Thursday 15 July 2021

(The Other) Magic

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I wrote about Magic a couple of weeks ago, but this is about the other magic.

This all started when I saw some Discord chatter about the new D&D-themed set that was being released for Magic: the Gathering. The tie-in didn't especially excite me, but I was interested to see how the designers had implemented some D&D staples into an entirely different type of game. Some are clever and fun translations, others seem weirdly anti-thematic and clunky.

But it was too late. I was thinking about Magic again.

I won't recount the whole story again, as I did that in the video above, but the short version is very similar to that of my history with miniatures, albeit with a less intensive interest. Short version: Played as a teenager, enjoyed casual play, disliked more competitive styles, had a run of lacklustre experiences and moved onto other games.

But here I am, picking up a handful of Jumpstart booster packs that let you combine two pre-built deck-halves into a number of interesting combinations, and dipping into some casual play with whoever I can get to a table.

The experience has reminded me what I enjoy about this game. Absorbing little mouthfuls of flavour from the art and micro-fiction on each card. Picking up a new deck and losing, but having the "aha" moment of understanding how this particular deck works. The whole concept (if not entirely the execution) of the Colour Pie, which I'll gush about in another post. I'm definitely having fun with it.

But things are different this time around. We're always online, and now you can't avoid the money game.

In what is sure to go down in history as one of the most entitled paragraphs ever, I'm going to complain about being handed free money. Brace yourselves.

One of my packs randomly contained a rare card worth more than the entirety of what I had spent on these booster packs. I didn't go looking for valuations on these cards, but the internet told me. It always knows what to tell you. Now, my complaint isn't about this windfall. Of course I'm using that money to buy more cards and maybe a nice box to keep them in. The problem is that it got me looking at the value of some other cards, and the prices you can pay for a ready-made deck of select cards.

I guess I knew about all this. Magic cards are either common, uncommon, rare, or mythic, and with each increase in rarity there's usually a power shift too. A rare card costing 3 mana is sure to be more powerful than a common costing the same. So if you want to really make a powerful deck you'll want a lot of mythic and rare cards. The two options for this are to buy a lot of boosters or pay a premium for each card on the secondary market. A regular starter deck for this game might cost £30, but if you're buying a high-end bespoke deck on the secondary market you'll be adding at a zero or two to that number.

I'd largely made my peace with that. It's just a level of spending that's not for me. Plus, there are entire formats (specific rulesets for the game) based around only using common cards, which is certainly appealing. Other formats are Limited, meaning that you don't show up to the game with a preconstructed deck, but part of the game is building a deck from a common pool, commonly through drafting. These both go a good way to reducing the pay-to-win element of the game, but Pauper feels like you're not getting to play with some of the coolest parts of the game, and Limited relies on players having some deckbuilding experience, making it tricky for casual players.

Worse still, the game's now most-popular format, Commander, is all about having a giant deck filled with powerful cards. I appreciate it has elements that might temper this, but it really seems to rely on finding a group that are willing to lay down some sort of social contract before play. This sounds great to try out with friends, but makes me tentative about exploring the local MTG scene.

I don't really mind losing. What's more scary is the idea that this is a slippery slope that ends with me buying a deck of cards for more than I spent on miniatures last year.

Still, Pauper Commander is a thing. Maybe that will be my niche.

Maybe just allowing one rare or mythic card... and a few uncommons.

Oh no.


  1. I love magic, and I've gone through the same feelings...

    My solution is to play Pauper mode in-person and use the program Tabletop Simulator to play online. In the Simulator, you can play with every card ever printed, for free.

  2. Commander is a lot more accessible now that it has company support, in that they sell 4 precon Commander decks a year. Commander often ends up with powerful cards, in part because the game is slowed down so much that casting a 10 mana spell before the game ends is 1) possible, and 2) not usually game-ending, so you see splashy cards that are otherwise unplayable. The fact that it's 99 singleton cards also means you're not going to build around a single combo trick. I prefer 1:1 commander, but if you play with larger groups you can stay in the game even if you fall behind, because the other players then have more immediate concerns.

  3. *feels itch to go to Target*