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Ways that Magic: The Gathering, and the community, can improve

Written by Scott Campbell on . Posted in Magic Culture

Ways that Magic: The Gathering, and the community, can improve

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell, also known as MTGPackFoils, has played Magic: the Gathering since Revised. He mostly plays Azorius based Control, or Golgari based Midrange decks. He also enjoys MLB, D&D, and is a former DJ.


Hello everyone, and welcome back to Legit MTG. I hope you all are well, and finding ways to interact with Magic: the Gathering even if you can’t play right now. While this year has prevented a lot of the things us players enjoy doing it has given us time to reflect on many things. Today I want to take a proactive approach at ways that I feel the game could not only improve, but what we could do in the community to improve as well. Magic: the Gathering has become more than the card game. It’s become its players as well, and we not only represent the dynamic strategy of the game, but at times we can represent some of the things that turn others off from the game as well.

I’m going to look at three subjects here that cover the design, playing the game, and us in the community. I am not immune to any of this as I know I have made Mental Missteps in the past, and I hope you take at least something away from this article. 

Design

I am no expert in design. Not even close. However I pay attention to what is happening with each release, and while I may not always predict a card making an impact I can get a general sense of how things are progressing, and what to expect (realistically) in coming sets. There are a few things I think that can help the game become better, and I’ll start this off with a format change…of sorts.

  1. It’s time to address the elephant in the room. As much as 2020 has had it’s hand in what I am about to suggest the format itself always felt misplaced, or forced to some degree. I understand it’s intent, and there is a way to not only save it but also allow Wizards of the Coast (WotC) to bridge the gap between paper and digital. The first thing I would suggest is that they kill the format Pioneer. What you then put in its place is Historic in paper, and start the format at Magic: Origins forward. Yes I know that means cards not printed in Magic: Origins forward (such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben for example) would be played in paper, but hear me out. There are some benefits to this.
  • This would allow for a Historic Masters set to be printed in paper. WotC could provide a booster pack product for a Modern-lite no fetchland format that not only can be drafted, but can also be played on Magic Arena. Imagine if they included codes in the boosters so you could get a digital booster with your purchase? They get you to spend money on a paper product at your local game store (LGS), and then get your time playing online (which increases the likelihood of you obtaining in-game currency). 

  • Going this route would allow them to print cards currently in Historic that would benefit a Standard set draft environment into a future Standard product.

  • In a Historic Masters set cards from Historic Anthologies, as well as cards from the earliest points in the format (looking at you Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy) could be reprinted to make sure the cards are accessible. Sets like this could also provide access for incomplete land cycles that aren’t in the plans for future Standard sets. Examples of this would be the allied pain lands (such as Adarkar Wastes last seen in print in 10th Edition. Yes. The one with the “Xth” set symbol), allied color creature lands, and allied color fastlands. Land cycles are some of the biggest draws for a set of Magic cards, and those three cycles are ones that players have been asking for in Pioneer for some time.

As it currently stands Historic, and Pioneer are on a collision course. The plan, from what we understand, is for Pioneer to enter Magic Arena as a format. If things continue on this course the only thing separating these two formats are the unique cards added to Magic Arena via the Historic Anthologies series, and Jumpstart. That’s not that big of a difference honestly, and splitting players between two formats that feel nearly similar will cause one of them to wither, and rot. Getting ahead of this will allow proper preparation for Historics emergence into the realm of paper events when we can have those again. I rarely hear anyone talk about Pioneer, and it’s still played on Magic: Online. Most of the conversation about game play is with (in order of most to least) Commander, Historic, Standard, Modern, and Legacy. Even though Modern, and Legacy are last on that list there is still way more talk about play in those formats than anything in Pioneer. Kill it WotC. It’s over.

  1. Stop designing cards to entice players of non-Standard formats to buy Standard products. Cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, and Omnath, Locus of Creation are the titans of design mistakes that have not only caused them to be banned in Standard, but warp non-Standard formats. Historic, Modern, and Legacy, should not be the landfills for Standard mistakes, and these cards should not be made as a reason to get enfranchised players to buy Standard products. We’re already doing that without the help!  

