Gregg Saruwatari
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1. Why you can't trust most reviews about Magic

It is frustrating to me how, on the internet, "I don't really enjoy it" turns quickly into "It is a bad game." This makes it very confusing for people trying to get honest ideas about whether or not they will enjoy a game. It is definitely important to include some sort of feeling, positive or negative, in a review and often this is best summarized by a number, or perhaps stars or thumbs. However, I can't count the number of times I have seen exaggerated ratings that do more harm than good. One example of this is how often I see games like Puerto Rico get rated a "1". It is clearly not a 1. The components are nice, the mechanics are clean, the instructions make sense; even if it bores you to death and you choked on the tiles and had to go to the hospital, it is still not a 1. There are millions of games that would have bored you more and would have given you paper cuts while you choked on their components.

Magic seems to be a large target for these sort of knee-jerk, spiteful reactions, and that information alone should tell you that it might be worth a second look. Nobody spends hours trolling boards maligning truly terrible games. This short review is designed to give an objective look at some of the attributes that separate magic from other games so that you, the reader, can make your own choice if the game is for you.


2. Cost

One of the most common cons brought up about magic is prohibitive cost. If you choose to play in Standard and rotating-type tournaments cost can be a major issue as well as the time cost having to keep up with all the newest trends and play regularly. For those that have lots of free time and disposable income, these issues are not cons and may even be positives. Also note that if you MUST have the "hot" deck or "best" cards, this hobby will be more expensive for you than if you just like to try "different" strategies.

Personally I justify Magic related costs by comparing them to other forms of entertainment. A tournament costs similar to a trip to the movies with snacks. A box of boosters similar to a trip to an amusement park. A tournament level deck costs similar to a set of gear for tennis, golf or hockey. I prefer the Legacy format that allows for building a deck archetype that will last for years, but still can be altered with new cards as they come out. You can keep competitive in Legacy even if you do not play that often or change your deck that often. Legacy players also tend to be older, more mature and financially stable. Legacy cards hold value, so you do not always need to buy new cards if you are willing to trade or sell old cards to get them. I have spent just as much feeding a board game addiction as I ever did on Magic booster boxes.

"Budget" ways to play include cube, pauper and preconstructed.


3. The "Metagame"

To me, no game does this better than Magic, but if you do not enjoy this part of the game, there are many better games for you. The metagame is everything outside of actually playing the game. Do you like creating your own strategies and decks? Do you like researching matchups and playing against diverse opponents? Do you like trading for fun and profit? These are all reasons to get into Magic. No other game has such a stable economy as a collectible and gives so many options on how to approach strategies before you even sit down to play! Magic game designers even cater to multiple gamer types (look up Timmy, Johnny and Spike; Melvin and Vorthos) when designing their cards, so if there is certain play styles you like, you know you can expect cards to support your strategies in the future. Do you want to have a symmetric game that you do not need to think about when you are not playing, and do not have to prepare for before playing? Avoid Magic.


4. The Game Itself

What are the pros and cons of the actual gameplay? Well, as I stated in the first paragraph, the actual gameplay is often exaggerated to be terrible, clunky and luck-filled on one hand, and perfect on the other. The fact is, and often is for many things, it lies somewhere in the middle. If you want the perfect strategy game, the perfect 2 player game, the perfect multiplayer game, etc., Magic is not for you. If you want a game that is fun and competitive in 2 player duels, but is also easy and fun to fit to any numbers of friends that show up at your house- even 8+, Magic may be for you. If you want a game with a small number of measured interactions, Magic is not for you. If you want a game with millions of interactions that are carefully monitored and ruled upon, Magic might be for you.

I like that the game has a large amount of variety, multiple paths to victory and balances a lot of resource types (speed vs power, cards vs life, options vs reliability, sustained damage vs burst damage). I don't like that games can be ruined due to luck (thankfully, these are short in Magic, though), skill cannot overcome many matchup differentials, and multiplayer games tend to drag. I think a mix between positive and negative is that although Magic does not have a singular coherent theme, the themes come through if you want them to by your choice of aesthetics or mechanics(All my zombies keep coming back from the dead to get you! My army is all highly trained and they all have first strike!).


