbuilding and gameplay requires a cross between psychology and economics. Just got my sets last week and I hope to find some opponents tomorrow night.

A:NR has been selling quite well it seems. Apparently other projects have picked up where Appr32 left off. OCTGN (sadly, Windows only) now supports A:NR, and the author has been publishing some preliminary stats on aggregated match results. Seems the dominant Corp strategy is "Tag n Bag", and only one Runner faction has a strong defense against it. I suspect the metagame will evolve over time as runners pick up on that. Plus, the first expansion is headed to retail in a few months.
posted by pwnguin at 12:07 AM on September 21, 2012


Am I allowed to blatantly point people towards the 2012 Magic the Gathering Online Community Cup?
posted by Neale at 2:34 AM on September 21, 2012


The annoying thing about Netrunner for me as a novice is that the instructions really double-down on all the cyberpunk lingo, so they refer to defender cards as 'rez' or something and it's very confusing.
posted by mippy at 2:44 AM on September 21, 2012


I admire how much effort Wizards puts into the flavor of each set. When I read about The Machine Orthodoxy when New Phyrexia was about to be released, I fell in love. I would find some way to cosplay Elesh Norn if I could somehow do it without beaning other people and getting stuck in doorways.

Scars of Mirrodin block was so. much. fun.
posted by giraffe at 4:18 AM on September 21, 2012


you should probably go tell all those Magic players how they're having fun inefficiently, then, I bet that will go over like hotcakes

Hmm, maybe they could be convinced that they're actually losing the meta-metagame...

I'm really glad someone decided to relaunch one of WotC's other properties, Netrunner. The game design is much better than MtG. The game is now a "living card game" model, under which new, full card play sets are released every month for like 10 bucks. They did goose things a bit with the Core Set having a non-uniform distribution, such that you need to buy multiple sets for a fully playable set, which is unfortunate but understandable. On the gameplay side, I like it better as well. There's no such thing as "mana screwed by the shuffle" (or late game dead land draws), there's built in mechanics to ward off metagame-breaking combos, and more bluffing required. Top flight deckbuilding and gameplay requires a cross between psychology and economics. Just got my sets last week and I hope to find some opponents tomorrow night.

Yes, I'm pretty excited about this (don't have a set yet). To what extent have they cleaned up the rules? The original game was pretty ornate (as games of that era were) and I've always had some trouble teaching it to people. E.g. tagging and traces, net vs. meat vs. brain damage, too many types of icebreakers, all the different tokens you need, etc. It sounds from what you say like they're hoping you will play it as a deckbuilding game? What is non-uniform about the core set? I have never treated the original netrunner that way, though I know some people did.
posted by advil at 6:59 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The second obstacle is renewing that expense once a new set comes out and expecting everyone else in your group to follow suit.

Can't you just put stickers on the front of the old cards to indicate new powers? (I have been tempted by Magic but the whole idea of having personal decks has always put me off.)
posted by biffa at 9:20 AM on September 21, 2012


That would just overpower the cards. Just slapping a new power on it without making it more expensive to cast (or weaker in other respects) would screw with the delicate balance.
posted by griphus at 9:28 AM on September 21, 2012


Stickers for the extra cost too? How is that info normally expressed in the game?
posted by biffa at 9:59 AM on September 21, 2012


I used to play Magic back around the time of Arabian Nights / Legends, up through Ice Age or so. And by 'play' I mean 'get hopped up on Mountain Dew and screw around with a couple friends most every weekend'. I had a decent direct fire Goblin deck, but my pride and joy was this ridiculous 5-color, 70 card monstrosity, built entirely around prismatic dragons and burning an opponent's deck out before mine had even hit the halfway point. It rarely won, but if it had enough time to get rolling it was a fantastically ludicrous sight. Something like 19 dual-lands were required to even make it possible... I finally realized that I just didn't care enough to make the continual investments required to keep the game fresh, and dumped my cards for cash.

Recently a friend talked me into checking out the online flavors of Magic, and holy moly, people are playing a completely different game than I remember, with rules that didn't exist back then. Around the time I fought a SECOND person who's strategy was based entirely around dumping nearly their entire deck to the graveyard in a round or two and then pulling out like 15 monsters into play the round after that, I just gave up. The game has moved on, and is now a baffling place to me..
posted by FatherDagon at 12:17 PM on September 21, 2012


Check out the upper right hand corner, that card costs six colorless and three white mana to cast. The problem is that there isn't a 1:1 relationship between casting cost and ability, because, among other reasons, there have to be bad cards for the game to work. So if you slap a sticker with a new power and cost on it, you have no way of knowing whether you've just made the card better or worse.

The cards are playtested extensively by people who know what makes a balanced card or set, and many (I dare say most) Magic players don't. They know how to balance out a deck, but that's because the assumption is that the cards are already in balance themselves. Once in a while a balance issue will get by the playtesters and you end up with a scenario where, in tournament play (which is basically the Balance Proving Grounds,) half the decks revolve around that card and the other half revolve around disabling that card.

By trying to update the cards yourself, you're ruining the game. It'd be the rough equivalent of making a new chess piece. I mean, that doesn't stop people from making up their own cards -- and they do! Hell Inquest (the CCG magazine from the Wizard Magazine people) had features where you can cut out "fake" card faces and put them on cards you didn't want -- in it occasionally. But having the players define the card mechanics, rather than the gamemakers, will never fly, and with good reason.
posted by griphus at 12:29 PM on September 21, 2012


Check outbattle on.
posted by mecran01 at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2012


Whoops Battlecon
posted by mecran01 at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2012


The cards are playtested extensively by people who know what makes a balanced card or set, and many (I dare say most) Magic players don't.

I don't think you can look at it like that.. I think it is more that most players don't care about balance (even if they say they do). They want to win, and they want the rules to be adjusted in a way that makes their favourite strategy stronger.
posted by Chuckles at 3:20 PM on September 21, 2012


Chuckles, that's part of it, but there's a bigger issue in that it's really hard to keep everything balanced, especially with multiple tournament formats which have different card pools. Even the real R&D team, which is made up of former professional-level players who know what they're doing, can't get it right all the time. Just this week there was a fairly long article about this, talking about how R&D's conception of what makes for a balanced low-cost creature has significantly evolved over the years.

Meanwhile, there are forums where people post their own personal card ideas (often mocked up using editors that produce images which mostly look like real cards), and they are often hilariously bad from a power-balance perspective (among other flaws).
posted by ubernostrum at 4:27 AM on September 22, 2012


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