Plus if your goal is to get a new player to buy into Magic: the Gathering for the first time then they may not understand that Omnath, Locus of Creation was pushed to get Commander players to buy Zendikar Rising. They may not even know, or fully understand, the formats available to play in the game beyond their kitchen table. I jokingly say one can misspell “Magic” on a plain cardboard box, set it on a counter, and players will buy it without question. This is what this game has created. Confidence that there is a new game to be played within a box, or a booster pack, and all I have to do is open it. The exploration on what to add to a deck seems to have been taken away from the players. Commander, when it was known as Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) before WotC officially recognized the format with the release of the Commander preconstructed decks in 2011, was a format predicated on that self discovery. The player digging through their collection of cards they have not played, and finding new ways to play them in a unique format. Now? Well if you want new cards for your Commander deck just wait 3 to 4 months. There will be something in a Standard set that will be better than what you currently have in your deck. This essentially makes your casual format a rotating one where nothing cycles out traditionally, but more so by forcing your choice to always play the newest cards. WotC needs to check the brakes on this. They might need to be replaced, because I don’t think it will stop anytime soon.

Play

There have been a few times late in a tournament I had only a single loss. While I am not a highly skilled competitive player by any means some of my favorite times playing Magic: the Gathering were during weekends away from home (and work) enjoying my favorite hobby with my friends, while meeting new people. I would recognize regional players at the next event, and we would catch up on what we have done in the game. There was a sense of camaraderie with this that I truly miss. Heck on the few occasions I have attended events to play casually, or just to spend time at a vendor, friends would stop me asking if I played in the event or to pass the time. Hopefully we can return to such events in the future.

  1. Players should not feel forced to play new cards. The prime example of this is how Azorius Stoneblade morphed into a Bant midrange deck when Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath was printed. Sure you may have played 4 of that card, and 4 of Ice-Fang Coatl, and 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe, but that’s a lot of non-instant speed, non-control elements taking up a deck. Add on to that the Breeding Pools, and Misty Rainforests you would have needed, and that’s a complete overhaul of a deck. Keep in mind Stoneforge Mystic was made legal in Modern in the summer of 2019, and before there was a chance to fine tune the deck these new cards came in to change things overnight. What happened is that those in the community who did not wish to make the change were left with the feeling of playing sub-optimal decks (either by being told this by other members of the community, or watching other decks do nearly broken things). Formats such as Modern, and Legacy, were embraced by players because of how little upkeep these formats take. Now with how things are designed, and how quickly formats are figured out, there is a sense of “fear of missing out” (FOMO) if you do not stay up with the changes. It becomes worse when you stand defiant against them.

While there is no way to stop new cards from entering a format (no one wants that honestly), there can be some kind of compromise. Lately it feels like every three months that a new set can impact a format greatly, and it’s that type of constant upkeep that should be relegated only to Standard. Having players in older formats (even Pioneer and / or Historic) have to constantly keep up will cause burn out, frustration, and players to leave the game. Upgrading your decks once every 6 months, to perhaps once a year would be a good compromise, and unless you are competing for the top levels of competitive play for your own sanity (and for your wallet) I would highly recommend adopting this compromise for your decks.

  1. Return to paper play as the primary top level play. Who remembers the days where we would watch coverage of paper Magic: the Gathering play on Twitch all day on the weekends? Who remembers clearly understanding the steps required for a player to advance to The Pro Tour? We need to return to this (when it is safe to do so). This mixture of Arena play, and paper tournaments, along with the MPL and Rivals League is quite confusing. If I don’t understand the stakes, nor feel like I even have a remote shot to compete when an event comes near me, then I have no interest in watching. I know I can’t be alone in that either. Plus some of the Arena events have multiple formats for the same event, may be a Best of 1 for the first day, and Best of 3 the next. It’s too much. Make this simple to understand for everyone. Especially that new player who just bought into Magic: the Gathering, and is attending their first event with their parent.

I understand that Magic Arena was made as an entry into the realm of esports, however it can not only be used to allow players who play paper Magic a way to play when their LGS is closed, but it can also be separate from paper, and have it’s own unique tournament structure as well. Remember the World of Warcraft (WoW) TCG? While many did not think it would truly be a threat to Magic: the Gathering it did a lot of things that were easy to grasp for longtime players of Magic, had unique game play (having your deck be lead by a Blood Elf Paladin for example was my favorite thing about it), and was accessible in the same stores as Magic was. What was also great is that players who played World of Warcraft, but may have never played Magic: the Gathering, were now able to take aspects of their favorite game into a different arena. I’ll never forget hearing the cry of LEEEEEEEROOOOOYYYYY JENKINS! while I am trying to play Magic. This was well before I ever tried World of Warcraft myself, but I at least understood it was a reference to their game that they enjoyed. To them it was something special, with meaning, and many enjoyed it. 

