Monday 12 December 2022

Is Magic Complete?

I recall wishing for things in Magic like a child at Christmas, more white three drops, more one mana black discard, more card quality etc etc. That desire and excitement slowly dried up and more recently got replaced with "I wish they would print less stuff all the time". Now I mostly put that down to bias, I have been getting annoyed with many things Magic/Wizards/Hasbro have been doing for a while (2019 onwards!) and so I simply concluded that was the reason for my lowering interest and excitement at new stuff. Now it is hard to be objective when in the thick of caring about something but when you are passed all that it gets a bit easier. I feel like I recently reached that point of no longer giving a shit and with the clarity of those eyes I actually feel like I stopped wanting for things because in fact there was nothing much left to want for! Phrased another way - Magic was complete! 

Now obviously there are always new cards to print and a fully infinite array of things to do in a game like Magic. After a while however most of those "new" things are just remixed old things. There is very little actually new, and the vast majority of that is either unplayably weak or totally broken. The newest, or freshest, things we seem to get these days are expansions of mechanics or tribes so as to make them things you can build around. Great for EDH but less use to the cube drafter. 

So many cards have been printed that there is typically enough of any kind of effect with a high enough power level to meet your needs. I am not adding cards to the cube to plug gaps in colours or strategies. I am only ever adding cards on power level and suitability and it is typically only ever minor improvements on existing cards and effects. It also used to be exclusively power levels that would trigger cards getting added to the cube but it is increasingly the suitability metric which is the defining one. The old way of it being determined by power lead to the meta being firmly pulled in one direction and then a totally different one as cards came and went, support along with them. The cube meta felt a lot more like it tracked standard for a very long time. New interesting and fresh cards would join the fray and give a whole new landscape which would evolve slowly until a fresh batch of new additions came along. These days however the cube doesn't feel like it changes much at all with new cards. A few things across the board get a little improvement but the meta stays very much the same with all the same archetypes. 

This is obviously a double edged sword. Games, while samey, are good. Having depth in card pool is lovely from a design and constructed perspective. I have wished for these things, I now have them, and somehow I seem to be complaining that I am now bored! Cube is great but the cost of that is consistency. If I want variation it is on me to find it, not to complain about the things I was wishing for not so long ago. And I have. I have toyed with loads of things cube adjacent over the past couple of years. I have made a combo cube, a couple of synergy cubes, a down powered cube specifically to house cards that I want to play with. I worked on but never played or built tribal cubes, a pre-modern cube, a gold cube, and a kind of blueprint core set style of cube. And those are just types of cube. I have done plenty of things to spice up play with my main cube as well from a wide array of banning strategies to playing with commanders. I have even been doing some play with wholly different objectives in mind like my first pro tour cube style decks. These are all a response to the format of my cube tending towards becoming consistently similar, with a strong emphasis on the last, say five years. I find mostly I only really want to play my main cube when I am testing new cards out, once they are played and worked out I am back on the different stuff (if I still have time and energy for magic by that point). I have said a couple of times lately that I wouldn't mind now if they stopped printing new cards and this alone should be a pretty big clue to me that Magic is, if not actually complete, sufficiently complete to have comparable longevity regardless. 

And what does this mean? Well, the world is your oyster frankly. You can play magic however you like and there are the cards to support your doing so. You might need to get a bit creative or put some effort in should you want to keep it fresh but it is only a good thing, for the player at least. It might well be more of a problem for the company producing magic as there is ever less incentive to get the new stuff beyond power level and that is only ever ending badly, it has started to be problematic already. 

Magic is not complete nor can it ever really be complete. Even if they never printed another card and even if that was the right thing to do there would remain infinite ways to play and enjoy magic and people would get to creating their own take on things in no time. They already do. Magic is one of those too big to fail things. The company might go under, and in some inconceivable situation, it might not get bought out and carried on, but even then, the game is too good. People would find ways to play and enjoy it. It hasn't been Richard Garfield's game for a long time, but nor is it a Wizards of the Coast game, or a Hasbro game. It is our game. It has been for some time. But it is only as the hand on the tiller loses their way that this fact becomes so apparent. Cube, EDH, competitive play, alters, all the best bits of magic came from the community. For many, myself included, the community itself is the best part. Just a group of people with at least one thing in common - a love for a game. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I have purposely not tried to see what's left to print, or what gaps are there still to exploit, from a design space perspective.

    I like it when they surprise me. And they still do, even if it's one of two cards per set. And I know there will be a point where I don't get surprised anymore. And when that day comes, I'll have my entire collection to enjoy. As you said, they've already made the best game ever, and any new surprise they print is just a bonus :)

    I'm so happy I discovered the Cube format. It did feel like Magic should always have been played this way, and now it always will be!