5. Setup and Components

Magic is the quickest game to setup and play. You literally shuffle, cut and start. You really feel like you get a lot out of the time you spend, compared to "wasting" time on a large setup. The component cards are very durable and also hold value well. A large collection can eat up space, though, so make sure your wife or whoever you live with is cool with that.


Hopefully the information provided can help make an informed decision about whether Magic is a game you would enjoy or not. It is clearly a game that is not for everyone and can be quite polarizing, but it does have some strengths that are not easily found elsewhere and I am sure I will have fun whether I meet you in a Magic tournament or at the weekly strategy board game club.
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Really solid review touching on multiple topics quickly but reasonably well. Thanks for writing this one!

I had excitedly gotten into Magic about 1.5 years ago but recently lost a TON of interest when I realized what a financial drain (aka "rip-off") it was for me. I'm not interested in playing clumsy budget versions of the game (plus when I attend any organized events, they are all focused on Standard, anyway) so the game's prohibitive cost began to irk me and the fact that the costs are created by both the players themselves fueled by the collusion among retailers and WotC and all that, and it finally just ticked me off enough that I decided to mostly walk away. I'll play for fun with what I have if a friend begs me to play but generally speaking, I'd rather play something that's better as a card game (like Warhammer: Invasion, which is far more elegant, all things considered, imho).

It's a polished product with good gameplay (not "great gameplay") with superb production values, excellent Q&A, and fantastic Organized Play but it's also a badly over-expensive (in specific situations) with a community that I'm not terribly impressed by or overly fond of (as a new player), and finally, it does have a few gameplay problems that make it less than perfect (Mana Screw/Flood and an over-reactive group of developers who put perhaps TOO much stock into the griping of their fan-base).

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Thanks for this review.

The amount of hate against mtg here on bgg astonishs me.
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If there is one thing to note about Magic that most people forget, it is that there isn't just one way to play it. The review covers Standard and Legacy for the big tournaments, and Cube, Pauper, and Preconstructed formats for the very casual (though Cube and Pauper have tournament queues on MTGO.) What the review doesn't mention is Limited (draft and sealed), and multiplayer (2HG and Commander, among others). Granted interest in a particular format may vary depending on your playgroup and FLGS, but there are many different pros and cons between them that there are simply many ways to enjoy Magic according to your needs and capabilities.

Personally, I prefer Limited formats; most of the cards you open are playable, the cost of entry is fixed, and if you have no interest in keeping the cards you can just resell them (even for potential profit).
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Gregg Saruwatari
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goodshepherd wrote:
If there is one thing to note about Magic that most people forget, it is that there isn't just one way to play it. The review covers Standard and Legacy for the big tournaments, and Cube, Pauper, and Preconstructed formats for the very casual (though Cube and Pauper have tournament queues on MTGO.) What the review doesn't mention is Limited (draft and sealed), and multiplayer (2HG and Commander, among others). Granted interest in a particular format may vary depending on your playgroup and FLGS, but there are many different pros and cons between them that there are simply many ways to enjoy Magic according to your needs and capabilities.

Personally, I prefer Limited formats; most of the cards you open are playable, the cost of entry is fixed, and if you have no interest in keeping the cards you can just resell them (even for potential profit).


Those are good points. I feel talking about every tournament type would be terribly boring and hard for non-players to understand so I was very brief. You have inspired me to write a separate article about different tournaments and variants.
 
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What I like about Magic is that I know I'll always have someone and someplace to play. How many times have any of us on BGG purchased a game thinking our friends and family will like it only to have it played once or maybe just half a game before going back on the shelf to collect dust?

I love Battlestar Galactica. Just about the perfect game for me but I think I've played it twice through. I buy the expansions just so I can not feel horribly guilty about moderating and playing PBF games here on BGG.

Warhammer Invasion and Android Netrunner are fun games that I enjoy but I'd be buying them to play with none, so it really comes down to this: I'm fine with paying more every month to play Magic than paying less to not play other games.
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Once I stopped playing Standard and worrying about having the newest best deck all of the time, playing and collecting Magic became much more enjoyable.

