Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A return to Magic: The Gathering, this time online

My Christmas present to myself was a starter pack in Magic: the Gathering Online.

I have a long and rather complicated relationship with this game.

I played obsessively and competitively with the paper version about 20 years ago. I won two national tournaments here in the UK. (Not quite US standard but still pretty good). I spent about £5000 in the 18 months or so I played which seems to me a ridiculous amount of money for a game. (By comparison I have 5 accounts in Eve and pay about £90 a year, paying for one and getting isk for the others as I play).

So it's with an element of trepidation I get back into it.

So what's the attraction?

Magic is quite simply a very good game on many levels. It's fun, it's utterly absorbing, it's competitive and rewards competence and dedication. It also has an astonishingly deep metagame with an economy more complex even than Eve's and wonderful stories of shennanigans and bonhomie.

After some research it seems you don't need to be much better than average to more or less pay your way through the game. In fact if you're above average it's very possible to "go infinite." To play competitively you pay in a currency known as "tix" (a virtual item properly called an Event Ticket) and that wins you boosters depending how well you do, which can be sold for more tix. Win enough boosters and you take out more than you put in.

Of course there's a great trap in Magic and it's the hidden secret of most game economies. Most people don't cash out. And it's very easy to say to yourself "oh I have spent £200 but I've got cards worth £200 so I haven't really lost anything," then you stop playing, never cash out, and you've still spent £200 but you never got £200 back for your card collection. This is why cards like the notorious Black Lotus are so expensive because most copies of the card are sat in storage somewhere gathering dust (well hopefully not literally - dust is mildly acidic!)

$5000 for a small piece of paper with a picture of a flower. Ho  hum....

The attraction for me is the complexity and seeing how well I can do. I'm not particularly bothered about having access to all the cards, as I was when I was a serious competitive player. (The danger though is that if I start playing it a lot I might get sucked back in). So for me that gives me the chance to eventually become a big fish in a small pond so to speak, ie a player who wins quite often but still hangs around the little leagues.

It's also a wonderful game, tense, utterly absorbing and a test of intellect.

I certainly haven't given up my other games, still playing Eve and Hearthstone but at some point the latter might have to go. Hearthstone feels very light after Magic, usually I know if I'll win or lose in 2 minutes in Hearthstone.

Next post I'll explain how I'm going about getting started with links and a strategy.


  1. We used to call it Magic the Spending... :P

    I'm kind of hoping that some of the more rare cards I own will hold their value... and that they become something of a legacy.

    Used to run a mean green deck, birds of paradise, elvish archers, aspect of wolf, giant growth, giant spiders, cockatrice, force of nature (which was the rare I got in the first booster I ever opened... and probably the cause) and other large creatures. It was fast, brutal and surprisingly resistant.

    Sideboard was meekstones and specialist small creatures, including basilisks. Yoink the FON and larger creatures for a complete change in focus.

    Have also a nasty black/red assassin/hypnotic spectre/black vise with blasty spells, and a white crusade based deck - white knights, serra angels etc.

    Really enjoy pulling out the collection, but the game has changed dramatically since I played it, and frankly I have no desire to get back into the arms race again.

  2. Ha ha, Magic the Spending, love it!

    Sounds like you played the same time I did, they don't put evil spells like Black Vise in these days.

  3. Haven't played MTGO as such but did put in 20 plus hours into Magic 2015. If any of those cards are available, then there has definitely been some power creep since I played.

    One of my favorite combos has to be sanguine bond plus any life gain. Add a faithmender in for double the gain. Essentially you're healing your opponent to death.

    It's a bit slow and can be mana choked, but you can often stall your opponent long enough with all the life gain in a deck. Add the sorcery that puts a 4/4 angel in to play every time you heal four life or more :P

    3rd edition was the start for me, though I have a few older cards too.