Last time I blogged, about a brutally competitive strategy involving farming newbies, Carson63000 made the very sensible point:
Not saying it's ethical or unethical, but I must say, after reading this
series of blog posts, I would not even consider playing MtG:O.
Pay-per-entry tournaments where even the explicitly designated "new
player" games involve experienced players farming newbies? No thanks
Human social nature is a balance of cooperation and competition. Games tend towards competition. There are cooperative games but generally if you're playing a game in a risk free no consequences environment it's actually a really good place to compete with people because you don't lose your job/life/front teeth when things don't work out.
I think one of the clearest ways in which this has been shown is the case of the virtual world game. Virtual worlds (MMOs and MUDs) were seen by their pioneers as spaces where both cooperation and competition could thrive in tandem. Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars:Galaxies all had mechanics that strongly forced competition. In most of them crafting was so extremely laborious that you couldn't make everything you needed - you were forced to get some items from other people. Auction houses were limited or absent so to get a weapon from a weaponsmith you had to visit that specific player, encouraging social interaction. Both PvE and PvP challenges often forced players to gang up, soloing was somewhat limited. And the difficulty of encounters forced people to discuss tactics to beat them.
Players have consistently fought against and lobbied for change on mechanics that prevent them from advancing alone.
The modern MMO is a streamlined affair where group encounters don't really reward any conversation or working relationship, where solo advancement paths are very viable and where even on group situations people are encouraged to focus on themselves (eg "I topped the damage meter").
Magic is an extreme of competive gaming, the game is built around redistributing assets from unsuccessful players to successful ones.
That's a big part of the fun for me right now, there's a clear and verifiable experience of where you stand. If you're very good you finish with lots of prizes, if you're average you gradually bleed resources away (after all the house always wins) and if you're bad you should probably stop playing and play something else.
So right now I'm still in the learning stages but I'm interested in completing my apprenticeship and seeing where I land. If I'm good at this game then it's a never ending stream of more and more prizes, with entry fees being comfortably paid out of my winnings. If I'm not very good then it would be good to know that.
Of course the thing about pecking order games is that those at the top become very invested while those at the bottom tend to leave so it's always a pool of players that are refining themselves by success. But dog eat dog is kinda fun, nothing like seeing people rage when they lose :)