Magic the Gathering: somebody please explain its appeal

I an an avid game player and yet, I cannot see what is appealing about this game. The card sets you need constantly change; so do the rules. The worst aspect is that there’s a constant “arms race” to acquire the most powerful cards. There’s really nothing to stop anyone from bringing in a deck full of Hydrogen Bomb Monsters and winning every game, until, of course, Wizards brings out the Anti-Hydrogen Bomb Monster Death Ray, at which point there will be cards printed for the Death Ray Immunity Spell, and on and on and on… And yes, I know there are rules limiting the strength of decks, and tournament formats that restrict how you can construct a deck, but my point is still valid. You apparently couldn’t win a single game with a deck from, say, five years ago even if you were allowed to riffle through your deck and select the card you wanted to draw every single turn.

The most ludicrous rule in Magic is that there are no rules. If a card says it can do something, then that takes precedence over the existing rules. So if the card says, “Player using this card wins instantly,” there is nothing his opponent can do about it, and no rules he can cite as none of them apply any more. This strikes me as stupid, chaotic, and a major impediment to anyone but sex-starved male nerds playing the game (I do not exaggerate; I went to a big regional tournament recently and there were TWO females in the tournament crowd of about 400).

The set cycles exist so that people will continue buying cards: Without sales the game would cease to exist. Depending on which format you’re playing in, the cards you’re using might become illegal in anywhere from six months to four years. A happy little side effect of the set cycle is that it’s actually the only thing that prevents the arms race. The cards that exist today aren’t particularly stronger than cards that existed a year ago. They’re just different.

The thing is, there really aren’t many Hydrogen Bombs. If you go to an event you’ll see a huge variety of decks. The most powerful cards are either difficult to get into play or they’re powerful in a more subtle way. And yeah, even if there is a super card, like you said, there are rules limiting how many copies of a card you can use in a deck.

Wrong to the point of absurdity.

That’s how every collectible card game that exists works. Yes, the functions of cards are determined by the cards themselves. Just like D&D, where each class provides characters with abilities they normally couldn’t use and, every few months, some new book with new classes is released. Otherwise we might as well all be playing pinochle.

you are playing a game of poker/chess, with thousands of possible combinations. for one who claims to be an avid gamer I have to wonder how you think this is a negative? Great games are like fine art, if you don’t have the necessarily knowledge you cannot possibly make a judgment.

Mtg is beyond a doubt the best game I have ever played, the elegance of a perfectly designed deck is astonishing to see in action. I played it for a few years way the hell back in the early days. and the reason I quit? the time sink. the money wasn’t an issue because I could trade or sell cards and basically play for free but the time sink was pretty intense.

that said it was a worth while time spent in the game. like any good game it changes the way you see things outside the game, allows you to make abstract connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. Mtg could be used to teach children all sorts of handy things beyond the basic math involved in the game.

no I dont work for wotc.
however one of my deck designs from way the hell back when Ice Age came out is still in play today. ( I was shocked to find that out) and if you want a bag of Zuran Orb corners I am your go to guy.

The thing I never liked about Magic is the sheer commitment it takes to really be any good at it. For instance, to be anywhere near a decent player you need an encyclopaedic memory better than that of any Starcraft player – high level (and we’re talking regional top 5 players, not even national) typically have the effects, synergies, and general strategies of THOUSANDS of cards memorized. Yeah, you may win one or two games without it, but it won’t be pleasant in any respect.

I realize this is true of, say, Starcraft as well. But Magic with its thousands of commonly used cards takes it way past 11 into laughable territory. I simply can’t imagine being invested enough in a game to go and memorize THAT many cards, rules, and strategies for something as simple as building a competent deck. Yet some people I know ARE that into magic. Nothing against them, I just can’t fathom that much dedication to a game, especially not when said dedication often involves regular 50 dollar investments in cards.

I played for a bit, it was okay, but I really couldn’t bring myself to invest the time it takes to move beyond “hilariously outclassed” by any semi-serious opponent. I probably could have if I WANTED TO, I mean, I knew the state champ and another top 5 in the region player who could have tutored me, helped me build decks, etc, but… so much time investment.

I have played the game enough–I made a serious attempt to get involved with it–that I do, in fact, have the necessary knowledge.

If chess was like Magic, there would be thousands of different pieces, with abilities like death gazes and teleportation. The board would be not 8x8, but 127x605. Or 200x3. Or banana-shaped. Depending on what day of the week it was.

