This is a very interesting week in Magic!
Back in the day, there was always a break between the full reveal and prerelease for a set, and then the actual release in paper and on Magic Online. This would often be a weird week for content, as new cards were known but not available for play yet. In recent times however, we've seen an immediate release on MTG Arena and Magic Online at the same time as the paper prerelease, making the term "prerelease" essentially meaningless.
Well now it's back to the way it was and I think this is a very good thing for paper Magic, and most importantly local game stores!
So, what's one to write about in that week? Because I've got Ten New Brews next week, I thought it would be fun this week to open up the floor to y'all and answer some mailbag questions!
A great place to start!
The tag line of the Pro Tour used to be "Play The Game, See The World," and for much of the late 2000s I lived that life. I had never needed a passport before, but the Pro Tour took me to The Czech Republic, Spain, Japan, and France, as well as Hawaii and many domestic locations.
Of all of these, Japan was the wildest. The cultural differences were readily apparent and I had a wonderful time just wandering around both Kobe and Yokohama. However, I've got a special place in my heart for Paris, which I went to in 2006 for the World Championship and again in 2012 for a Pro Tour. I took French in both high school and college so had a rudimentary grasp of the language, so getting to explore a beautiful and historical city while eating great food also being able to communicate somewhat was awesome.
I very much look forward to going back at some point.
I think the biggest flaw of modern-day Magic design is the completeness good cards often have. There used to be enabler cards (think Memnite, Explore, Impulse, Fauna Shaman, Thraben Inspector, Aquameoba) and payoff cards (Tempered Steel, Primeval Titan, Torrential Gearhulk, Vengevine, Thalia's Lieutenant, Arrogant Wurm), and a lot of the fun of deck-building was finding the right mix of these cards.
Nowadays, designs are far more complete, providing you the enabler and the payoff at the same time. This focuses a ton of power into single cards, as well as makes deck-building far less interesting because the cards just solve the interesting questions for you.
There's certainly a desire to want to print powerful cards, but I'd prefer if they weren't so ubiquitous and "easy."
When you tell people that you play games for a living, the usual response is to comment about how lucky you are. Make no mistake, I'm very lucky to be able to do what I do, but most people don't see beyond the surface level "playing games" part of "playing games for a living" to what it really is that I do.
Much more time goes into the non-"playing games" part of my job than actually playing games. Writing articles, editing videos, putting up YouTube content, prepping for streams, planning and analyzing how my content is doing, running social media, brokering sponsorship deals, planning/booking travel, and so on. In short, as a one-man business I'm my CEO, CFO, PR person, graphic designer, social media manager, travel agent, marketing manager, and so on.
And if my business fails, it's all on me.
That pressure is probably the worst part, as is the feeling of "always being on" that most small business owners feel. A more mundane 9-5 job may not be as exciting as playing Magic, but your time outside that window is 100% yours. As a content creator it can be hard to "turn it off" and get the respite you need; there have been many days where I start a stream at 9am, go until 6pm, and my wife comes in at 11pm to tell me to come to bed because I'm still working at the computer.
I love what I do and am profoundly fortunate to be able to do it, but every job is still that, a job - even if it's an awesome one.
This is a difficult question because there are so many different factors to Magic; is it set design? Community? The state of Organized Play? My current level of involvement? Am I winning a lot?
I have a lot of great feelings about my early days on Magic Online drafting Onslaught and Mirrodin block, as well as a fondness for my Pro Tour days, but I think around 2014-2015 checks off most off the boxes for me.
The SCG Tour was at its absolute peak, with the best coverage and tournaments in the business, and Standard and Modern were both thriving. The race for The Player's Championship, a year-end 16 player event for a $50,000 prize pool, gave clarity and purpose to the tour, and I was right in the thick of it. Furthermore, the quality of coverage allowed me to make a name for myself and I had gotten further invested in writing articles and doing content.
I also had a deck for much of the year that I absolutely loved to play that nobody else really saw any success with, which is an amazing feeling.
UW Control | Khans Standard | Jim Davis, 3rd Place SCG Invitational 2014
- Creatures (1)
- 1 Pearl Lake Ancient
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
- Instants (20)
- 2 Devouring Light
- 2 Last Breath
- 3 Dig Through Time
- 3 Disdainful Stroke
- 3 Jace's Ingenuity
- 3 Nullify
- 4 Dissolve
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Banishing Light
- Lands (27)
- 2 Plains
- 5 Island
- 2 Evolving Wilds
- 2 Polluted Delta
- 4 Flooded Strand
- 4 Radiant Fountain
- 4 Temple of Enlightenment
- 4 Tranquil Cove
It's not really fair to compare that time period to now, with Covid absolutely wrecking any semblance of Organized Play, but I hope we can get back to that point eventually.
