I recently began to sort through my Magic: The Gathering collection. I started cataloging them, finding links for text and getting prices and whatn not. The reason for this is for the potential of going out and possibly selling them. Why sell? Largely because like many Americans I am straped for cash and selling my MTG cards could be an easy way to make a buck. After all, I never really play the game anymore.
Looking through my collection though gets me to thinking about the game a little more. People for years have been saying that they grew tired of the game because there aren’t any new ideas. We’ve been saying it for years haven’t we? I mean I remember Fallen Empires and most people hated that expansion when it came out because it lacked anything really new (although I think time sat well with this expansion as people thought of new ways to use cards in it).
Ice Age though was the final straw for many and I think they lost a lot of people with that one. I don’t think you’d be wrong in saying that they were out of ideas after looking at Ice Age. The concepts of Snow-Covered lands and Cumulative upkeep were reaches at best, but more realistically were downright horrible ideas. They started reprinting older cards with new names. The only really useful mechanic in the set was cantrips which essentially added “draw card” to weak spells, and that’s not really all that innovative. I really do believe this “nothing new” sentiment stems largely from the failure that was Ice Age.
Still, looking over much of what has happened since the original inception of MTG, I can’t help but think that nothing is new even despite Ice Age. Sure, there are a small number of very original mechanics that have been added (I particularly like the “play again” type mechanic where you can play cards out of the grave, bring them into play out of the grave, or return them to your hand for extra costs that have seen over the years, I think there is 3 or 4 varieties of this).
This made me think, why is it that despite these added “mechanics” it doesn’t feel new? Part of it is because the new stuff is really just an evolution of old stuff… for instance Shards of Alara, the latest magic expansion, introduces the “Devour” keyword. This allows you to sacrafice creatures in play and get a permanent +1/+1 counter on the creature in question. It really feels like an evolution of the Hydra mechanic, but it feels like it has been done before even in the sacrafice form, maybe as a thallid or something like that. In any case, while it is certainly cool, it’s hardly new.
I think maybe the real problem is that when magic came out there used to be a lot of methods to win a match. You could do the classic, spells to lower health and creatures to lower health but there was more. Land death, discards, counters, these were also ways to do it (discards + rack ftw). You could millstone a player’s deck to 0 forcing him to lose, you could force the player to die from drawing cards (Underworld Dreams + Black Vise to name a couple), you could sit behind your protection spells (which still exists to some extent), or heaven forbid someone puts an Ali from Cairo into play and you can’t for the life of you kill it. Many of these mechanics were quashed largely because they were deemed too unbalanced because people who liked to do damage couldn’t compete against them. After all, apparently if damage wasn’t the best, then everything else must be taken out.
It isn’t just this though that I dislike about Magic. Wizards I personally think have done a disservice to the game in many ways. I have never been a fan of type 2 play. I understand it from the perspective of a new player. I even understand it from the perspective of too much in the pot at one time isn’t usually good. But at the same time I don’t want to invest all my money constantly to keep my collection competitive. I want to be able to play with my cards that I bought even if I did buy them 10 years ago. I still bought them and feel I have a right to play with them, but darn it if everyone isn’t scared of my Black Lotus (lordknows why, it isn’t that powerful).
I did kind of like the idea of a set with a story. MTG would have died if it didn’t try to make new stories, but I also like the independent sets a whole lot. Even though I think there are some great sets that have happened since blocks became big, I miss the old Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities, and Dark like sets. These sets were great not because they had super powerful cards (which they often did). But these sets were grittier, less commercial, and their flavor was just great. The new sets from Ice Age on really felt fake and very cartoony and never really had the same feeling that those original sets had.
All this said, it is sad to me that I don’t play Magic: The Gathering. It is a great game without a doubt. Looking through my cards have given me the urge to want to play again. I even have bought a few packs just to see what is going on today in the game. But it is too bad because I just can’t afford it anymore (it hasn’t helped that they’ve raised the prices and gotten rid of the smaller 8 card packs that were cheaper to buy).