Did Magic: the Gathering have that? No. There was no Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MORPG) that Magic players could immerse themselves into once their LGS was closed. Blizzard saw this, knew they could not compete with Magic (both in sales and space to play in the stores), and made Hearthstone. This not only allowed players to find a way to compete online in an ever growing digital esports capacity, but also gave them something from WoW away from the quests and raids. Arena can be that for those who play paper. Our MORPG is in the convention halls during a Grand Prix, or now called a MagicFest. The characters we play are on the pieces of cardboard we place on the battlefield, or the commanders we set into the Command Zone as the game of Commander begins. The vendors are the marketplace, and the judges are the Game Masters (GMs) who make sure one faction doesn’t unfairly raid another. While we can’t get our haircut while at these events at times going to a MagicFest at a convention center feels like hanging out in Orgrimmar. Maybe it’s more akin to Dalaran. Either way instead of trying to chase something the competitor has focused on making our version of World of Warcraft even better. 

Remember the Sunwell!

Community

As someone who is a part of multiple communities I can say with a level of assurance that the community is perhaps the greatest part about Magic: the Gathering. It’s on the tin (so to speak). “The Gathering”. Do you remember using Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s -13 ability to win the game, or do you remember doing that against the best player at your store? More often than not it’s the latter, because every time you look at Jace, the Mind Sculptor you will remember that one moment. The community not only brings like minded people together to learn the game, but sometimes friendships can grow from those chance encounters. This is what makes the community great, however there are areas where it too can be improved.

  1. This one is a touchy subject, and I know those who use this word constructively do not mean ill when doing so, but we have to stop using the word “unplayable” when describing someone’s choice of a card, or their deck. It’s been shortened from the term “unplayable garbage”, and is often used in a demeaning manner towards a player. Making the player feel as if they are unintelligent, or do not belong, is not something we should be doing. For example if a player chooses to play Lightning Strike over Lightning Bolt in their Modern deck calling Lightning Strike simply “unplayable” is not constructive, and in fact could be destructive. This is where we could use terms such as “sub-optimal”, or find better ways to communicate why the player should use the better card. Magic: the Gathering is a game where learning about the game, and its strategy, is a constant. Oftentimes this happens when not even playing the game, and we have to remember that while our intent is to point out the better card that we want to choose our words as carefully as we choose our plays. 

One way to turn someone off from playing the game is making them feel like they can not make decisions on their own, or at their own pace. The person who is at your LGS for the first time may not return if the casual language used between games makes them feel unwelcome, or worse. We all started somewhere. For me it was using cards such as Stupor, Vulturous Zombie, Grave-Shell Scarab, and (one of my favorites) [card]Phyrexian Arena[card], in a deck together. Yes. That was my first Friday Night Magic (FNM) deck about 14 years ago. I’ve not only learned a lot about the game since, but have learned a lot about how not to speak to people as well. We can, and should do better.

  1. We are advertisers for ourselves. What I mean by that is that we should do as much as we can to promote each other. While we may not be able to do that through some content we can when we speak to each other. There are many of us on social media such as Twitter. If I would have told my past self the number of followers I have on Twitter right now he wouldn’t believe me. I still don’t know how I have as many as I do, but am thankful for them. Many of us play this game in different ways. While I primarily just play at the FNM level you may be wanting to reach the top of competitive play, or you may just enjoy the game at your kitchen table. That’s part of what makes this game great, and connecting players with those who create content for this game can open up avenues of thought, conversation, and friendship that may not have been obvious before.

This last part is something very positive we can do in the community. While it is impossible to read every article, and listen to every single podcast (believe me I have tried), there are many things out there to consume about Magic: The Gathering beyond just playing the game. In fact some of my breaks from playing have been spent reading articles, listening to podcasts, and watching non-game play videos. This way I still felt connected, but was able to decompress from whatever stressors were bothering me at the time. What has Magic content done for you? Let me know in the comments.

In Conclusion

Magic: The Gathering is many things. It is a card game. It is a fantasy setting with multiple worlds to travel in. It is art. It is a profession (or can be a way for competitors to acquire income while promoting a game). For some of us it is also a collection of friends, and other friendly faces that above all else enjoy being a part of this wonderful game. Just as there is always an opportunity to learn a new line of play, or a new deck, there are other things within what makes up Magic: the Gathering as a whole that we can also learn from.

I would love to read your comments about this week’s article. Please comment below, share with your friends, and follow me on both Twitter as well as Facebook, and check out The Astrolab Podcast

Next Time

When I return I’ll provide an update to one of my favorite decks. I’ve Delayed doing so for quite some time.

Until then…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

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