Magic: the Gathering -- The more things change...

[Long, semi-rambling post. TL;DR I played M:tG again for the first time in maybe 16+ years and it was pretty fun]

Like so many others, I was part of the Magic: the Gathering scene back in the mid-90’s. I played from Legends until Ice Age/Homelands which seems to be a lot of people’s story. When I started, Legends boosters were still sold for MSRP and you could get Antiquities for a couple bucks more. Then came the big Ice Age reboot, a couple less than stellar expansions with Fallen Empires & Homelands and I sold off and got out. Every now and then I’d hear the game mentioned and always thought “Huh? That thing’s still chugging along?”

A week ago, my 14 year old son asked if we could go to Target and he could use a gift card to buy some cards. A couple friends in school played during lunch and let him borrow a deck and now he wanted his own. So he threw down for some “Deck Tool Kit” and spent an afternoon making a few decks then asked me to play against him.

Setting aside the novice deck building for a moment, let me say: I was pretty impressed. When I got out, the game was getting bogged down under rules bloat as they kept trying to add new concepts to freshen the game. The new cards seemed much more streamlined and often had the concepts explained right on the cards. I think I had to refer to the rules just once for an unfamiliar term. Interrupts and Banding, two concepts that always seemed to cause arguments, have apparently been booted. Good riddance. The new cards seemed relatively balanced though this seemed to make some of the old time deck strategies obsolete (White Weenie, Blue Permission, etc). But, hey, it’s been twenty years so that’s fair.

Anyway, the decks played as well as any decks made by a kid whose entire strategy is “put all my most awesome cards in for maximum awesome”. After two games, I asked to make my own deck and threw together a fairly svelte white/blue deck that wiped the floor with him twice and taught why best-of-everything-rainbow-decks aren’t a great idea. He was a quick learner and started looking at two-color decks (he might be going a little too far since he refuses to entertain the idea of a three color deck now) and we’ve played maybe ten games since with him winning a few. I bought him the previous edition’s Deck Tool Kit which I know isn’t tournament legal but he’s just playing with friends anyway and I thought would give him a nice spread without buying a bunch of boosters.

Naturally, I had to look up old cards on eBay and despair to see what might have been if I’d kept those twenty dual-lands and all that. I bought a cheap lot of mixed Revised edition cards that I know will be picked clean of anything valuable but satisfies my nostalgia and maybe he’ll find amusing. At least the white borders will be easy to tell apart in his collection. Again, knowing that they’re not “legal”, are old Interrupts simply treated as Instants now?

No real point here although I welcome any general discussion or if someone has any points/tips that might not be obvious I’d like to hear them. I was mainly just impressed at how the game got cleaned up and remains viable today instead of being a hot mess.

I’ve played fairly continuously from 1996 until today so I have a lot of insights as to your observations/experiences.

The major rules cleanup was when 6th edition came in, which was in 1999. It got rid of interrupts and introduced “the stack” which was a unified way of dealing with instants and creature abilities. At the time, it was heavily criticized by a vocal minority, but it turned out to make the game a lot more streamlined without taking away any strategic complexity.

New card faces were introduced with 8th edition in 2003. They made the cards a lot more readable (black on light is a lot easier to read than white on dark), even if it does make some cards look a lot worse (lands specifically) and takes away that old-timey spellbook feel. I understand why they did it but sometimes I wish we could go back.

One final big change (which is still ongoing) was the introduction of what’s known as “New World Order” (or NWO for short) which is a way of reducing the complexity of sets. Basically, new players were being buried under an avalanche of rules/information and complexity creep was making the barrier to entry extremely high. So starting about 5 years ago, WotC make a concerted effort to reduce the complexity of the commons in each set, so that limited play is a lot more simple, and there are a reduced number of complex cards in each expansion. Rares and mythic rares can still be quite complicated, but when you open a pack you’ll have at most one or two cards that you have to really think about, rather than 5 or 6. I think stuff like “rules text on all the cards” is a related concept.

I still have problems with the way they do things nowadays (for example, I don’t like the Planeswalker card type, probably never will), but their stated reasons for doing things are good and you can’t argue with the health of the game right now. Almost every new expansion is breaking sales records, tournament attendance is going berserk, and Duels of the Planeswalkers has introduced a constant stream of new players to the game.

