Blog Elemental – Preparing to Lose
July 12, 2004
Silly me. I thought that since Fifth Dawn came to Magic Online today that I could start writing about my preconstructed deck. But I forgot that I need to hand these things at least a day in advance to Ted, which means that tomorrow is the earliest I can start reporting on my games.
So here I sit, twiddling my thumbs. Waiting. Trying to think of something to write.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about in preparation of this experiment is how truly bad preconstructed decks are compared to other Constructed decks. Don’t get me wrong – I actually enjoy the precons a lot. I get a full set of them at every release, playing them with my wife once a month or so. That’s sort of the point, though. I play them against other preconstructed decks; I would never play a preconstructed deck at, say, Friday Night Magic.
Why? Why does Wizards make the decks so anemic? It’s pretty clear to me that if I win any of my first games with Nuts and Bolts that it will be an absolute fluke. Even in the Casual Constructed room the decks will pound me senseless. I have played several games online in which it became clear to me that my opponent was packing a precon, and my immediate reaction was pity. I mean, look, my PT Cruiser can get going pretty fast on the highway but that doesn’t mean I should be entering any Nascar races with it.
As far as I can figure, there are several things keeping preconstructed decks at a very low power level:
- They use a high percentage of marginal cards like Ferropede and Healer’s Headdress and a small percentage of powerful cards like, say, Skullclamp. Most Constructed decks focus on packing as many powerful cards into them as possible while avoiding weak, slow, or situational cards.
- They are inconsistent, largely because of the single copies of cards – often even the key cards in the deck. Most Constructed decks use three and four copies of their best and most critical cards.
- They are unfocused, usually based on a loose mechanic-based theme. Constructed decks fall into clear categories like aggro, control, combo, etc. and all of the cards help them win through their single chosen strategy.
- They are slow. Even aggressive precons contain cards with unwieldy casting costs. Most Constructed decks have already won before a preconstructed deck ever gets going.
Clearly the people at Wizards know how to make a deck powerful, consistent, focused and fast, since most of R&D played competitive Magic before ever coming to Wizards. Even if they decided to keep the decks at two rares per preconstructed deck, it would be relatively easy to make good budget decks that could compete in a skilled player’s hands.
Here are a few of the reasons I can think of for keeping preconstructed decks at a low power level:
- They give you a broad look at the new set. Given all four preconstructed decks, you get a fairly good representation of the new mechanics. Moreover, you get a chance to see a diversity of cards, some of which you’ll love and others you’ll hate. If the decks were more focused, or contained less single copies of cards, this would be less true.
- They are educational. Because they are a mix of weak and powerful cards, the preconstructed decks are teaching tools. A beginner sees firsthand how some cards can change a game while others sit uselessly in her hand. As a result, she can begin to make her own card valuations.
- They encourage spending. Few people are going to be able to play a preconstructed deck unmodified for very long. Having a relatively weak deck pushes players to perform the same kind of experiment I’m undertaking, adding cards to make a deck of their own. Getting players excited about buying cards is what Wizards is all about, and the precons are a good vehicle for doing so.
Are these all of the reasons, or am I missing something? If they’re roughly correct, are these good enough reasons to keep preconstructed decks at their current power level? What would happen to Magic sales if precons were more competitive?
I suppose I don’t mind, really. If the current formula didn’t work, I doubt they would continue making precons the way they do. Besides, it gives me the challenge of evolving one of these decks into something I’ll enjoy playing, and hopefully something that will win its fair share of games.
Early on, though, I’m going to lose. A lot.