Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

Re-evaluating Magic: The Gathering

Image.ashxLately I reconsidered my disdain for Magic: The Gathering; I even spent a lot of money buying new cards, and found my old cards back at my parents’ place. I bought Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 for my tablet and had a blast playing it. Despite all the misgivings about the game in the community it has a rather nice structure for new players, or those that haven’t played it for close to 20 years.

Did anyone notice that Magic turned 20 in 2013? How is time going by so quickly?

I originally gave up on Magic in about ’97 or ’98. I think I was one of the first people in my region to even know what a trading card game was, and most likely one of the first ones to buy the game at all (the German 3rd edition starter set, and the Renaissance reprint set). I weathered the Homelands expansion (still widely maligned to be one of the worst ever, but with a lot of flavor and amazing art), had a lot of fun with Mirage and Visions (which had an amazing Africa inspired theme that has not been repeated since), and then hit a roadblock during the Weatherlight saga.

Image.ashx2It was Serra Avatar that killed it for me back then. I had not graduated to buying large amounts of boosters and starter sets, and when my neighbour managed to get a card collection multiple times the size of my own, just a month after I introduced him to the game, I knew I was in trouble. And then he played Serra Avatar (a creature with toughness and power equal to the life of its controller) and I knew I wouldn’t manage to compete.

Well, I guess I could have. If I spent more of my money on trying to catch up.

The problem was that I didn’t want to. I already was deeply into RPGs, and I decided that I’d rather spend more money buying books and other supplements than  cards. So there was that.

I sometimes would buy a few boosters afterwards, but around ’02 or ’03 the art direction became so grating that I stopped doing even that.

Then a few months ago El Goonish Shive had an arc set during the equivalent of a Magic tournament. El Goonish Shive is a webcomic that has been running for a long time now. There is shapechanging squirrel hybrids and anime style martial artists in there. There is a lot of weird sexual fetish stuff without anything really overt in there. And then at one point an arc with lots of important plot development was set at a Magical Gatherings tournament. One of the characters works in a comic shop, and they have a weekly tournament.

And while reading this I was thinking: hey, that reminds me, that game wasn’t actually so bad.

And it has gotten better in the time I was away. I only noticed it after starting the computer game, but the rules have been straightened out a bit, card design has been changed, the art has matured a bit, etc.

Mana burn is gone for example. No more damage points if you miscount how many lands you tapped. Interrupts are gone, folded into instants. Creatures have become stronger to make them a feasible choice against spells.

Mulligans have changed as well and created an even deeper tactical part. Instead of just doing the Mulligan when one has either no or only lands, now everyone is allowed to reshuffle and draw again (minus one card) if the initial draw is not good enough.

The game has sped up. Stuff is happening in the game. There is constant action instead of a slow slugging of cards against each other. I guess this is what happens when you actually try to learn from your mistakes and try to improve a game over the course of 20 years. Not everything is perfect, but I dig the current version of Magic much more than the one I used to play.

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