I think that Magic is the Calvinball of games. This is not to say that it can’t be fun, especially for those who don’t like rules (like Calvin).

Magic has tons of rules, just ask my friend who jumped through the hoops to be a judge.

I quit playing when I realized just how much money I had tied up in cards, most of which I didn’t play. And you really DO have to keep upgrading your deck, unless the group you play with will agree to some house rules.

I don’t know about all that. Way back when I played, I didn’t need to know everything about every card to build a solid deck. Just needed enough knowledge about what you wanted to do, what you were weak against, and what decks were popular at the time. Other than that, just try to keep your deck down to the minimum size.

It wasn’t perfect. Anyone who was using the latest tournament fad deck and had the money to spend on the cards needed could usually take me down. I was a moderate player who got his good cards from packs. I could hold my own though, and occasionally get enough deck luck to pull a win out.

Magic is like anything else. You can certainly spend a lot of time learning every card and rule and dedicate yourself to winning everything, or you can just play it and have a good time.

The point of new sets has nothing to do with the new cards being better. In fact, the balance of Magic has been pretty steady for years now, longer than some of its players have been alive. The super strong cards, the ones that get banned even when you’re allowed to use all the sets, are from the old sets.

The point of the new sets is first, obviously, to sell more cards. But the big reason that the old sets cycle out of standard play is to make things easier on the players. The more cards that are “live”, the more possible interactions there are, which means the more time and research you have to put in to discover the good combinations. Keeping it limited to the main set and a couple arcs of side sets keeps the pool of stuff you have to know at a fairly sane level.

In any case, you only have to keep on top of the current sets and everything if you want to play competitively. There’s a big difference between playing competitively and playing casually. Magic is a game with a large tournament and structured play aspect, and because of that it has to devote a lot of time and effort into making things fair and uniform. That’s why judges have to learn so many rules: 99% of them won’t come up, but when they DO come up they should be resolved the same whether you’re playing a tournament in Seattle or in Tokyo.

To me, looking through a big list of cards for neat combinations was the fun part; it’s like poking around a junk store or a flea market looking for hidden treasures.

The less fun parts to me were (a) the cost and the ability to pay money for power (in general, the more powerful the card, the more it would cost to buy) and (b) the fact that, after a while, I could just look for 2 seconds on the internet and find a deck that was almost certainly better than whatever I came up with.

I mean, if you’re playing in the local university basement with a bunch of laypeople sure, but pretty much my only outlet for play was against said state champ and at tournaments. I admit my situation was a bit unusual, but I basically had no chance unless I ubergamed. It was more fun back for the two months I played in middle school when I just played with my friend where we both had barely modified started decks.

Magic is the best game I’ve ever played, and it’s been my primary hobby for about 17 years now. Needless to say, I strongly disagree with several of your points:

(1) There are rules. Tons of rules. And while they have changed over the years, almost all the changes have proven, in the long run, to be for the better. And having the rules is part of what makes the game so amazing, in that even with the tens of thousands of cards leading to millions of possible interactions, it’s almost always fairly easy to decisively and concretely determine what should happen, even though you might be seeing three cards interact in a way that no human has ever seen before. The rules are still VERY complicated overall, but the vast majority of situations do in fact have a clear and precise answer, meaning you don’t have to have every game devolve into an argument about what order things happen in, or what have you. And having cards break the rules is a GOOD thing. For instance, there’s a card called Doran the Siege Tower which is a creature that says that creatures deal damage equal to their toughness instead of their power. That’s something that just takes a basic facet of the game and utterly flips it on its head… and it’s awesome! It’s something which is simple and clear and easy to understand, yet which potentially makes every creature on the battlefield do something somewhat different than what it did before. Rule-breaking and rule-changing cards like that are part of what make magic great.

(2) There aren’t hydrogen bombs any more, and there certainly aren’t anti-hydrogen-bombs. There are close to zero examples in magic history of cards that were printed solely to interfere with other specific cards. There are some cards that are printed that are good against groups of cards, or general strategies, but that’s usually a good thing, as it keeps things from being too dominated by everyone doing the same thing. There are certainly still cards printed that are better than other cards, but the difference between the first-best and twentieth-best card in a given card set is much smaller than it used to be. (There’s also been a change recently towards having more of the really powerful cards be creatures, on the theory that creatures are fun and interactive and should be what magic is all about, as opposed to instances and sorceries and artifacts.)

(3) Most importantly, most of your (and others’) criticisms seem to assume that everyone is playing competitive constructed magic. Yes, in tournament-level competitive constructed magic, you need 4 each of lots of powerful cards. And they usually cost money. And they rotate in and out of legality with some rapidity. And no matter how creative you are, someone else can almost certainly look on the internet and find a very well tuned deck that is better than yours. BUT, and this is a huge but, there are plenty of types of magic other than competitive constructed. Arguably he most important is limited, in which everyone shows up effectively owning zero cards, then everyone gets a random collection of cards (sometimes just randomly opened out of packs – “sealed deck” – and sometimes chosen one at a time so there’s skill involved – “draft”), and then you build your decks and go from there. So everyone’s on an even footing (barring luck of the open), you don’t have to own a single card at all, and you only have to know about the several hundred cards in whatever expansion you’re playing with, and really only about half or so of those are likely to be played with. The big drawback of limited, of course, is that you have to keep buying new cards… it probably costs somewhere from $10 to $30 each time you play, depending on various things, but of course you will then get cards that you can hopefully sell some of back to the store, you might win prizes, etc. (99% of the magic I play is competitive limited.)

The other major form of magic is casual constructed, ie, playing for fun. For instance, there’s a format called “Commander” which is very popular in which there are basically never tournaments. In Commander you play with a larger-than-normal deck with particular deck construction rules which encourage maximum variety, and it is usually played multiplayer. You can certainly build a single commander deck which you play basically untouched for years and years and years, and you for the most part won’t run into the some of the more “grief-y” types of constructed decks.

I’ll admit, as far as alternative rulesets go EDH is pretty fun, though I can’t really afford it and has a propensity to drag on sometimes.

ETA: Max, while tournaments that are sealed deck or draft even the playing field a bit, an ubergamer who’s been intently following the new release is going to have bounds better luck than a casual player. Especially drafts, drafts are horridly newbie unfriendly.

Also, I always found breaking Magic way more fun than playing it. I’ve seen a few gimmick decks that revolve around infinitely recursive subgames and whatnot, 98% of them aren’t tournament legal and your friends will hate you if you play them more than once, but they make such great stories.

This is the most wrong part of your post. The strongest cards ever to exist came from the first set ever made. Now that the game designers know a bit more about how to test and balance the game, it’s not nearly as common to come across a completely overpowered card.

Games with cards almost always include some cards that supersede the basic rules of the game. Ever played Monopoly? The rules are that you go around the board by rolling dice. But what if you draw a card that says to go directly to Jail? Oh noes! The cards are breaking the rules. There ARE NO RULES! Dogs and cats sleeping together. Mass hysteria. If there were a Monopoly card that said “You win the game”, that would make Monopoly a pretty stupid game. But there isn’t one.

Nor is there a Magic card that says that.

If you have to make up parts of a game that don’t exist in order to criticize them, it’s probably not a very strong criticism.

Richard Garfield (the creator of M:tG) has noted that this aspect of the game was inspired, at least in part, by a board game called Cosmic Encounter. CE had very straightforward rules…but then had lots of ways (alien races powers, flare cards, etc.) which allowed players to break those rules. This was (is) seen as part of the allure of both games.

This reminds me of a story told about a playtester who complained that there was such a card; it turns out that he misunderstood what it meant on the card where it said, “Opponent loses next turn.”

Actually, while there has never been a “you win the game” card, look up the words “channel” and “fireball” to see something very close to a two-card instant win. (I think “channel” - where you can convert your life points to mana - is now on the banned cards list pretty much because of this.)
There was also a one-card win against the “Rukh Egg deck” strategy, popular when the original interpretation was that ie became a Rukh even if you discarded it instead of playing any cards that turn; playing City in a Bottle would get rid of the opponent’s entire deck, ending the game.

There is in fact a card that says “target opponent loses the game” - however, it requires considerable resources to put it into play and activate it.

Notably, it was possible to win before the opponent ever had a turn via the infamous mountain/black lotus/channelling/fireball combo :p.

Of course these days that combo wouldn’t be an auto-win button any more even if the cards in it were still legal (which they not just aren’t, but *fucking *aren’t), thanks to counterspells that can be cast via discarding rather than tapping lands.

There is also at least one “as long as this card is in play, you cannot lose” card, but it’s also ridiculously hard to put into play.

Reminds me of a fairly well known Magic anecdote: during a tournament, one player played this particular card, only it doesn’t say “opponent” on the card, it says “target player”. He pointed at another game table and said “That guy.”
It was apparently ruled legal, though presumably going more by the Rule of Funny than the rules of Magic :).