I’m not a MtG player, but Blizzard(of Warcraft fame) has just launched a free to play collectible card game called Hearthstone that I really like. It’s in open beta right now, and extremely popular. Try it out!

Yeah, the stack is my single favorite thing about the game (my least favorite thing are Planeswalker cards). It’s a very elegant mechanic.

I introduced my little sister to the game last month, and she really enjoys it. She doesn’t quite have the hang of the tactics, but it only took a couple of turns introduction before she knew the basics of how to play the game. It’s a good time for her to start, too, as she’s interested in Greek mythology. She’s been trying out a few of my old decks, but she may well have her own by the next time she comes to visit.

My nephew really got into the game about a year ago. He spent most of his liquid assets putting together a card collection for the year’s current format (Ravenpoop or something like that). Then six months later, his entire collection became obsolete because the new decks were coming out. This apparently happens every single year. I see no reason why this won’t keep happening. You can still play the game with your obsolete cards, of course, but you’ll never find anyone to play it with as everyone buys into the new formats over and over.

I play chess and bridge, and I don 't have to buy a new chess set with griffins and hobgoblins or a new deck of cards with green clovers and purple stars as the new suits every year.

IMHO, this will wind up killing the game in the long run. Its longevity is due to its being a pretty good game in general, but Wizards’ vast appetite for profit is going to spell doom for the game, as people fill the trailers they live in with boxes and boxes of cards, then find out that those cards are now worth about a penny apiece.

  1. You can put together a reasonable deck for everyday play for $25-40 AUD just by picking up a theme deck and/or going to a couple of Friday Night Magic drafts and drafting cards you think would work well together. Unless you’re trying to win Constructed tournaments you don’t need to spend more than that. And you’re not going to win Constructed tournaments if you’re new to the game just by buying your way to victory.

  2. Ravnica decks are still legal in Standard - the most common and second most restrictive Constructed format - and will be for another six months. Any card is Standard legal for between 18 and 24 months - possibly longer if it gets reprinted - and during this time can be used in any Constructed event, including all tournaments. And if you’re playing Modern, Legacy, Commander, Archnemesis or pickup games, cards never expire.

There is truth to that, but it’s also been going on now for nearly 20 years, and showing no sign of stopping. Players are willing to accept that many of their cards will become valueless because of two things: the chance that they might score something super-valuable, and because the game itself is ridiculously fun.

I have nothing substantial to add, because I haven’t learned to play myself, but my son has been playing for many years now. (He just turned 21, I think he’s been playing since 15 or 16.)

This Christmas, he went through his very extensive collection and pulled out a bunch of cards and made his little sister her first MtG deck. As he put it, “She ain’t gonna win tournaments with it, but she’ll learn…and I picked the pretty cards for her.” Seeing as she’s a pretty princess 8 year old kind of girl, she was indeed delighted. He even put them in beautiful decorated sleeves for her. Didn’t cost him a dime he hadn’t spent already, and it was her favorite Christmas gift (at least as much for what it said as what it was - it said she was a Big Girl worthy of his Magic cards!)

Magic: The Gathering - when your cards become obsolete, you’ve got a free gift for your little sister! :smiley:

I downloaded it today, and I’m not really a fan. The way they handle the mana pool is nice, but the game feels too heavily weighted in favour of offense. In Magic, the defender generally gets to choose who fights what, damage generally falls off at the end of the turn, you have assets that can’t just be beaten to death (artifacts and enchantments) and instants to respond to your opponent’s actions. None of this is true in Hearthstone, and as a result you don’t get the same feeling of progress from establishing your board position, because anything with utility beyond punching things is going to get punched.

Well, his games with his friends are pretty casual affairs so there’s no concern about obsolete cards. Even back in my day, “Tournament legal” was something you mainly worried about for tournaments. I think the only rule we informally enforced was the four-of-a-card limit but if someone wanted to play a Channel it was fair game.

But I assume a lot of people do play competitively or are drawn into the scene after playing casually for a while so I can see the value in it for the publishers (still WotC?)

