Magic the Gathering. May the Richest Nerd Win

Source: google.com via Rebecca on Pinterest

This week, our group decided to take a break from the Savage Worlds RPG and instead play a little Magic: the Gathering. I had a fun time. Had some cool battles. Lost both of ’em, but good times were had over a couple of beers.

But I was also reminded of why I avoided this game like the plague when it first came out. In fact, my first Magic game this week was my first Magic game ever — a rarity for a gamer, I think.

My bone of contention (and please tell me there’s a Magic card called “Bone of Contention”) is that the game gives an unfair advantage to people who are either willing to spend lots of money, or spend inordinate amounts of time obsessing over the perfect combination of cards. The true champs of this game who participate in tournaments presumably do both.

Think of any board game you’ve ever played. You can have infinite re-playability in Chess, Risk, Monopoly, Axis & Allies, etc. without purchasing an expansion pack. For between $30 and $80 or so, you could play this game every once in a while for the rest of your life and have a different outcome every time. That’s because people will change their strategy if they lose. They’ll play smarter. The top dog will not be top dog forever if he never adapts.

Even if you purchase an expansion pack or updated version of the game, the “cool new awesome” factor affects everyone equally. No one gets an advantage from the expansion. It’s just a different way of playing for everyone.

Long story short, you can’t spend your way to more victories.

You will not win Monopoly more often by purchasing multiple Monopoly board games. Or to take a different example of another card game, you will not win more Munchkin games by purchasing every single expansion pack there is. Everyone benefits.

Same goes for RPGs and their expansion packs. No player will benefit more than any other if I purchase a new expansion for Savage Worlds. All players get to choose from the same Hindrances and Edges. If I purchase miniatures, everyone at the table benefits equally from being able to see where the evil Troll is relative to where their Wild Card is standing.

With Magic, you can purchase advantages that work for individuals, not the group. People spend small fortunes to attain the “perfect deck”. It’s a deck with lots of cool-looking cards, awesome spells, fearsome monsters with unique attack capabilities… but that’s all just a cover.

You’re not buying coolness. You’re buying wins.

Your awesome deck compiled an investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars will beat a starter deck most of the time — particularly if you take the time to sort among your hundreds of cards to collate the most fearsome attack deck imaginable.

But wait, comes the objection. Everyone can purchase more cards. It’s an even playing field.

No it’s not.

Some people won’t be able to afford to purchase hundreds of cards. Even more people just won’t want to purchase hundreds of cards, when they could spend that cash on beer, comics, iTunes songs or whatever.

If you’re poorer than your buddy, or just less obsessed, you are going to lose this game more of the time.

A second, weaker objection is that your richer buddy will just share cards with you so you can have an even game.

Well, maybe he will (“Aw, sorry buddy. I guess I have more disposable income and free time than you. But here you go, Mr. Charity Case. Let’s play!). Maybe he won’t (“Suck it up, Larry. It’s GO time.”). Maybe I don’t want him to share his awesome cards with me because I want to win with the set that I own. Now I’m depending on charity to win the game.

I don’t want to rely on charity. I want to rely on my own abilities to tear my opponent a new cake-hole.

I’m betting that in Magic tournaments at conventions or wherever, charity is a rarity.

I hate that rich politicians can stack the deck in their favor and subvert democracy by outspending their opponents. I hate that some wealthy and psychotic individuals and organizations can launch frivolous lawsuits to beggar the objects of their scorn. And I hate that you can get an advantage in this game from purchasing more cards.

If my buddies bring out their stacks of cards to play again, I’m sure I’ll have an awesome time. I’ll borrow someone’s deck, we’ll have more beers. Coolness. But I will never purchase a deck of Magic cards, ever. That’s my beer money, damnit.

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One Comment on “Magic the Gathering. May the Richest Nerd Win”

  1. foolupie says:

    Great article. I love playing the game mtg and could get reobessed with it again but I don’t want to spend big bucks on a game. One of the reasons I like chess and connect four easy enough to lear but awhile to master and I don’t need to buy a checkers booster pack just to play better or current tourment legal connect four.


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