Okay. Calm down. I know, you LOVE Magic and know in your heart of hearts that Magic is the best thing since sliced bananas. I love Magic too… but it’s TERRIBLE! Let’s get to why I think you can spend your gaming dollar elsewhere!
Why is Magic: The Gathering Terrible?
First of all, know this, dear reader- I have played a ton of Magic at various times in my life. I have never been an expert at Magic, but I’ve played in a bunch of tournaments, have tried almost every format, have taught the game to others and, when I was trying to get really good, DEVOURED most articles on the subject. Again, not saying I’m an expert or anything, but I have enough experience to discuss why I think Magic is a pretty terrible bet. I am not, however, particularly good at the game despite my enthusiasm. This may cloud some of my opinions on the matter. One could say that my lack of enthusiasm on the subject is a direct response to me hitting my head on a wall over and over again throughout my Magic career.
1. Magic is a seriously hard game for new players
I’ve tried to teach Magic to a LOT of people in my life. If you didn’t grow up with, Magic is complicated. I grew up with Magic during Revised Edition in the early 90s. A child’s capacity to sit with something for hours and comprehend it out of sheer will is incredible in comparison to the late twenty-somethings that come to this game for the first time. They just don’t have the time to learn it.
The game is basically simple- play a land, turn it sideways, use the mana that the land generates to play a spell that requires certain colours of mana and maybe some colourless mana (but all mana can pay for colourless mana, just wait, it’ll make sense). Then you get into the creatures, the attacking, the sorceries AND THE FUCKING INSTANTS! Finally, you start explaining concepts like triggers, and timing and when they can actually cast the instants, and when they SHOULD cast the instants, and what happens if they get to two lands and don’t draw any more and they’re looking at you like you’re speaking in tongues.
And during that whole time, you’re taking it EASY on them. You’re not casting Instants when they should be cast, you’re holding back creatures, you’re not attacking- you’re trying to teach them the game! You’re trying to make it fun for them. But here’s the thing- Magic: The Gathering isn’t fun for a new player. Magic: The Gathering is WORK.
There’s no beginners Magic: The Gathering. There is only a steady curve to understanding. Sure, you can play some games without instants and with simple creatures, but the game’s not actually good or fun and you know it. Magic: The Gathering only starts becoming fun when it finally clicks. Everything else is an uphill battle. When it finally does click- JESUS CHRIST. Magic opens itself up as the amazing treasure trove that it is- but it’s a hell of a hike to the top of the mountain.
In a regular board game, or even another card game, things click in 10-15 minutes. It takes hours of play for Magic to click properly.
TLDR: don’t bother teaching this game to someone who isn’t REALLY interested in it.
2. Once you’ve learned the game, you can’t play the whole game.
So you know the game. You buy some cards, and you go down to your local store to play in a tournament. It’s a bring your own deck tournament! That’s fun! You have a deck! You can play! You sit down with another player, shake their hands, because they are NICE, GOOD people, and you start to play. You then get completely owned for a number of reasons, one of which is your complete ineptitude at tournament Magic (which is to be expected) and because your opponent has an AMAZEBALLS deck that they have been working on for a few weeks. They’ve refined it, they’ve bought all the cards, and you expected to be able to spend $20.00 and compete with the big boys? This is MAGIC: THE GATHERING! One does not simply WALK into MORDOR!
To be honest, you shouldn’t expect to be able to just saunter into the tournament scene, but that kinda sucks. Most events are of the bring your own deck variety, although some smart stores just run night after night of drafts and sealed (where you open a few packs and make a deck from what you draft or open). Draft/Sealed is my preferred way of playing Magic because I don’t have to show up with a $200.00 deck. Draft/Sealed, however, have their own learning curves and you shouldn’t expect to do well at first in those either. You’re going to spend $10.00 a draft to LEARN how to play the game… and you’re going to have to spend a LOT of money to get any good.
And the problem is that you STILL can’t ever really play the whole game because Magic is collectible. There will always be cards that you have never played against or played, there will always be someone with a better working knowledge of the cards than you. There are Magic professionals and you are not one of them. Magic at its highest level is a ton of fun, but to have that fun, you need to be on the Magic treadmill constantly.
3. Collectible Card Games are kind of Pyramid scheme
See that Pro playing Magic at your store? The guy who is really good? Yeah, he doesn’t actually pay to play Magic anymore. WHAT??? You exclaim! How is that even POSSIBLE? Well, he’s REALLY good at Magic, and wins a LOT. He plays draft, and sealed, and he plays for cards, and if there are enough players in a draft/sealed, he’s winning store credit for future drafts. The cards he gets in draft? Either he’s using them for his decks (so that he can win more) or he’s selling them back to the store for more drafts and more game. He’s at the point where he’s gone “INFINITE”. It took him a long time to get there, and a lot of money (or he’s some kind of math genius and was born there).
You, however, are the noob. You will go the draft and you play against him and more than likely lose. Or, you’ll play against the other 20 people that want to get to where that guy is and lose. The whole time, you’re supporting the store, but you’re also fueling this scene that feeds off of the least skilled players in the pyramid, all crawling their way to the top, game by game, slowly, at $10.00 every two hours. If you’ve got a big scene in your neighbourhood, this is how Magic works and this is how that store stays in business.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a lot of fun grinding your way through the Magic tiers, but there is NO rubber banding in Magic. If you suck at Magic, there is no getting around it- you suck at Magic and Magic knows that you suck and takes your money and gives it to the best player.
4. Collectible Card Games are Collectible
Okay, the elephant in the room. This one is both good and bad. Magic can be a decent investment (if you never actually play the game and just speculate on cards), but for most, it’s a pit of money. Maybe your collection will be worth something (mine is worth, at best, a few thousand dollars and I traded some of it in for cash that I bought my couch with), but most of it is worthless bulk. The game changes every 2-3 months, and in order to continue to stay relevant, you have to keep up. To be honest, this aspect of the game is either really turns your crank, or turns you off.
The Main Criticism, from a Board Gamer
As a gamer, you have a limited amount of money. You’re looking for a fun game to really sink your teeth into. Magic is an amazing game once you get it, and is immensely rewarding. I have some of my best friendships because of this game and our shared experiences playing it. It’s something I love, and I still have a half-baked cube collection waiting for the day when I get back into the game. It’s inevitable that I will jump back on the bandwagon, but for now I’m leaving it alone, content that it keeps the Board Game stores open.
Board Games are usually self contained. If you buy Settlers of Catan, you spend $40.00 and get a game that is replayable for years. There’s nothing else to buy, and you get an awesome game. Same with most top tier games! You get a box of stuff that is THE WHOLE GAME. If you’re on a budget, Board Gaming is fantastic.
And that’s my main criticism. Board games are self contained things, Magic is Smaug’s lair from the Hobbit- you can go in, you can slay the dragon, but you can’t possibly carry all that stuff out with you- and you’re going to have to fight some armies and get a ring and… okay… the metaphor is breaking down.