This is what 30 years of Magic: the Gathering products looks like.
Magic: the Gathering literally invented the concept of a collectible trading card game. Every trading card game in existence can trace it’s roots back to Origins Fair in 1993 when one game exploded onto the scene. For 30 years Magic has stayed ahead of its competitors and offered something no other card game could. But as you can see in the graphic Magic has changed a lot in the last five years. Magic is celebrating it’s 30th year anniversary this month, but for many players of the game that is no longer worth celebrating.
In 2018 Hasbro, owner of Wizards of the Coast, announced that they had plans to increase profits by 50% in the next 3 years. Since then, there has been an avalanche of new product. Spoiler season has changed from happening once every 3 months to a constant feed of new cards and art frames. Commander has shifted from a once a year product to eight, all of which contain mechanically unique cards. MTG Arena spends more time creating new cards with Alchemy than it does programming older sets into the engine. To keep up with the pace of products that are releasing you need to be constantly paying attention to social media. It has become exhausting to be a fan of Magic: the Gathering.
I’ve realized that most Magic products are no longer meant for me.
It hasn’t always been like this. For years new Magic cards could only be found in the Standard legal sets that were released each quarter. These sets were printed with the intention that every Magic player could use the cards found in those boosters. Whether you were a tournament grinder, kitchen table casual, or a Friday night drafter Magic cards were designed so that everyone could enjoy them. Ancillary products were made using pre-existing cards packaged in new and exciting ways. There were expectations of what products would come out each year. For example, summer was a time reserved for products that were trying something new.
Now when I go to buy a pack of the new set I get asked whether I want a draft, theme, or collector booster. I’ll see a spoiler for a card and then realize that the last set came out only two weeks ago. Cards have become much wordier and far more of them are being created each year. On top of all this the older cards that I do own and understand have more than likely been power crept by the cards coming out in all the different sets. All of this is complicated and confusing to me, a player who has been heavily invested in Magic for years. I can’t even begin to imagine what the new player experience looks like these days.
It is impossible to talk about the current state of the game without mentioning Secret Lairs. At the end of 2019 we were shown cards that would be limited time exclusives that you could buy directly from Wizards of the Coast. They were alternate arts of desirable cards and while there was some controversy in how they undercut local game stores many were not concerned. Little did we know that in October 2020 Wizards would announce a crossover between Magic: the Gathering and the Walking Dead series. These cards were given the distinction of black-border, which meant that they were legal in every format that allowed legacy cards. The community was outraged that Rick Grimes could now attack Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a tournament legal setting. It became the highest selling Secret Lair of all-time.
Since Secret Lairs were introduced in December 2019, 128 have been created. Just this year 48 have been printed and I’m expecting that we will see more in time for Christmas. Magic has now crossed IP’s with franchises such as Warhammer 40k and Fortnite. Next year we will get to see what Gandalf looks like as a Magic card. I first began playing Magic with M14. As a young teenager I was enamored by these fantasy worlds that were somehow unique and familiar at the same time. Casting a card that was set on Ravnica, a fantasy super metropolis, did not feel out of place next to a card from Theros, a plane inspired by ancient Greek mythology. There are so many worlds in Magic, yet they all still feel connected to the game as a whole. I don’t get that feeling when I counterspell Post Malone.
A few months before Secret Lair: the Walking Dead was released I wrote an article titled This Article is Not For You: Worrying Trends in MtG. The title was referencing a quote that Mark Rosewater, head designer for Magic: the Gathering said on his Twitter. Mark is right in that not every product is for every player. In the original tweet he was referring to Un-sets which have silver-border cards not meant for tournament play. But looking back on that statement almost 3 years later, I’ve realized that most Magic products are no longer meant for me.
Last week Wizards of the Coast announced a product to celebrate 30 years of Magic: the Gathering. For this anniversary Wizards wanted to do something truly special and decided to reprint cards from the beginning of Magic that they promised to never print again. For years, fans have been begging WotC to reexamine their decision so that players could have access to some of the most iconic cards in Magic’s history. WotC instead showed us that the only players that they care about are the ones who can afford to spend $999 for four booster packs. This is all so you can have the chance of opening a piece of Magic’s history. $999 for 60 cards, none of which are tournament legal.
Using the website https://peterniemeier.github.io/mtg30/ I was able to simulate opening these packs. This was my first result.
I had incredibly awful luck opening these packs, obtaining only one card that sees play in other formats. Except I can’t even do that because it is gold-bordered. Even if there was a guaranteed chance of opening up a Black Lotus why is it so expensive? If you were thinking this would be your chance to draft limited beta, you would need to spend a minimum of $6,000 to get enough packs to do so. This is a product that could have been for everyone but instead they chose to make a product for no one.
If you had asked me a few years ago what my favorite game was I would have said Magic with no hesitation. But with the new direction that Magic is taking I’ve stopped investing time, energy, and money into the game. In the last two years since I wrote This Article Isn’t For You I have opened less than a dozen booster packs. I still follow the game because there are some parts of it that I still enjoy. Getting to play Magic in person once pandemic restrictions lifted is one of my fondest memories regarding the game. Magic is no longer a game that is designed for me though. I don’t have the money or patience to keep up with the eternal spoiler season. I can’t afford formats that I used to love like Modern because I need Modern Horizons to compete. I hate seeing characters from other franchises or even real life in black-border Magic. I miss Magic: the Gathering when it was made for people like me, and I know I’m not the only one. Thank you for reading.
I have an announcement to make. A few weeks ago I lost my job and I haven’t had much luck in my job search so far. I used to have a Patreon but I’ve deactivated it since then. So instead, I’ve decided to begin offering my services as a professional Dungeon Master. If you are interested in helping me through a tough time and playing Dungeons and Dragons with a DM of 7 years you can learn more by following this link. If you are not interested in that, but still want to financially support me I have a Ko-Fi that you can donate to instead. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great Tuesday!