I mostly play Commander which is multiplayer Magic on steroids. I do have some expensive cards, but these are not necessary for playing. Some of the best cards in Commander are cards ignored by other formats. There is a lot of diplomacy in a Commander game also, which makes it quite different from a duel.

Drafting and building cubes is a lot of fun for me. A cube for me is a board game version of Magic. You can spend $25 or more on just a cube and that can be your Magic board game. There's been multiple ways on here that show how you can play those with 2 players, but it can play with up to 8, which is not an easy thing to do with most strategic board games.
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I started playing Magic with Unlimited in 1993. I never played competitively, even in those early years, but have always had fun playing casually. I still pick up some packs every few years just to see what's new, and still keep a few play decks to play with friends.

I think people that are against the game for the cost maybe don't realize they can get into it cheap for casual play, especially with the theme decks (that were not around back in 1993!).

I find it a very fun game and still pull it out every once in a while. I've never spent a ton of money on the game, but over the years have been able to put together some really fun decks. I love the Archenemy variant from a few years ago also.

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I agree with everything, although the first point about not trusting reviews applies to any type of review, not just Magic or even game reviews for that matter. It's frustrating to read a review about something where the reviewer either slams a product or praises it without giving reasons about what makes it good or bad. It's even more irritating when the reviewer doesn't consider that everyone has different preferences and just because he doesn't like something doesn't necessarily make it bad but that it just doesn't satisfy him.

Something left out of point 5 - Setup and Components is deck building. Yes, the actual game is a quick setup and the game can run really fast. But before you can even play a single a game of Magic, you need decks with which to play. Even if you buy pre-configured decks, you'll soon tire of them and want more variety and better decks, especially when there is such a large pool of cards to choose from. Deck building can take up so much more time than the game itself, and those really into the game spend a great amount of time researching and studying the game. That can be fun for a lot of people serious about Magic, but the deck-building part can be a big turn off for many casual players too. Whether deck-building is something you're into or not, the time spent deck-building should be considered as part of the pre-game/setup time.

Continuing on Point 5, the Magic "components" are another big hurdle. With over 10,000 Magic cards in existence, it's really hard to go through a card pool to build decks if you're not familiar with the game. Even if you stay with Standard format play where you are limited to only the past 2 years worth of card sets, there is a new set released every 3-4 months that you have to learn if you want to stay current. It takes a lot of time and money to stay current with the game.
 
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Wow, as a gamer who has several friends who play Magic, while never having played myself, I must say this thread is much better presented and written than the infamous "Why are not everyone playing Magic" thread from a while back.
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Harold Tessmann III
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GrimThunderbrew wrote:
goodshepherd wrote:
If there is one thing to note about Magic that most people forget, it is that there isn't just one way to play it. The review covers Standard and Legacy for the big tournaments, and Cube, Pauper, and Preconstructed formats for the very casual (though Cube and Pauper have tournament queues on MTGO.) What the review doesn't mention is Limited (draft and sealed), and multiplayer (2HG and Commander, among others). Granted interest in a particular format may vary depending on your playgroup and FLGS, but there are many different pros and cons between them that there are simply many ways to enjoy Magic according to your needs and capabilities.

Personally, I prefer Limited formats; most of the cards you open are playable, the cost of entry is fixed, and if you have no interest in keeping the cards you can just resell them (even for potential profit).

Those are good points. I feel talking about every tournament type would be terribly boring and hard for non-players to understand so I was very brief. You have inspired me to write a separate article about different tournaments and variants.

Tournaments don't have to enter into it. If you primarily play games with a usual group of friends, you could approach Magic like you might a board game and, with a few deck-building restrictions, enjoy the game for a fixed cost. For example:

- Each player buys a random deck and a fixed number of boosters, say three. Build the best deck you can out of that, basic lands, and no other cards. Or skip the random deck and buy a larger number of boosters.
- Similar to the above, except you draft from each booster pack: pick one card and pass the remainder to the left, repeating until the booster runs out. Do this for all the boosters, alternating pass directions.
- As above, but draft from all the available cards at once. Do you spend a draft pick to block another player from building a powerful combo, even if you won't use the card in your deck? Or should you focus on making your own deck stronger?
- Experiment with other restrictions, such as trading, either allowing it if you wouldn't otherwise or forbidding it if you normally allow it. So you've taken a card that would work really well in an opponent's deck. Did they pick a card or three that makes a trade worth it?
- Try other formats. If you get tired of one-on-one games, try Two-Headed Giant, Commander, or even the classic free-for-all.
- If you really trust the people involved, one person could buy and own the cards, and the cost would still fall well within the range for hobby board games. In any case, make it clear that you don't use any other cards.
 