I could write a book about the first part of this question, so I'm going to just focus on the second.
If you are serious about competitive Magic (or anything competitive really) the first thing you need to do is recognize that you are not good at the game. Your goal for every event you play should be to learn and improve, not to win. You need to become a student of the game, and make sure that you're always progressing upward and improving. The biggest flaw many mid-level, pretty good Magic players have is thinking that they are good. This causes them to stunt their growth because in their minds they are already "good," as well as giving them an air of entitlement that prevents them from seeing their own flaws.
Very few people are actually "good" at Magic, so your goal is to work hard and be less bad than everyone else.
Find like-minded folks, preferably more experienced than you, and work together with them with an open and active mind. Always be open to new ideas and take in as much information as you can. When your focus is learning and growing, the results will eventually follow.
You don't often get to get this closeup for Magic art, which is unique, and frankly the expressions on both faces are just awesome. You're right, this was a quick and easy one!
The biggest disconnect between paper Magic and online Magic is the collectability aspect of the game.
With all sorts of Secret Lairs and fancy card treatments, Magic has done an excellent job leaning in to the collectible aspect of the game in recent years, leading them to record profits. These fancy printings aren't necessary to play the game as game pieces, but clearly players enjoy and value the ability to play with fancier and more desirable versions of cards.
The issue is that this is very often not the case on the online platforms.
On Magic Online, foils are at times worth less than their non-foil counterparts, while various card styles aren't nearly as in demand. You effectively "own" your cards on Magic Online, which means you can buy, sell, and trade them, but this secondary market is more of a nuisance than anything else compared to paper markets. We see this in the popularity of card rental services, which allow you to just pay a set fee to play whatever deck you want.
On MTG Arena, there are various card styles you can pay for to augment your cards for gameplay, but they are locked to your account, unsellable and untradeable. Because you can't sell or trade cards, your collection feels like a sunk cost that you can never get anything back out of, one of the usual safety valves on collecting.
Both of these are very different than having a pimped put Commander deck or Cube, or even just a collection in a binder you like to show off. People make Instagram posts about their cool paper Magic cards; nobody is making any posts about their cool digital cards.
Because this disconnect is so apparent and is not doing online Magic any favors, I think trying to mimic the paper Magic model on online Magic platforms is ultimately flawed. Access is everything, and letting players play should be the focus, with monetization coming more from fun extras than spending huge wads of cash on loot boxes to try and construct decks. League of Legends is a great example of this; different game boards, pets, card styles, animations, sound effects, etc can all be the monetization focus, as well as events, while cards are more readily available and accessible.
I don't have all the answers on how to make this work, but I know that a large portion of the player base won't even touch Magic Online or MTG Arena because of cost and that sucks. Online Magic shouldn't be a game just for whales.
Ah, a nice fun one to end with.
As a NY Rangers fan I should hate Tom Wilson, but I've had him (to great success) as a keeper on my fantasy hockey team for years now so I'm a fan. For the unaware, Tom is a divisive "agitator" in the NHL, known for playing a bit over the line at times, but unlike most goons or agitators is actually a skilled, top line player for a winning team. As such, most non-Washington Capitals fans hate him because he's a jerk.
As for his Magic card analogy, I think Electrostatic Pummeler fits the bill.
There's the obvious "pummeler" reference for a guy known for his big hits and fights in the NHL, but while Electrostatic Pummeler is somewhat of an annoying meme card, it also has the resume to back it up as well. Like Tom Wilson, Electrostatic Pummeler wasn't the best card or deck in any given format it was legal in, but it was still something not to underestimate and took down a number of big events.
Ten New Brews!
Thanks to everyone who sent in questions, I got to as many as I could! Next week is the release of Streets of New Capenna and with that my usual Ten New Brews! And on that front, I have some exciting news:
The Early Access Streamer Event is back!
This event allows a large swath of content creators onto a special server one day before release with access to all the cards, allowing us to build tons of awesome new decks and showcase the set right before it goes live! This event is a blast because everyone involved is looking to try out new things and really put a spotlight on the new cards. This went away a few sets ago, and while Ten New Brews has still been a lot of fun, most MTG Arena players don't have all the new cards they need to build new decks on day one of a format, so we'd often end up just playing against all the top decks in the old format. The Early Access Event helps to make sure that we'll get to see the entire gauntlet of New Capenna and I'm sure it's going to be an awesome time!
Make sure you tune in to me (and everyone else) on April 26th where I'll be unveiling my usual Ten New Brews, which will also follow on my YouTube. And of course, next Friday's article right here on CoolStuffInc.com will go over all ten decks in detail, talking about what worked, what didn't work, and ranking their potential for the new format!
I'll see you there!