I’ve heard generally good things about Hearthstone but that doesn’t give the same kitchen table experience with my progeny :smiley:

The whole planned obsolescence thing actually makes it a considerably less expensive hobby, believe it or not. There are still a handful of tournaments where you can use cards all the way back to the beginning… But to be competitive in such a tournament, you need to spend literally tens of thousands of dollars on your deck. Back in the day, they didn’t have all the wrinkles ironed out, and as a result, there were some cards that were far, far too good (and also just as many that were far, far too bad, but they don’t matter, because nobody actually uses them). And since those cards are so in-demand, and because they’re so rare (in addition to being rare within their sets, the print runs were smaller back then, and there’s been more time for them to wear out or get lost), they can be insanely expensive. The cheapest Black Lotus I can find is $5,000, and the cheapest Time Walk is $1,800.

Given the choice between a competitive tournament deck costing ten thousand dollars, and a competitive tournament deck costing fifty, I’ll take the second one every time, even if the first remains usable year after year.

Oh, and it’s also worth noting that old cards can be tournament legal. As long as a card has been reprinted in a current release, all copies of that card are legal, even ones that were printed earlier. You can, if you choose, use alpha-edition cards in a current deck (and some people do, as a show of prestige), so long as they’re still in the game (which many of them are).

Is Black Lotus still that powerful, considering that Channel is on the banned list? The one thing I remember Black Lotus being useful for is the Channel/Fireball “What do you mean, the game’s over? I haven’t even taken a turn yet!” combination.

(For those of you unfamiliar with Channel Fireball, it goes something like this: play either a red or green land, a Mox Emerald (if you played a red land) or a Mox Ruby (if you played a green land), and a Black Lotus, then cast Channel, convert 19 of your life points to manna (you now have 20, since you only needed 2 of the 3 from your Black Lotus to cast Channel), and cast a 20-point Fireball that kills your opponent.

Black Lotus is still that powerful, yes.

The thing with combos like Channel/Fireball is that they are easy to disrupt since they printed Force of Will. But Lotus on its own is still extremely powerful as a way to accelerate out spells 3 turns early. It’s debatably not as good as Ancestral Recall or an on-color Mox a lot of the time, but its power is undeniable and almost all vintage decks that have access to one choose to play it.

Can you play Alphas in a tournament deck? I remember that the corners are different so they’re recognizable from the Beta-onward editions but I don’t recall if they’re disallowed or just frowned upon (or neither these days).

I suspect anyone playing with Alphas is using card sleeves, so it wouldn’t be an issue.

Probably. I never cared for sleeves (but never owned a $500 card either) but when I did use them they were clear so you could still see the difference.

In reality though, even cards that had theoretically identifiable nicks and dings I never actually noticed coming up or sitting on the top of my library. More of a “could be” thing than any real issue.

The first-turn Channelball is old news. It’s actually possible now to win on turn 0: That is, if your opponent is going first, it’s possible to kill him during his first upkeep, before anyone even draws a card. The basic idea to have a Protean Hulk, Flash, Gemstone Cavern, and either Simian or Elvish Spirit Guide in your opening hand, and four each of Disciple of the Vault, Phyrexian Marauder, and Shifting Wall somewhere in your deck.

Start by putting the Gemstone Cavern into play, and exile the Spirit Guide. Between them, they give you the mana you need to cast Flash. Flash in the Protean Hulk, which immediately dies because you didn’t spend the extra mana when you Flashed it. When the Hulk dies, you can search out 6 CMC worth of creatures. The four Disciples of the Vault total 4 CMC, and the eight artifact creatures are all 0, so you can bring them all out. The artifact creatures are all 0/0 and so die immediately, and for each one of them that dies, each Disciple costs your opponent 1 life, for 4*8=32 life lost.

But yes, Black Lotus is just that good. No matter what your deck is, it will basically always be improved by adding a Black Lotus to it.

You’re behind on the times, man, all the cool kids kill with Karmic Guide/Carrion Feeder/Kiki-Jiki nowadays.

Oh, Hulk Flash is not the most powerful or reliable combo any more, but it is still the quickest. Given that the chief virtue of Channelball was its speed, it seemed the appropriate comparison.