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secoAce wrote:
Even if you stay with Standard format play where you are limited to only the past 2 years worth of card sets, there is a new set released every 3-4 months that you have to learn if you want to stay current.


I'd never think of it as "have to."

Rather I think of it as every few months (there are four sets per year, though we have a bonus one this year!) I have an excuse to spend a ton of time poring over new cards and thinking about them. The cards for a new set are slowly spoiled over a period of a couple weeks, though usually there are some teasers earlier than that. While the spoilers come out I get to discuss them with my husband, and other Magic friends. Then all the pros (and my favorite podcast, Limited Resources) come out with set reviews where they go card by card and give their thoughts. Sometimes I have even written one. I greatly enjoy reading through these and seeing how people think about the game. The LR set review for each set is usually broken up into two parts that total about 8 hours. Usually I listen to them multiple times. Eventually, after all this ritual, there is a prerelease where people can finally first play with the cards. I went to my first one for the last set, Gatecrash, but usually I don't make it. The next week the set comes out. Part of my ritual is buying a single pack of the new set from a local shop. Meanwhile I'll have ordered common/uncommon playsets from a shop I used to go to in Iowa. Eventually those will arrive, I'll print up some rare proxies, and make my cube for that set, and then do some draft/sealed with my husband. Sometime around then, the set will come out on MTGO, and depending on my mood at the time, I might draft or do a lot of sealed events there.

All of the above is done with great joy. There is no sense of obligation. Rather, multiple times per year, there is an excuse to devote all this extra time to this game I love so dearly, and I can do this even if I'm not actually playing the game!
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the two reasons i stopped playing (with no expectation to start again, even though i have stopped/started at least 5 times since 1995) were time and cost. i wasn't ever a very serious player in terms of tournament preparation, but even casual deckbuilding for formats that can use the full card pool (i played a lot of edh) was a *huge* time sink. i enjoyed it, but eventually decided the enjoyment i got wasn't worth the time cost given that the non-playing activities are primarily solitary endeavors (compared to other games when even rules-explanation is "social"). the financial cost was also not insignificant ... with a mostly edh-focused collection (along with a bit of standard and legacy) the value when i sold was enough to buy about 50 other board games. a $50 board game is pretty expensive (only 7 of the 160 entries in my collection cost more than that, 2 of which are my go and crokinole sets), but *many* staple singles in mtg will run that much *per card*.

the game is still one of only 3 i have rated higher than a 9 here. and i also picked up android netrunner this year, which doesn't share the financial cost of mtg but does still have the time cost (not as bad currently since the card pool is far more limited), so i'm certainly not a ccg(-ish) hater. if i had infinite time and money i would play the hell out of some magic, but i don't.
 
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I have a really weird relationship with M:tG. But basically it is a great game, esp. for a quick game or two.

Personally I really like the Duel Decks; they are pre-set up decks for two players. No collecting, no one up-man-ship because I have more $$ than you. And the rules are tight. And you can get them at Target or Walmart for ~ $20. Totally fire and forget ....
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I played MtG on an occasional/social basis for about a year before finally giving up on it. Every one of the "negative" reasons you cite were part of my rationale for quitting. Don't get me wrong, it's a solidly designed game that can be a lot of fun to play, but the constant pressure to "buy your way to victory" ended up completely undermining what originally made it enjoyable -- at least for me.

I realize that there are formats to avoid that problem, but in a non-formal setting (i.e. just a bunch of gaming buddies deciding to sit down and play), pointing out that there are different game "formats" (pauper, cube, preconstructed) is meaningless. When bubba brings his new $200 deck with the latest killer cards, and you're still playing with a base deck starter, the allure quickly goes out of the game -- and bubba sure as hell ain't gonna play without all those spiffy new cards he just "invested" in.

