Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Magic: the Gathering - Why I Left and Why I'm Coming Back (Sort of) After 17 Years

I'll admit it: I had a brief love affair with Magic: the Gathering when it first released in 1993. It lasted less than a year (not the shortest of my relationships, by any means), and the break-up was rather bitter. It's interesting to note that if a child had been born when I stopped playing, this would their final year in high school (ironically, the same age that I was when the game released). It gives one perspective.

Why did things end so badly? As is often the case, it was mostly an economic reason. I simply didn't earn enough to keep Magic happy.

When the game first came out, it was all great fun - buying starter decks and boosters, hoping to get some of those really cool cards that you've seen but never owned, playing games with friends and hoping to get something cool from the ante, developing and testing new strategies, trading cards, and coming up with new ways to play the game, especially with multiple players.

Then the secondary market began to stir.

In the beginning, everyone was on pretty equal footing. Sure, some people were better at deckbuilding and identifying combos and strategy, but they were happy to share it and teach others. As the game began picking up steam and becoming more and more popular, though, people became more aggressive about the game. Why would they want to give you hints on how to build a better deck when they were winning good cards by beating you every time? Why would they want to help you beat them and win their ever-more-expensive cards. What was once friendly competition became more and more cut-throat.

People were spending more and more on singles in the secondary market, and were beginning to starters and boosters by the box and the case. People would agree to go in together on cases, and when they arrived would fail to have their portion of the money. Feelings were hurt, friendships were damaged. It was like a nerdy drug cartel war at times.

I do not come from a wealthy family. At best, we could be considered solidly middle-class, if not lower-middle class. I didn't work at the time, and didn't have a lot of disposable income. I also still had an ongoing RPG habit to support with what little money I did have. This meant that my collection of cards became comparatively underpowered relatively quickly.

That's not to say that I didn't have some good cards. I had a number of "good" cards, and people LOVED to play against me because I was relatively easy to beat, with the possibility of getting one of those good cards in return. It took me a little while to catch on this, but eventually, I got there.

Shortly after the Antiquities expansion released, a couple of friends went to a game shop a few hours away and dropped a total of around $700 on a combination of 4 or 5 cards. To me, that was the big orange blinking signpost to get the hell out.

I sold off my entire collection of cards for a little more than my total investment and never looked back.

So, why, after 17 years, have I recently picked up a few decks? There are a few answers.

I bought my first deck a few months ago. It was an old Fifth Dawn pre-constructed Stampede deck that I got for 50 cents at Goodwill. I had initially planned to trade in the singles at the game store at which I work for a bit of store credit. Then we started packing for our move from Stoughton to Janesville, and the deck got packed away and was mostly forgotten.

As I said, I currently work at a game shop. This is the main reason why I've decided to get familiar with the game again. We have a Magic expert at the store, but even he gets a day off once a week, so Tuesdays are sort of a "No Magic Questions or Trades" day. While I'll never know as much as our expert, I think it would be a fine idea to be at least somewhat conversant in the game - more than my bitter memories would let me be, at least.

Also, there are times when I just want to play a quick friendly and competitive game, and only have myself and another person. I simply don't have many games that fit that bill - most of the competitive games I own really need at least three players to be interesting.

So, the other day, I picked up a Knights vs. Dragons Duel deck from work. While it might take some finesse to convince Kristen to play, it's a possibility. It will also allow us (or, more likely, me) to play against a couple of friends who we play other games with. They have been fairly regular Magic players in the past, and while they've sold off the majority of their cards, they've held back a few decks in hopes that they get a chance to use them again.

Now that I have a bit more disposable income than I did in high school and work at a game store, I can more easily afford to keep up on the game. While I'm never going to play seriously in tournaments or raid the secondary market for the coolest uber-combos and deck builds out there, I plan on trying to keep up on the newer releases. If nothing else, it will fit into my goal of playing more games over the fall and winter.

No comments: