I Used to be a Whale

I’m not exactly rich, but I do have plenty of disposable income, as I don’t have dependents, my mortgage has been paid off and I’m paid pretty well. I used to spend a lot of money on MtG, but as of late, not so much.

First of all, I do understand that companies need to make money. I am and have been an owner or a partner in several successful businesses, but the difference here is that my personal philosophy on this has always been that I, as the service provider, have to make sure that our transactions are in the interest of both parties. There is a certain amount of utilitarian philosophy behind this, but I do also believe that this is good for business. If I want to keep my customers, I need to make sure they are getting what they need from me and in return they need to make sure I can continue doing what I’m doing as well.

And sure, this is partly because of the pandemic, but this had been going on for a long time before that. There are other reasons as well, such as fewer chances to draft where I currently live. Despite this, I used to spend hundreds of euros on set release and often plenty more before the next one, because I always had this thought that I would like to be able to build whatever deck I wanted to play. I would often build new decks right before tournaments, so I needed plenty of cards to have the flexibility to do so. I also travelled quite a bit to tournaments. I wasn’t even that interested in becoming a professional. I just used to enjoy the game.

What changed? This has been going on for a couple of years now, but Magic just feels less like a game and more like a product. Whenever a new preview season starts, I see all these people gushing about cards, while I just feel deflated. Gushing over the power level of a card might provide good entertainment in a YouTube video, but at the same time if you have access to a card, so does everyone else. And they will play them. All the time.

WotC knows they get this attention, so they push certain cards to be powerful in order to get people excited. But you shouldn’t be. You should always remember that this is the card you will now be seeing all the time for up to two years. We’ve seen this time and time again. The Oko-debacle was the peak. What was it? Over 70% of all decks were playing it in a single Pro Tour (or Mythic Championships or whatever, I find it hard to care anymore) or something along those lines. Sure, we now also know that this was partly the fault of horrible testing procedures, but this just underlines the problem. When you aim high with a card and miss in the wrong direction, the end result is going to be very bad. If you aim for an eight and hit a nine instead, it’s not that big of a deal. If you aim for a ten and hit twelve… you’ve messed up royally.

And this is what has been happening for some time now. There seems to be great pressure to make these marquee cards that try to hit those tens. Sometimes they miss in the other direction, like Elspeth from Theros, who doesn’t see very much play, sometimes that ten actually does become a twelve and just breaks everything. Think Uro. It’s been wrecking pretty much all formats it can be played in.

This leads me to another problem. When you push the power level like this, various formats lose their identity. Sure, there are differences in how Uro is being used in various formats, but it’s always there and you need to keep it in mind when designing decks.

Another problem rises from all these weird effects. That pushes combo decks and that kills part of the enjoyment of the game. You are no longer actually playing a game, when everyone just finds the deck they are most comfortable goldfishing with. Sure, that works for a certain group of people, but when most games end because of something you had no way of playing around, it’s not very satisfying. If I play a coupld of low drops and then Embercleave, I don’t get the satisfaction of an interesting game either. So, what’s the point anymore? MtG used to be this bastion of interesting gameplay, but as they’ve changed their philosophy to compete on the terms of other games, the game itself is losing it’s identity.

… and then there are VIP boosters. Just reiterating here. It’s no longer a game. It’s now a product. One of the things I find shameful about being a Finn is that for some reason, a couple of us have become somewhat famous for manipulative monetization schemes. You don’t need to watch very many Jim Sterling videos to come across them.

There’s basically two ways to do this that apply here: Making your game less playable unless someone pays money for it and peer pressuring people into spending money.

The first one is mostly about Masters Sets. Because of horrible reprint policies, playing certain formats has become very expensive. So, they decided to make Masters sets. As they often do, they put a lot of time and effort in the first version of the product and when that’s successful, the sequels fall apart. So, after a few years of Masters set fervor, they dropped them until Double Masters. The name tells you that these have double the rares or mythics in each booster, so they also doubled the price. Or at least close to it. The problem with this? I’ll tell you a secret: Printing rares and mythics is not actually more expensive than printing commons (well, there is actually a little bit of a difference with the holograms, but that’s not that big of a deal). As booster packs are game pieces, the game pieces are now actually more expensive than they used to be.

Then there’s the various collector’s editions and now VIP boosters. Again, watch some Jim Sterling and you’ll find out how problematic this is. ‘Default’ is now slur. We’ve already seen deckshaming for people who want to play the game, but don’t want to spend their time and resources getting foils or specific versions of cards. This has even penetrated official coverage (fuck you, Riley Knight, you are a cancer on the game). People are interested in various videos on YouTube, where people open various older boosters. WotC wanted to get in on this with these specialty items, but at the same time, suppose you are just visiting your LGS just as someone is opening the VIP booster they just spent all their disposable income on. It will garner interest. If that guy (and yes, it’s a guy) is doing it, why wouldn’t I? Or, if everyone is buying them, shouldn’t I do this as well? Will I seem poor or boring if I don’t participate? While we don’t like to think of it this way, peer pressure is actually the most important component in most of our decision-making.

On the other hand, this can’t last for a very long time. People won’t turn away from an ever-evolving interesting game, but I’ve already seen hardcore Magic-players turn away from the product. I have myself limited my playing quite a bit. It’s no longer the big hobby I’m spending a lot of time and money on. Well, at least I have been giving more money to charities as of late, so good on you Wizards for messing up a game so badly.

In some ways this all actually almost feels like Hasbro is getting ready to sell Wizards and is thus actively inflating the figures right now to get a better price. I had a similar feeling before Arena, but at the time it seemed like they course-corrected after realizing that Arena was a huge success. However, I’m not sure Arena is as big a success at this time. Many are complaining that it just feels stale.

1 thought on “I Used to be a Whale

  1. I tried to play some new Historic and my only thinking right now is that the only way to save the format or the game is pretty much complete reset. If it would be possible, we should just get rid of everything and make a new alpha.

    There are just so many decks that still need to be taken down a notch in Historic. Goblins, some weird self-mill deck, Transmogrify decks and so forth. The format still sucks completely, because it’s rules by these decks that are very hard to interact with, but win quite consistently.

    WotC just needs to make major changes in their process and team. This can’t go on.

    Although, here’s the thing: The mechanics are open for anyone to use. I don’t know how to get it to everyone’s radar, but you could just make a better version of the game. Of course, there are similar attempts that have been going on for a while. Their level of success varies, but they are out there. Perhaps we should make a concerted effort to find a better one en masse?

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