I think the take-away is that if you like (and can afford) playing in the competitive setting -- which the OP clearly does -- then I'll readily agree MtG is one heck of a game. But for someone who prefers the occasional/social style of gaming, it's a definite non-fit unless everyone in the group is willing to agree to stick with a single group of cards (i.e. no buying new stuff to "upgrade" your deck so you have an edge).
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Lancer4321 wrote:
I realize that there are formats to avoid that problem, but in a non-formal setting (i.e. just a bunch of gaming buddies deciding to sit down and play), pointing out that there are different game "formats" (..., cube, ...) is meaningless.


I don't understand why it is meaningless to point out that cube solves this problem in a non-formal setting. Could you elaborate?
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louper wrote:
...if you cave in and play his copy of Monopoly, it isn't Bubba's fault and it certainly isn't Monopoly's fault.


No, maybe not, but neither Monopoly or Risk have a collectible format that encourages its players to keep buying new parts to the game to make them more powerful. If Bubba shells out his hard earned bucks to get the latest and greatest new cards, it's not unreasonable for him to expect that he'll be allowed to use them in the game. While restricting him to just the agreed upon format so that everyone remains equally "competitive" would be the logical way to proceed, the reality is that MtG's marketing ploy actively encourages players to play the game in a non-equal footing basis.

That's an underlying "fault" with the publisher's system, not in my agreeing to let Bubba play with his new cards -- it's no different than some fast food franchise sticking crappy little toys in their Happy Meals to encourage kids to consume their unhealthy fare. The food may taste wonderful, but ultimately it's bad for you. As a parent, you know this (the child doesn't) so you only allow your kid gorge himself on a grease bomb once in a rare while, even though he repeatedly throws a fit because he wants the latest toy. Same with MtG: you know it's fun to play, but ultimately it's a flawed system because of the compulsion for players keep buying new cards so they can stay "competitive."

The problem isn't with the game -- the problem is with the way its marketed.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
louper wrote:
...if you cave in and play his copy of Monopoly, it isn't Bubba's fault and it certainly isn't Monopoly's fault.


No, maybe not, but neither Monopoly or Risk have a collectible format that encourages its players to keep buying new parts to the game to make them more powerful. If Bubba shells out his hard earned bucks to get the latest and greatest new cards, it's not unreasonable for him to expect that he'll be allowed to use them in the game. While restricting him to just the agreed upon format so that everyone remains equally "competitive" would be the logical way to proceed, the reality is that MtG's marketing ploy actively encourages players to play the game in a non-equal footing basis.

That's an underlying "fault" with the publisher's system, not in my agreeing to let Bubba play with his new cards -- it's no different than some fast food franchise sticking crappy little toys in their Happy Meals to encourage kids to consume their unhealthy fare. The food may taste wonderful, but ultimately it's bad for you. As a parent, you know this (the child doesn't) so you only allow your kid gorge himself on a grease bomb once in a rare while, even though he repeatedly throws a fit because he wants the latest toy. Same with MtG: you know it's fun to play, but ultimately it's a flawed system because of the compulsion for players keep buying new cards so they can stay "competitive."

The problem isn't with the game -- the problem is with the way its marketed.


Learning to be successful when not being on equal footing isn't a terrible thing; is could be an analogy for life. You may not prefer games to be that way, but they would still have much more value than unhealthy fast food. Would you tell your child to quit dreaming of being at the top of the business world because he was born poorer than his competition? Would you demand that when your son plays basketball, the other team must not play kids that could jump higher or shoot better? I wouldn't, I would encourage finding ways to be successful, and ways to make the situation enjoyable. Everyone should realize that everything is not equal, and that equal is not always fair. Good luck if you can't handle competition where everyone isn't on equal footing. You have a right to demand that your entertainment conforms to your needs, but you do not speak for everyone.

P.S. If you spent a bunch of money on the last set and added the "latest and greatest" cards to any competitive legacy deck, you did not, in fact, increase your chances of winning. You can check the results if you don' t believe me. Restraint is a habit worth teaching and learning. I have funded competitive legacy decks by trading my cards I do not use with minimal additional investment. Learning how to buy, trade and sell are part of Magic. It is not a flaw- it is there for those that enjoy it.
 
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